Gusto, our imaginary dog

12 February

Chats on the phone with my children are becoming increasingly one-sided; they tell me all their news (95% of the conversation), then I tell them all mine (5% of the conversation). I guess it’s a ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ situation. Clearly, I’ve become a vacuum, so therefore – being an abhorrent situation – nature provides them with all sorts of exciting things to tell me about. Filling in what would presumably otherwise be very long stretches of complete silence.

Harriet calls me tonight. She is working very hard on her degree course, as well as working nightshifts at Scarborough, delivering babies, writing essays, travelling up and down between York and Peterborough, and living a full social life.

That, in a nutshell, is 95% of our conversation.

“So,” she says, “what’s new with you, then?”

I try very hard to think of something interesting. I don’t think painting my toenails counts. Nor does finally having got round to defrosting the freezer.

“Oh, nothing much,” I have to admit, eventually. Which isn’t even 5%, really. More like 3%.

Soon I shall just be saying hello and goodbye.

14 February

Valentine’s Day! Mr Young and I go through our ludicrous traditional charade of giving each other cards and gifts while pretending that we don’t know – haven’t a clue! – who they’re from.

Mr Young has bought me a dozen red roses – I happen to know that he got up at 6 am to buy them for me – which he places on the bed while I’m cleaning my teeth.

“Oh,” I say, coming out of the bathroom, “who on earth can this card and these roses be from?!”

“I have no idea,” says Mr Young. “Look, I’ve got a card too! And a lovely new silk tie from M&S! I wonder who it can be from!”

“I have no idea!” I say.

I’ve slipped up this year, though, and made the tactical error of buying him a card that says To My Husband.

But with a bit of quick thinking, I point out that this is probably a double bluff.

Buoyed by this satisfactory show of mutual affection, we set off to Ask this evening for a special romantic Valentine’s Dinner – with three courses for £16.95 including a glass of Prosecco, by 8.30, we should be happily clinking glasses and stuffing our faces with bargain-priced pizza, gnocchi and rocket salad.

Sadly, however, Mr Young is doing none of these things. Ask has turned into Don’t Ask this evening; the gnocchi is off the menu, our Prosecco is late, our starters don’t arrive until an hour after we’ve sat down, and the loving light in Mr Young’s eyes is waning rapidly. Matters don’t improve when he attempts to drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over his salad and the top falls off the bottle, turning the drizzle into a deluge.

“This is ridiculous,” he says, staring morosely down at the rocket leaves floating about on top of a sea of extra virgin olive oil. “I think we should just pay and go.”

So we do. The manager is extremely nice, and extremely apologetic. Too many customers and not enough staff.

Fortunately, I do have enough staff. And their name is Mr Young. He cooks steak and makes a salad for us both when we get home.

And if that’s not romantic with four exclamation marks, I don’t know what is!!!!

16 February

My nephew Ben is 18 today. 18! I could be a great-aunt soon, I think. I'm pretty sure that will involve having to crochet my own antimacassars and buying some mothballs from Amazon.

So, instead, I make do with just being a great aunt without the hyphen, and buy him a badminton racquet and case.

“Ben’s thrilled with his racquet,” Rachel tells me. “Especially as it’s his favourite colour.”

“Really?” I say, trying to remember what colour the racquet was.

“Yes,” she says. “White’s his favourite colour.”

Now, I don’t mean to nit-pick, but in my book (The Absolutely Always Right Book), white isn’t a colour. White is all colours. So saying white is my favourite colour is like saying ‘I have no favourite colour because I love all colours equally’. Strictly speaking.

However, I wouldn’t dream of pointing it out. Not on his birthday. Not when I'm trying to be a great aunt. Plenty of time to educate the boy later. I’ll give him a signed copy of TAAR book next year.

17 February

It’s Harriet’s birthday soon; Lucy, Tom and me (grammatical rules are made to be broken) are going up to York to take her out for lunch.

I’ve worked out that I have organised 70 birthday parties in total for my children over their lifetimes. Which means that I’ve baked 70 birthday cakes. Which also means I’ve scraped out the cake mixture from 70 birthday cake mixing bowls. And eaten 140 slices of birthday cake. Oh, all right, 210 slices. Plus crumbs. It explains a lot.

18 February

Mr and Mrs V are moving over to Cambridge today; we were due to meet them for farewell drinks at the Cuckoo last night, but Mrs V was too poorly. (This gives me more time to work on my special Farewell Poem, which has come to an untimely halt – I haven’t been able to think of anything to rhyme with Cambridge.)

She sends me a wan email to say she’s so sorry she couldn’t make it last night, and she does hope we’ll go over for dinner soon to their ‘very odd little house’.

This appealing description is somehow very Dickensian.

I imagine her and Mr V in nightcaps, clutching candleholders and dripping wax onto awkwardly shaped pieces of furniture as they stumble around in dimly lit rooms.

“We’d love to come and see you in your odd little house,” I tell her, picturing myself in a bonnet and Mr Young in a cravat and extravagant sideburns, eating mutton and plum pudding.

And it gives me inspiration:

'So now you’re living in Cambridge

Presumably eating roast partridge

Please feel secure in the knowledge

That we’ll soon be over with a bottle of beverage.'

It doesn’t scan particularly well, I know, but it’s a start.

20 February

Lucy passes her driving test. I am so excited, I immediately rush downstairs to tell Archie. He obligingly jumps about with gusto, although I‘m not sure he has grasped the reason for our celebrations.

(While we’re running around the kitchen together, it occurs to me that Gusto would be a great name for a dog. We should get another dog, and call it Gusto, then we could say that Archie was jumping with Gusto and gusto. Or eating with Gusto and gusto. Or barking with Gusto and gusto. Although I expect the novelty would quickly wear off.)

Mr Young is away for the evening – eating Chinese food somewhere near Oxford, apparently – so I take Lucy to Prezzo to celebrate. (Not the fact that Mr Young is away, but the fact that she has passed her test.)

I go through my usual complicated process of choosing exactly the right table. Call it nit-picking (yes, yes, I know, a pattern is emerging) but I don’t like facing the wall, or sitting on a bench, or sitting near a big table, or sitting near the kitchen, or sitting where it’s empty. Apart from that, I’m very easy to please.

Fortunately, it only takes three attempts to find just the right table, and we order a glass of celebratory Prosecco, olives and two salads. It’s all very grownup and enjoyable. Then we share a tiramisu, and have a coffee each.

When it’s time to get the bill, I turn round in my seat to summon the waitress who is speeding past and find myself shouting in the ear of a woman who is sitting directly behind me, and whom I hadn’t realised was there until that moment. She jumps guiltily at my forceful Excuse Me! and drops her fork. It’s clear she thinks she’s done something wrong, and that I am now pointing it out to her. I attempt to laugh it all off, but I can’t help noticing that the rest of her table are still glaring at her accusingly. We wonder if she really was doing something wrong at the exact moment of my bellowing in her ear. Like talking with her mouth full. Or taking the last piece of garlic bread.

22 February

Check up at the dentist. As usual, I’ve spent the last four days flossing like a mad flossing woman, in the hope that this will make up for the lack of flossing over the last 5 ¾ months.

Paul peers critically into my mouth. At least, I think he’s peering critically. It’s hard to tell behind his safety goggles and facemask.

He prods at my gums with the pointy thing.

“1, 1, 1, 1, 1,” he says. He prods some more. “2, 2, 2, 2, 1.” I have no idea what this means. He might even be making it up as he goes along.

“Mmmm,” he says. “IDPC could be better.”

I wonder what IDPC is, and how it could be better. Is it a reflection on the state of my mouth, or is he just making idle conversation? Am I supposed to respond? International Data Protection Code? Interior Decorators Privy Council? Inflating Damp Proof Course? Interplanetary Dinosaurs’ Personal Computers?

Once I am restored to an upright position, I ask him what it means.

“Interdental plaque control,” he says, and looks at me sternly. “Are you flossing regularly?”

Damn. I walked straight into that one.

Still, at least I’ll have something interesting to tell Harriet if she phones tonight.

I bet she doesn’t know what IDPC stands for.

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