Saturday, 4 April 2009

Sweet 15

Sometimes I forget The Teenager is a teenager.

This is because she often behaves like she works in the city and earns 100k a year: dining out with friends and donning designer handbags. It must have been one of those days when I agreed that a day trip to London with her friends would be an acceptable way to spend her 15th birthday.

I am still not quite sure how it all came to pass, as I wave her and six mates off on the 10.25 a.m. from Cardiff Central. I am laughing and waving frantically as she mouths ''GO. AWAY.'' through the window.

My own mother doesn't approve of the trip. But as is customary for grandmothers, she has selective memory syndrome and forgets that I was in nightclubs at 15-with her blessing.

''Ahh. Things were very different then'' she claims.
"Really? In 1990?"
"Well I certainly never let you go off to London on your own! I mean, London? London?"
"She is not going on her own"
"No. Even worse, she is going with a group of teenage girls. They will be a target!"
''A target for what?"
"Mother. London is not full of Fagins."
"But it is full of gangs. Pickpocketing gangs. If she doesn't get pickpocketed she might get mugged. Tell her to keep her cash in her underwear."

But the night before the birthday I am too busy trying to explain the London Underground system to six 15 year olds, to remember the cash in pants advice. They all appear to be listening at least a bit, aside from mine, who isn't listening at all. Having been lost on the 'A' train in New York she is clearly above fearing the tube. The girls want to go to Camden and the best I can offer them is a journey plan that involves three tubes. My knowledge of London is restricted to work trips, some hazy clubbing weekends and visits to see Mad Suze, so at best, this is a case of the partially sighted leading the blind.

I watch the London train pull out of the station and wonder how my chubby cheeked, bunch haired baby got to be so big she is travelling without me on a Great Western train. I realise I have forgotton to warn her about the buffet car. Oh well, nothing like paying a fiver for a scolded mouth and a shortbread finger to learn a lesson.

When I arrive in work I place my mobile on my desk and watch it for movement. I figure that the day should be incident free for a least the next two hours while they are on a train that terminates at their chosen destination.
By 12.45p.m. I have all but forgotten that my child is in the sacrificial lion's den they call London. I jolt sharply as I remember and call her but it goes straight to answer machine. I surmise this means that she is on a tube. The right one hopefully. At 1.30 p.m. she calls me back.

''Hi!'' she trills cheerily. She sounds like she definitely hadn't been mugged yet.
"Hi chicken! Where are you?"
"Camden!" she sounds as surprised as I feel.
''Yeah I know!"
"Wow. Brilliant."
''I know!"
"So what's it like?"
"Yeah, it's pretty cool here, there's an amazing waffle stall and I just bought some sunglasses for a fiver."

Brilliant. Food and cheap clothes add up to a perfect day for The Teenager. She is happy. They have reached one of two destinations, I am happy too. All they have to do now is make it to Oxford Street and then back to Paddington.

She calls me several hours later

''Oxford Street is boring''
"Uh, yes, I told you this.Where are you?"
"In a giant Top Shop"
"Ok, well maybe go to Selfridges up the road yeah? Just don't go anywhere else!"
"What do you mean 'Hmmmm? Seriously. Don't go anywhere else!"

And with that she pretends her phone is losing reception and hangs up. An hour later she calls back.

"Hi Mum. I'm in Westfield. It's boring."
"Westfield? What? I told you not to go anywhere else"
"Oh yeah."
"So have you thought about how you're going to get back to Paddington?"
"Ummmm no?"

Fortunately, at this point-I happen to be giving a lift to a colleague who lived in London, so I hand the phone over for her to give some directions.

An hour before the train is due to leave I call her mobile and they are back at Paddington. I breathe a sigh of relief until I remember that they all still have to actually get on the train. She texts me when they are on the train and then I breathe a sign of relief, until I remember they all still have to actually get off at the right stop.

At 9.45 p.m. I am waiting in the train station car park in my Christmas Pyjamas making a deal with a god I don't believe in, that I will forever be a good person if he lets 6 happy teenagers walk through the gates, all in one piece.

At 10.10 p.m. six happy teenagers walk through the gates, all in one piece. I run up to them and check for all 24 limbs. All present and correct. Everyone has lots of shopping bags and their handbags. No one's been mugged. Hoorah for God! Horrah! Praise be!

Once I have played Johnny cabs to some of the girls, The Teenager and I are finally alone some time near to 11p.m. She is making marmite crumpets in the kitchen.

"So, I like had, like, the best birthday...ever" she says in her default deadpan.
"Wow. Ever? Really?"
"Yeah, even though some of the places were boring, it was still amazing"

And with that she takes her marmite crumpets and her 15 year old self up the stairs and I am a little hurt that her best birthday ever involved very little to do with me.

And then I remember that The Teenager is still a teenager.