"Quelquechose à la machine?" he asks breezily, like one of my more socially accomplished tutors at college offering a small dry sherry.
I acquiesce and hand over a euro for him to select, always, a Kinder Egg from the vending machine while I fetch his brother. Over in the junior bloc, a handful of stragglers are drawing pictures of Stalin and composing pastoral odes to mother Belgium. Lashes is bent low over his desk, absorbed in drawing monsters. A small acolyte is watching, and giving suggestions that he is ignoring. Around him, spread liberally over four or five desks, lie a jumble sale of his possessions. It takes both of us, plus several helpers, to round everything up. Lashes accepts this entourage of assistants as his due, busy explaining why he is wearing a whale on his head on the jetpowered skateboard in the corner of the monster meisterwerk. I give him a surreptitious stroke on the neck if none of his mates are watching. He is another of my very favourite people. We squabble a lot at the moment. He's a smart arse and he has to be right about everything, a bit like me and a lot like his father. But he is funny and full of clever badness, just like all my other favourite people.
After several false starts - coat lost, bag lost, vital papers mislayed, we go and find Fingers. He is sitting on the lost clothes hamper, cross-legged like a grubby pixie, dissecting the contents of his Kinder Egg. Lashes doesn't want anything from the machine - he's saving for another soft toy. I get to carry everything - both their schoolbags, my handbag and big green bag of shoes and make up, a handful of drawings, the Kinder Egg detritus - as they belt down the hill to the tram stop.
"Slow down!" I shout ineffectually. They always manage to stop, just, braking wildly at the last minute. Often one of them falls over. We wait at the tram stop.
"Can I play with your phone?"
"Because you are really, really dirty".
They chat and chat, whilst we get on the tram, both of them always managing to be in the way of, or to bang into, the other passengers. Who to invite to Mexican wrestle, films about dentistry, what qualifications Lashes needs to be a vet slash stuntman. Fingers is anxious. It's his default state. Currently he's anxious about his future career:
"Je sais toujours pas!"
"It's ok. You're six. Honestly, you have plenty of time to decide what you want to do when you grow up".
On it goes - how many times you need to turn the key in the lock, why wheelie suitcases are a good idea, 800 reasons why I should get them a new comic book - we stagger off the tram in a messy caravan of bags and coats and wander up the road. Fingers hangs off one of my arms and jumps. Lashes walks zizagging, stumbling, precariously, his head full of stuff. We walk along the street, lighter and busier every evening at the moment, turn right at Neuhaus. Fingers puts his hands out for the keys and sprints ahead. Lashes ambles beside me chatting. When we reach the front door, Fingers is still struggling with it. He can't quite do the third half turn yet. Give him a couple of weeks. We go in to see what fresh atrocity the weepette has perpetrated on papery things.
And so it goes, every evening, except imperceptibly it evolves.
Over 7 years ago I was rushing out of work and sprinting through Liverpool Street station to pick up a sweetly furious baby up from nursery in the evenings, red and raw with eczema, having to stop as we walked along Chiswell Street to Barbican tube and take him out of his pushchair as he rubbed frantically against it, making his back bleed. I remember carrying him on my hip, pushing the pushchair with one hand through a morass of commuters. All those steps down to the platform, and his instant, Pavlovian demand for a snack as soon as the doors opened. Feeding him pots of jelly until Great Portland Street. His careful intoning of 'Plaistow' a few months later, and 'Royal National Institute for the Blind'.
Five years ago we were just back from Paris and I was collecting the two of them from that same Spitalfields nursery - a cock of the walk three year old, swaggering around with his gang, and a mad fury of a one year old - a child so small yet so imperious, that walking into nursery and gauging his mood would decide the evening for all of us. Him head banging and me in the bathroom crying? Or a festive screening of 'Here Comes A Digger?' A last-ditch ice cream run to Patisserie Valerie, or a roll around the grass in Folgate Street? I never knew until I opened the double doors and spotted him, uproariously cheerful, or flushed and angry.
Three years ago I would walk into the gulag every evening in holy terror of what story of un-Soviet behaviour would be reported to me, praying we could avoid another trip to Stalin's office for remedial parenting lessons.
And now, this. My pockets have been filled, variously, with rice cakes, plush animals, plastic lizards, diggers, Pokemons, Gogos, Xenox warriors. Always a hand snakes out to bestow a gracious fistful of rubbish on me. But always a hand or two sneaks out to grab mine too.
Sometimes routine feels like it's burying you alive. Sometimes, like today, it makes sense of everything.