I often think wistfully of the times BC, when Trulove and I could sleep in ’til noon, stay up ’til dawn, and never had to watch Octonauts on telly. (I like Octonauts but you can always have too much of a good thing). We’d have civilised mid-morning Saturday breakfasts in the greasy spoon on the high street and then have a browse round the junk market knowing that if we did decide to buy some kooky piece of crap we would actually have empty space in our house to put it in. We lived in a flat on the fourth floor near the river, in a surburb – more an urb really – that was then just scruffy but is now scruffy-trendy. When you walked out of the door to the communal balcony it felt like stepping into the sky.
I’ll gloss over the fact that once a crack addict kicked in our door and was chased down the stairs by our neighbour, and that I followed the trail of strewn CDs and valuables home later, absolutely pissed, to find two policemen in our house worried he might come back (That night we slept with the step ladders propped up against the door, jamjars on each step, so that if he did come back we would hear him at least. Not sure what we planned to do then).
Anyway, yes, the blissful time before children. The time when you could have a really long poo, undisturbed. When you didn’t have to schedule a shower into your day, you just had one. And you could just pop out to the shops if you ran out of milk. And if you forgot to buy onions while you were there, you could just pop back again without having to dress 3 people in a million layers each, jemmy them into push chairs and then chivvy the walking ones the 200 yards to the shop. And then have an argument about why you weren’t buying Jelly Tots when you got there.
Before the dreamy days of the flat-in-the-sky with Trulove, though, things were a bit different. London can chew you up and spit you out if you’re lonely and lost. I was quite thin, then, because I subsisted on ten pints of lager and thirty fags a day. I would spend my Sunday mornings in bed, not wanting to get up for fear of the empty, lonely day stretching ahead. I lived dangerously and made potentially risky mistakes with horrible men. I fell in an obsessive and one-sided love with a different unsuitable or sometimes just plain boring boy every fortnight. And then I moved into a flat with a tall French dancer and a bespectacled geek, fell in proper love with the latter and it was all okay.
So, Pickle is loads better. She’s still a bit red-of-face but that’s to be expected apparently. To celebrate her recovery, we decided on Sunday to actually leave the house and have lunch in the cafe in the park. Ziggler has gone right off her scooter and won’t ride it any more. Of course walking is a lower class mode of transport as far as she’s concerned, so she doesn’t do that. She is carried atop daddy’s shoulders, queenly-like. Pickle only likes walking now she can, so she’s annoyed to be strapped into the push chair and screams and struggles until you take her out. All this conspires to make it look like you’ve caught a baby in a bag with a family of particularly vocal mice and have decided to take it for a walk. Lunch in cafes with small children is never as relaxing as you hope it will be and always more smeared with ketchup than you expect.
We went to look at the ducks (don’t think you’re allowed to feed them any more). There’s a wooden footbridge that crosses the duck pond and it’s a good bird-spotting platform if you’re a toddler. Pickle has never walked on a bridge before. She hadn’t been outside for a week. ‘Quack’ is one of the few words she knows. She ran up and down. She quacked. She stamped her feet on the wooden floor. She quacked. She peered through the bars in the bridge and laughed at the ducks, erm, ‘fighting’. She quacked. Ziggler deigned to use her feet and join her, chasing her up and down and trying to teach her to say ‘duck’. They were full of giggles and wonder. I thought of the time before Trulove, and before Ziggler, and before Pickle, and I uttered a silent Thank You. No more Lie-ins and Stay-outs, it’s true. But worth their loss for the flashes of unexpected, undiluted Joy.