Monday 23rd March
Today does not start well. Ollie has barricaded himself in his bedroom and is refusing to go to pre-school. He has taken the return from Center Parcs badly. He is worried and angry that other people might move in to our ‘village’ (villa) before we next return in two years’ time. I try explaining renting to him, but it only serves to anger him further.
I am trying to get Daisy ready for her school trip to Holt Hall where she will learn Stone Age survival skills. The letter calls for ‘old clothes’ and Wellington boots; Daisy comes downstairs in extremely stylish ‘old clothes’, perfectly matched with a pair of red Converse trainers. I can’t fight battles on two fronts so I turn a blind eye.
I finally extricate Ollie from his room and get them into the car; we are seriously late. The key goes in the ignition. The car does not start. I try again. And again. Panic rising. Emergency Plan B: The kids scramble out of the car and on to their bikes. I run alongside them like an eager dog, nervously shouting out my anxieties about Daisy missing the school bus if they attempt to slow down.
Back at the house, the road-side recovery man arrives mid-morning. He opens the bonnet, sucks his teeth and tells me what I already know: the battery is dead. His extensive tests tell him the battery needs replacing; it’s old (the original VW battery), and has exceeded all expectations, but now I must part with a hundred quid and get a new one.
I agree and then notice that one of those pesky kids have left an internal light on. I think this has got more to do the flat battery than its age. The sceptical side of me thinks I may have been duped, but the man is sincere and quietly spoken; and the fact that he owns a 27 year old red Volvo (my favourite car after a Saab 900), and travels around the Highlands of Scotland in it, makes me forgive him slightly.
Next problem: the blog-site has been on the blink for 24 hours. I’m not going to lie, I feel sick about it. It’s locked me out and I’m worried that all that work, all those words have vanished. I call the person I always call in a crisis: my father-in-law. He is my go-to troubleshooter.
His knowledge knows no limits. He has remotely fixed our boiler with careful instructions over the phone on a cold winter’s night; he has explained repeatedly the lunar phases and why they occur when I had to teach Year 6; he has answered untold existential / spiritual questions from Daisy (he is a vicar, after all): Who is God’s mother? Where is heaven? What’s the difference between Catholics and Protestants? is always met with the same “Phone Pops” response.
Luckily for me, he’s also a computer whizz and fellow blogger. His advice today is to delete the blog app and re-upload it. I laugh nervously then do as I’m told. I must trust the man a lot or be mad because I am ignoring the big DELETE THIS APP AND ALL FILES WILL BE DESTROYED warning. Fortunately he wins again and I am back at the writing desk.
At school pick up, Lucas, my pyromaniac protege, comes racing out of Daisy’s class. He’s coming for tea.
“Daisy and I were the best fire starters at Holt Hall!” He tells me.
“Yes!” I shout far too loudly, and give him a big high five.
Daisy comes out of school disgruntled.
“We were only allowed to pile up a few sticks,” she says, “and then we had to stand ten metres from the fire in case a spark flew out. They didn’t even use flint to start the fire.”
I worry that my fire-starting lessons, where they are allowed to throw on wood and poke the embers with a stick, may be a little too advanced for their seven years. Lucas asks on the way home if we can have a fire in the garden. I don’t need asking twice: a fire cheers up any day.
I have baked potatoes that have been in the oven for half an hour (they are only slightly warm) I double wrap them in tin foil with a large knob of butter, then bury them in the fire. We let them cook for half an hour, then beg for a tin of beans from our kind, obliging neighbour.
With a rack from the oven balanced over the fire, we heat the beans in a pan. This does not work. The beans are cool ten minutes in, so I shove the pan in the embers. I am sure this is not advisable but it works.
Most fun is retrieving the cooked potatoes. Lucas pokes around in the ash with a big stick and shouts if he spots something silver. I get them out with a big spoon.
The potatoes are cut open and eaten with butter, beans and grated cheese. It’s like the food of the Gods.
For pudding Daisy and Isla make hot chocolate and we heat it again in the embers and drink it with slabs of Lyons Golden Syrup cake. Camping food if ever I saw it.
Everyone is very happy, possibly me most of all.