Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Having a four and half year old living with you is very sobering, very sobering indeed. The fact that he thinks I must be at least 100 years old is rather disconcerting too. Especially as I see myself more like a young Bohemian Lady Gaga. Mind you, since he arrived to live with us I have aged considerably. I’ve invested in the best face creams known to man and Timothy still claims I look 100. Mind you, I blame a lot of this on the stress of trying to cook Fish Fingers and chips. You might think it’s easy. I’ve never cooked bloody fish fingers and chips in my life. Let’s face it, why would I? But there is clearly a knack to this which I don’t have. Although in theory and as a working class kid I suppose I ought to have the knack to prepare the perfect fish finger. The truth is while all my mates were eating them, my lovely mum bless her, hardly bought them. Not because she didn’t like them but most likely because we couldn’t afford them. Much of my life was spent scraping margarine off the wrapper and filling my sandwiches with sugar. Ah, that’s where my sugar addiction started, with sugar sandwiches. Just the thought of it now makes me want to puke. Can you imagine offering a child a sugar sandwich? Jamie Oliver would have a stroke if he even heard the words. Even worse, when we ran out of sugar we had to eat that sandwich spread stuff, which looked very much like vomit in a jar to me.
Come to think of it, it also tasted rather like vomit too. I had a mum who could do a hundred and one things with mince. Well, that’s not strictly true. Mostly she could do one thing with it. Boil it up and then dish it up with mash and processed peas. On reflection fish fingers may have been better. In fact we consumed so much mince when I was a kid that I really don’t know how the whole Renham family escaped Mad Cow disease. Although it could be argued I didn’t escape it. My sister seems fine, in fact, she seems normal, you know, like most people. Maybe, she ate less of it than me. But the less said about that the better. Anyway, as usual, I digress. How hard can it be to make Fish Fingers and chips? When his father cooks it everything is perfect. Fries are nice and brown and just crisp enough and the Fish Fingers, crisp and hot. Surely it’s simple. Just throw them in a dish, shove them in the oven and follow the cooking instructions. Surely if I can make Cambodian chicken and Tom Yum soup I can cook Fish Fingers and chips for goodness sake. I thought the reason most kids lived on the stuff was because it was quick and easy to do. I’m starting to think that all mothers should be given a Damehood, never mind giving one to Joan Collins. When did she ever cook Fish Fingers?
I was left with the four and half year old for an afternoon. I figured this would be a doddle. I was so confident I even invited Andrew’s other son over for dinner. I decide to make fish pie. I’ll impress his kids with my culinary skills.
‘Are you sure you’ll be okay?’ my stepson asks before leaving for his private nursing appointment. ‘I’ll only be a couple of hours and dad will be home soon.’
Ooh, that’s the worst thing to say isn’t it? It’s like saying dad can handle it but I can’t? It’s only babysitting and some Fish Fingers. I sit Timothy on the couch and go into the kitchen to start the dinner only to have him yell,
‘Who’s looking after me?’
‘I am,’ I yell back.
‘But you’re in the kitchen.’
Well, that’s because I’m cooking his Fish Fingers isn’t it?
‘I can see you,’ I say.
‘Someone needs to look after me,’ he says again his face creasing and tears welling up.
Oh no, this is all I need. I fleetingly wonder if Bendy would be considered human enough to sit with him but dismiss that as quickly as I think of it. It might not go down well with Daddy if Timothy tells him I abandoned him and left him in the care of a cat. No, that won’t work will it? What’s the point of a cat that eats me out of house and home but can’t babysit when needed?
‘Can you read me a story,’ he asks weepily.
Timothy that is, not the cat. I don’t spend my time reading stories to Bendy the cat. I may be mad but I’m not that mad.
Ah, now this I can do. This is what I know, right? Okay I can make up a children’s story. All I need to do is throw in some monsters, a few dinosaurs and a few starfish and he’ll be happy. In fact he can sit in the kitchen while I do it. I can multi task. I’m a woman after all. That’s what we do best isn’t it? But maybe not so well when we’re 100 or at least heading that way, but right now I feel about thirty. I can make up a story, prepare a fish pie, chuck in Fish Fingers and chips and clean up. It’s a doddle, right? except, it would have been, if Timothy hadn’t decided to act out the roles of all the characters in the story. I’m now trying to prepare fish pie, while making up a story and trying to cope with a terror bird squawking around me. Telling Timothy that terror birds don’t squawk is pointless. He’s into it now and that’s that.
I give the oven chips instructions a quick glance and shove them in the oven while hastily mashing the potato for the fish pie.
‘Can we play Starfish now?’ he asks.
‘Not at the moment,’ I say while thinking a Starfish might be quieter than the bloody terror bird. The kitchen is beginning to resemble a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds.’ So when the Doctor walks in a few minutes later my sense of relief is so great that I almost throw myself into his arms. The Alfred Hitchcock hero is home to board up the house and save me from terror birds and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Son number two arrives and it finally seems safe to run to the loo. Or simply run away. Yes, it feels that bad.
‘Can you watch the fish pie,’ I yell down the stairs ‘and pop some peas on.’
‘Sure,’ says my confident, very clever husband.
I saunter back down ten minutes later to find them chatting away like two women while Timothy is still squawking away. I realise the fish fingers haven’t gone in and there is still no water on for the peas.
‘Poo poo,’ says Timothy, grabbing me by the shawl.
I know exactly how he feels.
‘I need to poo poo,’ he repeats.
He’s surely joking. No one poo poo’s just before dinner. Besides I’ve never taken him for a poo poo. I’ve never taken anyone for a poo poo, come to that. Why the dickens would I? I look to Andrew who pulls a face. I grab his hand Timothy’s that is, not Andrew’s and take him upstairs shouting my orders as I go.
‘Can you keep an eye on the peas and the fish pie?’
‘Sure,’ says Andrew.
I’ve heard that before haven’t I?
Timothy crouches over the loo and begins grunting. I’m holding his hand, terrified he’ll fall off.
‘Is this right?’ I ask.
‘I always do it like this,’ he says, looking at me oddly.
You usually have a shower after too, I’m thinking and I just don’t have time for that. There is more grunting and straining and I think it will never happen when finally … Well, I won’t go into details.
‘Finished,’ I ask.
He shakes his head.
‘I think there is more.
There bloody would be wouldn’t there?
‘Will you be ok for one minute?’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘I’ll hang onto this,’ he says, grabbing the toilet roll holder.
I dubiously consider this. Okay, I’m only going to be a minute. A quick check on the pie and peas and I’ll be back. Surely a child can’t fall off a loo onto the floor and concuss themselves in one minute can they? Mind you, knowing my luck …
‘Don’t touch the loo roll,’ I instruct.
I dash downstairs, where the peas are nearly boiling over.
‘Andrew,’ I shout. ‘I’m in the middle of a poo poo.’
‘This is a mad house,’ says middle son.
‘Sorry,’ says Andrew. ‘It’s just I haven’t seen him for six weeks.’
My ears are cocked for a thud. I really don’t want to have to tell stepson number one that I managed to kill his son during my first babysitting stint. I fly up the stairs to find the bog roll all over the floor.
‘Finished,’ he says. ‘Shower now.’
No way, Jose. I show him the shower substitute cleaner which is my Liz Earle polish cloth and some Johnsons baby wash and a quick scrub of his arse. We make it downstairs to see stepson number one is back. I hand over child.
‘He never gets held on the loo,’ he says.
I give Timothy a stern stare who just grins. Bloody four year old’s, no wonder I look a 100.
I dish up dinner only to find the chips are now crisps. I toss them onto his plate and he stares at it for a few minutes and then asks his daddy,
‘Why are the Fish Fingers soft?’
Honestly there’s no gratitude for making up stories is there?
I raise my eyebrows. How can they be soft? They’ve been in the oven like forever.
He crunches on his chips and finally says.
‘These are burnt. Can you make my Fish Fingers Dada? I don’t like it when Lynda does it.’
‘No pudding for you,’ I say.
Well, I’m entitled to the last word aren’t I?