Thursday, 3 March 2011

The school run


‘Bloody hell! It’s 8.22!’

Lily doesn’t say anything.

‘Look, the school bus. We’re really late!’

Lily takes a bite of sausage. I take a bite of banana.

‘Banana doesn’t taste very nice when all you can smell is caramelised red onion sausage,’ I remark.

‘Mmm,’ sympathises Lily, her mouth full.

As we drive past Mistle Hill, my shoulders start to release. I love its brooding presence, long and low, like an animal ready to pounce. This morning it’s silvery green, with a slick of raspberry pink hovering over its back. As we snake to the top, a dazzle of brilliant orange bursts over the horizon, lighting up the hedgerows and frozen fields.

‘So, darling. Remember anything about today?’

‘Double science,’ groans Lily.

‘Anything else, a bit more exciting?’

She scrooches up her lips and looks up. ‘Nope?’

‘Anything to do with your darling mother?’

She looks at me and then pulls a hangdog expression. ‘Hap-py birth-day.’

Her sullen delivery offends me more than the fact that she forgot in the first place.

‘Is that it?’

She shrugs.

‘Darling! I’m 50 today! Well – 43 to your friends. Is that all you have to say?’

‘Sor-ry,’ she says in the same reluctant way, reaching forwards to turn on the radio. It's Classic FM. Some bloke going on about Delius and if there were one piece he would play that captures the wonderment of Delius, it would be On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.

'That's good to remember,' I say to Lily. 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. And who was it by...?'

'Delia Smith.'

I burst out laughing, spraying granola over the steering wheel. That makes up for all her mealy-mouthedness about my birthday. Still sniggering and clearing my throat where the granola went down the wrong way, I click the tape into the cassette player. Martin Jarvis reading Great Expectations. Lily and I are never happier than when listening to story tapes. A shared experience minus the potential friction incurred by actually speaking to each other.

As we twist along the final furlong for the Manor, we reach our favourite bit.

`Do you know what I touch here?’ asks a quavery old Miss Havisham.

`Your heart,’ says Pip.


It never fails! Dickens is so funny. And Martin Jarvis really is a genius. We rewind and playback several times, repeating, ‘Your heart,’ and a melodramatic ‘Broken.’

We bump up the drive and crunch to a halt outside the stone manor. Lily throws open the car door and runs off leaving her music. I call to her, waving the Waitrose bag. She juts her head forward petulantly and plods back to the car.

‘We’re not allowed bags in chapel.’

‘Well, you’re going to have to take it. Everyone’s going in.’

She juts her head again, grabs the bag, starts to run and then stops and turns.

‘Happy birthday, Pip, old chap! Best of friends!’

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