Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grown, watch the baby and good work.

1. I come home from work at lunchtime and get a proper hug from Alec. He seems heftier, some how -- more barrelly around the chest. He's been feeding and feeding, but surely he can't have grown that much in three hours.

2. My mother comes into the kitchen to see how supper is doing. "Watch the baby," she says to my father. "I can't do that!" he says. "Just make sure he doesn't fall off the sofa," she tells him.

3. I've mentioned before, I think, how my first manager used to say to me at the end of the day: "You've worked well today, Clare" (if I had, I  mean -- she wasn't the sort to hand out praise that wasn't deserved). Today, when I turn off the lap top and tell Nick I'm going to bed, I feel I can say it to myself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thank you, blowing and fried sausage.

1. To pick out a box of chocolates to say thank you.

2. To make Alec laugh by blowing in his face.

3. Frying thin slices of sausage until they are crispy.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A piece of England, crimson and blackberries.

1. Nick is standing under an oak tree watching cricket. I am picking blackberries. It's raining. Nick says later that this is England summed up -- all we needed was some Vaughan Williams playing in the background.

2. I love the broken crimson of bramble leaves when summer is wearing thin.

3. The sweet wild smell of stewing blackberries.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Up early, kissing and going down.

1. Alec is up early, unlike his poor old dad. I dress quickly and take him out for breakfast at a cafe that I like very much but normally avoid because it's not baby-appropriate. Since it's so early for a Saturday, we're the only people in. Alec sits on my knee and we share my porridge -- I feed him using the vintage teaspoon from my hot chocolate.

2. There music on the Pantiles this weekend -- Local and Live organised by Paul Dunton, who is like Beau Nash for the 21st century -- and we go along to enjoy the spectacle. We park Alec up in his pushchair and while his attention is elsewhere, do some kissing -- it is a festival, after all.

3. I hear Alec cry, and I go upstairs, meaning to soothe him back to sleep. But he won't go and he won't go and he won't go. So I bring him down and feed him on the sofa in front of the TV. It's bright and noisy, but he settles and relaxes in a way that he couldn't upstairs in the quiet dark, and finally falls asleep.

Review post: All Tea Towels

Recently Al McCarvery of All Tea Towels got in touch to ask if I would like to do a review of some tea towels from his site. He has developed his business out of a passion for collecting tea towels. Well, of course if you've been reading for any length of time you know that I am fond of domestic minutiae, and you don't get much more domestically minute than tea towels.

I'm also a complete sucker for people with a passion for work-a-day objects -- there's nothing like talking to a collector to help you find magic in the mundane.

Al has some gorgeous designs in his shop, and I could have picked out a trousseau's worth if I'd had a mind to. Both my choices are gorgeously printed and luxuriously large. The Scandi folk art design (right) is cotton and the anemone is linen -- I selected one of each fabric in the interests of fairness. I've never been a huge fan of linen tea towels -- my mother has one with a 1978 calender on, so I know they are long-lasting. But my experience of them has been that they just move water around without actually drying. However, being a tea towel expert, Al offers some advice on his site about the correct seasoning and care of linen tea towels -- and having followed his instructions, I now understand the linen love.

Al has some other interesting tea towel tips -- he suggests using them to wrap presents, which is an idea I like very much (except that I'm cross I never thought of it in my quest to cut down on throw-away consumables). You could match the design to the gift -- perhaps this one for a bottle of wine, or this one for spring bulbs.

He also says they make excellent security blankets for small children -- you can pick a design depicting whatever they are into, and maybe buy two or three so you can sneak one away for washing. Alec was using the anemone to play "Where's the baby?" within moments of the package being opened, so I think we're on to a winner here.

I would also consider some of the botanical designs for stitching -- my Di Van Niekerk embroidery is printed on to a tea towel.

Since looking around All Tea Towels, I've been peering into our kitchen linens drawer and wondering if it's time to cull the torn and stained towels, just so we can stock up again with designs that will make us smile every time we use them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Smiler, main course and rainbow carrots.

1. She is busy with a baby and a toddler in three places at once, but she still takes the time to comment on Alec's huge smile as I take him round the pool.

2. I am ravenous -- the baked potato with cheese is very welcome indeed, even if I have to share it with Alec. It's strange to think, I tell Godfather Timothy, that when we first started meeting you here, Alec was eating cubes of puree, and now he's eating off my plate. Soon I'll have to start ordering a separate dish for him.

3. This week Abel and Cole sent us a bag of rainbow carrots, white, orange and yellow -- they look great in fingers at the bottom of the casserole dish.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hallo, pretend money and bookcrossing.

Sarah Salway has posted a 3BT-style diary of her travels in Vancouver, in which she doesn't burn down Canada.

1. Alec has a day of people making a fuss of him. I've got errands in various offices -- a visiting baby always breaks up the work a bit; but also people in the street smile and wave at him, or come up to say how happy he looks.

2. A knot of very tiny children are blocking the gate into the park. "You've got to pay to get in," they tell me. I explain that I've spent all my money on sweets. "Pretend money," they say. Luckily I have lots of that, so I pay for myself and for Alec, and for several people behind me, with crisp pretend £50 notes.

3. My aunt has been trying bookcrossing as part of her 60th birthday challenge. Someone has commented on her blog to say that they found one of her books. How lucky is that -- I've crossed lots of books and not a single person has reported a 'find'.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First issue, on the floor and what we're missing.

1. There is one copy of the first issue of our magazine in the office -- it's amazing to see it in real life for the first time.

2. I come home to find my mother and Alec playing together on the floor.

3. We talk about the Alec things that we miss while we're at work. "His smell." "The weight of him." "Stroking his hair." "Rubbing his cheek against mine." "His hands plapping me on the cheek."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All to myself, chippie and getting words down.

1. The morning feed: to rub Alec's back and have him all to myself.

2. The Mother has brought home some fish for supper. I leave it poaching in milk and herbs and take Alec up to the chip shop to get the carbohydrate part of our balanced meal. Chips make excellent finger food, it turns out.

3. I've got to write my column tonight, but I have no idea what to say. I sweep the floor, and mop the floor, and by the time I've put the chairs back down, I know just what I want to put.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time apart, appreciation and re-united.

1. The fact that I am going to be away today (though I'm coming home for lunch) makes me appreciate the morning time with Alec. While he has his early feed, I tell him that Granny Nane will be looking after him today. I tell him again at breakfast. I think it sinks in -- he seems very pleased to see her when she arrives.

2. We all get an email thanking us for good work.

3. When I get in at lunch time Alec wants a feed right away. My mother makes me a sandwich which I eat over Alec as he lies across my lap. At the end of the day, she brings a cup of tea into the sitting room where I am sitting under Alec once again. I am glad she is there to look after Alec, and I'm glad she is there to look after me.

3b. He has taken to sitting upright with his legs around my waist. We can look into each others eyes, but he never stays there for long, because he keeps smiling and losing his latch.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Helpers, milky and slop.

1. We find a copy of Shirley Hughes' Helpers in the library -- it's one of the books I had when I was little (my mother is big fan of Shirley Hughes' illustrations). I borrow it on Alec's card... and I'm sure he'll enjoy it very much, even if it's not chewable.

2. Nick is listening to the cricket. It's a slow moment because they are discussing the colour of the sky. "...I would say it's milky, rather than white..."

3. Mashing potato into gravy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Not a monster, halva and beans.

1. Alec is wearing a bib which reads: "Milk Monster". Two traders on the Pantiles and the lady in the Polish shop say this is not the case at all.

2.  Part of our haul from the Polish shop is Russian halva made with sunflower seeds. It sounds a bit odd -- and frankly, possibly second best to the normal kind of halva, which is made with sesame. But it's surprisingly nice, because of course, sunflower seeds have their own soft, nutty flavour.

3. Homegrown French beans for supper -- only about six of them, though. They were so crisp and snappy that I didn't need to top and tail them with a knife.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Water, it's a phrase and siblings.

1. To get the hell out of here and go swimming. The computer is at home, and the phone is in a locker. It's just Alec and me bobbing about in warm, chlorinated water.

2. Overheard: "Sorry for disturbing you, but the till's gone Pete Tong."
"?"
"Pete Tong? It's a phrase. It means pear-shaped. It's gone Pete Tong. It's a phrase. I'm very disappointed in myself, but the till's gone Pete Tong."

2b. My brother carrying Alec in the sling.

3. ...and I turn to see Rosey dropping silent footed over the back wall. She picks up her nephew from the doormat and norgles him.

4. We are all sitting squashed up on the sofa watching Ceebeebies bedtime hour. Alec lolls and squirms and rolls and falls from me to Rosey to Robert and back again. I hear the gate, and Nick's key in the door. He comes in and says: "It's a family!"


PS: Speaking of Godfather Timothy, he passed me Moira Young's Blood Red Road -- it's a fantasy romance about a tough, lion-hearted girl searching for her twin brother across a post-apocolyptic landscape. I'm enjoying it very much, and would recommend it. It's written in dialect, which some people object to, but Moira Young has worked it very skilfully, and I think it brings the heroine to glorious, prickly, grumpy life.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The caption, lucky baby and what is needed.

1. It is satisfying to be asked to write a 20-word caption because the asker is more confident in your ability than their own.

2. The man at the next table stands up to go. He says to us: "That's a very lucky baby -- cake AND boobie."

3. "I'm distracting him," she said, getting up and taking herself downstairs. It's true that Alec was not settling into his goodnight feed -- he kept coming off, looking up, going back on, coming off, looking up. I appreciated -- I always do -- the way she saw what was needed and did it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Getting on with life, waving and the gift.

1. I take Alec up the hill to the office -- the work needs doing, and I have no childcare today. He sits in the sling and I give him a cloth book to proofread while I work off the screen. Apart from slapping the keyboard once or twice, his behaviour is exemplary. I do the work and walk home again. When more work comes in, I return -- several times. I don't suppose I'll be able to do this once Alec is stronger and heavier, though.

2. "He waved at me just now," says the production editor when I tell him that Alec doesn't do waving yet. Perhaps he did -- he's acquiring skills all the time now, and it's hard to see what he's up to sometimes.

3. I come back from the NCT meet-up to find a gift of vegetables and herbs on the doorstep. There is no message -- but they are in a bag from a particular delicatessen that is favoured by that keen and kindly gardener Plutarch.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sleeping late, for babies and keeping track.

1. This morning we can sleep late because Nick is working from home. I love to roll over and lie deep and warm under the covers with him at my back.

2. I take Alec to the stay and play session in the children's centre. I like to bring him to a place specifically designed with babies in mind, with all sorts of exciting toys that he doesn't have at home. He isn't impressed by the crocodile puppet, or the donkey, but a striped Muppety creature makes him grin like a loon.

3. Nick has been tracking Alec's growth on a graph of his own devising. He reports that our baby has increased his weight by 15 per cent in the last two months!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

To the office, raspberries and beanstalk.

1. This is an odd thing, but I'm very glad to be going to an office to do a morning's work, in peace and without interruptions for nappy changing or toy retrieval or cuddling.

2. A box of squashily ripe raspberries -- homegrown, because you'd never buy them this ripe and meltingly sweet.

3. Great heavens, look at my beanstalk -- there are beans on it! I never quite believe things will grow for me, and when they do, it seems like a miracle.

Monday, August 15, 2011

White cat, it hurt and a small pleasure.

1. A pretty little white cat in a pink collar is waiting by the back door. "You can't come in," says Grandad -- but I think he wishes he could invite her in for a visit.

2. Nana tells me that she turned her foot on the way to the shop. "It hurt," she said, and I'm about to be sympathetic when she continues: "and that must mean the feeling is coming back." This time last year she was in hospital with Guillain Barre, so we are very pleased for her.

2. Grandad has been telling us how he cleans the kitchen floor every day. Alec shows his approval by lolling over on to his tummy and licking the tiles.

3. "Bye bye, darlin," says Grandad peering into Alec's sling. Grandad is a curmudgeonly sort, much troubled by a sad old world, and I am so pleased and proud to have brought a thing to delight him, and a thing that I have made as well.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The right time, go away and another day.

1. When the edge of a pancake starts to come away and turn lacy -- it's time to flip it over.

2. Nick gives me and Alec five pounds to go away and leave him in peace so he can have a nap. We sit in an empty coffee shop, share a piece of cake and wave at people walking past the window.

3. It's Saturday but I keep thinking it's Sunday -- and then I remember and realise that I still have another day of weekend.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Looking over, shaved and tiramisu

1. In the morning I like to wake up and look across to Alec in his cot. When I call to him, he rolls over and gives me a smile through the bars.

2. We come home to find that Nick has been to the barber, and now looks more like Alec than ever.

3. I've put two plates out for the tiramisu, but I look at Nick, and he looks at me; and then we move our chairs close together and spoon it straight out of the box.

Routine, green pea and got it.

1. The garden gate clangs. Alec lifts his head and looks expectantly at the door. I wonder if he thinks Nick is home? It's only the postman, though.

2. Pea and mint purée -- it's so delicious, fresh and green that I have some too.


3. I pick up my sewing, which I've hardly touched since Alec came along. I'm on the wisteria section, and there's a lot of stem stitch. I've never got the hang of it, and I think that might be why I've been so unwilling to proceed. I'm looking at it despondently when I remember a box about stem stitch in my beautiful 19th Century Embroidery Techniques. I bring the book down (it's been up by my bed for evening reading), and this explanation finally nails the technique for me. Stem stitch is a real fundamental, and just about every embroidery book includes it, and many kits that I've used as well -- but it's never clicked. It's happened before with other techniques, too. Isn't that the perfect excuse to build a library?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My cake, venison and Spencer.

1. I buy a sticky chocolate cake to console myself, and take it home to eat while I'm feeding Alec. He's not as occupied as I thought, and he steals the last mouthful. With one hand holding him and the other covered in chocolate, there's nothing I can do, and he smirks at me over his sticky chops.

2. Alec tries venison for the first time -- and he seems to like it, pureed with a few carrots and some quinoa. I have the same -- but not pureed. I'm glad it met with approval, because I'm fond of game.

3. We watch a documentary which covers the work of Stanley Spencer. The presenter comments that Spencer's work is all about joy, which is not in fashion at the moment. This strikes me as a telling remark about the times, and about fashion. I hope joy comes back in during my lifetime.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not lost, late message and a new toy.

1. While hanging out the washing, I find a small item that I thought was lost.

2. I heard my phone go, but I was feeding Alec and it was on the other side of the room; then I forgot and something else came up, and I don't check for a couple of hours. It's a message from Nick to say that his office is closing at 3pm. He'll be home in less than an hour.

3. One of my hippy mother books suggests putting small items in clear plastic bottles -- Alec can have a good look but not swallow them or stick them up his nose. He already has a squash bottle with pearl barley as crude rainmaker -- but the visual aspect hadn't occurred to me. While he is asleep, I drop pasta shapes in an apple juice bottle. He makes straight for it when I put him down among his toys.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hot tea, other mothers and burlesque.

1. Breakfast is so slow these days that I get to drink my tea while it's still hot.

2. I run into one of the NCT mothers in town, and we go for coffee. I've been neglecting my group recently, and it was... it was actually a relief to catch up.

3. I run into Mr Lockhart -- which is good, because I've been wanting to congratulate him on his Sketchy Burlesque. It's an evening of... performance art, with a drawing class thrown in. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

Nip, wheel and courgettes.

1. To nip a sideshoot off my tomato plant.

2. To let Nick have a go with the pushchair -- even though I have to share, I love having him home at the weekend.

3. I fry Joe's sunshine yellow courgettes with slices of lemon until they are sour-sweet and sticky.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The speech, waiting and an hour.

1. We've been waiting for da-da and ba-ba -- but Alec starts with mum-mum-mum. I don't think he's using it to refer specifically to me, but it's very pleasing.

2. I stray across to the parenting books -- since I don't have a baby in my arms I can browse without guilt. When I look up, Alec and Nick are sitting on floor waiting for me in a pointed fashion.

3. At 4.20pm, when my work is finished, I put some books in my bag and say bye bye to my boys. I nurse a bitter orange cake and a hot chocolate and lose myself in 19th c. embroider for a whole hour.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Snortle, beans and rescue with red balloon.

1. I push Alec in the swing and he does a snortly laugh, that makes me laugh, too.

2. It's a day of doorbells. Joe has brought us a bag of tender broad beans and lemon yellow courgettes, which we enjoy for supper. The first time we met in real life, he gave me runner beans -- it was about this time of year, and I reckon this is the post. I think I forgot to show you this post of Joe's, by the way.

3. It's on the calender, but I've forgotten that Caroline is coming round in difficult hour between the end of the afternoon and supper. She has a red balloon for Alec, and we are both pleased to see her.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Mollified, bell and on the bed.

1. I come home to find Alec sleeping -- my resourceful mother mollified him with a teether, a drink and a biscuit. When he wakes up he's very pleased to see me.

2. Anna tells me about an installation in Folkestone -- a bell on a cable that you can, just about if you work together ring. "And this is what nearly made me cry about it -- it came from a belfry up north and they had to remove it because it was discordant with the other bells."

3. We've had a busy day. During the bedtime feed, Nick comes and lies beside us on the bed. And after I've placed the sleeping bundle in his cot, we cuddle up and whisper together in the twilight.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Beetroot, getting out and teenagers.

1. Blush pink beetroot came in the Abel and Cole box. I cook two of them -- they turn creamy white with bright white concentric rings. I slice the others -- they are like sweeties, ice white with candy pink rings. Magic.

2. At the end of the afternoon, once the sun is less harsh and the day's pages have been proofed, I take Alec to the swings.

3. Four teenagers are wedged into the baby swings. “There’s some actual babies coming,” says a girl in flawless make-up and on-trend florals.
“There’s no way I’m moving, even for actual babies,” says a boy with a pointy fringe. He waggles his lanky skinny jeans legs so that the swing ends up caught round his thighs. And then: “Actually, how did you get out?”

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Pattering, I'll do it and strawberry.

1. During breakfast, I am startled by a pattering noise. Oh god, oh god, the ceiling is leaking, we're going to be flooded. No, my mistake -- Alec has turned his cup upside down and is listening to the falling water.

2. Alec is chumbling a piece of carrot round his mouth at the end of supper. It's not going anywhere, and it's not getting any smaller. "Let mummy get that for..." he clamps his mouth tight shut. "You really don't want..." he turns his head away and reaches for his cup. A quick slurp of water, and the carrot is gone.

3. Our first strawberry -- looks perfect hanging like a red lantern among shade-cool green leaves. Tastes a bit... disappointing. But it was our own.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Clap hands, secret cupboard and meeting the train.

1. Last week, while I was working I was vaguely aware of my mother telling Alec "Clap hands, here comes Charlie." I didn't really think about what it meant -- until I noticed that he's clapping. If you've never spent time with a baby, you probably won't appreciate that. But he used to wave his arms around, and bring them together stiffly. Sometimes his hands would meet, sometimes not. Now he's deliberately clapping -- and looking very proud of himself. And if you clap back to him, oh my goodness, the joy!

2. She says that to amuse her husband's nephews last summer, she pretended to get texts from the Ministry of Magic to say that there were chocolate coins in the secret cupboard.

3. Supper is finished early, so we go to the station and meet Nick off the train.

Monday, August 01, 2011

To and fro, serene and tiny trousers.

1. Ellie and I are swinging. When I am to, she is fro. "You're in perfect opposition," he says.

2. She tells me that the mother of triplets at school had her specially adapted pushchair stolen. "She's a better person than I am -- all she said was 'Someone must have needed it more than I did.'"

3. Alan takes Alec's little plus-fours off the line and inspects the stitching. "Someone's thought about this -- look at the pleats." I'd thought they were just a cheapy-chirpy pair dumped at a charity shop -- but perhaps they're a real find.