Pet Peeve

(First published in Le News 19 June 2014)

So we’re talking a lot about pets again, in our household. It seems the children are not content with four fat goldfish, three layabout Guinea Pigs, a geriatric cat and a Furby that will not shut up (I’d take the batteries out but what if it goes all Chucky on me and keeps talking?)

No. None of these are thrilling enough. What they really want – what their little hearts are aching for – is, of course, a puppy.

‘Not going to happen,’ I tell them over and over. No fence, rental property, itinerant status, B Permit, already bankrupted by the cat, blah blah blah.

But they live in hope. And, in the meantime, they’re exploring every other option because, as I heard them whispering the other day, ‘You just never know what she’ll say yes to.’

So hardly a week goes by without some pet-related request from the bigger child, escalating in weirdness.

A while ago it was, ‘I must have a pony or I will die.’ Well, she didn’t get the pony and I’m pleased to report that she has not succumbed to lethal Pony-Craving. Although it was touch-and-go for a while.

A few weeks later, ‘There’s a stray cat at the school. It’s got one eye, no ears and it might have rabies. Can we bring it home?’

And then yesterday, ‘I know where I can buy a toilet-trained monkey. Let’s go there right now.’

Their longing has become so acute that they spent much of last Sunday debating which pets they’d be prepared to swap their father for. After much discussion, the verdict was: a frog, no; a cat, maybe; a puppy, most definitely, yes. I didn’t join in because a) I’ve already explained why we can’t have a dog and b) I didn’t think it was an appropriate discussion to have on Father’s Day.

Anyway, the thing they don’t know is that I totally understand. I remember so clearly the anticipation of getting a new pet, and the delight of finally meeting it. I remember all the lovely, tumbly puppies; the mist-grey kitten with the green eyes; I particularly remember a white mouse that gave an enormous squeak and deposited ten tiny pink babies in her nest, one right after the other. I was thrilled. I thought I’d scored the deal of the century: my parents had agreed to one white mouse and I’d landed up with eleven! Actually I landed up with none because my mother marched the whole lot right back to the pet shop and demanded a refund. So I also understand the agony of having a grown-up stomp all over your fluffy pet-dreams with their big, sensible feet and their limited thinking.

Quite honestly, I’m appalled that I’ve become that grown-up. Which is why I’ve finally agreed that, at some point in the future, when we have a house with a fence and a bigger garden … we might consider getting another Furby.




Home and Away

(First published in Le News 12 June 2014)

‘We’re going to need a bigger tent,’ my husband said, with some surprise.

The last time we used his three-man tent, it had been more than big enough. We didn’t take up much space in those days, back in the first flush of romance, when we still fell asleep in each other’s arms. Also, we travelled very light. On one memorable trip to the Kalahari Desert we took two tog bags, some beer, a packet of sausages and a dozen cheese rolls. A ground squirrel stole our cheese rolls on the second day, so we drank the beer, barbecued the sausages, and had a great time.

Fast forward fourteen years – fourteen years! Where did they go? – to the most recent long weekend, when we decided to introduce our small daughters to the joys of camping.

These days it’s no longer possible for us to go anywhere with only two tog bags. Even to the gym. Compulsory luggage now includes a suitcase of clothes for hot weather, clothes for cold weather and extra clothes in case someone comes home covered in strawberry juice and reeking of goat (smaller child, France, 2012).

We also need a large medicine kit, with everything from plasters to antibiotic drops in case someone’s eyes suddenly swell shut (bigger child, South Africa, 2009).

And we can forget about living on a packet of rolls and a few sausages. Nothing ruins a trip like a hungry child, so a three-day holiday requires food for nine meals, plus snacks. Plus extra food, in case of ground squirrels.

Not too bad, we thought, as we surveyed the pile to be packed. The children will want to take a few toys, but we’ll get it all in the car comfortably.

‘Hah!’ I say now, with hindsight.

Apparently when we said, ‘Let’s go camping,’ the children heard, ‘Let’s move house’, because they shifted the entire contents of their bedrooms to the car: two sizeable soft toy collections; dozens of books; a lava lamp; rain sticks; and three empty cardboard boxes, which no one could explain clearly but which absolutely had to come.

Once the car was packed we couldn’t see the children and they couldn’t see out. I don’t think they asked, ‘How many more minutes until we get there?’ every ten seconds because they really wanted to know. I think it was an attempt to echolocate.

My husband was right about the tent being too small. That night we had to burrow through all the dinosaurs, unicorns and monkeys to get to our air mattress. But I liked it. It was actually very romantic: the lava lamp gave the the tent a nice red glow and, as the air mattress began to slowly deflate, my husband and I were rolled towards one another. With a snoring child jammed in on each side, we once again fell asleep in each other’s arms.

I lay there for a while, listening to the campsite settling down for the night – except for the group of bikers, who were alternately singing and vomiting into the bushes – and I cast my mind back to that long ago trip to the Kalahari. I’d just turned thirty and I remember looking in the unforgiving mirror of the ablution block and finding my first grey hair. I remember thinking about my newish boyfriend, who was waiting for me back in his very spacious three-man tent. And I remember wondering where in the world it was all heading.


Talking About Evolution 

(First published in Le News 5 June 2014)

These last few weeks have seen something of a regression in my family, all the way back to our days in the cave.

It started when the children watched The Croods, which is a very sweet (if completely factually inaccurate) story about the last Neanderthal family and their moment of personal evolution.

The older child in particular is very taken with the glamour of Cave Life, and has embraced it enthusiastically by renaming herself Eep and refusing to walk upright. Instead, she prefers to shuffle along on her knuckles, and jump on the furniture.

The problem is, the spirit may be Neanderthal but the musculature is definitely Cro-Magnon. As I watched her vault over the couch and crash headfirst onto the floor, I wondered, ‘How did we ever make it?’ I don’t mean, ‘How did we evolve?’ I mean … how did we even survive? Because small children seem hellbent on destroying themselves. They’re forever running into roads, throwing themselves out of windows, climbing up things, apparently with the express purpose of falling off and breaking a limb. Every second week my husband and I seem to be plucking one or other child from the jaws of death. And that’s in a relatively safe modern world. How did caveparents keep these soft little snacks away from sabre-toothed cats and cave bears? How did they stop their small explorers from toddling into tar pits? Or throwing themselves joyfully into Megalodon-infested waters?

Anyway, once I’d sorted my little Neanderthal out, wiped away her tears and complimented her on her newly-sloping forehead, I headed into the kitchen to make dinner, where my admiration for our ancestors only increased.

Completely by chance, the children’s devolution has coincided with my new eating plan which is, it seems, prehistoric. In an attempt to turn my own clock back and recapture my youthful vigour, I’d decided to lay off the processed foods for a while. I hadn’t given this diet a name. If I had, I’d have called it … I don’t know … maybe, ‘Healthier’. But a friend who knows these things immediately identified it as the Paleo diet.

‘It’s the way our ancestors ate,’ she pointed out.

‘Not my ancestors, I countered. Some of mine were notoriously fond of cream buns and vetkoek. Family legend tells of a great aunt who once held the title of Fattest Woman in South Africa.

‘Not those ancestors,’ said my friend. ‘Our Palaeolithic ancestors. They lived on fruit, vegetables, meat and nuts.’

I won’t bore you with the details of my diet. Suffice to say well done, cavepeople, for surviving without pasta, chocolate and strong coffee in the morning. I’m certainly struggling.

Actually, well done, cavepeople, for all of it:  for sloping off to hunt and gather every day, even when it was cold and rainy outside and you’d rather have stayed in bed; for keeping your cavebabies safe; for dodging all the Terror Birds and the Giant Ripper Lizards; well done for keeping our species alive and thank you very much for evolving. I’m sure we’ll do as good a job of moving humankind forward for the next 100 000 years. Of course we will.






Of Bugs, Bacteria and Human Behaviour  

(First published in Le News 28 May 2014)

Funny things, bugs. I was pondering this the other day, as I sat watching my children performing in a school play. They were on opposite sides of the stage and I spent an hour trying to make eye contact with them both at the same time, so no one could accuse me of loving the other one more.

Anyway, in the wave of dizziness that followed this eye-swivelling, I had something of a profound scientific thought, and it was this: my children owe their personalities mostly to bacteria.

The school play was, fittingly, about mini-beasts. On the left of the stage was the seven-year-old, dressed as a butterfly, and taking her role very seriously: she stood up straight, focused herself, remembered all her lines and didn’t miss a beat in the Butterfly Dance.

And over on the left … the nearly-five-year-old, playing a spider and not taking it seriously at all. As I watched her gurning at me and trying to fit her head into a tambourine, I muttered through gritted teeth, ‘Please behave. Please keep your clothes on. Please don’t turn around and moon the audience (as she once did to her surprised grandparents, on Skype).’

The children are absolutely nothing like each other. Nor are they anything like their parents.

My husband, for example, has two moods – Absolutely Fine and A Bit Grumpy – but he has somehow sired a small diva.

‘Where does she come from?’ we’ve asked one another more than once, while our elder offspring lay on the floor, clutching her brow and sobbing because we’d denied her a sweet / a later bedtime / her own pony / a new house with stabling in her bedroom for her own pony.

Nor does all this drama come from me. I may not be as even-keeled as my husband, but I’ve certainly never run down the road screaming to be adopted because I wasn’t allowed two helpings of dessert.

And the younger child. There’s no explaining her. No one, in her immediate or extended family, has ever stripped off and raced naked through the local garden centre, cackling madly. None of us would mortify our mothers like that.

So if it’s not genetics and it’s not socialiation (and please trust me, it’s not socialisation), what is it? The answer came to me as I watched my mini-beasts on stage … it’s bugs.

Not long ago I read that up to 90% of the cells that make up our bodies are actually bacterial. On a cellular level, we’re more bacteria than human.

Well, that’s good to know. It takes some of the pressure off having to wear make up all the time, for a start (why bother? I’m bacteria). But it helps me understand my children. Obviously the elder child is made up of a few well-behaved probiotics, and a large amount of Escherichia coli, which is nothing if not dramatic. 

And the little one … well, my bet is with Borrelia burgdorferi. According to my research, it’s small and fast-moving, and it can cause terrible damage to your nerves. After my garden centre experience, I’d say that’s about right.


This Fusion Life 

(First published in Le News, 22 May 2014)

One of the most amazing revelations I’ve had in Switzerland thus far (apart from the fact that eau de parfum is not pronounced ‘err de parfyoom’) is that not everyone likes biltong. I shared my treasured store with some British and Swiss friends once, and it was an eye-opener. Half of them paled at the mere thought of eating raw, dried meat, and those who gave it a try, got a funny look on their faces after a few chews and didn’t ask for any more.

I know how they feel. I once ate two helpings of kimchi because it had been made for me by a Korean friend, even though the spices went straight through the roof of my mouth and into my eyeballs, blinding me for the rest of the meal.

Anyway, after the biltong experience, I set about observing cultural exchanges more closely. I didn’t have to look far, either. Almost the next day there was a cultural exchange in my own car. The bigger child, who spent her formative years in South Africa, wanted a Lego traffic light from the smaller child, who has grown up here.

‘Please pass me that robot,’ the big one asked.

The small one looked around in confusion, expecting to see R2-D2 or a Transformer.

‘There’s no robot here,’ she said.

‘There!’ the big one shouted in frustration. ‘The robot! In your hand!’

‘That’s not a robot,’ the small one shouted back. ‘That’s a traffic light!’

Of course they were both right. We call traffic lights robots because … we just do. We’ve had similar confusions about crisps / chips / fries and one particularly scarring experience in a French market, where I realised that hardly anyone else calls an aubergine a ‘brinjal’.

Thankfully I’m not the only one around here occasionally baffled by these Third Culture experiences. An American mother of my acquaintance looked at her small son in surprise when he asked his ‘Mummy’ for a ‘cuddle’.

‘Who is this person?’ Mommy mused, before they had a good old American snuggle.

Actually, I think my children have been the biggest beneficiaries of this fusion life we’re living: they’ve learned to make American S’mores with Swiss chocolate biscuits; they’ve had braais, barbecues and cookouts (often all at the same time, and frequently in the snow); they pepper their conversation with ‘merci’, ’s’il vous plaît’ and ‘voilà’ (and, less endearingly, ‘Vite, Maman, vite!’) and they’ve had their expectations of fireworks raised to a level that not every country can meet.

But I do believe the award for most intense fusion experience belongs to me, for one sunny summer afternoon during the Paléo music festival, when I was pet-sitting for a friend in the village. The pets weren’t that keen to go to bed, and while I gently encouraged them, I had a crazy vision of my situation: a South African running around a Swiss field, chasing French chickens belonging to a Danish-New Zealand family, while The Cure was playing ‘The Lovecats’ only a few fields away … that, surely, takes the gâteau. Or the nusstorte, if you prefer. Or the melktert. Take your pick. They’re all delicious.



True Confessions of a Book Fiend 

(First published in Le News edition 25, 15 – 21 May 2014)

‘Goodbye, my darlings,’ I waved to them, as they sped away in the back of the charity shop van. ‘I’ll never forget you.’

My books. Boxes of them, packed off as if they meant nothing to me. As if they hadn’t given me some of the happiest moments of my life.

My husband, who has a heart of stone, was unmoved.

‘You’ve still got too many,’ he said, pointing at the boxes being loaded onto the moving van.

‘Those ones are coming with us,’ I answered, baring my teeth a little.

‘Fine. But let’s try to keep it under control in the new place, okay?’

Three years later and ‘the new place’ is starting to feel familiar, if not actually like home. And the book situation is pretty much under control. Because the minute our feet touched Swiss soil, we went completely digital. I dusted off my Kindle and started mainlining ebooks. Oh, the immediacy of it! You hear about a book, you hit that Buy now with 1-Click® button and ten seconds later you have it! Just add coffee, for perfect happiness. Maybe such immediate gratification isn’t psychologically healthy but it’s a book, so it’s okay, right?

Also, ebooks are very secretive. Nobody but Amazon and me need ever know how much more time I spend buying books than buying groceries. Nobody need ever say, in a judgemental tone, ‘We’ve been out of muesli and tomato sauce for a week, but I see you’ve finally completed your Sookie Stackhouse collection. Well done.’

Then I discovered Audible and things got even better! I can have books read to me while I run, cook, dust my empty bookshelves, whatever.

But. I’m going to give all of that up and go back to print; back to space-devouring, dust-gathering, forest-munching paper books. For the sake of the children.

Ever since the four-year-old ordered ‘a big glass of wine’ in a restaurant in Yvoire, I’ve realised that children do as their parents do. If I want them to read, they need to see me reading. Actual books, not ebooks on my laptop. For all they know, I could be spending hours … I don’t know … watching cute cat videos on YouTube and Facebooking. (Cough, cough).

And it’s no use looking to their father, who seems to have taken to reading business books in bed at night. (Who is this man? Seventeen years ago he won my heart by quoting poetry and now he’s reading something called Data Analysis and Decision Making). Clearly the job of bibliophile-building is up to me.

So, henceforth, print books will be seen in hand. They’ll also be seen on floor, on bedside table and next to bath. Stories will tumble off shelves again, and intrude into our lives. They’ll trip us up, get in our way, remind us of themselves all the time. It’ll be really untidy and my husband won’t like it but it’ll do him good too. Man should not live on management textbooks alone.

And how will I stay away from my late night trysts with Amazon? Well, I won’t. Sooner or later I’ll find myself running to the computer, like Gollum to his Precious, eyes full of longing and arms outstretched … slowed down only by the dusty piles of books that someone left all over the floor.

Baby Steps 

(First published in Le News edition 24, 8 – 14 May 2014)

Ever since we arrived in Switzerland my husband and I have been fantasising about the outdoor adventures we could have, if only our children would walk.

In true Johannesburg-child fashion, they seem to believe that feet are things meant for pressing accelerator pedals. Not that they’re lazy. They’ll run around in the park forever, bounce on the trampoline for hours … but ask them to actually walk on the actual ground and they cannot cope. At the mere thought, both children begin to wail as loudly as if we’d just … I don’t know … pushed them straight down an icy mountain on two waxed planks. Oh wait, that’s me I’m thinking of. The children love hurtling down slopes. It’s only when the ground is flat that they complain.

The smaller child, particularly, is prone to sudden and debilitating attacks of Short Legs.

‘I can’t go on,’ she sobbed recently, falling facedown on the dusty ground and clutching her ankles. ‘I have Short Legs! Carry me!’

‘We’re still in the parking lot,’ I pointed out. ‘Get moving!’ For the rest of the walk (all 2 kilometres of it) she wept pitifully and shuffled along like a cross between La Belle Dame Sans Merci and a woodland zombie.

I’ve only seen the children walking with any enthusiasm once, and that was when we were stampeded by a herd of cows. Delirious with joy at being let out of their barn, the herd immediately broke into a gallop.

‘Crikey!’ I shrieked, as thirty tonnes of grass-fed beef hurtled down the hill, straight towards us.

‘Calm down,’ my husband said, pointing to a flimsy piece of wire strung between a few wooden poles. ‘There’s a fence.’

Sure enough, the cows got to within ten metres of the wire, veered sharply to their left and stampeded on in an orderly fashion. Swiss cows. Amazing. If we’d been back in South Africa, not only would we have been trampled but one of the herd would have stolen my sunglasses.

By the time we caught up with the children, they were halfway home and still going strong. It was quite difficult to slow them down, actually. But seeing how fast they can move when motivated didn’t solve my problem. I can’t employ the services of an overexcited cow every time I want a stroll.

Let the reluctant little walkers lead the expedition,’ the parenting book said. So one sunny day I packed sandwiches and juice into a backpack and told them we were going for a hike.

They screamed and fainted for a while, but the promise of a picnic lunch eventually got them out the door, up the road and into the forest. Then disaster struck.

‘Where are the juice bottles?’ I asked, reaching into the backpack and finding nothing but a giant soft toy. ‘Where’s the food?’

‘At home,’ the bigger child answered. ‘I took everything out so I could fit Big Monkey in.’

The children immediately began to howl with hunger, fatigue and Short Legs, and the trip home was not a happy one. As soon as we got inside I slammed the door and swore we’d never travel anywhere on foot ever again.

Not long afterwards we were driving down Germany’s lovely Romantic Road and my husband said, idly, ‘Maybe one day we could do a walk along here.’

‘Great idea,’ I answered, ignoring the horrified screams from the back seat.

My memory, it seems, is as short as their legs.


An Ogre Ate my Song 

(First published in Le News edition 23, 1 – 7 May 2014)

I try not to be judgemental, I really do. Treasure can often be found in the most surprising places; truffles don’t immediately present themselves as edible, let alone delicious, and so on. But I must admit, I’m losing the battle – I’m complaining a lot and my family thinks I’m boring.

For example, it causes me great pain that my children will probably always refer to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as ‘that song from Shrek’.

Not that they like it very much.

‘I think it’s mean,’ the seven-year-old told me. ‘Someone tied someone else to a chair, and broke their throne and cut their hair. That’s not nice.’

‘Well,’ I rushed in, ‘it’s not really about that.’

‘What’s it about?’

What indeed. Passionate, destructive love. Bliss. Transcendence. Obsession.

Erm … nothing. You’re right. It’s just mean. Very mean!’

Anyway, my point is that, for the rest of their lives, every time they hear that beautiful, tortured song, the children are going to think of a green ogre. And every time they hear ‘Habanera’ from Carmen, they’re going to think of Pixar’s Up. Now, Up is lovely and I’m glad they saw it, but I wish they could experience this stuff in its original context before it’s used in a movie. Or worse, in an ad. You don’t get those out of your head. I don’t know what the situation is in the rest of the world, but there’s a generation of South Africans who struggle to think of Carl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’ as anything other than ‘the song from the Old Spice ad’.

And yesterday I stumbled upon some information that froze my blood. The ZhuZhu Pets – fluffy toy things with names like Ipsy-Woo and Tiddly-Pop –  have released a CD of Beatles covers. I only managed to listen to the first five seconds of ‘All My Loving’ before my teeth fell out. Under no circumstances can the four-year-old  find out about this: I’m no musical purist but the first Beatles songs my children hear will not be sung in squeaky voices by toy hamsters.

Books can be a problem too. Just about every other week I have to lay down the law afresh about Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

‘Please, Mommy! We want to see it! Ple-e-ease,’ my daughters wail.

But they’re not allowed to until they’ve read the book. Honestly, there are some things that just should not be Disneyfied. It’s not that I think severe deformity, emotional pain, public hangings, betrayal and murder aren’t the stuff of great children’s movies. It’s just that I’d like them to experience the power of the book before they see Quasimodo dancing around and singing a duet with a cute little gargoyle friend.

Same with Monster High dolls, which the children are clamouring for.

‘If I buy you that Draculaura fashion doll,’ I explained, ‘I’ll be normalising the undead and robbing you of your chance to be scared silly by your first vampire movie.’

That was when they denounced me as boring, and I sloped off to my room to be old and grumpy by myself. Actually, I had a nice time: I listened to some music by the guy who wrote that song from Shrek.



Keep it Real

(First published in Le News edition 21, 3 – 9 April 2014) 

Things have been a little dull in my family since the snow melted and we put away our skis, so I’m going to suggest that we have a season of Reality competitions, to see us through to the summer holidays.

We’ll kick off with a few episodes of This Family’s Got Talent, just to warm us up. My money is on the seven-year-old. She’s been belting out ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen every afternoon for over a month now, and I think she’ll blow the judges away. Literally. She has quite a set of lungs, for a small girl. Her little sister can only get through the first two lines of ‘In and Out the Dusty Bluebells’ before losing interest, so the only real competition is going to come from my husband, who’ll be demonstrating his amazing sitting skills: after months of practice, he can get through three rugby games in a row, hardly moving a muscle.

After that, we’ll move into a short round of MasterChef. My husband and I will each be presented with a tin of Borlotti beans, some wilted broccoli, two apples and a stock cube, and tasked with making a delicious three course meal. The children will judge and I can tell you now, whoever is stupid enough to actually use that broccoli is going to lose. (I think I have an excellent chance of winning this one because it’s a challenge I face at least twice a month, when I’ve been too lazy to go grocery shopping.)

This should get us to the Easter Holidays, and the thrilling Survivor Switzerland. The children and I will be stranded at home for fourteen days, most likely in torrential rainstorms. My strategy is to get myself voted off Hell Island early, then retire to my bedroom with a pile of books. Only when things downstairs are threatening to head towards a Lord of the Flies scenario will I emerge, bribe everyone with sweets and declare myself the winner.

After the holidays we’ll enjoy an exciting double bill: The Great Bake Off and Fear Factor. In the first round the children will compete to bake the most original cake. Past entries have included the Cake Made of Nothing But Six Eggs and Balsamic Vinegar; the Half a Bottle of Ground Ginger Tart; and my personal favourite, the Unbaked Sugar and Milk Cake With a Carrot in the Middle. In round two, the judges will attempt to taste each entry without retching or spitting anything out.

Then we’ll be running the ever-popular Big Brother, Parents, Cousins and Friends over the first half of the summer holiday. We’re not sure who will arrive because nobody we know plans that far ahead, but in previous years we’ve had up to ten people spend a week together, sharing only two showers and one washing machine. Housemates will be given a number of challenges, such as getting six giant duvets into six duvet covers without breaking down in tears; inflating air mattresses while small children jump up and down on them; and getting my mother’s fifty kilo suitcase up a flight of stairs without swearing.

And at the end of this thrilling week, any housemates left standing will cram themselves into two cars and head off for an episode of The Amazing Race: Tuscany, armed with only their swimming costumes and a GPS that doesn’t recognise Italy.

Exciting times ahead, so stay tuned!

Eco-Warriors and Morality Police

(First published in Le News edition 20, 27 March – 2 April 2014)

I’m trying to be a better person, because of my children. It’s partly that I love them and I want to set a good example, of course. But it’s also because I have the feeling that they’ll tell on me if I don’t behave, and I’ll be in trouble with someone.

Take the seven-year-old. She’s always been the kind of child who worries about the state of her soul because she stole two sweets from the cupboard; who prays before bed every night (and hopefully mentions me because I could use a good word). But recently she’s become an eco-warrior, and our home has become her battleground. Quite frankly, she’s insufferable.

‘My teacher says we should always put paper in the recycling,’ she informed me crisply when I tossed an envelope into the bin.

‘Yes, of course,’ I said, retrieving it. ‘Absolutely right. What was I thinking?’

‘We mustn’t waste electricity,’ she frequently says at dinner, before lighting a tiny leftover Christmas candle and plunging us into near darkness.

Recently she spent an afternoon holed up in her room with a book about endangered animals. It was a trying time for the rest of the family. As we went about our business, her outraged voice boomed down on us every now and then with upsetting pieces of information like, ‘The Hector’s dolphin is almost extinct’ and, ‘We’ll probably never see a Javan rhino’.

I wanted to lighten the mood, for all our sakes, so when she bellowed, ‘Do you know there are only about 300 Cross River gorillas left in the world? What are we going to do about that?’ I bellowed back, ‘Tell them to cheer up!’

And … just a word of advice here. Don’t make jokes about endangered animals. Seven-year-old eco-warriors won’t think you’re funny.

The four-year-old, thank goodness, is still mostly a reprobate, but I’m starting to suspect that the Morality Police might have co opted her into some sort of surveillance role.

’You certainly like that game,’ she’ll say casually, popping up behind me when I’m supposed to be working but am actually playing Candy Crush. ‘You play it a lot.’

‘You do enjoy your wine, don’t you?’ she’ll observe, appearing from nowhere at my elbow, as I pour a (tiny, tiny) pre-dinner glass.

Or, ‘Napping again, I see,’ as she stands, shrouded in shadow, at the bottom of my bed. ‘Always. Napping.’

She’s making me paranoid. Why does she have to say it out loud? Is she miked up?

I really got worried last week, though, when she sat watching me in the bath for a while, eyes narrowed, before asking, ‘Do you think the other mommies have also got tattoos?’

I was blinded by a sudden vision of myself as she might report me: a tattooed wino who plays Candy Crush during work hours and sleeps all afternoon.

‘I don’t know,’ I answered, trying to sink beneath the bubbles. ‘But if you mention mine at school, could you also mention that I get up early every morning to cook you a hot breakfast?’

At the moment I’m the only one being judged – for the near-extinction of the Sumatran orangutan and for my own bad habits. But soon the little girls will grow up, look further afield and start taking the rest of the world to task.

I’m happy to say, our future is in good hands.