Deborah Ross: Our Woman in Crouch End

How a fussy boy, a water gun and a hunger strike can make the best of friends fall out
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The Independent Online

This is the sorry tale of a woman who offers to look after a friend's small boy for part of the weekend. Any similarity between this woman and myself is entirely coincidental and anyone who says otherwise will be hearing from my solicitor, also entirely fictional, but ruthless just the same.

Now, this woman agrees to look after the child because she has heard that this is what friends are for. This woman has never been that big on friends as she has always found that all friends do is go on about their problems which always makes her want to say: "Oh, shut up, you boring arse. Don't you think I have enough problems of my own?"

If you read women's magazines, as this woman does, then female friendships are all about getting a bit tipsy and giggling and doing face-packs but she has never had any friends like that, although she couldn't say why. The fact that she is always minded to remark "Why do you want to do a face-pack, you boring arse, and lay off my Jacob's Creek while you're about it" is neither here nor there.

Anyway, the small boy arrives on the Friday night and he is cute in his navy shorts and T-shirt with pirate skulls on it. The woman would have supervised tooth-brushing and read him bedtime stories but Friday is a tip-top telly night so it's My Family and then The Kumars and then Jonathan Ross until the small boy conks out and the woman, with absolute regard for her own safety and potential back problems, makes her partner carry him up to bed.

Big on manners

The following morning the small boy declines any breakfast, even though the woman offers him everything from Cheerios through to Cheerios, as she is a crap housewife with a limited cereal repertoire. "No thank you," he says. "I am not hungry." The woman is pleased that he is so polite. The woman is big on manners and was big on manners with her own son, who would have done her proud if she hadn't once asked him "What do you say to Christopher's mum?" when she picked him up from a party and he yelled: "WHERE'S MY PARTY BAG!" The little sod.

The woman and small boy potter down to Crouch End and mooch about a bit, admiring the huge water guns in Woollies which are such fun for children because it means they can terrorise the cat and soak the house even though you have said: "That gun is not allowed in the house."

The woman thinks the small boy must be hungry by now and offers to take him to brunch at Pick More Daisies, a Californian café whose prices - nearly a fiver for a smoothie - practically make her faint. "No thank you," says the small boy. "I'm not hungry." Suit yourself, thinks the woman, as nearly a fiver is a lot to spend on a smoothie, unless it is George Clooney, in which case it would be value for money, as he is rumoured to be excellent in bed. This woman feels she wouldn't make such a big deal about potential back problems if she found herself in bed with George Clooney. She might not even touch on the subject at all.

The woman and small boy return home in time for lunch. She offers the usual from her limited repertoire. Pasta? Eggs? Fishfingers? The boy declines. The woman is beginning to panic a little about his non-eating and offers a toasty, even though she knows it will mean retrieving the toasty maker from the cellar and chipping the rust off as well as the bits of cheese caught in the hinges from when it was last used a decade ago. The boy declines. The woman becomes increasingly desperate. Fish and chips? A steak? A Twix. Have a Twix, at least? "No thank you," says the small boy. "I'm not hungry."

Strong opinions

The boy goes off to water-gun the cat and soak the house while the woman watches Live8 and tries to work out what she thinks about it. Live8 is good. Live8 is bad. Africa, Africa, Africa. Everyone seems to have strong opinions whereas she finds it hard to have a strong opinion about anything. Apart from haggis. She is with President Chirac all the way when it comes to haggis.

She does not offer the small boy haggis, obviously, but she keeps trying to feed him, upping the ante all the time. "Lasagne?," she offers at one point, which is very good of her, as lasagne is a major faff involving lots of pans and layering. "No thank you," says the small boy. "I'm not hungry."

At last, his mother arrives at the door. "Darling!," exclaims his mother. "Darling!," exclaims the woman, ready for the kind of warm embrace that is said to define female friendship. But then the so-called friend pushes past the woman, as does the small boy, from the opposite direction. "Darling!," the friend exclaims again. "Mummy!," exclaims the small boy, rushing at her knees and promptly bursting into tears. "I'm really, really hungry. I haven't had anything to eat all weekend. I AM STARVING!"

The woman follows the friend to the car. "I offered him food all day," she whines. "I even offered him lasagne, which is a major faff involving lots of pans." As the car moves away the woman overhears the small boy saying: "And the cat scratched me FOR NO REASON!" The little sod. Meanwhile, the woman suspects her friend will not be returning for face-packs and Jacob's Creek any time soon.

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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