Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Advice, write it and in-laws.

1. She has come for some advice on being a writer. I tell her I'm really not the most successful writer there is, but I've found keeping a blog helpful. The useful things I have learnt from other writers come tumbling out; and as I tell her, I remember what it is I love about the art and craft of stringing words together. I hope she writes to some proper writers, and that answering her questions makes them remember why they do this awful, frustrating, painful job.

2. "I'm a Shakespeare dork," she says. I really hope she starts that blog.

3. Nick's sister and niece and great-nephews drop by unexpectedly. The niece and great-nephews haven't met Alec yet; and I haven't met the littlest great-nephew, so I'm very glad to see them. The biggest great-nephew and his smile seem to be in four different places at once, and he is determined to see all over the house. He tells me that my name is Great-Aunt Nick.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bath, line of bibs and settling.

1. I run a bath that goes up to Alec's neck. It's more for something to do than for washing. He lounges against my feet, held securely between my calves, and marvels at a braid of water leaping from a jug. He slaps the water with his hands, blinking at the drops in his face. I blow bubbles larger than he is -- my grandmother taught me how to make them through the ring of my thumb and finger. I wonder who taught her?

2. At breakfast Alec used the last of his bibs. I put a wash on, and then out on the line. By lunchtime they are dry enough to use again.

3. Alec gets in a rage about his last feed and then won't settle. I sit on the edge of the bed and bounce until he quiets. It feels really good, and I can see why he likes it so much.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book's in, another Clare and mocha.

1. An email from the library to say a book I reserved is waiting for me to collect it.

2. The librarian says: "Oh, your name is Clare, too." She says that she's named for County Clare. I don't know what I'm named for -- but there were always at least three other Clares and Claires in my class at school, so it was a popular choice that year.

3. My one weakness is mocha from a coffee shop. I should look away when they make it, though, as I'm  disenchanted to see them using chocolate powder to make it. I don't know why -- I always enjoy it just the same.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Swing, little house and pyramid.

1. Alec is hanging in the baby swing, wide-mouth grins between gasps at the wind. "First time?" asks Linda. How did she know?

2. I've been enjoying the Chelsea Flower Show coverage on the BBC -- Alec has spent a lot of time feeding this week, so I have plenty of sofa time to fill. I was particularly charmed by a Korean garden, Hae-Woo-So (Emptying One's Mind), which won a gold medal. The designer, who looked very composed and elegant, burst into tears when the BBC presenter who told her the good news, bowing and expressing her joy through an interpreter. The presenter talked a little about the garden's quiet dignity, pretty summerhouse and naturalistic planting. A later show went a little further, and explained that Hae-Woo-So means going to the loo, and that the shack was a toilet. I fell a little more in love, and there is more information on the RHS Chelsea website about the spiritual practice of going to the loo.

3. After supper, we are all sleepy. We all three sit on the sofa propped against each other in the fading light.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Travellers, observant and maple syrup.

1. Heather has come to have lunch with us all the way from London, where she is staying with her husband's cousin on her visit from Canada. I am so touched that she has come to see us, just on the strength of Three Beautiful Things. She is lovely -- as comfortable and as kind and as wise as I imagined from our chats.

2. Heather brought us a thoughtful, observant bag of presents -- the bag itself is decorated with a photo of the sour sweeties that I craved while I was pregnant with Alec. There is a book about a young sheep who wants to do his own thing (which I hope will inspire my little lamb). There is an insulated cup to preserve me from the new mother's cold tea. There is a book for me-- "If you like to read cook books, you'll love this" -- by Edna Staebler, who I am very glad to meet, as she is very much my kind of food writer. She is both chatty and curmudgeonly and her comments and annecdotes are scattered between the recipes like marginalia scribbled in a cook's notebook.

3. We eat a lot of live yoghurt here -- it pleases Nick's temperamental digestive system -- and tonight we pour genuine Canadian maple syrup over it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Four years, anniversary gift and swaying.

1. Four years ago today, I was brave and went to a wedding all by myself, and I got talking to a handsome grey-haired man who could spell Cthulhu and bought me a bacon sandwich. After that, we both had to be brave together and leave behind our familiar old lives -- and look where it got us. And happy anniversary to Tim and Rachel, too.

2. Alec doesn't wake for his 6am nappy change and feed. He is still sleeping at 7am when Nick gets up. I scamper downstairs to bring the milk in and get breakfast for my husband. Then there is time for a potter in the garden -- watering and cutting back wisteria shoots that are reaching for the washing line. It's still quiet when Nick comes down, so we eat our breakfasts together; and I wave him off from the door, just like in the old days. When I go upstairs, Alec is wide awake and chuntering happily to himself. An excellent anniversary present, little man.

3. We walk back from the park by way of the fish shop. While we are waiting, a mother with a sling comes in. Alec is peering over the top of ours; her baby is scrunched up and tiny. "A week old," she says. Swaying like trees in the wind, we chat about how fast they change.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Get out of here, bargain ball and seeing someone.

1. I've got to go up town, but Alec has worked himself into a howling frenzy and I'm too embarrassed to leave the house. I've tried feeding him but he pushes me away. His nappy is dry. I put him in the sling and walk around the kitchen, but that just makes him even more angry. Finally, with Alec's tears of rage running down into my vest, I decide to brazen it out -- if anyone asks, it's just a phase. As I turn round to lock the door, the crying stops. He turns his head and falls asleep.

2. One of my baby books suggests that Alec might like a beach ball to play with. The Early Learning Centre has an inflatable football for £4.99. There is nothing but ghosts and cobwebs in my purse, so I pass up this opportunity. But then in the wonderful Jeremy's Home Store, I find a traditional diamond pattern ball for 79p. The book was quite right -- Alec's face lights up at the sight of it. He then gets so excited at the way it rolls away when he kicks it that I have to put it away.

3. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named comes by and coyly announces that he has a girlfriend. I think he's rather disappointed that I hadn't noticed his unusual activities on Facebook. I'm quite disappointed that I hadn't spotted this development, too! I'm pleased to see him so happy, and to hear him saying some of the things that I said about Nick -- mainly that it's surprisingly easy to be with this person.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Working from home, lunchtime and a windy day.

1. Nick wakes up, stretches, and says: "I think I'll work from home today."

2. A devoted godfather spoons pureed courgette into Alec's eager gob.

3. On a bright and windy day to walk under a willow tree and see light and shadow writhing on the ground.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Seven, lettuce and game.

1. On the way home from our second trip to the food festival, we meet Plutarch on his way down there. Nick says with satisfaction: "We ran into seven separate groups of people we know."

2. It's as if my lettuce bed has burst into green flames.

3. Nick's to do list for the weekend included sequestering himself in his attic to open a new game. Last thing, he announces that he is going upstairs to say good night to it, I decide that I'd better go and see for myself. It is based on the Battle of Borodino of 1812. He shows me the counters, which are printed in the colours of the different uniforms. Apparently, the corners of each counter were to have taken the colours of the men's socks, only a small-but-vocal faction of gamers who clip the corners off their counters put a stop to that idea.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Festival, mussels and it's a phase.

Remember that purple sprouting broccoli I picked last week? Well this is where it ended up. Nyummies.
1. We walk down to the Pantiles to see the food festival. It's rammed, and buzzing. There are dozens of stalls,  selling local produce (strawberries, asparagus, cob nuts) and home-made goodies. People are perched on every surface in sun and shade to eat from foil and cardboard trays. We make our way from end to end but are distracted by demonstrations, free samples and -- this being Tunbridge Wells -- people we know (or people who know people we know).

2. While I was pregnant, I often thought longingly of mussels -- that soft orange meat, and the bitter sweet salty seaside taste. A huge fragrant bowl of moules mariniere haunted my dreams; and my hands trembled every time I passed a moules frites blackboard outside a pub. But what with all the excitement, I never got round to eating any after Alec was born. We run into Paul V and Katie. They have saffrony paella. "Have a mussel." Don't mind if I do.

3. Evening is turning into night, and Alec's gums are troubling him. We pack him into the sling and take him round the park, hoping it might settle him. One of the yoga mums is sitting on a bench with a book and a bag of chips. She says that her baby -- she was born on the same day as Alec -- has been grizzling all day, chewing and dribbling and not settling. "I've left my husband in charge for half an hour," she says. We commiserate and say that this too will pass.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Forgiven, first film and hill of beans.

1. I lost track of the time. I know we won't get there in time for our lift, so I message Emma and apologise. She calls back and offers to come and get us. "Don't worry, you've got a baby," she says.

2. Our multiplex has a Friday mothers and babies screening -- they lower the sound so as not to upset the babies, and the raise the lights so the mothers can see to get muslins and Snorgle-Dogs out of their bags. We go to see Pirates of The Caribbean, and there are only about seven other mothers there. We sprawl across pairs of the best seats; feed or talk to our babies and get up to walk about as the fancy takes us. Alec looks astonished at the giant faces before him; and grins and crams a fist into his mouth whenever the theme music plays. He seems to have a bit of thing for adventure film soundtracks.

3. I drain a tin of kidney beans into the sink. The grains in the water make a pattern of dusty rings spreading outwards.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sitting up, our own practice and bun.

1. "Ohhh, good sitting, Alec," say the mothers around us. "Look at him, pulling up" and "He's even doing it with distraction." He still has to hang on to my finger for balance, but he is suavely confident enough to suck on the other hand all the while.

2. Alec lost interest before we got to the leg-lifts part of the yoga class, so I was feeding him while the other babies were giggling at horsey rides on their mothers' legs. Later in the day, in the privacy of our own home, we give the exercises a try. I guess this is what our teacher means when she talks about 'your own practice'.

3. A soft and spicy raisin bun covered in thick white icing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Commentary, not a miss and poor Sophie.

1. From his vantage point in the sling on my chest Alec crows out a loud and clear commentary about parked cars, horse chestnut trees in flower and gas men popping in and out of holes in the road.

2. We miss the train by four minutes. I'm sort of thinking it might be because the lady at the bakery and the lady at the check-out wanted to chat to Alec, and I feel a bit resentful. Then we run into Becky -- what are the chances of that, so far from home -- and I'm very glad we were held up.

3. A rubbery squeak from downstairs suggests that Nick has just sat on Sophie the Giraffe.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Attention-seeking, going on giving and the bathroom.

1. I'm having a rubbish day, and put a sorry-for-myself status on Facebook. This shameless piece of attention-seeking gets a pleasing amount of sympathy. Of course, it's not a card I play often...

2. Nick brought home freesias on Thursday. The buttercup yellow trumpets at the tops of the sprays are beginning to collapse into soft wrinkles; but new blooms are opening on the tips.

3. I have had enough baby today. He's been lying on me all afternoon, and then feeding and feeding and feeding all evening. Finally at 10pm he stops, milk dribbling out of the corner of his mouth. I hand him to Nick, seize my book, dash into the bathroom and run myself a bubbly bath.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Water baby, fiction at short notice and reassurance.

1. I am fully expecting Alec to hate swimming. The cold water, the new experience, the undressing and the echoing acoustics will all drive him into a misery and a rage. However -- it turns out that he is more resilient to cold and racket than I thought; and also, he loves being towed about the pool on his back and on his front. He thrashed his arms and legs around in a way that looked a lot like swimming. He felt pretty bouyant, but I didn't dare let go of him. I'm going to try and hold him in a more neutral way next time to see if he floats by himself. And the look on his face when we sung a nursery rhyme that he recognised -- pure bliss.

2. Two older women in a charity shop: "Look at this! D'yer think your William would like a golf club cleaner with an electric brush?"
Without missing a beat, "No. He told me this morning he didn't want one."

3. Overheard at the bottom of our road -- a middle-aged man, rather shyly, says to a middle-aged woman: "I feel reassured to hear that from someone like you."

Monday, May 16, 2011

PSB, 50s progression and meringues.

1. "Come and see what's in the garden." So we walk up the hill with a colander and gather purple sprouting broccoli for lunch. "Just the ones you can snap off. The others are too tough to be worth eating."

2. All the women in our family learnt the piano with varying degrees of success. Rosey and I decide it's time to Alec had a go. We sit side by side on the bench -- Rosey has Alec on her arm, so she takes the bass part, and I take the treble and we play Heart and Soul.

3. The mother's meringues are crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. "Oh, you know, I had to use an egg yolk in the moussaka, so I thought I'd better use up the whites."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pancakes, two or three handfuls of hair and sub.

1. To cook pancakes for breakfast and pile them up on a warm plate in the top oven. I have fallen in love with Abel and Cole's recipe.

2. I come across a quote in from Lewis Carroll's letters which made me smile wryly. My hair is falling out in clumps -- this is normal after pregnancy and I had plenty to begin with so it's no cause for concern, but I so dislike finding it wrapped around my baby's fingers and in his clothes. Anyway, Lewis Carroll says in this letter quoted in R. L. Green's The Book of Nonsense:
"And I like two or three handfuls of hair; only they should always have a little girl's head beneath them to grow on, or else whenever you open the door they get blown all over the room, and then they get lost, you know."
He also likes mustard with beef spread thinly underneath, and salt with some soup poured over it to keep it from being too dry.

3. "Can I borrow £3.50 to buy this?" We have strayed into an antiques fair, and Nick has found a pamphlet on wartime railways. Normally I scrounge money off him -- because I am disorganised and rarely think to use a cashpoint when I am passing one -- so I feel very pleased with myself when I am able to help him out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Empty beds, unattended and whistling.

1. Alec is having his morning nap. I could go and have a shower... or I could stay here and read my book.

2. I discover that I can play the penny whistle while holding Alec on my knee. He is intrigued to hear his current favourite tunes (Darling Clementine and Wind the Bobbin Up) coming from a new source.

3. The beds in the park's formal garden are empty -- unwrinkled, neatly tilled soil. I'm imagining the plants stayed out all night (when Davs closed, they ended up at someone's house and then it got so late it was early, and now they are having a very late breakfast in a cafe).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Face to face, baby and round number.

1. "Do you mind watching him for a moment?" She props her baby on the other side of our yoga pillow. I can see him smiling at Alec. I can't see what Alec is doing -- possibly staring severely and looking like his dad.

2. Anna says: "Oh your house smells of baby!" I wonder briefly if it's the nappy bucket she's smelling; but I assume she'd be too polite to mention that.

3. The bill comes to a round number, and everyone has the right change.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Distracted, the future and on the move.

1. Three injections is just too much. But the nurse clicks her pen and Alec stops crying.

2. He's only a fortnight older than Alec, but his limbs are longer and he holds himself as if he knows what he's doing. He looks at me strangely when I try to arrange him as I would Alec. I feel as if I've zoomed forward in time.

3. The other mothers say "Cheer up, Alec, you'll be on the move soon." By the end of the street, he's done a loud burp and calmed down.

4. The house is pretty much as Nick left it this morning. But I know I was right to spend the afternoon feeding and holding Alec, rather than putting him down to do chores.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Change of air, the trade and waiting.

1. In a place with cold air con, to stand near the door and feel the real spring air.

2. To walk with a more experienced mother and talk shop.

3. There are days when we wait for rain. Today we are waiting for poo. Alec is starting to try solid food, and he hasn't done one for several days. It comes just as Nick walks through the door, and it is catastrophic -- all parts of the nappy, clothes, the bouncy chair and me. I don't need any help clearing up -- but I'm glad Nick is there to see how hard I work!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Working, simple pleasures and coming home.

1. My mother comes and plays with Alec for a few hours -- I sit and write. I feel like myself again. Once she leaves, though, I'm glad to be a mother again, though.

2. He's easily pleased, that Alec. A paper bag keeps him occupied while we get lunch. You can shake it, and wave it, and when you squeeze it, there's a scrunchy noise. Then you can drop it on the floor, and people will come and give it back to you.

3. I wonder where they've got to? And then I hear the gate clang.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Three-in-a-bed, too much of a good thing and oxalis.

1. Early morning feed. We're all on our sides. Alec and I lie facing each other. Nick lies behind me, warming my back.

2. Alec's having the time of his life, waving his limbs and blowing raspberries while shaking his rattle. But now his movements are jerky and out-of-control, and he laughs, but it sounds desperate, almost a sob -- "Help me, I can't stop". Too much of a good thing, baby boy? I pick him up and cradle him. "Norgle in," I tell him, "and here's a finger to suck. Sshhh, sshhh, sshhh."

4. The oxalis bulbs have each pushed up a leaf -- three-lobed, limp as flags on a still hot day, acid green with a splash of offal purple.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A new skill, Emma and saving bacon.

1. ...and we suddenly realise that Alec is blowing raspberries.

2. Alec is asleep in his basket. Nick is baking a pie. I have 15 minutes to spend with Jane Austen and Emma.

3. It turns out that the pasta bowl I painted during my hen do is pretty much the same size and shape as the dish required for the West Country ham and egg pie that Nick plans to bake tonight -- I'm glad I remembered it before we bought a new one. Then, in the butchers, we spot trays of ham off-cuts -- these are thick and chunky, unlike the sliced ham we'd intended to buy; and they're cheaper, too. The pie is a thing of beauty stuffed with whole eggs, delicious ham and a chive custard. His first attempt at rough puff pastry is very respectable.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Breakfast downstairs, sweeping up the wisteria and teether.

I've been a bit laid back with the Roll of Honour, but here are April's new additions: Correspondence Quarter, Three Blessings TodayMama Blah Blah, 3 Little Things and Three Beautiful Things A Day. Do go and check them out, and please let me know about your own 3BT adventures.

1. Alec is quite brisk over his morning feed, so we join Nick downstairs for breakfast before he goes to work.

2. Swish, swish, swish. My mother is sweeping up wisteria petals.

3. We watch Alec's face intently. What is he going to do when he discovers that his new teether vibrates? He soon works it out, and applies himself to gumming down hard on it. "It's something he can control," says the mother.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Compliment, books and carrots.

1. The health visitor breaks off from advising me on feeding: "Oh, he's gorgeous."

2. Getting Alec his first library card, and choosing some books to take home.

3. Carrot purée goes down well with the three- to six-month demographic. Alec takes the spoon from me and (after a few misses) gives it a good gumming. He throw it, lipped clean, to the floor to let me know he's ready for more. I have a second spoon ready. His chops are faintly orange for the rest of the day.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Produce, transforming and beetroots.

1. When a friend asked if I would recommend our veggie box scheme, I gave her an unreserved yes because the produce is delicious and lasts the week and the random selection encourages us to eat more greenery. She ordered, and was kind enough to mention my name; and so they sent me a free box. This kind of open-handed generosity makes me like Abel and Cole very much indeed.

2. Poppy's eyes are turning from blue to brown. It's such a strange thing to see a person whose eyes are now blue and now brown that I can't stop looking at her. I rattle Alec's lion to get her to look up. She smiles coyly at me.

3. I chop one of the beetroots into a forkable salad dressed with balsamic vinegar. Its colour and the rough angles remind me of the dirty garnets I dug out of the roadside during my trip to Pakistan in 2001.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Mulch, scooter and dad.

1. Wisteria petals have fallen on one of my pots and dried crisp (we've had no proper rain for weeks). The purple has faded to sad indigo. I brush them off. Another layer, half rotted, comes off in a slab. Underneath green seed leaves have pressed out of the still damp soil.

2. A little girl wafts past me on her scooter. Her mother trots past, carrying a Miffy bag and a tiny coat. Further up the street I pass the mother standing still, holding the scooter. The little girl is crouched in front of an estate agents' -- she's counting plastic ducks in the window.

3. There's a cry while I'm eating. Nick goes up. He comes down a little while later -- alone. "He just wanted a finger to suck."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Kneading, muffins and batter.

1. I am still getting to know bread dough -- I'm looking out for the silky texture I'm supposed to achieve by kneading. I'm noticing the way it changes under my hands from a mix of ingredients to a single object, podgy and quite definitely alive.

2. Popping muffins out of citrus-coloured silicon bakeware.

3. The secret to toad-in-the-hole is so simple -- get the pan shimmering hot, and then pour in the batter.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Aunt, goldfinches and parenting.

1. Rosey has some Alec time -- she hasn't seen him since the day he was born. He's asleep in his carseat when she picks us up from the station. "I still haven't seen him with his eyes open," she says. He makes her wait until we get home. (Picture by Ronayne Grant)

2. "Those goldfinches... they're stealing my dandelion seeds," says my father balefully eyeing the flock of bright red and yellow finches on his lawn. It makes me think of the residents of the Cape of Good Hope who complained about penguins -- jolly, comical penguins -- digging up their lawns.

3. A small boy sitting a few seats down on the train chants "I've got a willy, I've got a willy." He gets a short lecture from his dad about things one can and cannot talk about in public. I smother a laugh, but a smile leaks around my hands. The boy looks past his father at me and rolls his eyes.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Literature, campaigning and up town.

 1. Godfather Tim brings a copy of Each Peach Pear Plum ("I'd never heard of it, Rachel said he should have it") which was one of my favourite books (the reason we don't have it yet is that I know it off by heart). Later, at storytime, Nick reads it to Alec, pointing out the tiny details that make the pictures so magical.

2. Tim and I roll up a new character for Tuesday Knights -- we're going to have a go at playing by post (email, technically), as I can't make the monthly campaigning nights. Once our guests have left, Nick and I take Alec round the park and discuss backstory. Of course, dear old Cthulhu gets a name-check.

3. I put on a new dress, a pair of high heels, my last pair of good tights and a bra that most certainly wasn't designed for nursing and, leaving my boys with a bottle of expressed milk, set off up town for an evening of sushi, gossip and a single glass of cold white wine.

PS: Nick says I forgot to mention on Thursday that one of my beautiful things was him spending two days locked in the attic working on the household accounts to find enough spare change to buy his wife a new dress. The dress, which comes from East, is a particularly good find because it's made from thin jersey and I can breastfeed in it if I wear it over a vest. Also, the blue matches my wedding shoes.