Today's Reading

'Hurry up, Mum,' says Kate, becoming bored by her mother staring out to sea. 'Flint will be waiting for us.'

And, when Ruth opens the door, her large ginger cat is indeed waiting for them, managing to convey the impression that he has been doing this all day.

'He's hungry,' says Kate, picking the cat up. There was a time when he seemed almost bigger than her; even now on his hind legs he reaches up to her waist.

'There's food in his bowl,' says Ruth. But, nevertheless, she removes the perfectly edible cat food and replaces it with a fresh offering. Flint sniffs at it once and then walks away. He isn't really hungry—he has just consumed a tasty vole—but he does like
to keep his human minders on their toes.

Kate switches on the television, a habit that never ceases to annoy Ruth but she doesn't say anything. She starts to cook macaroni cheese for supper, one of her stock of boring but acceptable dishes. She tries to read the 'Guardian'at the same time, propped up behind the pots which should contain tea and coffee but are actually full of mysterious objects like old raffle tickets and tiny toolkits from Christmas crackers.

She has left her phone in her bag by the front door but Kate calls to tell her it is ringing. She manages to catch the call in time. Frank.

'Hi,' he says. 'How was your day?'

'OK. Phil is more megalomaniacal than ever. I'm expecting him to make his horse a senator at any minute.' Phil is Ruth's boss at the University of North Norfolk. He adores publicity and is very jealous of the fact that Ruth occasionally appears on television.

'Same here.' Frank is teaching at Cambridge. 'Geoff now continually refers to himself in the third person. "Geoff is disappointed with student outcomes", "Geoff has some important news about funding".'

Ruth laughs and takes the phone into the kitchen.

'Frank was wondering if you wanted to go out for dinner tomorrow.'

'Ruth doesn't know if she can get a babysitter. Shall we stop this now?'

'I think we should. I could come over and cook?' Frank, a single father for many years, has his own small store of recipes but at least they are different from Ruth's.

'That would be nice.' Please don't let him mention VD.

'I'll come to you for seven-ish. Is that OK?'

'Great. Kate would like to see you before she goes to bed.' Which, on a Saturday, is becoming later and later. Ruth will have to bribe her with an audio book.

'See you then.' Frank rings off but seconds later she receives a text:

Are you pleased I didn't mention Valentine's?

Ruth doesn't know whether to be pleased or slightly irritated.

Ruth is glad that she has the evening to look forward to because the shadow of VD looms over Saturday. It's not one of Nelson's Saturdays so Ruth takes Kate swimming in King's Lynn and even at the pool there are red balloons and exhortations to 'Treat yourself to a Valentine's Day Spa'. At least she has arranged to meet Cathbad and his son, Michael, and, after their swim, the children play in the circle of hell known as the Soft Play Area and the adults drink something frothy which may or may not contain coffee.

'Are you taking Judy out for Valentine's Day?' asks Ruth, dispiritedly eating the chocolate from the top of her 'cappuccino'.

'No, but I'll cook us something special,' says Cathbad. In jeans and jumper with his long wet hair tied back in a ponytail, Cathbad looks like any ageing hipster dad. He still wears his cloak sometimes but Ruth has noticed that more and more, when he's with his children, especially Michael whose embarrassment threshold is low, Cathbad mimes a slightly offbeat version of conventionality. Apart from running a few evening classes in meditation and past life regression, he's the full-time carer for Michael, six, and Miranda, three, and seems to enjoy the role. Ruth often ponders on the fact that this apparently makes Judy a 'working mother' and Cathbad a 'stay-at-home father' as if mothers never have jobs outside the home and caring for children isn't work. Nelson is, presumably, a 'working father' though no one would ever label him in this way. Ruth's mother often used to describe her, rather apologetically, as a 'career woman' but Nelson, who is consumed by his job, will never be described as a 'career man'. Will Michelle go back to work as a hairdresser after this new baby is born?

Time to stop thinking about that.

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