Customarily, Reader, I try to protect you from workday mornings. They are not pretty. They are not conducive to a relaxing evening bloggy read in a favourite armchair.
They are hair-raising experiences, on the whole. And not just because the wheezing un-ionic hair dryer is so ancient, it will only switch on and off at the wall.
But on this occasion, I must take you to that time-pocket which seems to defy all conventional theories about how time passes: for in the Shrewsday household, everything that matters is concertinaed into the howling hour between seven and eight.
At seven the children are woken and plied with Spongebob and hot chocolate. We have long since formed a theory that these two form the perfect child-rearing formula. This may account for a lot, but I have been cultivating Daniel Goleman’s Inattention carefully in this respect. If there is anything wrong with my morning strategy I choose simply not to notice.
Groggy children settled in our huge double bed, I charge off to the ironing room to delve into the now legendary ironing pile. I have begun to use this local landmark to increase the self-esteem of relatives and friends at times they feel low. You think you are a bad housewife, I say, come and marvel at this: and they do, shading their eyes to gaze up to its heights in the manner of Shackleton.
They leave feeling renewed because, after all, they can’t be the worst housewife in the world because Kate Shrewsday has already bagged that slot.
I lovingly extract the necessary garments from the maelstrom before me, and iron like the wind. When the children have had sufficient revival time I holler instructions for cleaning teeth and washing, and they trail reluctantly away from the bright underwater world of Spongebob towards grim reality.
When all is ironed and all are dressed we play a game called String The Mugs On The Fingers, in which Mummy attempts to fit an entire crockery cupboard – last night’s comfort drinks – onto her own hands and those of her offspring.
We clink downstairs.
The dog is standing pointedly at the door by this time, signalling that he needs his barking time in the garden.
Macaulay likes barking. Mostly, he likes barking at unsociable hours; I think he does it on purpose. I let him out in the English half-light to fluster all the local birds and be defied by squirrels.
We eat breakfast and talk while I compile lunch for two in a Barbie bag and a talking Dr Who lunchbox.
And then everyone gets down from the table and I fly around straightening hair and negotiating socks and handing the dog over to some kind-hearted soul for the day: usually my mother.
The children play around the house. It is a lovely companionable sound.
But this morning the house was eerily quiet. And I had no idea why.
On investigation, everyone seemed already to have their coats and shoes on and to be congregated mysteriously outside, next to our big green dustbin.
Mine not to reason why. No time. I hustled everyone into the car and headed of for the great Dropping-Off-At-Granny’s.
This evening we were gathered in my bedroom, where our cosy evening routine has its hub. Gone, hectic morning fly-by-night time: now time has transformed into a cosy badger, shuffling along at a pace which stretches companionably for hours on end.
We were sat watching a programme about our coast called, inevitably, Coast.
“Mum,” Felix ventured: “Did monks wear socks?”
I thought about it.I’m used to fielding offbeat enquiries from my offspring. It didn’t faze me. “Well, darling, they would have had to keep their feet warm somehow, I expect. This is not a warm country, is it?”
Silence. And the hint of a hysterical giggle, somewhere at the back of my son’s throat. Something, I sensed, was happening. Something beyond my ken.
“Mum”, he ventured a moment later: :”Do you like chocolate?”
I concurred. He tried unsuccessfully to stifle a cackle. Time to go for the hat trick? Now Maddie was hovering, delighted, nearby, merrily watching every development with almost unconfined hilarity.
“Mum,” …I could sense he was moving towards the finishing line now, ….”you know Maddie’s owl, Plop: do you like her?”
The two of them could not control their mirth any longer. They were chortling uncontrollably.
It was then that I became aware of a paper aeroplane in Felix’s hands. Mustering any remaining maternal authority, and depending on reflexes which just about trump a seven-year-old’s, I snatched it up.
On the outside it read: D.U.S.T.B.I.N.
Closer inspection of the contents revealed the following message: “Welcome to The Dustbin Club. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this. You must use the following words in a conversation: monk, socks, chocolate, plop.”
Apparently a new secret society, comandeered by my daughter, now meets at the dustbin outside my front door. It has two members: Maddie and Felix. And a parliament of cuddly owls.
And the missions they set: they’re really tough.
I asked, could I blog about it? And they said, well, only if you’re a member.
Phil is going to wonder what I’m talking about. My mission includes the words dustbin, cabbage, stinky, Macaulay, and dog.