Friday, September 30, 2011

Away, Blue Lamb and balloon.

1. The mother takes Alec off in his push chair and I lie down for an hour.

2. "Hallo! Hallo!" The nursery nurse comes racing after us -- we've forgotten Blue Lamb.

3. There is a hot air balloon flying low over Mount Pleasant. The passengers are waving at us as we hurry home across the ground. I stop to show Alec. All around us people are lifting their phones to the sky for a picture.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Good company, falling asleep and coming to bed.

1. The afternoons are still long, and in this indian summer, they are very beautiful. We spend ours in the park with some friends.

2. Alec makes it clear (by biting me) that he's had enough milk. We lie down on the bed together and he twangs the straps of my vest and chatters for a while. At last he falls silent, and all I can hear is his breathing. I lie still, count 100 breaths and then lift him into his cot.

3. I've gone to bed early to sleep off my cold. I like to half wake up when Nick gets in beside me.

PS: There's a new Canterbury Index out, and I've got a story (and Alec's got a picture) in the Tunbridge Wells edition on page 27. We used Chris' layout for the Halloween pages across both editions because the team liked it so much.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Indian summer, black bream and taking over.

1. ...And just when we had given up hope, we get our summer back. The forecast for the next few days is sunny and crisp.

2. The fishmonger says of the black bream I am about to buy: "They're in good condition -- got a lot of fat on their bellies. They're getting ready for winter.

3. Nick comes home and takes over.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bless you, bacon rolls and into work.

1. The taxi driver says to me: "Oh bless you" -- he was being sympathetic. Nick remarks that there's been a lot of blessing this weekend -- the waitress last night blessed our grumpy Alec in a similar way.

2. Our bacon rolls come, and they are in floury buns.

3. Nick finally gets the chance to show off his son at work. Alec behaves pretty well, and gets plenty of compliments and adoration, and also the opportunity to gum on a Scooby Doo desk toy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Growing, pudding and blessings.

1. Saiya comes to the door wearing a royal purple dress with silver trim. It's nearly two years since we saw her, and she looks so grown up -- but she's still funny and cheeky and wise. Vishal (it's his day) has grown too. "He's six foot," says his father proudly, "and I'm only five eleven. And we got him a new suit for school..." he lists the sizes as if he is slightly dazed by the wonder of it.

2. When I ask what the pudding is, their grandmother explains that it is made from carrots and almonds. "With condensed milk, and cooked until it is dry, and then add the sugar."

3. As he leaves, the priest looks at us, does a double take at seeing these two (plus a small one) people who are clearly not Sikh, and says "Blessings!"

4. Just as the rain starts to really come down, we spot a bus shelter up ahead.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Travelling, conkers and park.

1. Our journey -- from train to bus to train to taxi -- has gone without a hitch. There were no delays, and no panics.

2. There are so many conkers that it's hard to avoid treading on them, and hard to resist picking them up (but I know that Alec would just want to suck them, so that helps me to leave them alone). At first we are worried because there are no boys picking them up, but then we meet a grandmother and grandson with double handfuls; and later see a mother and two sons picking their way through the damp grass outside our hotel.

3. The receptionist tells us that there is a park not far away. We follow her directions, and just as we are feeling lost, we spot a flash of bright red and yellow at the end of the road, and hear children's voices. The park is a good one -- it has gym equipment for adults; a zip wire, a stack of huge stones and a wild rotating swing for teenagers; swings for Alec; and climbing frames, earthworks and a fake treehouse for everyone else.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Husband, done and escape.

1. Another rough night, and a tough day ahead. When the alarm goes off I can't bring myself to be a mother. "Take him away and stop him whining," I tell Nick. And my husband does this, goes into work late and laughs about it when he comes home.

2. My work on the magazine is done. I can relax for a few moments before starting work on next month's issue.

3. I tuck the latest Interzone into my travel bag. The stories will provide a few hours of escapism, and perhaps one will stick around for the rest of my life.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reassured, joke and everything stops for tea.

1. I ring the nursery, and they say: "He's a different child today. He's settled down really quickly, and we've had a play and looked at the books."

2. This joke popped up on Facebook. I've been laughing quietly at it ever since:
How many sub editors does it take to change a lightbulb?
Too.

3. To stop everything in its tracks because Alec wants a feed.

PS: We're going away for a few days to visit family friends. Back soon with catch-up posts.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Red berries, chivalry and zippers.

Before I forget -- the Oxfam bookshop here in Tunbridge Wells has a brilliant window display. It's all the strange things people have left tucked in donated books: cards, letters, bookmarks, bills, even some sheet music. Have a look if you're down that way.

1. Half a hundred starlings spring from a rowan tree, top branches stripped of berries.

2. He picks up Jane's pushchair -- and son -- in his arms and carries it up the steps. "'E's used to it wiv 'is own li'tl boy," says the girl walking behind him. At the top of the steps he wheels it over the bridge -- there's a  swagger in his step, so I think he felt good about it -- and carries it down the other side.

3. Three tiny school girls on their way home at lunchtime. The zippers on their grey tunics are silver flowers.

Tooth, biscuit and paper bag.

1. I am chatting to Anna when I feel a sharpness on Alec's gum -- his first tooth. Later he lets me look -- it's as tiny and as bright and as sharp as a new moon on a frosty night.

2. She leans past me and says to the grandmother with a crying toddler: "Just give him a biscuit."
"I can't-"
"I've got one if you-"
"-when the other children don't-"
"Just give him a snack -- no-one minds."
And she gets out a packet of maize puffs, he stops crying and no-one minds at all.

3. So I can cook supper without thinking up animals Old MacDonald to farm, I give Alec a large paper bag. When I turn back he has put it on his head.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No inhibitions, nap and nudey kick-around.

1. One of the things I love about the baby is his lack of social inhibitions. Today he was in a shouty mood, and we walked around town with him telling people in a loud voice. I've no idea what he was saying, but he seemed very certain about it. It always makes me laugh -- it must annoy some people, but there's nothing I can do about it.

2. After breakfast and well before we had to leave for swimming, Alec went down for a nap -- in his cot, not on me. And then around teatime, he made it clear that he was tired again, and I had a whole hour in which to do whatever I wanted -- a bit of work, as it happens.

3. There was a nappy incident during supper, and as it's not long until Nick comes home for bathtime I put Alec on a towel for some nudey kick-around. He waves his legs and arms, shouts and laughs and rolls and wriggles, I think enjoying the feel of our bedding on his skin.

Dealing with the muffins, cordial and dealing with the baby.

1. My batch of muffins is a total disaster -- they have sunk and the crumb is a wet grey sog. Nick says: "Shall I get rid of them?" The next time I come into the kitchen, they are gone and the tray and the cases are waiting to be dried up.

2. Elderflower cordial with fizzy water.

3. It's been half an hour since the baby went to bed, and I'm just getting into my work when I hear Alec cry. I push the chair back and wonder tiredly (and meanly) when my baby will learn to put himself back to sleep without a mouthful of milk. But Nick says: "I'll go." I hear footsteps, a grizzle, more walking and then Nick comes back down: "He's asleep, but I don't know if he'll stay." But the rest of the evening is peaceful.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jump, give me that disc and toffee apples.

1. Alec laughs when I jump up and down to adjust the sling. He is a bit of a thrill-seeker, I'm afraid.

Picture by Paul Viney
2. Spotting PaulV across a crowded room at a launch party. As he is a photographer, he turns up unexpectedly at all sorts of random events, and of course I'm always pleased to see him -- but this time I know he has a disc of pictures that I am particularly keen to get hold of.

3. I smell apples and  remember the pan I left on the stove. Nick leaps up and saves the day with a bit of water and some quick stirring. "They're a bit brown," he says doubtfully. But when I come to taste them, they don't seem so much burnt as caramelised.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

White, cat and honouring our marriage vows.

1. Very soft white bread and butter.

2. Discovering another thing that makes Alec laugh -- saying "Miaow".

3. We drop Alec off at nursery for the afternoon. When we get home we eat cake, have a nap and take a bath.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Parcels, carer and Nick cooks.

1. It's a day of parcels -- two for Nick and two for me. One of them is a long-awaited cook book all the way from Canada.

1a. A woman passing us in the streetsays to me "What a beautiful necklace." I look down, puzzled, and realise that she means Alec in his sling.

2. We take Alec to nursery for his first proper session. He takes one look at the nursery nurse, squirms out of my arms and gives her a hug.

3. Nick takes over cooking dinner so I can give Alec a catch-up feed. We have noodle soup -- cheap quick noodles in homemade chicken stock and bright finger-food sized vegetables for Alec.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fish eye, still here and take a break.

1. Jane has an fish eye mirror above her fireplace -- it makes me remember that I used to pass an antique shop with three in the window, and I coveted one. Perhaps I still do.

2. Anna says: "You weren't expecting me to still be here, were you?" I could do with going on the mac that we share, but I have my laptop, and I like working with someone else nearby.
...
"That story about Unicef saying that our children were all materialistic because we didn't have time for them? I asked my daughter what made her happy, and she said: 'Mummy, Daddy and Germany.'"

3. Nervously we take Alec out to a restaurant for supper. It's his first time, and we go to one that we wouldn't mind not returning to, just in case it all goes embarrassingly wrong. It's fine, though -- Alec sits up in a high chair and eats bits off our plates -- though he's too excited and interested to eat much. We're all finished in less than an hour, so he doesn't have time to get bored. It was so good to take a break from washing up and cooking.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sleepers, spotted and rattle.

1. I come home from work and find my boys asleep, side-by-side in our bed.

2. "I recognise you!" I tell her it's from the post-natal class she ran. But she says she's seen my picture on my Courier column.

3. They've saved for Alec a plastic Horlicks jar, which is just the right size for his hands, and apparently of a pleasing smoothness for plapping. And they've put a peg inside so it rattles, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Raspberries, chain of command and a quick feed.


1. It's stupid o'clock. Alec has woken for his feed -- not just a little bit, but a lot. I give him both sides, but he's still wide-eyed, chatty and wriggly. I walk around with him, rock him, cuddle him. My head is heavy and my eyes are drooping but he doesn't get the message. I put him down between us and encourage him to help himself to milk. The last thing I remember is hearing him blowing raspberries in the dark.

2. As we are getting out of the pool, we run into a friend and his small girl. He says: "Our childminder called in sick, so I rang work and told someone else they were in charge, and I get to go swimming instead."

3. We stayed too long in the pool, so Alec is tired, overwhelmed and hungry. There's plenty of time, so we sit in a changing cubicle and I feed him off to sleep.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bigger is better, the engineer's advice and amuse bouche.

1. This was a near-disaster, but I can't help laughing at it. I left Alec in his high chair playing with a muslin and went to make my coffee. A swoosh sound made me look back: Alec had pulled the oil cloth off the table and was using it to hide under. Judging by the delighted giggling, size does matter when you're playing 'Where's the Baby?'

2. The steam train offloads an engineer. Slowly and deliberately, pace by pace, he walks down the platform with us, hat in hand, head tilted back and hair sticking up in the heat. He tells us: "With boys, one word from the mother can make all the difference. With girls, it's the father. I don't even realise sometimes with my girls, and my wife says to me 'Ouf, you've said the wrong thing. Go and sort it out.'"

3. Making a few amuse bouches before supper -- a tinned oyster on a Ritz cracker spread with soft cheese.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rugby, landlord and developing.

1. I stray into the sitting room where the rugby is on -- lots of substantial men in tight shirts.

2. The landlord comes and fixes our bathroom tiles and the drip under the sink -- what a luxury to have someone cheery and competent to do these things for us, and someone who cares about the house, too.

3. A noise upsets Alec. I show him that it's just the vacuum cleaner, but he is not convinced, and it takes a good drink of milk to calm him down. Later, he spots it standing in the kitchen and won't be soothed until I've put it away in the cupboard. Poor manlet -- what a trial for him, but how clever he is to remember what made that scary noise.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nursery, the meeting and noodles.

1. This time, I leave him at nursery for 20 minutes. I leave the sling and the nappy bag with him, so he knows I'm coming back and explain where I'm going: "I'm going to drink hot chocolate without someone putting their fingers in it, and you're going to stay here and play with the toys." When I get back, he is being carried around one of the nursery nurses. He was very good, they say -- except when they tried to wash his face after snack time. Which sounds like my baby.

2. "Which mat do you... Oh, it's you!" I run into an old school friend in the baby room at Fenwicks. We've been bumping into each other for years and promising to meet up, but never quite managing to do it, though we still enjoy each other's company. We go for lunch, and properly swap phone numbers this time.

3. If my spirits need raising, there's nothing like the sight of Alec with some noodles. He also gets a laugh out of me demonstrating how to suck them up.

The blonde, feet and nibs.

1. A tiny person with blonde curls, a red and white blanket and sleepy eyes totters out of the nap room, followed by her key worker.

2. Alec is sitting on a bench in the wendy house. I turn away for a second and when I look back, he is on his feet and looking very surprised.

3. Crunching on cocoa nibs in dark chocolate.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Reader, junk and a good long feed.

1. Alec wakes before us and grumps from his cot in the corner. Nick and I just want to doze through our last half hour together before the day begins. I bring Alec into bed with us, but he squirms and won't feed and is even less restful than when he was in his cot. Finally, as a joke, I sit him up at the end of our bed with his animal book. It's bigger than his lap, a board affair. He opens it on the pets page, leans forward like yogi to kiss (or possibly lick) the puppy. He sits back up, slams the book shut and lets it fall open on the crawlers page. This time the spider gets a kiss. I lie down, and he continues to open, lick, shut until the second alarm. Peace.

2. We look down at our babies playing on the floor. "All these toys and they're fighting over yoghurt lids and playing with bottles full of pasta."

3. At the end of a busy day, to sit down and give Alec a good long feed with no distractions.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Can't smell, look of a blogger and coffee cake.

1. I have such a cold -- I can feel the peppermint oil on my pillow cooling and clearing my nose, but I can't smell it.

2. It's been a chase across town in the rain -- but I spot Mr London Street in the Corn Exchange. I know it's him although I've never seen him before because... well I don't know how I know, but I do. Perhaps bloggers have a look about them.

3. Once the baby has gone to bed, we have the last two slices of that coffee cake. I can't taste it now -- except the bitterness and the sweetness -- but I can remember how the first slice tasted yesterday.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Tales, pincer grip and work experience.

1. For my birthday Nick gave me the second Tales of the Ketty Jay book -- The Black Lung Captain. I know that he enjoyed the first of Chris Wooding's swashbuckling diesel airship pirate caper, so I'm looking forward to discussing this new instalment with him. I've watched Firefly since reading the first book, and these books are more of the same but with enough differences to make it interesting. The crew of the Ketty Jay are less wholesome and more haunted than the Fireflies; but their internal battles are handled with as much skill as the external battles -- which are frequent, splattery, and often funny.

2. Alec spots a fragment of last night's cabbage on the table beside him. He picks it up, examines it and then drops it on the floor. He --sometimes -- picks things up between his thumb and finger, rather than trying to use his entire hand.

3. I settle down to work on my listings and discover that the work experience girl has done a better job than I realised, and got further along than I realised, too. I wish I'd thanked her more and better.

Sleeping on, our neighbourhood and soother.


1. I hear Nick's alarm go in the attic at 6.30am -- he'd promised last night to come and take the baby away so I could have a lie-in. But the baby is sleeping, and I am too dozy-dazed to push for a shift change. An hour later -- which is much more civilised time -- we all wake up. Then Nick comes down, and I am left alone to catch up on my sleep.

2. "Ohh, what's that arch?" wonders Becky. She and Scott are former neighbours and they've come down for a walk and coffee. A morning spent with them has put a pleasing shine on streets and views that we have allowed to turn dull with neglect.

3. A mug of honey, hot water and apple juice for a sore throat.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Better in the morning, yeast and in bed.

1. It's been a rough night -- Alec has a cold, and has been burning hot and feeding every hour. But now morning is here, and he is cooler and laughing at all his normal amusements.

2. We ordered in the wrong kind of yeast, so I've been baking bread by hand for the last fortnight. I've always used a machine up until now, but when Grayson Perry came round he made a remark that needled me rather, about using a machine to do a craft.* I opened my mouth to say that I never hand baked because I didn't like the feel of dough -- but then I thought that this was not an argument I wanted to have with a potter. Anyway -- the more I get to know dough, the more I like it. I've discovered that the sticky feeling that bothers me so much wears off as you knead. I've discovered that arms that spend all day hefting a weighty baby are equal to kneading -- and that it only takes ten minutes of hard work. Then there's a bit time to go and do something else, before the pleasure of punching down the sponge and hearing the bubbles pop.

3. I'm so tired, and it's going to be a difficult night -- but I do like having Alec as a warm bundle in bed beside me. He feels needy and pathetic and just wants to be held. Under normal circumstances he wouldn't be happy in with me -- he would roll and wriggle and squirm until I put him back in his cot.

* In one of those ah-ha moments, I discovered that GP has curated a show at the British Museum on the unknown craftsman.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Adoration, our summer and trying to stand.

1. An elderly lady with the sort of white, soft hair that I want to touch: "I couldn't leave without saying how adorable they are." Alec and the twins look up at her wide-eyed. Later a man comes up and guesses their ages (incorrectly -- they're eight months, the same as his new grandson). And still more later, another grandfather is laughs at Alec's clapping ("We've got a sealion here!" and leaves his own granddaughter hanging disappointed in the next swing along.

2. Finally... one of those long, hot summer days that feels as if it will never end. The park is full of ice creams and wasps and we cluster in the shade. We're all wearing jeans because it looked a bit dull this morning.

3. At the library I kneel up and sit Alec on my knees. He keeps trying to stand -- and the librarian smiles at him. At the end, she says: "He's already got a sense of rhythm."

4. The table in the toddler's play house is just the right size for Alec to practise standing. A boy who might be four climbs in through the window and leans across the table and examines him. "Not too close, Zack," says his mother. "He's got a new cousin of seven months and he's absolutely smitten," she explains. I think Zack is being very good -- and Alec seems rather taken by him. They have a conversation about cake and tea (I have to supply Alec's part, but I like to think I am qualified to say what he would have said.)

Friday, September 02, 2011

Tiny cakes, up to the park and good night.

1. The mother and Alec have brought back tiny fairy strawberry fairy cakes and flapjacks from their morning shopping.

2. At the end of work, I walk up to the park to meet them. I feel like a dad instead of a mum.

3. As I am adding milk to Nick's tea, I hear him call down the stairs: "Little man bagged and a bit cross." I put the mug by his plate of sandwiches on the table, and go upstairs -- quietly -- to give Alec his last milk.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Design, gardening and refusing.

1. Chris the designer has gone to town on our lead feature for the October issue. It looks great, and there's a bit of a buzz in the production room. We're worried about what the publisher is going to say... and then the email comes back: he likes it.

2. Everyone is in the front garden when I come home. Alec is lolled in his pushchair, very asleep; the mother is filling a black plastic sack with weeds.

3. He's been turning his head and making a tight line with his lips every time I offer the spoon. I put his meat and potatoes to one side and start eating some fruit and yoghurt... and suddenly he's interested.

PS: This is what all the fuss has been about -- I'm working as acting editor of a new magazine.