Friday, August 31, 2012

A sense of scale, rituals and not a happy ending.

1. Alec lives in a surreal little world -- where toy trains eat pasta left over from lunch; a doll taking a bath in a shoebox wants to play with a full sized beach ball. He often makes these errors of scale -- several times I've seen him try to get on to a tiny swing meant for a toy, and I've seen him trying to ride in his two-inch long Thomas The Tank Engine. I don't know if he is making a genuine mistake; or if he is pretending because the absurdity of it appeals to him; or if he's play-acting.

2. We have new rituals for our walk home from nursery. Alec never fails to remind me to check the rowan berries for green shield bugs; and to pick a couple of blackberries for him from the overgrown rockery outside the doctors' surgery.

3. I never thought Gilbert and Sullivan would make me want to cry... but the ending of Yeoman of the Guard is heart-wrenching and unexpected.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The post, not scared and the way to a man's heart.

1. The post brings a letter from Jen in the North* and a parcel containing a strange blue wobbly thing for Alec.

2. I was worried that I'd scared Alec with the blue wobbly thing -- because he kept jumping back whenever I squeezed it to make it puff up, and whenever I shook it to make the tentacle-hairs ripple. But when we get back in from the park, he immediately asked for lulu. When I said I didn't know what a lulu was, he went and pulled the blue wobbly thing out of Nick's slipper.

3. "New dishcloths," says Nick.** "You really know how to make me happy."

* She included her Three Beautiful Things:
1. To get the bus somewhere and take in the scenery after years of car driving and not having time.
2. Changing seasons: As I walk the dog, the sun shines but I can smell Autumn coming from Scotland (My Dad says it starts there first).
3. Meeting. To pour out your problems and worries in a room full of people who have the same ones.

**He'd got over the blue wobbly thing by this point.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Boy feet, sitting down and The Proms.

1. To notice a slightly hardness on the pink soles of Alec's feet..

2. I sit down with Interzone and a cup of coffee and... I hadn't realised how strung out I've let myself become. Breathe.

3. We watch a recorded Prom, the Gilbert and Sullivan one. I love the Prom concerts -- they are so British, like the Queen and cricket on the green, and I always feel absurdly proud of G&S.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Green bath, sleep and be damned and before the deadline.

1. I sink into a salty bath that smells of an earthy pine forest, thanks to a Lush Geophyzz bath bomb and a copy of Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand Of Darkness*.

2. I don't really wake up properly when Nick and Alec come home towards the end of the afternoon. They snuggle into bed next to me and we all sleep until there is no chance of getting Alec to bed at a sensible hour.

3. To hand in an essay in plenty of time. I was always a last-minute sort of person at university, but the time constraints I'm under now mean that I need to click submit 18 hours before the final deadline.

*It's one of the texts for my course, and it is both alien planet travelogue and a social science fiction thought experiments. These are two genres that I like very much indeed.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Crackling, to the fair and weak and weary.

1. To find a last piece of crackling on the carving board.

2. I'm apprehensive about letting Alec go on the scruffy fibreglass train that screeches and scrapes its way round a tiny track. I remember feeling afraid and alone on rides as a small child. The other children sit with fixed stares, and some of them are riding with a parent.
"You hold on," I tell him. He grips the window frame with one hand, and his knuckles are white for the entire rattling, shuddering ride. He looks straight ahead, but waves with his free hand each time he passes.
I lift him out when the door is opened, glad to feel his weight and his kicking legs. "What now? Chair-o-planes?"
"More, Mummy. More toot. More toot."
He rides a second time -- this time in a carriage with a bell. He has to reach right up to hold the chain, and his baby-fat arm is too tightly stretched to shake the clapper. He keeps hold until I lift him out.
At the end, he asks for more again. I tell him: "No more, just two rides." He buries his face in my legs and has a little cry.

3. Late at night is the best time for reading Poe. I love to read The Raven when it is almost midnight because I can empathise a little with the narrator. I'd never come across The Bells before: what a sonorous, tintinabulous piece of work it is.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chase me, messing and rock 'n' roll lifestyle.

1. I really to turn my pancakes, but Alec is shrieking with laughter and asking me to chase him round the kitchen with the fish slice.

2. Alec stands on a kitchen chair and examines little piles of all my scone ingredients. It's funny how much more pleasant life with a toddler is when you just accept that there will be mess.

3. We do know that Alec is going to be up all night if we all fall asleep in the afternoon -- but we do it anyway.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Laugh, smile and dry jeans.

1. When Nick comes down into our bed, Alec laughs in his sleep -- and such a sweet, gentle laugh, as if he has been moved by something as lightweight and transient as a soap bubble.

2. The twins are nine weeks old now, and if you watch their faces carefully, you might get a smile. Daisy's is so broad that it moves her ears.

3. To peel off a pair of rain-soaked jeans and put on dry ones.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Asleep and far away, off the estate and go away.

1. I love the mornings when Alec is deeply asleep in a far corner of the bed so that Nick and I get a cuddle by ourselves.

2. I don't much like walking on the industrial estate because I feel so out-of-place. But what I do like is seeing, behind the gigantic car showrooms, a herd of cows on the edge of the countryside. And a man walking towards me stoops to pick a handful of blackberries. And on an empty plot, the seedheads of wild flowers tangled with undisturbed grasses in all their glorious varieties.

3. I am in an almost-empty cafe catching up with my reading when I see someone I know casting round for a place to sit. I focus extra hard on the screen and imagine a double-strength go-away bubble around myself. Their gaze slides over me, and they walk on by.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Steam train, queuing and the word.

1. The hot metal, burning coal smell of a steam train.

2. The queue is long for Tonbridge Model Engineering Society's tiny railway -- but Alec is entranced, so I decide that we will wait. I tell him that it might be too expensive.
"It's by donation," says the lady in front. "I pay a pound."
And I tell him that he might be too little.
"I took this one," says the lady in front putting both hands on her six-year-old grandson's shoulders "when he was about the same age."

3. It is nearly 9pm and Alec has been trying to spit out a word for about half an hour. He is frustrated, and he is fighting sleep.
"Ca. Ca. Ca!"
"Cat? Cap? Cot?" That last gets an emphatic NO. "What is it?"
"Calpol!"*
"Are you not feeling well? What's the matter? Where do you hurt?"
He pauses for a moment and then: "Nap-nap. Poo."
I try to explain that you don't take painkillers for a dirty nappy and that his nappy is sweet and clean anyway, but if he wants me to I'll change him.
He flies into a tearful rage. It seems to burn off his frustration, because once he's calmed down enough to latch on, we both fall asleep.

*Brand name of a strawberry flavour liquid paracetamol formulation for infants. Alec's last dose was three weeks ago, for teething pain -- and actually, it was a generic version which is half the price.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dad school, heartsease and naming names.

1. I notice that Matthieu says "Bo-bo-bo" to Alistair, just as Nick says to Alec. And when he lifts him up, he says: "Waaugh!", just like Nick. When I tell Matthieu this, he says that it's probably neolithic. I think it's an international dad school.

2. To pick heartsease in various combinations of yellow and purple and white and use them to decorate the fruit salad.

3. Katie and Chloe leave shortly after lunch, but for the rest of the afternoon Alec keeps saying: "Bye Bye Loey".

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sausage, pruning the wisteria and time to go home.

1. I give Alec one of the butcher's free samples: a piece of sausage. He eats it quickly, and then asks for another piece. There's a second variety to try, so I give him a bit, just to compare. As we leave, he waves at the butcher and says: "Bye-bye Sausage."

2. Our landlord comes to prune the wisteria that is trained over our kitchen walls and has been empire-building across the roof (he planted it when he lived in this house, and it's legendary round here: people are always telling us that it flowered in its first year). It has been so enthusiastic this year that the window looks as if is has a green eyebrow. When he has packed up the prunings and taken his ladder away, Alec and I go outside to look. It's much tidier now, and the yard seems very spacious. In the kitchen, the change in the light makes me think of that day in early spring when the sun shines properly for the first time in weeks.

3. The shadows are getting long in the park. It's tea and bathtime, so I try one of the parenting tips I've read about: if you give a toddler a choice, they feel in control and are more likely to comply. "Do you want to go home now, or in five minutes?"
"No," says Alec. Which is a reasonable answer, I suppose, because he's having fun in the little house and doesn't feel hungry yet.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Alone, tap-tap and train on a string.

1. Nick and I go out to breakfast (it only takes the two of us 20 minutes to get out of the house from a sleeping start). Afterwards, we have a leisurely stroll around the Pantiles (without carrying a snack, drink, changing bag, unwilling toddler).

2. Since 9am, we've been saying that we're ready to have Alec back. Now there's a tap-tap at the door.

3. Alec is beyond delighted by his new train on a string. He runs up and down the kitchen pulling it along and shouting "toot-toot!" Later I use it to lure him upstairs for a nappy change. It drives up each step and waits for him before setting off again with a tantalising "toot" just as he gets to it. He shrieks with laughter and never gets frustrated.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Alec's morning, taken away and 20 hours of freedom.

1. We devote the morning to Alec, very little housework, just playing with, chatting, reading to, cuddling, bubbing and listening to because...

2. ...after lunch my parents come and take him away for an overnight visit. I carry him out to the car. He looks back towards the front door and says almost impatiently: "Bye Daddy, bye bye!"

3. And what do we do with this afternoon and night of freedom?

a. We pick up my glasses -- corrected lenses are always a psychedelic experience for me, and I enjoy the altered state while it lasts. "All the colours are so bright," says a friend of a friend that we run into, "and you can see the trees and the... oh, watch out for the puddles!" And I glance down, fooled for a moment.

b. We check out the charity shops -- initially looking for a cheap Poe and a cheap Hawthorne for my course -- but soon we are searching for toys and train books. We find a pull-along Brio train (Alec's big favourite is a pull-along telephone, so we imagine that a train on a string will blow his mind) and think ourselves very lucky.

c. We have a kip.

d. We go out for dinner (very early because we are used to eating with Alec at 5pm), have a cocktail and a glass of wine each, and then come home and go straight to bed, together, alone, in the double bed.

Whistling, creatives and cat.

1. Alec is not hungry and is in the mood for showing off (my cousin Laura has come for a visit). He puts a pasta quill in his mouth and blows down it to make a whistling sound.

2. To spend an afternoon talking art and looking at the picture books that are spread out on the floor.

4. Against the bright evening sky, the blackest curves of a cat with all four paws on the gatepost.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cookie, remember rowan and from the north.

1. Naptime means a special cookie warmed in the oven for mummy.

2. Every time we pass the tree outside nursery, we have to stop and touch the berries. "This is a rowan tree," I tell Alec, hoping the generous clusters of scarlet berries and dusty green pinnate leaves will stick in his mind.

3. "So you've come back for more," says the fishmonger as he wraps the plump smoked mackerel I'm about to buy. "A lot of people feel that way about them."
I love to peel the gleaming light-and-shadow striped skin off the succulent meat.
When I ask, he says: "They're smoked in Grimsby," and he adds "They're very oily because they are Scottish mackerel, not the ones from the south coast."
Perhaps they're so enticing because we starved of fish oils down here on the slim south coast.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What milk, crossing paths and message.

1. I'm a bit puzzled by Alec's request for Daddy milk -- until I realise he wants cows milk in a cup.

2. He is very shy, this man who was shouting in Polish into his phone and who is now politely accepting a piece of grass from Alec. He bends down and picks some grass, too. Then he straightens up, makes a Ninja hand seal and walks off down the path. As he passes me, he glances up, smiles a little, and says: "Bye."

3. A message to say that a friend who lives abroad is in the area next week and would like to see us.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cobwebs, escape and merriment.

1. As we are leaving, when the evening sun is dipping through the kitchen window I point out a mass of golden cobwebs threaded between the legs of a chair. Luckily my mother sees how beautiful it is and doesn't take it as a comment on her housekeeping.

2. To close the front door behind me on games night.

3. There was an awful lot of laughter round the Tuesday Knights table (see reports at She Kills Monsters and over at Tim's).

PS: Sarah Salway has interviewed me in five sentences.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Man bubs, loll and washing machine.

1. Alec sidles up to me in the toddler pool and points to my chest, and then to his chest: "Bubs." And then he points to an older man paddling with his two small boys: "Man bubs." I'm glad the man is too far away to hear, but I'm secretly laughing.

2. A heavy little head lolls against my shoulder as I puff up the hill to home.

3. "...and look, if you press this button, it makes the rinse noise, it spins and then it dries."
"That is brilliant," says Nick. He is nearly as delighted as Alec is by the 50p toy washing machine -- just big enough for a wipe and a pair of toddler socks -- that we found in the window of a charity shop.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mementos, where's Alec and closing ceremony.

1. In Fiona's bathroom is the front page that I helped make for her when she left the Courier back in the early 2000s. She was, of all of us juniors, the highest flyer: the page jokes about her quickness and the way she flings open the door to opportunity before it even has the chance to knock. Later, she shows me photos of us all at her leaving do. We look like people from another world, staring out from behind outdated specs, with outdated clothes and outdated hopes and dreams. I'm amazed and touched that she kept mementos of this short time.

2. There is a moment when I realise that I've been chatting and I haven't seen Alec for a while. All the children are crammed into the wendy house: when I look in that direction, I see his face at the window. I catch his eye, and he waves happily.

3. In the Olympic closing ceremony, the moment we realised that the human cannonball was... Eric Idle. And the skating nuns.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Starting out, view from the window and greetings.

1. To set off on a grand day out: all the train timetable checking and the sunhat finding and snack picking and bottle filling and window closing and door locking.

2. We realise that there is no way of arranging our table so the high chair is not in the waitresses' way, so we move across the room. Alec immediately starts up with great excitement: "Toot! Toot-toot!" Through the open window he can see the little train that took his fancy in the amusement park.

3. As we pass the open back door of a laundry, someone shouts to us "Hallo". "
We call back, and then someone else said "Buongiorno."
As we pass, I hear someone with a strong accent say: "What beautiful language. In English?".
"Awright mate!"
And a chorus of rainbow-coloured "Awright mates" follows us down the alley.

Wake up, point don't pick and waste.

1. In the morning to suggest strongly to Alec that he might like to go and "See where Dad-dad has got to".

2. Alec now points to the strawberries, rather than picking them. I didn't have to shout (much) but I did explain (a lot of times) that if he picks then when they are hard, they won't taste good. He picked a couple of green ones, tasted them and spat them out, which I think helped drive the instruction home.

3. To feel as if I have wasted the afternoon with indolence.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fizz, working outside and Thursday tea.

1. The simmering vinegary water in which I am about to poach our breakfast eggs fizzes when I stir it up with a wooden spoon.

2. It occurred to me today: I've always wished that I had a job that would strongly encourage me to work outside in good weather. I was pulling up sharp-scented weeds in the front garden during Alec's naptime when I realised that I had my wish.

3. While Alec is at nursery, we go out for tea and sit outside watching Thursday afternoon go by.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Forget-me-not, tea and Dracula.

1. There is a new sort of forget-me-not in my flower bed. It has the usual humdrum sky-blue petals, but no butter yellow centre. The effect is startling. (I don't really think forget-me-nots are humdrum. No flower is, apart from maybe 24-hour garage crysanths and carnations.)

2. Nick takes us all out to tea, because I told him that every time we pass a particular cafe, Alec says: "Bic-bic!"

3. I am really getting into Dracula, it's thrill-a-minute, with some brilliant characters. I read late into the night in order to get my allotted pages done -- but I'm glad that Alec is there to look after me once I turn out the light.

PS: Here's something for Auntarctica fans. It's the Rothera's contribution to an all-Antarctica film festival.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Lavender, mutton stew and waking words.

1. To brush against the lavender hedge on a still day.

2. Our mutton stew, frozen and reheated for rather longer than I meant, is meltingly tender, and the tomatoes in the gravy have become sweet and sticky and deep, deep red.

3. When I get into bed, Alec wakes, sits up and says: "Daddy?" When I speak, he says happily: "Mummy," and settles back down again.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A piece of sausage, peace and quiet and feeding Baby.

1. Over lunch in the cafe, Alec balances a piece of sausage on his plastic teaspoon and holds it out to me.
"No, Alec, it's yours."
But he insists on putting it delicately into my mouth.
I offer him a piece of mine. He doesn't want it on the fork. He wants in on the pl... no, on the highchair tray.  He grabs it using his whole hand and mashes it into his mouth.


2. That home-coming tantrum that means Alec is very much ready for a nap.


3. I tried to buy myself some supper-preparing time by encouraging Alec to do some wholesome roleplay with his doll, Baby. "Give Baby some snack, Alec. Look!" And that's how I found myself sitting on the floor pretending to spoon a wooden brick out of an egg box. I felt stupid, supper wasn't getting made and Alec's demands for "Nack! Bic-bic!" were getting more and more piercing.
But after we'd eaten and while I was making things orderly, I heard lip-smacking. I turned round to find Alec offering the spoon to Baby.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Husband help, whirling and meet-up.

1. I am trying to make pancakes for breakfast, but Alec is desperate for attention, and for something to eat. "Just a minute, manny. Just a minute. Have some banana. There, lovely nana. Just a second. Let me flip this one... Oh no, banana doesn't go in your hair... No, Alec stop it!" Etc. Then Nick comes down the stairs.

2. To whirl Alec round by his arms until he snorts with laughter. When we stop, he staggers around like a dizzy drunk and then makes his way back to me, holding up his arms and saying: "More, again, more!"

3. I meet up with some of the other students on my course in a Google+ hangout. I still reel a little when I think about chatting on video, for free, with people I've just met on the internet. It feels as if the future has finally arrived.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Dim, chocolate and reading.

1. After breakfast, to lie on the sofa bed, all three of us, in the dim light behind the still drawn curtains.

2. "Alec bought it for you with his pocket money," lies Nick, handing me a bar of chocolate.

3. To snatch a few pages of Dracula here and there during the day. I bought a very cheap second hand copy, so it doesn't matter if I drop it in the washing up.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Rowan, fried egg and Alice in colour.

1. To show Alec (again) the scarlet rowan berries on the tree outside his nursery. In the backpack, he is just at the right height to pat the clusters and exclaim at the contrast with the grey-green leaves.*

2. I love a fried egg with a lacy golden edge.

3. I've been reading Alice in Wonderland for this course (and very much enjoying reading it slowly and in detail). I've been fascinated for a few weeks now in the way we describe colour so I thought I'd try to visualise the colours of Alice. I raided Flickr to create a sort of photo-collage, and I made use of this little colour search tool. It was quite a work, and I'm glad to have finished it.
Alice Flickr Gallery 1
Alice Flickr Gallery 2
Alice Flickr Gallery 3

* I carry a red-green colour-blindness gene, so there is a fifty per cent chance that Alec is colour-blind. I'm always interested to see what he does with colours.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Mutton, for the weekend and learning.

1. I'm puzzling over a label at the butchers: Bradley Wiggins' chops half price... of course, they are mutton chops, in honour of our gold medalist's splendid sideburns.

2. To have two stews in the oven, cooking for the weekend.

3. I've signed up for one of those there MOOCs (massive open online courses) about fantasy and science fiction. The system appears to be in beta, veering at times towards alpha, and the forums are full of angry people -- but I'm reading familiar texts in that deep, disciplined manner that reveals magical details and strange tastes and textures. And I've found friendly people who have invited me to off-forum discussions where we discuss these discoveries.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Head first, sudden and recovery.

1. The sight of Alec disappearing head first down a slide in the soft play area is very alarming, but the catching sight of his delighted face afterwards makes my day.

2. Alec is so excited at bedtime that I dig in for a long evening. He is shouting and singing and bouncing around and climbing over me and bringing me books. And then all of a sudden, he has such a tired face. He lies down, pats the bed next to him and says with great authority: "Bub-bub!" He is asleep within minutes.

3. We watch the bits of the Olympic opening ceremony that we missed. In the children's literature / NHS segment, when the apparently poorly children start bouncing on their hospital beds, we both burst out laughing.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ice cream cone, nursery tea and waiting up.

1. Alec puts the tip of the ice cream cone we have just shared into my mouth.

2. I love the evenings when we all eat supper early and together.

3. To wait up for something.