Fridays are transition days. On Fridays I get up early, pack my travel bag, wash and brush my hair and choose clothes from that part of the wardrobe that is reserved for non-caravan me. This is by any standards a scant collection, but it is sacrosanct in that it only comes out when I head for work, or accompany my daughter, as I did this week, on one of her many social engagements where I have to deal with people who live normal lives and don’t walk around continually spattered in mud.
This week, the choice from my sparse collection was larger than usual, because some of the items had recently encountered an iron, thanks to my lovely Mum, increasing my usable capacity by about 50%.
So on Fridays I dress differently, I certainly smell better than during the rest of the week, and even while I am still in the field a part of me is already in a different sphere. I ignore the children and the pestering cats as I pay attention to the Today programme a little more avidly and try to recall a week’s worth of news.
My post-childbirth life has always felt split – as I guess is the case with most working parents. But being a stay-at-home mum half the week and a working mother desperately trying to hold onto some sort of career the rest has created a weird demarcation which I have always felt hard to marry up. Now I feel this even more. Geographically I am around 200 miles from where I work – but emotionally the distance is far greater. It seems almost inconceivable that I can wake up and leave my family behind on our small, muddy patch of land and three hours later having jostled my way from Paddington to King’s Cross be walking through the revolving door of King’s Place into the calm space of its latest foyer exhibition. Back there in the Devon sunshine – or, more usually, rain – are the people I would die for; here is an essential part of me that I can’t allow to die. Working on a distinguished national newspaper is something I had wanted to do since my early teens – and even though the dream has given way to the cynicism and banalities of familiarity, I am still pathetically grateful every time I walk through that revolving door.
Maybe it is because of this parallel life, that Friday has become my sad day of the week. The one time that I feel homesick for the more predictable and ordered life I had before. What I miss is not going home at the end of the working day. So far, I have been spending Friday nights spreading myself around family and friends – and it’s lovely to see them all, but I want to be at home kissing the children goodnight and tucking them in, scratching the dog, tickling the cats, and going to my own bed with a good book.
And some of my early stay overs were a little too close to my old life for comfort. Waiting for a train to take me out of King’s Cross to Cambridge I could see my old commuter train and I wished that I could get on it again and walk back into my old life. On that journey to Cambridge, I could see the familiar lights of the Sandy television transmitter, which for nearly six years had been a symbol for me of home-coming – now it had become a symbol of a life I no longer had.
This rampant self pity is all compounded by the difficulty of getting where I want to be. Mostly, I stay with Gully’s brother’s family in Harlow. It takes an Underground journey, the train and two buses to get to their house – the latter involving a short wait in the town’s bus station for a connection. On my first visit, this was depressing. The music from a nightclub thumped across the streets while rain pattered steadily through the bus shelter onto my clothes and feet. Hunched in the rain, wearing only shirt sleeves underneath a knife-proof vest stood a lone security guard, who stared forlornly across to the multi-storey car park lights – he summed up how I felt.
But – at the end of it all was a warm welcome and a cup of tea with people of which I am very fond. So, I guess I had a home-coming after all.