I needed a present for my husband; one which would justify the cold war I initiated two days previously, when he bought my Christmas present in front of me then handed it to me in the carrier bag; “I guess there’s no point wrapping it, really, is there?” I guess not, dear.
On first consideration, Leamington was an odd choice; an hour’s drive away, and not generally hailed as the shopping mecca of the middle classes. However, an hour’s nap was required for the two most junior members of the family, therefore it was a perfect destination.
I found a parking space right in the centre of town and dutifully noted the time; I had two hours. Like a woman possessed, I decanted the children from the car and headed for the shopping centre, where I roamed the levels searching for inspiration – and a shop large enough to fit the triple buggy inside.
Ninety minutes later two out of three of my children were screaming, and the third was moaning gently to himself. I made the decision to abort, but not before I grabbed a take-away coffee and a sandwich to revive me before the drive home. I headed to Costa Coffee and ordered my latte and panini from the young man at the counter. “Cheer up”, he said, “it might never happen”. I looked pointedly at the gargantuan buggy beside me; the wailing babies and the recalcitrant toddler. A little late for optimism of that nature, I feel. Costa Boy smiled in spite of my glares, and moved in slow motion to toast my panini. “So”, he continued, “do you have any help with that lot?” One-handed, I squeezed a sachet of Calpol into a waiting mouth, as I paid for my lunch, and wondered why this boy persisted in trying to jolly me out of the obvious despair in which I was currently wallowing. “No”, I said, “the fun is all mine. Now can I have my panini?” As he wrapped my over-priced mozarella morsel, with agonisingly languid movements, he said “you must get some free time? Perhaps on Saturday?” He met my confused gaze and stared at me, challengingly, as a dim and distant recollection tugged at my addled brain. This was definitely a familiar scenario, but I had no recent frame of reference, and quite suddenly I wasn’t sure how to behave. Was he flirting with me? Was that what it was? The long looks, the cheeky smile, the persistance in the face of adversity…. Good Lord, he really was. I shoved my panini in my bag and deftly manoeuvered the buggy out of the shop, balancing my latte on the handbar with one finger.
With all children now caterwauling, I weaved through the throngs of last-minute Christmas shoppers, wondering if I was perhaps slightly deluded. Catching sight of myself in a shop window, I concluded that either Costa Boy was Oedipal in his fantasies, or he had mistaken me for a nanny. By the time I got back to the car I had shaken off all thoughts of flirtation and could see the situation for what it was; a keen employee putting into practice his recent Customer Services (‘we care because you do’) training course by engaging a harassed middle-aged mother in conversation. Perhaps I should write to his boss and commend him? He might get a star on his name badge, or be named employee of the month. Of course – he must have been on the look out for mystery shoppers, and suspected that my fraught air was just a cover story…
My head was pounding with the stress of the shopping expedition, and I had loaded the children into the car before I caught sight of the bright yellow envelope stuck to my windscreen. Fan-bloody-tastic. Happy Christmas from the traffic wardens of Leamington Spa. Five minutes; just five minutes over my allotted two hours, before which time I could easily have been back, had it not been for Costa Boy’s charm offensive slowing down his service. I should write and complain. I tore off the ticket and turned on the engine; the sudden vibrations lulling the babies into calm. I breathed deeply and leaned back into my seat, tearing the wrapper from my panini.
A napkin fell out of the wrapped package, with looped writing across the front; “Yummy Mummy, call me on 01296 —— We could have coffee” Well, well, well…