Saturday, March 31, 2012

Broken walnuts, icing and Downton.

1. It's terrible the way these walnuts are all broken. That one's no good for decorating the top of my cake. I'm going to have to eat it. And that one's no good either. Nor is that one.

2. I've never made a cooked butter icing before. It's beautifully glossy, and the butter browned a little so it has a nutty taste.

3. At last we manage to watch the Christmas episode of Downton -- and very good it was too. Thomas is lucky, Bates is brave, the Earl is merciful, Lady Violet is acerbic, Sir Richard is a cad and Mary is true.

Friday, March 30, 2012

No smoke, afternoon and rage.

1. A very small victory -- but I managed to grill a lamb chop without setting the smoke alarm off. I did it on low heat with the back door open.

2. "Did you  have a nice afternoon?" asks one of Alec's practitioners. "We were having some husband and wife time," I tell her. She doesn't ask what that involved but... we crossed the street on the red man, bought cake on the way home and then ate it in bed with -- hot -- cups of tea.

3.  When we try to put Alec in his backpack, he throws a wobbler right in the middle of the nursery hall. I nurse him, which calms him down, and we try again. This time he's so cross and loud that they send for one of the practitioners to help us. "He's been fine all afternoon," she says, trying to distract him. And the manager says: "My children would do that to me." I thought that if it happened to a nursery manager, we can't be doing anything wrong. We carry Alec home in the end, and hear no more about it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lift, game and swept.

1. I've been told to meet my lift at the station. I know her name, and what car she'll be driving. I get in and introduce myself, and she looks at me and says: "I know you!" And she does -- it's a colleague from my first stint at the Courier.

2. A simple game helps me to understand. My editor has packed me off to a slum simulation run by Global Hand, a humanitarian organisation in Tunbridge Wells. In groups we make bags out of newspaper and paste. We have to sell to shopkeepers to earn money for food and rent and -- eventually -- to send one of our children to school. I discover that poverty means you don't have the time or the energy to think about the best way to proceed. And that you are everyone's bitch. The landlord changes the rent with no notice, and the shopkeepers pay what they like, so we never knew how many bags we'd have to make to survive. I discovered that you do the unthinkable to escape -- we sold one of our daughters to escape from slave labour, and I tried to cheat one of the shopkeepers.

3. The mother has transformed the back garden, and she suggests strongly that I might like to have a go at the front. I trim the hedge -- which has needed doing since the start of winter. Then I give the path a good rough sweeping. I love the look and feel of damp, swept bricks. She leaves me with a weeding knife, and I'm actually looking forward to doing the edges.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pride, in the park and scraping the barrel.

1. We go along to a toddler group and I nearly burst with pride when Alec sits patiently in a chair at snack time and waits politely for his biscuit, and then nibbles it delicately until it is all gone.

2. To come across Kirsteen and her little boy in the park. We stop for a chat and share our cake. Alec and I have been rubbing each other up the wrong way today, so we really value the chance to be together but not in each others' face. I think he likes the chance to wander around with me not watching is every move because I'm concentrating on chatting. And I like the opportunity to not watch his every move.

3. Alec is in the bath (which I've lovingly laced with a posh cold remedy for his stuffy nose). We are playing 'Which hand is it in' with a milk bottle top. It's tremendous fun -- until Alec hands me a poo.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bigger boy, swing and river walk.

1. In the toddler pool, we spot a blue watering can. Alec toddles over to play with it. Immediately a giant boy twice his height tries to take it off him. Alec holds on. The boy pulls. Alec nearly falls over, but holds on. The boy shoves, and Alec has to let go. I feel very sorry for him, though he doesn't seem upset, just a bit puzzled. I tell him: "I think it might have belonged to the other boy, and he thought we were stealing it." Just then, the boy's father (who is also huge) comes down like the wrath of god on his son. "Sorry about that, there you go," he says to Alec. I think I am the more delighted than Alec is.

2. One carer is helping a lady across the park, while another pushes her wheelchair. They bring her up to the birds nest swing and put down a cushion so she can lie across it comfortably. Then they rock her gently and she smiles at the sky.

3. Alec is cross and sleepy in the backpack so I turn my path from the station and walk along the river, singing a boring "Sleepy boy" song to him. I've never been this way before, and there are narrow boats moored on the other side, at the end of all the gardens. After ten minutes, Alec's forehead bobs against the back of my skull and I turn round and head for home.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Walking alone, shoulders and loaf.

1. We set off with Alec on a walk -- with no pushchair and no backpack. Alec can walk short distances now, and when he gets tired one of us picks him up. He lets us know when he wants a carry by taking a strong interest in things he finds on the ground.

2. I pick Alec up and try to put him on my shoulders. He doesn't co-operate, preferring to sit on my head, giggling at the height of it and trying to steal my glasses. Nick puts my glasses in his pocket and persuades Alec to follow the one leg each side of the neck rule.

3. I recently discovered a secret on-line stash of recipes for our bread machine. This hot cross bun loaf is particularly delicious, and made the whole house smell spicy and warm. Nick says the only bad thing about it is that there's no cross on it -- perhaps it's more of a not cross bun loaf.

4. This isn't beautiful at all -- but I'm still laughing about it, so I'm going to share. We undress Alec for his bath and let him loose to air his bits. He goes into the nursery and we watch him fondly as he squats down and tries to balance a peanut butter jar lid on his ring stacker. "He's so clever and dexterous and he always perseveres," we tell each other proudly. Then we notice he's doing a big poo on the floor.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Better, squid and frozen.

1. My pleurisy is getting better -- I took a deep breath and it didn't hurt. This morning is my fourth salt cave session on the trot. I think the hours of relaxing in a calm salty room has done me some good.

2. Mrs Anke's post about squid inspired me and I tried the braised squid with chorizo recipe that she shared. I sent the boys out for a walk so I could work through the steps without distraction and make mistakes without anyone seeing. We were rewarded with a dish of fragrant red broth and tender meat. Even Alec ate a few squares of squid.

3. To spoon soup into boxes for the freezer and to anticipate knocking out the frozen disc (or cuboid) at a later date.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dead wood, only just and not hard boiled.

1. To cut the dead wood out from the tree in our front garden to let the light down on to the bulbs planted underneath. The tree looks skinny and self-conscious -- like a newly shorn sheep -- but I'm sure it'll get used to it.

2. I decide that there is time, if I get a wriggle on, to wash the kitchen floor before I collect Alec. As it turns out, only just. But the task is done and the floor looks (and feels to my bare feet) much better.

3. Catching Nick just before he breaks some eggs that he thinks are hard boiled but are in fact raw.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Birdseed, cake and sleepy boy.

1. Alec and I put some birdseed out, and now there are two fat doves in the garden. He's entranced. I hope he doesn't think birds grow from  birdseed.

2. I take home a slice of cake from Juliet's and eat it. I feel like a leopard dragging its kill into a tree to stop lions from stealing it.

3.  A very tired boy who falls asleep before I can get him into his bath and doesn't wake when I put his pyjamas on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Get out, light and evening dress.

1. Alec doesn't think much of the soft play centre. I turn round to get his drink and when I look back he's crawling through an open door between some people's legs. They are glancing around anxiously, so I call him ineffectually: "Alec! Come here, you come back now."
"It's all right," says one of the women. "I just wanted to check that the baby was with someone aware."

2. We stop on the footbridge to chat with a photographer who is enjoying the light. We admire the view -- a glossy crow on a finely tilled field -- in pleasant silence while she waits for the little birds to come within range.

3. She passes us on this isolated country station platform, her dark blue silk skirt swishing. The scent of her perfume hurries after.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sleeping through, mourning and clipped.

1. Another wretched night, but Alec slept from 8.30pm to 2am, so he's acquiring his skills. I recently read that infant sleep studies define 'through the night' as five hours.

2. After the funeral we feel as if a weight has been lifted from our hearts. The service celebrated his talents but acknowledged all the sadnesses. It gave us space to feel what we were feeling.

2b. The postman brings a postcard.... from Antarctica, with an British Antarctic Territory stamp on it. Rosey has doctored the caption, adding a U so it reads "AUNTARCTICA".

3. Nick brings home a neatly clipped Alec. He looks very smart and, though he has shorter hair, a little more grown-up. They also took a walk on the common, and Alec met some old English sheep dogs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dropped sky, big pack and rest.

1. The scylla look like bits of sky fallen in the muddy grass.

2. As I take the seat opposite her, she looks up from her patience (it's nice to see someone playing with real cards) she says: "Have you been for a weekend away, too?"
"We've been swimming," I say, rather proudly.
"You need a bag that big for swimm- oh, you've got your child up there!"

3. I am very, very tired and Alec, who had a morning nap and a kip in the backpack, is not. I lie on the bed and let him play around me. He spends some time standing up and sitting down suddenly -- which always makes us both smile. And then he gets a couple of books from Nick's bedside table and looks at them quietly while I rest.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mother's Day, bowl and tea.

1. Alec walks towards me, his gait rolling like a sailor's. He holds high a Hotel Chocolat bag.

2. "Well, thank Stephen," says Nana raising her eyes to the sky when I thank her for saving a ceramic mixing bowl for me out of the things Nick's brother no longer needs. It meant a lot that at this sad time she remembered me complaining that mine had got lost several moves ago.

3. I remember my tea, and it's still warm (just, if I pretend hard).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

At 6am, weekend breakfast and easily pleased.

1. At 6am, Nick hands me a red-faced grumplet to look after. I am not grateful, but I climb back into the big bed and try to parent well. Milk is not what he wants; and nor is a toy.
I've been reading about skin-to-skin for poorly babies, so I strip off his pyjamas and my vest and try to cuddle him. He is all knees and elbows and anger and sharp, sharp nails.
I release him and he sits there roaring at me and clawing his nappy. "Nappy change?" I ask him. More fury -- but I don't know what other variables to alter, so I strip him right off and wrap a towel round his bum.
He relaxes, smiles, snuggles up to me for some bub and
...
the next thing we know, we are being woken by a rather surprised Nick at 9am.

2. I don't much like waiting to eat in the morning, but I do enjoy the bake-from-frozen croissants and cup of coffee that are my weekend breakfast.

3. "I love fish fingers," says Nick when I (only half-joking) put them on the lunch menu. So we have them (Alec likes them, too).

Nursery, wire and time saving cake.

1. When I go to pick Alec up he is quite perky, the other babies are relaxed and the practitioners are chatty, so I linger. Alec brings me toys to look at, and the practitioners make suggestions: "They love this!" and "Press that and it walks faster." (They are a bit like naughty children with the electronic toys, and say that the nursery owner doesn't like them!)

2. The wire we've used to keep the washing machine and under sink cupboards secure has snapped. It occurs to me that a knotted tea towel will do the job just as well and has no sharp ends.

3. The bread machine does cakes.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Show me, tell me and sitting down.

1. Last night Alec pulled out one of my childcare books and examined the pictures of feeding babies with some interest and a fair bit of delight. I thought he might like to look at some others, so we sit and check out some relevant boards on Pinterest. "Dad-dad," says Alec.
"Where? Show me."
He takes my hand, and puts it on a picture of breastfeeding expert Dr Jack Newman. I add it to our growing collection.

2. I'm cooking lunch, and Alec is having his usual 11.45 grump. At a suitable break, I tell him we can have a cuddle now. He pulls out a kitchen chair for me to sit down and says: "Bub-bub."

3. "We will be sitting down by 8.30 at this rate," I tell Nick. And sure enough, we are -- and better still, we're in bed by 9.45.

(Sorry for so many Alec beautiful things -- I'm just blown away by the communicating. I can't get over the way he's changed from this angry, shouting little thing who didn't like anything to a person who knows what he wants and can ask for it.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hot, tulips and out.

1. As the plumbers are leaving, one of them asks: "Do you want your water that hot?"
"Dear God, no!" I gasp. I cannot tell you how tired I am of washing my hands in cold water because the hot is too hot. I had assumed that it was a quirk of the system, something we had to live with.
"We can turn it down. We thought you wanted it like that."
And before I know it they are back up in the loft and asking me to test the temperature from the kitchen tap.

2. For last spring I planted tulips in pots. I expected them to come up blind this year, but now I look down into the unfurling leaves, I can see flower buds.

3. The Mother says she and Alec will just pop down to the chemists on the corner. They are gone a whole, blissful hour, and I get so much done.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

New perspective, my boy and the rest.

1. Just for a change I take Alec down to the Pantiles and let him porgle around on the bandstand. A lady calls across from the colonnade: "I like your column in the Courier. I've lived in Tunbridge Wells for 40 years and it gives me a new perspective."

2. Alec beams, showing off his tiny white teeth (particularly when I give him a biscuit) and he looks a treat in his new red jumper, so I feel very pleased with both myself and him. A few elderly tourists on a coach trip from Leicester come past and admire him -- which delights him so much that he drops his biscuit. They don't think much of Tunbridge Wells as a tourist destination (they're here a bit early in the year), but I hope they enjoyed meeting us.

3. I fall asleep while I'm putting Alec to bed, and wake up more than an hour later. I feel so much better for it.

4. For supper -- a sandwich made from buttered white bread, thick slices of corned beef with grated carrot, red cabbage and my own mayonnaise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring, souvenir and Baby.

1. Dust blue sky. Dust green grass. Men with shirts off lounge on the Sports Ground. We're all blinking in the sunshine. A bird we can't see is singing.

2. To snap a few pictures on my phone for people who can't be there.

3. "Baby doesn't like it when you drop him," I tell Alec, retrieving his doll from the ground beneath the swing. "He's going to stay with me." Alec reaches out imploringly, promising to be a better dad. "Well, all right. Baby says he wants to come back in the swing with you." I hold out the doll and then snatch it back as the swing comes near. "Baby tricked you. He doesn't like being dropped." Alec giggles and claps. The swing comes back. "Tricked you again!" And I'm not sure which of us is the worst parent...

Monday, March 12, 2012

DMs, planets and can't sleep.

1. I'm wearing in a pair of new flowery DM boots -- Nick's Valentine.

2. It's a special night for viewing planets. We can't see the full set, but at least we can see Jupiter and Venus standing together.

3. In the dark: "Why don't you go upstairs and read your book for a bit?"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sofa bed, hair and starting the night.

A couple of things I like:


1. Because of the sick incident Alec and I slept downstairs in the sofa bed*. It's lovely to tip him out and let him pad straight through to the kitchen for breakfast. It reminds me of the compact feel that my studio flat had.

2. The boys come back from the park. Alec's hair has the cold clean outdoor smell of line-dried washing.

3. The manlet sleeps on when our bedtime comes, so Nick and I start the night together -- and it's a clean bedding night as well.

* aka the snuggle pod that Nick and I used to sleep in while we were courting.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Twins, hearing and what needs to be done.

1. There are twins -- pink and blue rain suits -- in the other swings. They are slumped like contented little sacks, and their mother (who looks shattered) stands bravely between them, pushing the two swings in perfect opposition.

2. I am remembering to listen with my whole body, so I hear Alec remark 'W-w' at some toy dogs in a shop window.

3. "I'm just doing what needs to be done," says Nick (he hasn't had supper yet) as he brings armfuls of bedding downstairs and cleans the sick off our bed, while I soothe a feverish and over-excited lad back to sleep.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Farewell, tight and remember.

1. We wave Nick off at the window (our neighbours have trimmed back their acer tree so we can watch him walk down the hill for longer). After he is out of sight we stay there for a good while longer, because I am so engrossed in watching Alec breathing on the glass. When I focus on the outside again, I realise that a mother and her children are waving and smiling at us. We don't know them, but they have a space in the car park and perhaps they've noticed us before.

2. Alec's clothes are stretched again, so I get him some new ones -- a packet of five button under shirts in bright clean colours, a red knitted coat with toggles (it has a label saying 'pirate issue' sewn on the back) and a pair of navy trousers with red turn-ups. And a pair of bathing shorts W-- his old ones look a bit cheeky.

3. To wander into a shop (Jeremy's Homestore) and remember a thing that I need (loaf tins).

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Dogged, not guilty and sleeper.

1. Amanda brings her dog Pippin to the back door. Alec puts out a respectful finger and touches her nose. Pippin licks his finger. Alec says (very quietly) "W-w," which is his attempt at woofing. It amazes me that he can put in the same category Hairy Maclary, a tiny terrier like Pippin, the huge Newfoundland dogs and the little black peke with the pink tongue from the park -- and then woof at them.

2. I come into the sitting room quietly to find Alec prone in front of the TV. He is pressing buttons on the VCR. I cough politely, and he jumps, rolls over and laughs at me. Then hgoes back to the buttons. It looked like a guilty startle, but I'm sure he's too young to understand (though he's been told many, many times) that tinksing with unfamiliar buttons is not allowed.

3. By the time my father drops us at our door, Alec is fast asleep. I carry him to his cot and he wakes, looks at me and then sinks back again. It's only 7.30, and I feel guilty because it all seems a bit too easy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Brick, japonica and crocuses.

1. A bricklayer making the edging for a drive holds a brick in one hand and his trowel in the other. He tosses the brick end over end a couple of times while he chooses the uppermost surface.

2. Red red red japonica flowers bloom on bare twigs.

3. All I can see over the wall is the grey lip of a raised urn and the white crocuses therein.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Salt, sanatorium and results.

1. This morning we had a session in The Salt Cave -- a PR friend has organised it so I can write about the experience. "You've had a cough since I've known you," she says. Salt therapy is a well-respected treatment for respiratory and skin conditions in Eastern Europe, but is not so well-known in the UK. We'd spotted the centre just round the corner for us, and were rather intrigued. We got an hour in the children's cave as Alec is horribly snotty just now. He didn't seem to notice the salty air -- he was thrilled by the layer of salt on the floor. It's like a sandy beach -- and he crawled in it, and played with it for the best part of the session. He learnt very fast not to eat it, though.

2. I leafed through a file of articles about the therapy. My favourite described a Russian salt sanatorium built into a mine. The doctor in charge described the asthmatic children 'running around like mice' in the galleries and corridors, finally able to enjoy playing in good quality air.

3. "Your skin feels so soft," says Nick later that day. My cough is looser, too, and my nose is definitely less bunged up. I feel as if I've been breathing steam -- though the effect of that only lasts an hour at most. I'm still feeling clear well into the evening.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Washed bathmat, alarm and bedtime.

1. I am extraordinarily satisfied by the sight of the just washed bathmat drying on the airer. I think it is because I remarked on it's dirtiness this morning, and without my doing a thing it has made its way downstairs and into the washing machine.

2. To set an alarm for half an hour, and feel quite secure about losing myself.

3. We are both shattered -- but Alec is not. We've done the bedtime routine, but he is still wriggling around and standing up and falling down and giggling about it. In the end, we shut the bedroom door, turn out the lights and let him run around on the floor while Nick and I cuddle on the bed. Alec thinks it's the best fun to play with my bedside cabinet, scamper round the end of the bed, press the buttons on the alarm clock and then scamper back again. At last he asks to be lifted back up. I give him some milk, and though the light is dim, it isn't too dark to see his eyes closing.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Buds, speech and first shoes.

1. I'm sure the buds on that hedge are fatter and greener than they were before.

2. Alec stretches upwards, asking Nana to lift him for a cuddle.

3. He gently takes Alec's hand away from the display of Crocs, and asks if he can quickly check the fit of our son's first pair of shoes.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Washing line, man at home and using every part.

1. I wipe down the washing line and hang out a few bits of washing -- first time this year.

2. To come home from dropping Alec at nursery and pay a brief visit to Nick, who is working from home in his attic today, before I start work myself. And I discover that he has dealt with the very dead rat in the garden. What a hero.

3. To make macaroons with the whites and mayonnaise with the yolks.

4. To hear that a friend who you know has been trying to conceive for a very long time is expecting a baby.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Sign-off, stop and toes.

1. Nick's dad signs off our phone conversation with: "Well, I'll let you get back to work," which I liked very much, because sometimes I feel as if society at large doesn't appreciate that looking after a child is work -- and hard work, too.

2. On nursery days I try to put Alec at the centre of the morning, because usually everything else can wait until we're apart. But today I did badly. Now it's time to tidy up and leave, but he is whiny and clinging to my legs. I leave the lunch things on the table and the highchair covered in crumbs to sit with him by the open back door, singing a few rhymes and listening to him with my whole self.

3. Alec laughs when he sees my newly painted toes.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Wolf's milk, late too and re-do.

1. We have a library book called What's the Time, Mr Wolf? (pictured left). The wolf's head is a finger puppet that pokes through a hole in each page. Alec loves books of this sort, so I was sure it would be a winner. His eyes lit up when I showed him. I made encouraging wolf noises. He looked at me blissfully and said: "Bub-bub". I can only think it was the big googly eyes that makes him think of his milkies.

2. We were doing all right for getting out of the house before ten -- but now there's a funny smell in Alec's newly-changed nappy department and I'm having doubts. My phone goes. It's Jane to say she's having a bit of a funny morning and they're going to be late.

3. I've pulled this piece of writing this way and that way and I can't make it work. I go back to the start and try again with another topic. Half an hour later, I'm reading the finished piece to Nick (and feeling very relieved).