So. First holiday as a family. DONE. It was sort of ridiculous. In London, I have a bit of help during the week so I can drive randomly around town playing very loud music and screaming intermittently. But in Sussex there was no-one. Although my husband is a terrifically hands-on kind of guy, it wasn't a situation where I could shout "Bye!" at the door and piss off for two hours.
And it does concentrate the mind. I did spend rather a lot of time thinking about why people have children. Why? I howled this question particularly loudly to myself in my head as I fed a damp, bored and miserable Kitty a bottle in the pouring rain, hiding under a tree in the grounds of Petworth House, which we'd visited because you've got to do something between 2pm and 6pm other than singing "Row Row Row Your Boat" and looking at the clock, or you'll go mad.
Why? It's just so stupid. There you are, having a perfectly nice time and then you completely fuck your whole life up. For ages. I have become one of those people who devours anything written by anyone who is either desperate to have a baby or by someone who regrets not having had children. I can live on that shit for a week.
I always come to the conclusion - as I think everyone does - that the whole sorry business is all just selfish. For example, by having children I hope to achieve two things:
1) To go home. I want so badly to be at home again, in my bedroom with my stuff and my sisters around and my mum downstairs and my dad behind a newspaper somewhere. Adult life frightens me. I don't like things like clubbing very much, or achieveing things in an office environment, or going to smart parties, or acting on the spur of the moment. I just want to go home and potter about. I really like my parents, they are really nice people. I never had a yearning to get out and forge my way in the world. My parents had to evict me at 25. And because I can't go home (my little sister has taken over my old bedroom) the closest thing I can do is make a duplicate, an offshoot like a spider plant, and cross my fingers that it will, somehow, like a metaphorical Dr Sam Beckett, Quantum Leap me back.
2) To have the life my mother has now. God my mum has a great time. Four daughters, none of who turned out to have a drug problem or decided to move permanently halfway across the world, (I always think that says something), who each ring her for a major gossip at least once a week, who deliver her grandchildren she can fuss over - then hand back - and bring to our house life. Life.
When we were little there was an apocryphal tale about my mother leaving next-eldest sister in the bath and she "nearly drowned". With the poisonous cruelty that little children are sometimes capable of, we always used to hold this up as an example of my mother's blatant imperfection.
I remembered this story the other day when I left Kitty propped up with cushions on the sofa for a few minutes to fetch something. The thing I had not realised is that when it happened, my mother's first husband, the father of next-eldest and eldest sister, would have been either dying or already dead from leukemia. My mother would have been about 34. And for a long time, until she met my father, she was all alone. With two small children. Of course she left next-eldest in the bath for a second or two! Eldest sister was probably screaming. Or there was a hammering on the door. Or she smelt burning. Or maybe she just needed to get a towel. And there was no-one else there.
So to have a full house, to have people there, is all my mother wants. And she is wise for it. As I hardly have any friends, and have never been able to do that thing where the few friends I have just come and hang out in my house, there is no question of having some kind of modern "urban" family with lots of glamorous homosexuals scattered about. If I am going to have any sort of family life, I am going to have to make one myself. Literally grow one. And there's no easy way of doing it.
To misquote Madonna: There are no shortcuts to being a family.* So occasionally you just have to fucking suck it up.
As it happens, there are no shortcuts to making a brilliant Coronation Chicken sauce. You can do a pretty grim one with curry powder and mayonnaise and raisins but it's not very nice.
A really serious one was brought round for me by Julia Churchill and it disappeared so quickly and I was so dazed from 4 weeks' solid childcare that it didn't cross my mind to take a photo. And I certainly haven't had, like, four seconds to myself to re-create it. So you're just going to have to do without a snap and simply take my word, on faith, that it's out of this world. Which is it. Really fantastic.
(NB: I am going to the countryside this weekend to see next-eldest sister - who didn't drown - and she has a glut of damsons. So in order to make it up to you, I will take a lot of whimsical pictures everyone can feel all autumnal about.)
I emailed Julia for the recipe and this is what came back. I always think it's best to let people deliver recipes in their own words and these are hers.
"Finely chop an onion and cook slowly till very dark. Add in spices - quite a lot of mustard seed, black onion seed, pepper, cardomom, (spelling?), tumeric, cumin, coriander seed, fennel seed, chilli flakes (loads. I have decided quite recently that food should hurt from time to time), teaspoon of curry powder for that familiar note, tiny bit cinnamon and clove - almost not there. Cook it. Let it cool and mix it with mayonnaise and [mango] chutney and squeeze in some lemon juice if it's cloying. Salt. Chopped coriander at the end. Oooo. Was there anything else? I think that's it.
*"There are no shortcuts to being Madonna".