Tuesday, 17 January 2012


I am in a perpetual state of jet lag. Not, of course, because I have been jet setting around the world’s time zones but more because of the hours I am keeping. Waking up at 5.15 every morning, sitting shivering on the ferry at 6am and locking the car in an eerie, subterranean car-park, whose only other life forms at that time of the morning are urinating drunkards, mass murderers and minimum wage maintenance staff is a timely reminder that I have been protected for years from the harsh reality of what life is life for the marginalised, although I hasten to add, that I am not comparing alkies and murderers with the poorly paid. As I zip up my fleece and snuggle into my snood, I am struck by the lonely figure of a middle aged woman, bent over her broom, deep in thought, seemingly a million miles away from this dirty, hostile car-park. She is black. Time seems to have stood still. I am shocked to see such a stereotypical figure. In 2011, are menial jobs still being doled out to people of colour? Is this Mississippi or Plymouth? I want to acknowledge her as a human being, to make her feel valued and not invisible, so I wish her a chirpy, “Good morning”. She barely looks up. I am embarrassed. Perhaps she thought I was patronizing her. Was I patronizing her? Oh my God. I hurry to work, telling myself that she is probably earning a little extra cash, either to pay for college or like me, for Christmas. It cannot be surely because this is the only job available to her. Can it?
I enter my secret code for the door and enter the shop. At this time of the morning, much like the car-park, but with fewer drunkards, it is very quiet. I grab a coffee before my shift starts. There is no-one around, I look into my plastic cup and yawn. I haven’t felt this out of sorts since I was breast feeding every two hours throughout the night. My diet isn’t helping me either because I’m eating at irregular hours, as one might when flying long haul where you eat in the middle of the night when you shouldn’t, then extra snacks at peculiar times so that your body clock has no idea what on earth is happening to it. Because I leave the house so early, I am eating an extra meal a day that my waist line could well do without.
Words cannot describe therefore, when looking at my diary after I’d risen, showered, dried my hair, applied my body butter and my make-up, eaten some toast and had a cup of tea, and saw, to my immense distress, that I needn’t be in work until 10am. It felt like the reverse of being late for something, only worse, much, much worse. Instead of losing a bus, I’d lost sleep, a far more precious commodity. I raced around the kitchen, desperately trying to work out what to do and acutely aware that my prevarication was, as every second ticked by, depriving me of any more stolen sleep.
Just as I was turning out all the lights and about to fling my uniform off and dive under the covers, Hubby got up.
“Hiya”, he yawned, not giving a fig that my dressing gown that he was wearing wasn’t covering him adequately. A fig leaf, would in fact have been most expedient at this particular juncture, “You still here Alice?”
“No, I am a figment of you imagination”. Stop it with the fig motif Alice, I said aloud.
“Huh?” he asked.
“I was just saying that I’d got my hours mixed up. I thought I was starting work at six thirty. Turns out, it’s later than that, much, much later”.
“Plonker”, he said softly. Not.
“Oh well”, he added, “saves a bit on the school breakfast club for the girls and you can take them to school as well. Result”. I tried to slink away from him and ease myself quietly up the stairs.
“Alice, as you’re up, do me a favour and iron a shirt for me will you please love?” I must have looked stricken because he quickly added, “Oh, don’t worry, not if you’re going back to bed. It’s just that I have to drive to Dartmouth in the next half hour and an ironed shirt would be really useful. No worries. I ‘ll do it once I’ve had a shower and walked the dog”.
What’s a girl to do? Wearily and with much sighing, I opened the ironing board and switched on the iron. I boiled the kettle again whilst I waited for the iron to heat up. I looked at the clock. It was almost 7am. If I quickly ironed this shirt, I’d still have an hour’s kip before the youngest girls woke up. As I smoothed the last bit of the left arm and thought longingly of my feather pillow, my teenage daughter walked into the kitchen.
“Mum! I never see you in the morning anymore! Great, a parent to make me breakfast like they used to in the old days. I’ll have a marmite bagel and a cup of tea…” and just as I was about to protest she added, “Please, please mummy darling. I’ll just go and get my art folder and then we can bond”. Bond? I think we achieved that after sixteen seconds, let alone sixteen years.
No sooner had I made her bagel and handed Hubby his shirt than the little ones woke up. I sighed. Breakfast. Round three.
“As you’re at home, can you be an angel and whip the dog around the block before you leave?” asked Hubby.
Jeeze, it might be exhausting, but it’s easier and more peaceful to go to work at the crack of dawn than to look after this family. Perhaps that’s what the black, car-park cleaner thinks too. Perhaps.

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