4 March 2017

Not On The Schedule

Not On The Schedule
Amanda had the summer holidays all figured out but sometimes even the best-laid plans can be upset.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Amanda’s careful, colour-coded spreadsheet of the summer holidays stared at her from the fridge door, its corners pinned by cartoon character magnets. The plan showed exactly what she, Nick and their three children (12 year old Ben, 10 year old Grace and Freddy, 7) should be doing on any given day from the middle of July until the schools went back in September. And according to the plan, this weekend Nick should be going camping with the boys, while she took Grace into town for a bit of shopping and to get their nails done. But then Nick had had a call from work. They needed him to fly down to Bournemouth to sort out a problem at one of his company’s hotels.
          “What about the plans for the weekend?” Amanda had jabbed her finger at the coloured boxes on the spreadsheet.
          Nick shrugged. “I have to go to work. Can’t you all go camping?”
          Amanda shuddered. “You know how much I hate it. Besides, the tent’s not big enough for all of us.”
          “Well can’t you drop the boys at your mother’s?”
          “She’s still getting over her hip operation. She won’t cope with Ben and Freddy.”
          “Well…” But Nick had no more ideas and now Amanda realised that she had to figure out a way to entertain all three children on her own. She might have been tempted to take them to a theme park, but Nick, worried about what might happen if he couldn’t sort out the hotel, had warned her not to spend too much money as he’d driven away.
          “So guys,” Amanda tried to sound upbeat as she addressed the emergency family meeting of Ben, Grace and Freddy at the kitchen table, “What do you all want to do this weekend?”
“Play Fifa online,” suggested Ben.
“Boring!” said Grace. “Anyway, Mum won’t let you play online games all weekend – will you, Mum?”
“Definitely not! And it has to be something we can all do.”
“Horseriding?” suggested Freddy.
“Grace is scared of horses, idiot,” said Ben.     
“How about a jumble sale?” said Grace. “There’s one at the church hall this morning.”
“Good idea,” agreed Ben while Freddy nodded.
“A jumble sale?” Amanda looked doubtful. “Really?”
“Oh yes. Mrs Baxter took us to one a few weeks ago. I got a whole set of David Walliams books for 50p.”
“I wondered where they came from,” said Amanda.
“And I got two plastic dinosaurs for 10p,” said Freddy.
“Oh well…” Amanda looked at the faces of her three children, united for the first time and excited at the prospect of an outing they’d last made with their next door neighbour while she’d been babysitting. “I suppose we could give it a go.”
“I’ll get my piggy bank!” Freddy whooped towards the stairs.
There was a queue outside the church hall.
“Hello, Mrs Baxter,” said Grace, spotting their neighbour a few people in front of them.
“Oh hello dear. I see you’ve brought your mum along today.” To Amanda she added. “You’re in for a treat, love.”
Amanda smiled uncertainly. “I hope so.” When the doors were opened, Amanda paid 30p for them all to go inside a large hall that smelled of dusty books and floor polish.
“Where do you want to look first?” She turned towards the children but they were gone. She caught sight of Freddy’s green t-shirt making for the toy stall but Grace and Ben were already out of sight. Amanda dithered. Should she try to find them, or wait here by the door? They couldn’t exactly get lost in a church hall, could they? Straight in front of her, a gap opened up at a table piled high with clothes. A red, silky garment caught Amanda’s eye and she stepped forward for a closer look.

Twenty minutes later, Amanda had an armful of clothes in her size, including a Monsoon dress and a skirt from Next, and she hadn’t paid more than 50p for anything. She was hot and her nose was prickling from the dust but she felt elated and she realised that she hadn’t given a thought to Ben, Grace or Freddy since she’d started rummaging through the jumble.
Feeling guilty, she looked around.
Freddy bounded towards her, clutching a pile of coloured plastic. “Look what I got for 20p, Mum!” He showed her some racing track and a handful of cars.
Amanda smiled.  “Great, Freddy.”
Grace appeared with a carrier bag bulging with books and a purple mirror in the shape of a butterfly under her arm. “This will look perfect in my room, Mum,” she said, holding the mirror out towards Amanda.
Before Amanda could agree, Ben arrived, with a large, boxed board game, Haunted House, held out like a tray. “Matt’s got this game at his house. It used to be his mum’s and it’s brilliant!”
Amanda laughed. “I remember playing that! Are all the pieces there?”
“Oh yes, I checked.”
As no one could physically carry anything else, Amanda decided it was time to go home.
Before lunch she put all her new clothes in the washing machine and Grace fixed her new mirror onto her wall while Ben helped Freddy set up his racetrack.
“Can we all play Haunted House, after lunch?” asked Ben.
“Yes, let’s,” said Amanda.
While she loaded the dishwasher, Amanda listened to her three children who always seemed so different and rarely agreed with each other, collaborating on the setting up of a game that was at least 40 years old. She hadn’t pictured the weekend turning out like this at all.

When Nick let himself into the house on Sunday afternoon, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He’d felt bad about leaving Amanda in the lurch like that with the kids. He hoped they hadn’t been too awful. At least he had some good news. Not only had he fixed the problem at the hotel, his manager had promised him a bonus for his hard work. As he closed the door, he realised he’d expected the kids to be causing mayhem and was surprised it was so quiet in the house. Just then, he heard giggling coming from the kitchen. He pushed open the door and saw his whole family sitting round the table.
“Ha!” Freddy bounced up and down on his chair, “Ghoulish Gerty! I get to drop the whammy ball down the chimney.”
“What’s going on here?” Nick asked, bemused.
Four pairs of excited eyes swivelled in his direction.
“We got new games.”
“New toys.”
“New books.”
“Mum got a whole load of new clothes!”
Amanda saw alarm cross Nick’s face. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We didn’t spend more than £10 between us.”
“How come?”
“We went to a jumble sale,” Amanda explained.
“It was super fun,” said Freddy.
“Ben’s game is really good,” said Grace.
“And I’ve not been on my x-box all weekend,” added Ben.
Nick laughed. “Amazing!” He looked at Amanda. “Has it really been OK?”
“It’s been great,” Amanda assured him. “I’m sorry I was a bit uptight yesterday, worrying about all our plans being ruined, but do you know, it’s been the best weekend. Perhaps we should do things that aren’t on the schedule more often.”

This story was first published in "The People's Friend" on 10th September 2016.

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