Lynda's supposed to meet me at the train station but the Stilo's out of action: some sort of steering rod calamity that will cost more to fix than we paid for the infernal thing. For about a trillisecond I consider taking a mechanic's course then remember I have better things to do. I'm not sure what, exactly, but I do.
It's dark and raining again - I've never seen this train station in daylight but I'm pretty sure it's worse. Having clattered an old lady aside I claim a cab which takes me to Old Front Bottom at a great price and greater speed.
(In the vanishingly small interval between purchasing the Stilo and it breaking down I discovered country drivers have X-ray eyes which enable them to ascertain what's beyond every blind bend and every blind dip. This amazing ability allows them to overtake at a moment which to a city driver might seem deranged).
Having left home at 5am I return about nine, quaking with terror and fatigue. Lynda wordlessly hands over a can of Stella. In the living room, which is now in approximately the right position, albeit with three inches of mud across the floor, the kids sit hunched over laptops and barely register my arrival.
Emma has made a "Minecraft" version of our house, complete with pink-punk sheep and a virtual version of the dog we will soon possess, whatever my own misgivings. This virtual house, though recognisably ours is much larger, much grander, more detached than the real thing - no Dead Bob Willis* and his invisible wife just the other side of the chimney, scrumpy-glasses to the wall, ever-vigilant for sound: as if all "noise", whatever the decibel-level or reason, is inherently "noisy".
Scratching his flea bites, which seem to have merged into one vast, festering sore covering half his body, Sean clones sheep on "Minecraft" then blows them up; he seems to have adjusted to country ways. At least - I think they're sheep. If anything they're harder to distinguish than the shaggy black lumps in the field outside. As I drain another Stella Emma shows me her new school uniform with its Hogwarts-like crest.
"I always wanted to have a uniform, daddy."
I'm surprised. At the old school in London there was no uniform and that suited me fine. If kids MUST be forced into uniforms can't they at least be practical, polo shirts and trainers? I'm about to say something profoundly, heart-stoppingly dull on the subject when Emma pulls a pained face.
"I wish it was school right now, daddy. I'm - so - bored!"
I swallow beer, guiltily. Lynda and I have been so busy making the place habitable while continuing to work in London and trying to make the cats feel at home we've somehow assumed the kids would be happy playing Minecraft and eating waffles. I resolve to drive them to the sea-side as soon as the car's fixed.
"Daddy," says Emma brightly, "can we go to the pub?"
Emma likes the Straw Dog: it serves warm, un-microwaved food (we're still cookerless), has Jenga, and best of all its dry.
"Not tonight," I smile, "you have school tomorrow."
Mentally I congratulate myself on being such a fine father: sorry kids, no pub on a school night. Next morning Emma and Sean do look splendid in their uniforms, with no sign of nerves: in fact they seem so keen to get off they wait by the car for hours. In the sleet.
When we arrive at Straddlewick School Sean's teacher is rather doddery and has apparently forgotten his arrival. Most of the other parents avoid eye contact. Apprehensively we kiss the kids goodbye and drive home. After attempting - and failing - to fix the summerhouse roof in the deluge we decide to forgo microwaved pasties for once and go to the pub for lunch.
*It occurs to me that if the real Bob Willis is dead, this nickname will be both tasteless and redundant. Maybe I should check but I have no time: the summerhouse roof has blown off again and is currently decorating a neighbour's tree like a strange hat. If anyone could let me know if Bob Willis is alive or dead I'd be grateful. No emails please.Suggest a correction