I have been dreading it since my daughter’s nursery teacher casually invited me on the outing to the farm park. “We don’t get many men” she told me. I could believe that, judging by the crisp-suited fathers I see prodding their children through classroom doors then sprinting in relief for the tube. “Yes that’ll be fine” I said, airily waving at an imaginary diary, every page of which stretched blank into the future.
So I rise ludicrously early and take my daughter and her packed lunch to nursery. In the rush-hour bus I am squeezed speechless, as we hurtle through the streets like an out-of-control carousel. Like everywhere else in London it is full of men in suits, mums, pushchairs, children in uniforms, builders, people with bags.
I drift down into the tube station with my daughter, ancient urges suddenly propelling me towards the Metro dispenser; a strange parody of the two years ago me. There’s pushing and rushing all around us. Everyone seems desperate in some way. To get to somewhere or from somewhere. Or away from something. The tube workers bristle with the tension of rush-hour problems.
At nursery there is an assortment of mothers perfectly prepared for a shopping trip to the West End, in heels, sunglasses, casual, but unmistakably designer, clothes. I say hello in my pretend relaxed way. I’m ok at this stuff after two years. The two years ago me would have shrieked inwardly, and maybe outwardly, and felt like running away. My daughter is a great help in this. She comes and chats to me when I am running short of amiable claptrap. It helps tremendously.
When it is time to board the coach I say hello to the male driver. Engrossed in his copy of the Sun, he doesn’t pick up on my cry for help and carries on fiddling with his sunglasses. I realize I’m on my own. I end up sitting next to a French boy who looks at me as only a Frenchman can, when he discovers I am neither French nor his mother. I want to scream at him “LOOK AT ME! I AM SUFFERING FOR ALL MEN! I. AM. YOU!” Instead I busy myself looking at roads and waving at my daughter when she gets bored with her neighbour.
At the farm park the mums totter around, desperately looking for somewhere to spend their money. A £3.99 fluffy cat in the farm gift shop proves popular. It allows them at least to get out their purses and take off their sunglasses. Outside they stand around in groups, chatting like they’re in a bar, only breaking off their conversations to catch a falling body. They look at me with distaste. One of them is complaining loudly that she can’t get coffee served to her at the goat enclosure. I chat to the more eccentric mums. The Japanese expat, the arty mum picking her way through the sheep turds in her designer wedges. This keeps me going between frantic shuttling from toilet to playground. Toilet to picnic area. Toilet to sheep pens.
Frankly, it’s six hours of hell. But then at last we’re back on the coach heading home. I’ve been to the toilet countless times, I have sheep turds smeared all over my trousers. The only thing I have eaten all day is a quarter of my daughter’s ham sandwich and I have two four year olds kicking me in the small of my back through the seat.
My daughter is asleep by this time. But suddenly one of the designer women talks to me! I lean forward to listen. “Oh dear” she says, gesturing at the figure dozing next to me. I raise my eyebrows. “She isn’t going to sleep later. Her mother won’t be happy.” I smile and look out of the window, seeing nothing. Everything is a blur. I think for a moment I am going to cry.