The plane to Alicante is packed with families going away at half term.
“Stop arguing,” says one mum to two medium-sized children. “Please! Honestly, I hope you’re not going to squabble all holiday.”
Meanwhile, a toddler has thrown himself on the ground at check-in, having a right old wobble. “It’s no good yelling,” says a harassed-looking dad. “I haven’t got any more snacks.”
I should be feeling relieved. After all I’ve got a week off from granny-care while my working daughter is at home for half-term. So here I am, about to fly off to Spain to give a talk and also start my next book.
But already, I’m missing my grandchildren dreadfully.
To make it worse, there is a big family party in front of me, made up of three generations
The granny has got the little one on her knee. They’re reading a Thomas The Tank Engine book which happens to be our current favourite. “I’ve been reading that with my grandchildren too,” I want to say.
Then my phone pings with a text. “Have a good time,” texts my daughter.
She’s up early! It’s only 5.30am. That means either Rose or George has woken up. If only I was with them to help…
When I get on the plane, I find myself sitting in front of a small boy who keeps kicking the back of my seat.
“Don’t do that,” says his mother. But he takes no notice. It reminds me of the time when my youngest did something similar all the way to Australia when we went to visit relatives some twenty-five years ago.
“It’s all right,” I say, even though it’s not. Thankfully he stops when his parents palm him off with an iPad. I could have done with one of those back in the day to keep them amused…
Four hours later, I’m sitting by the swimming pool. Children of all shapes and sizes are ducking and diving around me.
“I am so sorry,” says one mother when one of her offspring jumps off the edge and soaks me.
“It doesn’t matter,” I say.”‘I’m a granny. I know what it’s like.”
Then I realise this must be the umpteenth time I’ve either said or thought that today. It’s as if I need to show that even though I am here all alone, I’ve got a family too. In fact, being a granny has become part of my identity. However did I manage before the children were born?
Later, when I give my talk, I find myself bringing in anecdotes about my grandchildren.
“Have they inspired your writing?” asks someone in the audience.
Yes! My latest novel actually has a granny as a heroine. I’ve also started making up stories with Rose and we’re planning a granny/granddaughter book. She’s even started to put on a pair of imaginary glasses and tapping away at an imaginary typewriter!
After the talk, I go shopping to look for presents.
“Please don’t,” says my daughter when I call her for advice on what to get. “We don’t have enough room to put everything as it is. Actually I was going to ring you. George has got a temperature.”
Oh no! I hate being away when the “babies” are ill. I know my daughter and son-in-law are more than capable of coping, but I feel happier if I’m around.
“I think it’s because George is teething,” she says.
“There might be another reason,” I point out. “Don’t you think you should take him to the doctor?”
“Stop fussing, Mum. You always panic.”
Oh dear. Do I?
Maybe it’s because I’ve had quite a lot of experience with bringing up my daughter and her two brothers. Still, I didn’t like it when my mother tried to tell me what to do either.
So I turn my attention to writing my next chapter in the sunshine.
But some children are playing ball outside my apartment and it’s hard to think. One of them looks rather like little Rose and I feel a lurch in my chest. “I’m sorry my lot are so noisy,” says a grey-haired woman who’s with them.
“Don’t worry,” I call out. “I’m a granny too.”
“Actually,” she says coolly, “I am their mother.”
The next day, George’s temperature has risen even higher. “I’m taking him to the doctor,” texts my daughter.
I bite back my “I told you so”. Instead I can hardly concentrate on my suntan. What if George has something serious?
Three hours later, I haven’t heard any news
I try to get through but no one picks up. Finally, she calls. “Sorry it’s been a bit hectic. They think George might have hand, foot and mouth.”
In the background, I can hear my little grandson wailing piteously. I want to be there, helping out.
“You know,” says my childless husband when I ring to tell him. “I appreciate you mean well but don’t you think you ought to stand back a bit? You can’t be there all the time.”
He’s right. But it’s so difficult.
I fret throughout the night. In the morning there is no message on our family WhatsApp group. So I ring. They’ll be having breakfast about now.
“What’s wrong?” murmurs my sleepy-sounding daughter.
“I want to know how George is.”
“Better. Do you know it’s only 6.30am?”
Oops! I forgot the time difference. Still, only a day now until I fly home.
At the airport in the check-in queue, there’s a little one in front of me in a pushchair. I notice he’s only got one shoe on. This has happened to us more times than I can tell you. In fact, I’m very grateful to total strangers over the past few years who have either come running after me with a missing shoe or alerted me to the fact. (On each occasion I’ve gone back and thankfully found the missing appendage.)
So I return the favour to the mother in front.
“I know,” she says. “The other one is in my bag. He keeps kicking it off.”
“I understand,” I say. “I’m a granny.”
She shoots me a distrustful look and turns her back. I might be imagining this but I think I hear the word “busybody”.
On the plane, I find myself sitting next to a retired grandad who’s just been out to Spain to have a break with his grandchildren. At first I don’t really want to talk because I’d intended to write. But it seems rude so we fall into conversation. It turns out that his wife has Parkinsons and he is her full-time carer. This is his first break for some time.
“The grandchildren have saved her,” he says. “She loves helping them research their projects for homework.”
My heart does a little warm flip. With all the bad news in the world at the moment, it’s lovely to hear stories like this.
We don’t land until after midnight. But the first thing I do in the morning is to cycle round to little Millie and George. There’s no sign of the hand, foot and mouth now. Apparently it might have been a virus rash from a cold.
“I’ve got you a present,” I say.
My daughter groans. “Mum! I told you not to bother.”
But Millie is already opening the tiny box. “It’s beautiful,” she says.
It’s a small shell, no bigger than her finger nail.
George puts his hand out to grab it.
“No,” says Rose crossly. “It’s mine.”
Oh oh. Looks like I might have started an argument here. Perhaps I should have stayed in Spain…
I Looked Away by Jane Corry is published by Penguin Viking. To buy, go to https://amzn.to/2Lq2rew and https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Looked-Away/23635139