Monday, September 15, 2014

Going ahead, bedtime story and Alec's beautiful things.

1. I went on ahead up the hill with Bettany in the pushchair, slowly and steadily, while Alec and Nick stopped for a look at the fire station. After a long, slow walk I stop and glance back. There's no sign of them. The pavement is blocked by a lorry and some workmen. I wait, talk to Bettany. The jam clears. We wait some more. Then remember that Nick has my phone, my keys and my purse. I turn round and set off back down the hill, getting crosser and crosser because I can't call to find out what's going on and I can't even give up and go home. They are still on the fire station forecourt -- but when I hear that they were offered a tour and that Alec wore the station officer's helmet, sat in an engine and had a go with the hose I find it is easy not to be angry.

2. To sit in bed with just Bettany snuggled up to me. We read Each Peach Pear Plum (she thinks it's all about dogs and ducks. Alec at the same age thought it was about trains).

3. And finally, a word from our sponsor. Alec said that his day was good because 1. Sugar! (we had icecreams at the park and biscuits for afternoon snack). 2. He visited the fire station. 3. He watched Steve Backshall on telly.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

BFF, bug hunt and conkers.

1. We are touring the new building at the nursery -- Bettany has been playing with Nick quite happily, and then she spots a member of staff that she knows well but doesn't see often and it's all 'ALLO-ALLO-ALLO!' until he comes over to see her. He picks her up to show her the mirror and the fish. When we have to leave I reach out to take her but she screeches and clings to his shirt. Little beast.

2. Alec's bug hunting equipment: a toy frying pan, a plastic sandwich bag, a plastic spade and a whistle. He likes to hide behind a tree and blow the whistle. When I find him, he asks 'How did you know where I was?'

3. To put a few conkers in my pockets.

Feeding the fish, watched over and lemons.

1. We have been deftly evading Alec's questions about feeding the fish (there is a sign asking us not to for the good of their health) when the tropical ranger appears with a bucket of pellets. He warns us to be careful of the sturgeons, which are as long as Alec as is tall, because they splash.

2. While we are lined up on the garden path with all our baggage Linda-next-door puts her head out and says she is just checking we weren't strangers stealing the veggie boxes that she noticed on our step earlier: "I was going to take them in for you," she adds.

3. To walk into our own kitchen -- it smells, for just a moment, of lemons.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Enthusiasm, owl and bike.

1. Sometimes (several times a day) I am tempted to grab Alec by the ears and tell him to cheer the hell up and stop complaining. It is so early, before 7am, and I do not know if I can summon the double cheerfulness required to sell the activity that I, with much thought and consideration, have picked out for him. 'It's mini jet skis,' I tell him, bracing myself to defend the £5.50 20-minute session with every last volt of my willpower.
He smiles in the grey light and says 'Yes!'

2. The moment when The Mighty Thor appears: he is a very young and vocal burrowing owl who scampers across the woodchips on legs that are much too long for his fluffball body.

3. I am sad to be returning our rented bikes -- but I am glad my last run is with the trailer only lightly laden (one sadly unloved child's bike with stabilisers and pedals that 'go round too fast', instead of my two fat, bossy offspring). I thoroughly enjoy whirring through the woods along smooth cycle paths.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Buoyant, slides and kingfisher.

1. 'A red one, like the coastguard,' says Alec about the buoyancy aids. He is suddenly much more confident and talks about rescuing me from the wave pool. We head for something called Lazy River, which turns out to be a sort of circular corridor with a current. We whirl round several times clinging to each other and very excited. On the fifth rotation we pass an elderly lady clinging to the rocks by the entrance. 'They've taken the rope away,' she calls to another lady bobbing past. Grab my hand!' She's still there on our seventh time round and I think her friend was not trying very hard to escape.

2. 'You go and have your swim,' says Nick gently but firmly. I leave him getting the children changed and scamper off to find the water slides and the rapids. I had forgotten how much I love waterslides and feel like a naughty school girl when I scuttle back up for a second go, and join a group of hooting, stamping men in their early twenties on a horrible thing called a water piste which dumps you very fast and suddenly into deep water.

2b. The nervous stout party who I came across at the bottom of the first slide in the rapids -- she was clinging to the rocks and wondering about getting out. While I was bobbing around in the current she announced decisively that she had come this far and... oooops, down she went towards the next pool.

3. Nick reports that in the pond behind our lodge he saw a kingfisher, not just the usual flash of blue but actually a kingfisher perched on a dead branch.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bolt, spa and my evening.

1.This is the morning of my spa session. I bolt out of the lodge as soon as I can and race down the hill on the bike without the trailer -- I would have gone faster still if it weren't for the pesky zig-zags in the path. It's mostly boardwalk, which makes a very satisfying dumpety-dumpety noise. The spa still wasn't open so I ran twice round the lake to make sure I deserved my morning off.

2. The spa is everything the brochure promised: it has about... fourteen (I'd lost count by 10am) different sorts of bath. I lounged warm tiles, on hot wooden slats, breathed steam scented with fresh rosemary, ylang-ylang, eucalyptus and salt, floated in an outdoor pool, scrubbed myself with ice and bounced on a waterbed.

3. To be able to pour a glass of wine and sit down with my husband not much after 7pm.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Anchors aweigh, ducks and butterflies.

1. To be loaded up and setting out.

2. I am rather horrified to discover that there is a pond not far from the end of our unfenced garden -- but then  Bettany shouts 'Duck-duck!' They, and a single moorhen, are quite happy to snap up bits of bread end from our hands.

3. To spot red and white admirals in the patches of evening sunlight. They are most interested in a plant with fuzzy discs of ointment pink flowers that I have an odd feeling is distantly related to cannabis.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Forecast, going down and a list.

1. To look at the weather forecast and see that next week will be fine.

2. The children are asleep -- finally -- and we can have a chocolate.

3. To draw up a list of the things that can only be packed in the morning and then go to bed.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Disengage, sign and detail.

1. I got up earlier than I wanted to this morning. It is wonderful to hand over to Nick and totally disengage myself from the tangle of children, washing, everything.

2. Bettany approaches me and makes sucking noises. "You want some bub?"
She smiles broadly and lays a finger beside her nose.

3. To get some small but important detail about our holiday. It sends us into a delightful frenzy of planning and speculating.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Magic carpet, things to eat and mothering skills.

1. To be swept up by our friends and whisked away into the deep Sussex countryside on a visit. I like this particular friend because we both speak nineteen to the dozen -- mainly about work with words -- and I never feel as if I ought to be polite and slow down for her.

2. Diana's garden is full of good things for our children to eat. I crack nuts with my teeth and hand the kernels to Alec; I lift Bettany up to pick white grapes from the vine. I am sent off to find "a collapsed tomato plant in a tyre", but the seeds from our haul are running down my greedy baby's sleeve by the time we get back.

3. I am astonished and awed to see Diana's daughter-in-law arrive with a baby on one arm and a bouncy chocolate brown puppy attached to the other -- that's some accomplished mothering going on there.

4. Bettany bites the back of my leg as I reach up to put something in a larder. I read the riot act and put her on the doormat. She doesn't seem to understand but sits there so patiently and politely that I want to melt, but of course I can't because biting is becoming habit of hers and is about as serious as it gets in the infant world.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Guilt, sympathy and serendipity.

1. My mother calls to say they are just having a coffee on the High Street. "Don't let Alec have anything to eat so close to lunch," I tell her, but I can almost _see_ her shifting guiltily from one foot to the other. Alec arrives home later and with an air of great virtue hands me half a blueberry muffin.

2. I was very grateful for the sympathetic look I get from nursery's deputy room leader as I thrust a furious Alec at him.

3. To walk into one of those secondhand bookshops with unnatural geometry and put my hand on exactly the volume I didn't know I needed (and to realise they have a sale on). It's one of countryman BB's memoirs, decorated with his deep, dark scraperboard illustrations.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Boletus edulis, new shoes and deep sleep.

1.Our cleaning lady mentions that the mushroom season is coming.

2. To put Bettany in her new shoes and let her march importantly about on the Pantiles.

3. Late in the afternoon Bettany falls asleep on my lap on the sofa. I don't often settle her there any more and it reminds me that time is ticking on.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Adventurer, more and back to the table.

1. To sit on the manicured, mannered lawns of Calverley Grounds while Alec pretends to be wildlife expert and adventurer Steve Backshall catching fish for his supper (I am pretty sure the real man would not crawl into his mother's tent if he found a spitting cobra in his sleeping bag, however).

2. My greedy small children gobble up their suppers and ask for more, more, MORE please.

3. I made it back to the Tuesday Knights table and had a thrilling night helping to explore a very trappy dungeon. We rather surprised Gamesmaster Tim by responding to a wandering bear by hanging back rather than charging in with axes raised. And he introduced an innovation: each of us was asked to recount an incident from our characters' past. The reward was a card that gave us a useful bonus to be used later in the game -- and even this tiny bit of roleplaying reminded us just how much investing in your character enhances the fun of games night.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Autumn days, cuddles and eating.

1. We get out earlyish to take Bettany to nursery. The sky is clean and clear and the air is cool --  now it's September I can enjoy the start of Autumn rather than feeling sad that Summer is all used up.

2. While we are waiting for pudding Alec says 'I like cuddles, give me a squeezy one.' (he is not a particularly demonstrative person, and a lot of our affectionate interactions still involve bub so this request gave me a lot of joy. It means my limits are taking effect and that we are moving onwards and upwards).

3. Alec declares that he doesn't like French Toast but later I see him putting the cubes I have given him into his mouth, one by one.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Lunch, appreciation and quietly working.

1. Meatballs in a tangle of spaghetti -- and to remember that, for now, Alec prefers his sauce on the plate rather than on the pasta.

2. Nick's "Ohhh, that looks good."

3. Bettany working away quietly at her lunch. My memories of her are a series of snapshots and tableaus -- very different to the Technicolor 3D THX experience that is Alec.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Retreat, drosophila and star.

1. When I am feeling tired and cross and out of sorts to retreat to the garden with my secateurs.

2. Fruit flies rise up every time I open the composter. Some of them have freckle brown bodies, some black. Some have ruby red eyes. Like the tigery spiders that have stretched webs across the garden I hardly know which way to look.

3. At our sleep time I put the night light on and cover the ceiling in stars. Bettany stops trying to crawl down to wake Alec. She points upwards and says 'Dar! Dar'.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mixing paint, brushing and box maze.

1. 'Look what happened!' says Alec with wonder in his voice. A dab of blue has got into the yellow and streaked it with green. I am glad I was brave enough to get the paints out, just for that. The handprints I set out to get for a keepsake seem like a bonus.

2. Bettany meanwhile is contentedly brushing a smear of red paint around a paper plate.

3. Disorganised me, I forgot to keep an eye on the events calendar so we are surprised by the second of the council's fun afternoons in Calverley Grounds. Alec at first is not keen. But the registration lady tells him that she generally feels that way in the morning but that it's important to jump up and join in. He defrosts. This is good because they have made a sort of tunnel out of cardboard boxes. He shoots inside and holes up in the middle. Children keep going in but no-one comes out. Even Bettany has a look -- I have to pull her out by her leg. I peer in between straining strips of parcel tape and see long hair and long legs. Ahhh, it's full of what he calls 'big girls' (ie, over four).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Handing over, 20 minutes and treat.

1. To hand over my children for the afternoon. Within minutes of shutting the door behind me I feel myself relax completely.

2. 'Someone's turned my wax off,' says my beautician anxiously. 'Can you wait 20 minutes?'
I can. She sits me comfortably up on the couch with a cup of tea and I read my month-old Interzone. Absolutely perfect.

3. While food shopping to remember how much pleasure I get from picking out a small treat for Nick (in this case a packet of sliced chorizo).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Just cleaned, adventure and can't.

1. Nick is off sick, which is not much fun for him but it means that he gets to enjoy the work of the cleaner that he pays for before it gets trashed.

2. "We're in South KOREA going up the river in a KAYAK and this turtle is the bait and we're going to catch an electric ... TIGER!"

3. I'm sulking on the sofa because it's almost the end of my evening and A Certain Small Person has still not gone to sleep, despite what feels like hours of bubby. My nose is buried in a magazine when I become aware of a great effort going on next to me. It's Bettany climbing up to be next to me, her arm wrapped round the middle of a large teddy bear, her sleepsuit feet trailing and smiling so her darling gappy front teeth are shown off to their best advantage.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bounce, no animals and happy noises.

Today we visited Bocketts Farm Park with Great Aunt Janey and my cousin Laura.

1. Alec often asks at home "What can I bounce on?" and I make a vague reply about things at nursery. The first thing we saw at the farm was a large enclosure full of trampolines -- with free access on such an un-crowded day. I peered through the mesh at him and his cheeks were flushed red and his eyes were properly bright.

2. We were supposed to be visiting Marwell Zoo today but the weather was awful so we ended up here instead. Alec, terribly disappointed, announces early on that he will not be looking at ANY ANIMALS and he is pretty much true to his word, apart from when we forced him to join in an animal handling session with a very patient goat.

3. I put Bettany into her waterproof suit, abandon the pushchair and carry her out into the rain to look at the horses and donkeys. She makes all her happy sounds -- mainly the gentle ones rather than the startling shrieks.

4. I walk into the large animal barn and... it's like falling in love: you know when you notice someone in a crowded room and it's like there's no-one else at all there. I discover that the enormous pair of brown eyes, silvery face and huge curved horns belong to Zebedee, a hand-reared zebu (that's a variety of primitive cattle).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Moomins, with you and teleport.

1. Today is really very wet indeed. We spend the morning watching Moomin and Midsummer Madness , an edited, re-mastered and rather carelessly dubbed version of the TV series I loved as a small child. We mostly enjoy it -- it's Moomins, after all, and the story has something for everyone.

Here's the trailer for the film:

and here's an episode from the TV series:

2. "Shall we all go?" asks Nick about the supermarket errand I need to make.

3. Alec was asleep when we arrived so I teleported him into bed and left him there. He sleeps through dinner and chocolate cake full of jewel-like fruit; and he sleeps through Bettany's efforts to wake him up for a play; he sleeps through me struggling to get her down for the night. She is limp and heavy and milky when I finally roll her into bed and lie down myself. And then Alec wakes up. He sits up in bed and looks around the darkened living room with much interest. "Is it morning yet?"

Monday, August 25, 2014

Long shanks, early and fizz.

1. My boy has such big legs now that he hardly fits into the supermarket trolley any more.

2. My parents come unexpectedly early which means that Nick and I can get ready to go out at our leisure. It is rather wonderful to do things like pin up my hair and roll on stockings without an audience or interruptions.

2b. There is a catalogue for the Matisse cutouts exhibition on the coffee table -- I won't get to see the real thing at the Tate Modern, but I'm glad to see what it's all about. I particularly like the low-techness of it: it's essentially large pieces of chopped around papers pinned to a wall.

3. A merry Jane brings round the bottle of fizz once again.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New app, same talk and my age.

1. Alec and I sit on the bed and look through a new app on my Kindle. It's an interactive story book called Amelia and Terror of the Night. It's a charming baby-goth story about a girl and her friends (a tortoise, a cat with wheels and large bear called Teddyteddy) going up against a creature that steals souls. Alec loves it -- we both love it and it's hard to keep myself from dabbing at the hot spots to turn on the lights in Amelia's house and reveal chittering, chattering creatures in the trees. There are stars to collect and bonus content to unlock and even a few two-player minigames. I'm looking forward to tonight when I can examine it closely without being told to stop helping!*

2. We comment again -- we always do when we meet up -- that we've all been friends since we were ten and we're still doing the same things (first comes love, then comes marriage and here they come with the baby carriages containing their second children).

3. Nick tells me that Alec carried a crate of washing downstairs and told Alastair (who is a year younger than him) that "You have to be three-and-a-half to do this".

* Another app that we've both enjoyed is Monument Valley, the strange Escheresque adventures of a silent princess seeking forgiveness. It is not long and it is not difficult but playing it is such a wonderful experience that we've both run through it several times now.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mix, surprise and achieved.

1. I feel such a mixture of things when I see Bettany scuttling off down the path -- worry that I won't be able to catch her, exasperation that I've got to stop picking blackberries and chase her, pride at her walking skills, concern that someone might think I'm a careless mother leaving my youngest to range free.

2. It's so easy to surprise children: I distract them with a fake request for a dock leaf while a pair of chalky dinosaur eggs are being hidden in the grass.

3. We mothers can achieve so much when we work together -- at the end of the afternoon we have seven and a half jars of blackberry jam, two sleeping infants and two rather sticky big children.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kit, a year ago and cake.

1. To help Alec pack a bag with equipment -- we're going on a bug hunt so he needs a zoologist's hat, a magnifying glass, a notebook, insect book etc etc. He loves kit far more than actually hunting bugs and we end up clambering on the rocks.

2. To go walking with a child about a year younger than Alec: it's wonderful to see how far Alec has come along, and it's reassuring to hear another mother saying all the things that I used to have to say (also I can persuade Alec into good behaviour by telling him that he must set a good example).

2a. To have another mother present who will pick up Bettany when I bolt off to rescue Alec from a slightly ambitious climb.

2b. To get a call from the TV engineer wondering if he can come this afternoon instead of tomorrow -- this means we don't have to wait in; and it means a pleasant surprise for Nick this evening.

3. To be able to nip down the hill for a slice of cake from Juliet's and be back in five minutes.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Orangey, difficult hour and new colours.

1. To remember a packet of Jaffacakes in the back of the larder; and Bettany's face when she tries her first one.

2. My cousin Laura and her Nick come round at tea time and stay for the difficult bedtime hour. I am so glad to have the extra pairs of hands -- and to see Bettany giving first Laura and then Nick a beaming, extra-special cuddle; and to hear Alec say loudly "I like Nick!"

3. To put out the new flannels in the bathroom. Alec pulls them all down and puts them in his bath to see how the colours darken when they get wet. He is rather delighted that the label says name of Dad's colour is 'cocoa' and his colour is 'waffle' -- even more so when I tell him what a waffle is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ghost train, paddling and message.

1a. Our first train was cancelled and now there is an announcement that the next train will be twenty minutes late. We've already waited half an hour with two small children so we are thinking of abandoning our trip... when a train pulls into the station with a driver on the phone and HASTINGS on the destination board. We jump on and the guard explains that this was going to be a fast train, non-stop to the coast, but it's stopping in Tunbridge Wells for a few minutes to let people on.

1. "What does she want?" asks Nick. He is down by the edge of the sea and Bettany is in the carrier on his back. She is struggling and complaining loudly. We get her down for a nappy inspection and all becomes clear: She wants to sit on the beach and play with the pebbles. She smiles and smiles and her voice softens with delight as she drops stones on to the rug, clicks them together, waves them around and rubs them on her face. Later she makes the same sounds as we walk among some seagulls.

2. I have to remind paddling Nick that he has no spare trousers or socks.

3. Nick suddenly remembers that he saw "YOU ARE LOVED" written in scrabble tiles pasted on to the subway wall. "I wanted to show you but you'd galloped ahead."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Careers advice, not hungry and money's worth.

1. We pass a block covered in scaffolding and Alec asks what is happening (he has been much interested in playing builders lately). While we are speculating about the tools and the buckets a dusty builder comes out of the side door. He says "This isn't any good. Work hard at school and do something nice instead."

2. At lunchtime I realise that I have not been hungry all morning -- thanks, I suppose, to the enormous cafe bacon sandwich I had for breakfast.

3. It seems that Bettany has eaten a lot of nursery's food (we got her there in time for breakfast) and she has blown out her vest with a dirty nappy: I feel we've got our money's worth.

Monday, August 18, 2014

First breakfast, first out and go ahead.

1. Bettany has been waking and nursing all night and I don't want to deal with Alec's 5am demands for breakfast. I feel bad when he patters off to disturb Nick's sleep; and worse when I hear him calling up to the attic: "I've digested all my supper and now my stomach is empty so I'm very hungry." Rather later he comes pittering back in again and says that Daddy gave him three bowls of yoghurt and some bread and butter "But I only had one bite of that". Then he climbs quietly into his bed and sleeps until (proper) breakfast time.

2. To come round the corner just as the first people are coming out of church. There is a lot of embracing of the vicar and talk of holidays -- the rest of the congregation can't come out without barging past and they are piling up inside the church looking rather tetchy and perturbed.

3. To race ahead in order to get home early so I can make a start on lunch without any children clinging to my knees.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Radio, web and not awake.

1. To cook with the radio on (I'm enjoying Punt PI).

2. The fat bluebottle that has been investigating the washing up has got caught in the spider's web in the kitchen window. I stand staring as the tiny freckle brown spider lunges and feints at its frantically vibrating prey. I feel sorry for the fly, but I won't rob the spider of its meal. The buzzing gets fainter and the spider becomes more confident; and then at last the fly is silent.

3. There was some scrapping over bub, and a lot of determination to "stay awake until Daddy gets back so we can watch Nigel Marven" but eventually Alec rolled over and then Bettany's head lolled and she didn't even wake when she fell off me. When Nick comes in I can show him two children asleep together on the big bed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fishmonger, flannels and waterproofs.

1. I am half-listening to Alec roleplaying with himself: he is both fishmonger and a customer buying the crab claw he asked for as a treat.

2. To pick out an almighty pile of brand new flannels to replace our sorry rag-bag collection (Alec selected most of the colours and did very well).

3. We have our waterproofs so when the rain comes hissing out of the sky and everyone else runs for cover, I am happy to stand and watch while Alec scampers around the park.