When I returned to work after my six-year-old was born, I automatically became one of those mothers who are convinced they would be infinitely happier at home. These mothers think that quitting work would rub away the years on their face and boost both the IQ and life-chances of teenie-tinies who do not yet know how to cut up their own food.
My work-station consolation was a silver-framed, happy days photograph of the children and the thought of a patient and loving nanny at home who cared for my children with greater efficiency and better humour than I ever did. We saw our former nanny during the weekend in London and, about the moment she gave the children whoopee cushions, I went off her. Whoopee cushions - there is a good toy for the train especially when your husband insists you sit in the quiet coach because the other carriages are so busy.
The "quiet coach" has signs which dictate the terms of the peace: no mobile phone calls; electronic equipment to be used in silent mode and "chatting" (a past-time the railway company obviously does not approve of) to be done "quietly and with consideration for others." As my husband pointed out, the signs said nothing about whoopee cushions.
We took up our seats, blew up the cushions and the party began. "Daddy, daddy, listen." The whoopee cushions did their job. A gift, as they say, which just kept giving. It gave so loudly and with such ferocity that one of them popped and the boys were forced instead to decorate their baby sister with googly bloodshot eyeballs, drooping in brass loops from black plastic spectacles. Another gift from the ex-nanny who does not have to live with that picture in her head.
I heard the slightest "tut" as a fellow passenger in court shoes and a neat business suit marched by our mobile joke shop on her way to the buffet. She met my eye and glared. I looked at the boys realising with sharp horror that she was not just tutting at the grotesquery of the babe and the tomfoolery of my sons. How do you explain to a stranger who despises you that your children have not just spent 55 minutes burping their little bottoms off? Which is worse: "I'm so sorry my children are inveterate bottom burpers," or "I'm so sorry, I let my children play with whoopee cushions in the quiet coach. Shoot me now but put a silencer on the gun first."