Embrace error – it makes us human



Sometimes everything just goes wrong. Particularly during term time. During the holidays I looked forward to the start of the new school term, but right now I am looking fondly back on the holidays. Because of the lie-ins.

On Sunday evening I had an argument about Coldplay with Victoria. I explained that nothing on earth would make me watch Coldplay at the Paralympics closing ceremony, and that, in fact,I found it hard to like anyone who likes Coldplay. Liking Coldplay, to me, seems to show an unforgivable lapse of taste. Having wiped away the tears she had shed during Lord Coe's speech about terrorism and the Olympics, she accused me of only being interested in my own philosophy, and said if she wanted to like Coldplay then she would like them. She would not submit to my tyranny as far as taste in pop music was concerned. Did Socrates and Tolstoy have similar problems with Xanthippe and Sophia (answer: yes). I went to bed and fumed about bread and circuses while the strains of Coldplay wafted up the stairs, rebelliously.

The next day Victoria went up to London for a few days to attend to our shop, leaving me on my own to look after three children, three cats, one cockerel and a snotty-nosed Labrador. In the evening, having sunk a couple of Cotleigh Barn Owl beers, I laid the breakfast things and went up to bed for an early night, the better to get the children off to school the following morning (living in the middle of nowhere, school runs can be complicated).

But there was a cat turd on my bed. Right in the middle, on the duvet. So I had to clear it up, put the duvet cover in the washing machine and change the sheets before I could go to sleep.

The following morning I was awoken at eight by my 12-year-old son, dressed in an all-in-one green monster outfit, calling me an "idiot" because I had failed to get up at seven. It was my turn to do the school run. I was already 10 minutes late. I leapt out of bed, shouted, "How dare you speak to me like that?" at my son, and then, "Get dressed!" We drove off to pick up his schoolmates. I had not had a cup of tea, or breakfast. We made it to school just in time, though I drove the whole journey in grumpy silence.

The following night I made sure to set the alarm and also left a note on the kitchen table instructing the children to wake me up at seven. This, one of them did. I made a pot of tea and, feeling very smug, went to the car a little early to deliver Arthur to one of the other parents. The car battery was dead. My philosophy as far as cars go is "buy wrecks". They cost £600, last two or three years, and go just as fast as new cars. But the problem is that they don't always work. Anyway, the journey was less than two miles, so I told Arthur to cycle, whereupon he started to whimper. "Boys of seven used to walk three miles to school around here!" I bellowed. "And back! You're pathetic!"

At this he screamed back: "You're pathetic!" To which I countered: "Don't speak to me like that! Get on that bike and start cycling." Holding back his tears he wobbled up the lane.

It is strange that the mothers of the Czech Republic view me as a parenting guru.

Perhaps I'm not doing too badly. I am starting to catch up with various writing assignments. And I have actually cooked twice: I made pizzas one night and cauliflower cheese the next. When I say I made pizzas, I mean I made pizzas: I made the dough, spread tomato sauce on it, topped it with mozzarella and salami, and put it in a very hot oven. The children liked it. Thank heaven! Approval from one's own children.

My problem is the domestic side of things. I can manage the cooking, it's the cleaning that seems to get delayed. The vacuuming, the sweeping, the dusting and wiping. I hate housework. We both hate housework. Victoria has told me that she will shout out "I... HATE... CLEANING!" to herself while cleaning. I comfort myself by thinking about JG Ballard. He brought up his children alone in a Middlesex semi after the death of his wife Mary, and famously neglected the housework. But his daughter Bea recently wrote: "We not only thrived; we had the most idyllic childhood imaginable." She goes on to suggest that it was precisely his slatternly ways which contributed to their happiness: "If he sacrificed anything in his quest to make our lives happy, it was the housework."

And as Aristotle said, things are supposed to go wrong every day. If they didn't, we would turn into horribly complacent people. So we must embrace mess and error as part of being human.

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