Free time?

Flora’s first day at school

My daughter Flora started school last week and, with the youngest Beatrice starting playgroup at the same time, Jessie (wife) and I have, for the first time in five and a half years, had some time in the house to ourselves.

We had, no we still have, great plans. The possibilities seemed endless when we sat down last week to discuss them.

It was decided I’m going to benefit massively from the peace and quiet. I’m, supposedly, going to be able to think freely and produce some scintillating writing to take my “career” to the next level. I’m not too sure what I’m going to write about at this point, but we’re certain it’ll come.

Jessie created a list of tasks to rival anything since Eurystheus handed Hercules a sheet of papyrus and said, “Get on with it.” She’s going to, or at least planned to: paint the outbuildings, fix the conservatory roof, fix various plumbing problems, sort the ceiling in our shed, paint the decking, paint the wrought iron fence, completely weed the garden, sort the mountain of paperwork that’s built up on the “to-do” shelf in the kitchen… yes, it’s a shelf rather than a pile, various other jobs and, oh yeah, think about getting a job.

Anyway, a week and a half ago, this all seemed highly do-able. 10 days in and we’re not so sure. As it turns out, having two children in education frees up less time than we’d imagined. This, for example is how yesterday panned out:

From 7.30 to 8.30 it was: breakfast, locating and putting on the correct clothing, thinking about a snack for playtime, brushing teeth, finding school bags, shoes and hair clips, arguing about the suitability of wearing plastic necklaces to school, talking about the importance of listening to your teacher and going for last-minute piddles.

Then at 8.30 Jessie took Flora to school. They’re currently cycling down the road with Beatrice on the back of J’s bike. Then, at 9.00, J and B hightailed it back up the road to get home in time to drive B to playgroup, starting at 9.30. After dropping her off, J made it back here for 9.45 to begin her “free time.”

But, before she could do that, we just had to quickly fill out a, “pupil information survey” from Aberdeenshire council….

What is your first language? English. What is your second language? Schoolboy French… Oh right, Flora’s second language. None. What other languages are spoken in the house? Erm. None. After answering these crazy questions for half an hour or so, it was time for me to get back to creating my opus and for Jessie to embark on her projects.

Minutes after sitting down at my desk, the phone rang…

“Hello?”
“I’m calling from a company in your area and we’re doing a survey and I’m just going to ask you a few questions and…”
“Wait, wait, I don’t want to answer a few questions.”
“… and it’ll just take a minute of your time and I’ll just start now…”
“But I said I didn’t want…”
“…  and what kind of property is it that you’re in there?”

At this point I decided if I was going to be spoken to in this silly way, I was going to speak back in a silly way.

“This is a house.”
“Yes but what kind? A detached, terrace, bungalow..?
“It’s a neo-gothic tower house.”
“Right, neo-gothic. And how old are your windows?”
“Funny you should ask, I had them all replaced last week.”
“Right, and how old are your doors?”
“Oh, one is about four weeks and the other is about 250 years.”
“Right, quite old then. Would you consider changing that door?”
“Probably not. It’s proved itself quite durable to this point.”
“Right, would you consider a conservatory?”
“I would consider a conservatory.”
“And where would you put that?”
“Probably out the back. We’ve already got one there but I don’t see why we shouldn’t have another, just for the banter.”
“Right, and can I ask who I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with.”
“Mr Johnstone.”
“Right, thanks Mr Johnstone, bye.”

So, now it was 10.35 and I was feeling a little less like writing War and Peace than when I woke up.

Next, the dog started whinging at the bottom of the stairs. He refuses to empty his bowels in the garden and has to be taken for a walk each day. Jessie volunteered and headed off.

Right, peace at last, it was time to get down to it. The phone rang again…

“Hullo, Could I speak to a Mr Johnstone please?”
“Sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong number. Bye.”

And now, to work… A knock at the door. Oh, an order from ASDA, excellent. With Jessie out I had to take it all in, check the substitutes, sign for it, clean yoghurt off everything in one bag because a pot had burst, put the frozen things in the freezer and the perishable things in the fridge. Right, done. Back to work at 11.00am. At this point I had achieved basically nothing. The phone rang again…

“Is that Mr Johnstone?”
“Wrong number.”

Jessie got back in at 11.15 and began thinking about tasks. 30 minutes later, she had to leave to pick Bea up from playgroup and, an hour later, both girls were back in the house with pandemonium reigning even more determinedly than when they were out.

I had written about 150 words of drivel and Jessie had made one phone call to a plumber who didn’t answer. Is there any limit to the potential of human endeavour?

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