Shortly after my discharge from hospital, I agreed to meet a couple of friends for a playdate with our kids at the local swimming pool, rue Denoyez.  (Note to French speakers: sadly, no, the pool has not been named after the street.)

I will admit that standing nipple-high in lukewarm water in a kiddy pool for an hour (or longer if I can bear it) is not high on my list of “Fun Things to do on a Weekend”. Approximately once every five minutes I screw up my eyes – laser-surgery left me with not-quite-perfect vision – to reduce the haloes around the red numbers on the digital clock at the far end of the adult pool. The high-pitched shrieking of delighted children shreds my nerves.

But the parent-friends in question are very good company – litmus test: we have drunk alcohol together – and they have graduated beyond a listing as “Mother of A” or “Father of B” in my phone, which is a testament to that.

After being cooped up for so long, I craved normalcy. Even the kind that requires you to wear a compulsory swimming hat and leaves you with wrinkled fingertips.

A couple of hours from RDV time I suddenly realised that a month of trouser and pyjama wearing hadn’t exactly left me bikini-ready. One of my favourite songs at the moment contains the lyric “I wanna shave my legs for you.” There is no-one in my life just now for whom I need or want to shave my legs, particularly during the autumn or winter months. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to make that long, chilly walk from changing rooms to pool looking quite so unkempt, so I started rooting around in the bathroom cupboard for a disposable razor which was neither blunt nor rusty.

A text message arrived, enquiring whether I had any spare swimming hats.  I began typing my response with one thumb. Sad but true: I can touch-type at 100 wpm on a computer keyboard, yet I text like a grandma.


I was about to hit send, when I realized my message could be construed as a threat to cause myself physical harm. And while the friend knew that no razors had been involved in my hospitalisation, my usually twisted sense of humour faltered for a moment and I couldn’t follow through.  I wound up deleting all but the first sentence.

Next stop was the bag where I keep our swimming towels, my son’s goggles, those infernal swimming hats and our swimwear. I don’t own a sensible, one-piece swimsuit, as I’ve never crossed paths with one which didn’t seriously exaggerate my pear-shape. I usually opt for an old, blue, geometric-print bikini often worn on holiday.

It was not in the bag.

Then my brain treated me to a little flashback montage. Me, wearing my blue bikini while nonsense-texting from the bathtub. Me, recording a video, long-since deleted, because nobody ever needs to view it (including me). Me, answering the door to two firemen, who gently suggested I might want to wear some clothes and put a few essential items into a bag. Me, wearing my blue bikini under the paper gown in casualty.

I opted for alternative swimwear. I wasn’t quite blue bikini-ready yet.


Waiting for dinner in a fast food “restaurant” that shall not be named, my son (8) is fighting with his sister (14). He gets very irritable when hangry.  The shoving and sniping escalate. She finds baiting him irresistible; he can be extremely sensitive. It’s a potent cocktail.

I mutter something about wanting to bang both of their heads together and remember my father saying the same thing. I have become my father.

Then son tells daughter that he hates her so much, he is going to stab her forty-five times.

My daughter pulls a shocked-emoji face, then laughs. I feel glad that we are all speaking English and in a part of town where tourists are thin on the ground. Also, there are no knives – even brittle plastic disposable ones – in this establishment.

“That’s a very specific number,” I remark, “did you choose it randomly?” We were learning the nine-times table recently. I hope that is the explanation, as it would be preferable to a warped tribute to my age.

My daughter looks at me with her “mum, that’s not parenting!” face. I try again.

“You know, it’s really unacceptable to make horrible threats to people, even if you don’t mean them. If you’re going to say macabre things like that, I’m going to have to block Youtube on the iPad again.”

Via gateway films like Paranorman, Coraline and Goosebumps, he’s been on a deep-dive into the horror genre lately. There’s a parental filter on, but he knows stuff about totally inappropriate films he has never actually seen.

He ignores me and turns to his sister again. “When we get home, I’m going to gouge out your eyeballs with the ice-cream scoop.”

I allow myself to feel momentarily impressed that he knows the word “gouge”, then start picturing that day ten or so years from now when I’ll lie through my teeth in TV news interviews. “I never saw it coming,” I’ll wail. “He was always such a sweet boy.”

Later that evening, daughter has been left babysitting while I’m at a party, five minutes away on foot.  I can’t afford a babysitter, so when the kids are with me, I’m grateful for invitations from friends who live in the neighbourhood.

I check in with my daughter.

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