The Lawyer had a big London project to close, and a great big expenses package to go with it, so he brought the whole family down and put us up in a hotel over Easter. This way he answers the constant whine of “You never take us to London!” and “Sophie’s been on the London Eye three times!” without having to do any of the heavy lifting.
“Go mad,” he said, handing out travelcards.
“No taxis then?” I asked, steeling myself for the task of getting three children with completely different agendas across London without losing them.
“Don’t push your luck,” said the Lawyer. “And no hanging around Oxford Street. Try the museums – they’re free.”
After two days of doing what everyone else wanted and having to queue for hours to do it, I rebelled and said we were spending the day in Hampstead, where I used to live as a student. “I’m hoping to recapture my youthful optimism,” I said.
“Oh, you won’t find any of that in Hampstead,” said the Lawyer, making a brief appearance over the hotel toast and jam after a 4am finish earlier that morning. “It’s all barristers and actuaries there now. They’re working too hard to afford optimism. Mind you, it’s the only thing they can’t buy.” Deal closure always makes him cynical. I ignored him.
“And the days when I had time to enjoy a cup of coffee and read a book,” I said, rounding up the children.
“But Mum, it’s just like at home!” wailed Subjudice when we got there, looking at the shops, which were a replica of our own high street. Gone are the little boutiques I remember, but I refused to be less than optimistic.
“It’s much posher than at home, and you won’t see any celebrities there,” I said. “Quick! I think Madonna just nipped into Baby Gap. She looked terrible.”
“Ooh! Really bad?” asked my daughter, running in. She’s obviously destined to work on a celebrity magazine.
“Time for coffee,” I announced when she returned, complaining that Madonna’s minders must have smuggled her out the back.
I took them into the poshest coffee shop I could find, pushed them through the traffic jam of three-wheeler buggies, whipped out The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and ordered cappuccino. There was an audible gasp, and someone dropped a plate.
“What are they all looking at, Mummy?” asked Liability, loudly.
One of the Hampstead mummies leaned over. “Cappuccino in the morning, dear,” she said kindly, pointing a small cake fork at us. I had a wild vision of stabbing her with it, but held myself back. “Tea in the afternoon,” she concluded, and turned back to her companions. I sat, open-mouthed, for a minute, wondering how I could prove myself to be, in spite of appearances, a sophisticated person. Not, obviously, by bursting into tears and saying that the chance to drink any coffee at all was a treat; so I hustled the children out and we went to the ice-cream van on the Heath instead.
“I don’t think I come up to London standards any more,” I told the Lawyer as we met at King’s Cross for the voyage home.
He looked at me through bloodshot eyes, the legacy of two nights of deal negotiation and one of closure celebrations. “I know what you mean,” he said. “I offered to buy a bottle of champagne and they looked at me as if I’d taken my trousers off. Apparently what everyone drinks now is cranberry juice, vodka and Alka-Seltzer all mixed up together. Hit and hangover cure in one, they said. Do you think life has passed us by?”