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One last summer of sweets and ponies

'THIS,' I think grimly, as I career through speeding traffic along the motorway, one scalded hand still smarting from the milk I boiled over earlier and a fluorescent stain from a fizzy drink that recently missed my mouth now blooming on my white shirt, 'is not the way today was supposed to go.'

"And guess what?" says my sole passenger, continuing a monologue from where she's perched behind me with a little bag of doughnuts on her lap. "They're tropical flavour. Tropical flavour Tic-Tacs! All different colours," she rambles. "Did you even know they DID tropical? I think they must be new."

The enraged motorist from my poor lane change a minute ago is still speeding up and slowing down beside me with his window rolled down, shaking his fist and now my petrol light has begun winking at me, reminding me that, on top of everything else, I have forgotten my debit card.

"Ha-ha," I manage ashen-faced into the mirror. "Tropical flavour, eh?"

I steal a glance over my shoulder at her and my 11-year-old beams back, impossibly beautiful in the little outfit she's chosen, oblivious to the red-faced man in a suit fishtailing along a few feet to her left, spittle flying from his open window and pounding the side of his car before shooting down an off-ramp.

"Have you tried Crazy Sour flavoured Skittles?" she continues.

Just a few days before, we're sitting around the kitchen and the little girl is just home from a three-day camping weekend and I can't help ruing the fact that summer is almost over and our four will soon be back to the worries of school and college routines.

"What day is today?" says our daughter, finally getting a breath between tales of campfires and pony rides.

"Friday," I lie. "Tomorrow's Saturday."

"Oh," she says, making a little furrow in her forehead.

"It's Monday," my wife tells her and they both shoot me a look.



But it feels like we've had a month of Saturdays and I don't want it to be over.

End of summer means a downhill tumble to the end of the year and, before we know it, we'll have two major state exams on our plates and a little girl on the cusp of being a teenager and all the turmoil that entails.

This may well be, I lament, the last summer when our little girl's foremost concerns are sweet shops and ponies.

These are the things weighing on my chest when she suddenly learns that, while away, she missed a house visit from her grown-up cousin and a brand new baby.

"Oh no," she says, face falling.

And that is the second I decide that, no matter what, we'll drive to the city together soon, father and daughter, to visit the newborn she was so disappointed not to have seen. "It'll be a special day," I promise. A last warm and happy summer day before we're dusting off school bags with kilos of books and retrieving winter anoraks from the cobwebbed recesses under the stairs.

"And we'll bring doughnuts," I add.

"Cool," she chirps, suddenly happy again and skipping off.

"It'll be lovely," I mutter wistfully after her. "Just lovely." And somewhere in the clouds above, no doubt, the gods chuckle, rub their hands and begin conspiring.



On the morning of our day trip, as it turns out, it's not the fault of fate or gods, it's just bad timing, too much coffee and a phone call out of the blue that has me all flustered, burning my hand on the boiled-over milk then forgetting to put petrol in the tank, pouring cola down my front and driving like a fool.

The phone call says an elderly relative has fallen and is in hospital, so plans must be adjusted.

I'll now deliver our daughter to her cousins and journey on to try to make it in time for visiting hours.

But from the first hint of a worried look on my little girl's face, I'm determined that, whatever happens, she'll have her sunny summer day out.

"Doughnuts," is all I say as we pull out of the driveway. "We almost forgot doughnuts."

"The ones with jam inside, sometimes have chocolate instead," she tells me, tanned and skinny behind her enormous seatbelt.

"Chocolate it is," I say, tossing the last bit of my Coke all over my front and stifling a curse as we take off.

But when we stop at the shops, there are only a few grim, hard sugary things on display.

"Damn," I say, rifling through the shelves irritably, not wanting to disappoint.

"That's alright," she says, smiling, "these ones are OK," and I wonder with a twinge exactly who is jollying along who today.

One angry driver and a reserve tank of petrol later, she's cooing over the little baby that she so badly wanted to see and, within the hour, I've managed to make it to the hospital and cheer the family patient there with tales of the outlandishly awful idiot I so often am.

When I return for her, the little girl is shining.

"Did you have your doughnuts?" I say, buckling her in to her seat.

"We baked cookies," she beams.

We coast home, making it on petrol fumes.

"So, did you have a good day?" I ask as we finally tumble in the front door.

"I had a GREAT day," she says. "Would you like one of my cookies?"

" No," I tell her, flopping down on a stool and looking at her, "I would LOVE one of your cookies."