But instead she is in a shed, with a stricken sheep. And panicking to me on the phone; the sheep has a birthing harness and falling-out womb.
Her four unsettled offspring are with her but her husband is absent, “on the fecking ski slopes in Germany, of all the places he could be”.
It is as we all feared and forecast: barnyard nightmares in the boondocks, with my mother about to arrive.
I very much fear: I am all my sister’s got.
My sister panics down the phone while I try to reconcile two urgent, conflicting imperatives: one, to hang up the phone and pretend this isn’t happening, and two, to summon her husband back from the fecking ski slopes.
Standing in for my sister’s husband can be exacting at times like this: I’ve only been stand-in for 15 minutes and I’m already feeling the strain.
“I’ll meet Mum at the airport,” I say, “it’s only an hour’s journey up from here. You just concentrate on the falling-out womb.”
“No,” she says, “the children are dying to meet Granny in arrivals and Tommy the farmer is on his way over. Besides, the sheep is picking up. Rosie is with me.
"And you know how calm and sensible she is. But I need you to stay on the end of the phone in the car in case anything else goes wrong. I’ll keep you posted all the way down.”
History has shown that a barnyard nightmare will operate as a catalyst for many minor ones. My sister will want to share the pain of them all with me but first she will share it with Rosie.
Thank god for Rosie, I think, so practical, biddable, serene and sweet that at16 she still goes by the affectionate family nickname of Rosie the Nun.
10am. My phone rings: “I’M STILL IN A PANIC,” my sister cries down the phone, “THE SHEEP HAS REALLY UPSET ME. KEEP YOUR PHONE ON.”
10.15: “I CAN’T OPEN THE BOOT,” she cries, “I’M HAVING TO PACK EVERYTHING INTO THE BACK SEAT WITH THE CHILDREN.”
“MUMMY, STOP IT, YOU’RE BURYING ME.”
“MUMMY, I CAN’T SEE OUT.”
“Try the car keys Mum.”
“TRY THE WHAT?”
“The car keys.”
10.20: “I TRIED THE CAR KEYS. WE’RE OFF. THANK GOD FOR ROSIE.”
10.30: “OH MY GOD THE TOM-TOM ISN’T WORKING. THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING. IT’S GOT TO BE WORKING. ROSIE, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE TOM-TOM?”
10.35: “YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE THIS. THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE SAT-NAV. I CAN’T DRIVE WITHOUT A SAT-NAV. ROSIE, YOU’LL HAVE TO MAP-READ.”
10.40. “I’VE STOPPED THE CAR. LOLA SPILT MACARONI ALL IN THE BACK. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE OUR LUNCH. I’M STANDING OUTSIDE THE CAR. THE SHEEP HAS REALLY UPSET ME.”
11am. There have been no calls for 20 minutes. Thank god for Rosie the Nun.
11.05: “HOW CAN I MAP-READ AND DRIVE AT THE SAME TIME? ROSIE, YOU’LL HAVE TO MAP-READ. GET IN THE FRONT AND READ THE MAP. BECAUSE YOU’RE THE OLDEST.
"WHAT? WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY ROSIE? I DON’T BELIEVE IT. YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE IT. WAIT THERE, SIT DOWN LOLA, I’LL PHONE YOU BACK.”
11.10. My sister’s standing outside the car, talking to me in a stunned whisper.
“Guess what Rosie just said when I told her she had to stand in for Dad today. Go on, guess.”
I cannot guess what Rosie the Nun could possibly have said, so my sister says, “She said, ‘I’m just thinking about this girl in school.’
So I said, ‘what girl in school, Rosie?’
And she said, ‘there’s this girl in school who says this particular thing whenever someone asks her to do something that she really, really doesn’t want to do.’
Rosie felt like saying it, she says, when I asked her to stand in for Dad.”
“What’s the particular thing?” I say.
My sister says something which I cannot decipher for the sound of roaring traffic.
11.15. “I can’t hear you,” I say, “what’s the particular thing?”
My sister speaks up.
“The particular thing,” she says, “is: ‘I’d rather shit in my hands and clap’.”
Thank god for Rosie, I think, so practical, biddable, serene and sweet that at 16 she still goes by the affectionate family nickname of Rosie the Nun