Fighting talk

Alec and Kit are sitting in the hall fighting over a Poundland catalogue.

“Mine!”

‘No, mine!”

“MINE.”

The source of the argument is a picture of a family pack of fun-sized Crunchies. The boys jab at the image of the packet with increasing rage.

“I saw it first!” they shriek in unison, pulling opposite sides of the page.

Here I’m afraid Kofi Annan and I part company. After minimal negotiation the catalogue goes in the bin. The Crunchie dream has died. Having endured years of sanity-eroding bickering my patience over non life-threatening disputes has worn thin.

Seven years ago, as I pushed my adorable first baby around the park (and yes, it was probably sunny), I had no greater concern than which home made meal to defrost for his tea and where to stop for my latte. Motherhood really was a doddle. When I think of it now, the image is actually sepia.

Fortunately I had no idea then that within a few years my main role as a mother would be that of a human shield, a fragile and often ineffective barrier against the verbal and physical grenades my sons like to explode in each other’s faces.

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Kit may have lost this particular argument

I rapidly discovered that no possession is too small and no subject too trivial to spark tears, shouting and, usually, a good punch-up. Last week it even extended to unspoken thoughts.

When Kit asked my husband to get his bike out of the shed Harry, seven, exploded with rage.

“He’s copying me!” he shouted. “That’s just what I was going to say.”

The list of flash-points in our house is endless, but includes an epic struggle over who has the orange bowl at breakfast (a rota was instigated), a standoff whereby the twins would only sit in the left hand car seat (their seats were identical) and a nightly row over the angle of the bedroom door (too much light for Kit, too dark for Alec).

As toddlers Alec and Kit, five, fought over who would hold my right hand – both refusing to hold my left which was, of course, free. Whoever failed to get the right hand would then freeze on the spot and refuse to move until said left hand eventually swooped down on them and propelled them unwillingly up the pavement.

On World Book Day Alec and Kit were given the same books by their nursery. When we settled down to read them all hell broke loose. It turns out I was reading Alec’s version of Grumpy Cat so therefore Kit boycotted the reading. In the end Grumpy Cat (with whom I was starting to have quite a lot of sympathy), was read twice – once from each book.

Alec and Kit have developed a bedtime ritual of taking on the persona of a baby animal. Every night it’s a different animal, yet the conversation is pretty much the same.

“I is a baby tiger”, says Kit.

“Awww! I wanted to be a baby tiger!” is the inevitable response from Alec.

Two loud sighs.

“Fine – you be the baby tiger,” says Kit. “I’ll just be a piece of air.” And with that he turns dramatically to face the wall.

“OK then,” says Alec happily.

Constant bickering does funny things to the parental brain. Rather than refusing to be drawn into the boys’ whine-fest, I occasionally find myself capitulating to the most ludicrous demands simply so I don’t have to listen to another second of arguing. At my lowest point I once moved round our dining table at three minute intervals after an interminable row about who was going to sit next to me during the meal.

Harry has developed more subtle guerilla tactics.

When Kit fell off the sofa recently Harry bandaged up his leg and pushed him around on a ride-on school bus which acted as his “wheelchair”. At story time, Harry sat with Kit and “explained” the plot to him.

“Mummy,” he said in a stage whisper. “We’re pretending – even though it’s actually true – that Kit doesn’t know anything.”

As if to prove his point, Kit smiled gratefully.

If there is the sound of a wail from the lounge, I can be fairly sure that by the time I get there Harry will be in another part of the room deeply engrossed in a crack in the wall. Once he tried a different approach. With Alec clutching a red mark on his cheek and Harry culpably near his victim he put his head in front of Alec’s hand and said brightly, “Right, now see if you can hit my head.” Unused to such an invitation, Alec stopped crying immediately and duly whacked Harry. That ploy was not repeated.

The one thing certain to unite the warring factions is an intervention from me. Driven to breaking point recently, I exploded through the lounge door and demanded that a cushion house game which had been dogged by fights, injuries and tears be abandoned once and for all.

“Awww!” Alec said. “We were having so much fun – why did you have to spoil it?”

Speaking of which…

After a few minutes in Alec and Kit’s company, strangers have a tendency to turn to each other and nod excitedly.

A secret language!

It’s not a secret language, I correct them. Anyone can join in – it’s just that, well, only Alec and Kit understand it.  More knowing nods. Mother in denial.

Alec and Kit, four, are bright, funny, and vocal but until a year ago had barely a handful of recognisable words between them. Instead of conventional English they deployed a series of grunts and actions to convey their everyday needs.

IMG_3074Communication became an elaborate pantomime of songs, signs and codes with me, my husband and Harry, seven, cast as chief translators for a uniformly baffled outside world. Often we, too, were stumped, desperately trying to decode a sound while Alec or Kit roared it with increasing frustration.

At times, the pantomime bordered on farce. Every time Alec or Kit wanted to say ‘spider’, they would sing “twinkle twinkle little star”, ‘big’ was “ooh”, ‘little’ was “aah”, “la la” meant either ‘yellow’, ‘wee’ or ‘over there’ or sometimes none of those things. Added to which they learnt a few Makaton signs so would suddenly pretend to milk a cow if they were thirsty (the sign for milk) or make the sign for cake if they were hungry. Naturally, it was sometimes hard to keep up and, for anyone outside our immediate family, impossible to follow.

Speech delay among twins in general and identical ones in particular is not unusual. They spend more time in each other’s company than most siblings and often their natural baby babble becomes self-reinforcing when repeated back between themselves. It is estimated that 40 per cent of identical twins have some form of autonomous language in their early years.

All of this I knew, even before Alec and Kit were born, plus I had the advantage of having a speech therapist in the family (my sister) and still here we were, with a communication crisis. The boys were progressing in so many ways and yet their language was so basic compared to their peers. I fretted constantly about the effect this was having on their overall development.

The boys themselves seemed largely oblivious to the problem. They showed no interest in imitating language and stuck stubbornly to their version of words  – often, frustratingly, converting other children and even adults to their way of saying things. Alec and Kit insisted on playing lengthy games of I-spy, even though they could only say one colour – “la la” again – and had to point to show the object they had in mind. They brought book after book to be read, yet never attempted to copy the sounds they so obviously enjoyed listening to. Their attitude seemed to be that this was our problem, not theirs.

To compensate for their lack of vocal range they developed comically exaggerated facial expressions. A fully made up clown could not have looked sadder than Alec in full grump mode.

Alec and Kit started to have speech therapy sessions two years ago. The initial therapy was largely aimed at me and my husband and gave us various techniques – such as describing scenes using simple language, not asking questions (which tend to elicit one word answers) and repeating back words as they should be said rather than correcting the child. The advice was to speak in sentences a word longer than the boys were capable of, which, at that stage, was two or three words. But the boys’ comprehension so far outstripped their language that this felt absurd, almost patronising.  The boys’ hearing was tested and found to be fine but progress still seemed slow to non-existent.

Starting part-time nursery at the age of three finally produced a break through. Their teachers – admirably unfazed by the challenge – reported that they were “tuning in” to Alec and Kit’s language. My heart sank. A mass conversion to “Aleckittish” seemed on the cards.

However, by Christmas, their teachers were commenting on progress which we too were noticing at home. At last the boys wanted to use the same language as everyone else and were trying to copy words – a small but profound step.

Gradually, they started to be able to say numbers and simple words such as “car” or “book”.  One day after nursery the boys were upstairs playing. Kit brought me in a parcel. “Happy Birthday, Mummy,” he said. It was his first sentence.

At their fourth birthday almost a year ago, it was hard not to compare Alec and Kit with their articulate, chatty peers. Despite all the progress they had made, they still did not use each other’s names – they had different words instead – and their sentences remained short and hard to understand. We kept reminding ourselves of how far they had come, but it was impossible to ignore how much work lay ahead too.

Once words started forming there was even more of a battle to be heard at home. “Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me!” Alec would shout until all conversation around him stopped. When we asked him what he actually wanted to say he would sigh and say despondently: “I’ve begotten”.

Now that the boys have started “cepshun” their language and confidence continues to improve. We still have roll-on-the-floor-why-can’t-you-understand-me moments and at the current rate of progress it may yet be a few years before Alec and Kit’s language is on a par with their peers but at last it feels like they will eventually catch up.

Luckily the boys are better at dealing with it than I am.

Recently Kit was trying and failing to explain something. Alec did an exaggerated shrug. “Kit,” he said. “Even I can’t understand that.”

And with that they both sprinted off to build some Lego towers.

Game, set and pants

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It is 6.45am and it’s raining pants.

Harry, Kit and Alec burst into our bedroom wearing, of course, pants.

Harry leaps forward.

“Fact One,” he shouts, “Pants Man does NOT wear a cape.”

Pause for giggling.

“Fact Two,” he continues, “Pants Man…. throws pants.” About 20 pairs of pants land on our bed, some thrown with surprising force.

“Fact Three: Pants Man never clears up!”

An eruption of hysteria and all three scamper from the room, leaving my husband and I with a couple of  Y-fronts dangling from each ear.

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Pants Men

Later Pants Man and his sidekicks attempt a multiple pant-wearing world record with the final tally as follows: Harry, 22 pairs, Alec, 10 and Kit 10 (including two pairs on his head). The game then had to be abandoned due to the boys walking with an odd gait, later identified as early onset of circulation cut-off.

Although part of a generation which apparently doesn’t know how to play anymore, my boys dream up far more interesting games than I ever managed as a child.

My sister and I used to spend entire days writing out pretend library cards and would then fight over who got to be the librarian when mum or dad came into the room to ‘borrow’ a book. Occasionally Barbie would be taken to an elaborately constructed ‘beach’ or our neighbour’s elderly, arthritic dog would be persuaded to heave himself over a course of jumps we’d set out in the garden. I don’t remember ever wearing 22 pairs of pants, but I wish I had.

Games now tend to be spearheaded by Harry, seven, with Alec and Kit, four,  providing manpower for supporting and universally subservient walk-on parts. Occasionally they get a promotion if they cry. In the bath recently, Harry appointed himself Jesus, with Alec as his brother and Kit as Joseph. When Alec objected he was generously upgraded to be Jesus’ twin.  Later when I lost my temper with Harry for splashing bathwater everywhere he complained: “Awww, you can’t tell me off – I’m the baby Jesus.” Two years spent at a Church of England school has clearly had an affect on his sense of self.

Last week Kit set up shop as a hotel manager and chef with Harry as his guest. This involved huge powers of imagination given that neither Kit nor Alec have ever set foot in a hotel. It probably explains why the menu was infinite and everything was free.

“What about me?” asked Alec hopefully. There was silence. “You can be the doorman Alec,” suggested my husband finally. “You can call taxis and ….. stuff.”

A dejected Alec trudged off and took up his position at the door. Fifteen minutes later his taxi summoning skills had not been called for but he remained doggedly on duty.

This is not to suggest that the majority of the boys’ games together are either lengthy or harmonious. They nearly always conclude with one or more participants sobbing while clutching an eye, limb or broken toy. Often only moments after they’ve started.

However the violence, petty arguments and sofa cushion chaos are all worth it for the chance to eavesdrop on the fantastic randomness of three young imaginations in full flight.

Harry once decided to give everyone a super power based on the order of who got dressed first. The powers allocated were: me – invisibility, my husband – sense of smell, Harry – a paper man, Kit – yellow hair and Alec – raisin teeth.

Which just goes to show that it pays to get dressed quickly. With or without pants.

Reluctantly ringside

We are off to the circus. This is almost as much as a surprise to me as it is my children. I have successfully dodged the circus during its annual visit to our park for some years now, and, had it not been for a third installment of Madagascar, I might have got away with it.

But despite impressing upon Harry, seven, and Alec and Kit, four, that there would be no canons, knife throwing or inter-galactic trapeze work the momentum towards this year’s Big Top became unstoppable.

I have to admit that as family treats go, the circus nestles just above Build A Bear and a trip round the Hello Kitty archives on my list of priorities. I can’t help but feel the traditional circus may have had its day. But, and I need to keep reminding myself of this, today’s trip is not about me. Or even paid for by me (generous grandparents to thank here), so really, I should just shut up.

Entering the tent is dramatic, and I am encouraged. There is a slight haze in the air, a buzz of chatter and a cosy, cave-like ambience. After a lot of  experimenting, we find four seats which, with only one child on my knee, allows us all to see the ring.

“Can I have a light saber?” asks Harry. “Look, they are giving them out free.” When I cast doubt on this interpretation he heads off to ask the seller himself. He returns looking determined.

“Can I have £5?” he says.

A man leans over us to pass three portions of popcorn to his children. “Can I have one?” Harry asks him. (This from the boy who claims he is too shy to say hello to his friends in the street.)

A moment later he is clutching a vat of popcorn and looking smug. I’m not sure if I should be proud of his new found confidence or appalled by his willingness to accept, no – demand, a treat from a total stranger. Almost certainly the latter. I sink lower into my seat.

Five minutes before the show starts, a woman asks if I can budge up the children to allow her and her partner to sit together. I am torn between innate politeness and the fact that if I do so I will be paying £11 for Kit to look at the back of someone’s head for two hours. I explain my dilemma, possibly a little tersely.

“Wow!” she says. “You won’t move.” She then pointedly sits on the steps next to our seats. Having made my stand I know I will now spend the entire performance feeling guilty. Damn that woman. And me. And the bloody circus.

Anyway, before the woman’s bottom has had a chance to numb, the show has started. A Cuban acrobatic troupe wearing American tan tights and leotards with flames stitched to their nether regions is enthralling the crowd.

Over the next few acts we see a van driving over a man (it’s ok, it is Strongman Hercules), a woman suspended by her neck from the roof and an elderly gent encouraging some budgies to operate a toy car. I am not looking forward to the questions at the interval.

The first half is rounded off by the roar of engines as motorbikes and a quad bike screech in, skidding, revving and, erm, wheelie-ing, before departing in a fog of exhaust fumes and Brazilian aftershave. I hope the budgies are still on their perches backstage.

The interval is spent saying no to demands for candy floss, horse-shaped balloons, plate spinning kits and having a photo taken sitting on said quad bike.

Harry has grudgingly allowed Alec and Kit a handful of popcorn each from his misappropriated vat of shame. On pain of having it removed and returned to its rightful owner he increases their rations. He is still only a quarter of the way through the tub.

As the second half gets underway, I glance over at the boys. They are enthralled. Alec has his hands clasped together under his chin. When the act finishes he bursts into double-quick applause.

Next up, horses. What? I am shocked. Not so much by the fact that they still feature in a 21st century circus, but by their handler – the Big Top’s answer to Hilary Devey, except slightly less natural looking. The crowd gasps, and for the first time I join in.

Aside from the obvious ethical issue,  there is something odd, and rather pointless,  about watching a horse lumbering round a ring roughly three times the size of a darts board. I look across at the boys. “Amazing!” mouths Harry.

The final act is a genuinely thrilling motorbike stunt which leaves me weak with fear that the boys will one day attempt to follow suit. The riders mass at the front of the ring, raise their right arms and, in unison, flex their biceps to a standing ovation.

It is fair to say that Alec, Kit and Harry enjoyed the show. A lot. I decide to leave my musings about a circus’ place in modern society for another decade or two.

The next morning my bedroom door bursts open and the boys run in, all wearing their PE kit.

“We’re training to be Hercules,” announces Harry. “Will you come and watch?”

New term

After four-and-a-half years of near constant cacophony my house is quiet. Silent, in fact. I know I should be listening to Radio 4 and reading something meaningful, but I am slumped on the sofa digesting the fact that all three of my boys are now at school.

And just as my twins, Alec and Kit, four, knocked us sideways with their chaotic arrival, so their double departure this week has packed a similarly painful punch.

No sign of first day nerves

No sign of first day nerves

“Yay! Freedom!” I warbled unconvincingly as they trooped into their classrooms for the first time, weighed down by lunchboxes the size of suitcases. I watched proudly (darting from window to window) as they took their seats on the carpet, looked up expectantly at their teachers and moved seamlessly into their new roles as schoolboys.

We parents gawped through the panes and, after being ignored for a few minutes, drifted off feeling redundant and, in my case, inexplicably disappointed. After a leisurely coffee and lots of jolly comments about how I ‘won’t know what to do with my time,’ I return home and, guess what, I don’t. Not for a day or two anyway.

I start scrolling through my mental list of things to do. It is so long and dates so far back that even getting to the top feels like too much to think about. Somewhere on that list contains the ambition of having an uninterrupted cup of tea. As a life goal I admit I may be setting the bar a little low.

Even though the boys have been at school for less than three hours I am already feeling unaccountably nostalgic about all those playgroups, music classes and mid-week park café lunches that we’ll never have again. Of course, I never actually took the twins to a music class (too stressful/expensive) and we last attended a playgroup more than a year ago. But the point is, we could have. And now we can’t.

With the start of term comes another realisation: I am no longer the mother of very young children. I admit that having three children under three is not something I could wholeheartedly recommend, but it did provide an identity of sorts. My harassed demeanour and double pram with buggy board set me apart from other parents. Now my children are just like anyone else’s – no cause for admiration, pity or any other form of attention. I shall miss not being able to get cross about it.

So now that the two main excuses for my general inaction and, ahem, undercleaned house, have left the building, it is probably time to smarten up my act a bit.

I have to confront the fact that I do now have time to look in the mirror so probably can spare a minute to drag a comb through my hair and, regrettably, may now be able to tackle the health hazards that are our toilets. I probably could sort through the jumble of summer clothes on the spare bed too.

But just as seven years ago, I never imagined being a stay at home mum, today I don’t really hanker after being a mum-who-lunches either. Not every day, anyway, although no doubt it is a role I could quickly warm to. So the question of What Are You Going To Do Now looms constantly, if not in my own head, then on the lips of others.

In the meantime, though, I have accrued a lot of unpaid leave in my extended role of childcare-provider-in-chief and refuse to spend it soul searching. Instead, I shall pine.

I wander into Alec and Kit’s bedroom and fluff up their pillows (I know they will appreciate this later when they hit each other with them). I imagine them having lunch and hope they can get their yogurts open. I am the first parent pacing outside the classroom at 3.15pm.

Kit bursts through the door, smiling, clutching at least five drawings of monsters. “They’ve got lots of books!” he shouts. Alec emerges, looking dazed but pleased with himself, happy because he had lunch with big brother Harry in the canteen.

And we totter home, all talking at once, pausing only to run into people’s driveways, snatch a school bag and chuck it into the road and climb any unstable-looking walls.

I am back on familiar territory. It feels good.

Stuff and nonsense

A friend wants to borrow our ‘ready bed’ and I’m feeling smug. Not only is it clean and works but I know exactly where it is in the garage.

Getting to the box in question is another matter. I squeeze in, past the lawn mower, over the camping equipment and across the bikes, scooters and scoot bikes, dislodging the hula hoop as I go, tripping over a Peppa Pig inflatable hopper and spiking myself on the swingball set. The box itself is under three plastic sledges and a car seat.

I wrench off the lid and pull out … a bag of pine cones. Ah yes, collected one holiday with optimistic plans for an Ideal Home-style Christmas display and now mouldy. No sign of the ready bed.

Next stop, the cupboard on the landing. On tiptoes, I open the top door and a quilt immediately drops on my head. I retreat to my bedroom to get a chair to stand on to stuff it back in again. To do so, I have to remove all the stuff already on the chair – a  knitted cardigan for a newborn baby, a top waiting to be handwashed (which has been worn twice while in the queue – and actually, might stretch to a third outing, now I look at it again), a tea towel, a school top waiting for a label to be sewn in and a dinosaur. I stagger to the cupboard with the chair, wrestle the quilt back into its cupboard and jam the door shut. I return the chair to my room and dump all my stuff on it again.

The pointlessness of my actions so far are all too obvious. The amount of debris that must be waded through to complete the simplest of tasks in my house is frankly soul sapping.

You could decorate entire rooms with the number of Teenage Ninja Turtle colouring pages my sons churn out. As it is, they attach them carefully across the join between the fridge and freezer so that shafts of paper fly across the kitchen every time I make a cup of tea.

Depending on witnesses, these are grabbed from the floor and stuffed in the bin or, if a little sad face is watching, slapped onto the ‘pending’ pile of ‘paperwork’ and immediately lost in a black hole of school photo order sheets, Ben 10 watch designs, bills, 3p off your next shop from Sainsbury’s vouchers and expired 2 for 1 deals to Legoland. Every now and again a passing remote control vehicle attacks the foundations of the pile and it cascades back to the floor whereupon my eye starts to twitch.

Even the bathroom is not immune. Where once there might have been a few pleasant smelling and looking bottles there is now a tub or tube for every ailment and eventuality. Industrial sized Sudocream containers, enormous ‘family sized’ shampoo and bubble bath bottles, three different toothpastes, head lice treatment (just a precaution, obviously) a box of ‘funny face’ plasters which don’t stick and a bumper pack of skin coloured ones that do. Not to mention a packet of baby wipes on every surface, a random pair of pants in a dusty potty and the inevitable single sock.

And don’t get me on to toys. Really. Or Harry’s bottle top collection.

But back to the ready bed. I have a sudden flash of inspiration – literally, a vision. A black garbage bag. The garage. There it is, next to the hedgetrimmer. Thank God, because the only other option was the loft and the thought of that was having an odd effect on my ears.

I head for the sofa, swipe three remote controls, a newspaper, a lego tower and a note from Harry asking me if I want to be a witch or a wizard onto the floor and slump onto the cushions, instantly setting off a distant siren.

Somewhere in the toy drawers, there is an emergency.

My dinnertime dictatorship

It is suppertime at Bomford HQ. The boys have shuffled, protesting, from the television to the dining room. I have broken the news. It is tuna curry.

“Yes! The best meal ever!” says Harry, six, in a surprise development.

Alec’s face crumples. “Pooiest meal in the whole wide world,” he says, climbing despondently onto his chair and assessing his plate.

Economical with his language, he glances over at his twin brother, Kit, four.

“Ugh, Kit?” he inquires.

For once, it is not a double ‘ugh’ as Kit is already tucking into his meal. Two out of three – not a bad strike rate.  We only have one meal that they will all happily eat and I save that for swimming night, for obvious reasons.

Alec, four, immediately leaps off his chair clutching his trousers. “Need a poo!” he splutters before sprinting from the room.

Kit’s fork clatters to the floor. It has gathered a shriveled raisin and a hair clump by the time I retrieve it from the far side of the room. Reluctantly I leave to fetch him a clean one. One potato, two potato…. three -

“Mummy! Kit threw his rice at me!”

“No!”

“You did!”

“Harry nappy baby bum!”

“Please be nice,” I shout pointlessly from the kitchen.

Next, the sound of a chair scraping the floor and rapid patter of footsteps. A wail.

“Mummy, Kit hit me!”

Oh to be Mr Tickle. With those extraordinarily long arms of his I could probably throttle both of them from where I stand.

There is a sound of muffled straining, a gush of water and Alec is back in our midst looking mournfully at his now congealed curry.

Alec before mealtimes got complicated

Alec before mealtimes got complicated

Welcome to my “nursery of democracy” as the family dinnertime was christened by a food writer recently. Yes, that cradle of civilization where my sons learn to socialise and together we develop our family culture while catching up on each other’s news. Presumably all while eating food topped with a smiley face fashioned from a couple of olives and an organic carrot.

In truth, our mealtimes owe more to North Korea than the free world.  Bribery, threats and blackmail are often employed simply to get the boys as far as the dining room table, let alone actually putting food in their mouths.

So while other households grapple articulately with the complexities of modern life over their spaghetti bolognese, my family is stuck in the starting blocks, barely able to transport fork to mouth or bum to seat without encouragement of an official nature. As dictator-in-chief, my job consists of blocking the exits, providing helpful reminders that food is often nicer when it’s hot and confiscating anything which could be fiddled with, broken or used as a weapon. If there is a lull in this role I then crack down on excessive table drumming (Harry), burping (Kit) and repetitive joke telling (Alec). I admit that this approach does not leave much room for discussions of a more philosophical nature, except perhaps to ponder on how quickly bedtime is approaching.

It is no doubt a relief to everyone when I finally leave the dining room, laden with half empty plates, the boys’ food intake quotas eventually met.

Harry follows me into the kitchen in an attempt to get first dibs on the Pretty Peachy yogurt, safe in the knowledge that once selected, both Alec and Kit will want it and therefore refuse to eat anything else.

I would point this out to him, but I am standing by the bin with most of Alec’s tuna curry in my mouth. I motion to him to return to his seat with less authority than I’d hoped for.

When I return to the dining room clutching an apple and some jaffa cakes, Alec’s face brightens.

“Best mummy ever!” he shouts.

“You don’t really know that for certain Alec, ” Harry cautions, sensibly.

“Mummy ever,” repeats Alec, defiantly. He senses there could be a jaffa-related bonus if this loyalty to the leader continues.

Kit’s apple is eaten and he is now dismantling his jaffa cake. Flakes of chocolate litter the floor until all that is left is the orange jelly in the palm of his hand. Finally and joyfully this is stuffed into his mouth.

“Can I get down?” shouts Harry from the lounge.

Dinner is officially over – it must be, the room is empty.

An hour later and I am switching off Harry’s bedroom light and heading down the stairs.

“Mummy?”

I emit a non-committal grunt.

“I’m huuungry..”