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It was a successful outing to the park. Very successful. Apart from Deminimus commandeering the roundabout and not allowing any Stupid Girls on and Liability having to be picked weeping off the slide, where she'd got stuck halfway down, a queue of children shouting at her from the top while she jiggled her bottom about for five minutes, baffled at her inability to descend. "Feet up," I kept shouting. "Feet up!" but to no avail. I have a horrible feeling that driving lessons, when they come, are going to ruin us. Subjudice stood sneering at us from the sidelines, feeling far too old to Have Fun and battling against the cold in a crop top which lets the world see her nine-year-old navel. A normal family on a Saturday outing, in other words, especially as the Lawyer was nowhere to be seen (having nipped off to Dixons to get the footie scores on Ceefax) and I had to keep two pieces of dangerous playground equipment and a mutinous nine-year-old in sight all at once.
Reunited, we all had a slap-up tea at Pizza Express, and the waiters just couldn't look after us enough, hovering around in an attempt to catch flying bits of dough ball and barely yelping when Liability knocked her glass of Coke on to the floor. As we left I could see them rush at our table with those funny dustpans on long sticks, trying to contain the slick of Coke and broken glass seeping out towards the other guests.
We arrived at the car with the Lawyer pressing down on the key fob with his thumb for all he was worth, waving his hand in big squares and swearing mildly at over-cautious remote locking devices.
We eventually had to open the doors with the key (imagine!) and the alarm didn't start. Neither, it turned out, did the car, because the alarm had been bellowing its guts out all afternoon until the battery had nothing left to give. We know because a group of irate teashop owners surrounded us and told us so. And asked us what we were going to do about all the customers we'd scared away. We cowered in the car, called the recovery people on the mobile, and turned the radio up.
Then the voice of doom came from the back. "S Club 7, mummy." Wails from the five-year-old and the nine-year-old, who believe themselves far above such music. At least the Spice Girls had a respectably mature fan base of eight-year-olds; the average owner of the S Club 7 album must be three and a half.
Liability had that breathy catch in her voice which means she's about to go off like the whistle on a steam kettle, and it was getting perilously near her bedtime, when she turns into a sodden mass. (If she were a doll, they'd call her Tired Tears.) So S Club 7 it was, with the night growing around the car, the rain starting to fall, the Lawyer bellyaching about the papers he had to mark up, and the recovery man nowhere in sight. Two hours later we'd lived through fights, singalongs, several toilet runs to the nearby hotel, and we could all join Liability in the full-length version of Don't stop, never give up.
And then they all fell asleep, the Lawyer included, most of them with their thumbs in their mouths. And I could quietly turn off the radio and get Sebastian Faulks out of my bag, where he has been lurking, unread, for a fortnight. Peace at last.
Let's hope the recovery van doesn't get here too soon.