It’s been an epiphanous week.
It started when my nanny got flu. “I can come in, I suppose,” she said faintly down the phone last Monday. “My temperature is only 103.”
“No you’re alright,” I said. And then started to panic about how the fuck I was going to cope alone, no nanny, no cleaner (holiday) no husband (out covering the Olympics) no mummy (holiday) no sisters (holiday) no local friends (holiday – and I don’t have that many anyway) for an entire week.
I won’t lie, I have never looked forward to being in sole charge of Kitty. It’s a thing that depresses me – both spending a lot of time alone with her and also being depressed about being depressed about it.
At first it was ghastly. She didn’t seem to want to be with me any more than I wanted to be with her. I dragged her hither and thither in her buggy, shunting her quickly from one activity to the next, shied away from the tv like it was an unexploded bomb. If it got turned on, I fretted, it would never turn off again until she goes to nursery next September.
When Kitty would go down for her lunchtime nap I would get in to bed and pull the duvet over me, squeeze my eyes shut and think “Christ, how are we going to manage this?”
But by Tuesday afternoon I had it licked.
I don’t know if all toddlers are the same but Kitty has this incredibly short attention span, like a drunk, and what she likes to do is roam. So I turned the ground floor into a sort of toddler fresher’s fair, with small activities ranged around, from telly at one end, stickers, drawing and playdoh in the middle, the iPad somewhere around, books and rice cakes towards the kitchen, a paddling pool in the garden and her own mini-buggy with which to commute between these activities.
The telly was on all day, every day, all week, set to a murmuring background volume, tuned to CBeebies, although she was not, in the end, as interested in it as I feared. And anyway I ceased to care one way or the other. I let go. She ranged around, singing, talking to herself, talking to me, talking to the mirror, climbing on and off furniture, digging around in the dirt, flopping out on her beanbag in front of Mr Tumble, gorging on raspberries from the garden, vomiting dramatically and then saying “Oh dear!!” while she regarded the red puddle. Meanwhile, I found that I did actually have time to cook and the house didn’t fall into irreparable chaos, (although there has been an awful lot of scrabbling around for things at the last minute).
We had a wicked time. Honestly we did. I’m not just saying that, in some sort of “Ooo and then everything was alright” kind of way. It was great. I learned all sorts of things about her I didn’t know. It was genuinely hilarious. I didn’t miss any of the things I do when I’ve got a nanny. I realised, in fact, that I don’t especially enjoy myself when I do have that free time.
Like now. I am sitting alone in my huge, spooky house while Kitty is out with her nanny and 40,000 other Caribbean children somewhere in Peckham having an amazing time and will not be back until bathtime.
And if I think about it too much, I might get upset. So let’s go; let’s fly you and I away from this gloomy now, to a different time, back to 2006 when I had just started on Londoner’s Diary, which as I’m sure you know is the gossip page of the Evening Standard.
One day appeared a new girl in the editor’s office. The editor liked to have a lot of girls around and she was very mean to all of them. She thought she was in the Devil Wears Prada or something and that being mean to your assistants is terribly glamorous, but we knew that we were actually in a scummy daily newspaper office in West London and that people who are mean to their assistants are bitches who will rot in hell.
The editor’s girls didn’t usually last. They all had office affairs eventually, which then went sour, then they went on sick leave, then never came back. But Connie, or “Beautiful Connie” as she quickly became known, was different. She was smart. She couldn’t have been less interested in the skinny boys on news or any of the fast-talking, grizzled and jowly back bench. Her boyfriends were always incredibly tall mega-Sloanes that she’d known she was six, who thought journalists were dismal little people. Yet there was a steely glint in her sleepy brown eyes and a taut resiliance in her long, long blonde hair and perky tiny-flower-patterned mini dresses.
The editor had finally met her match.
She was my best – and, sometimes, only – friend at the Standard. I would often poke my head into the editor’s office, where she sat drinking pot after pot of fresh ginger tea that was so strong that when you drank it, it felt like your whole face was on fire and she would shriek, quietly: “ESTHER!! Oh my god I’ve just eaten an entire Bounty and TWO packets of Maltesers!!!”
I have been thinking about Connie recently because I came across a recipe for a mango salsa, which she used to make for me in the weeny galley kitchen of her top floor flat in Notting Hill. Roasting in summer and freezing in winter, (“I think another bad January might finish me off”), Connie’s flat was a miracle of survival, like those plants you get in the desert, or 100,000 miles under the sea.
Anyway she almost always has the ingredients in her kitchen for this spicy mango salsa, and it’s quite, quite delicious. My husband and I had this with a very rich jerk pork belly, which didn’t work at all, it was too rick and gacky and yuk. It would be very good instead with some plain steak, or a tuna steak (although these days one cannot really eat such things) or a plain white fish like turbot or pollock.
Makes enough for 2-3
1 mango – diced
juice of 1 lime
small handful coriander
a sprinkling of fresh mint
1 chilli – no seeds – chopped finely
1 avocado, diced
1 Put everything in a bowl and mix