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Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims (1)

Monday, 18 July

I have one week till the summer holidays begin. I can’t help but feel awfully jealous of the Famous Five’s parents – not only did Julian, Dick and Anne’s mama and papa simply bung them off on Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin at the slightest excuse, but Aunt Fanny was always sending them off to islands and moors and coves FULL OF CRIMINALS AND WRECKERS AND SMUGGLERS so that Uncle Quentin could work in peace at his inventing. I have frequently wondered if I could do similar, as I did once invent a very fabulous app that made splendid amounts of money for a little while, even if the app world is fickle and today’s hit is forgotten tomorrow and no one buys it anymore. I’m sure I could probably do the same again if only I could just send the children to live outdoors and go feral for the summer (and stop faffing about and eating biscuits). As I recall, Uncle Quentin’s inventions never even made any money, which was why he and Aunt Fanny were poor and had to look after the beastly cousins, which makes it doubly unfair that it is now so frowned upon to hand your children a bicycle and a packet of sandwiches on the first day of the holidays, and tell them not to come home till it’s time to go back to school. Jane is eleven now, you see, and more than of an age for Famous Fiving. I did once wistfully suggest this to her, when we were in the middle of one of our frequent rows about why she is not allowed an Instagram account yet, and she pointed out the many illegalities with this plan and threatened to call Childline if I ever broached it again.

I am feeling particularly bitter about the expenditure the summer holidays necessitate, because I have been reading the Famous Five books with Peter, though somewhat against his will, as he informs me each night that he would much rather watch DanTDM than endure another chapter of marvellous Blyton-y japes, frolics and foiling of beastly common-criminal types. Jane has obviously point-blank refused to take part in any such babyish activity as being read to in the evening, and so we compromised with her promising to read something herself instead, which I felt was a perfectly reasonable offer, until after two chapters she announced that Anne of Green Gables was stupid and boring and why was Anne always wittering on about imagination and I shouted that Jane had no soul and was clearly a changeling as no child of mine would speak thus of Anne Shirley. Now I pretend not to know that she is watching YouTube make-up tutorials instead of wandering the enchanted lanes of Avonlea with Gilbert Blythe (who I still totally would, incidentally).

Peter, however, has not quite succeeded in breaking my spirit to the same extent as Jane, and so I am still forcing him to sit with me and roam Kirrin Island. I think he is going for a chemical-warfare option to get out of our reading sessions, though, as I swear he farts far more when he is supposed to be sitting and reading with me than he does normally, and that is saying something for a child who once proudly announced he had made his teacher feel sick with his flatulence. The chapter has had to be cut short once or twice due to my eyes watering.

In theory, this summer should be less fraught for me than previous ones, due to my possibly dubious decision to take voluntary redundancy three months ago. I’d had grand plans to become a top games and app designer, on the strength of creating an app, which I called Why Mummy Drinks, two years ago. Taking the redundancy seemed like a brilliant opportunity to have a bit of a financial cushion until I came up with the latest hit game. When I quit the old job, I had a plethora of brilliant ideas that I was quite sure I only needed time to make into something splendidly lucrative. But when I actually try to translate them into a game or an app, they’re just a bit … well, shit. Also, the fact that I am really, really rubbish at working from home and managing my time properly might have something to do with my lack of productivity, and after years of dreaming about escaping from the office it’s actually quite lonely working at home by yourself with no one to talk to. I even find myself missing Jean from Shipping, who used to tell long and involved stories about the state of her gall bladder. Also, when you are at home all day by yourself, you eat a startling quantity of chocolate biscuits. So not only am I failing to achieve Great Things, and feeling lonely, I have gained a stone and am now alarmed by the size of my own arse every time I accidently catch sight of it in a mirror. I feel like one of those cardboard children’s books That’s Not My Arse, It’s Far Too Enormous

Anyway, with the summer looming, I have been booking sports camps and childminder slots, and making complex childcare deals with friends so that we can all have some semblance of having our children looked after during the holidays AND be able to try to get some work done without spending vast sums of money. Obviously we will all end up spending vast sums of money anyway, as the children will require entertaining for the summer, as well as being fed at alarmingly close intervals, leaving me wondering how they cope when they are at school and can’t constantly squawk for food, like starving baby starlings, beaks agape, begging for snacks.

Friday, 22 July

And they are done for the summer! All week the children have come tottering out of school, buckling under piles of tattered exercise books and dog-eared artwork, all of which is liberally sprinkled with glitter, now gently dusted over my house, and all of which apparently must be kept for posterity, because according to Jane, ‘When I’m a famous social media influencer, Mummy, this could all be worth a fortune!’ I am struggling to see how Jane’s indifferent copy of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, which looks identical to every other child’s in her class, is someday going to be of any value to anyone but me, but it seems that I will be trampling their dreams and casting their childhood aside if I bin any of it. Obviously, I am discreetly removing several pieces every night and chucking them in the outside bin, while lovingly claiming that everything is carefully stored in the attic.

Peter has also brought home his holiday homework – a small plant that must be kept alive during the holidays, and indeed nurtured over the coming year. Marvellous. I have a poor track record with plants. Even cacti shrivel and die at the touch of my black thumbs. I asked Peter if he knew what sort of plant it was, so I could purchase an emergency replacement if need be. Peter helpfully replied, ‘A green plant, Mummy.’ I’m not sure how much help that will be as I scour the garden centres of the land with a desiccated twig for reference. Perhaps it’s my comeuppance for letting the class hamster make a break for freedom when I was allowed it home for the weekend when I was nine, and forcing my mother to tour every pet shop in town until she found a suitable replacement, as Hannibal was never seen again. Mum swore she could hear him scampering around at night for years afterwards, but I think that was only to stop me crying after I discovered Alphonso, her vicious Siamese cat, licking what looked like hamster fur off his chops and looking more pleased with himself than ever.

Monday, 25 July

The first day of the holidays. I suppose it could’ve been worse. I had a book called The First Day of the Holidays when I was little, about delinquent penguins who stole a motorbike and went joyriding and crashed it (no idea why penguins were stealing motorbikes), and there were at least no auto thefts or joyriding animals today. What there was, was a lot of moaning.

I had taken today off, thinking it would be nice for the children for us all to do something together on the first day. Jane demanded the cinema, Peter demanded Laser Quest, I declined both, insisting we were going to do something wholesome and fun. I had the children’s best friends Sophie and Toby for the day too, as part of the complex childcare arrangements with my friend Sam (as a single father, Sam’s childcare issues are possibly the most complicated of all my friends), and I brightly announced that perhaps it might be a lovely idea to go to a stately home and learn about some history.

‘Booooorrrrring!’ moaned my children, while Sophie and Toby clearly thought the same but at least were well enough brought up not to say so.

‘Why do we have to do this? This is so crap.’ huffed Jane.

‘Mummy, can we take our iPads?’ whimpered Peter.

‘IT WILL BE FUN!’ I bellowed. ‘IT WILL BE INTERESTING AND EDUCATIONAL AND THE STUFF THAT HAPPY MEMORIES ARE MADE OF! And also it will go some way to me getting my money’s worth from my very middle-class National Trust membership that your father keeps moaning on that I don’t use enough.’

Of course, as soon as we got there I remembered why I don’t use the flipping National Trust membership – because National Trust properties are full of very precious and breakable items, and very precious and breakable items don’t really mix with children, especially not small boys. Where I had envisaged childish faces glowing with wonder as they took in the treasures of our nation’s illustrious past, we instead had me shouting, ‘Don’t touch, DON’T TOUCH! FFS, DON’T TOUCH! I SAID DON’T TOUCH, DON’T CROSS THAT ROPE, DON’T SIT ON THAT, OH, JESUS CHRIST, OH, FML.’ while stoutly shod pensioners tutted disapprovingly and drafted angry letters to the Daily Mail in their heads. Maybe I could design an app that you put on children’s phones or iPods that can detect when they are in the vicinity of something expensive and breakable so it starts vibrating and sounds an alarm and squawks, ‘DON’T TOUCH THAT!’ to save parents the trouble. It would be useful in many situations, not just in National Trust houses – the china department of John Lewis, for example. Though if you are foolish enough to take children into a china department, then you probably deserve the inevitable carnage that will be left in your wake …

Because the children had managed to eat the lovingly packed picnic on the way there, as they were obviously ‘starving’ within three minutes of us leaving the house, I was forced to take them to the café for lunch. A self-service café with four children in tow is not an experience to be recommended. In theory, at eleven and nine the children should have been relatively self-sufficient, but in practice, complex tasks like standing in a queue, holding a tray or choosing what flavour of juice they wanted proved quite beyond them, so that by the time we sat down I think the entire county hated us. The pasta bake Jane had maintained she had to have and would definitely eat was immediately declared inedible, as she thought she saw a bit of red pepper and I knew she didn’t like red pepper; Sophie burnt her mouth on her soup, despite me telling her to wait for it to cool down; Peter and Toby inhaled the contents of the children’s lunchboxes that they had insisted they wanted in one mouthful and looked around expectantly for more, while I poured cold water down Sophie and scraped the mayonnaise off my sandwich for Jane and hissed, ‘No, no one is having Coke,’ promised crisps when we got home and resisted the urge to simply walk out of the café and bang my head repeatedly against the picturesque brick wall outside. Though I would probably have been told off for damaging National Trust property.

I provoked further shocked looks when I rallied the children to go by shouting, ‘Right, come on then, you monstrous hell fiends.’ I am still not sure whether the shock was due to me referring to the precious moppets as monstrous hell fiends, or the fact that they responded to the name.

How many more days of the holidays are there?