School holidays are a new thing to us. We are accustomed to having unfettered access to year round childcare in the shape of the excellent nursery both our girls attended. School however seems to run on the principle that it's still 1945 and that Mummy is at home all day polishing the baby and knitting dinner. In the fictitious world of education managers, benign grandparents live around the corner doing nothing that cannot be immediately interrupted for the purposes of tending to their darling grandkids. Sadly, this is not how it is anymore. Houses, which used to cost 3 and 6 now cost more than petrol and so both parents have to go to work. People move around and don't live in the place they grew up in so grandparents and uncles and aunties are spread across the globe in a most unhelpful fashion. This means that modern parents are all accomplished logisticians, able to conjoure endless scenarios involving Breakfast clubs, playdates, close friends, after school clubs and all manner of other desperate measures (once, when I ran a bookshop we found a two children left in the kids section for an entire day whilst their parent went off to work.)
Our Easter holiday has been thrown into disarray by H having to work full time meaning that she is out of the house for about 13 hours a day 4 days a week. Granny has sprung to our aid by coming down for a couple of days but the quid pro quo has been that H had to take the kids up to visit her and Grandad for a weekend. As H's weekend starts on Friday, but mine does not she took the girls up north by herself leaving me with the run of the house for three whole days.
Naturally there was a list of things I had to do. Plus a list of things I wanted to to do. Fortunately, depending on your point of view, most of my friends were also away so there was nothing to distract me.
So, on Friday, I leave work and go home to an empty house. No tired girls crying when I ask them to turn off the telly and come to the table. No having to insist on cutlery being used or that they finish what's on their plate. No bathtime with it's attendant fights and attempted drownings. No bedtime stories with one wanting one thing and the other wanting something else. No wheedling and sulking over "just one more story, pleeeeeeeeeeeease!"
Just a quiet house. A bit of tidying to do. A cupboard full of food and a telly waiting to be watched. I even bought beer.
I did the tidying. I cleaned up a bit. It was very quiet. I put the radio on and cleaned the oven. I put on some washing. I took the dry washing off the rack. I cooked myself some tea. I finished my meal and washed up the plates. There was absolutely no noise. It was weird, spooky even. Certainly not natural.
The next day I got up planning to go and get my hair cut. I had breakfast and cleaned up again, then I tidied the sitting room and hoovered under all the furniture. I'd never done that before. I thought about leaving the house but it just seemed a bit too hard. Almost.....scary. I tidied the girl's room and put the washing away. The silence was like a hissing in my ears, like someone had left a radio on, tuned between stations, and hidden it somewhere in the house. This is ridiculous, I thought, just GO OUT. I swallowed hard, got my bike and left.
Once outside everything was normal again. I went down to the barbers and got my hair cut like a non-mental person and came back. The house was utterly, frighteningly still. I made some toast and crunched it noisily. I did some more washing, slamming the washing machine door as loudly as I could. I put some more clothes away and tidied up some more but couldn't shake off the oppressive, velvet stillness. Even the plastic racket that you have to create in tidying up the toys couldn't lift it.
Saturday passed and Sunday came but for all my tidying and dithering about I still hadn't got all the things done that I had intended. I worked on through the awful silence like a man possessed and finally, finally I heard the car. I dashed to the front door and there they were: my girls. L threw herself at me and gave me a huge hug and S started talking like she was commentating on the closing stages of a very exciting horse race, giving me a full and detailed description of everything they'd done since they last saw me. We walked into the house chatting and laughing with S declaring, "And do you know what Daddy? I have invisible veins!"