Misty, frosty morning. I couldn’t sleep past 6.30am (backache/need a wee) so here I am, staring out at the quiet frosty fields. The cars are coated in ice and there is a chilly peach glow in the sky. My kinks ache pleasantly, the kind of ache that comes from rest rather than clocking wearily on once more. I’d forgotten what it felt like. I had forgotten it all.
I am on a weekend away with a group of friends, who also happen to be fellow mums of at least one 4 year old. We met through coincidental pregnancy but we are friends through five years of gossip, advice, worry, online shopping tips and plain old cackling. We live at all ends of the country so to spend a whole weekend together is quite an achievement. Our children have been palmed off on various relatives and for two glorious days we revel in the privileges of the individual: answering to our names, wiping only our own arses, showering in blissful solitude.
On Saturday we go for a walk along the towpath. The ground is muddy but the sun shines in a flawless winter way. We pick our way along, marvelling quietly at how we have left the house with only our coats and scarves – no bag full of other people’s layers, no spare everything, not even an emergency banana. It is a revelation: the quiet space inside my head and out; the way the stiffness slowly eases itself out of knee and neck and elbow, lazily unfurling in the sun; not having to raise my voice in order to chivvy people along or inventory numbers/items/behaviour. Being able to look at things. The shiny mirror surface of the aqueduct. The brightly coloured coats of my friends.
Not to mention being able to walk to a pub, order a pint with lunch, have another just because the first was so good, then amble mistily back along a busy A road where – oh no! – one of our number has a blister issue that forces a stop at another pub. When was the last time I strolled? Really can’t remember.
The cottage we’re staying in advertises itself as luxury, but it’s not. The pool is not heated and there are dead things drifting along the bottom.The bathroom lights are motion sensor activated, so they ping on to an initial ‘ooh!’ of satisfaction as you open the door, but they are also on a timer so they ping off again after ten minutes of showering unheated pool water from your hair. There is no wifi access. The iPod dock causes our music to skip.
None of this matters at all though because we’re here for the company and that has proved to be luxury beyond price. We talk, and talk and talk and talk. We plunge in the chilly swimming pool, and talk. We drink ten thousand hot cups of tea, followed by ten thousand bottles of fizzy wine, and talk. We talk fast, slow, uninterrupted, swearily and with vigour. We occupy space in a way it is very difficult to do when in charge of small people, because your mind is always registering them – where they are, what they need, who is about to fall into the canal, who is going to need a wee in about ten minutes – and editing itself as a consequence.
I had forgotten what it felt like to completely own my mind. The memory, restored by my weekend away, has already carried me through a horrible week of toddler illness and preschooler strops, so thank you, friends. Let’s do it again sometime.