Tomorrow, Slingbaby and I have to attend a film premiere. Not the red-carpet-and-Johnny-Depp type of premiere, sadly, but the premiere of a film made by art students for my friend’s charity, for which I sometimes volunteer. She told me in a breezy sort of way the other day that she has me down on the guest list as a professional volunteer with a job title I have only the shakiest of claims to, and added by way of a parting shot that she was ‘looking forward to introducing me to the trustees’.
These are a bunch of terrifyingly prominent individuals with old-money names and incomprehensible, triple-barrelled titles like the Lord Lieutenant of the Rolls, or High Sherriff of the Hounds, and even in the days before Slingbaby came along and liquefied my brains, encounters with people like that are pretty much doomed for me. Like the time when our local MP, a cabinet minister, visited the street drug clinic where I was working and I not only failed to recognise him but also asked him to leave the restricted area where I found him because I thought he was trying to steal a handbag. In my defence, the shirt he was wearing looked like he’d slept in it on the street for a week, but all the same, I never really lived it down.
Unlike a Hollywood-style premiere, this one takes place at the ungodly hour of 9am, at which time of the morning we have the option of getting there either on time, or presentable, but not both. At least our sling choice is easy, though – Jim jade 2 has arrived and temporarily spoiled us for the Love of All Other Wraps, and is already stashed in my handbag along with a pair of shiny silver sling rings. We may be a bit dishevelled at 9am tomorrow – and (in Slingbaby’s case) possibly, unless it turns up soon, minus a shoe – but my goodness, our sling will be classy.
By some miracle of not dissimilar magnitude to that thing with Jonah and the Whale, we arrive early, clean, with brushed hair and a full complement of footwear. I happen to glance in the rearview mirror at some traffic lights on the way and notice a couple of bristly facial hairs (whisper it) that have gone unseen in the dim light of the bathroom – clearly they have not read the bit in the pregnancy book where it says this sort of humiliating side-effect will end ‘by the time baby reaches 6 months’. I edge into the car park and pull up in an isolated space where I can tweezer them in privacy.
The venue for the film showing is the shiny, modern media suite of a local sixth form college. Every other user of the car park looks far, far too young to be driving, like stumbling into the junior section of a joy-riders’ convention. Most of the boys seem to have forgotten to wear the belts they so obviously needed to stop their jeans from falling halfway down, and there are lots of semi-bare, impossibly skinny mid-rifs among the girls. I suddenly feel old and unfashionable. And hairy.
I surreptitiously pull my eyebrow tweezers out of my makeup bag and take a quick, furtive glance about. At this exact moment, a car-full of teenage boys pulls up and parks IN FRONT of me, sideways on. There appear to be about eleven people in the car, and they each produce a bag of chips and proceed to eat them with the sort of gusto that only a seventeen-year-old boy could at 8.45am. They gaze out of the window at me in mild interest, probably wondering what such an old person is doing in their car park. I put the tweezers away and try to ignore the audience as I get Sling baby out of the car and slip her into the no-sew ring sling, praying she doesn’t pick this moment to demonstrate her flailing/screaming skills. Thankfully, she comes quietly.
Inside the venue, Sling baby continues to be unusually co-operative. She is emerging from her sling strike period and there is none of the frantic leg-straightening or strident cries of ‘Dowwwwwn!’ that have accompanied so many ill-starred trips out over the past few months. She allows herself to be cooed over and accepts a small container of fresh fruit and a breakfast muffin as we go to take our seats.
I am introduced to a lot of people with expensive hair, all of whom are extremely pleasant and friendly, and I think that I manage to acquit myself in a semi-professional manner, so far as is possible in between removing bits of fresh strawberry from the Jim Jade with a baby wipe. A man in a navy blue jacket with shiny gold buttons pronounces the sling ‘A dashed clever contraption,’ and nobody asks us what we’re doing here.
While we wait for the film to start, more baskets of delicious-looking muffins, still warm from the ovens of the catering students, criss-cross the room. I didn’t get given any breakfast container as we came in and have been eyeing Slingbaby’s muffin for the past few minutes. I look hopefully at the basket bearers, trying to catch someone’s eye, but everybody else in the room is far too posh to eat cake in public at breakfast time. I would happily eat cake on national television if it was the only option – but clearly, in this room, I am alone in this. The cake wardens leave, their baskets untouched. I pinch a bit of Slingbaby’s muffin while she is not looking, but it turns out that the lovely, plump blueberries are in fact black olives, and now I look closer I can see little bits of ham poking out. Revolted at this (in my book) too-literal interpretation of the term ‘breakfast muffin’, I drop the remainder back into Slingbaby’s container, just as she finally demands to be let ‘Ow’ (out).
As the lights dim and the giant screen comes to life, I feel myself starting to relax – this has gone pretty well. The film itself is short and beautifully done, and the polite applause at the end is genuine and warm. I return my attention to Sling baby, sitting quietly beside me, and leaning over her put my hand in something wet. And slimy.
It is the remains of a large and squashy strawberry. It has been mashed into the seat with a sort of artistic fervour and surrounding it is several of its fellows, along with what might once have been raspberries. I leap off my chair in horror to inspect the damage and as I do, become aware that the carpet is soft and squishy under my feet. I look down.
I am standing in an ocean of muffin crumbs, dotted here and there with bits of olive and ham, like dead fish.
Shame-faced, I crawl around the floor next to sharply-pressed trouser legs and polished shoes, doing the best I can in damage limitation with a packet of baby wipes. Sling baby thinks this is fascinating, and watches, squatting to get a better view, thankfully too engrossed to run off. Hair plastered to my face with sweat, I try to sneak away, but as I reach the door my friend stops me and introduces me to one last Grand City Mayor/Patron Saint of Devon. I shake his hand, not realising til afterwards, that mine is sticky with strawberry juice. He has the good grace not to miss a beat and smiles kindly at Sling baby, who has crumbs in her hair and is nearly asleep.
Out in the fresh air of the car park, I cross quickly to the car, eyes down. A young man with trousers hanging off his bony body passes just before I reach safety and turns to speak.
‘Is she yours?’ he says, looking down at Sling baby, now snoring gently, wrapped in her Jim.
‘Yes,’ I say, wondering what is coming.
‘She’s beautiful,’ he says, seriously, and nods at me; ‘You must be so proud.’ And, of course, I am.
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