“For god’s sake,” I rant. “What is the matter with you?” My outburst is met with silence, which is not surprising as I am alone in the house, shouting at myself. This happens quite a lot in freelance life.
With no colleagues to shout at or with, you tend to round on yourself. And this time I’ve really had it with me.
Photographer Mike Lorne is due in twenty minutes to take me to Normandy for a D-Day story and I’ve lost my passport. Again.
“What’s the use of the bloody EU if you need a passport for a day trip to France?” I demand, frisking every coat in the hall cupboard for flat, rectangular objects. “If I wanted to jump the country,” I tell the contents of an upturned desk drawer, “I’d choose something a damned sight faster than the Normandy ferry.”
Mike and I are accompanying a D-Day veteran to the beaches of Normandy for a piece for the Radio Times. Sixty years ago Sid Capon was parachuted behind enemy lines to knock out the German guns at Merville. At 80, he prefers a more sedate form of transport and has stipulated the six hour ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Caen. We could get to Canada quicker.
Still, I reflect, calmer now because the passport has been found (in a sheaf of expenses receipts for last month’s travel piece in Holland), it’s a nice story.
In fact, the crossing zips by as Sid shares his tip for keeping sea-sickness at bay – gin and tonics alternated with hot chocolate.
We lurch off at Caen with just time for a “stiffener” of Calvados at the hotel before Sid leads us on midnight manoeuvres at the scene of his wartime operations.
Creeping round a foreign field at midnight, recreating an assault where more than half the platoon never made it across the barbed wire is a sobering experience.
It is raining – in the charming local phrase – “comme les vaches qui pissent”.
Nonetheless, Sid poses heroically in his red beret on the rainswept beach, while Mike the photographer keeps up morale with well-placed questions on military campaigns. I hover about with umbrellas like a magician’s assistant.
At one of the military museums we visit there is a slight altercation over arrangements for the D-Day anniversary regimental supper and I am roped in to translate between the English and French organisers.
“It is difficult, for us, to make ourselves clear in English,” says a charming French woman.
“Tell her,” says Sid, “that if it wasn’t for us she’d have been speaking German twice!” I’m keen to preserve the spirit of his comment, but the words come out “Of course, Madame, I’m sure it will all be fine.”
We roll off the ferry at Portsmouth around midnight. Sid thinks there might just be time for a curry, but Mike and I are shattered and we deliver our indefatigable interviewee back to his home in Twickenham. “A pleasure and a privilege,” I tell Sid, and I mean it.
I wake without an idea in my head for weekly column in The Independent.
It is supposed to be a sideways look at single motherhood, but has recently been so sideways as to qualify medically as a squint.
I curse the children for not being more interesting/inspiring and curse myself for being unfailingly taken short by a regular, weekly deadline. I remind myself how I never wanted to be the kind of journalist who writes about her raincoat and how hard it is to buy pins in North London. I hum loudly to drown out mental rasp of barrels being scraped as I knock out 500 words on appropriate weather-wear.
After school, my son and daughter each bring a friend home for tea, and within minutes it’s full-pitched boysagainstgirls Armageddon.
A nice researcher from the Richard and Judy show rings and, hearing the din, wonders if there is a better time to ring. “Nope,” I answer truthfully, “this is as good as it gets.”
The nice researcher has picked up on a piece I wrote for The Guardian about Grimms’s Fairy Tales and wants to know if I could say the same thing all over again on live TV this Friday afternoon.
The children are thrilled at the idea of their mother on the telly. I am despairing on account of having nothing new to wear (I’ve heard the camera puts on pounds and I’ve been managing that quite nicely on my own).
I ring my boyfriend, who points out that neither Richard, Judy nor any of their viewers have seen the 150 outfits already in my wardrobe. I ring a gay friend who promises to come shopping with me on Friday morning.
The morning is spent transcribing a Radio Times interview with Derek Jacobi.
Nothing like a spot of transcribing to sink the heart. Who, I wonder, is that sniggering sycophant who keeps interrupting Sir Derek just as he gets to the good bit? Oh yes, it’s me.
Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of The Independent, rings to ask if I’ll review Jay Rayner’s new novel. Boyd points out that Rayner’s book is all about the cult of contrition, a theme I touched upon last week in a piece for the The Independent’s Comment pages. Just goes to show, one woman’s throwaway comment is another man’s (very good) novel. Not for the first time, I wish I was the other man.
I wake up vaguely oppressed by a log -jam of deadlines, then remember that it doesn’t matter because my parents are looking after the kids and I’m bunking off to Glyndebourne for the afternoon.
Perfect music (Debussy), perfect picnic (M&S Mediterranean four-for-three selection) and perfect weather. It is only slightly marred by fact that I forgot to bring any cutlery and we have to use plastic coffee-stirrers, chopstickstyle, to eat our salade nicoise.
During the interval, I am introduced to a woman, a whizzy corporate banker, who declares herself envious of my freelance lifestyle. She imagines it must be lovely to work from home, to have my cake and eat it too.
I feel compelled to point out that it’s more a matter of spreading crumbs, very finely over every available surface.
But satisfying nonetheless.