The week has been mad; then again, every week is mad. My clever cousin came to do complicated things to my computers. He was supposed to come on Wednesday and leave Thursday at noon. Every time he fixed something, something else unravelled. He ended up leaving Friday at 6pm. He does not have kids. He has cats. I said: "What do you think?" He said: "It's chaos." I would have asked him why he thought that, but someone screamed, interrupting my thought process. It might have been me.
Summer holidays mean that we have neighbours again in the other cottages along our row. Small children play complicated super hero games in the shrubbery. My six-year-old's part demands he spends every waking moment in a John Deere tractorman boilersuit and his cycle helmet. Even when he eats. When the boys and their friends do things I do not like, I throw them out of the garden. If it is good enough for God. Following a bad experience with a room being trashed which would not have shamed a seventies rock band, I also have strict rules about playing inside. On Friday, as I was talking to the builder about the next phase of work in the arches, my six-year-old asked: "Can we go upstairs mummy?" I said: "Yes," noticing too late the tribe of children with him. As soon as I had finished talking to the builder, I ran upstairs to bring everyone back down. There was a young boy I had never seen before in the room. I said: "Who are you?" I suppose I should really have said: "Whose are you and where are you from?" I still do not know. Later, when I asked my sons, they just shrugged.
So here we were: my cousin mired in computer hell, flies a-buzzin', children everywhere, and a builder working in the utility room right next to the study where my cousin is trying to do his stuff. I am vaguely embarrassed about the study; it is not yet unpacked and is crowded out with large cardboard boxes and files. Occasionally, the builder would walk through the study to the front door where he is sawing lumps of wood. (The study unfortunately is a thoroughfare between the kitchen and the utility room. We have four bedrooms upstairs with views across the fields to the sea. The study was supposed to be in one of them but the boys insisted on having their own rooms. Now, we look out on to coal sheds and get to put the washing on.)
At some point in the morning, my riding pal drops by with her friend. They are both on large horses. My friend says: "I'm really hung over. Can I have some water?" I go get her some water. I say to my cousin: "Come and meet my friend." He stands up, eases past the builder, steps round the workbench at the door, and comes outside to meet her. I say: "She is on a horse." I probably did not need to say this. We chat awhile about the fact the other rider is on a horse with a glorious, glamorous name. She says: "But I think she looks like a Matilda." I look at the horse. I think: "What would make you think your horse looks like a Matilda? What would make you think your horse looked like anything but a horse?"
They trot off. A couple of hours later, my evangelical friends arrive with their three children. I say to my cousin: "Come and meet my friends." I realise I cannot even offer them a biscuit because I am completely out of food. I own an Aga and I am completely out of food. They probably take away your Aga if you do not dedicate at least one day a week to baking cheese scones and cherry cake, let alone run out of food.
My cousin finally made a successful break for freedom. Then on Saturday morning, we had to get out early to visit a farm shop to buy wooden gates for the access road outside the cottages. The boys pestered me for two small padlocks. I gave in. Within an hour of getting home, my six-year-old had padlocked one neighbour's boy to a metal clip attached to a knotted rope, tied to a tree which they were using to let themselves down into a nettled strip of field between our garden wall and the barbed wire which keeps the cows out. As the boy dangled from the rope, my son realised, a little late, he had lost the key to the padlock. I had hoped this habit would skip a generation. My husband managed to haul the boy up and unlock him with the spare key I had kept (you live and you learn) but not before the struggling had snapped the branch to the rowan tree. I threw them all out of the garden for that one. But not before the boy had said to me, pointing at a small tear in his trousers: "Look! He did that when he padlocked me to the rope." I thought: "I am so not explaining what happened to your mother." I said: "Well, next time he offers to padlock you to anything, say 'No'."