We receive our first letter, written on thin lined prison issue paper. “Ha!…Daddy is such a girl!”. Is Tala’s response when I tell her that Rob has, under the experienced guidance of J and L next door, managed to rig up a temporary cover over the loo and a sheet over the window. “Only girls do that kind of thing mamma, boys are really messy!”. I don’t point out that covering the stinking, seatless object in the corner less that 2 metres away from your head at any time, will be a vital aspect of surviving the induction wing experience.

He is hungry and still doesn’t have a pillow.  Sheets and bedding were only awarded after a major diplomacy effort.  Also requiring careful management is how to retain a modicum of privacy with no access to any loo other than the one in the middle of a cell shared by two men.  Everything about this situation is designed to take away your humanity.  Transported like a carcass in a faceless white van to which you are handcuffed, it is clear that you are now a number in a filthy, litter covered, numbered cell.

Apparently in the trauma wards at A and E there is a calculation made by staff which assesses the likelihood of survival in serious car accidents called the “tat to teeth ratio”. The closer this ratio gets to 1:1, i.e. One tattoo for every tooth, the greater the chances of survival. 5:1 tat to teeth sounds like a more accurate description of the prison population: If you can survive prison, head on collisions are a walk in the park.  By all accounts the other inmates from all nationalities are kind.  They are all in this together, and most of them have been in and out of prison all their lives so they make the best of it.

Back in the free world Tala and I finally crash ourselves and what starts out as an unsolicited conversation from way out in the left field about getting a new puppy(!), becomes a full throttle assault from Tala.  This is a child born to be a hostage negotiator and I’m in no state to procure any kind of sensible outcome.  In the end I pull the “poor me” card and confess that the last thing I could possibly do with right now in my life is a bloody puppy! I have no idea where we will even be living in 6 months, or whether there will be a garden, added to which the thought of vets bills, puppy training, more poop to scoop and the inevitable destruction of furniture and carpets is frankly unappealing.

I am the worst mummy in the world and I never say yes to anything apparently.  The conversation continues on a downward trajectory until I make the bizarre decision to allow my legs to buckle under me and lie on the kitchen floor in the middle of peeling the potatoes.  Tala is unimpressed. “That’s really weird mummy, but I know you aren’t dead because I can see you breathing”. I continue to breathe, as deeply as I can, eyes shut until I decide I can cope again, but my little stunt has wobbled Tala from anger to despair and she repairs to the living room to cry privately.  I feel awful.  I suggest we write our postcards to Daddy.  This is what she writes:

“Dear Daddy. Mummy is being so mean to me, she started shouting at me when I was just talking to myself and when I talked to her she wouldn’t answer.  I miss you so much and I wish you would come home.  I don’t know what to do when Okha’s not around and mummy is mean to me. I miss you so much. I love you so so so so so much.  Love from Tala.”

We eat supper together and start to feel better.  We realise that we are both exhausted.  Okha comes home and true to her word when she sees the state we are in, cleans up the kitchen.  By 9pm I am in bed, drifting off to sleep, feeling guilty about my double pillow, wishing for all the world I could send one to Rob.  From downstairs I can hear the clatter and bang of inexperienced washing up.  Tala, bathed and hair plaited is whispering things about writing in ancient Norse.  The dog has snuck into the bed too.  I check out, off to a dreamworld where none of this is happening and everything seems more likely than my reality.