Legal widow

Liability has been reading Enid Blyton boarding school books, so it was just a matter of time before I heard a little voice asking: “Mum, can I go away to boarding school?”

“Liability, you’re seven,” I said. “Even the royal family hold on to theirs for longer.”

“But why NOT?” she asked, kicking the table leg so hard that Coke sprayed all over everyone’s homework. The others shrieked and threw brown, soggy paper at her.

“Well, you know, this family just wouldn’t be the same without you,” I said. “Talk to your father.”

“Oh God, no,” he said, when she showed him the bit in Malory Towers where Darrell sorts out all the bullying in the Upper Fourth. “They’re incredibly damaging. Look at the office. You can tell all the boarding school types a mile away. They all go for fag breaks together or skulk in the library.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” said Subjudice, who comes home reeking of cigarette smoke, although she’s clever about it: they’ll find WMDs before I find a shred of tobacco on her.

“But it’s what it says about them,” said the Lawyer. “The pack mentality, the giggling together during presentations. The awful practical jokes – Gareth in corporate put a whole load of sneezing powder into the air-conditioning last week and they had to evacuate the typing pool because their eyes closed up. One of them ended up in casualty, bleeding, and do you know what happened?”

“She lost her sight?” I gasped.

“No!” cried the Lawyer. “I had to type out a letter myself. Anyway, the worst thing is the types these boarding schools produce. The bullies, for a start.”

“Oh, but Darrell says if you stand up to them they can’t boss you about,” said Liability.

“Yeah, try telling that to your head of department when he’s got your assistant weeping her eyes out in the loo and you’re three days away from your annual assessment,” said the Lawyer. “And then there’s the Mother Teresas – the ones who had to look after all the new bugs who were crying in bed after lights-out. They turn out to be monsters: an obsessive need to sort out all your problems, and before you know it they’re accompanying you on prostate gland check-ups and…”

“Who the hell is this?” I snapped. “And what prostate gland check-up?”

“What’s a plastic gland?” asked Liability, as I shouted “Pudding time!” at the top of my voice.

“You don’t think she really wants to go to boarding school?” I asked the Lawyer later, as we were preparing for bed.

“No. You just have to remind her they don’t have branches of Claire’s and McDonald’s at boarding school. Mind you, this book is good,” as he finished In the Fifth at Malory Towers. “It’s a bit like the company flat on a good night.”

“What company flat?” I asked, feeling sidelined by my own life.

“Oh, they’ve stopped putting us up in hotels. They’ve got this flat instead. On a good night, you can have three or four of the lads staying there, and we have a takeaway, watch a video, play poker. That Gareth is brilliant at cards. Said he learnt it all at school. And it’s great, because if you’ve got a bit of work to get on with, you’ve always got company. Actually, it sounds just like the homework sessions in this book. Mind you, the hangover in the morning is terrible. I don’t suppose Darrell ever had to worry about that.”