It takes almost exactly an hour for us to drive from our house to Legoland in Windsor.
And yet, it can seem like much, much longer...
09:00. All in car. Both children present and correct and accounted for, each clutching various soft toys and blankets, which it seems they feel are mandatory in order to render any car journey of any length tolerable.
09:01. I start the engine. "Are you ready to go to Legoland? " I ask, in the rabble-rousing tones of a wrestling match announcer. However, instead of a roar of approval from the back seat my question is met with a quizzical silence.
"Rabbitstokes?" asks Neve, tentatively.
"Um...what?" I reply
"Rabbitstokes?" she repeats.
"She is asking if we are going to the place where we can stroke the rabbits" explains Amelie, helpfully.
"No" I explain. "That is Mead Farm. We are going somewhere even better. We are going to Legoland!"
"Rabbitstokes?" ask Neve again, bottom lip trembling.
"No, Legoland." I repeat.
Neve starts crying
09.02. "Rabbitstokes! Ra-ah-ha-habbit sto-oh-ohkes..." wails Neve mournfully.
"We keep telling you, we are not going to see any rabbits" says Amelie, continuing to 'be helpful'. Sadly, every time she confirms that the day ahead will not contain rabbits of any kind, Neve bursts into fresh tears.
"For heavens sake, Amelie, stop talking about rabbits! It is making her cry!" I bellow.
"I was just trying to help..." says Amelie in a tiny voice, and starts to sniffle.
9.03. Both children are crying properly now, a full three minutes into the journey. I would like to say this is a new record, but in fact I am fairly sure we have managed to have both of them in tears by the time we reached the end of the road before. I look at Nini, who is studying the sky for signs of cloud with an air of complete indifference, having built up a healthy tolerance to these kind of histrionics over the last 4 years.
9:10. Both children are pacified by playing 'Scouting for Girls' on the stereo. Again. Nothing can kill your enthusiasm for music quite like your children enjoying it: I initially liked the album, then grew swiftly tired of it because it we played it so much - that was 6 months ago, and the CD is still in the car. I have heard it so often that I don't even equate it as music any more, it's just road noise to me now. Yet some muscle memory remains, and I occasionally catch sight of myself in the mirror mouthing unknowingly along with the lyrics, like a fish gasping for air. I am already beginning to dread the day the girls get into something like High School Musical, as driving will be rendered torturous.
9:12. "At least there won't be much traffic this time of day, we'll miss the rush hour", I declare foolishly.
"Are you sure?" asks Nini
"We'll be fine" I say. "I drive this road every day."
9:13. We hit unexpected traffic queuing onto the M25 and come to an immediate standstill. Nini pulls her sunglasses down slightly so she can look pointedly at me over them, but I refuse to turn my head and acknowledge her in any way. A wordless battle of wills ensues: will I turn and face her, or will she turn back and gaze out the window first?
9:16. "What is inside you?" asks Amelie suddenly, breaking the deadlock.
This is a tricky question to answer a four year old without more context
"Your dinner?" I offer cautiously.
"No, Daddy." she says happily. "Blood."
"Uhuh.." says her mother, in her special 'That's right but let's not talk about it any more' voice.
"You are full of blood" Amelie continues. "And when you die your skeleton comes out."
There is pause. This is not a light, breezy let's-all-go-to-Legoland topic.
"Shall we play Scouting for girls again?" I offer.
9:23. Both children fall asleep, thus ensuring they will be grumpy and unpleasant on arrival.
9:25. The traffic clears and we get back up to speed. We pass a van for a company that offers conservatory installation. Painted on the side of the door is the legend 'Ask our driver for a free information pack'.
"Ha!" says Nini. "It would be funny if the traffic got so slow we could ask him that as we were driving."
"Meh..." I say noncommittally, which is my way of saying "No, it wouldn't."
9.23. The traffic slows, and the van passes us in the middle lane
"Can I have a free information pack?" calls Nini, through the closed window. "Ha ha ha!"
"Ha. Ha." I manage.
9.25. Our lane speeds up. We overtake the van again.
"Can I have a free information pack?" repeats Nini. "Ha ha ha ha!"
"Ha." I say, nodding in a way that I hope suggests yes, it was a joke, but not a good one, and you've pretty much wrung any last drops of comedy out of it now...
9.27. The van passes us on the inside.
"Can I have a free information pack? Ah hahahahaha!" says Nini, wiping away genuine tears of mirth from her eyes.
I grip the wheel tightly, thank God that the driver can't hear her, and say nothing - which is all you can do when she gets like this. I recall grimly the time I asked her to 'put the kettle on' and she replied "I can, but it won't suit me" and then laughed at her own comedy 'genius' for upwards of an hour.
9.29. We overtake the van.
"Can I have a free information pack?" Nini shrieks, almost insensible with laughter. I flinch visibly and she laughs even harder. I realise that it is not the 'joke' that is amusing her, but my teeth-gritted reaction to her telling it. I try desperately to speed up so that van won't catch us again.
9:31. The van turns off the next slip road. Nini is clearly disappointed.
9:35. A car ahead has a little sign hanging in the rear window that reads 'Superdad on board'.
"Oh look" says Nini. "Superdad is driving to Legoland as well."
"You would think he could just pick up the car and fly there" I say, unsuccessfully masking any bitterness I may feel that my own children have not seen fit to celebrate their father with a rear window 'Superdad' sign.
9:36. We pull up closer. There is a second hanging alongside sign in the rear window. It says "Worlds Best Mum".
'What lucky children," deadpans Nini, "Superdad for a father, and the worlds best Mum."
"Lucky," I agree. "It's a pity our children have to make do with non-trophy winning parents like us..."
"It would be awful if they really held a contest for 'Worlds Best Mum'..." Nini muses aloud.
I leave it hanging for a few seconds and then find myself unable to resist.
"They do," I say. "It's invitation only."
"Didn't you get an invite? The judges select the best Mums in the world, and write to them. Then they have the contest."
"You must have not been in the top 100, or they'd have written to you. Don't feel bad, there's always next year..."
"You are such an arse."
"If you do make it into the final next year, you should tell the judges your "Can I have an information pack?" joke. It's a killer, they'll lap it up..."
9:37. Radio 2 plays while we studiously don't talk for a bit.
9:40. The song 'When Smokey sings' comes on the radio.
"Oooh, I remember this! Who sung it?" asks Nini.
"I think it was 'Curiosity Killed The Cat." I say.
"No, it wasn't them."
"It was. I remember the singers name, it was 'Ben' something."
"Yes, it was - but they didn't sing this. I think 'ABC' sung this."
"No: It was definitely 'Curiosity Killed the Cat'..."
9:42. We reach the part of the chorus that I remember clearly from my childhood goes: "When Smokey sings...I hear violence..." I sing along.
Nini howls in derision.
"What?" I ask.
"Violins. He says 'violins'. You said 'violence'.
I pause. It is hard for me to admit I have been singing the line from this song wrong for nearly 20 years but it is instantly, chillingly clear that that is what has happened. 'Violins' makes so much more sense. This is a delicate situation and I will have to pick what I say next very carefully.
"I was just testing you." I try.
There is snort of pure disgust. "Right. Perhaps those are the lyrics from the special 'Curiosity Killed the Cat' remix of this song that only you know about..."
"They did record this".
"It's like the 'Golden brown' incident all over again. When you thought it was "lays me down with my machine gun" instead of "with my mind she runs".
"I said that as a joke..."
"You did not. You are partially deaf in one ear, why do you even argue about songs with me?"
"This song..." I say, thumping the wheel for emphasis, "...was recorded by Curiosity Killed the Cat."
9.43. The song finishes. "A golden oldie from ABC there..." says the DJ.
9:55. It's been 12 full minutes and we are rapidly approaching Legoland, and yet there are still no signs of Nini letting up on the gloating. It looks very tiring - to do it properly you apparently have to clasp your hands together and then draw big circles the air with them, like you are stirring a cauldron, while shimmying side-to-side in your seat and explaining to anybody who will listen what a colossal halfwit your husband is, who unlike other people is not 'full of blood' but is in fact full of something else.
9:58. We pull into the Legoland car park. I choose the special lane that lets you 'priority park' near the gates for an extra fee, and only when I have parked the car do I notice that the place is almost empty and there are spaces a mere 10 feet away from mine that would have cost nothing.
10:00. We wake the girls up. I explain that we have arrived, and a wonderful day awaits us: there are roller coasters to ride, and waterparks to play in, shows to watch and picnics to be eaten. We will see dragons, and dinosaurs, and can ride log flumes manned by vikings or take a safari train through the jungle.
"All you really have to do," I say, "is decide what you want to do first."
"Rabbitstokes" says Neve.
Monday, 4 August 2008
It takes almost exactly an hour for us to drive from our house to Legoland in Windsor.