Ten years ago I must have had a lot of energy. I worked forty plus hours a week, and was on-call one weekend in four. I was training for a marathon, so ran with a running club on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Sunday was the long one, close to twenty miles. And I also lifted weights, at lunchtimes and after work; on average three times a week. Yet with all this activity, I still had time for an evening class at London University and for socialising.
On Friday night through to Saturday, I looked after my four year old daughter. We had a routine. Meal at home on Friday, and a trip out on Saturday. The trip invariably involved a meal at a child friendly restaurant, a visit to the park (come rain or shine) and some down time at home.
Weekends, particularly Saturdays were also the time for children’s birthday parties: so when one of her nursery class reached the grand old age of five; I would either be dropping her off or attending. Weekend dad’s like myself tended to group together at such events; we were the odd one’s out I suppose.
I remember one such party was held in the street where the poetess Sylvia Plath, drew her last breath. I pointed the house out to my daughter, and mentioned the fact she was famous, but that was all. Anyway the memory is still there, implanted forever. The entertainment was a clown; the mere sight of him terrified my daughter. But eventually the lure of party food and balloons drew her closer to the action.
As she skipped towards her friends a weekend dad turned to me and said, “Party duty again.”
Party Duty November, 2003
Daddy is late again today. He hurries round forgetting things, picking up cushions, rummaging through his pockets, jangling keys and loose change. Daddy looks at me and says:
“I won’t be mad with you Dusty, if you went through my pockets and played with my keys. Are you sure you didn’t just take them out and hide them somewhere”.
He’s most confusing when he’s like this. All flustered, little droplets of sweat running through the furrows in his brow. He’s not angry with me though. But he’s starting to get angry with something, it must be those keys.
“No daddy” I say, “I haven’t seen your keys”, and even give him some helpful advice; “Maybe you left them at Nannies Dad”.
But that’s not right apparently, its just plain impossible he says. He asks me to explain how we managed to get home without them, but I can’t. He runs up stairs very quickly and starts slamming doors, then he shouts very loud:
“God help me”.
He swears and curses, which makes no sense, especially if he’s wanting help from God. I say a little prayer, so God knows that Daddy did not really mean to swear, he was just mad with those bloody car keys.
I always find that moving around during times like these is a bad idea; I just get in his way. So I sit down, on the sofa and watch some TV. But the TV just makes him more annoyed when he gets downstairs. He asks me to stop watching TV and concentrate.
“Now try and remember if you’ve seen the keys anywhere, please Dusty”.
I just shake my head, I see a picture of the keys in my mind, but they are suspended in the air, in some nowhere place. Then I have a brilliant idea.
“What about the spare set Dad”.
A smile flashes on his face for a second, then it crumbles, like a melting snowman.
“Great Dusty, I’ll just travel to Birmingham and get the spare set from mummy. We’ll get the train, bet she will be really happy to see us, Not!”
I was half believing in our trip to see mummy, then he had to go and spoil it. I think Daddy realises he’s said the wrong thing and makes an excuse:
“Mummy’s working in Birmingham, and wouldn’t be too happy if we turned up at her audition. So lets see if we can find those keys and get ourselves some proper lunch, before the jelly and ice-cream”
I really love The Diner; you know the best thing about it are the seats. They have two types: Big red and white leatherette bucket seats (that’s like a plastic leather), they remind me of the back seat in Dad’s car, but without seatbelts and crumbs. Then they have tall stools, round a counter, which snakes through the centre of the restaurant. The stools are covered with red leatherette and have a shiny silver stalk, but I hardly ever get to sit on them. We always sit in the booths, which have two bucket seats and a Formica topped table in the middle. It looks like a big bag of multi-coloured jelly babies, were squashed up and poured into the tabletop mix.
“Good enough to eat if you were Formica man,” I accidentally say out loud, which makes our waitress laugh.
This is my treat for finding Daddies keys, we found them together so he chose the prize, and later I get to go to Rosie’s birthday party. Not that I was not always going, its just Dad sometimes says rash things. When he’s mad, then forgets all about them when he calms down. Like when he said Rosie’s party was cancelled because we had no car. I wanted to cry when he said getting a bus was out of the question, because of the cold. But he’s only thinking of me, after all what would Mummy say if he brought me back with a runny nose.
Dad made me take off my coat and hat, and sat there in his favourite chair, staring at the blank telly.
“Why don’t we look on the table downstairs” I say. But he just fiddles with the remote control. I see his finger mover over the one button, the one for kids TV. Then he comes back to life, like a DVD going from paused to play.
“Let’s take a look downstairs” he says, like it was his idea. So we both raced down the three flights of stairs to the cold hall. On the way I saw a picture from the night before; dad stopping at the letter table in the hall, putting down his car keys and reading the post. Then I saw the keys, twinkling on the letter table. Dad shouted:
“Great, how did they get there,” and punched the air. I did the same and danced round and round, singing “Daddy’s found the keys, Daddy’s found the keys”, until he told me to hurry-up and get my coat on.
He’s talking to the blond haired waitress now. She’s the one he always talks to; she looks nothing like Mummy with her big eyelashes and lipstick. And she always says the same thing, like a talking doll. Dad always laughs as if it’s the first time he’s heard her story. She likes to guess our order, which makes me want to change mine, but I never do: the baby-dog and chocolate malt are just too scrummy. Daddy leaves lots of change for her and sometimes makes me run over with his payment. She pats my head as we leave, which makes me mad, but I say nothing because Daddy’s in a good mood.