Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Company, relief and 1000 years ago.

1. No swimming -- now I'm ill. I put out a cry for company early in the morning: meet us for coffee, please! The call is answered, and Jane braves my cold and joins us for a coffee.

2. Nick comes home early and takes over bath time.

3. I settle into a bath myself -- with the lovely Sei Shōnagon and her pillow book. I float off into a refined world of whispering paper screens and dim light and prescribed colour combinations.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Usual place, out early and turning year.

1. Alec wakes up next to me, looks at my face, looks at the other end of the bed where I would normally be sleeping, looks back at my face and then takes himself off up to the head of the bed -- presumably to check that I'm really not there.

2. "It was nice to be out early," says Nick, who believes that nothing worthwhile happens before ten at the weekend. "No-one was around but joggers."

3. It's nearly spring -- Nick is complaining about the lack of American football; and Time Team is back on.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stick, messy play and a quick recovery.

1. There is something very unappealing about a sticky baby, so I wipe Alec's hands and feel happier. I do think he enjoyed squeezing the jam out of his pancake, though.

2. It's Alec's first parents'... well it's not an evening, because our appointment is at 2pm. His keyworker shows us pictures of him playing with flour. He has a flour moustache in one picture, and another shows him throwing handfuls in the air. Apparently shaving foam was less popular. "I can't wait to try him with cornflour gloop," she says. She also has some... well she calls it mark-making, but it looks like scribbling to me, which he did months ago. I only recently thought to put a pen in his hand and let him 'sign' birthday cards.

3. Poor Alec throws up for the first time in ages. I start clearing up the bedroom -- and myself -- while Nick cleans him up in the bathroom. I image him traumatised by the whole horrible experience, but when I open the bathroom door he is chattering and laughing with Nick at their reflection in the mirror.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Childcare, cuddle break and a good day.


1. Nick is at home sick today, so he plays with Alec while I work. I'm re-arranging a sentence for the third time when Alec comes round the kitchen table. I shove the chair back so he can't reach the computer and take him on to my knee for a cuddle and some milk.


2. While Alec is at nursery, I take a quick cuddle break with Nick.

3. I come to the end of the day, and I feel as if somehow I have been a good mother, a good wife and a good writer.

I had a post today on Fiona Robyn's River of Stones -- What My Baby Told Me About Time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

'Sick' baby, books through the door and a muscle.

1. Poor quiet baby, poor sick, feverish little boy- right, if you're well enough to scoff down fistfuls of cereal and to giggle at 'Where's The Baby' and to kick me in the face while I'm changing your old bot and to wave at me as you disappear out of the kitchen hand-over-hand around the airer, then you're well enough to go to nursery.

2. Skrith. Thud, thud. Skrith clat. That's the sound of our post -- including two new-to-me paperbacks -- coming through the door.

3. In the days when I was Godfather Timothy's housemate -- I was crippled for weeks by a mysterious pain in my right hip. It made me limp, and that messed up my knee and my other ankle, and I finally got help. The GP sent me to a physio who asked: "Is that your pain? Is that your pain? What about that?" And none of them were, so she gave me a massage and sent me home. It recurs from time to time, and I'm more self-aware these days so I understand that it's caused by a tight muscle in my bottom -- but I'm always too shy to ask a therapist to massage there. The pain came back today (strangely, Alec's nursery is above the physio centre and I'm on the stairs when it stabs me right in the leg). Once the baby is in bed, I tell Nick and with good grace and lots of sympathy he does his husbandly duty.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Easy work, brave and the fever.

1. To have a few hours of easy work. I love to write -- but Ernest Hemingway sums it up best: 'There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.' That's what it's like for me, even when I'm drafting a 20-word brief.* Anyway -- the only requirement for this job (apart from 'able to follow the damn instructions') was 'be a native of the United Kingdom'. So I worked and will be paid, but I didn't feel the usual terrors about being good enough.

2. Alec is -- once again -- very brave about his vaccination. The tears are still wet on his face but he is laughing with his granny.

3. After supper, a very sleepy little boy falls asleep in my arms on the sofa. He feels hot and damp and soft and weak when he wakes up, so we give him some Calpol. Then lots of milk while I tell him again about vaccinations and how he's being protected and protecting the poorly children who can't have them.

* Even when I'm writing a postcard. Or indeed a 3BT. It's easier than it once was -- practice practice practice has dulled the pain -- but it's still not what I do for pleasure.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First steps, parcel post and the box of donuts.

1. I am drinking coffee with Jane when Alec takes his first steps without holding on to anything. He doesn't seem to think he's done anything special, though -- he's just interested in getting to the miniature piano.

2. After many trials, I get my parcel into the post.

3. I can't remember if I said last month -- but it's so good to have another woman player (apart from Rachel, who is there looking after us, but doesn't play) at games night. Meredith brings a box of donuts, all different. They are like jewels, particularly the one dusted with gold, and the fuchsia-coloured pearlescent one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wetsuit, sleeper and nose.

1. Photography is not allowed at the pool, but I sneak a picture of Alec in his new blue and gold wetsuit. He started shivering during the last two lessons and has been looking very sorry for himself in the water. So we bought him a wetsuit -- Nick chose the colours because they reminded him of his hero Jacques Cousteau. Alec looks pleased as anything to be wearing it; and is back to his old bold self in the water again.

2. He doesn't wake when our gate clangs shut behind us; and he doesn't wake when I lift him out of the backpack. I put him on the sofa -- packed round with cushions in case of rolling -- and he sleeps on. Once I've unpacked, I join him and enjoy a sleep myself.

3. "...And when I got to the bit where big drops of rain fall on the bear's nose, he pointed to my nose!" says Nick proudly.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Forbidden, shelter and the camera.

1. Alec sipping forbidden squash from Godfather Timothy's glass.

2. This was my first evening helping with the cooking at the Tunbridge Wells Winter Shelter. We had five guests come in for a hot meal, a game of Scrabble and a safe, clean bed, and the Samaritans joined us. A police officer dropped by and while she was waiting for her coffee, she said: "I think you're all amazing for doing this." Personally, I think she's amazing for doing a job I couldn't; and it meant a lot that she took the time to drop in.

3. One of the guests played game after game of table tennis, casually trouncing all comers. By 10pm he had been recruited by the church's team.

4. She showed me the pictures on her camera, and said again: "It's my baby." Then "Will you look after it while I play?" and without waiting for an answer crossed the hall to take her turn at table tennis.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dark skies, Saturday tea and Little Gem.

1. We -- that is all the people in the park -- keep glancing at the sky. It's dry slate grey, and growing darker by the minute. The trees in the park are lit up by the long winter sun, and when I'm not watching the sky, I'm marvelling at each twig picked out against the sky.

2. To pick out cakes for Saturday tea at the bakers.

3. To press down a sandwich and feel the Little Gem lettuce crunch inside it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tour, in charge and pleased to see me.

1. I discover that there are rude things written on the back of the safety curtain at The Assembly Hall. And I get to look in the dressing rooms -- very, very utilitarian, but somehow terribly glamorous in the truest sense of the word. "These are the height of luxury, with air and light, compared to the ones in some of the West End theatres," says the theatre director. "They'd be underground." At the end of the corridor is a view out across the roof of the town hall.

2. "Just going to the loo!" Before I've quite worked out what's going on, Katie has left me in charge of baby Chloe in her pram in the toy department at Fenwicks. I push the pram -- very, very carefully. Chloe looks at me suspiciously and does an experimental fuss. I freeze in front of the pirate Lego. "Shhhh, darling, she's coming back." She senses my fear and ups the volume. "She'll be back any minute." I look around quickly and guiltily and then stick a finger in her mouth -- just like we used to do for Alec. She looks a bit surprised, and then starts sucking.

3. When I go to pick Alec up, he's pleased to see me in the best sort of way -- not in a "Where have you been? I was so worried, I thought you'd never come back. Give me some milk RIGHT NOW" way. It's more: "Mummy! Here you are, and here I am, and we're both here and do you know what I've been doing, look at this, it's got bells and it goes round."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Domestic, list and out of the tool box.

1. I keep discovering little things that Nick did yesterday while we were out -- the wipes box is full of chamomile tea (it's good for nappy rash, but I never seem to have time to brew a cup and take it upstairs). The changing basket is full of clean nappies, all neatly stacked. The washing bin is empty, and clean washing is on the airer.

2. I feel as if I haven't done much this afternoon -- so I write a 'having been done' list (it's a to do list, but in the past tense), and it's long.

3. Alec wanted milk and a cuddle -- but he has had a lousy nappy day, and I wanted him to have a bath. I realised, as he howled up at me from the bathroom floor, that there was a middle way. Which is why I'm nursing him in the bath.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lift, axolotl and ephemera.

Alec fans might like this post by my aunt. And Auntarctica fans might like to check out the latest posts on Rosey's blog.

1. Alec and I get a lift to and from the station from Janey one way and Laura the other. As well as appreciating the lift in itself, it's a chance to chat and catch up and get advice.

2. Darwin the axolotl has a mild, wide smile and black pin prick eyes. His coral pink gills are the most beautiful thing about him.

3. To see on a wall of artist's ephemera a card that you sent them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hands, pie and found food.

1. I call Anna up to clarify a commission she's given me, and she says that I'm a safe pair of hands. "A safe but interesting pair of hands," she adds quickly.

2. The Mississippi mud pie has one slice missing. "That was us," said the server. "We had to try it, and it was delicious."

3. I am sitting in the kitchen chatting to the health visitor when out of the corner of my eye I spot Alec picking up something from under the highchair and putting it in his mouth. I freeze. Do I call him out and risk drawing her attention to it? Or leave it and appear neglectful? She can't not have seen -- he's right at her feet. So I ask him (quite calmly) what he's eating. The health visitor laughs it off: "Something off the floor? Oh lovely."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Love, jackdaws and farmyard impressions.

1. A pair of teenagers lie wrapped around each other on the birds nest swing on the coldest, clearest day of the year so far.

2. The sound of jackdaws -- chack! chack! chack! -- and lying on my back (with Alec giggling on my chest) to look up at them.

3. I'm making cow noises and chicken noises for Alec. I suddenly realise that the mmm-mmm sound he's making is... mooing!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bread, across the world and being good.

1. Lots of soft white bread to mop up the juices.

2. How lovely to come across an Antarctic colleague of Rosey's at a dinner party in Tunbridge Wells.

3. Louise tells Alec he's been very well behaved during dinner. She says: "You let Mummy relax and enjoy herself." That, to my mind, is an excellent definition of good behaviour.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Washing machine, winter tea and apricots.

1. Every time I stuff a load of washing into the machine I think of generations of women with reddened hands, and I'm so grateful for modern appliances.

2. It's a winter tea time -- which means mugs and biscuits in the front room (curtains tightly drawn) and some family TV watching: Timmy Time and The Adventures of Abney and Teal.

3. I love those brownish unsulphured apricots -- they are so caramelly and juicy, like a sweet, rather than a dried fruit.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Baby, boys and the radio.

1. Controversially we gave Alec a small baby doll for his birthday. It is very gratifying to see him bounce it on his knee in the same way that we bounce him -- he looks gleeful when I giggle on Baby's behalf. And if you think that's adorable, you should see him snuggle Baby into his shoulder for a cuddle and a back pat.

2. Susan brings her two-year-old for morning coffee. Alec follows Lawrence round the kitchen and he looks like a boy, not a baby. If he could talk, he would be saying: You know Lawrence? Guess what he says?" and "When Lawrence was here..." and "Is Lawrence coming round tomorrow?"

3. I'm telling Alec's key worker about his new trick. "When we mention the radio, he points at it, and not just to the one in the kitchen, but to our radio alarm clocks, too." And right on cue, Alec points to the nursery stereo.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Buy some new ones, chore time and scribble.

1. I put another pair of tights in the mending pile, and once again hitch up the pair that I am wearing -- they are too big because I've lost weight since buying them. It strikes me that all the tights in the mending pile are a size too large, and some of them need their mends mending. It's time to throw them out and get new pairs.

2. Rachel comes round to play with Alec for an hour. It's wonderful to whiz through the chores without him clutching my skirt. The best thing of all is that I have time to fold the washing and put the airer away in the cupboard.

3. I go to a coffee shop and do some scribbling in one of my neglected notebooks (the last piece in it is older than Alec).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Angry cat, striped and in the dark.

Among my Christmas presents were two books of short stories which I very much enjoyed, so I thought I'd share them with you.

The first is Some New Ambush by Carys Davies, out of the publishing house Salt. It's a strong collection of joyful shorts and short shorts with a fascinating range of voices, faces and places. One of them, Hwang, is near as damnit perfect as short stories go.

The second is Eugie Foster's Returning My Sister's Face, a pleasing book of Far Eastern folk and fairy tales. They are written for a western audience, but the necessary explanations are stitched in so sensitively that the join is invisible. Spirits and humans malicious, mischievous and benign meet and part and meet again. I particularly enjoyed the stories about the snow spirit -- I love to see a writer returning to a theme and giving it a different treatment each time.

1. Alec's current passion is the page in one of his books that shows the shocking sharp toothed face of an angry cat. He keeps flipping back to it and putting his fingers right in its mouth. I think he likes our attempts at the text: "EEEEEOWWWFFTZ!"

2. The striped shadows of railings fall across the path ahead.

3. To doze off in the afternoon and wake up in the dark.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Forget, quiet and bricks.

There are some wonderful River of Stones posts over at Writing Our Way Home. My favourites so far are:

1. It's amazing how milk makes Alec forgive and forget. He has a suck, and then he's laughing at me blowing under his chin.

2. It is easier and pleasanter to stay here, warm and quiet, with the baby on my knee.

3. Using Alec's wooden bricks to build a construction, a wall of towers and swaying bridges that snakes along the edge of the rug and under the folding chair. He knocks a little down, and I take the fallen bricks and build them on to the other end. He knocks a little more down. I take the up fallen bricks again. He look at me expectantly.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nap before swimming, dog walker and ducks for all.

1. For the first time ever, Alec goes down for a nap before we leave for swimming. We had to get up at 7am to achieve this, but it was so worth it. I can get ready without small hands clinging to my legs, and when we come to leave we are both relaxed and cheerful and in control.

2. "Look, Alec, dogs," and the lady walking them turns to smile at us.

3. Instead of doling out one duck each, the swimming teacher releases a whole yellow flock into the pool. Alec ends up with three (one for each hand and one to kick). 

Monday, January 09, 2012

All alone, noodles and a good sleep.

1. Nick is still chuckling about the faces of the people next to us at Wagamama as it dawned on them that they were the only toddler-free group in the restaurant.

2. I love watching Alec eat noodles -- I don't know why I ordered rice for him really, as he was far more interested in raiding our plates.

3. Sarah and Rachel brought round a box of bath oils in tiny bottles last week. They explained that it was a gift of baths for me by myself -- which is a wonderful thing and very much needed! Each bottle has a label like 'relax' and 'deep relax' and 'breathe' and 'de-stress muscles'. I used all of 'deep relax' last night. It worked very well because I slept... well, I might say 'like a baby', but it was better than that (certainly better than Alec).

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Petit dej, lie-out and on his own terms.

1. To shove frozen pain au chocolat in the oven. Freshly baked and very convenient. Better still, the baby doesn't want any so I don't have to share.

2. After breakfast, nap time comes around. Alec goes to his cot, and I go back to bed where Nick has been enjoying a lie-in.

3. Alec stands with legs wide, clutching his toy remote control. I've got his toy phone just out of reach to tempt him into taking his first unaided step. He stretches, looks at me, shifts his weight, shifts it back again. Then he carefully lowers himself to the floor and leans forward to take his phone.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Strike out, nursery and in our bed.

1. I look at my to-do list, and I look at Alec in his cot fast asleep for his morning nap. Then I run myself a bath.

2. I take another step in my mission to make the nursery Alec's own room by sorting out the pile of his outgrown clothes. I can remember him wearing that sleep suit with the bears, that little green and blue shirt, that cardigan... but surely he was never that little.

3. At 10pm, like new lovers we ask each other: "Where are you going to sleep tonight?" The answer is: "In our bed, with you."

Friday, January 06, 2012

Porridge, out of my depth and in the study.

1. There is something very satisfying about spooning porridge into a small and eager mouth.

2. I've volunteered to do some shifts at a night shelter this month. I was roped in by a friend, and frankly I feel so far out of my comfort zone that I can't even see it any more. I was glad when Anna asked a question along those lines at the training session. I was even gladder when other volunteers asked questions, too. And when we started to make jokes.

3. "Do you want to sleep in the study?" Nick asks me. I say 'asks', it's more of a telling really. I am so grateful to have an undisturbed night in front of me.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The walk, new view and cafe stop.

1. We set off on an epic mission to pick up a Freegle item. It feels good to walk and walk and walk on a clear afternoon, knowing that we don't have to be anywhere until supper at 5.30pm. 

2. I hadn't realised that our destination has a view out over town. It's strange to see the other side of familiar landmarks. I like to compare the scene to my map and pick out the re-arranged churches.

3. I've walked for a long time, and Alec has been cooped up in the pushchair all that time. We need a cafe stop. We share a brownie and a hot chocolate, and he works his way round the table and back again to stretch his legs.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Delivery, after the storm and afternoon nap.

1. The wind slams rain against the white wall opposite with such force that it flies back as mist. I stare astonished at the delivery driver standing on the doorstep.

2. After lunch I open the blinds. The air is still, the sky is blue and the sun has come out.

3. The storm and a bad night have unsettled Alec and he has been sad and clingy all morning. But now he's asleep in his pushchair and I am not needed.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Epic, warming him up and lunch.

Over at Writing Our Way Home, Fiona and Kaspa have started their River of Stones, a mindful writing challenge. Fiona's stones are a bit like beautiful things, so go on over and try writing your own. They are also publishing inspirational articles by their favourite writers. I'm booked in for January 21.

1. Alec sees Nick in the spectator gallery and sets off on an epic commando crawl straight across the paddling pool. He refuses to divert his course for anything -- not water jets, not a mother playing with her  baby, not a large toddler with a ball.

2. Alec gets chilled while swimming. He's a very sorry little scrap by the time we get to the changing room. Somehow -- I don't know how -- I manage to dress us both while giving him a feed.

3. For our lunch Rachel has set out cakes and sandwiches and a rainbow of raw veggies. It's perfect. Alec helps himself to two gingerbread men, one for each hand.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Highchair, walk after lunch and childcare.

1. "We've bought the highchair," says my mother. "I couldn't face the thought of lunch with him sitting on your lap and my lap."

1a. I love fish pie for the treasures of prawns and mussels and scallops.

2. Finally, just before dark, we make a break for it and go walking under umbrellas and the pit-pit-pit of rain.

3. My cousin Laura says: "I'll entertain this end while you change that end." I am awed by her childcare skills -- she helps a family with a disabled child -- and when I tell her she says modestly: "I suppose it's easier when they're bigger because you can ask them to stay still and they do."

4. The Christmas books are stacked in wobbly towers around the living room. "Let's make one evening a week book night," says Nick. "We'll just sit and read."

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Open door, sales shoppers and mayonnaise.

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope 2012 is a magical cracker for you all.

1. "Well," says one lady in the chemists to another, "This is a first, having the door open on New Year's Eve because it's so mild."

2. The shop girls are laughing at the sales shoppers: "They're like 'but how much are these things? Why aren't they priced?' and I'm like: 'I'm just putting prices on them and setting them out. The sale table is over there.' And they're all like: 'But are these things in the sale? I NEED to KNOW.'"

3. "I love your mayonnaise," says Nick with no little passion.