Advent Day 22

So. London. We got the cheese, and we had hot chocolate and croissants in the café opposite the cheese shop and watched whole pigs being delivered to the butcher next door. We went to the Tate Modern and found a whole wall covered in deep pile orange carpet, in which we wrote our names. We saw the Wilfredo Lam exhibition and talked about Picasso while the six year old drew rabbits in her notebook and I got so lost in the idea of three hundred artists on a ship escaping from Europe in the 1940s that I forgot how many children I had and lost one of them.
Losing your children is, in general, not to be recommended. However, if you are determined to try the experience, an art exhibition with interested gallery guards and not many visitors is a gentle starting point. The child in question hadn’t realized he was lost; he thought he was educating a new friend about Salvador Dali, whom he has embraced with the fervour of eight years’ life experience and against whom he judges every painting he comes across. Lam came out better than Delacroix, and I kept a tight grip on the child formerly known as lost while he (with more sense than grammar) explained why: ‘It’s boring when things look like what they are, I like what things look like they feel.’
It’s impossible to take four children out for the day and have them all hungry/thirsty/needing the toilet/thoroughly engaged at the same time. Once Wilfredo Lam had found his self-expression in strange, Picasso-esque non-specific carnival rituals, we left. What I want to say is that we went up to the new tenth floor and gazed at the beauty of the London skyline, then had a delicious, nutritious and culturally inventive lunch, by way of various interesting shops where we chose thoughtful presents.
What actually happened was that we went up to the tenth floor, where the children gazed in fascination at the new flats opposite: ‘Look, you can see their washing machine!’ I felt so uncomfortable I ushered them away with a lecture on privacy, in revenge for which the child formerly known as lost refused to go to the toilet when the opportunity arose and child 2 reinvented her entire Christmas list to include refurnishing the dolls’ house. Child 1 was outraged (‘you’ve already GOT your present, it’s UNDER the TREE’), child 2 was defensive, child 3 weighed in delightedly, and my declaration that none of them were to get Any Presents At All If This Continues was on the biblical side. Child 4, who had been quietly trotting along holding my hand, was paralysed with horror, and began to cry, giving child 1 a real miscarriage of justice to get his teeth into and giving the children a sense of unity.
James, who really had been admiring the view, came over in time to witness the Union of Wronged Children kissing each other. ‘Isn’t this lovely?’ he said, beaming. And, at that moment, it was. In fact, it was so lovely that I insisted that he go and look at a painting he was very keen to see, forgetting until he’d gone that we were in the Tate Modern and the painting in question was in the National Gallery.
It was a long long day. I had a report ready for James about arguments, wandering children, stressed shoppers, the distress caused by my refusal to buy silk velvet at £52 a metre or yet more soft toys, the sheet idiocy of herding a litter of excited, overtired puppies through packed city streets. But when we met at the station and tumbled onto the train together, the report that spilled out was of the passionate discussion about wand design in Forbidden Planet (a shop which is to nerdy geeks what La Fromagerie is to cheese lovers); the delight over choosing holiday reading in Foyles and literally having to prise the book out of child 3’s hands in order to pay for it (and meeting a friend at the tills); the fact that the crackers in the John Lewis Christmas shop were so reduced that everyone could choose a box, and Borovicks, the fabric shop on Berwick Street where I buy the materials for the children’s projects and fancy dress costumes, the visit to which deserves a post to itself.
And so we got home, and manic secret wrapping ensued, and all was well until James found me in the kitchen at nearly midnight, weeping into a vat of lean mince and onions. But we won’t remember that either – we’ll only remember tucking into the shepherd’s pie on Christmas Eve, full of joy and anticipation of the glories to come.

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