Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Inheritance, sharing Baby and the old place.

1. When Caroline tells Jay it's time for a nappy change, he makes exactly the face that I remember his father Oli (who I worked with at the oast) making when he had to do a task he disliked.

2. Out of all the toys, the one they really want to play with is Alec's doll, Baby. Jay carries him round the garden, and then Elodie must have a go. She holds him to her shoulder and pats him on the back. And then it's Jay's turn again. Baby (playing the part of Little Mia) spends the afternoon at nursery in the sitting room. I can't bring myself to refer to him as her, which makes Elodie frown at me.

3. Elodie, who is nearly six, says she has enjoyed coming to Tunbridge Wells "where I spent my childhood".

Monday, July 30, 2012

Flowering, avocado and nothing to see here.

1. The homesick orchid on our kitchen windowsill has produced a flower.

2. A buttery, nutty, sweet avocado.

3. Finally I get up to go along the landing, but by the time I find my dressing gown, the light has gone out and all is quiet again.

Sleepers, escape and besotted.

1. In the morning (after a night alone with Nick) when I go to look, Alec and my mother are sprawled asleep across her bed. Downstairs, my father is considering tea.
"How was it?" I ask him. I feel very guilty.
"It was fine, apart from the kicking. I think he woke up twice."

2. As soon as Alec is down for his morning nap, and as soon as the rain has stopped, and before anyone asks to come with us, Nick and I set out into the glistening forest to follow tracks in the mud, sniff the spicy pines and to find frogs under the dripping trees.

3. "Your mother says she is besotted."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Looking back, big screen and ceremony.

1. To hold a very small baby and see that this week, she is looking back at you.

2. There is a definite buzz about the park today: big screens are going up so the town can gather and watch the opening of the Olympics. Coloured banners make gateways of the green paths, and a large number of nonchalant dog walkers (who just happen to be passing) observe the work, while other people pretend that they've just come out to give the kids a go in the playground.

3. "I suggest you work until 10 o'clock and then we can watch the opening ceremony together," says Nick as he wanders into the sitting room. I look at him dozily, and then sink back into the task.
"Darling girl, you're missing it!"
I come back up and go through to watch the fireworks and within minutes I'm glued to the set. I love the parade of athletes best, with the commentators vying to provide the most obscure information about each team, and I was so happy for the first women olympians from Brunei, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Then there were those intriguing copper petals, carried so carefully in gloved hands by children in ethereal gold costumes. What were they for? The commentators kept hinting that it was something amazing, pretending they didn't know, but you could tell they did.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Strawberry tarts, soft butter and fastest bedtime ever.

1. Louise brings strawberry tarts for our puddings. They are sweet and tart and juicy and creamy and crisp and buttery all at once.

2. The butter was meant to be chilled, but it's such a hot day that it was soft enough to slide off a spoon. The dough is much easier to work with, and in the end the scones aren't that much heavier than usual.

3. Alec is furious when I get him out of the backpack. He is tears and snot and flailing heels and arching spine in a pair of little red shorts. I think he's overtired and got a bit over-excited at nursery -- I noticed two of the staff had brought him down to the garden on his own at hometime, and he was running around like a clockwork toy. I take him upstairs to bed and -- somehow -- manage to get a clean nappy and a clean T-shirt on him. Then I offer him some bub and it's as if I've pressed an off-switch. He's asleep before we can do the second side, and I go downstairs feeling lopsided. The clock shows that we've been home for quarter of an hour.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pull, willow and talking on the train.

1. To walk in the garden and pull out a few strands of bindweed. "It's satisfying," says Cat, and it is. Later she comments: "I want them to gorge themselves on blackberries."

2. To duck under the branches of a weeping willow on a very hot day.

2b. We come to Tulse Hill after a long walk in the parched afternoon. I sit down, with Alec still in the backpack and get the water out. He takes his cup over my shoulder, saying in a pitiful tone: "Tea!"

3. When we get to London Bridge, the lady with the box of chicken and chips, and the lady with the euphonium say "It's been good talking to you" and I tell them the same.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Porridge, pub and playground.

1. Porridge with cream and rivers of golden syrup.

2. It's too hot to think about lunch. We normally eat at the pool on a Monday, but it's the first day of the holidays and I just couldn't face swimming. I take Alec up on my shoulders and go to the pub, where we sit in a cool, empty dining room beside an open door. The landlord makes Alec laugh and we eat food cooked by someone else.

3. Alec is playing by the climbing frame that's meant for big children -- he likes to waggle his fingers through the holes in the climbing wall. Suddenly a flock of giant tweens appear from no-where. I'm about to move him to safety, but he stands his ground. They gather round him, the closer ones kneeling and the outside ones standing and I hear them ask him about the aeroplane on his T-shirt. I hear them say: "If you could talk, what would you say?" Then suddenly a phone rings and he's forgotten (not that he cares, he wants to go on the roundabout now).

Gone out, herb garden and the cavalry.

1. When we get there -- and with the road closed, it took a lot of getting -- we are told that Granny has gone out for the afternoon: "She's taken them in the minibus with a flask of tea and everything." 

2. To walk through a herb garden and run my hands through anything that looks interesting.

2b. She says she's from Alaska, and sitting in the sun with my clothes sticking to me, I think "Mmm, cold."

3. More troubles on this hot, bright day: the trains are badly delayed. When we get to Tunbridge Wells, there are a lot of subdued, sticky, dusty people waiting on the platform. As we get off, I feel like shouting: "It's all right, the cavalry has come", but I don't think they'd appreciate it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Energy, wasp and chocolate.

1.  Nick comes home in the middle of the afternoon and says: "He's asleep, isn't he... There's a..." he pauses as if he can't quite believe what he's about to say. "There's an energy missing from the house." 

2. The thing that stung the back of my neck was a wasp. It blunders back into my skirt, and when I release it outside, it goes quietly -- contrite, or more likely stunned from when I flung it across the room.

3. To nibble on a piece of really interesting chocolate. I made Nick start a cheese tasting diary, which he now keeps with great satisfaction, recording notes and comments and facts and jokes. Perhaps I need to follow my own advice with chocolate.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Son, space and comfort.

1. I'm in the bathroom when I hear Nick (who is on the landing, keeping Alec from rattling on the door handle) laugh. "What's he doing?" I call through the door.
"He's bringing joy to my heart."

2. To find a space in a crowded cafe.

3. To lie still and have your back rubbed in an absent-minded sort of way.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Twin time, her twin and trying it on.

1. Before we leave for our walk, I change a nappy and his kicking seems almost serene compared to my spiky boy. Then I help out with a feed. I experience the eye contact that I envied so much during the early days watching members of my NCT group who used bottles.

2. "I'm a twin," confides a lady who has left her walking frame behind to look into the pram. "He died three years ago. I still miss him. We were a pair of terrible twins. My mother says we got into the cupboard and tipped the condensed milk over our heads."

3. "He didn't like the tea," they tell me when I go to pick him up. "He kept hanging round the kitchen asking for 'bic-bic', so we found him half a gingerbread man."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Good use of the time, film night and brie.

1. I'm feeling guilty about taking two evening passes this week, so I try extra hard to make good use of my nursery afternoons. I draw up the following week's meal plans during his morning nap and do the supermarket on my way home from dropping Alec off. I feel very virtuous, and I won't have to face shopping on a Saturday morning.

2. To hurry through the early evening to one of Anna's famous film nights. It's a documentary about the fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. She has fallen a teeny bit in love with him for his kindness and his sense of honour.

3. Runny brie that needs to be eaten right now.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Now it's done, pass and Baby's fine.

1. Another task that I've been avoiding: turning the compost. I was right to be apprehensive: the rainy months have left me with a foul and slimy disappointing anaerobic mess. I push my sleeves back up and get to work. A bit of torn-up cardboard; a bit of clean compost; better drainage and a few dry weeks will see  me right. I feel much better now it's done.

2. To pass a few raisins over my shoulder to Alec in the backpack.

3. In the park, a doll just like Alec's Baby is lying all alone on a bench. "Baby," says Alec. "Baby!"
"No, no, it's not Baby, just a doll that looks like Baby. He's much dirtier than Baby. Don't touch, I think he's quite happy there, he's gone to sleep with his eyes shut. He's listening to the wind."
Cold rain and the rising wind make us hurry home.
When we get back, I run upstairs to check that Baby is still lying on a cushion in the cot, warm and safe under Alec's blanket.
Alec has forgotten the whole thing already.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Torch bearer, edging and devil.

The Olympic torch passed the bottom of our road yesterday. Of course we turned out to watch -- everyone did, I think! Anke has some photos.

1. On the way up to the top of town we pass one of the torch bearers, still in her Olympic tracksuit and with her torch slung over her shoulder. She is arm in arm with her boyfriend. I smile at her, and she smiles back so brightly and honestly that you would not think she has been smiling at people all day.

2. It smells of green and of earth where the park keeper is tidying the edge of the path. He has cut all along it with an edging knife and is now using a small hoe to scrape away the ragged slices of grass and soil. "That looks nice," I tell him. I'm not sure if I mean the work itself or the results.
"Thank you very much," he says. He nods at Alec asleep in his pushchair. "He looks comfortable."

3. While we are getting Alec off to sleep he slides off the bed and stroll off round the bedroom singing "Ohhh okey-cokey-cokey" in a devilchild voice. Nick and I look at each other in the dim light and burst out laughing.

4. To go to a bar and listen to people reading their own poetry.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Change of temperature, breast pocket and tangle.

1. To come out of the too hot baby pool and into the refreshing water of the main pool. And then into the bright water of the outdoor pool. And then back to the baby pool, which now seems like a lovely warm bath.

2. Alec leans over and drops the phone into Tim's breast pocket and then takes it out again. Tim is rather mazed. I explain that every evening Nick comes home with his wallet and ID in his breast pocket. When he leans over to kiss me, Alec empties his pocket.

3. Our bed -- by which I mean mine and Alec's -- is now such a nest of pillows and knitted blankets and summer and winter duvets and books and toys and lost handkerchiefs that it doesn't matter where you put your head. The important thing is that you can find each other in the small hours without opening your eyes, and that there's a place for Nick when he joins us (well refreshed by a restful night's sleep) in the morning.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Enough, Alec in bubbles and Clare in bubbles.

1. There is enough batter left from yesterday to make two pancakes.

2. Alec has been talking a lot about bubbles so Nick runs him a bubble bath: "He was a bit uncertain at first, but then he picked up some bubbles and dabbed them on my nose."

3. After everyone has gone to bed, I run myself a bath full of pink and bubbles -- Lush bubble bars make the most luxurious foamy, filmstar baths -- and lie back with my decadent book about Venice.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Done, flappy feet and DIY.

1. To wake up on a Saturday and to have already done the supermarket shop for the weekend.

2. Alec wakes from his nap before Nick does. He has some bub* and then asks "Dad-dad?"
"Upstairs," I tell him. "Daddy's in the attic."
"Dad-dad," says Alec, and slides down off the bed. I hear his flappy feet on the landing, and I suppose I ought to follow. I get there just in time to see the door at the bottom of the attic stairs closing behind him: "Bye bye Mummy! Harro Daddy!"

3. Alec takes a long time to settle, so I tell Nick to cook his own supper. I come down and find him finishing up a plateful of bacon and eggs. Neither the food nor the kitchen is burnt, and he says he made himself some rice cakes out the leftover risotto (don't ask for the how-to, they'd gone by the time I got there). 


*For anyone curious about the actual experience of being breastfed, Alec now has the vocab to report back. He comes off and pronounces it "Nai", which probably means 'nice' and is also used to describe biscuits, strawberries and trains.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

She's come, new and wait for me.

1. When Alec wakes from his nap, he discovers that my mother has come. He is shy and thrilled at the same time. He can't stop handing her things -- mostly nappies -- because he is so pleased to see her but doesn't have the words to explain himself.

2. I stroll out to the park with Helen and her brand new twins. I remember being just as happy and just as fragile and just as unworldly. Our first walk was like a walk on the surface of another planet.

3. I leave late and when I get to the station Nick has already set off up the hill because he thinks he's missed me. I spot him in the crowd by his grey head and his sand-coloured man bag. I hurry after him, but I know he's too far ahead to catch. Then he turns and sees me.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Poached eggs, proposal and photography.

1. To stir up a whirlpool in a pan of boiling water and watch our breakfast eggs turning to a swirl of ragged lace (I can't make one without thinking of Miss Haversham).

2. "Not on the Eiffel Tower," she says as I hand Alec over to her at nursery. "There was a thunderstorm. There's this bridge called Lover's Bridge -- have you heard of it?" The ring is only a practice ring -- he very sensibly thought he'd let her pick out the one she wanted.

3b. She says: "Come on Alec, show Mummy where we change your nappy." He runs away giggling. Instead of picking him up as I would, she says: "Come along Alec, show Mummy where we change your nappy." And then he comes, he really comes and leads me there. He is so happy during the change that I watch her carefully for toddler wrangling tips: she keeps eye contact with him; gives him things to hold; and focuses the whole task on him, as if it was solely for his amusement.

4. We went, all together as a family, to the launch of Ellen Montellius' Being. It's an exhibition of portaits of writers from Tunbridge Wells, and the reason we took Alec (are you wondering what sort of dreadful people we are to take a toddler to a gallery launch?) is because he is in my portrait. We kept him in the backpack so he could join in the conversation, fed him handfuls of crisps and didn't stay too long. I read recently that having beautiful portraits made of oneself is addictive and once I'd seen Ellen's picture full size for the first time, I understood. Alec's response was a very gratifying: "Mummy!" We heard Anna's girls saying the same thing about her picture.


Here's Anke's account and Sarah Salway's.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Resilient, novel and I don't mind.

1. I gave up on edibles in the woven willow bed this year and threw down a handful of flower seeds. They have been smothered by nasturtiums, 'watered' by Alec with bird seed and dug up twice by a mysterious night visitor. But now two of them have put out midnight blue trumpets striped with butter yellow.

2. To stretch out in a bath with Carnevale, a novel rich as tiramisu... at half past nine in the morning because Alec has gone down for a nap.

3. Alec gets bored and walks off halfway through storytime. I am left gazing happily at Eric Carle's illustrations in Pancakes Pancakes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TV, finally and the phone call.

1. To put my now cold breakfast coffee on the sitting room window sill and watch Chuggington with Alec's warm back snuggled against me.

2. It gets to 4.30pm, and I can't face spending the empty half hour before supper at home on this day when I can't do anything right. I put Alec in the backpack and we go down to the station to watch a couple of trains pull out. Alec's little voice in my ear and his waving hand on the edge of my visual field: "Bye toot toot. Bye bye. Bye toot toot. Bye toot. Bye bye toot toot." I can see commuters smiling at us.


3. "Is now a good time?" Cat wonders when she calls.
"Yes! Oh yes, I'm so glad you called. We've had such a day. How did you know?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blast off, dimpled and button box.

1. Alec refused to push his boat along; and he refused to kick it on his back. When the time came to sing Humpty Dumpty and jump in, he turned round and walked away. I was left by the wall trying to drag a squirming wet toddler back into the pool by his ankles while all the others in the class swum nicely across.
Then the teacher said: "We're going to play rockets. Sit on the step... That's right Alec, well done. And three... two... one... blast off! Put out your arms and they're going to push off to you."
"More! More!" said Alec, trying to wriggle his way back to the step.

2. I love the dimpled, dinted surface of a swollen river.

3. A quiet naptime knock at the front door.

4. To tip my button box out on to the table for a child to play with.

Monday, July 09, 2012

I can smell again, train report and biscuits.

1. I've had a cold since the week of my birthday and I haven't yet smelt the bathing goodies I bought for myself as a treat. This morning I have the house to myself and my nose is almost back to normal, so I clean the bathroom, run a bath and lie back.


2. Nick and Alec come home from their morning walk. Alec reports: "Toot toot. Bick bick. Mummy." Nick reports that there was a line of dads and lads on the platform at the station, and that the train driver waved to them.

3. Costa Coffee are doing giant British biscuits this summer. They are about three times life-size and somewhat softer than the real thing. The custard cream which I shared with Alec tasted totally authentic; and I've fallen a tiny bit in love with the bitter chocolate Bourbon Cream (which is a co-incidence, because a tiny bit of it is all I got).

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Pleased, no rush and time for sleep.

1. Alec looks pleased with himself and his world at breakfast time. He is sitting on Nick's lap eating pieces of pancake off Nick's plate.

2. It takes the lady in front of me at the supermarket FOUR goes to pay for her groceries. "But it says: 'Press clear to cancel'," she tells the checkout assistant.
"That's just if you've made a mistake. Don't press clear, you don't want to cancel."
"Well on the other machines you just press OK."
"That's right, press OK."
"It says I've put my number in wrong."
I lean against the conveyor belt. I'm really not in any hurry to re-join my boys and start mothering again.

3. Alec has slithered down off the bed during his evening wind-down and is having a high old time flinging open the curtains and saying: "Boo!" He doesn't look very sleepy at all. Nick and I are having a cuddle and pretending to watch him. He has been trying to get our attention by coming to the edge of the bed and saying very plaintively "Bub?" but when I try to lift him up he runs back to the curtains giggling. In due course I remember what I should be doing and tell Alec: "One more boo, and then it's bub and go-to-sleep. You're a tired little man." I expect tears and a riot -- but he comes quietly and settles down between us once again. Nick goes downstairs, and Alec (and I, it later turns out) drift off to sleep.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Get up and go, on his level and notes.

1. I value those mornings when Alec and I wake up at the same time as Nick. I love eating breakfast as a family and to wave Nick off to work from the front step.

2. To stop trying and get down on the floor to look into Alec's angry crumpled face. His eyes are dark and shining and his mouth red and wet. He just wants me to listen.

3.  The hall at nursery is covered in yellow sticky notes for the painter: "Look up" and "Not painted" and "Picture rail and moulding" and "Pink between the door and the window". 

Friday, July 06, 2012

Side shoots, peach and laurel to the head.

1. To nip side shoots of a tomato plant.

3. I did offer Alec a bite of the perfect peach -- but he made a sour face and shook his head.

3. I duck under a laurel branch and the glossy leaves brush the top of my head and make a leathery flip-flap sound.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Game, time for tea and sandwich.

1. To make baby Chloe laugh with a game that Alec used to like (I count one, two, three and 'pop' her little fists apart).

2. "Bic-bic?" says Alec in an enquiring sort of way. It's almost 4pm, and I've got a fiver so we walk down to the church cafe on the High Street and take tea together.

3. A soft fat sandwich on sweetish bread with a salty filling.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Library, sailing and pink medicine.

1. In the library: First he brings me a book about a boy whose father has gone to prison. Next he brings me a book that we own, but that he wants me to read right now. Then he drops at my feet a book about a clever dad. I add that one to the pile, and surreptitiously put the other two down.

2. I rack my brains for a watery nautical song to amuse Alec at bathtime and come up with:

I saw a ship a-sailing, a-sailing on the sea
And oh but it was laden with pretty things for thee:
There were comfits in the cabin and apples in the hold,
And the sails were made of silk and all the masts were made of gold.
Something something something ran between the decks
Were four-and-twenty white mice with chains about their necks.
The captain was a duck with a packet on his back.
And when the ship began to move the captain said: 'Quack quack.'

To my delight, after I've sung it a few times, marking time by tapping my knee, he joins in the 'quack quack', complete with the sign for a duck; and when I stop, he says: "More", pats my knee and does the duck sign.

3. Alec is inconsolable, chewing his hand and clutching his ear -- until the sticky pink medicine comes out. It makes him forget all his troubles for a while, but I do think he's really in pain because he starts up again once the taste has worn off. I snuggle him up beside me and tell him it'll soon pass. It makes me feel very motherly.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Bolt, the other path and favourite time.


1. Of course it's very inconvenient and could be horribly dangerous when Alec runs away, but I can't help enjoy the glee with which he does it. And the way he jumps, laughs and speeds up when he sees me coming to get him.


2. To see a person take the path we don't have time for today and remember a happy walk from earlier in the year.

3. "My favourite time of day is when we lie in bed and talk about how clever and handsome and brave Alec is."

Monday, July 02, 2012

Cheer, butterfly and look out.

1. "I think that cheered them up," says Nick as we leave his parents' house.

2. When I get home, I discover that the envelope of birthday money that Nick's mother slipped me also contains an enamel butterfly brooch.

3. "Let's look out of the turret," says Nick. So we open the window in the roof and stand on tip-toes to enjoy the gentle Sunday evening sounds. They seem even more gentle because we are raised above them.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Folded, where and shake.

1. Alec folding pancake into his mouth (I made the big flat English kind for breakfast).

2. "Tell Mummy where we've been." They've been on the train to Tonbridge and back again -- apparently the best bit of the trip was looking at the snack machine on the platform.

3. Shaking up a jar of salad dressing.