It’s the first day of the February half-term, and I’ve been talking too much about The Romans, again. Well, you would too if you had to a) contrive to send your child to school dressed as a convincing Centurion on Monday 22nd February and b) make sure he’s done 40 points worth of Independent Learning Activities from a massive list of suggestions, none of which are easier than ‘write the biography of a famous Roman’. Almost perversely, despite taking a deep and pretty obsessive interest in all sorts of periods of history, Leo refuses to take more than the most mild and casual interest in the history that is on the National Curriculum, Roman Britain. His sympathies are elsewhere.
“Sometimes Mummy,” he says in disappointed tones, “It’s like you don’t remember the Celts even existed.”
I feel this is unjust. “I basically am a Celt.” Red hair, skin that burns on a cloudy day in March; the evidence is pretty conclusive.
“I mean the ancient celts.” He clarifies, but the bus is in sight and his reproach ends there.
I have a mission for the day, and my children are along for the ride. A friend from University moved to Australia, where she recently had a baby. She contacted me before Christmas because she ordered lots of warm clothes for the baby, which he had in fact never worn. She wanted to donate the clothes to Syrian Refugees, but hadn’t found a way of doing this from Australia. She wondered if I could help.
I have to admit that, although I told her that if she got the clothes to me I could donate them to a local charity that collects donations and takes them to refugees, I actually thought she should just donate the amount of money she was prepared to spend on shipping directly to a charity working with refugees. By this point in proceedings, however, I am fully in the spirit of the thing. There’s something emotional about a layette of clothes bought for a specific baby, and when I see the vests, sleep suits, sleeping bags and blankets; pristine, snugly, precious; lots of them still wrapped in the M&S and Boden polythene from their original shipping from the UK to Australia, it seems clear to me that they need to be given to people who will give them directly to the parents of babies who need them.
The only problem is that the charity’s latest collection is in Edenbridge, which is…over there…somewhere…I didn’t grow up here, I don’t have a car, I don’t really know where I’m going, but I’m setting forth with a large laundry bag of clothes, a 7 year old who does not stop talking, and a 3 year old lately behaving like a kamikaze lemming, and it’s raining. I have to admit, none of this seems sensible, but my (actually pretty wonderful) children aren’t complaining, they like riding trains and buses, and it also seems a good thing to me that they actively take part in giving and thinking about other people.
So…1 bus, 2 trains and a taxi ride later, we’ve done our deed. For the journey back, no longer carrying a heavy bag, I decide we can walk to the station. We miss our 1 an hour return train back by, oh, about 30 seconds. We can see it, stopped at a red signal, about 20 metres down the track. At this point I manage to keep my temper because I’m aware this is entirely my own fault. I looked at hair dye in the Boots on Edenbridge High Street too long. I haven’t dyed my hair since May; the results then were slightly more dramatic than I want; what I want is something like my natural colour but better and brighter…and oh, vanity, I’m paying now! With a 59 minute wait on a deserted barren platform, a sort of icy sleety rain beginning, and…well, you know about the 2 children.
I wouldn’t blame Leo if he was complaining at this point; but he doesn’t. He reads A Children’s History of Kent, and then watches YouTube films on my phone; Boudicca, the 300 Spartans vs Xerxes, and something about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Flora snuggles to me for warmth, and does sticker books. There is a shelter. And so the time goes.
It’s dark by the time we get back to our village.
“Mummy…if you were a Druid…” We’re back to the Celts. “If you were a Druid, you could see into the future, and win the lottery. And, even better, you could go invisible in the mist.”
“Isn’t everyone invisible in the mist?”
“I don’t mean just hard to see, I mean actually properly invisible. In mist.”
Perhaps this is where I’ve gone wrong – I should have been more in touch with my cultural heritage. I mean, I’m not too concerned about this invisible in the mist thing, but winning the lottery, that would be useful. I interviewed a girl from the Pagan Society at University once; she deadpanned about sacrificing virgins, and I couldn’t quite tell whether she was joking or not. I laughed at her, but she got a first in History, and she’s probably running MI5 by now. Or something.
I don’t have too much time to dwell on this. For the next day’s half-term fun and games, I’m shepherding my children from Kent to Blackburn, Lancashire (bus, train, tube, train, their grandparent’s car), for the last time. The house I grew up in is under offer; and very soon, there’ll be no reason ever to go to Blackburn again.