Glad to hear you're well and you're finding your feet with the new routine. It's great news that Daisy is sleeping better.
Thanks for asking how things went the other evening. Apart from minor bruising to my face, I survived. It was a peculiar night, though. I suppose you want the full story. All right then. I'll start in the middle...
* * *
"This isn't what I signed up for," said Trevor, the silver tinsel of his Deely boppers reflecting off the dome of his bald head.
I could barely make out what he was saying over the blaring of Chesney Hawkes. "I know what you mean," I said, surveying the dance floor which was mostly full of slightly tipsy women who were old enough to remember a time before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister but were wearing outfits they'd bought when she was still in power. "I think I'm going blind..." Then I caught sight of Scary Karen gyrating as she screamed out the lyrics to One and Only and I added, "...but not fast enough." I had another big gulp of my beer.
* * *
To be honest, the parent and toddler night out had never held much promise for me but I hadn't expected it to go downhill so badly.
When I arrived at the local Chinese, there were plenty of mums already seated at a long table. They were still waiting on Karen and a few other, though. I squeezed up a darkened corner with Trevor, the group's stocky bouncer. We ordered drinks and I just hoped for the time to pass quickly.
Then Eleanor arrived.
The temperature around the table dropped so rapidly that it started to snow on the prawn crackers. The only time most of us had met Eleanor previously, she'd forced us to sing in harmony and to paint with our children. (As you'll remember, by 'with', I don't mean 'alongside', I mean 'using'.) I call her the GrandParent of Doom.
"Good evening, ladies. I'm afraid Julia can't make it this evening - her babysitter called off. Seeing as a seat has been booked for her, and I have attended one of your delightful nursery gatherings in the past, I thought I might join you."
There was much muttering around the table. If her daughter couldn't find a sitter, why hadn't the GPD gone to look after the kids rather than turning up at the restaurant to make us all miserable?
Also, why did she have two large bags with her?
"Quiet please," said the GPD, shushing us. "As these events are so rare, I brought some items to make the evening especially memorable." She reached into one of the bags and brought out a pair of the Deely boppers which she placed regally on her head and then she reached into the other bag and brought out t-shirts.
* * *
Did I mention the t-shirts before?
As we sat at the bar of the seedy club with the mature clientele, Trevor and I were wearing white t-shirts that the GPD had obviously prepared well in advance for our humiliation. If they'd had 'Young, free and single' written on them, I could probably have lived with the irony. 'Worn-out, tied-down & reproduced', however, was not so much to my liking.
I was desperate to get home and put the offending garment at the back of the wardrobe beside my other emergency t-shirts. These were all 'amusing' gifts from in-laws. One says 'My other toddler is well-behaved' and a second has 'Don't follow me... my children bite'. The third was actually useful for crossing roads when the kids were small and I wasn't getting much sleep. It's emblazoned with 'Honk if I've got my eyes closed.'
* * *
Eleanor went round the table handing out the t-shirts and came to our corner last. It was an extra dark corner by then because I'd snuffed out all the candles I could reach in the forlorn hope she wouldn't see us.
Well, it was worth a try.
She handed me my t-shirt stiffly. "I see that, after a hard day encouraging other men's wives to abandon their ideals, you've abandoned your own wife while you cavort with... Trevor!"
I blinked. I'd been ready to rebut the put down, to tell her to stop forcing her ideals on her daughter and to inform her that Sarah was quite pleased to have me out of the house for once. Trevor really isn't my type, though. I was momentarily thrown by the accusation.
She'd forgotten all about me. "I hadn't realised you'd be here, Trevor. How delightful to meet again. I'm sorry we didn't get much opportunity to chat last time. Now let me see..." She hunted around in her bag of t-shirts before handing him one the size of a small tent. "I brought a couple of extremely large ones in case Karen has a sister." Then she sat down beside him, put her chin on her clasped hands and batted her eyelids.
* * *
The club seemed to be having some kind of an eighties night. It made me think of school discos and, oddly, Wotsits. A worrying thought struck me. "What time is it?" I asked. My watch had had an unfortunate Play-Doh related accident the day before.
Trevor checked his. "Twenty-five past ten."
"We need to go. We need to go now."
He heard the panic in my voice and, for the second time that evening, I saw fear in his eyes. "Why?"
I searched frantically in my pocket for my cloakroom stub. "We have to be out of here before half-past ten. We can't be here when..."
But it was too late. Wham! had faded and The Weather Girls were already beginning to crank up.
Trevor was oblivious. "What happens at half ten?"
"That's when it's supposed to start raining men," I gibbered, "and, if you hadn't noticed, male precipitation is a bit thin on the ground this evening." I swept my arm to take in the expanse of the room. There were almost no other unattached blokes there. On the other hand, there were quite a few lonely girls who'd left their umbrellas at home. Nearly all of them were looking at us. I reckoned we had until the chorus to escape. "Run for your..."
I turned round and nearly fell over Eleanor.
* * *
The GPD continued to sweet-talk Trevor as we ordered our food. He sat nervously, his mouth slightly open, unable to make his voice work.
Trevor is at least ten years older than me but Eleanor is at least ten years older than him. It had obviously never crossed his mind to think of her in that way before. And, judging by the look on his face, now he'd had the thought, he was terrified by it. Karen might be scary but the GPD is actually frightening.
Karen still hadn't showed up and the rest of us were unwilling to fight.
We put our t-shirts and Deely boppers on.
* * *
Eleanor slowed me up long enough for Karen's friend Tess to grab hold of my arm and yank me bodily onto the dance floor. I suddenly found myself strutting my not-so-funky stuff. Fortunately, it was quite dark. Unfortunately, that just made my t-shirt glow even brighter purple. We'd walked like an Egyptian and fought for our right to party before I had a fresh chance to escape. Even then, the exit was blocked by Cress and Jess, who looked like they wanted to get in on the action, too
Could have been worse, though. At least I wasn't having to dance with Eleanor.
* * *
By the time Karen turned up for the meal, it was too late. The GPD was all smiles for Trevor but the rest of us had been lambasted about everything from the names of our children to our choice of footwear. We were afraid to speak and shiny tinsel rustled every time we moved our heads. Karen did fight back but the only seat left for her was right at the other end of the table. That end had livened up by the time desserts were served but my end was reduced to listening to the fun Karen's end was having.
Everyone had plenty to drink.
Of course, Trevor had been hoping to make his move on Karen but there was no chance of that. She was too far away and the GPD wouldn't leave him alone. I shot him the occasional sympathetic glance but he was too shell-shocked to really notice. It was a relief when the bill arrived. I thought it was over.
"Let's go to a club," said Tess. "I know a good place that's not far away."
There was plenty of merry agreement.
But then, no one had been expecting Eleanor to come along.
* * *
"Mind if I cut in?" I shimmied between Trevor and Eleanor and then spun him off across the room.
"Hey! None of that!" He tried to bat me away.
I ducked. He'd dragged me along to the club for support. I hadn't wanted to go. I'd wanted to head home to my Xbox. I was going to do my best for him, whether he liked it or not. "Would you really rather dance with her?" I said, pointedly.
"Anyway," I shouted over the music, taking advantage of his confusion, "I'm off to climb out the window of the gents any minute. You won't fit, so you're going to have to come up with another plan. I suggest you make your move on Karen. It's the only way to get the GPD to leave you alone."
"The GP... Oh, never mind. Who do you think? I had a word with the DJ. The next song should be suitable."
"I..." He was still confused.
"No need to thank me. Just collect my coat on the way out." I pressed my cloakroom ticket into his hand. "I'll get it from you at parent and toddler."
"But what if..."
I remembered that he responds well to being ordered about. "Show some backbone, man. Tell her how you feel. Let her see your passion."
"If you really think..."
"I do. Now, I'll leave you to it. If we dance together any longer at this time of night, then club etiquette seems to suggest that I've got to snog you. I don't think either of us want that, although I'm sure it would be another way to put Eleanor off."
This, at least, he wasn't confused about. "I'd rather tell Karen."
"You'll have to do more than that," I yelled. "You're going to have to show her your moves. Good luck."
We'd discoed our way towards the toilets. As the song ended, I struck my best Travolta pose, spun round with a flourish and disappeared through the door. I was already halfway out into the night air by the time Dancing Queen got going.
I paused, my feet balanced on a urinal. I couldn't quite bring myself to leave. I slipped back inside and crept over to the door. I opened it just a crack to see what was happening.
For an instant, I thought the dance floor was empty. But no! Trevor and Karen were in the centre, tripping the light fantastic. Their t-shirts luminesced blindingly and they were bathed in multi-coloured swirls from a dozen disco balls. It was a sight to behold. Everyone else had got out of the way to avoid being injured.
I stood mesmerised until the song finished and, to my delight, they went with club etiquette. There were cheers from the other parent and toddler members around the room. I smiled. My work there was done.
Then I noticed that not quite everyone was cheering.
Eleanor was livid and her eyes were sweeping the room, hunting for something.
She knew. She knew I'd talked him into it.
Her eyes came to a stop, fixed on the gents. I was sure she couldn't see me. The door was only open the tiniest fraction. She couldn't possibly... And I was in the gents, anyway. She wouldn't...
She began to march over.
She was coming for me.
It wasn't the softest landing as I hit the cobbles of the alley but my face broke my fall and I was up and running within moments. I dashed off down the street, the heads of passersby turning to watch me, but I didn't look back.
I was almost home before I remembered to take off my Deely boppers.
* * *
I got my coat back today. Trevor and Karen were all smiles. I'll let you know how it works out for them.
I'm not looking forward to my next meeting with Eleanor, though. Could be messy.
Yours in a woman's world,