We were living in Amsterdam. My children were 1 and 5. My husband’s cousin had come to stay and I switched on the television so that the children could watch Tweenies while we had a cup of tea and a chat.The Tweenies weren’t there. Instead there was an office building, a blue sky. As we watched – irritated, the children whining for their programme – a plane smashed into the building.
What on earth? There was no sound, but a caption on screen said: ‘Pictures from the WTC.’ I only knew one WTC…the Amsterdam WTC, right next door to my husband’s office. I must have switched onto a Dutch channel, I panicked, this must be happening just down the road. What on earth? Was he OK?
Then the sound kicked in, and it was the BBC, and it was New York. And so my first feeling as I comprehended what was happening and where, was - momentarily - relief.
Ten years on, I still feel bad about those five seconds of relief.
Sunday, 4 September 2011
1) Just before school holidays begin. Take son to buy uniform for his new school. Bought everything huge and in duplicate, so we will never have to do it again. Massive bill. Unusual and transitory sense of being organised and in control.
2) School holidays begin. Lecture family about my need to write in peace and quiet, for at least a few hours every day. They will have to amuse themselves. Tough.
3) Son has reading list for new school. Ignore instruction saying he has to read one from each genre (five books) and tell him his challenge for the holiday is to read all 25. Then change that to 24 because I don’t like the sound of one of the authors.
4) Daughter has nothing to wear. Take her to mall and buy stuff for her. Slightly less massive bill. No bikinis take her fancy. Gnash teeth. Beg her to buy bikini because it is in sale, even though she hates it. She refuses. Buy school skirts. Suggest that she tries them on so that if necessary we can change them. ‘Later,’ she says.
5) Son starts cricket summer camp. Sun is shining, son is happy. Rush to Starbucks and write and write and write.
6) Day two of cricket camp. It is raining. Son gloomy and bored. Daughter has nothing to wear. Suggest she tries on school skirts. ‘Later,’ she says.
7) Inspiration. We spend rainy day visiting lovely grandparents. Leave daughter there overnight with instructions to grandma to take her to buy bikinis. Hand over cash.
8) Day three of cricket camp. It is sunny, son is delighted. Rush to Starbucks. Write and write and write. Daughter texts pictures of bikinis she has bought with grandma. Then texts picture of price tag showing they were cheaper than the sale bargain she rejected. Huh.
9) Day four of cricket camp. Rain. Drive to grandparents to pick up daughter and bikinis, taking computer, go to their local library, write and write and write. Happy memories of visiting this library every week throughout childhood. Notice that teen section is a measly two bookcases. Do they have my books? They do not.
10) Cricket camp week two. Son decides he’s not enjoying himself as much as last week. ‘I’m not sure if I want to go this week,’ he says. Gnash teeth. Drop him off. Go to Starbucks and write and write and write.
11) Cricket camp week two, day two. ‘I really don’t want to go today.’ Drop him off. Starbucks. Write and write and write.
12) No more cricket camp. Really not enjoying it. Tell him he has lots of books to read. Try and write at home. Concentration shot to pieces.
13) HOLIDAY! We are off to Mallorca. Decide to take laptop so I can get up early every day and keep writing.
14) Midnight before holiday. We are getting up at 4am to go to Mallorca. Power cable for laptop breaks. Gnash teeth. Decide to take lightweight Netbook instead, and download manuscript onto Kindle. Congratulate self at techno know-how and calm under pressure.
15) Arrive Mallorca. Gorgeous but hot. Very hot. Family shrivel and droop in the sunshine. ‘I hope you’re not going to be too pathetic to do some sight-seeing,’ says husband.
|View from the pool|
16) Too hot to write. Too hot to think. Sit in shade and admire view and read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. ‘Stop laughing out loud,’ instruct children, ‘you’re embarrassing us.’
17) Day 2. Find shady spot and write and write. Son has made friends with other children at pool. Somehow we fail to notice that he has spent six hours in and out of the pool, only reapplying Factor 50 sun cream once.
18) Son has terrible sunburn. Plus he is vomiting (but has not got sunstroke, we check on internet). Spend day sitting in darkened room with him, reading teen romances (research!). Become obsessed with American book Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Why does a boy with an English accent pronounce Anna ‘Ah’na’? Why does he talk about ‘transit systems’? Why has his mother never divorced her rich but abusive husband? Daughter advises me to get a life. I pre-order sequel.
19) Husband is bored with sitting around doing nothing except reading (possibly because he is reading serious books about Spain, and not teen romances). We go on a train to Palma. Palma extremely hot, but interesting. We wander around a big department store, and I take pictures in the book department of Spanish translations of books written by friend. ‘What are you doing?’ say children. ‘Stop! You’re being embarrassing!’ We visit English language bookshop. Ditto.
20) Next day. Husband still bored. Using son’s sunburn as excuse for another day trip. Today we go to Deia, beautiful village and former home of poet and author Robert Graves. It is very hot. ‘It’ll be really interesting,’ says husband.
21) Drive through Deia. Nowhere to park. Turn around and drive back. Just as I am declaring it completely impossible to park - we will have to abandon trip - a space comes up. Park. Walk through Deia. Children are hot and thirsty. Find a café, buy them drinks. Graves’ house is a fifteen minute walk down the road. Decide to leave grateful children in café (NB They are 15 and 11. We were not abandoning tots)
22) Walk to Graves’ house. It is midday. The sun beats down. Arrive at Graves’ house, feeling as though I have trekked through the Sahara desert. Discover there is large car park at Graves house.
|Robert Graves' study.|
23) Husband is correct. Graves’s house is interesting. Also air-conditioned. Learn about his love triangle, with several wives, lovers, others. Learn about his many children, some of them abandoned in London when Graves made his home in Deia. Contemplate his tranquil study, where everything was - is – just the way he wanted it. Learn that Graves liked to work in complete silence. Huh.
24) Persuade daughter to read manuscript of book-so-far on my kindle. Her verdict: ‘You’re a pervert.’
25) Transfer from hotel to villa. We have swimming pool in garden. We have short walk to beach. We have no internet connection though.
26) We have satellite televison. Husband and I watch interesting play set in WW2. Seems to be an experimental script in which a narrator described every action on the screen. After some time realise that this is not an experimental script at all, but we are on a channel which has a commentary for blind people.
27) Ask husband if he’d known that all the time. He thought it was an experimental script as well.
28) Satellite stops picking up a signal at the climax of the play. Does this every night of the holiday.
29) Decide on a strategy to make the most of holiday without suffering from the heat. We have to get up and do things early in the morning, then take a siesta, then do more things in the evening.
30) Next morning wake at 11am, as usual. Kindle battery is flat. No way to charge it.
31) A few lazy days, in which I read a lot and write a bit. Go to Irish pub to watch Manchester United play Spurs. A Chelsea fan says to my husband: 'I see you support Manchester United, I don;t expect you come from there.' 'Actually, I do,' he replies.
32) Visit Alcudia which has a bull ring and Roman remains. Complain loudly about having to walk (in searing heat) through fields for HOURS to see Roman theatre. Surprised to find on walk back that HOURS was only five minutes.
33) Church of St Jaume, Alcudia. Find picture of St Michael trampling on Manchester United mascot, the red devil.
34) Holiday comes to an end all too soon. We agree that we had a brilliant time, we love Mallorca, the heat was no problem at all.
35) Back to England. Pouring rain greets us at Luton Airport. House smells musty and damp. ‘This is the way the house used to smell when we moved back in from Amsterdam!’ say the kids Hmm.
36) Go through post. Where are daughter’s exam results? Where is new electrical cable for laptop? It is a bank holiday, and we will have to wait two whole days for these things. On the other hand, a box of books has arrived from Amazon, the books my daughter wanted to take on holiday with her.
37) Try and email holiday writing from Netbook. Netbook’s internet server seems to be broken.
38) Shall we go and see The In-Betweeners Movie at the cinema or One Day? Daughter is horrified at the idea of us going to see the former. Manages to persuade husband that we will be thirty years older than anyone else there. So we see One Day. Hoot with laughter at Anne Hathaway’s accent, otherwise unimpressed. Two self-pitying people fall in love excruciatingly slowly, then..WHAM! And more self-pity. Nothing like as good as the book.
38a) Manchester United beat Arsenal 8-2. Family united in joyous celebrations (err...apart from my brother and nephew who support Arsenal).
39) Bank holiday over. Pick up power cable for laptop at post office. Charge up laptop, and try and load Netbook writing onto memory stick. Netbook does not seem to recognise memory stick. Hit head against wall.
40) Son is due to do watersports summer camp this week. Arrive at camp. Lady at reception points out that I have not booked the six hour day camp, but instead the two hour evening camp. ‘Come back at 4.30pm,’ she says. I protest that my booking letter said 10am. Go home. Booking letter says 4.30pm. Gnash, gnash.
41) Daughter and I set off to mall to buy dress that she spotted over the weekend - it was too big, so we ordered it in a smaller size. Halfway there, remember her exam results. Ring school in panic, they say we will have to come in and get them. Buy dress (and jumper, and jewellery, and other stuff that I have forgotten), eat sushi, rush to school. Hurray! Daughter has done very well in her sociology exam (half of GCSE). Very proud of her. Join queue to buy school uniform - which can only be bought from the school. After two minutes realise that we will be in queue for approx three hours, in order to buy one jumper and a tie. Abandon queue. Remember doing same thing last year. Gnash teeth.
42) Son loves evening class at watersports centre. I go to Sainsburys.
43) Next three days, son learns canoeing, kayaking and sailing. I write for one and a half hours each lesson in local café. Each day I rewrite the same chapter. Cannot move on without words trapped in Netbook.
44) Friday. There is a get-together planned for son’s new class at new school. They had one earlier in the holiday, and I enjoyed meeting the parents and getting a look at the kids. This time son and friend would rather play on the Wii. ‘We’re going to know these people for the next seven years,’ they say. ‘We've friended them on Facebook. We don’t have to go and spend time with them now.’
45) Weekend. Husband and I go and see The In-Betweeners. Notice with some relief that we are far from the oldest people there. Laugh hysterically throughout. All the way home husband shares reminiscences of teenage holiday to Fuengerola with best friends. Remarkable similarities.
46) Meet another parent whose child is going to son’s school. How many books has he read from the reading list, I enquire. ‘He’s read four out of five,’ he says. ‘How about your son?’ ‘He’s read 20.’ Later, Son: ‘Olly’s only read four of those books.’ Daughter: ‘You were conned. You’ll never hear anything about them again.’
47) First football match of the season for son’s team. It is pouring with rain. Goalie fails to turn up, so son is in goal for second half. He has no goalie gloves, but it doesn’t matter because he has no saves to make. His team wins 2-0.
48) Tomorrow is the last day of the school holidays. Our plans…I’m taking Netbook to be mended. Dropping off daughter and niece at the mall. And then son and I are going to the school uniform shop. Funnily enough, I forgot to buy sports shoes. ‘Last time I drove past there, they were queuing out onto the street,’ says my sister. Must remember to get daughter to try on school skirts.
49) Tuesday. Son starts new school. From now on he will leave the house at 7.10am and not return until 5pm. I will be able to write and write and write. But hang on, it’s daughter’s first day too. Or is it? ‘I’m just going in for an hour to pick up my timetable,’ she says. When is this hour? 2.10pm.
50) Wednesday September 7th. Everyone back at school. I have until the end of the month to meet my deadline. Tick tock.