My husband and I have a little game that we play in bed. I’m not clever enough yet to write blog-listings teasers, so that’s probably not as exciting as it sounds. But we do have a name for our game: ‘The Gin and Tonic Question.’ It’s very easy to play, mainly because it involves absolutely no action or reaction, and everyone’s a winner. The basic premise is to illustrate how happy you are to be lying in bed by naming your minimum price for getting up, getting dressed and – using only public transport – getting to a specific bar in Soho for at least one gin and tonic.
I say it’s a measure of happiness; since having children has taken our out-of-bed time in significantly different directions, it’s really an indication of gender. My husband will usually refuse to head back into town for less than £2,000, while I, having spent the day waiting for the evening, will often price myself no higher than the free gin. The tonic is negotiable, I’ll bring my purse.
I know happiness is subjective but I am a happy person. There’s even a scale of distance named after me. If I say something’s just down the road, or round the corner, that’s a good 20 minutes in the car to even the marginally less optimistic. But I still fall in love with my husband on a regular basis – even after 9 years 67 days, a stolen wedding dress (so not over that), two bloated pregnancies, three resulting children and a cat that we’re all allergic to. My life is good: I have amazing friends, I make money from doing what I love, and I think the pillar-box red tiles on our bathroom floor are inspired.
So it’s with real pain that I admit to having hit a bit of a wall. For the first autumn in hazy memory, I’m finding it really hard to get back into my London skin after the summer holidays. And I can see it in other people around me too. Resuming normal life is proving difficult, even by the end of September.
Maybe the problem is that I’ve just been too happy this summer. How’s that for Polly Anna? Gin-fuelled trips to Soho aside, it’s a truly wonderful thing finding yourself living the moment you knew would be one of your most content. And this is mine: Walking back to our holiday home in its French valley of sunflowers and chateaus, along a dusty track through a tiny vineyard, following behind my husband who’s carrying a bottle of 10-year-old local Pineau in one hand and holding the grubby fingers of his four-year-old son in the other, holiday hat on head, shoulders light and nothing but that evening’s dinner menu on his mind.
And then we’re home. And I’m suddenly in a world of anger and frustration because the ironing board hasn’t been packed away, or one of my children doesn’t have their shoes on by 9am. I have to find a way of using this memory to that get me through the damp, domestic winter months, and not use it to excuse countless sideways glances at the EasyJet winter-getaways site.
Alternatively, we just never leave the capital again, bring our reality back into a neat little box of daily contentment. I have a friend who was on holiday as a teenager with her single mum – a trip abroad that had no doubt taken months of planning and saving to provide – and as they walked around a gorgeous square one balmy evening she said dreamily, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we walked around that corner and we were back in England with all my mates.’