“Is there anything else I can get you?” asks the young waitress.
Her eyes go from one of the males at our table, to the other. One is my husband who should have brought his crutches after his various ops in the last year – but is too proud to do so. The other is my 2 and a bit year old grandson who is lording it from his highchair in a rather smart restaurant. And we’ve all gone out to lunch!
It’s my Valentine’s Day present to my husband. I never know what to buy him mainly because he’s only interested in vinyl records with unpronounceable names. So I hit on the idea of this instead. Dinner is out of the question because I’m on my knees after a two granny days on a Friday night and would probably fall asleep, dormouse-style as in Alice in Wonderland, before the starters.
“Biscuit,” demands George in response to our waitress’ question. I raise an eyebrow at him. “Pleeese,” he adds in that sweet little voice which I can never turn down.
“Another?” queries my husband. Although he’s never had children or indeed been married before me, he’s learned enough during our four years of grand-parenting to know that three biscuits in one hour is probably overdoing it.
But so far it’s worked a treat in keeping him quiet.
The one thing about having a gooseberry at a Valentine’s day lunch is that you don’t run out of conversation. “Tell me about phonics school this morning,” asks my husband, glancing at my dusty purple jeans – an indication that I’ve just been crawling round the floor of a village hall.
Regular readers might remember that my daughter has sent me back to school at a Friday workshop with little George. This morning, we concentrated on the “i” sound as in “igloo”. I’ve also been working on the “s” sound at the beginning of words like “school” which George has been pronouncing as “cool”. (Hopefully this means he’s changed his mind about yelling so much at pre-school that we’ve deferred his place until autumn.)
“You’ll never believe it,” I tell my husband. “I kept saying ‘school’ all the way back in the car this morning and he suddenly came out with it.”
I turn to George. “Say, school!”
He adopts a studious expression for a second. “Biscuit,” he says slowly and deliberately.
It’s been quite a week…
Of course, as every couple knows (including grandparents), you should try and discuss things that aren’t just about children. But it’s difficult because our worlds revolve around them. Even so, I’ve had a manic week and at least lunch gives me the chance to tell my other half about it. On Monday, during the day, I was in London for a writers’ group which I co-chair. We had two great novelists as speakers, including one who is a ghost writer for the rich and famous. (Unfortunately I can’t reveal the gossip!)
I then zipped down to see my 96-year-old father and back to London that night for a magazine photographic shoot the next morning. I don’t know about you but I freeze when someone tries to take my pic. I suddenly become a gawky overweight teenager again.
“Try to show some teeth,” pleaded the photographer. But I don’t like them (a fact that goes back to the days when I wore a traintrack brace).
“Think of something nice,” she suggested.
Of course I thought of Rose and George. I also remember how my grandmother used to send me Valentine cards when I was a teenager so I didn’t feel left out when no one else gave me one. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that she came clean.
“That’s much better,” she said, seeing my face relax. Phew!
In the evening, it was off to the Penguin thriller party for authors, journalists and book buyers. I couldn’t help thinking as I mingled amongst all these fascinating people that I live two lives. One involves wiping bottoms and getting the other end of the body to speak. The other is my writing. And of course, I love both.
The funny thing is that I’m not alone. “I’ve three grandchildren,” said a book reviewer whom I chat to. “My wife and I love having them to stay in the holidays.”
It’s actually very reassuring to swap stories with other grandparents. One of my friends is a retired doctor who had her two for an overnighter recently. “Just before their parents picked them up, the little one fell on the kitchen floor and blood began to pour out of her nose. We were frantically trying to mop her up before the doorbell went!”
Anyway, back to Valentine’s Day. After we collect Rose from nursery, we make a card for Mummy and Daddy at my granddaughter’s insistence. “I’ve got to wear my special Cinderella shoes when we do the glue bit,” she announces. “It’s to help the magic.”
Once more, I can’t help marveling about the amazing things they come out with. “Did Mummy buy them for you?” I ask, eyeing the silver sparkly duo she’s brandishing in front of me.
“No. Cinderella gave them to me. She says she’s 35 so is too old to wear them.”
Where does she get her imagination from?!
“Maybe she’ll be a writer too,” says my daughter when we meet up on Saturday morning for a debriefing.
It’s raining cats and dogs outside so we’re actually catching up in the car before she goes into town to meet her friends. It’s so important for mums to do this but I’m also impressed at how hands-on most dads are today.
So I told her about Rose bumping her leg in the playground (and the form I had to sign to say I’d been told about it).
“George then lifted his trouser leg and pretended he had a bruise too,” I chuckled.
It reminded us both of the time that her big brother’s right ankle was in plaster for half a term after a football accident. “I wanted one as well,” says my daughter. “Everyone wrote their names on it and I felt left out.”
We have a lovely chat and a warm cuddle goodbye before she heads off and I return to sort out all the post and stuff that’s accumulated during the week.
Meanwhile, I’m abroad next week to help some people write a novel during half term. I love doing this – especially as it’s somewhere warm. But I know I’m going to miss the children terribly. Thank goodness for Facetime! Meanwhile, I’m taking a small heart that the children have made me. It says, Happy Valentine’s day, Gan Gan.