My So-Called Life: Half-terms of endearment

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The Independent Online

Day One

Day One

As a rule, this particular Aunt now knows, it may be a mistake to casually invite your 10-year-old niece from the sticks to spend half-term with you in London because, invariably, she will turn up on the doorstep almost as soon as school is out, with her bouncy little pony-tail and small navy case on wheels looking like a midget BA air hostess about to distribute those tiny packs of peanuts. The Aunt does not know where these tiny packs are made, but suspects it is in the same factory as the really big Toblerones and the bears in flying goggles that it's strangely assumed all travellers desperately want. The Aunt thinks the factory may be in Staines. She's just got a feeling.

Anyway, it is the look in the niece's eye that is most terrifying, as it's a look that says: "Oxford Street! A West End show! All the hair accessories the capital has to offer!" It does not say: "The Tate! The National Gallery! The Imperial War Museum with all those Spitfires!" The Aunt is sad about this, as there is nothing she likes better than a good museum, apart from almost anything, including doing her tax and tripping over the kerb into oncoming traffic. The Aunt also remembers taking her son to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. The son raced though to the end and then charged back, crying: "What are you still doing in Room 1? I've seen it all. What are you looking at? What are you looking at?" As the Aunt was not entirely sure - "I'm looking at a lady with ears for eyes" - she raced to the end, too.

I should add that The Aunt's older sister, who is the niece's mother, is so distraught at letting her daughter go for a week she drops her off without even cutting the car engine. When The Aunt and The Older Sister were young, The Older Sister not only convinced The Aunt she was adopted, but also told her to always be careful in Woolworths because a baby might fall out your sleeve. To this day, The Aunt cannot go to Woolworths without wearing tight cuffs, and still kind of hopes her real parents will not only come forward, but will turn out to own a chocolate factory and live in chip shop. However, knowing her luck, The Aunt thinks, they'll probably turn out to own a factory in Staines that makes things especially for travellers. The niece is settled in, largely by allowing her to watch extremely unsuitable television and drink Baileys until very, very late.

Day Two

Oxford Street it is, from Marble Arch to Oxford Circus via five circles of Benetton, 27 times round Hennes, 49 times round Shelleys and no visit to Topshop, because The Aunt refuses. "Oh please," says the niece. The Aunt says she is sorry but she just cannot face it. The Aunt says that it will be hell in there, with all those half-term 11-year-old girls to elbow out of the way. The Aunt also adds that, in Topshop, she is always fearful of a member of staff putting a hand on her shoulder and saying: "Excuse me, middle-aged housewife kind of person, but do you think you are in Wallis, which is next door-but-one?" The Aunt buys the niece a new top and shoes on Carnaby Street. The Aunt thinks they might have been expensive but doesn't give a stuff because she knows that the sooner you Get Something, the sooner you Get To Go Home. At home, the Aunt has a nap. When she finally comes round a matter of hours later, the niece says: "You have a very watery snore." The Aunt denies it. The Aunt says that even if she did snore, which she doesn't, it wouldn't be watery. She then paints the niece's toenails, as requested, but rather badly, because she is in a huff. The niece says: "I love you so, so much." The Aunt feels rotten. The Aunt accepts that maybe - just maybe - she snores.

Day Three

The Aunt and the niece and The Aunt's son go and see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium. This is something of a treat, at £40 a ticket, not that the Aunt wants to make a big thing of it. All she says is: "This is something of a treat, at £40 a ticket, so you'd better bloody well enjoy it." The Aunt's son loves it. The Aunt can tell he loves it because every three minutes he tugs on her sleeve and says: "How much longer?" And: "I'm so bored." "Shh," says The Aunt, "it cost £40 a ticket." "BUT IT'S SO BORING!" he says. "But it COST £40 A TICKET!" says The Aunt. The boy sings "Shitty, Shitty, Bang, Bang," all the way home, which The Aunt finds most amusing, at £40 a ticket. "But I loved it,' says the niece, slipping her soft warm hand into The Aunt's. The Aunt feels rotten about refusing Topshop now. The Aunt thinks that her snores might well be watery.

Day Four

The Aunt and the niece take next door's dog for a walk. The dog is Boris. He is a Schnauzer with comedy eyebrows. The niece would like a dog but her mother will not allow it. The Aunt says she doesn't want to stir it - that she's got over the disappointment of not being adopted - but what the niece should do is nag and nag and nag and nag, and nag some more until finally her mother concedes. It's the only way. Boris tries to have it off with one of those little Geri Halliwell dogs. Boris flattens it. With its front legs splayed, it looks like one of those rugs with a "u" cut out that people with no taste put round their toilets. "Tinky did not enjoy that," says the owner of the little Halliwell dog. "She can join the club, then," says The Aunt. "Was it having sex?" asks the niece. "Don't be silly," says The Aunt. "Sex is when you go into Woolworths and a baby falls out your sleeve. Ask your mother if you doubt me." The Aunt then says that a Great Dane is a very good dog to have. She adds that the niece should not settle for anything else but don't tell your mother I said so.

Day Five

Time for the niece to go. "I love you loads," she says to The Aunt, "and I don't know why you wear make-up when you are so pretty without it." The Aunt has decided that she loves her niece quite a lot. And, chances are, her snores are very watery indeed.

Any similarities between this Aunt and myself, while spooky, are entirely coincidental and anyone who suggests otherwise will be hearing from my solicitor

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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