15 February Well, if ever alcohol could be called a damp squib, then I would have done so last night, and in the strongest terms possible ( i.e. “Oi! You! Damp Squib!”). Mr Young and I, after our prolonged New Year abstinence, have a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc already chilling in the fridge (very chilled indeed after six weeks) and a bottle of claret decanted and breathing, almost panting, heavily.
To mark our joint celebration (Valentine’s Day/re-introduction to alcohol), I make bruschetta with home-made ciabatta, then we’re going to have pork saltimbocca, and finish with tiramisu. Three courses all ending in vowels, which is also an Italian menu if you are looking at it from a purely gastronomic point of view (i.e. from directly above, with a knife and fork poised in peripheral vision).
I have an aperitif of the Sauvignon while preparing the bruschetta, which isn’t quite as satisfying as I was expecting it to be (the wine, not the bruschetta). Disappointing, in fact. So I abandon this and move onto a glass of claret while cooking the saltimbocca.
Footnote to self: read recipes more thoroughly in future. I realise too late that I a) haven’t hammered the pork steaks thinly enough b) don’t have any cocktail sticks. Mr Young, in his usual helpful/interfering way, rushes to my aid with some barbecue skewers which, being a foot long, just create four unwieldy lumps of stuffed pork that lurch about in the frying pan, shedding their carefully prepared fillings so that the end result doesn’t in any way resemble the picture in the magazine.
Nonetheless, we press on with our special celebratory meal. But the claret is also unsatisfying and doesn’t compensate for the peculiar-looking slabs of pork, decorated with burnt basil leaves, that I’ve tried to hide under a pile of tagliatelle. I notice that things are getting slightly blurry, I have a slight headache, and Mr Young is decidedly grumpy. Neither of us are enjoying the wine, in fact. Eventually, we give up and just have coffee with our tiramisu. I am going to have to force myself to drink wine again because I really don’t want to give up the pleasure of a glass of chilled Sauvignon in the summer, or a good claret with roast beef in the winter.
Force myself to drink alcohol. Ha! Now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d hear myself say.
16 February We are all off to Bristol today to see Tom star in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It’s a very intellectual, existentialist play by Tom Stoppard concerning free will v determinism and contains metatheatrical scenes. Or so Wikipedia says. I have no idea what this means, but as the last time I saw Tom in a play was the school nativity, I imagine that I will enjoy it in much the same way (i.e. switch off mentally, enjoy the sight of my son in the limelight and just hope he remembers not to pick his nose).
He has already advised me to watch/read Hamlet in preparation (as the play is based on two characters from this). So I have read the precis on Wikipedia and watched a few scenes on YouTube (it’s the one about knowing Yorick well and something being rotten in the state of Denmark). I’d have done a damn sight better in my O’Levels if the internet had been around then; seriously, exams today must be so easy. I was probably a genius by today’s standards. Although I don’t think it would have made much difference to my Geography result, if I’m honest. Which I sometimes am. If I’m scrupulously honest, I’m not always scrupulously honest. Now that’s definitely a philosophical paradox. I know it is, because I looked it up on the internet.
The play is being held in a church hall, and we’ve already found the location on Google Maps. And Jonny’s confident we can find it because, as he’s pointed out, there’s a Domino’s Pizza nearby which will make it easy to spot. We’re all laughing and relaxed, with plenty of time to collect our tickets, buy a lukewarm drink and find a good seat as the taxi driver drops us off at the church.
After patrolling the area, circling the church three times and telling each other how puzzled we are that we can’t seem to find the church hall, Harriet suggests ringing one of Tom’s friends who is probably already inside the venue. I call Alex, who says it’s easy to find and she will come out and wave to us as we must be really close by if we’re near Domino’s. After a couple of minutes, she calls back and says she is waving, but can’t see us. It dawns on us that we are probably outside the wrong church. Despite the close proximity of Domino’s. Mr Young checks again on Google Maps and we sprint up the road to the next church, telling each other how surprising and confusing it is that there should be two churches, both next door to a Domino’s Pizzas, and on exactly the same road. I am starting to panic, and not in an existentialist way. We arrive barely in time to collect our tickets and find a seat.
Tom is brilliant, of course. I feel intellectual just listening to him. There are even a few comic lines (although I notice that nobody else laughs when I do). Harriet and I cry at the end. So all in all, it’s very similar to the nativity play (although back then, Harriet was crying because she was tired and bored, being only two years old).
17 February We have spent the night in a Holiday Inn Express; Mr Young stays in Holiday Inns all the time, so the experience is mundane for him, but I always get excited about hotels. We’ve used all the tea bags and the coffee sachets, so I can’t take those, and am just left with the toiletry items. A couple of shower caps, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel – all of which I know I will never, ever use – and a vanity kit. This sounds a lot more glamorous than it is, conjuring up a swansdown powder puff and cologne in a large glass bottle and a satin hair turban. While using this vanity kit, I would be seated at a rosewood dressing table, wearing a silk kimono, and addressing Mr Young as ‘dahling’.
But the Holiday Inn Express vanity kit turns out to be two cottonwool face wipes and three ear cleaning buds. Now in my opinion, it is not vain to want to rid oneself of excess ear wax, or to remove makeup after an evening spent cavorting in the Holiday Inn Express bar. It is just basic cleanliness to be carried out in private, not while decadently seated at a rosewood dressing table. It should be called a Basic Cleanliness Kit. On the plus side, though, there is a free Mars Bar. Just one. So it’s mine. Mr Young can have my spare cotton bud.
21 February After the success of the play – and before it premieres in the West End and I have to choose myself a red carpet outfit as mother of the star – Tom is moving back home while he looks for a new flat in Peterborough. Julia is in the Seychelles working with a Volunteer Turtle Team, that is to say, the volunteers are people caring for turtles not a surreal gang of turtles who have graciously allowed her to tag along, so Tom is doing this on his own. It serves him right, because she moved into their last flat entirely on her own while he was abroad. I am doing my utmost not to interfere, even though he is packing, hiring a van, driving from Bristol to Peterborough, unloading, then driving back to Bristol the same day, then travelling back by coach tomorrow. In fact, I have to literally sit on my hands to stop myself from ringing him every half hour to instruct him to wrap glasses in newspaper, and make sure he puts extra tape on the bottom of the boxes.
So I wait and wait this morning until I get a phone call to say he’s on his way. Then worry for the next three hours until he arrives, then worry for a further three hours while he drives back until I finally give in and call him. He’s safely in Bristol, eating fish and chips. Fish and chips = Tom’s fine.
22 February Mr Young calls me from the station in Newcastle. He’s been away since yesterday morning, staying in a Holiday Inn Express. I forget to ask him if there was a vanity kit in the bathroom; I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t. I imagine the northern Holiday Inns have a much more no-nonsense approach to grooming. Too busy striding about moors to worry about a bit of excess ear wax. His meeting has finished early. “But I’m still catching the 1.30 train,” he says. “So I’ll be home at the same time.” “I thought you were calling to say you’d be home early,” I say. “No, I’ll still be home at the same time.” “So you’re calling because you’re bored, not on board,” I say, with a clever, possibly existentialist, play on words. But Mr Young misses my clever play on words because he is busy droning on about something else. He does this a lot, interrupting me when I’m talking. “I wish you’d stop talking over me when I’m talking,” I say. He just laughs and deliberately talks over everything else I attempt to say in a very childish way. It’s not funny, and it’s certainly not existentialist.