Eternity Leave by Simon Kettlewell -the joys and challenges of looking after four children

Eternity Leave by Simon Kettlewell

Many people have looked after children as their main task in life, but in this book Simon Kettlewell takes it to extremes with humour and a nicely judged sense of drama. It is a fictionalised account of a man being in charge of four children, the first three being born really close together so that he was looking after three children under two when his partner Bridgit had twin girls. He makes the point that what he is doing is what so many women do, but he finds the problems of being the only male child carer in the village a strain. It is a funny and almost surreal look at the problems of being left with small children while one’s partner works long hours in a high pressure job. He is keen to comment on how most fathers do not concern themselves with working full time and missing out on their children,while he is aware how much Brigit feels she is missing out. Kettlewell’s assumed character is keen to stress that he is not just looking after his children with the aid of a copy of “The Complete Guide to Childcare”. He has great dreams to be a novelist, if he ever gets time and space to write. He admires and is desperate to emulate Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, with a small holding and self sufficiency. Unfortunately he discovers that there is a huge difference between the theory and practice as with many things. This is a lively and entertaining book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The second chapter begins with a memory of being young and seeing a film which makes him think about having a family and living in a house. He decides that Brigit is the woman that he wants to be with, and it is nineteen years later that he realises how far they have come. Chloe is his oldest daughter and they find themselves in India, and he realises that she is an effective adult in her own right. His twin daughters Ruby and Emma are awkward teenagers both determined to drive the car. Ollie is a younger child, with issues surrounding the internet and computer games. This is the point at which he is looking back, remembering his sense of panic when Brigit went back to work leaving him in sole charge of a small child. Partly because he feels inadequate in a woman’s world, and partly because he honestly cannot see how any one person can cope. When twin girls appear he is even more at sea, as the physical problems of amusing and caring for them all threatens to defeat him. There are some very funny set pieces involving buying chickens, and caring for animals. They culminate in a very funny party where all the birds, pigs and other animals escape and chase the children. The narrator spends a lot of time bemoaning the fact that he is the only man in many meetings and groups – he even gets to know Marlon the music man as a rare male interloper. 

This is an unusual book in that it represents a person trying to get along with life and those around him as best he can. He is an honest and thoughtful narrator, seeing the best in people as well as quietly revelling in the gossip of a small village. I really enjoyed the way he looked back on what seemed at the time to be so difficult, but was really the best, when he loved being with the children. This is a well written book of contemporary life, with an appreciation of the different roles people play and the joys of bringing up children with all the challenges.