Mark Piggott and his family have left London for a tiny village in Suffolk. Have they done the right thing or made the biggest mistake of their lives?
Joy! The kitchen sink is finally installed so now we can wash our pots and clothes without resorting to the scabby old bathtub. Shame about the missing cutlery drawer - "I'll come back later," says the plumber, vaguely - but who cares when you can clean your socks without your hands resembling Brillo pads immersed in Jif?*
Visibly excited (really) Lynda attempts to attach the washing machine's waste hose: it won't reach. Muttering audibly she clambers in the old Stilo to make the 20-mile round trip to Homebase, again. Many moons later she returns with a waste pipe extension which sort of works, apart from a tendency to leak water all over the exposed electricity sockets.
We nod, satisfied: the kitchen's taking shape.
"The dish-washer's out of line, daddy," says Emma, our little interior designer. I narrow my eyes. She's right: it's almost two millimetres out. Carelessly I bang it with my hip: instantly there's a tremendous pain in my finger. For reasons unclear a piece of the dish-washer door has gone AWOL so now a fairly major lump of my finger-flesh sits skewered on an exposed metal shard. Blood pumps from my wound: I jump round the kitchen holding what's left of my hand.
Emma watches me with a wry, curious smile.
"I've never seen you cry, daddy."
Many things make me cry: that bit in The Snowman, and the part in Dumbo where he raises his ears and flies, but the only time I sob with physical pain is when I get calf cramp after combining ecstasy and Tetley Bitter. I never did fit in at that hardcore rave place in Clerkenwell.
Sean's cat-flea-bites seem to be spreading: I'm reminded of the time we were in Broome, Western Australia and Sean, still a baby, contracted the worst chicken pox in human history. They wouldn't allow us on a plane for ten days and we were stuck in the desert as the thermometer hit 45C and flies slurped the pus from his festering scabs. At the time it seemed rather inconvenient. Now, as I look out on the drenched fields, trying to work out if those cowed shapeless shapes are sheep or - well, cows, Broome suddenly seems like paradise.
Really the kids need to go to school so Lynda and I can start turning the house into a place fit for human - humane, even- habitation. We'd hoped to get them both into the nearest, at Straddlewick two miles downriver, but they only accepted Sean, whereas Emma has been invited to attend a C of E school at Mould-on-Flange six miles in the opposite direction.
Believing we've put the kids through enough turmoil we ask the school at Mould-on-Flange if Sean might also attend; they say they have a space so we go to look. The school's set amid gently rolling fields and despite a large proportion of parents being linked to the local US air base all the parents and teachers we see making cakes for that night's Children in Need seem very Jam and Jerusalem. The kids are delighted: we accept.
A few days later I get a call from Suffolk's admissions department. Because Sean was accepted at Straddlewick, the Mould-on-Flange school won't pay for his transport; Emma will be offered a cab but Sean won't so we either pay for him to take a cab every day or we drive them both; a 10-mile round trip twice daily; a hundred miles a week just going to school. Even I can calculate that.
I explain to the admissions lady that all we want is for our kids to go to the same school, and at this point don't particularly care where it is, what the Ofsteds say or even whether it has a pool. Our children are bright and funny and have so much to offer (as do we, I almost add, think better of it), and it really isn't fair. I almost blub.
Sympathetic, the admissions lady suggests I appeal to the Mould-on-Flange school and contact the transport department; they tell me we MAY be able to apply for a discretionary transport grant to cover both children but it will take a few weeks.
I'm still digesting this latest disappointment when the admissions lady calls back:
"Good news! They've accepted Emma at Straddlewick!"
Apparently she spoke to Straddlewick's outgoing head and she reluctantly agreed they'd squeeze Emma in somewhere. Delighted, I thank the nice admissions lady. Unfortunately, as Emma and Sean are next to me they hear everything. Emma bursts into tears.
"I want to go to Mould-on-Flange, daddy!"
I try to think of a response, but can't think of one. Instead I inspect what remains of my finger.
* I mean - Cif.Suggest a correction