My day began with the postman bringing me a pipe. Not, unlike a surprising number of village residents (we discovered this during last year’s Thursday clap), of the bag variety; rather the traditional smoking version. During lockdown cigarette ingestion has swollen to unsustainable levels. In spring and summer 2020, add vats of gin, whisky and wine to that mix.
Mrs M and I learnt the lesson from the alcohol consumption. It’s too expensive and too exhausting when you’re compelled seven days a week to get up at 6am whilst working at all hours. The smoking, or rather my smoking, escalated dramatically to balance things out.
Formerly my working habits involved looking put together, travelling constantly between home and London, occasionally elsewhere, and spending long hours in sweaty offices or scampering between the Central and Piccadilly Lines. Smoking and drinking was carried out in binge fashion, late at night, and I always remembered to brush my teeth.
Home working and home schooling has put paid to that. It has not, surprisingly, led to a bucolic existence where we sow vegetable seeds and patiently watch them grow, idly watching the butterflies rest on our arms. Oh no; it has meant Mrs M and I behave as trapped predators, pacing round the garden reeking of gin and hollering at any woodpecker which dares show its bill. There is no day, there is no night. We barely dress. I rarely shave.
The pipe, therefore, was an effort on my part to move toward a healthier existence. Rather than shove twenty cigarettes down my piehole with breakfast I have opted for an inhale-free puff.
Despite great intentions, my pipe-smoking career shall have to wait ’til tomorrow. Cerberus’ math classes have been elevated to the front of the queue. I’m not particularly grieved. Smoking a pipe may give me a Holmesian demeanour but looks like it will take a helluva lot longer to master than chugging five cigarettes at once. By summer I plan to be a shag smoking champion.
Meantime I try desperately to stave off social services. There are days of the week when I’d be glad of their company, and thrilled at the peaceful house which would follow their departure. Nevertheless, we are parents, we are responsible, and it’s very much going to be our fault if our children remain illiterate for life and pursue a life of crack-dealing rather than librarianship. No PR company could save us from the public humiliation.
For some unbeknown reason math lessons have become of great interest to Cerberus. Instinctively I assume it is because there are prizes offered on completion of certain tasks, but maybe I’m being unkind. Either way, he is into it today and it’s blessed relief.
As I have mentioned previously, I am noting signs in the boy that he isn’t the deranged serial killer I’d assumed. He is paying attention to lessons. By that I mean an increase from ten minutes per day to twenty; it’s a doubling all the same.
Over and over we go through multiplication, patterns, division and a perpetual range of numerals and their cousins. Cerberus is rapt. Eventually of course he sneers, spits at the screen and walks off, but twenty minutes in one place is Resurrection level miraculous.
Work is incessant at the moment. There’s no end of things to do, write and phone calls to make; Mrs M and I barely keep our chins above water. Our belief is that this is the furious tempest before calm reigns. If not, we’ll never make it to spring.
A friend calls me today. He, childless, is marooned in Belgium alone in his apartment. He’s been there for months on end, and spent Christmas eating crisp sandwiches and drinking port.
In that scenario our house would’ve been a crime scene by now. Homicide, possible but unlikely; lying on the floor being eaten by the dog, perfectly conceivable.
I think of this whilst I scrub the children’s hair post-bath. They really detest it when daddy washes them. Mrs M thinks I may be too cavalier. I’m not so certain. I turned out an upstanding pillar of the community after all, and still to this day I can feel the burn from when my own father used to towel my hair dry, I roaring in anguish.