Ruth Picardie's Column

John Lyttle is not here. So this week, a heterosexual interlude with Ruth Picardie

Oh, the joy of being a heterosexual thirtysomething in the Nineties! Amy and Oscar and Scarlet and Nat and Joe and Lola and me are in Regent's Park. It is late afternoon and everybody is bathed in a rosy, Indian summer light. Amy is flicking through Allure magazine; Scarlet looks fabulous in bob-to-Birkenstock Ghost; Joe and Lola are flaked out on the grass.

"Nipples are fantastically in," says Amy. "It says here that all the stars went pert for the Oscars."

"For God's sake," says Scarlet, who happens to have visible ones herself, "erect has always been in. What do you think ice-cubes are for? Some people are so gullible."

"Does anybody understand the new Haagen-Dazs advert?" I venture, wondering whether I can bear to part with pounds 2.80 for an ice-cream. "The one pretending to be a perfume ad?"

"Haagen-Dazs is so five minutes ago," says Amy. "Have you tried Cool Britannia, the new Ben & Jerry's flavour? Vanilla, strawberry and fudge- covered shortbread. It's disgustingly sweet."

"Yeah, right," says Scarlet. "Like New York Super Fudge Chunk isn't disgustingly sweet."

* * * * * * * *

Nat has gone off in search of a football. Oscar sits staring into space. Joe and Lola, legs entwined, slumber on.

"How's the swimming going?" says Scarlet.

"Non-existent," I reply. "I think I'm a size 16 but I'm too scared to go shopping."

"Me too," says Scarlet, sympathetically.

"Nothing to do with the fact that you're four months' pregnant," says Amy.

"Also I think I've got breast cancer," I continue. "That lump in my left breast is now the size of a golf-ball."

"Golf is the new rock 'n' roll," says Amy. "One of the blokes in Madness plays all the time. So does Jack Nicholson. Why is Jack Nicholson still sexy?"

"And I've got another one under my arm. At least chemotherapy will make me lose weight."

"Breasts don't matter once you've had kids," says Amy, "because you stop having sex. I know a woman who hasn't done it for three years."

* * * * * * * *

Bees buzz sleepily through clouds of late lavender. Muffled shouts drift over from the open-air theatre. A dog trots over.

"Do you know this is a dog-free area!" I shout at a picnicking couple. "This is one of the few parks in London where kids can play without getting covered in shit!"

"He's already been," says the man, mildly.

"I don't care where he's been! And you've been picnicking in the bird sanctuary! I'm calling the warden!" The commotion wakes Joe and Lola up, who start crying. Then we realise that Nat, aged 18 months, was last seen heading in the direction of the fountain.

"Do you realise," says Amy, "that a child can drown in three inches of water?"

* * * * * * * *

Five minutes later, Nat has been found, Oscar has started crying, Joe and Lola are fighting over a baby buggy.

"I am such a bad mother," says Scarlet. "I've been shouting at Nat all morning, because he whinges all the time. He hates having his nappy changed, he hates getting dressed, he hates having breakfast, he hates brushing his teeth. I think there's something wrong with him. Plus I think he's suffering from calcium deficiency, since he won't drink his milk. Which means he'll be a dwarf."

"At least he can talk," I say. "Joe and Lola can't even say Mama and Dada. Plus they're the most gender-stereotyped children in the whole world: Lola is obsessed with a horrible blonde doll, and Joe spends his whole time playing with cars. I must subconsciously be doing something to them. And I think Lola prefers Matt to me."

"At least they don't wake up at night," says Amy, who has aggravated mouth ulcers as a result of sleep deprivation.

"If I was babe," I continue, "I think I'd feel better about being a bad mother. But I've given up in looking at myself in the mirror before I leave the house. Yesterday I took my laptop to work in the nappy changing bag. A woman on the train with a Chanel jacket, shades and a state-of- the-art Powerbook looked at me as though I was a tramp. Another woman in the same carriage was being horrible to her horrible kids and I thought, 'That's me in five years time'."

"At least your brain hasn't died," says Scarlet. "I've had Birdsong by the bed for two years and I haven't read a single page. And I'm finding AS Byatt's Babel Tower too difficult. Too difficult! I read War and Peace when I was 19."

* * * * * * * *

Joe and Lola are crying again, the dog-owning couple haven't moved, and now two little girls are defacing a park bench. The party breaks up. At least Frasier's on telly tonight. Oh, the joy of being heterosexual thirtysomethings in the Nineties!

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