Saturday, May 31, 2014

Merry-go-round, not the sea and lecture.

1. It is a day of saying yes so we let Alec climb aboard the merry-go-round and he goes round in the top of 'Showboat' looking very serious and not at all merry.

2. It's Bettany's first time by the sea and when we get to the edge of the beach we try to draw her attention towards the great expanse of grey sea, rolling and sighing under the flat white sky. She is far more interested in the traffic chuntering along Hastings seafront.

2b. The cafe where we have lunch proudly announces that its sausages are Hoad's Korkers, my father's favourite. I tell my family that whenever splendid regional sausages are placed before Grandpa he solemnly pronounces them to be "Not as good as Hoad's Korkers."
When Alec offers me a piece of his I take it gladly -- to me it is the taste of Saturdays.

3. While Alec and I are inspecting a hard-to-date stone anchor at the Shipwreck Museum a little girl comes into the room. She is wearing a grey jumper with a sequinned collar that lights up her face. Alec starts to lecture her: "It's a stone anchor and they threw it overboard to stop the boat but one day they forgot to tie the rope on and it fell in the water and got lost and they found it again when my mummy was six."
She looks at him seriously and says "When my daddy was a little boy he fell out of a boat and died and they took him to hospital and cut his arms off."

3b. Among the artefacts brought up by divers from a 16th century wreck is a leather hat that looks rather like Indy's iconic fedora.

Friday, May 30, 2014

World of finance, escape and nap.

1. Nick took the children to open bank accounts. He comes back saying that they made the bank grind to a halt. Bettany escaped, set off crawling down a corridor and had to be retrieved by a passing clerk; and Alec had to be lifted up to the counter to pay in his £2, coin by coin.

2. We thrust our children into nursery and scamper out into the sunshine. We stroll hand-in-hand like a respectable middle class couple; but inside we are jinking and stotting like a pair of lambs just out of the barn.

3. We have a lot to get on with this afternoon so we set the tick-tock going and have a twenty-minute nap in the big bed before we begin. It is by far the most delicious and luxurious thing we do all day.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Feathers, napping down and no cull.

1. Every so often I catch with the edge of my vision a whirr and a thrum of feathers in the garden as a sparrow attacks the fat balls hanging by the wall.

2. To snuggle an angry and drooping Bettany up for a very late nap -- she has been too excited to sleep because DADDY is home.

3. I treat myself at the till because the proceeds, 100% of them, go to projects fighting the badger cull. Lush May Day bath bomb.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pie, walk in the rain and lounger.

1. To bring the pie out of the oven and show it off to everyone in the kitchen before I cut it up. It has a few dinosaurs marching round the crust, and what might be a marestail in the middle.

2. As we are leaving the house with today's bucket of snails Nick comes home again. He looks despondent because there is no cricket, but cheers up at the thought of a rainy walk with his family.

3. A friend of my parents' stops to admire Bettany lounging with a foot in each hand under the bubble of her pushchair.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

At the museum, no rest for the wicked and expert.

1. To listen to Alec pulling Nick into his world: Alec is a dinosaur expert at the Natural History Museum showing off the collection of fossil footprints (in playdough) to David Attenborough.

2. I have been playing for just 15 minutes when I hear the schlup-schlup-schlup of Alec coming downstairs. Before he has a chance to ask for anything I tell him we are going to collect more snails and take them up to the Common. He must be a bit sleep-mazed because he complies. He holds the bucket and directs me from the ground as I balance on a ladder pulling snails out from their lair between the the wall and the gutter. We hurry away into the wet afternoon, leaving the stepladder dripping in the garden and Bettany and Nick deeply asleep upstairs.

2. Alec informs me, with all the authority of his three years, that he is an expert on snails, on woods and on rock climbing.

Monday, May 26, 2014

It's cricket, ice cream and treats.

1. Nick says: "Taking Alec out on to the square during the lunch break at cricket. When I bowled he batted, and said 'You chase it, Daddy. You're the fielder man.'"

2. Halfway through the morning I receive on my phone a photo of a hugely smiling Alec eating an ice cream.

3. To politely remind Alec of all the treats he has already had today. He admits that he has indeed had an ice cream; and that a big girl sold him a cake.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Yorkshire puddings, out and coffee.

1. Yorkshire puddings rising in the oven. I'm a bit baffled because I remember my mother's always have a well in the middle that holds the gravy. All is revealed when I turn them out -- the well is on the underside.

2. To sweep up both children and take them out for an hour so that Nick can sleep, or do whatever.

3. The mischievous glint in Alec's eye when he informs me that he is going to ask the man for a double espresso.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Taste, sticks and trying olives.

1. Alec asks why I like Aunty Biddy. I tell him (among other things) that she has very good taste.
He asks if it would be all right to lick her.

2. To snap six-foot canes into lengths more suited to our tiny garden (I do need to do something about the sharp apexes on the pea pyramids I made from them).

3. During supper Bettany suddenly starts shaking her hands and babbling "Blub-BA-ba-blub-BLUB-ba-ba-BOO!"
It takes us a while be we work out that the box of olives that I have been picking at has caught her eye. We ask if she's sure, give her one and watch her face carefully.

Friday, May 23, 2014

To do, my girl and chef's salad.

1. Now that I've told the other mothers that I'm going to work on my course this afternoon, I've got to.

2. "I want to show you something. Look at the table. Look at the rocket. There, now look at both. That."
That is a girl from pre-school who Alec often talks about.
"She's my girl," he says with warmth in his voice.
I look away because I don't want him to see me laughing. I meet the eyes of one of the staff.
"What? What did he say?"
"She's my girl," I reply.
"No," Alec interrupts, "She's not your girl, I said she's MY girl."

3. When I come down I find Nick eating his supper and looking very proud and pleased with himself. Instead of his usual cheese and biscuits he is enjoying a salad he has made out of leftover pasta, some sausage and the last of the lettuce.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Leave the housework, racing back and money matters.

1. I leave the housework to the cleaning lady and sit on the sofa with poor sad Bettany.

2. My phone goes towards the end of lunch and it become apparent that we ought to be at home, not nibbling biscuits on the Pantiles. "We'll be there in five minutes," I tell the Ocado man as I bundle Bettany back into the pushchair and start running. I glance at the clock as we get there -- five minutes it was.

3. To sort out a small tangle of money matters while Bettany takes her long nap.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Physio, morris and poorly baby.

1. To finally take myself to see the physio -- I've needed this appointment since February. I make him go after all the knots in my shoulders and I promise faithfully to do my exercises.

2. When I come down from settling Alec, Nick and Bettany are snoozing on the sofa. I hear a tinkling, musical sound, very faint, the ghost of a folk tune. I press my ear to the front room window, then go outside. The clack of sticks, the white flash of a handkerchief, a shake of bells. At the top of the road outside the pup morris men are dancing in the twilight. I leave Nick to his supper and take Bettany up the street to have a look. It is very good music -- there are at least three accordion players and two ladies in pith helmets, one playing a fiddle and other... the other is playing a serpent. I jiggle Bettany, wrapped in a fold of my cardigan, and she watches seriously, but can't quite summon a smile, even for the bells.

3. The pleasure with which my poor feverish Bettany lapped down a spoonful of infant formula paracetamol. She was lolling on my lap restless, whimpering and limp, but the moment the bottle came out she rallied and sat up, waving her arms and squeaking happily. She has a cold, a very snotty one (she sneezed so badly while we watching the morris men that I nearly asked to borrow one of their handkerchiefs) and she just doesn't know what to do with herself.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Nursery work, Dar-Alec and spoons.

1. To add a couple more touches to the nursery, and to hear the children laughing with Godfather Timothy while I do it.

2. Alec wanders in with the washing basket on his head. 'A Dar-Alec!' says Tim. I jab an old whisk and the bottle brush through the weave to complete the look.

3. The other day I was reading about a thing called the Spoon Theory. It's not really a theory, more an illustration, created by Christine Miserandino, which people with long-term conditions can use to help people without long-term conditions to understand their life. It's well written, rather moving and worth a read here. Briefly, anyone with an LTC has limited energy to deal with day-to-day stuff and Miserandino uses the idea that she has a number of spoons available each day that get used up as she dresses, eats, gets herself to work etc etc.
Anyway, as Tim was leaving we talked about our plans for the rest of the day. He said it was his naptime, and added without even a trace of self-pity that today would wipe him out for the rest of the week. I know he has fun hanging out in Alec's crazy little world, but I thought it was bloody amazing that he would use up a week's worth of spoons to give me time to hang pictures in the nursery and pick up a few of Nick's evening housework chores.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sacked, fizz and bubbles.

1. I run into Tunbridge Wells writer and artist Erica Adams*, who I knew a long time ago before children. She's forgotten my name. "Do you still do that er... thing?"
I tell her about the tenth birthday and she is suitably impressed.
Now it's my turn. "And do you still do that er... thing in that er... magazine?"
"I got sacked." It turns out that she wrote a joke about hearing aids that offended an advertiser, who responded in print to say it WASN'T FUNNY, to which she responded by email and then she got an angry call from the editor. "I'm 82," she says. "I'm quite proud of being sacked."
I hadn't forgotten about her impish streak.

2. I load up sister-in-law Sarah's cake stand with four different sorts and warm scones left on our doorstep by the lovely Anna**. I enjoy them with the actual true Three Beautiful Things (Nick, Alec and Bettany) along with a glass of fizz.

3. I take some bubble mixture to the park to amuse Bettany while Alec chases his ball. It attracts two little boys who, watched anxiously by their parents, vie with Alec to pop the most.

* She wrote a book called The Pig and I, about a woman who keeps a child-replacement pig. It's laugh-out-loud funny, particularly the erotic scene with the tangerine.

** Anna shared her favourite beautiful thing -- it's number 3 of this post, which describes the day I met Nick again.

PS: I wrote this morning about some long term 3BTers, and I forgot to mention, of course, Whitney at Glimpses of Grace -- seven years and counting; and Rebecca who kept up her Gratitude Practices for six years.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Boat race, hi-ho crow and incense.

1. Round the back of the Greenwich Maritime Museum is a white stone culvert of fast-flowing water, slightly raised above the level of the path. I fold a paper boat for Alec. He drops it in and races down after it, now shouting encouragement and now ordering it to slow down. When it turns into a soggy mess we pick leaves out of the grating at the bottom and race those instead. It's tremendous fun for a while but I get tired of it before he does -- Godmother Jo takes over.

2. To throw a piece of cheese to a crow. A dapper, mannered goth, he takes it politely in his large black beak, drops it, pecks it, picks it up again, drops it, pecks it, picks it up again. I feel as if I'm part of a fable by Aesop -- though he looks as if he is too self-aware and self-assured to fall for the sweet words of a fox who would try to make him believe he can sing.

3. Reading back over old posts makes me long for a particular scent. I dig out my box of incense bits and rather doubtfully put a match to a charcoal disc. It crackles into life. I heap a pinch of sticky Starchild 'Earth' on top and wait for the warm resins to give up their gifts.

--

Ten years ago today I hit 'Publish' and the first ever 3BT post went live on a bright pink template. I started blogging because my colleagues He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and Chris Shaw strongly implied that I should if I wanted to fit in at the office. They had blogs, one apparently written by a woman who was stalking a Radio 2 DJ and the other in the voices of two fake Germans arguing about the Bee Gees. It was this white-hot furnace of creativity that forged those early posts.

I decided to write something positive, and I thought I would start by collecting a sort of suitcase of memories, tiny details that I never wanted to carry into the future. Of course memory is not reliable and when I read back there are incidents that I can't recall in my head -- but there they are, faded rather because my words don't always catch the spirit of the original but none the less preserved quite as well as flowers pressed in a great-great-aunt's hymn book.

When I read back over that first month I see that Chris and HWSNBN (AKA Ed) are not the only long-term friends of 3BT that pop up. There's my talented aunt Janey (she of wedding cake fame) strolling through a market on the Pantiles with me; and there's Fenella; there's Katie, later Katie-at-home and then Katie-who-I-used-to-live-with and now Auntie Katie.

I didn't expect to be writing for anyone not mentioned in the posts, and I didn't suppose we'd keep it (the writing and the reading) up for more than a few weeks. But 3BT attracted a band of readers who take such a kind interest in this record of the minutiae of my ordinary life. All you regular commenters and readers, Alison Wormald, Hillary, Heather, The Old Milk Can, Storyteller Mary, Box Elder, Joe in Vegas, Louisa Parry, Christine Borne, my cousins Amy and Laura who from time to time contribute their own beautiful things and all you lurkers, thank you for sharing the journey with me and for the wise words you dispense when you think they are needed (they often are). And I should also mention Anna who read about Nick's newly shaved and velvety head and ran up to stroke it when she saw us out and about in a Tunbridge Wells church -- she and Sarah Salway have been tremendously supportive and wonderfully encouraging. And a shout-out to Godfather Tibby, also. And of course the much-missed Plutarch. He was one of the first people to pick up the 3BT format and run with it, and he once said (according to Lucy Box Elder) that it was as good as penicillin. But what an amazing experience it has been, seeing all the other bloggers that have given 3BT a go. I want particularly to mention Sprite Writes, another early adopter who is still at it today.

Bettany and Alec deserve a big snuggly cuddle and some sweets for their contributions, but they don't read 3BT all that often, so I'll do it face-to-face instead; and of course Nick who manfully picks up the household chores that I drop in order to scrawl my posts and sets me right when I LOSE ALL SENSE OF PROPORTION.

I'm sure I've left some people out of my survey of the faces of the 3BT crowd -- sleep deprivation has played merry hell with my memory, and I haven't had as long as I would have liked to craft and work these words. I'm sorry to have missed anyone, and I hope the comments will jog my memory.

I've blogged through good times (love, engagement, marriage, childbirth, sitting on pavements at 4am listening to chill-out music) and bad times (depression, job loss, bereavement, house moves, endless battles with the common cold). I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the supportive voices that pipe up in the comments on posts about big life events.

We've been talking about favourite posts and Louisa mentioned the engagement post (see above) but I'm particularly proud of the posts I wrote on the day Bettany was born, and the post describing her birth (the reason for this is, to paraphrase Dr Johnson, not because they are written well but because they were written at all).

I've missed a few days here and there (Nick is making a list and strongly implying that I should address this lapse) but I'm pleased with my work, though it's one of those things that always needs improvement. I'll go on writing for a few years yet, and I hope you'll go on reading and enjoying my offerings.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Typing, pudding and getting things done.

1. The sound of Alec crinkling away on chocolate box laptop (you tape the lid to the box to make a hinged screen and turn the plastic chocolate tray upside down to make a keyboard).

2. Everyone eats well at lunch and as they are clearly still a bit hungry I have no qualms about dishing out a few chocolate buttons with the pears we eat for pudding, just, you know, to fill in the spaces.

3. I see the basket of folded laundry and it occurs to me that a month ago I just wouldn't have had time to do this during the day. Bettany is spending less and less time sitting on me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sleeper, care and languages.

1. Bettany takes sleep in great long draughts on Alec's nursery day. She wakes for a late lunch but is soon asking for sleep again.

2. I treat the care my shoulder needs like a terrible chore. I saw a description of physio recently that said, pretty much, 'That thing that hurts, do it lots.' One of the exercises I should do daily is to lie on a foam roll until the muscles across my shoulders relax. The stretch is very uncomfortable while in progress but afterwards I feel better; and I feel as if I've taken back control.

3. We walk home from nursery with a little girl who speaks, I think, Mandarin with her mother. Alec is very much interested and tells her 'You speak two languages and I speak one.' When our ways part he asks me loudly 'Is that way China?' I meet the other mother's eyes apologetically and she smiles.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Leaving early, mark of success and finishing conversations.

1. At toddler group Alec says 'Let's go when we've had snack and before they start singing.'

2. I am very surprised to find that I have two sleeping children at 7pm. I feel as if I've succeeded as a parent.

3. To escape -- just for an hour or so -- and drink wine with a parent friend while our children sleep behind closed doors. We finish off conversations that we've started in the park or at toddler group, strengthening our subtle and fantastic bridges.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Our morning, sticky cakes and mystery picture.

This blog will mark its tenth birthday on Sunday. We're having cake and something fizzy to mark the date.

I'm going to have a think back and find my favourite beautiful thing; and I would love it if any readers wanted to do the same.

And those of you who have your own 3BT blogs, I'd love to hear about your own favourite posts.

1. After we have dropped Bettany off we get a 'cup of copy and a cakey' on the High Street. Alec tells me what he wants to do for the rest of the morning: 'Go to the park and the swings for a very long time; go home and have ALL THE BUB; and then have sausage casserole for lunch.' So I  make a list and this is what we do.

2. Alec asks for another batch of jammy thumbprint cakes, so we whip some up. He does most of the shaping himself and all of the thumbprinting, apart from one that we help Bettany to do.

3. At bedtime he asks for Heliya's wonderful picture... which I don't think I've told you about. It came in the post the other week and at first we couldn't think who had sent it. You can imagine how delighted and intrigued we were. Anyway, he has a colossal tantrum today at bedtime, and then quite suddenly calms down and asks to look at it. We spend a happy quarter of an hour chatting about the details, the brave climbers and the dolphin eating an ice cream and where Alec was galloping to on a dinosaur. I'd like to say he then drifted off to sleep, but he didn't.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Crossword puzzle, tumbling and a link.

1. Ellie watches me intently as I work on the crossword she has made for me. In between puzzling I watch her, marvelling at how tall and stylish she has become.

2. Godmother Catherine brings Bettany, among other wonderful things, a set of clear plastic balls with tumbling spindles inside. Bettany throws them and chases them as they roll around the floor. I stare at them fascinated, half-expecting them to hold the key to perpetual motion.

3. To discover that two apparently unconnected friends know each other.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Going through the woods, party and lost track of time.

1a. In a charity shop I find a pocket microscope. I take it home in triumph and we gawp at a fragment of paper towel, a crumb of cereal, some leek cells ranged like stones in a wall and an ant with astonishing compound eyes and hairy legs.

1. The path through the woods is spickled and speckled with moving light and shadow. The only bright and definite thing is a red balloon on the back gate.

2. To have nothing to do but chat with other parents and watch our children playing. The birthday girl brings us stacking cups of tea and wooden biscuits, while our Alec drives around in a red car and warns everyone about roadworks. We take quick sips of our wine and put the glasses back on the window sill, out of anyone's reach.

3. "What time is it," I ask Nick as we are shepherding our drooping children home through the Grove. "Is it after five?"
"It's nearly half past seven," he says patiently, squinting into the low evening sun.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Plans, feeling better and stocking up.

1. To have the weekend plans scribbled in my notebook.

2. I fall asleep while settling Bettany for her afternoon nap. It's only for a few minutes but when I wake my back feels one hundred times better.

3. We've run out of coffee -- I divert our afternoon walk to Perk and Pearl for a re-stock.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Granny time, no wind and my cake.

1. My mother calls to say she is coming to lunch, which means everyone will be cheerful and well-behaved.

2. To watch Alec trying and failing to have a tantrum about the lack of chocolate biscuits. I gave him a cuddle and told him I understood. I am not sure whether my empathy took the wind out of his sails, whether he mastered his feelings or whether he just wasn't cross enough to go into full-blown lying on the floor kicking mode.

3. To buy for myself and me alone a particularly large slice of cake.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Rip, stove and colour mixing.

1. To pull a nappy liner off the roll -- it's always satisfying to rip anything off a roll if it tears neatly.

2. Ages ago I promised Alec I would paint a stove on the bookshelf in our kitchen as it's just the right height for him. Today, as Bettany is taking great long naps, I get to work. I do my chores while I wait for the paint to dry.

3. I don't have any black, but I remember an art teacher called Mr Preedy telling me when I was about ten that it's better to mix it from blue and brown. My burnt umber is dried up, but that's OK too because I remember him teaching me to mix brown from red and green.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Cutting out, swings and sleep time.

1. Alec insists on cutting the page out himself. I am about to counter-insist to avoid spoiling the game board we are putting together, but I stop myself just in time. He does a workmanlike job, rough but mostly accurate and I am astonished by the improvement in his scissor skills, and also by the possibilities it opens up.

2. Pushing my two in the swings. Alec is laughing and Bettany is showing her single dimple and shouting "Ha-DAH! Ha-DAH!"

3. I normally settle Bettany off to sleep downstairs and take her up when I go to bed -- but tonight I'm tired so I take her into the dark bedroom. Bettany immediately crawls across the Mummy bed and looks down at her shaggy-headed brother asleep in the big boy bed. She leans down to pat him. I catch her up, pull her back to the bub and tell her that it's not playtime. She doesn't believe me and escapes again, determined to make him jump up and amuse her.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Up, out and missed.

1. I turn round and my heart leaps into my mouth: Bettany is halfway up the stairs.

2. ...And we're out of the door and we can stop snapping at each other. We're heading to the bus stop for a family outing to the fun day at a park across town.

3. "I feel like I missed it because I was recording it," I tell Nick sadly. Alec has just had a donkey ride. I am glad I have the video and the pictures, of course, but this is a good reminder of why I do Three Beautiful Things.

4. We buy ice creams on the way home -- ice creams for me, Nick and Alec, anyway. Bettany makes a ferocious fuss because she doesn't have one. I am glad she can speak up for herself; and I am glad she is so aware of what's going on around her. She has licks and tastes of everyone's, including Nick's blingy silver Marc de Champagne Magnum.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Christening, hug and another day.

1. Today was Baby Ella's christening and I officially became her godmother. She joined the church with great serenity and dignity -- she is a very formal baby, and when I pick her up I always notice how grandly she holds herself compared to our Betts. I am so touched that Katie and Jules asked me, and I hope I can be a good and present godparent.

2. During a quiet moment in the service the vicar's son wanders up to the front and gives his dad a hug, which is received with grace.

3.  Ruth keeps talking about 'bank holiday weekend' and it suddenly dawns on me that she means now, this weekend and that we get to keep Nick for another day.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Fighting talk, leftovers and future food.

1. Alec, brandishing a chopstick, challenges a fly to a fight.

2. Nick and the children fall asleep after lunch. I spend some time toasting and grinding spices to make curry powder for coronation chicken (I followed HFW's cheat's recipe and it was the sort of good that made me want to eat the lot and tell Nick that I had broken the bowl and had to throw it all away).

3. Ladling future meals into pots for the freezer. A good, comforting stock of red mince (AKA chilli, 'just plain mince with nothing else in it', bolognese, ragu etc).

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Listening in, more please and wipe.

1. I love doing a boring task while half-listening to Alec play. He starts by cutting string with scissors. Then when the pieces of string are too small he starts cutting hard blobs of modelling clay. Then he is building a rocket. Now the scissors are buried in playdough and he is using the tiny bits of string to rescue them.

2. When I turn back I find Bettany up on the table helping herself to more baked beans.

3. At bathtime, to wipe my children's dirty faces and sticky hands so they are clean and soft again, ready for their crisp white beds.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Out in the rain, still and taste.

1. Grandpa comes visiting, just briefly, but he takes Alec out into the rain for twenty minutes while I get lunch. It makes all the difference -- the meal and the nursery drop-off go very smoothly. Alec is still talking about it in the evening.

2. The stillness in the house when both Bettany and Alec are at nursery -- apart from the frenetic activity of me scoring out items on my to-do-list

3. The little tip of Bettany's tongue comes out when I offer her a taste of ice cream.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Old games, hold her for me and don't need you.

1. To play finger games with Bettany -- Two Little Dickie Birds and Here is the Church and Here's the lady's Knives and Forks. She pays close attention, as if the actions are quite miraculous.

2.  When I pick up Alec, they have a form for me to fill in. Bettany isn't in the sling but one of the staff takes her for me and chats to her while I sign and tick.

3. Alec asks me to leave the room while he falls asleep. He calls me back about two minutes later, but I think this is the start of a new regime. I don't mind sitting with him while he falls asleep, but I'd much prefer to read or do some mending. At the moment I have to lie in the dark, frequently reminding him to stop talking and lie still with his head on the pillow, feet pointing downwards.