Generally, he wakes up at 4.59am precisely. This seems like a sensible time: you get to hear the last of the news from the BBC World Service before one’s cultural context turns to the more parochial. He’s back in bed by 5.59am so catches the Shipping Forecast but misses Tweet of the Day and the boring business news. By 7am, his day has started properly with a bottle of the white stuff and, if you’re not up and dressed already, you’d better get a move on. From then on, it’s non-stop.
He’s quite a small person, maybe no more than two feet high, so how does he create so much work? People dash around, rushing to meet his every need like a member of royalty. We wash and scrub and clean; we move anything that smacks of danger; we sing and wave and recall long lost rhymes: who were those ‘three men’ in a tub and why? What happened whilst we rowed merrily down the stream? Why did that pig go to market if not to become a pork chop?
Grandmas are forbidden the front seat of the car: we are consigned to the back seat and the role of travelling entertainer. Mothers – once daughters – are in charge, issuing advice and instructions from the front. Mothers know everything. Grandmas were never mothers. They are berated for not knowing left from right and for making inane suggestions involving baked beans. Their children’s children are a new variety of precious beings. We sit in the back with all the baggage and we long for a glass of wine and a cigarette, even though we no longer smoke. Grandmas play with other people’s toes and dwell on long-forgotten and now forbidden rusks and look aimlessly out of the window, waiting for the next instruction.
Grandmas who have lived their lives as independent and forceful creatures are silenced by the mothers who know better. And that small person sits there, with the trees rushing past, waiting for the next big thing. Or waiting for the next meal. We lay in bed, hoping for more sleep and dreaming of the day after when we aren’t subservient to a small person and his very tired mummy who we silently applaud.
And then, the overland safari moves homeward bound and we breathe a sigh of guilty relief and begin the great clean-up. Out come the bleach and the polish. On goes the washing machine. Here’s the wine – and RELAX. Wait, something’s missing: it’s too quiet.