Ruby’s bedtime these days is often a time of relaxation for her but pressure for me. Thanks to the probing questions that she saves for this time of the day. Sometimes I’m allowed the pleasure of reading a lovely bedtime story, enjoying kisses, seeing my gorgeous daughter snuggling under the covers with her cuddly rabbit and retreating downstairs. Obviously not very often. A far more likely bedtime routine is bath, story, Ruby luring me into a foolishly relaxed mode as she cuddles up to her soft toys, then just as I am about to leave the room, she springs up and poses a particularly challenging question. Challenging for me in the tired, brain-dead state I am normally in by this time of day anyway.
Pirates and robbers are favourites at the moment. And it’s the supplementary questions that I particularly struggle with. Foolishly thinking I’ve answered a question about, “Why do robbers rob things?” in a relatively straightforward way that won’t lead to nightmares, I’m then faced with further quick-fire questions. “Where do robbers live?”; “Which villages?”; “But what do their houses look like?”; “Do robbers have children?”; “What happens to their children when robbers go to prison?” These are the ones that leave me feeling particularly inept .
One night I found myself in a bedtime discussion about Somali pirates at passport control. Next time we go on holiday abroad, I think there’ll be an eager search at the airport for any subtle tell-tale signs such as eye patches, wooden legs or parrots on the shoulder.
But anyway, by the time I’m allowed out, a spot of dusk gardening is just what I need to soothe my befuddled mind. Pottering about weeding and planting seems a lot less demanding than dealing with a cross-examination by a four year old. And at this time of year, with lovely light evenings and everything springing into life, it’s totally uplifting. Noticing the runner beans starting to emerge and the broad beans enthusiastically flowering has me daydreaming about the meals I’ll be cooking in a few weeks. Pecorino or parmesan will definitely be needed to shave over the first tender broad beans in a salad. The strawberries are looking plump, just need a bit more sun to ripen them. Redcurrants need netting as the pigeons have noticed them. The lemon balm and mint are already forming huge clumps, must pick some tomorrow for reviving tea. I get carried away of course and stay out a bit too late, enthusiastically planting the veggies I’ve grown from seed as it’s getting dark. The dim light combined with my increasing need for reading glasses and scruffy handwritten plant labels means that there’s some interesting placing of seedlings. I’m often surprised the next day to discover that I’ve planted cucumbers instead of courgettes. But as my veggies are not exactly planted in a regimented, orderly way, it rarely matters.
One of the things I enjoy most about pottering around outside at this time of night is the sudden burst of noisy activity from all the creatures sharing the last bit of daylight with me. Owls can often be heard from nearby woods, I always feel apologetic interrupting the wild guinea fowl having a last bit of activity before roosting in our oak tree. The pigs of course are always making excited snorts and squeals when I appear as it often means extra snacks. And the lambs in the fields around us are heard but not seen, sounding as if they’re having a crazy last skittish time before sleep, protesting to the Ewes, “We’re still playing, it’s not bedtime yet Mum!”
Then suddenly all is quiet. Just the bats starting to dip and swoop. I savour a last peaceful wander before going inside. Hopefully all is quiet from Ruby’s room now and I can’t resist a sneaky peek at my now angelic cross-examiner.