Pruning the olive tree

31 May We make the mistake of watching some old home videos, of when the three children were tiny and I, apparently, had stumbled upon a technique of making myself look as hideous as possible. Cringe is not the word for what I was doing on the sofa as everyone laughed at my perm and pointed at my leggings and bulky sweatshirts (that I seem to have bought in a rainbow range of pastel colours, just in case – heaven forfend! – that I might run out and have to wear something flattering instead). No, it wasn’t cringe. It was more the sort of cower I used to do from behind the sofa when I was seven and the Dr Who psychedelic opening scenes appeared. WHAT WAS I THINKING? At what point did I imagine a mullet and a perm (with highlights, for goodness sake!) would suit my face with its doughy covering of post-natal fat? I must have single-handedly destroyed the fashion credibility of the late eighties and early nineties. Perhaps I can get myself airbrushed. Although a complete cropping would be better. I could just appear as a mysterious blank outline, with the occasional hand creeping out to spoon mashed banana into one of my babies' mouths while they laugh away in their high chairs. Actually, that’s probably why they were such happy children. I must have been a constantly entertaining sight. 1 June Mrs V comes round for a chat and a catch-up. She’s just been away to her house in France for a few weeks. I pretend I’m not jealous. Mr Young and I take her outside so that she can admire our newly painted window frames. She politely insists that she can see the difference and makes little impressed “ooh!” noises as Mr Young points out the new putty in the windows, although we all know that it’s drearily unexciting to anyone other than myself and Mr Young, as these household repairs always are. But I am busy noticing Mr Young’s gardening efforts. “What’s happened to the olive tree?” I ask in horror. “What have you done to it?” “I pruned it,” he says. “As we discussed a couple of weeks ago.” “But there’s nothing left!” I say. “You said you were going to just cut the top branch off!” “I did it ages ago,” he says. There is a certain tone to his voice, the sort of tone that implies exasperation that would be more pronounced if Mrs Jones wasn’t also in the garden. “It’s just pruning,” he says again. “Look, it’s growing back already.” He is pointing out a tiny shoot that’s valiantly trying to fight its way out from a foreshortened branch. But I’ve now noticed the fig tree. “What’s happened to the fig tree?” I ask in horror. “What have you done to it?” We have the same conversation all over again. Mrs V is diplomatically concentrating very hard on the shiny new kitchen windowsill. We discuss other aspects of the garden until I have to concede that Mr Young does, actually, know what he’s doing. (I hate conceding. It can spoil your entire day.) “Well,” says Mrs V, finally tearing herself away from the sparkling paint finish on our french doors (not literally, fortunately – gloss is impossible to wash out.) “it’s nice to see that other couples bicker, too.” Poor Mrs V. She may have a house in France, but she clearly doesn’t know the difference between bickering and an intellectual debate. 2 June I call Tom for one of our regular phone conversations. As he’s nearly 23 and earning a salary and living with Julia, he’s now officially a grown-up, but it’s still quite difficult to stop myself asking if he’s eating properly and making sure he doesn’t run with scissors. Fortunately, he seems to be leading a very sensible life. He tells me he’s off to a maths conference in Budapest in September. I can’t begin to imagine what people do at a maths conference. He tries to sum it up for me (sum! Ha!). It’s all about discussing problems and networking. Networking is, apparently, very important to mathematicians. I run out of suitable puns, so have to change the subject. “Are you eating toast at the moment?” I ask him. “Yes!” He is amazed. “How did you know?” “Ah,” I say, smugly. “A mother’s intuition.” I don’t tell him I can hear the loud scraping of knife over toast down the phone. “With peanut butter?” “Yes!” Again, he is amazed. I feel like Derren Brown. “I bet it’s smooth, not crunchy,” I say, going for the hat trick. “Yes!” Maternal experience comes in handy sometimes. Although how I ever noticed these things through that ghastly permed fringe flopping over my eyes, I don’t know. 4 June Now that the windows are finally finished, I am forced to face a grim reality. There is no excuse to not clean and dust the house. (Although that is a double negative, so perhaps I don’t have to after all? No, I know in my heart that I am a woman drowning in grime and clutching at straws.) There is dust everywhere, and bits of old windowsill all over the carpets (the workmen did clear up after themselves, but I think they found it more difficult than usual since Archie chewed the end of their vacuum hose off). Mysteriously, their labours have even caused sticky rings under all the jars of jam and marmalade in the cupboards and an extra large pile of ironing. Fortunately, I have hit on the perfect reason not to crack on with the housework. So I plug in my laptop and write this diary.