Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'By the time we settled into our clay warrior-making workshop I was feeling ostracised'
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The Independent Online

For the umpteenth time that day Matthew gave me one of his , "I-honestly-don't-think-I-can-delay-having-you-sectioned," looks. The innocent bystander whom I imagine to be permanently hovering on the sidelines of our domestic arguments (I call him Gary Cooper) could not be blamed for thinking that I had suggested spending an entire night in a sleeping bag on a cold stone floor.

"But that is precisely what you have just suggested!" shouted Matthew, when I put the conclusions of Gary Cooper to him. "So, you're not convinced that this sleepover at the British Museum, with a dawn tour of the Terracotta Army, is a good idea then?"

And then the sarcasm kicked off.

"Oh yes, it's a bloody marvellous idea, that will lead to a month of excruciating back trouble. You'll be surrounded by the kind of people you loathe most; pushy, maniacal parents who only punish their children after some measure of grievous bodily harm leading to blood-loss has been inflicted on another person. I am so full of admiration for you, that you are even considering this venture, I have decided to throw a celebration fancy-dress party to which I will come dressed as a psychiatric nurse, possibly Jo Brand!" Then, he gave me another "I-honestly-don't-think-I-can-delay-having-you-sectioned," look. It is a new habit and it is becoming tedious.

****

Louis and I found ourselves taking part in this British Museum event after a friend donated two passes to us. We left Matthew with his entire upper body and face in a permanent, questioning, rictus shrug on Saturday afternoon and by early evening were being shown to our "room", otherwise known as the Egyptian gallery. Our matching sleeping bags were, appropriately, in the "Mummy" style. I bought them at Millets along with a torch and a flask and, from Whittards, some hot chocolate that Louis enjoyed as we waited to be directed to the first activity.

I spent the time inspecting our extraordinarily middle-class fellow campers. They all gave off a clear signal that they had done this before. "We are regulars at British Museum sleepovers," they seemed to be saying, "and we can always spot a novice." Still, never mind, I thought, I am sure that their collective experience will render them ever-so helpful if at any time during the night I should need any advice or assistance. I am sure they will all be friendly.

****

By the time we had settled into our clay warrior-making workshop I was feeling ostracised. Louis had made a friend on the opposite side of the room, and so I was left to work away at the chain-mail pattern that was to adorn the legs of my warrior in isolation. Still, a pretty woman in a raspberry-coloured jumper, who was sitting one away from me, was working away silently, too. Her two daughters were on either side of her; all three engrossed in their modelling.

Just as I was thinking of breaking the ice a member of the museum staff addressed us all. "Everyone put your tools down," she said. "I want you to move along the tables and complete the torso of the warrior four places away from you."

So, I shuffled along four places, but once there I found that there was no warrior for me to work on. The previous occupant had clearly misunderstood and taken his model with him. Reasoning, then, that the next warrior along should be my warrior, and that the person next to me, ie. the daughter of the engrossed, raspberry, modelling woman, would take the warrior one along from her, I gently dragged her model towards me, smiling and saying, "I think that must be mine."

And that was when it all went too horribly wrong.

****

The consequences of that dragging decision will live in my mind forever. I am mentally scarred by the reaction of Raspberry Woman to my innocent actions . We are home now and Matthew is being smug while asking for the fourth time that I re-enact my ordeal.

In the devastating playlet that follows Raspberry Woman is played by Louis, while I take the part of myself. The action begins with the dragging of the clay warrior model, to which Raspberry Woman responds:

"What on earth are you doing? How dare you snatch from a child? She's just a child! I honestly cannot believe that you just did that!"

Me: "But..but..."

RW: "Have you ever been on one of these sleepovers before? Because if you had you would know how to behave! This is my 25th one, so no one can accuse me of ...."

Me: "Twenty-five! Gosh, that's a lot. You must have a lot of free time."

RW: "I do have a lot of time, yes, for my children, if that is what you mean, and I don't see anything wrong with that!" (Then, addressing a member of staff) "This woman has never been on a sleepover before, while I have been on 25. It doesn't take much intelligence to guess who is in the right here does it?"

Me: (to RW but pleased that the staff member can hear) "Please, can you stop being so childish. For heaven's sake, let's just get on with our modelling and forget about it."

Matthew: "Why did you say that?"

Me: "What would you have done?"

Matthew: "Well, obviously, I would have given her one of my 'I-honestly-don't-think-I-can-delay-having-you-sectioned,' looks."

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