Charlotte Philby's Parental Leave: When given respite from children, seek out a dark room

A mother's weekly dispatch from the pre-school frontline

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The Independent Online

Clerkenwell, Sunday, 9.55am. We're queuing for the spa because when given brief respite from small children, it is best to seek out a dark room in which to lay flat and sweat.

I'm happily eavesdropping on a conversation between two women in front of me. I'm starting to feel pretty emotionally invested in the story of how Woman A had dropped Sebastian at holiday camp the day before, only to be summoned back three hours later to collect the child, who was inconsolable having been "forced to ride a RED bike!", when I start to sense a determined stare burning my cheek.

I turn and, for a split-second, I see her, this perfect stranger, gazing delightedly back at me. Before I have a chance to look away again, she speaks. "Been here before?" Her accent is Scottish. "My husband and I..." she continues, pointing to an invisible space beside her. "We bought a month's pass. He's not here... still in bed. We thought we'd make the most of it but sometimes, you know, it's nice to just lie in bed. So what do you do?" Not much, I mumble, bamboozled.

I don't understand what is happening, but I'm pretty sure I will never know what became of poor Sebastian. "Interesting!" she grins. "I used to be a corporate lawyer... now I do something called network marketing... That's right, network marketing. It's a bit like... Oh, hold on, I don't suppose you...? Oh you'd be perfect... you could make so much money! Just give me your email."

I whisper something, reaching desperately for my husband who appears to have fallen into a standing coma. "No email? Phone number, then... No phone?" I take one look at her, at him, then turn and walk briskly back towards the car.