So I’m round at my sisters. Michelle is a couple of years younger than me. She’s a nurse, so works shifts, and I don’t get to see her as much as I should. We’re having an early 5pm tea, with her daughter, Poppy. Their begging dog, Travis, is, as usual, as he does for every meal, sitting patiently and expectantly, head cocked, for table scraps without joy. It’s a classic children’s tea. Sausage, mash, gravy, frozen sweet corn and the obligatory ‘little trees’. I’ve never understood why broccoli is mandatory requirement for every child’s hot meal. We’ve been treated to an Aunt Bessie’s mini Yorkshire pudding each, and there’s mini Magnums for afters. I brought donuts. We’re on the red. A Malbec I think. It came from of those £10 meal deals at Marks’s. Poppy’s got Ribena in a pink plastic wine glass, so she feels grown up.
“Tell Aunty NomNom what happened today at school?” Said Michelle.
“I got told off” confessed Poppy.
“What for?” I queried.
“I said a rude word” admitted Poppy.”
“A swear word?” I enquired gently.
” Yes I said Rosie is a bitch. What’s a bitch?” She asks innocently.
“Well, it means a girl dog, but some people call ladies that if they’re being mean.” I replied.
“Like Miss Trunchbull?” Said Poppy, inquisitively.
“Exactly like Miss Trunchbull. And no-one would ever dare to call her a bitch, cos she’d swing them around by their legs and let them go flying out of the window.” I explain cheerfully.
“What does shite mean?” she says nonchalantly. She genuinely has no idea.
“It’s just a slang word for poo. People say it when they think something’s a bit rubbish. Here, would you like me to help you?” I cut up her sausage. “You know, it’s probably not a good idea to swear if you want to be a teacher. What if you accidentally swore in front of the children? Then you’d be in big trouble with the mums and dads.” I said matter-of-factly.
“What’s the most naughtiest swear word?” She asks quizzingly.
This might be difficult. She knows I’ll always tell her straight.
I could tell her about that time her mum and I went to see ‘The Vagina Monologues’ where Rula Lenska, and two other women (who also proper theatre luvvie actors, but I’d only ever seen one of them on telly before in ‘Casualty’) over the course of the evening, said every single curse word meaning female genitals. I was never going to say “coochie coochie coo!” to a baby ever again, not that I ever recall I had said that before. It was brilliant, immersive, exhilarating show, culminating with the whole audience getting up onto their feet to chant “Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!” over and over again. Our fists punching gloriously in to the air, strangers united, laughing and encouraging each other to shout it louder and louder, so it would lose its power.
“CUNT! CUNT! CUNT!”
But I don’t, She’s seven. It’s too soon.
“I’m not allowed to say it.” I say seriously. I hope she believes me.
“Well, what’s a swear word that you are allowed to say then? And not flip or blast. I already know those. I’m seven.” She’s dead serious as she says this. I can feel her eyes concentrating on me.
I think for a second. “Tory.” I say. “If you call someone a Tory, then that means they are a horrible, evil person, who steals food from poor people. There was this wicked witch once called ‘Maggie Thatcher the milk snatcher’ who stole children’s milk. When me and your mum were little, we used to all get a tiny bottle of milk to drink every day at morning playtime. A bottle each, with a straw in it. The milkman used to bring crates of milk everyday to school. But Maggie Thatcher took it off us. Kids have to have water now instead. Or fruit shoot. That’s why we have to have food banks. Because of the Tories.”
“Where is she now?” Poppy looks worried.
“Oh, she’s dead now.” I said, trying to sound breezy and casual.
“Did someone cast a spell on her to kill her?” Asks Poppy, extending her arm as if she’s holding a wand.
“Nah. I think she was just really old.” I reply reassuringly.
“Daddy always puts some Weetabix and some beans into the box for the food bank when we go shopping.” Says Poppy, pleased with herself.
Michelle smiles. “Yeah, he’s a good one he is.”
“And you can’t always tell by looking either.” I say “Like you know all the baddies in Harry Potter are really proud to be in Slytherin? Well some people are actually proud to be a Tory.” I emphasised the word ‘proud’ to make what I’d just said sound like I was incredulous at how ridiculous this seemed.
“A Tory.” Repeated Poppy, smiling as if she’s been told a huge secret.