Yesterday morning, I had to drive to work. Instead of my usual 20 minutes of bliss on the train with a travel mug of finest Fair Trade filter coffee and a good book, I faced 45 minutes of traffic jams and a radio that either cuts out every five minutes or will only tune to Radio 3.
So for damage limitation and sanity purposes, I left the house obscenely early to beat the crowds. In fact, I left so early, that it took me just over 20 minutes to get into town, with me parking my little blue car at 7.50am - a whole hour before I normally get to work.
I'd skipped breakfast. My belly was grumblingly wondering where its peanut butter toast had got to. And the early start and lack of caffeine had left me feeling a little bit spaced. Then I remembered that the nearby registry office that Dave and I sneaked off to to get hitched almost a decade ago has been transformed into a Costa Coffee. What was formerly decorated in a style that would be best suited to an award-winning public loo (think peach-scented pot pourri, ruffled curtains with tie backs and gaudy plastic flower displays) is now an oasis of calm. All cappuccino walls, aubergine velvet armchairs, sweet coffee smells, twinkly lighting, mellow singer songwritery stuff on the stereo, and the occasional schwerrrrrrrrsh of that thing that steams the milk.
I ordered my two favourite treats (almond croissant, soy vanilla latte in case you're ever buying), found a quiet spot of cosiness in the corner and sat down with a book about running away from society to live in a yurt (the irony of reading this in Costa wasn't wasted on me).
It was 30 minutes of absolute bliss.
Filled with a new-found love of the big chain coffee shop, today, I persuaded Dave to finish work early so we could all go out for a late afternoon latte at another evil establishment. I had visions of sitting in an equally chilled space, the children colouring while Dave and I nursed our drinks and discussed our weekend plans.
But evil coffee shops on out-of-town retail parks (I know, I know - what's happened to me?) after school on a Friday are quite a different story to city centre ones early in the morning.
Gwen was exhausted from a week at school and ravenous after rejecting my home-made lentil and tomato soup for lunch - no doubt doing her usual trick of swiping someone's ham-on-Mothers-Pride sandwich instead ("Do you know mam, there is this bread that is white and it's so soft and even the crusts are soft! Can we get some?"). I could sense she needed careful management to avoid some sort of meltdown.
I had forgotten to bring the emergency colouring/books. It didn't look good.
As soon as we got there, she took off her shoes and tights and started trying to jump on the seats. Moll started to copy her, both of them laughing hysterically and very loudly with their tangled wild hair flying everywhere.
I was so happy when Dave appeared with a tray of goodies. Peace was restored for all of three minutes, until Gwen tried to eat Moll's half of muffin, ending in Moll screeching in protest and Gwen wailing that she was "Hungreeeeeeee" while the people on the next table were shooting me daggers, either for starving my children/not being very good at brushing their hair/feeding them muffins at tea time.
Molly tried to drink her hot chocolate with a plastic spoon, making an almighty mess. A few minutes later, she went the whole hog and spilt the entire cup all over the table, the fabric-covered seat and me.
At this point, Gwen thought it would be fun to crawl under the table and pretend to be a baby.
Then Moll did an enormous poo.We'd forgotten a spare nappy.