When Kitty was a baby, during her toddlerhood and emerging girlhood I, and everyone else, marvelled at her independence, her fearlessness, her willingness to sleep in her own bed in her own room, her gung-honess at playgroups and enthusiasm for holiday resort kids’ clubs. I have never had to fetch her from nursery early, except for once when she wasn’t well. She has one or two little friends there, has had a marriage proposal, and loves her teacher.
I could barely believe my luck, or believe that she was my child.
When small, I refused to go to nursery except for a handful of days a term, made a giant fuss about going to school, wouldn’t go to school at all for a whole year when I was seven. I would never, ever have agreed to be left at a kids’ club in a hotel and I never liked any of my teachers until I was in Sixth Form, and even then I kept my distance from them. They never knew I liked them. I never even let a smile out.
So when these most recent long summer holidays loomed with no nursery, most of Kitty’s friends away on holiday and no foreign holidays for us, (Giles is working non-stop until the last VAT quarter of the 21st Century), I thought I would be super-clever and sign Kitty up for a lot of London-based holiday activities, groups and camps. She would love it! I cackled to myself. “She’s just the right type of child,” I thought. I boasted to everyone about how organised I was and how sorted I had it.
But it turns out that she isn’t that type of child at all and refused to go to every single group – the only activity that she agreed to and liked was a 30 minute tennis lesson in the park up the road.
I feel like I have mistaken my child for someone else.
It was the same every time. She just turned to me, her eyes huge and hunted as the regarded the unfamiliar church hall and strange children, and said “I want to go home.”
I was baffled and privately furious, although I tried my best not to let it show. I said to myself “It’s okay if she doesn’t like it,” but it wasn’t. It was a bitter disappointment. Not just because the alternative to a playgroup for Kitty was bumming around North London with me on various errands, watching far, far too much television and nagging me to play “Doctors” or “do Abney’s voice”; both “Doctors” and “doing Abney/Captain Hook/Rumplestiltskin’s voice” are activities that are okay for precisely 23 minutes, after which time I powerfully want to turn my face to the ceiling and let out an insane bloodcurdling Bertha Mason scream.
But there is something else at work – it’s the awful fear that Kitty will suddenly turn into the same sort of child that I was – clingy, strange, un-clubbable, unable to have fun or join in, suspicious of everyone. I am angry with that child for being so pathetic and needy, for cutting me off from possibly enjoyable experiences, fun times and friends.
But she is not like me and she will not be like me – and even if she is, that’s no reason to get in a huff about it. And, moreover, it’s not her fault that I was such a weedy child. It’s not anyone’s fault. That’s just me.
The truth of it is that summer holidays can just be fucking boring. Children can go a bit mad and feral during them, especially if they are not running around with some huge gang of kids in local parks or in the countryside – that kind of feral and mad I would embrace and find hilarious – that old-world kind of “Don’t come back till it’s dark” attitude of parenting is fine by me.
But if there is no bloody gang and it’s just them and you in a narrow townhouse in North London, with a playdate once a week if you’re lucky, they go the wrong sort of feral and mad. They go strange and Howard Hughes-ish.
I bumped into a mum from Kitty’s nursery at the playground the other day and she said “We’re nearly halfway through the holidays now. Another three weeks to go!” A cold hand clutched my heart. Fucking hell! I thought it was nearly done! We will simply fall to eating each other.
Anyway, look – I must just get a grip and think laterally. Fine, so she doesn’t want to go and play with a load of strange kids in a musty church hall. Fine! We’ll go on buses and on the tube and find an exciting experience in that in itself, we’ll feed the ducks and find new playgrounds. We’ll visit cousins and go swimming. We’ll just have to do other stuff.
I think I also mistook this apple and plum cobbler for something else. I have never made or eaten any sort of cobbler before but I’ve always liked the sound of it. So I made this with the remaining plums and apples from my garden, which have not been devoured by wasps and birds, from a recipe I found on BBC Good Food.
The result was perfectly okay but I don’t think there was enough of a contrast between the fruit base of the pudding and the bready topping, which it turns out what a cobbler is. The cobble element was just a bit bland, slightly unnecessary carby and fluffy. Simon Conway was over for dinner when I made it and he said “I think it’s nice,” which was very accurate – it is merely “nice”, rather than amazing. If I had done this with a crumble or flapjack topping it would have been much better.
But, still, this recipe works perfectly well so if you would like to try your hand at it, despite everything I’ve said, here’s how it’s done.
Plum and apple cobbler
For the fruit
For the cobble
100g self-raising flour
3 tablespoons of milk
Preheat your oven to 180C normal ovens and 160C fan-assisted. (Simon, that’s gas mark 4 if you’re ever brave enough to use your oven and want to re-create this quite dull pudding).
1 Put the apple, lemon juice, a sprinkling of sugar and 1 tsp of water into a pan and stew with a lid on for 5 mins. Add the plums and stew with the lid on for another 5 min. After this 10 min, taste the mixture and add more sugar cautiously until you have something not too sweet. A too sweet fruit pudding is just so revolting, you will regret it.
2 Put the fruit in an oven dish with at least 1 inch of space left between the surface of the fruit and the upper limit of the dish for the cobble to fit in and rise.
3 Put the flour into a bowl and cut the butter into it, then rub into until you have a crumb mixture. Stir in the sugar, then add the egg and the milk and mix to a batter. Dollop over the surface of the fruit and scatter over, if you like, some walnuts or flaked almonds or chopped hazelnuts would be nice. Or even some granulated sugar for a bit of crunch. I’m panicking now, trying to make this pudding more exciting…
4 Bake for 30 min. Eat with cream or custard or something – anything! Practice your best “Mmm, yeah, it’s nice, it’s… fine” face.
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