Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Into the wind, instructions and absolution.

1. The rain is sheeting down and the wind batters shoppers across the precinct as if they were nothing but litter -- but I am so glad to have escaped, by myself, for a little while.

2. Nick pronounces himself pleased with the instructions I left regarding lunch.

3. We had a cheese straw fail yesterday: we told Alec he could have one for his train snack.
I thought Nick had them and Nick thought I had them. Alec gave us a very disappointed look, folding his arms and bowing his head. I compounded matters by promising to buy a box to go with our tea, but M&S didn't have any. I had to patch Alec up with a firm talking to on the train: "Stop asking for cheese straws. I'm very sorry you are sad, but nothing you say or do will make me give you a cheese straw because even though I said there would be cheese straws, there are no cheese straws."
He mentioned it again this morning.
Today I bought a box of cheese straws and gave them to him: "Here are cheese straws. You can have one. After that, do not mention cheese straws again. In this family we forgive and move on." The look on his face suggested that it was all OK between us.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Light morning, like and marching orders.

1. We have to leave early this morning and (a) it is easy to get out of the door because Nick and I prepared everything last night; and (b) the light is such that I feel as if I'm viewing the common through a jar of honey.

2. He says that Bettany is the first baby who has liked him.

3. Alec, from his vantage point on Nick's shoulders, shouting bossy orders to a line of his elders and betters. "Fall back in! Full steam ahead!"

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Three boy, on the phone and rolling over.

Dinosaurs go ROAR
1. Today is Alec's third birthday. There are calls and messages and callers all day to let him (and us) know he is loved and valued.

2. While Alec is out trying his new scooter enhancements Cat calls. Bettany coos and laughs for her godmother and we have a satisfying and informative parenting chat. Later I find a sung message from all of them for Alec, complete with piano accompaniment.

2b. One of Alec's small friends comes by with her mother in time for early afternoon tea. Alec is still out, but when he returns we all run to the door and he greets her with a warmth and a charm that pleases me very much. She is a day younger than him, and we were all in hospital together. I'm glad someone else finds it hard to understand where the time has gone.

2c. We watch Howl's Moving Castle, which Alec has been very interested in for some time. I've noticed recently that when something he wants comes to pass he gets scared. As the opening titles faded he said "I'm just going to get my drink" and disappeared. He watched the first 15 minutes from the doorway, only joining us on the sofa when he felt safe.

3. When Alec indicates he has finished his evening bub. Sometimes he rolls over, sighs and is gone. Tonight he said: "Put the bubby away" and then he was away himself.

Picture by Polly Coupee

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My own shopping, toy and not free.

1. To get to the supermarket -- it's lovely to have someone else do your shopping for you, but they never know to get the things I don't know I want. There are a few ex-Christmas bargains to be had, and I want to buy a few treats for Nick.

2. The cleaning lady brings her son, and he brings an amazing radio controlled robot. It boxes its way around the kitchen in response to a motion activated controller. Alec is scared (he pretends he wants to look at something minute on trouser leg) and then entranced. I have to tell him off for taking the toy without asking. When I next turn round Nick is playing with it, and I almost tell him off, too, as the cleaning lady's son is looking as if he would like it back.

3. As it happens I don't get the evening of freedom I was anticipating. Although Alec went off very early and very easily, Bettany is not in a mood to be put down so I ended up stuck on the sofa with her. But I enjoyed looking forward to a possible evening of freedom anyway.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Not forgotten, food parcel and nightlight.

1. I whisk a fretful Bettany away from lunch. My mother brings a bowl of pudding up to us in bed.

2. We bring a food parcel home with us -- it's a relief not to have to think much about meals for the next few days.

3. Alec's new nightlight glowing on the bookshelf.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Escape, pair and waiting with me.

1. To slip out of bed, following Alec downstairs leaving Nick and Bettany sleeping.

2. Alec and my brother sitting side by side at a table, heads bowed over Alec's new tiny trainset.

3. Nick waits up with me for Bettany to settle down.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Confidence, going down and Father Christmas.

1. I squidge into the car between Alec's and Bettany's seats. Alec tells me, very joyfully but quite confidentially, that while I was faffing about remembering forgotten things, our neighbour came and knocked on his window.

2. The last of the guests come late, but earlier than expected. Bettany has her party pants on and they help tire her out enough to sleep.

3. From the edge of sleep I hear the bells on Rosey's door jingle faintly and the soft crackle of Christmas Eve cellophane.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Trial, rescue and the storm.

1. Alec has been testing, testing, testing the boundaries all day. To sit at the kitchen table and listen to him playing with his Lego. He is testing, testing, testing the limits of his materials -- how long can he make his vehicle?

2. The characters in Alec's rescue game have to shout to each other to be heard over the storm. At bath time I hear him ordering Nick around and addressing him as "Crew".

2. I stand at the attic window so entranced by the rain sheeting down the road and across the car park that I eat five chocolates without noticing. "It's like being in a carwash," says Nick coming up behind me.

Monday, December 23, 2013

An aunt, snow and not buying it.

1. "We're back, and we've found an aunt." I only sent them out to get a few groceries -- Aunty Sarah with her bag of presents is a treat indeed.

2. There was artificial snow on the Pantiles. Cannons were blowing great fat flakes down on to the crowds. People were standing entranced with clots of foam in their hair, filming, taking pictures and looking on. Children were stamping it into puddles. When I called Nick to let him know he said they'd seen it and that Alec said it didn't taste very nice.

3. I go into a shop to buy a little bowl for Bettany's Christmas. As I walk towards the till my phone goes. It's Nick saying he and Alec are at home, having successfully purchased the very bowl I am about to buy.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Score, looking away and peace maker.

1. Nick tells me with some pride that he scored a second hole in one in the game Alec calls croquet. He knocked an airflow golf ball into a loo roll tube with a mini cricket bat from a distance of three feet.

2. The way Bettany sometimes smiles back at us and then turns away as if it's all a bit shy-making.

3. Nick is in the bath when Alec wakes and I take Bettany with me when I go up. I have to bub them both to stop a fight breaking out. Bettany's free hand wanders all over, patting my chest and Alec's face and in his hair and I can't do a thing about it because both my hands are stuck under children. Alec gently but firmly takes her hand and holds it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Help, cheering and tissue paper.

1. Alec wants to know, "Can we ring somebody?"
So we ring Granny.
"Granny, can you come here now. Mummy needs you."
And before too long she's on her way.

2. Katie appears with a small present for Bettany and some cheering words.

3. Bettany lies on her rug rustling a piece of orange tissue paper, pulling it up over her face, peering out from under it and laughing at me.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Not worse, up again and sing-song.

1. I was feeling crestfallen because my shoulder seems worse again. The physio is cheerful though: "Of course having a cold will make it hurt with the muscle pains and so on."

2. Having said that, I did lift a flagging Alec up on to my shoulders without much trouble.

3. To peer between a row of people crouched on tiny chairs and see Alec singing along with his friends. And to see every staff member with at least two children on their lap.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

New beginning, cereal and comforted.

1. The way a cup of coffee, a sit down and some breakfast banish the horrors of the night.

2. Chocolate breakfast cereal.

3. It has been an impossible day -- stuck indoors because I'm going down with the cold that has kept Alec up in the night, and now a text saying that the cavalry is not coming until later. My temper frays and I snap at everyone. Alec snuggles in next to me. He pats my arm and says "There there" and strokes my back and asks if I feel better yet. I do, much.
I think of all the times I have tried to comfort him when he's angry and sad -- and got an enraged to response to "there there" and had my patting hand shoved away. I always think it can't be working, but now I know it does.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

At lunch, travel guide and the return.

1. Alec whispers a question about his rude noise machine. I tell him that if he must, to take it into the front room as it's not very polite while we are eating lunch. Our guest hasn't heard all of the exchange and wonders what is going on. The windypop sounds and the muffled giggles give the game away.

2. I am captivated Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. For a start I love travel guides to places you can't reach. And every time I open it I discover something enlightening -- the idea that the average age of the population drastically affects the behaviour of a nation is (very obvious) but new to me.

3. I've been out of the room for about an hour. Bettany's face lights up when I come back downstairs and she coos and crows and even laughs a little.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book quacks, mulled wine and tired man.

1. It is a grim afternoon for book quackery -- we get a lot of queries from wet and weary Christmas shoppers -- but we get a few advice-seekers and manage to take the education fund at Oxfam Books round to £1,000. Sarah Salway and I are still offering advice so if you want us to recommend a book we're on Twitter as @threebt and @sarahsalway -- you pick up your book and make a £5 donation at the shop in Tunbridge Wells.

2. A jug of mulled wine appears from Shambles at the bottom of Chapel Place.

3. Those evenings when Alec leads me upstairs well before bedtime. He has been out all afternoon scootering and taking joy rides on the festive land train that has been moving shoppers up and down town.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Glazed over, packet of prints and battery pack.

1a.  "And how old are you, Alec?" asks Father Christmas.
"I'm five months old." He'd been enjoying a game of babies this morning.

1. "Would you like a bag... I've asked you that already, haven't I."
To chat with glazed over shop assistants. There is a real buzz about town, though it's not so crowded that shopping is unbearable.

2. A packet of photo prints ready for Christmas presents.

3. We work like this now: Nick plays with the children while I clear a track from the back door to the front room and a space in the corner. I play with with the children while Nick brings the tree in and puts it in the stand.

3b. "Now look at this: see the spring, and see the smooth end? They go there. And feel that bobble on the other end? That goes there." Nick teaches Alec how to put batteries in the Christmas lights. I love his patience and his kindness.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Crib, gala performance and faint light.

1. I pack up Bettany's Bednest* ready to go back to the hire place. I think about how up until a few days ago I was feeling very sad about this because it's such a fantastic piece of kit. However I came in the other morning and found that she'd rolled over, rotated herself 180 degrees and was gnawing on the side. Time to move into a more grown-up bed, I think.

2. A friend has invited me to a gala performance at Trinity Theatre -- their children's Christmas show, Roald Dahl's The BFG. Being a gala performance there are lots of familiar faces from the town's arts scene and I'm glad to catch up and chat with some adults. It's a splendid show with clever puppetry and animation. The whimsy and magic that I recall from the book are all there (I'm surprised at how well I remember the text, I must have read it several times) but it's less dark than I remember, though it would have been too scary for Alec.

3. Coming home and seeing a faint light from the bedroom window. Nick and Alec are talking in whispers while Bettany sleeps in her basket. Alec and I chat about the play: he loves hearing about the scene where the giant whizzpops in front of the Queen. I can't wait to read the book with him.

* A bednest is a sidecar crib that puts her in bed with me, but in her own secure space. I can reach over and bring her in for a feed and then put her back without getting out of bed. We went for the hire option because we didn't want to have the bother of storing it and selling it on once we'd finished. I strongly recommend it to anyone about to have a baby -- you can find out more here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Worth reading, enlightened and world going past.

1. As I am leaving the house an older lady passing up the hill asks if I used to have a Courier column. "It was always worth reading," she says.

2. Enlightenment is sometimes terrible.
She tells me what her daughter said: "Mum, I'm so tired I could top myself."
"Of course," she continues, "Lots of women feel like that sometimes."
"We don't really want to be dead, but it seems the only way to have dark and quiet where nobody wants you," I say.
"Exactly."

3. "I love this window," says one staff on the first floor in Lush. "You see the whole world going past."


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Not waiting, baker and bravery rewarded.

1. I tell Alec that Howl's Moving Castle is on TV at Christmas. He throws a tantrum because "Why can't I be a bigger boy and watch it NOW?"

2. He tells me that he won a baking competition at school with... (his English is a work in progress and he can't remember the word) "I roll them out and cut them, one, two three in dinosaur shapes..."
"Ah, biscuits?"
"Yes, biscuits."

3. I first offered the dinosaur egg bath fizzer to Alec on Monday when the hot water came back on. He was concerned in case it contained a real dinosaur that would eat him. The fact that it is slightly cracked added to his worries that it might suddenly hatch. Today he has screwed up the courage to use it. In the middle is a tiny green plastic... we think it's an iguanadon.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Compliment, stop and cheering up.

1. I come downstairs in my exercise clothes and Alec says: "Ohh, look at you! You're wearing squashy trousers." He's copying the tone my mother used when she saw him in his new clothes. I'm not sure what he meant by squashy trousers, though.

2. I do three quarters of an hour of proofreading work and no more. There is more to do, but it feels good to stop and turn to my family work.

3. Nick's evening has been spoilt because he has ended up holding a fractious Bettany while I run up and downstairs between poorly Alec and my work. I am glad, in the end, to find him in the sitting room listening to Radio 3 with her.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Waiter, blessing and senses.

1. The Pizza Express waiter who lifted Alec into the high chair because he saw I had Bettany in the sling. And he brought our pizzas to the table cut up.

2. As we are leaving Oxfam Books an older man compliments Bettany and the way she is snuggled up against my chest. He is rather magical looking, like a gnome, and he is carrying a bag of cake. It is always lovely to be complimented so we chat a little and he puts his hand on her head in a way that looks rather like a blessing. Alec comes over and asks for some attention. The man puts his hand on Alec's head, too, and gives him a compliment, as if he understands what it's like to have a new baby sister that everyone wants to admire. Alec quiets and looks rather wondering.

3. I've noticed Bettany taking a lot of pleasure in her senses. When I put her down on the changing towel she wriggles her back against the rough fabric and giggles. And she pats my skin and makes happy little gulping noises as she feeds. She lay for 15 minutes shredding a piece of rustley tissue paper. Her favourite toy at the moment is a long flat piece of Alec's Duplo -- she waves it around until it gets into her mouth and then she gums it triumphantly. It got lost earlier and she fretted and fussed until I twitched aside another toy to show her where it was.

PS: The reason I was in Oxfam Books, Tunbridge Wells, was to do a little bit of setting up for an event I'm doing on Sunday 15 December from 1-3pm with Sarah Salway: We're going to be Book Quacks. We will be helping our clients to solve their lifestyle problems with book prescriptions. A consultation is just £5, which goes to the Oxfam education fund, and you get a book.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Modern conveniences, stealing Bettany and lick.

Today Polly Coupee swung by with a disc of pictures from the shoot she did with us last week. This is my favourite family portrait.


1. Thank heavens for grocery deliveries and for takeaway lunches, for washing machines and for forgiving guests.

2. To steal Bettany away from the action -- from time to time I can see she feels overwhelmed or she is asking for milk so I whisk her away to one of our bubbing nests and spend some time enjoying my baby and having her all to myself.

3. As Godmother Jo is leaving Alec leans over as if he is going to kiss her... "Oh lovely, a nice lick," she says with admirably good humour. I tell Alec off -- but Nick says that he did give her a generous hug before I came downstairs.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Wooden houses, saving it for Christmas and exactly 24.

1. On the High Street one of the estate agents has a window display of wooden houses made from laser cut birch. Every time we pass I pretend Alec is desperate for a look -- really it's me. I assumed the houses were way out of my decorations budget... until I saw two for sale at the Pantiles Christmas Market for a fiver each. I treat myself to one and put it on the mantelpiece so I can smile at it while I feed Bettany.

2. Nick and Alec return from their special lad and dad outing -- a ride on a steam train and a visit to Father Christmas. Alec has an unopened parcel in his hand and he says he wants to save it for Christmas.

3. "What are you doing, she counted them out, there are exactly 24 in there!"
"But I only asked for 12," I tell Nick once I've spat the date pip into my hand.
"I could have sworn you said two dozen," he says uncrumpling the shopping list and peering at it.
Fresh dates are such a treat, and now we've got 12 that are not needed for my Arabian lamb stew.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Me again, nursery run and night noises.

1. A gaming session with Meredith makes me feel like a me again, not a mummy (not that I mind being a mummy, but it feels so good to step out of that character for an hour or two).

2. All the dads coming off the train, urgent in flapping coats to do the Friday evening nursery run.

3. To sink into bed and hear Bettany snoring softly in the cot and to feel Alec's hot little back against mine.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Patisserie, high wind and strange doings.

1. To buy up the last of the macarons for tomorrow's game. I always like going into La Roche, the patisserie on the corner, because I like to see the bright and fanciful cakes arranged on the cold white marble counters.

2. A rush and a scutter of leaves blows past me on the road home.

3. I warn Alec that there are all sorts of strange things on the High Street (it's late night shopping). We peer into a jewellers and see a wicked witch and a fairy godmother. "I'm a nice witch, really," she says and to prove it hands Alec a bag of chocolate. And then Father Christmas appears. "His eyes are like saucers," she says.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Postcards, parcels and self-sufficient.

1. Postcards arrive. Alec won't let me read his. He informs me "It says: Dear Alec, how are you?"
I read Bettany's for her -- Grannie misses her and Alec.
Alec brings his over to the sofa. "Does it say she misses me?"

2. There are also parcels -- a secret Christmas present, some bean bags that I ordered off Etsy, that I have to whisk away from Alec and a large box of chocolates (ditto).

3. Every week Bettany lies on her blanket and watches us do Alec's ballet class. She is very patient and doesn't even mind when we gallop off down to the other end of the room. It reminds me of the self-sufficiency we thought we detected in her when she was first born, and it reminds me why we call her bundle -- because she seems to come bundled with everything she needs.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Saving the day, fighting back and leaf fall.

1. I've been up again and again in the night, what with one thing and another and I feel as if I have been nursing non-stop. I am worn out and utterly despondent. Alec wakes up, whines for bub and when I say no, takes a deep preparatory breath. "Stop that! Please don't shout," I tell him.
He stops, sits up, snuggles in close and pats my arm. "It's all right," he says.
I stop, too, and manage a smile.
"Have I saved the day?" (I wish I could express the inflection).
"You've saved the day."

2. "No, Charlie, not the baby!" This is the sort of cry I hear quite often wherever toddlers gather. I tell the mother that it's absolutely fine, that Bettany has seen much worse. He pats her face, she waves her hands and smiles and it's all rather adorable, until she gives his nose a good gumming.

3. The Grove is suddenly -- finally -- naked. Autumn was very nice, but it's winter now and time for bare trees and cold, dirty colours.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Pearly whites, turning a corner and siblings.

1. "Let's have a look at those beautiful teeth," says the dentist as Alec climbs on to the chair.

2. I'm definitely spending less time bubbing than I was, and Bettany is more self-sufficient than ever. While she lies on a blanket rustling a piece of tissue paper I clear a shelf that has been collecting clutter since the week she was born. I also find the time to give Alec's toys a quick organise, which he will appreciate (not in words, but by playing with things that he hasn't used for a while).

3. Alec has had a busy day, what with the dentist and then a visit from granny newly home from her holidays. He has a melt-down while I am bubbing Bettany in the run-up to bathtime. I end up nursing them both on the sofa. Bettany twines her fingers in Alec's hair, and Alec reaches up to hold her hand.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Letter, Christmas box and kneading.

1. "What shall I put?"
"I would like a fire engine -- a toy one," says Alec.
"And I'll put that you've been good this year, you've got a new baby sister and you've learnt to use the pot." I like having a natural opportunity to remind him of the great things he's achieved in the last 12 months. Later he and Nick will take the letter down to the post box.

2. To bring down the December 1 box and unpack the Christmas books. To squirrel away a few decorations to share with Alec over the next few days (the little German Christmas tree and the änglaspel*). To enjoy the splashes of red from my Christmas apron and the Christmas blanket. To put a wreath on the front door.

3. Kneading bread dough with my right hand as well as my left hand -- my right arm is definitely getting stronger again.

* It's called a rotary candle holder in English, but I think the Swedish is much more charming.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

On a blanket, help is on its way and nesting.

1. We have a family photo session with Polly Coupée. It is hard to relax until we all lie on a blanket to be photographed from above. There is so much wriggling and laughter that we hardly notice what is happening overhead.

2. The boiler is now leaking. I leave a message for the landlord and within moments, it seems, he appears at the door with a ladder and all the DIY know-how we don't possess.

3. To come home early from the walk -- it's so very cold -- and sneak upstairs with Bettany and the tablet. I give her a quiet, cosy, focussed, uninterrupted feed.