Friday, 24 September 2010


We're sitting in Children's Accident and Emergency with a broken finger which is still, just, attached to a traumatised child, albeit at a slightly jaunty angle. There are four of us trying to share two plastic chairs. We are also trying to write an essay on a truly appalling and disgracefully self-indulgent poem by Plath, and there's a physics test in the morning, so we're testing each other on electrical currents. None of us have had anything to eat for at least six hours, and all we can find is an an old piece of mouldy chocolate that was lurking in my non-designer handbag.

To make matters worse, I look completely mad. I am wearing a foul outfit that I had been using for gardening earlier in the day, so no doubt I smell of manure. I haven't looked in the mirror since dawn, my hair has suffered its usual reaction to the Scottish smir so I look like a cross between a firework and a demented loo brush. The only lipstick in my bag is jet black, a leftover from a recent dressing-up outfit. None of us have coats, or even a jumper of any kind and the weather outside is becoming less and less inviting. One of us managed to leave school wearing only one shoe, a trick which may defy all logic, but the sort of incident to which most parents of teenagers will merely raise a resigned eyebrow.

I am also missing two meetings this evening, one of which I seriously needed to attend. I had three urgent phone-calls to make, but my phone is probably down the back of the sofa at home. Maybe. I have to find radishes for someone's Home Economics lesson, and I know I need to produce six pound coins to hand out to various offspring for very specific purposes. The car is sitting in a dodgy space outside, so I may well be fined, and it also has just a miniscule dribble of petrol left in it...the nearest petrol station is shut, so I'll have to hope we can reach one somewhere else on the way home. I must complete a vital letter to the Scottish Parliament on a subject currently being debated. Oh, and I have to make a Victorian costume for a nine-year-old before tomorrow morning.

Some of the most amazing people I know are single parents. I've now had a full four months of pretending to be a single parent, the TA being stuck in Norway up to this point. All oil wives know very well what it is like to have to hold the fort for days, weeks, months at a time, and they become highly adept at doing so. Our friends in the Military have an even harder time, often longer, and without nearly so much contact. And some people manage to be single parents all the time, for which they should be given a giant medal on a daily basis. So I have been trying to find a neat trick that will help me to cope....I didn't think I'd find it in A and E.

I shove the uninjured offspring off one of the plastic seats and sit back in contemplation. I'm stuck in here until the broken finger is dealt with, and I find this kind of incarceration curiously relaxing. I can't do anything. I'm trapped until all is resolved. A kindly nurse shows great concern for the patient, and so I share some of his kindness, pretending a dose of it is inadvertently intended for me. Then the doc shows up and I am immediately comforted by her Mask of Knowing Brilliance.

I am fond of The Mask of Knowing Brilliance. I've seen it quite a bit. It is something I believe all good medics acquire, almost by osmosis, at some point during their clinical training. Whether or not The Mask originated in Scotland, no-one can say, for it appears to be universal amongst the medical establishment.  I wonder if they realize what a comfort it is to those of us who are mere patients. It can have an immediate placebo effect, and that's not merely on the patient themselves but any hangers-on too. Even when the situation has taken the doctor by surprise, and they patently haven't a clue what is going on, as long as they present The Mask of Knowing Brilliance, we mere mortals can put up with almost anything.

After reflecting on this while we wait about, I think how useful it must be to have such a mask. Perhaps it could be used by mothers, by parents in general, when dealing with the inconveniences of life. So, once the finger is sorted, after buying petrol and radishes and acquiring six pound coins, after scrabbling about for some food (sorry, darlings, I know it's junk tonight, but close your eyes and pretend you don't like it and your mother didn't really buy it), after finding it is too late to phone anyone and my phone could stay down the back of the sofa for all I cared, after sewing a unique Victorian costume from an old table cloth and an absurd colour of thread, after the Plath and the physics were dealt with, the letter finished off and the youths had disappeared off to bed, I try pulling a few faces in the mirror.

Ah see? That's powerful. Even I can do The Mask of Knowing Brilliance. Good discovery. Maybe it's the black lipstick that does it.


  1. Single parents? No idea how they do it. Absolutely no idea!
    Great post! MMx

  2. Met Mum...they are to be much admired. Tusen takk.x