4 June Not a great day in the Young household. I have an aching head and a nauseous stomach and spend hours draped over various sofas and duvets looking less like an attractively wan and swooning maiden and more like a sack of potatoes on a bad hair day that someone has slung carelessly down and forgotten to put in the vegetable rack. 5 June I am miraculously restored! (Well, of course it’s not an actual miracle to just feel better after twenty-four hours, but sometimes it’s nice to celebrate with an overblown adjective, don’t you think?) The downside to this is that it’s now Mr Young’s turn to suffer. He, on the other hand, has managed to achieve the sort of pale and swooning look that invites solicitude. He doesn’t resemble a sack of lumpy tubers. No, he lies against the white sheets, one hand gracefully arranged, palm up, across his forehead. I bring him tea, paracetamol and a damp flannel. I would bring him smelling salts if we had any (and if I knew what they were). I assume Vicks Nasal Spray is not the same thing at all, so I leave it in what we laughably call the First Aid Drawer (which contains, basically, some old plasters, a thermometer that doesn’t work and half a packet of Rennies). Then I leave him. Yes, that’s right, I leave him while I go gallivanting. How selfish am I? (That’s rhetorical, by the way. I’m not expecting your opinion.) My sister Janny, Ms C and I are off for the day to Anglesey Abbey with my parents. Janny is driving and jokes – rather more than I feel is necessary – that she is taking the ‘old folk’ out for a day trip. Of course, she doesn’t mean our parents – who, when we finally arrive, are sprightly, energetic and organised, with picnic table and chairs and a cold buffet spread. No, she means herself, me and Ms C, who appear – in just one morning – to have skipped middle age and gone straight into wittering elderliness. Janny wrestles with her sat-nav (bloody technology I can hear her muttering) while Ms C and I look out for grey clouds and wonder aloud if we’ll need our cardigans. Once on our way, the three of us start a conversation about the peri-menopause, except no one can pronounce it properly so that it ends up sounding like one of the more outlandish Unforgettable Experience Day! gifts. We stop at M&S to buy contributions for the picnic, and take our selection to a checkout to pay for our pastry-filled snackettes and Sour Cream ‘n’ Chives crisps (what happened to just plain Cheese and Onion? When did we all become such crisp snobs?)
We realise, too late, that we’ve committed the ultimate Shopping Sin. “I think we joined the queue from the Wrong End,” Janny says in a stage whisper. Sure enough, I now notice a long line of customers glaring at us from behind the racks of chewing gum and chocolate bars on the other side of the checkouts. We have clearly completely ignored the first rule of Shopping Etiquette and Jumped The Queue. Fortunately, they are all far too British to say anything, restricting themselves to silent fuming and lip-pursing. I say fortunately, because we don’t have time to get involved in a Mediterranean-style slanging match. The sat-nav is in danger of detaching its suction cup from the windscreen and our mini pork pies need to go in the coolbox without delay.
By the time we reach the A14, I am fanning myself with the sleeve of my cardigan to counteract a hot flush brought on by all the excitement and Ms C is wondering whether it’s illegal to throw her apple core out of the window.
It’s all so rock and roll.
My parents are already setting up the picnic as the three of us traipse across the carpark with our folding chairs, rugs and coolbox. As soon as we arrive, Ms C and I promptly decide that we probably do need our cardigans after all – it’s grown a bit nippy, we agree (although why I’ve started to use the word nippy, I have no idea) so I volunteer to traipse back again and fetch them. I spend five minutes trying to unlock a complete stranger’s car with Janny’s keys.
I wish I could say, in my defence, that it was a similar model and colour, and in the same area. I wish I could, but I can’t because it would be a lie. Later, after touring the house and admiring the gardens, we all share a slice of coffee and walnut cake in the cafe and agree that there’s nothing like a nice cup of tea. I feel quite exhausted by the time I get home. It’s hard work being old before your time. 7 June Janny and I have been forced to go along to audition for a new choir, singing along with Bernie Nolan later this year to raise money for charity. Ms C has managed to coerce us both into this by assuring us that there will only be a handful of women, and no official audition. “Don’t worry,” she laughs. “It’s more of an informal get-together, really. It’s not as if you’ll be up on a stage and singing by yourself! Nothing as scary as that!” She is lying. At the Broadway theatre we find ourselves in a crowd of over a hundred women, all waiting patiently in line to perform individually as the musical director plays scales on the piano. Imagine a Women’s Institute version of the X Factor. While waiting, we meet up with Ms B and Ms R; we laugh nervously a lot and drink beer so that two hours later, when it’s finally my turn to do the solo la-la-laing bit, I am hoarse, hungry and tipsy. It’s not my finest musical hour. However – perhaps the musical director was also hoarse, hungry and tipsy – I manage to scrape in. Apparently, I am a second alto, which sounds being runner-up to me, but never mind. The substitutes’ bench is still a step up from sitting in the audience. Literally, I suppose. 9 June Mr Young arrives home from another tiring sales trip. I am all prepared for his arrival with sausages and mashed potato. It’s not exactly Penelope greeting Odysseus on his return from the Trojan War, but he seems pleased to see me again. “You have no idea how much I appreciate you,” he says. “What’s wrong with that sentence?” I say. He seems startled. “I don’t know.” “Well, shouldn’t you be letting me know how much you appreciate me, since I apparently have no idea?” “Ummm,” he says. “I mean, you’re clearly not appreciating me enough if I have no idea.” It’s intelligent reasoning of the highest order. Stephen Fry would be so impressed. Perhaps I should tweet him. I can see him thinking. (Mr Young, not Stephen Fry.) “I like to think my presence is reward enough,” he says eventually. He thinks he has a) deflected my clever questioning and b) flattered me. How wrong he is.
“Is that presence with a ‘c’, or presents with a ‘t’?” I ask, quick as a flash. “Umm,” he says. He is starting to panic. “Well,” he says finally. “Those sausages smell good!” I have won. My quickwittedness was clearly just taking a little nap during Sunday’s cardiganned peri-menopausal queue-jumping plunge into premature dotage. I reward myself with a cup of tea. After all, there’s nothing like a nice cup of tea, is there?