Horribly, horribly busy, but sent dog walking by Stevie because apparently I’m grumpy. I’ve been welded to my lap top for three straight hours, trying to crack a piece, and all I’ve produced is a painfully convoluted paragraph on the town of Abingdon.
‘Just bugger off,’ says Stevie, unplugging me. ‘Sun’s out. Move it.’
I de-crunch my limbs, and we go, me with Dora, Ellie with the puppy. Ellie chatters away, but I don’t listen, still deep in booksellers. I grunt, at intervals, irritated with the world.
At the end of the Jackie Chan, I trip over Arfa Pants, and do a comedy fall to avoid squashing him flat. There’s a clump of Ladies’ smock, pinkish-white petals inches from my nose. Elle looks at me sideways, unsure whether she’s allowed to laugh. She looks away, hand over her mouth, and spots a squirrel.
We watch it shin one of St Ethelreda’s horse chestnut trees, and disappear into the new leaves.
‘Don’t they look like hankies?’ I say.
‘What,’ says Elle. ‘Already covered in snot?’
We walk on, arguing whether to go over Bramshill, or up and around the Allotment field. I win. We walk to the Allotment field.
My grump lasts until half way across the field, when Arfa Pants makes me laugh by going head-over-heels down the steep slope. Ellie’s laughing so hard her legs give way, and we lean together, hooting as Arfa shoots off again.
A huge rain cloud is coming over the hill from Hornton, and Ellie spots it and shouts to run for the bridleway before it gets us. We pelt down the field, and collapse breathless on the tiny bench tucked beneath a tree I don’t know the name of. The rain falls in great splats, and we put our hoods up. Great wafts of scent reaches us, and I realise it’s oil seed rape – the first time this year I’ve smelt it. Beneath its sheet-metal butteriness is a lighter, sweeter scent: bluebells. The rain stops as abruptly as it started, and Elle and I stand up and look behind us. Bluebells cover the whole of the bridleway bank, for as far back up the hill as we can see.
‘Good for fairies,’ says Elle. I ask her why, and she gives me one of her rolling-eyes ‘duh’ looks. ‘For their hats, Mummy…?’
We walk back towards the Horley-Hornton Road, and see the damage wreaked by recent storms. Halfway up the track is completely blocked by a gnarled elder. It’s torn in half, and took out a huge blackthorn bush on the way. Blackthorn blossom lies thick on the ground, like confetti from a woodland wedding.
Further up, a young sycamore has been wrenched in two, its bright young leaves dying across the path. Even as I’m feeling sorry for it, I’m weighing up the burning potential.
We reach the top of the bridleway and come out onto the road into blazing sunshine. The Hornton cloud can be seen rampaging towards Banbury. Elle and Arfa Pants walk on the wide verge that the gypsies camped on last winter. The grass their ponies cropped is higher now than Elle’s wellies. I smile blindly at a passing car, and can feel Elle looking at me, re-evaluating my mood.
‘Mummy,’ she says. ‘You know tonight?’
We’ve friends over for dinner.
‘Can Jess and I be waitresses?’
I ask her why, although I already know the answer.
‘Well,’ she says. ‘We could watch a bit of telly. And then you don’t need to pay us.’
‘Pay you!’ I shriek.
‘We’ll even pour wine,’ she says, skipping past the Horley sign. ‘If you let us stay up until nine o’clock. And Mummy-‘
‘If me and Jess lay the table, you can finish your bookshop essay.’
‘Not an essay,’ I say, frowning. Elle knows I mean ‘thank you’, and she takes my hand.