Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mummy, on time and engagement.

1. Alec pops out another word -- "Mummy!" Sometimes he gets it muddled and it comes out as "Mee-moo". He uses it lovingly on me, and on my possessions (my handkerchief, my apron hanging on the door and my slippers), as if they are a part of me that I have carelessly left lying around. He has been saying "Dad-dad" for about two months now, and I've been waiting for my own word. I've read that it takes two years for a child to understand that his mother is a separate person. Giving me a name must be a step in this direction, though he doesn't use it to call me yet, and a wicked part of me finds it very sad.

2. "It's a railway cottage," he tells me over the phone about his (newish) home. "There's the railway line at the bottom of the garden... in fact, listen!" and far off there's the rumble and squeal of a train going by.

3. The news makes Nick and me very happy. It makes us recall our own engagement, and we tell the story (polished smooth with wear) once again to each other.

Anecdotes, pub bub and time to look.

1. Now that I am a grown-up, I can call my parents' friends out on their anecdotes. "Did that actually happen to you? I've heard other healthcare professionals tell the story about the chocolate brazils."
"Weeeellll, it might not have." But Tony tells it better than anyone else, and he has some new tales of medical horror to share.

2. Poor Alec, he woke up from his morning nap and I was too busy getting ready to go out for lunch to give him any bub. Now it's an hour after his normal lunch time and he's still waiting to eat. "Bub-bub!" he says, his face flushed red and his eyebrows knotted into ugly angry lumps.
Granny tries to distract him with a toy car: "Brmm brmm. Not bub-bub time, we're in a pub and we're about to have lunch," she says.
"Give him to me," I say. "Of course you can have some bub."
My mother is, I think, a little mortified, but it cheers him up no end, and when the food comes he eats a sausage and a half and an awful lot of mash.

3. Everyone has gone and there is time to sit and look at the beautiful book they brought for him. It has sound-effect buttons, and Alec like moving my finger to the one he thinks is appropriate to a given point in the story.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tickle, trim and sticky.

1. To tickle Alec and hear him giggle.

2. He's looking wispy, so I take him to the barbers.
"I'll do it," says the barber, "But if he cries and thrashes around, that's it, no more."
We have to wait 15 minutes, and there are no train magazines, just car and angling ones. Alec is very good, apart from once when he bolts for the door, but I quickly catch him and bring him back.
When it's his turn, Alec sits on my knee (I give him Baby to hold). "Make him look like a man, please," I tell the barber.
"Oh no, let's leave that a while yet," says the barber anxiously.
Alec continues to be good and patient though the snipping and turning -- I think he is pleased to be tidied up.

3. I'm a bit loath to take Alec home with his lollipop, as he is very sticky and quite dribbly, so we stroll up and down the High Street for a while. I keep pulling him out of smart boutiques which have opened their doors in the heat: "He's sticky and unlikely to buy anything," I explain. And I have to lift him off the step of a jewellers which has in the (now rather smeary) window a TV playing a looped video about diamonds.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jubilation, refuge and free.

1. As we come out of the pool we pass two mahogany-coloured men on their way in. "What are you wearing?" one of them asks, pointing at the other's very brief Union Flag swimming trunks.
"Someone's got to, for the Jubilee."

2. We come to Tim's house on this hot, hot day. It's cool inside and the light is soft. And godfather Timothy is pleased to see us, too. He is even enthusiastic when Alec climbs down and then up the kitchen step for the seventeenth time.

2b. A particularly excellent (soft and fresh with a surprising filling) chocolate doughnut from Gregg's.

3. That moment when Alec disengages and rolls over, and I can go downstairs to join Nick.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Butcher's, produce and night duty.

1. To go into the butcher's on a Saturday and listen to all the men spending big bucks on big meat.

2. To pick a few salad leaves and herbs from the garden.

3. I am glad I volunteered to take out the bins, because there is a white sickle moon shining above the buildings at the end of the street.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Seedlings, snugglepod and nature documentary.

1. I notice two green shoots which look like sunflower seedlings in the middle of the strawberry pot. The person who is meant to scatter birdseed on the ground each morning would have some explaining to do, if he could talk. Still, we can pot them on and he will enjoy watching them reaching for the sky.

2. The attic is too hot so Nick is sleeping on the sofa bed in the front room (it's the old snuggle pod from the flat). He leaves it up when he goes to work, so Alec and I retire to it after breakfast and chores. We watch an episode of Ivor in the drawn curtain twilight, and have some bub. When he gets home from nursery, he obviously remembers because immediately points to the sofa bed (which still hasn't been put away) and says: "Bub" and then "Toot-toot". 

3. "Today I suddenly felt like watching a nature documentary," says Nick. So we find one on iPlayer (it has badgers in it) and watch it, lolling on the snuggle pod.

Friday, May 25, 2012

No card, better length and through the door.

1. In one shop there is a musician playing a song about not being able to get over someone, and an area surrounded by a white plastic fence. Inside are some cakes and some wine and some people sitting in rows of seats that are too close together. There is a sign saying: "Exclusive event for reward cardholders only." I don't have a reward card.

2. The hairdresser pauses and says: "It hangs much better at this length, doesn't it." I am in complete agreement,  having lived with the wrong length for six weeks.

3. When I go to pick Alec up I see through the glass door that he is in the rocking chair having a cuddle with the nursery manager.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Watering the garden, fruit and asleep at last.

1. Rather tentatively, because I don't like to mess with a routine that works, I add watering the garden to our morning tasks. The plants appreciate it, and I like the cool water splashing on my feet. Alec enjoys going round with his own little plastic can. He pours it straight on the ground, but better there than on my poor seedlings.

2. A bowl of pineapple and blueberries in the garden (apart from the bits that Alec chewed and then pressed into my mouth. I didn't like those much). Then he dips his hand in my water glass and paints my hot face. I do the same for him.

2b. Chloe's beautiful fat sausage arms.

3. The heat has put Alec in a funny mood. He finally falls asleep late in the afternoon, his face flushed and smelling of sun cream and his hair hot and crumpled. I know he will be up late this evening, but he's been fighting sleep all day, and I'm glad to see him at peace.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Watering can, plan and lolly.

1. The tinny roar of a metal watering can filling in the sink.

2. This week we have a meal plan, and it made my morning so much easier -- I didn't have to think or worry, I just got the food out of the freezer. It meant I had more headspace for amusing Alec, and, I think, more patience and more willpower.

3. It's a hot day, so we share a peachy ice lolly (tinned peaches, blender, ice lolly mould, freezer). Slurp.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Notes, playing and on to the train.

Two links for you today: One is the recent Telegraph feature about the women of Antarctica (including my sister Dr Rosey Grant). The other is Ellen Montelius' portrait of me and Alec that she took as part of  her series on Kent writers, and the accompanying text that she had me read and record.

1. Our dunnock is singing in the elder tree just beyond the wall. You would never imagine that such a drab little bird would scatter such dancing, lilting notes.

2. Alec ducks down behind the climbing frame and then pops up again to say "Boo" to Godfather Timothy.

3. To walk into the station and straight on to our train.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Send me a cheque, sugar craft and Sunday afternoon.

1. "I can see you're tempted," says the cobnut man.
"I haven't got any money left," I tell him.
"You can send me a cheque if you like."
"People really do that? You trust them?"
"All the time at markets, people are really good. Send me a cheque when you get home."
I think for a moment -- I am very tempted by the cobnut cheese biscuits. Then I have to tell him: "But I still won't have any money when I get home."
At that he laughs, and says he doesn't want to drive me into debt.

2. We gasp as the chef on the bandstand slides a spring of hard caramel off his steel; and again as he tips a teaspoonful of bicarb into another pan and pours frothing honeycomb on to the worktop.

3. We sit on a bench on the common, Nick and I, and watch as Alec toddles back and forth. "This is how I imagined Sunday afternoons would be," says Nick.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Red pepper, aniseed balls and dandelion clocks.

1. To peel a baked red pepper (the skin lifts off and the juice runs out as the bell collapses).

2. I love aniseed balls and always have done. Anything licorice is good to me, and they are pleasing objects to hold and see: bullet hard and pearl smooth, perfectly spherical and rich mahogany red.

3. I stop to show Alec dandelion clocks at the side of the path. He blinks at the seeds flying in his face, and then when I give him one of his own, waves the stalk to make the fluff fly.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pat, knowing and nutrition.

1. Nana shows Alec how to pat Jimmy the dog - very gently - on the head.

2. I wave at a university friend on the crossing, pass on to Nick a whisper of information about another person and greet a mother from nursery. Later an acquaintance recognises me across the street -- and so does the woman she's chatting with. Nick says: "Do you know everybody in this town?"

3. Nick's nutritionist reels off a list of what he can and can't eat. I'm dismayed at the thought of planning meals around these restrictions -- and by the complexity of the routine, with its supplements and powders all to be taken at different times and in different ways. But it's only for a few  months, and it will be worth it, as we can't go on the way things are. We talked it over and over until I was not afraid to ask for the help I needed..

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pear, alium and back here.

1. Anthony takes a piece of pear from me, and puts it in Alec's mouth.

2. To catch a purple alium in someone else's front garden just as it is bursting out of bud.

3. When I go to pick Alec up, there are no staff and no babies in his usual room. This is alarming -- but then a cheery voice calls: "We're out here, eating up some leftover cake." Alec leads her back into the room and presses on me a fat handful of crumbs. Nyummy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Word, boo and the funniest thing ever.

1. Alec puts his hand on the bathroom door and says: "Dor! Dor."

2. I have a tiny crimson mole on my chest -- it's about the size of a pin head. When Alec has some bub he often puts a finger over it to hide it, and then reveals it again.

3. Nick is quite right -- throwing all the dirty laundry down the stairs is the funniest thing ever.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Youtoot, swimming costume and early call.

1. We are both ill and peevish, so I've been lazily letting Alec watch (vetted) videos of trains on Youtube. It's a godsend to be able to sit him down and know that (so long as the computer is out of reach ) he won't tinks anything. I particularly like this French one and this one of an emotional occasion on our local steam railway (Alec's absolute favourite, judging by the "toot-toot woo-woos" from his corner of the kitchen). Later I take him on my lap and we watch the classic GPO public information film about the Night Mail, which features a specially commissioned poem by WH Auden and music by Benjamin Britten.

2.  A parcel comes from Bravissimo -- it's in a box, and then wrapped in tissue paper. New swimming costume.

3. The driver bringing our supermarket delivery calls and politely asks if she can come early. Of course she can -- so we get our groceries put away with time to watch a bit of TV.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mayonnaise, lying still and mulberry bush.

Nick and I have been tittering all evening about this Ivor the Engine episode which features "a cornucopia of amorous protestations" and Jones the Steam climbing a ladder and accidentally disturbing a lady in the bath.


1. To spoon home made mayonnaise into an old Bonne Maman jar.

2. My mother comes and hangs out with Alec. I go upstairs and lie down. I'm too keyed up to sleep, but by the end of the afternoon, I feel closer to 'still' than I have done in days. Then she brings a slice of cake, a cup of tea and Alec upstairs so we can both spend some time admiring his remarkable cleverness.

3. Alec has finally lost his earworm -- I've had enough Wheels on the Bus to last me a lifetime. He's now on to Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, which is useful because you can weave all sorts of personal grooming chores into it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stack, wayward and toddler questions.

1. To stack up pancakes in a warm napkin. I made them with our sourdough culture (thanks Chris in Scotland), using a recipe from one of the Schmecks books sent over by Heather in Canada.

2. Alec isn't the most restful of walking companions. He tends to set off in the opposite direction, stomping down the hill, from time to time turning round to wave at me and say: "Bye!" It's not restful, as I say, but it does make me laugh.

3. Cat rings in the evening, and I am so glad to ask her all my toddler questions.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fret, familiar and matrons.

Today was the launch party for Grayson Perry's Taste series -- six tapestries about class taste. Two of the -- the middle class pair -- are based on his visit to Tunbridge Wells last year. He spent some time sitting in our kitchen during an NCT coffee morning. We were invited to go up to London and have an exclusive look and mingle with other people whose taste he examined.

The documentaries based on the tapestries will be screened soon -- I'll let you know as soon as I know when.

1. I've been fretting about leaving Alec -- who may or may not have chicken pox -- to go out enjoying myself. But I explain to him the night before, and in the morning that he's going to stay with Dad-dad this afternoon while I go to London. I think he understands, because every so often he says "Bye!" to me, in a 'haven't you gone yet?' tone. Later, walking on London Bridge platform, I realise that I have never been further away from Alec.

2. To see familiar faces in a strange social setting -- I'm so glad most of the other mums came: I was so nervous that I would be the only one of us there.

2b. The tapestries are amazing, full of colour and humour and very well observed. We stand in front of them and try to spot details from our own lives. The director asks me for my reaction, and I tell them: "The middle class ones are like coming home."

3a. I slip out early because I told Nick I would be back for six. I walk through the garden alone, and because it's quiet and I've been in a hot, busy room all afternoon, I stop and listen. I noticed the silver balls floating in the pond on my way in, but I was being rushed and whirled. Now I have time to observe with my whole self, I can hear them click as they bob together.

3. Matrons of Tunbridge Wells in smart summer outfits in coral and lemon and mauve, with National Theatre leaflets tucked in their handbags. One of them reports that a friend said: "I can't believe I'm marrying a man who drops his aitches. I won't let him do it in front of the grandchildren."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ivor, salads and nibbler.

1. I love Ivor the Engine for its kindly observation, soft palette and gentle narrative.

2. At Juliet's, instead of just two salads, we get a mixture of all the salads "Because you're take away," says the server as she spoons melting roasted aubergines, crimson-stained feta, vinegarish cucumber, jewelled couscous and the sweetest ever slices of sweet potato.

3. Alec picks up a curled sliver of crimson grated beetroot and puts it in his mouth. He asks to be put on my lap, and eats couscous from the box. Grains patter on the floor. He takes my fork and tastes the gumbo, and then scoops up more with his little spoon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bubble, early and warm spot.

1. I love to sit in a coffee shop and work on the laptop. I love to be in a working bubble, not noticing anything about the people around me. It feels decadent and wasteful.

2. I am called to pick up Alec early because they think he's got chicken pox. "Oh, and he said a word today, but I can't for the life of me remember what," says one of the practitioners. He seems quite cheerful, but definitely spotty in places, so I take him home and we sit in bed with the biscuit tin and some train videos.

3. When I go up to bed Alec is lying right in my half. I shove him over and enjoy the warm, baby-shaped spot. He is a hot little body and always kicks off the covers I lovingly snuggle around him.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Still fit, the den and settling.

1. To discover that there is no need to spend £30 on a new pair of shoes for Alec: the old ones still fit.

2. It's much earlier than I thought -- I've been running the day on the oven clock, which has been tinksed. I feel a bit deflated, because it's not teatime, and I've run out of amusements. It's also raining, and the air is dingy and wet. In the end I drape a quilt over three chairs in the nursery. It plays surprisingly well: I crawl inside and relax in the dim quilty dark while Alec comes in, and goes out again... and comes in again, and goes out again.

3. I've been running up and downstairs all evening because Alec is unsettled with a cold. It's now after 10pm, and I'm racing to deal with the day's emails, and blog and plan food for the weekend. He whimpers again and I can't do it. "Just five more minutes," I mutter. I hear Nick go up, and tune out. The strains of Twinkle Twinkle and the occasional "toot-toot" let me know that my presence is not required.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Sheet, stairs and broadsheet.


1. The sound of my mother and Alec playing a giggly game with the sheet on the washing line. Afterwards she says: "I'm afraid it might smell a bit of peanut butter now, from his hands."

2. The sound of my mother sweeping our stairs.

3.  "There's something nice for you in the paper," says Nick. The FT has printed my letter. We reckon that's probably the largest audience a piece of my writing has ever had. It wasn't anything too earth-shaking: I just jumped into the debate about whether the esteemed organ should drop the broadsheet format. (In summary, a resounding NO, because two broadsheets fit nicely under our highchair, and Alec likes to identify distinguished men as 'Dad-dad'. I was very pleased to see that the headline, A wise child knows its own father, is a quote from the Odyssey.) Here's a link, but you have to register.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

My swim, boo and much better.

1. Nick takes Alec from me in the changing rooms and I go back to the pool for a swim. I plan to do five lengths -- but end up doing ten, and get rather out of breath (I haven't swum lengths since before Alec was born). Then I go outside and float under the sky for a few moments.

2. On the climbing frame, Alec comes up against a giant toddler. "Boo," says the toddler leaning down. Alec puts his face close to the toddler's and says: "Boo!" right back.

3. Once Alec is settled, I go up to check on poorly Nick. He says he's put a clean cover on the winter duvet and "I'm wearing clean pyjamas and I feel much better for it."

Monday, May 07, 2012

Entice, against the window and tender.

1. For the first quarter hour, Alec hides his eyes because he is too shy to look at Uncle Rob. We entice him out by asking him about animal noises -- he can't resist showing off what he knows.

2. I do not think I will ever get tired of watching Alec flatten his face against a window.

3. There is sorrel among the tender grass on the bank at the edge of the Common. After the rain, the whole thing looks good enough to eat.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Resting, rabbiting and disappointed.

1. I have a lie-in, and then after breakfast (once Alec is napping), a lie-down in the attic with Nick.

2. Nick: "Tell Mummy what we saw on the Common."
Alec: "Tst-tst-tst."
Nick: "That's right, we saw a rabbit."
How amazing is seeing the baby that you made demonstrate his understanding of a statement relating to an event in the past?

3. "...and when we came in he went straight into the kitchen because he thought you'd be there. He was so disappointed when you weren't, but then luckily I saw you coming up the road and opened the door."
Although I do think, from the way Alec is pointing at the biscuit tin, that he wanted a biscuit rather than his mother.

Dough, lemongrass and starter.

1. I really don't like making doughy things -- I can hardly stand the feeling of it, particularly the early stickiness. But I really do believe it's helpful to work dough with your hands so you can feel what's going on, and I do know that some people love the process. I've been practising, hoping that as I get to know the ways of flour, I'll get over it. Today I made playdough in the morning and shortbread biscuits in the afternoon. I reckon that's two steps nearer mastering it.

2. I scatter a few drops of lemongrass oil around the kitchen as I mop the floor.

3. To lift the lid of the sourdough crock and smell (and hear) the bubbly starter. (The sourdough culture arrived by post earlier this week from an old school friend. As well as being generous with his breadmaking technology, Chris is generous with his time and technological expertise because he is involved with an opensource mapping project, Open Street Map.)

Friday, May 04, 2012

Patient, a good boy and glad to see you.

1. We park Chloe on Alec's sheepskin, and she lies there quite happily. Alec hunkers down above her head and puts his nose right on hers. We're not quite sure what he's doing and she doesn't seem to mind. I remove him after the third time, as I'm sure that kind of thing gets old quickly when you can't move except to rotate your body in shuffly circles round your head.

2. On the way to nursery, I tell Alec: "If Auntie Katie says you are a very good boy, I'm proud of you because she's got high standards."

3. Alec has stopped roaring and kicking (he is a tired little boy who just wants some bub and his bed) but I'm not sure how I'm going to get him home. Then I see Nick standing outside waiting for us.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Lie in, brand spanker and everything comes.



1. Alec is still asleep at 8am, so I go downstairs and make myself a particularly delicious breakfast. I'd like to say I got to eat it in peace, but I didn't.

2. "It's a brand spanker," says the man, opening his coat to show Alec (and me) a scrunched up little person in a sling, all fine black hair and squeezed shut eyes. "Six weeks," he says.

2b. Alec and the baby's older brother screaming to each other in the swings -- not a very beautiful sound, but marvellous to see my little son responding to another child.

3. Alec sits hopefully on the roundabout. I sit solidly on the bench. I've been carrying him all round town in the backpack, and I've brought him to the park for a run around, not a bloody push around. Another little boy climbs on to the roundabout, and his grandfather follows him over. "I'll push you if you hold on," he says." The other little boy holds on with both hands, but Alec leans in louchely, waving one arm. The grandfather puts Alec's hand on the rail and holds it there while he pushes. Other children join in. When the grandfather straightens up, complaining about his back, there are five children enjoying the ride.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Toddler group, camel coat and kiss goodbye.


1a. We go to a different toddler group, on the recommendation of a friend. We arrive (late) just as she gets there.

1. Chicken carcasses for stock are free, it turns out. "You are doing me a favour," says Mr Speaight. "I have to pay to have these taken away."

2. He is wearing a camel-coloured coat and shoes with the colour and sheen of under-ripe horse chestnuts.

2b. We have had a bad nappy change and Alec stands before me naked except for his socks. He looks very pleased with himself, and his bottom is sore from teething so I let him loose. He spends quite a lot of time shaking his hips and giggling. When I ask him to "Come here and put a T-shirt on before our visitors arrive," he laughs and runs away.

3. "Kiss goodbye," says Caroline and Maggie offers her cheek to Alec. He doesn't really know what to make of it!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Porridge pot, flood and stick.

1. Porridge boiling up in our pot -- which looks like a cauldron with its curved grey flanks. Nick has just commented that he is glad we bought that pot. It doesn't go in the dishwasher, but it was only £19, and it goes from stovetop to oven, and is smart enough for the table.

2.  When we pass by on our way to swimming Tonbridge Castle moat is fuller than I've ever seen it, with water over the path, from last night's rain. After lunch we walk the same way with Tim, the water level is back to normal by some miracle of engineering. The river is running fast and deep, though. The water is mud brown and  whole branches are clipping along in the current.

3. Alec helps Godfather Timothy with his cane. After we get home, I see from his blog Heropress that Tim has put a suitably geeky spin on the incident!