Sometimes, my head gets full of kids. Overwhelmed with whining; nursey rhymes; sticky pointy fingers; demands for milk; repeative questions. At such times, the house gets very small so we walk to the park where the kids will play independently. Perfect! I pull out my phone and start an adult conversation. I am just debating good parenting with a virtual mummy friend, when a Toddler-head blocks the gap between my nose and the screen.
The irony is not lost on me, but I sigh. Deeply.
.Mummy, Mummy! Sit with me. Let’s talk.’
This is her favourite right now.
‘What about, Toddler?’
She smiles a little smile. ‘All KINDS of things, Mummy.’
Then, after a pause,
‘Free Billy Goats Gwuff!’
Once upon a time there were three Billy Goats Gruff. A big Billy-goat gruff, a medium Billy-goat gruff, and a……?’
‘and a TINY Billy Goat Gruff!’
And they lived in a field on the banks of a BI-I-I-G river. And they looked across the river, because the grass was much greener on the other side…..
* * *
I am working away from home this week. On my own. I have never contemplated before how much cheaper food is in multibuys: I am struggling to satisfactorily feed myself on a fiver. Especially since there is no microwave at the hotel. The fiver is significant, because meals are a fiver at the Cavery next door. It’s a no-brainer.
I try on several outfits until I ‘feel pretty.’ Then I pretend to be a woman of indominatable confidence, stride into the pub and look the ‘please-wait-here-to-be-seated’ woman straight in the eyes.
‘Table for one, please!’ I say cheerfully.
‘Er – yeah. I suppose you can sit anywhere then.’
She indicates the room full of tables, most of them empty, laid out for between two and eight people. Feeling vindictive, I go for one of the big ones.
The walls are full of pictures but they weren’t designed to be looked at. The photographs are so bland that I can’t remember the subject matter two minutes after I have looked away.
The waitress appears. I order a meal and a glass of house red. I would comment to the waitress how surprising it is that they wine costs more than the food, but she might think I’m complaining.
So I thank her, and I wait.
What happens next, Mummy?
…so the medium Billy Goat Gruff looks around to make sure nobody’s coming, runs across the field to the bridge (trit-trot, trit-trot, trit-trot), gets onto the bridge (TRIT-TROT TRIT-TROT, TRIT-TROT) …. and…..
…..and the troll jumps out!
That’s right, love. And he says….
‘Who’s that trit-trotting over my bridge…..’
* * *
The pictures on the wall haven’t morphed into anything more interesting. I try very hard not to look at them for a third time. I realise that this is for the waitress’s benefit. I am noticing her more than I usually would, and carefully regulating the speed at which I drink my wine, because I don’t want to drain the glass and look desperate.
Does she really think I’m a weirdo? I’m pretty sure that the proportion of people living alone in this country has never been so high. And of course, I am not at all concerned to be dining out alone. It’s just that my mind keeps coming back to whether I am looking confident enough to pull it off….
There are other lone people in the room, I notice, but no-one seizes the opportunity to communicate. Eyes are down, on books or screens. I guess they’re not really in the room at all.
It occurs to me that I have never been to the cinema on my own. Ought I try?
My bed was nice last night. Fresh sheets. They’d been ironed – or, at least, they hadn’t been stored crumpled in a ball on top of the wardrobe. I slept for twelve hours: no midnight milk top-up and no little monkies climbing over me this morning. I was showered and ready for work within twenty minutes. There was even time for moisturiser. No racing round trying to extract my shoes from a sea of clutter.
“Duck?” asks the waitress as she approaches, waiting automatically for confirmation as to who at the tablet has ordered it.
It makes me remember another table, a year and a half ago, when Toddler was just learning to talk. The waiter said,
and Toddler, who knew that word, distinctly said, ‘Quack-quack!’
I nearly share this with the waitress, then remember my Grannie when she was living on her own, repeating the same fondest, favourite stories to any bugger who’d listen.
So instead I say what she is waiting for me to say, which is
‘Duck. Yes, thankyou. How lovely.’
I make myself chew slowly. The food is nice. My hotel is nice. I have so much free time…
I have time to do all the tings that I want to do; that I blame my kids for my not doing. Things like my tax return. Exercise. Healthy Eating. Oh, yeah….
Hmmm…. nice duck.
I really must do that tax return: there’s only one night left. I haven’t been running all week, either. It’s dark outside and I don’t really know the area.
The girl is hovvering as soon as I have finished and I want to sit for longer, so I order sticky toffee pudding.
* * *
The TROLL jumps out again!
Who’s that Trit-trotting over my bwidge!
That’s right. And the Big Billy Goat goat doesn’t say anything. He just puts his head down, and he runs towards the troll. And he butts the troll, and the troll flies over the bridge, down, down, down and into the water with a big…..
…and all the goats run across, to the other side of the bridge!
* * *
I actually get lunch-breaks at this job. There’s not much to do, except to explore the retail outlet where I am working. I now have: one halloween pumpkin, two pairs of kids pyjamas, a book of politically incorrect fairy-tales (including the Three Billy Goats Gruff, although they don’t tell it as well as I do), some Peppa Pig big-girl pants, come Toddler-gloves, some Tiddler-trousers…. perhaps I am missing somebody.
* * *
So the Billy-Goats Gruff ran across the bridge, to the pasture on the other side of the river. And what do you think happened?
I don’t know, Mummy.
Well, for the first five minutes, they enjoyed eating the grass on the other side of the river. And then they looked back to where they had come from. The place where Tiny Billy-Goat gruff had grown up. And then they saw that the grass was much greener on the first side, and they trotted back across the bridge.
A week or so later, the troll crawled back upstream and came to guard the bridge again. But the three billy goats gruff? They were having such a nice time playing together in their pasture that I don’t think they’ve noticed yet.