Real life

Would my godson survive an afternoon with me?

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

My friend Emily, who once got an owl stuck to her hand, was bringing her son for a day with the ponies.

Like all manic souls, Emily can produce both magic and chaos, and you never know in what proportions.

Emily may appear eccentric but like Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory she always turns out to be right. It’s recalcitrant friends like her who have sustained me over the years when everyone else is spouting ‘the line’.

That said, you have to fasten your seatbelt to be around her. It must be ten years ago we were walking down a lane in Surrey together when she noticed an injured owl. I tried to warn her but she insisted on picking it up. As she did so, the owl dug its talons into her hand, pulled itself up and used her as a perch.

I had to pull its claws out of her bleeding flesh as she screamed: ‘Get it out of me!’ It was like a horror movie.

Afterwards, I asked her: ‘How were we just walking down a road and then I was pulling an owl out of your hand?’

She said it was just the sort of thing that happened to her when she went for a walk, and I believed her.

In recent years, Emily has had a baby, and she made me the godmother. What with one thing and another, and then lockdown, the last time I saw her son he was a toddler on my knee.


This little boy is now eight and we decided we really must start to do a few things together. So we set a date to take Ernest for a riding lesson.

Having not had children myself, I’m always fascinated to see how my friends have reproduced themselves, and when it came to Emily, the mind boggled.

I was nervous and ran around the house looking for spare riding hats that might fit the little boy, and chaps he could wear over his jeans. Would he like cake? Should I get chocolate or would Emily, like most of my friends, not want him to eat sweets?

I texted and texted to remind her to set off, because she can be so scatty. She assured me she was coming. But you never really know until she’s with you whether Emily is really on her way, or whether you will get a call from her at the last moment saying she has actually just decided to go into hiding for a Channel 4 documentary. This happened in 2015, when she disappeared off to be on Hunted, eventually winning, which didn’t surprise me.

I heard Emily’s VW Beetle pull up outside the house shortly after 10 a.m., and I stood in the doorway as she got out with a lad 4ft 9in tall bearing a mop of straight, black hair.

Emily is blonde, with waist-length corkscrew curls. She looked like a goddess in a pre-Raphaelite painting as she flung herself through the door and threw her arms around me.

Ernest stood silently. We descended to the lower ground floor kitchen with Emily giving a monologue about everything in the world from Covid to Putin.

Still, little Ernest stood silently. I must have been sufficiently convinced that Emily had not reproduced herself at all that I took my eye off the ball.

Seconds later there was chaos. Ernest had climbed into the dog basket with one of the spaniels, who leapt out and landed on top of the other spaniel, whereupon a fight broke out between the spaniels, Ernest began to scream, banged his head, announced he had lost an eye, had to be put in front of a mirror to show him he hadn’t, declared himself satisfied and allowed us to persuade him to come and see the ponies.

As we got him on a horse at the local riding stables, I turned to Emily: ‘The object of today is to get Ernest home without an owl attached to his hand. Do you agree?’

‘Oh yes, you’re right. He’s me!’ said Emily, tears of pride running down her face.

Ernest walked, trotted and even cantered the pony, as I fantasised about Valium. Afterwards, we went to the bakery for cakes, then walked to the village playground. There was a seesaw. Ernest climbed on to it. I climbed on to the other side. With him sitting square, I began to put my weight on it. Ernest promptly threw himself off sideways.

‘Emily!’ I screamed. ‘I’m telling you this is going to end with Ernest attached to an owl!’

Later, alone in my kitchen, doing deep breathing exercises, I looked up and saw the notice board had been adorned with a message: ‘Thank you, Melissa we love you so happy to see you!’ Between palpitations, I felt the same way.

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