So, back to our story. If you remember, we were going to stay a night at a hotel called Rookery Hall in Chester.
Sarah was on the phone to her ex, trying to sort out babysitters. The raised voices told me all was not well.
Sarah hung up. She didn’t look angry, more upset than anything.
“Was that a bad one?
Just the usual. What were you going to show me?
“Nothing, it can wait.
“Tom, don’t do that, you know that winds me up. What?”
Sheepishly, I handed over an envelope. She opened it. Inside was a voucher for a night away at Rookery Hall in Cheshire. She examined the card like it was a rare ming vase. She flipped it between her fingers.
Where did you get this?
“It’s someone else’s unwanted gift.
“You really know how to woo a girl, don’t you?
“I mean, it was some at work, er.. we don’t have to go.
“Why doesn’t the person who received it want it?
“Oh it’s Nigel, He just didn’t fancy it. But you know what they say, horses for courses. Just let me know if you don’t fancy it.”
“So, do I want to got to for an all expenses paid night in an exclusive four star hotel with my new boyfriend? What do you think?
She squeezed my hand.
“Of course I do, but what about the kids? How are we going to do this? My ex is playing up and its exams coming up for Rob…Maybe we can do it in the summer?
“Well that’s fine, but there’s only one problem. Look at the date on the voucher
“12th of June?
“That’s right, we’ve got a week to sort it out.”
I think men are simple creatures. Send them over the top to kill the enemy , they’ll do it. Tell them to pull up a tree, they’ll do it. But tell them to use a bit of subtle coercion , tell them to use a bit of guile, then usually, unless it involves a monkey-wrench, the project is doomed. So it was that I had to ring my ex.
I had to sort out this coming Friday. The Friday to end all Fridays. The Friday that I would surrender the riches of Croesus for. There was no other Friday, this was the Friday.
I picked up the phone and rang the woman I spent twenty years of my life with; who was now a complete stranger.
“Hi it’s me.”
“Tom, What do you want?”
“Listen, you know next Friday? Can you do me a favour?”
“What? Have the kids so you can carry on with Robert Foster’s Mum?”
“That’s ok Tom, take your time.”
In the long and troubled history of Western civilisation, states of all political persuasions, be they democratic or totalitarian have all had their secret societies, covert agencies and department X’s. The KGB, FBI, the Stasi, even our own MI6. But of course, non of these clandestine organisations can hold a candle to the information gathering skills of the most frightening, most subversive most controlling group of them all – the playground mums.
We’d been spotted in the coffee shop in the precinct and the jungle drums immediately started to beat.
Imagine great big bubbles of gossip hanging over our parish “You’re Joking! Well I never! No better than she should be, he’s a fine one. Well I never did! (that’s enough gossip quotes, ed.)
Sarah was on the phone. “We’ve been rumbled. We’re the talk of the playground. If I get anymore women giving me a false smile I’ll start thinking I’m at an awards ceremony. What do you think Tom?”
My response was measured, concise and to the point. “I’m not really arsed.”
“You don’t care?
“If you want me to care then I will. I’m trying to care but to be honest, I’m just not feeling the hate. More to the point, I can’t get the kids minded on Friday.
“Oh well, that’s that then, it was a nice try.
“No, I’m going to have to try harder. I have come too far, I am not going to take this lying down. I’m going to ring the ex back
“And what are you going to do?
“I’m going to pull out my secret weapon. I’m going to steamroller her with the force of my iron will
“And what does that mean exactly”
“I’m going to beg.
Some men cross broken bridges to save their lady. Some heroes rush into burning buildings. But I am made of stronger stuff. I was off on my hands and knees to plead. But I was determined that I would keep my head held up high at all times. And if that meant a slight crick in my neck, then so be it..
In the end she relented. I offered to have them for an extended period the following week. It’s terrible bartering over the time you spend with your kids. They get caught up in the mess. But most of the time I did what lots (but not all ) men do. Give in for a quite life.
I lost the battle, but won the war – Friday was on!
Or so I thought. Sarah rang back. Her ex was off the wagon. Again.