We are on holiday. This is a complete misnomer. What I mean is: the school holidays have begun, I’m taking half-weeks off work for nearly the duration, and getting up early and going to bed late to get the rest of it done outside child-waking hours.
It’s a magical time.
In the old days, of course, this unbroken six weeks of quality time with my offspring would be ameliorated by sending him to his grandparents’ for a few days at a time, to be fêted and petted instead of snarled at for interfering with deadlines. But Covid and shielding – these are both still things, by the way! – have put paid to that.
We used to send him on occasional “fun” day courses and things but now that he is old enough to refuse, he has refused. He hates sports and people. I don’t know where he gets it from.
So now it’s Audible (“Read a book! Read a BOOK!” “My EARS are reading!”), Joe Wicks – this is still a thing too, at least for the inert, introvert child who must nevertheless be required to raise his heart rate at least once a day – day trips when it’s not killingly hot outside, board games when it is and, by my approximate count, five meals and 17 substantial snacks a day, every day.
A. Magical. Time.
“Help me to the sofa,” I gasped, pale, sweating and spent, spent utterly.
“What’s wrong?” said my husband, as he laid me gently upon the two-seater, which is not very comfortable but you can’t get the 19th century lovers these days.
“I have … I have been bidding on eBay,” I said faintly.
Under normal circumstances, I am strictly a buy-it-now punter. I don’t even make offers – the stress is incapacitating. But every now and again, normal rules must be set aside, and a rare discontinued Ikea armchair cover had come up, auction only. So I had partaken.
I don’t know how people do this on the regular. I only sit there for the last 10 minutes and within two I am literally shaking with nerves. Within four I am retching into a bucket with nerves. I place my one and only bid in the last moments before I entirely lose control of my faculties and have to go to bed for 48 hours to recover.
And – here’s the thing – it’s worse if, as I did here, I win. I feel guilty for depriving someone else of the thing, or not paying as much as someone else might have if the seller had listed at a different time, or, or, or …
I sometimes think modern life is not for me.
There is a gorgeous video doing the rounds on social media of a young girl of eight or nine dancing and pumping the air in celebration of the Lionesses winning their match against Sweden 4-0 and going through to the Euro 22 final.
Someone has added the caption to the effect that she hasn’t known a time when women didn’t play football, which is – obviously – lovely, but you really don’t need more than the sight of her. Genuinely delighted, glorying completely in the moment, her pleasure unalloyed and throwing herself about completely freely and unselfconsciously, it is a rare thing.
By that age, I realise as I watch her, girls are usually already being careful. Careful with their bodies, careful how much space they take up, careful how much real feeling they expose to the world – very sensibly, given how hostile to them it has often been to them already and how clearly it will become more so the older they get.
It’s one of the many things Derry Girls, for example, gets right – the gurning exuberance of the girls when they are all together, and the slight quietness that steals over them when they are split up.
We need more Lioness moments.
Now, I’m no economics expert – I still don’t really understand how it is that we … print money? We literally make the money we also earn and spend? It seems all wrong to me. It should issue forth spontaneously from some kind of divinely touched block of gold we all pay daily obeisance to or something, shouldn’t it? And don’t go sending in any clever-clever jokes or explanations about how in many ways this is what happens because I don’t even know enough to get them.
Sorry, where was I? Ah yes. No economics expert, BUT. When news reaches us on the same day that the price of a McDonald’s cheeseburger is going up for the first time in 14 years, and Asia’s richest woman has lost half her $24bn fortune in China’s property crisis, I start stockpiling beans and no one can persuade me otherwise.
My larder is back to post-Brexit, pre-lockdown levels of repletion. Coffee, pasta, rice, beans, pasta, soup, flour, pasta, salt, coffee, pasta, coffee. All the basics are here. What once I might have spent on frills and furbelows (Lingbo seat covers notwithstanding), I now spend on caffeine and long-life carbs.
It’s still cheaper than proper therapy, which is of course the role it is actually taking. These nutritional fragments have I shored against my mental ruin.
I go to the GP about getting a mole removed (not a dangerous one – it’s just painful and looks like a second head growing out of my back). She, as she always does as part of the consultation process, asks how I would feel about considering coming off my antidepressants.
“Depressed,” I say.
She persists. I demur. “Have you seen – I say, gesturing widely, in a manner intended to take in everything from the roadworks outside, to Brexit, to Ukraine – “all this?”
She persists. I decide to distract her by mentioning a couple of other health issues that I wasn’t going to bring up because I didn’t think there was anything she could do about them.
“There’s X and Y,” I say.
“Hmm,” she says. “Well, we often recommend your antidepressants for taking the edge of X too, and there’s some evidence they also help Y.”
“Really?” I say, delighted that the seemingly separately failing parts of my dismal little body seem to be working in some kind of deeper concert.
“Really,” she says.
So take heart, ladies and gentlemen. Occasionally, just occasionally, middle age can really work for you.