Sometimes I set myself challenges. Like getting through bath time without wine. Smiling at every child-free person in Tesco. And taking an infant to a public planning meeting I am speaking at.
We need loads more affordable housing – particularly in the south east of England. At present, we are woefully short of the 240,000 new houses needed a year in the UK. I fully support affordable houses being built and have lobbied for it in the past – it is ludicrous that young people now cannot afford to live in the places they were brought up in – but I feel strongly about doing it in the right place. The bottom of a hill in a tiny village that has serious drainage problems and is home to about 6,734 species of wildlife is probably not it.
I also feel strongly that if I have an opportunity to speak publicly about something I feel strongly about, I should do it.
“Am I late?” I wheeze to my friend Trudy, who tiptoes out of the hall to meet me. She and I are two of the three ‘selected’ speakers against the development. The third, a kind man called Jim, joins us in the corridor.
“They’re discussing a barn conversion in East Clumpton,” says Trudy. “Someone has just said it will be ‘impossible’ to live in it if her stable door has to open to the right.” I give her a side-eye the Duchess of Cambridge would be proud of, which I’m sure gives both of us a little morale boost.
We wait for half an hour, taking turns to hold NC, who is fighting a snotty nose and taking his frustrations out, beating his little fists and head-butting my shoulder. I feel a bit bad I have taken him out but his illness has ‘peaked’ and he doesn’t have a fever. He tries to eat a leaflet on the rules of public speaking, which I take as a good sign.
Trudy goes back into the hall. It’s our case; her turn to speak. She sits at the table and waits for the traffic lights to go green. I slip in with a temporarily Calpol-sedated NG, and stand at the side to listen.
“The village has faced increasing road traffic issues … drainage problems are very likely … amphitheatre effect on the hillside …” Trudy tries valiantly with her three minutes but the Chairman holds up his hand as the lights turn amber, then red. She is not allowed to conclude.
Now I am annoyed. Hoisting NC onto my shoulder, I politely decline offers from heeled staff to hold him and channel the Duchess of Cambridge. Not hugely practised in public speaking, she’s been wobbly on camera in the past. But after her stint this month raising awareness for the excellent #youngmindsmatter, she is better. And speaking in a documentary celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday this spring will mean she’ll have to get ALL the Play Doh from under her nails first. Viewing figures will be in their millions. If she can do it, so can I.
“Mrs Sharpe. And … baby.” The Chairman looks down his nose. “Please.”
“Thank you,” I say. “Now. I am obviously not royalty or anything, but I believe there are better locations for these houses.” I list off three places around the village that would be perfect for the development. One is opposite my house. As I said, I don’t object to houses being built. I mean, one of the new neighbours might have a hot tub.
“Wildlife. Children. This project will likely harm both. Traffic to the primary school is already dangerous.” It’s true. Mark Owen from Take That is about the only person who drives slowly through the village. “There will be around 800 extra trips daily, according to Highways.” I have done my research, even if this doesn’t sound quite right and I have milk stains all over my jumper.
I continue my impassioned speech and conclude before the traffic lights stop me.
“Well done,” says Trudy.
“Bats,” says Jim sadly. I nod sympathetically, thinking he means the proposal but it could equally have been the effect the development will have on winged rodents.
“We gave it our best shot,” I say. “Shall we get some lunch?” NC has perked up considerably and is rooting on my chest. So we go for a sandwich and, when I can’t get the buggy into the cafe, talk about how stupid it is that they have a door that opens to the right.
KEY TO CHARACTERS
Characters are abbreviated as follows:
NW – not William (husband and father)
NG – not George (daughter, sister and two and a half year old)
NC – not Charlotte (son, brother and four month old)
NL – not Lupo (a Labrador)