Who says God does not have a sense of humour? Today, we spent six and a half hours getting to London for another children's birthday party and guess where it was. A city farm.
To me, the city farm is yet more evidence that nobody really has to go live in the country. The boys and the baby saw animals and got lots of fresh air in between the balloon fights and butter-creamed cake. The city even "does" the country better. At the city farm, there was a cafe with proper coffee. One Northumberland cafe I go to boasts "instant cappuccinos" on its menu and they are not talking about the wait. The farm also offered classes in upholstery, stone sculpture and bike maintenance with particular attention given to "wheel truing" - I have always wanted a true wheel. Best of all, there were helpful signs attached to the animal paddocks. I never knew, for instance, that sheep have very good memories and "can remember a face up to two years after a first meeting." That is better than me.
London still makes me heartsore though. It is the feeling you have when someone you love leaves you although I know I did the leaving. I am ashamed of myself for the teenage anxst of it all. So I moved. Big deal. I should shrug in a sophisticated way, inhale hard from a cigarette held in a costume jewelled hand and slowly blow a smoke ring into the already cloudy air. I do not live here anymore. I do not understand how I have left the city and yet carry it with me.
I think I have been in quite a strange mood though. I felt the day started oddly. We had not managed to snatch breakfast before we left the house in a bid to catch a 7.30am train. My husband had driven too fast down a dark and dangerous road and I had been worried throughout that we would miss it. Once we parked the car, we figured that if we ran, there was just seven minutes left to buy food before we crossed the bridge over the tracks onto the platform. Standing with the pushchair, I queued for five croissants, coffees and warm milk at the coffee stand on the concourse. The pressure mounted as I glanced at the large, wrought-iron clock which hangs over the heads of passengers warning them not to be tardy. The boys, muffled in their red wool hats and overly long scarves, were pulling at me and it was the sort of cold that makes you pull your shoulders close to your ears and wish you were anywhere else. One of those old men you find only in railway stations shuffled over. He asked me how old the boys and the baby were and stooped down to carress her small silky head. "A boy?" he asked. I did that up-down rapid calculation you do to decide whether the stranger spells danger and decided he was just sad and lonely.
"I had a boy but he died at seven," he told me. This is the moment at which the coffee seller decided to ask me what I wanted. I ignored her.
"That's terrible," I said. "You don't forget do you? What happened?"
He told me the boy had a hole in the heart.
"In four years, I lost six people," he said.
"How dreadful," I said, as you do.
I have been angry at myself all day because, anxious as I was to get us all some breakfast, there was a moment I turned away from him to order the milk and pastries for my own little family and I never asked him his son's name. I should have.