We always tell our children that they are welcome to visit us any time in any numbers, so there wasn't much I could say when Sergej announced that he was bringing four kids for half-term. I certainly prefer to meet them one at a time, not so much because I cannot cope with all of them (which I know I cannot, so there is no point worrying) but because I enjoy them more. Even a five-year-old can make a very interesting conversation when you have them on their own. But here they were, all of them, and here is how we spent the week.
They flew into Stansted on Saturday evening, but since they are too many to fit into a car, I instructed them to take the airport train to Cambridge and collected them at the station. Yes, they were still too many to fit into a car, but in the darkness we could hide one in the back seat. I thought they would be too tired to be hungry, but they weren't. They were hungry and too excited to be tired.
On Sunday I made a huge breakfast. Or so I thought. Two humongous cartons of juice were gone almost before we opened them. Since the boys didn't get up until noon, breakfast transformed into lunch, with a snack in between. Sergej and I sat outside and enjoyed the sun while the kids played croquet which the boys cleverly remembered that we had in the garage since their previous visit. Then we went for a walk in the park, fed the swans, explored the playground – I had had a vague feeling that there was a playground in the park, but I normally avoid it during my walks. We had ice cream in the park cafe – another place I normally avoid. Then we went home and did nothing special for a while until it was time to make dinner. After dinner we watched an old movie. The cat hid under my bed, but would emerge every now and then.
On Monday I took the kids to Linton Zoo while Sergej worked (he had no half-term! Neither had I, incidentally). The weather wasn't great, but we enjoyed it anyway. Lunch was unsatisfactory, but there were doughnuts waiting at home. The girls played with the dolls' house they were allowed to play with and were very good at seeing but not touching the ones they were not allowed to play with. The boys have their smartphones that keep them busy at any time. We watched another movie in the evening.
On Tuesday I dispatched them to Duxford Imperial War Museum while I had to go to work. I barely got back home to prepare dinner before it was time for me and Sergej to go to Homerton Formal Hall which just happened to be Harry Potter-themed. I wore a pointed hat, and like last year there we owls flying over the Hall. Between main course and dessert we were allowed to fondle the owls. It was another long-time dream come true, just in passing.
On Wednesday the boys went to London. On their previous visits I told them that there was no way I was going up on London Eye and they would have to do it another time with someone else. So now was the time. They took the train, and did London Eye, London Dungeons and what not, while I took the girls to town. Natalie had expressed a wish to ride a double-decker, and after three and a half years in Cambridge I finally took this ride which was the most boring sightseeing I'd ever done (you don't see anything from a double-decker squeezing through narrow streets). For the girls, however, the pleasure was in riding a double-decker, not in seeing sights, so they didn't mind the absence of sights. Then we went punting, and I enjoyed it thoroughly because it was the best punter ever, while the girls thought the swans and ducks on the river were fun, and a boat trip is a boat trip. Meanwhile they kept reminding me that the real reason we went to town was that I had promised them belated birthday presents, of the kind “you can choose anything you want”, knowing that at this age they would probably not want a diamond necklace. In fact, it was interesting to watch them go back and forth between kids' fashion and toys, as they realised that “anything you want” didn't necessarily have to be a toy. They have more toys they can ever play with. We left John Lewis with a box of kids' makeup and a pair of slippers, and I think they were perfectly happy. In addition, I discovered that the family toilet in Grand Arcade was very practical when you had two little girls who needed to pee. We watched The Dark Crystal in the evening, and they made some clever observations, especially given that they didn't understand the dialogue.
Thursday was my really busy day, starting with a studio interview for BBC and an afternoon meeting. In the morning, the girls wondered whether they absolutely had to go on another excursion or could possibly play at home, so their wish was granted, while I dropped the boys in town to wander on their own. It was fascinating to hear them report afterwards what they had seen and done, and why.
Viktor had a favourite Chinese restaurant in Cambridge where Staffan had taken him a couple of times. He had been looking forward to going there again and was very upset to hear that the place had closed down. To compensate, I had promised Chinese take-out, and that was our meal that day. The boys walked to the shop, with some cash and free hands to get whatever they wanted, and they made some very good choices. And guess what? We watched a movie.
During the whole week Sergej hadn't seen anything of Cambridge, and I thought he should at least see some landmarks, but he had more work to do, and the kids were playing happily in the garden, and finally we didn't go anywhere at all (except to Tesco to get more milk, but it doesn't qualify as a pastime since it was a routine). In the evening, Sergej went to see a schoolmate who just happens to live in Milton. I understand that they paid tribute to all local pubs, while we had ice cream and watched a movie.
This morning, they were exemplary in getting up at five to catch the train. They haven't left much behind: just a sock and a toothbrush. They are very nice kids. I wish they could be delivered with volume control.