Saturday, July 04, 2020

Broadcast, mint and sleep.

1. To discover that Alec has been watching Doctor Who over Zoom with his friend by turning the laptop towards the TV.

2. Bruising mint for a cocktail. 

3. To be ready to sleep at sleeping time. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

Equipped, avocado and sweep.

1. Our afternoon park session leaves me feeling tight and tense. To go back upstairs and vanish into work. (it's not a great cure, but there are times when for a couple of hours I just need to feel as if I am competent and equipped with the right skills).

2. Slicing an avocado that is just perfectly ripe and then using the blade to slide the pieces onto someone's plate.

3. It is satisfying to sweep all the stairs in the house from top to bottom.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Telly, foam and chilli.

1. At breakfast Alec asks if I want to watch telly with him. At first I say no because I need to start work. But then I remember that there will come a time when he doesn't want to do anything with me. I watch two episodes of Teen Titans, and it's nice.

2. For her birthday we got Bettany a bath toy she has been asking for. It  turns soapy foam into pretend ice cream. Nick does bathtime this evening and he reports that it also serves beer.

3. In the evening I make a lentil chilli for tomorrow's dinner. The children smell it and come in looking for a taste.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Signs of life, shopping and background.

1. To pass a pub and notice signs of life: windows open, a radio playing and cleaning equipment on the bar.

2. Bettany hands over her birthday money to pay for a cowgirl outfit.

3. When he gets up for a drink he seems to vanish among the trees of his Zoom backdrop.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Aubergine, tinker and soothing.

1. The way an aubergine changes colour when sliced.

2. To watch Alec tinkering with a 3D model, swinging it back and forth, up and down on the screen. He's taught himself to use the app that comes free with Windows, and has been working with a friend over Zoom to create a steam engine. I love to see him quietly involved in a project. I like it when he responds to a problem that has upset him by stepping back to resolve it (sometimes literally with undo, undo, undo; and sometimes by taking a little break).

3. We've found a soothing local history podcast to listen to at bedtime.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Gasp, puppets and across my lap.

1. The delighted gasp when a child opens a gift that is something they really wanted.

2. The verses from The Gruffalo come tumbling out as we play with shadow puppets.

3. Bettany falls asleep across my lap.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Alone, cake and match.

1. We're having trouble getting the children out of the house. Nick says, 'Do you want to just go for a walk by yourself, and then when you come back, I'll go?'

2. When Bettany has finished decorating her birthday cake it is... quite something. To remember that though I baked this cake, it is not about me.

3. To find a piece of ribbon that perfectly matches the tissue paper I've used to wrap Bettany's presents.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

New, down and call.

1. Starting a brand new novel edit.

2. Alec is cross at reading time and says he doesn't like the book. But while I am reading he comes down from his bed and sits next to me on the sofa. 

3. A long and leisurely phone call with a friend when I was supposed to be making a meal plan and shopping list. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Quiet, iced coffee and company.

1. For a moment it is so quiet and still that I can hear the whirr and the clank of the crane working all the way down the end of The Pantiles.

2. Bringing a jug of iced coffee out of the freezer.

3. To take Alec along for the company.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Macaroni, tin and lollies.

1. Bettany is gluing out-of-date macaroni to a piece of card.

2. In our stash of things-that-might-be-useful there is a tin that is the right size for a pen pot.

3. To hand out ice lollies on a really hot day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Discouraged, dwarfs and raising.

1. I am discouraged by my lack of progress with my physio. From the start of April I diligently worked at rebuilding my core strength. And then I picked up a passing virus. The exercises and the heat therapy have become uncomfortable again; even an amble down to the woods leaves me aching; and I am so stiff in the morning that I need a paracetamol before I can get up. During my video appointment the therapist says sadly, 'It's one step forward, two steps back. ' When he acknowledges this, it makes me feel much better, and I am determined to press on. He adds, 'And your muscles will remember, so you'll get back on track sooner.' I queue up podcasts to keep me distracted from discomfort while I do my exercises; and line up reminders on my phone and to-do list about drinking water, stretching and taking paracetamol.

2. 'Who are the dwarfs in The Hobbit?' Alec demands suddenly as we come into the park. I discover I can reel them off almost without a hesitation (I think I would have forgotten Oin and Gloin if I hadn't recalled Gimli son of Gloin from Lord of the Rings).

3. When our little garden smells strongly of jasmine, to lift the watering cans and slosh some water around. It is warm enough to raise that petrichor rain-on-dry-ground scent from my pots.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Paid, hoover and sweet potatoes.

1. To -- finally -- receive a cheque of some money I am owed, this time written out in my married name.

2. Alec needs to run the hoover round as part of a Cubs badge. His enthusiasm leaves me with enough energy to attack another room.

3. The smell of roasting sweet potatoes.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Wensleydale, gaming and apricot.

1. Slices of apple with Wensleydale cheese.

2. Alec leads us on a roleplaying game adventure all over the kitchen table. We fight giant rats in exchange for a bed at an inn. Then we hear that a dragon has killed the king of goblins. Bettany declares herself queen and we go to the castle to let the goblins know there's a new boss in town.

3. The way the stone of a ripe apricot lies loose inside the fruit.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Love, birthday presents and stream.

1. 'Mummy, I love you more than the world. I know I shouldn't, but I do.'

2. A very long packet of beautiful pens and a weighty box of chocolate.

3. The golds and browns and shifting blues of sunlight playing on a stream through the woods.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Rainbow, flowerperson and first aid.

1. To comb hair chalk in rainbow colours through Bettany's curls for her end-of-term dress-up dance lesson.

2. Bettany should have been a... as she puts it, 'flowerperson' earlier this summer -- but the wedding has been postponed. Very kindly the bride and groom have sent her the dresses she would have worn so she can enjoy them as the chances are that she will have outgrown them by the time new date comes round. She is thrilled and tries them on very, very carefully.  

3. While I am rinsing hair chalk off our second born, Nick cuts his finger -- but it's okay: Alec, using his Cubs first aid skills, sorts everything out.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Sweets, clove pinks and sleep.

1. I'd forgotten that we'd ordered sweets from A Quarter Of until the box arrives in the middle of lunch.

2. My parents brought us a bunch of clove pinks and they have made the bedroom smell spicy.

3. To go to bed without any delay because we are both tired.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Done, right length and linen change.

1. To knock a task I've been dreading off the list.

2. The book we are reading has chapters that are the right length for a bedtime story; and they end at a comfortable, satisfying point.

3. To settle into a bed with clean sheets.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Takeaway, boxes and jasmine.

1. I take the children to get takeaway coffee and biscuits, because we can. 

2. We've bought a new food processor and it arrived unexpectedly today. By the time Nick and I have finished unpacking and investigating it the children have taken the boxes into the front room, changed into what they imagine mechanics wear and using a picture they've found on Google made a... 'is it garahge, Mummy, or a garage?'
I don't have the heart to tell them that most mechanics round here would call it a 'garridge'. Anyway, they have a lot of fun fixing cardboard box cars raised up on two chairs.

3. I spend the evening in the kitchen with the back door open enjoying the scent of jasmine while engaged in a convivial, challenging games night with the Tuesday Knights.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Jasmine, teatime and greeting.

1. The jasmine by the back door has flowered. Its scent follows me through the house.

2. While I'm deep in work a slice of cake and mug of tea appear at my elbow.

3. Alec is so determined not to go to bed that he asks to come upstairs and say hallo to my writing group.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Out, swing and jigsaw.

1. To pack snack and a map and get out of the house promptly.

2. We find a wild swing down in the woods. Alec says he's too scared to try it, but Bettany has a little go, and he is encouraged. It's funny to watch them daring to start higher and higher up the bank until Bettany properly scares herself and screams. Later she tells me that she was as brave as the time at Dreamland when she finished her ice cream very quickly and ran off to join the nearest queue so she could go on a ride by herself without Alec.

3. To let Bettany put the last piece in the jigsaw.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sit out, wipe and helper.

1. I often cook pancakes for weekend breakfasts. Today, Alec takes over and I sit at the kitchen table with a cup of tea until I am needed.

2. To wipe a dusty surface with a damp cloth.

3. With Bettany helping, I start to pack away some ornaments that I don't want to dust. We're interrupted by a phone call. When I come back to the task Bettany has wrapped the lot.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Instead, excuse and daisies.

1. To wake up early and lie in bed reading instead of doing something productive.

2. To have a good excuse for buying lots of sweets (I need boiled sweets to suppress my cough, and Bettany has a birthday coming up).

3. To get round the garden I must push through huge, drooping daisies.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Distracted, fried egg and bubbles.

1. I'm on a call -- but there is a sparrow feeding its baby in the tree outside the window.

2. A fried egg for lunch when I assumed it would be scrambled.

3. At nearly seven, Bettany still gets joy from me blowing bubbles.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Dots of rain, replacement and birthday plans.

1. To feel dots of rain as I walk up the hill.

2. We've been using a coffee pot glass that is not quite the right size. It cracked earlier this week. I go up to town to an actual shop and buy a replacement glass (correct size) and a one for spare.

3. On our walk around the park Bettany and I discuss her plans for her birthday. It's nice to know what she has in mind, though I do try to steer her away from a chocolate cake with orange jam inside and peppermint icing on top. It makes it easy to think up nice things to keep her amused.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Plans, toads and meet.

1. To flip through a bulb catalogue and make plans for the spring.

2. We find two tiny toads clambering around grass stems and leaf litter on the common.

3. Nick has been at his mum's while we've been out walking. To catch sight of him coming along the path paralell to us on his way home.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

In the rain, large boards and make it work.

1. BBC Radio 3's sing-along song this week is 'Singin' in the Rain'.

2. The sight of builders carrying large plywood boards always makes me smile.

3. To fail at technology -- and then to make it work.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Done, not cheering properly and moon.

1. I tackle a chore that I've been putting off. The satisfaction of cleaning something dirty.

2. The children are pretending to be skiiers, and we've been cheering them on every time they pass us, with pretend cowbells and 'allez, allez, allez'. At the finish Bettany bursts into furious tears and shouts at everyone. It's because she thought we were just cheering Alec and not her.

3. To look at the moon through binoculars.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Open place, butterflies and one more.

1. We come to a high, open place in the forest and stand on the dusty earth to look through the hazey, scorching light at the hills on the edge of our world.

2. To see two butterflies chasing each other. 

3. We've got a long walk home but the children keep asking to do more things. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Unpack, ink and dance.

1. To come down at coffee time and find that Nick has unpacked the vegetable box that arrived this morning. 

2. The children come upstairs to tell me that they've made quill pens. I give them a couple of almost empty ink bottles and a bit later they return with a somewhat blotted thank-you note. 

3. I still find it miraculous that Bettany can learn a sequence of dance moves. And I love her satisfied dance lesson smile.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Visitor, poems and Groundhog Day.

1. My mother passes a cake and a bunch of sweetpeas over the back fence. Alec deals with them -- putting the flowers in water and the cake into one of our tins so Granny can take her own tin away.

2. To stroll over and see poems by my writing group (and by me) displayed on Sarah Salway's railings.

3. We have been cheered each week by Carradine's Self-isolation Singalong. This week, the relentlessly jolly Tom Carradine admits that he's been feeling down -- 'a bit Groundhog Day,' he says. I value knowing that under the performer there's a real person. I do think fans have a duty of care towards performers -- particularly those who are asking for contributions, rather than selling tickets. So it seems like a good thing that he feels safe enough to admit to despondency and disappointment in this joyful space he's created. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Elder, Arabian Nights and Planet Potato.

1. There are creamy white elder flowers on the tree below my window.

2. Bettany and I sit in the big bed looking at Kay Nielsen's luxuriant pictures for The Arabian Nights. It is difficult to explain some of the stories to her -- almost embarrassing, actually, to explain that as women we've supported a system which lets other people control and punish us for who we love and what we choose to do. By the way, you can take a look at Kay Neilsen's Arabian Nights on NPR.

3. Today we heard that our friend Anna Lambert and her potato marketer husband Cedric Porter have started a podcast called PlanetPotato. Nick and I waited until bedtime to listen, as it features a soothing list of potato names. It did not disappoint, and we think that some of you will enjoy this quirky, charming and erudite mix of potato news, history and analysis.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Bed, up and boy.

1. I wake up squashed on to the far edge of the bed because every time I turned over in the night Bettany snuggled closer to me.

2. To lie on the grass in the park staring up into the leaves of an oak tree.

3. Alec falls out of a tree and gets up laughing. His knees are filthy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Ice cream, shot and finished.

1. The smell of limes comes all the way to the top of the house. Alec is using a lemon or lime ice cream recipe given to me years ago for my cook's notebook by a friend's mum.

2. It's bank holiday Monday, so I drop a little kahlua in our coffee.

3. Last week a parcel of children's books arrived from my aunt. Today Alec brings them upstairs, saying he's finished the lot. I can't quite believe he's read so fast, but when I question him, it's clear he has read them. I remember being quizzed in the same way about my reading.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Timing, water and difficult email.

1. Just as we are about to leave the breadmaker beeps -- our loaf is ready.

2. The path runs along back fences and hedges. The sound of water splashing on flagstones and moving in a large container. Someone is -- perhaps -- cleaning out a pond or a hot tub.

3. I've been putting off a difficult email. To ask for -- and receive -- Nick's help with it.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A shower, pockets and sweetness.

Collection of moss photos from Tunbridge Wells CommonCollection of lichen photos from Tunbridge Wells Common
1. There is a sudden thunder shower.  The children put on rain coats, waterproof trousers and wellies and run into the street to stand in the rain.

2. Bettany fills my pockets with lichen. 'For our collection'.

3. The way artichokes lend an odd artificial sweetness to everything you eat subsequently.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Physio, van and cake.

1. The physio has got me using a foam roller. I don't love it. But today, because I've been sitting on a hot water bottle, I can feel a difficult muscle unpacking itself as I roll.

2. We recognise my brother's egg-yolk yellow van instantly.

3. Alec sends his uncle home with part of the ginger cake he made yesterday and careful instructions about not eating it until supper pudding so the stickiness has time to develop. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Wheels, gin and beer.

Alec pretending to ride an image of a bike made from sticks and leaves in the style of Andy Goldsworthy
1. School has set us an art assignment: An Andy Goldsworthy sculpture. Bettany and I do a circle, and then Alec adds a second circle and a bike frame.

2. A friend slips me a gin in a tin (still cold) as a thank you. I enjoy very much drinking it mid-afternoon.

3. 'This beer's vegan and unfiltered,' says Nick proudly. A bit later, 'It's got crunchy bits in it.'

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Letter, space and new bar.

1. At coffee time I handwrite a letter on paper I've been saving. 

2. To not try to solve a child's meltdown.

3. I've been washing my hair with tiny pieces from the end of a shampoo bar. But now I've got a brand new one, and it feels like luxury because it lathers up so quickly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

FT, wild flowers and clean sheets.

Diagram of Arum maculatum showing the elongated spadix
Diagram of Arum maculatum, or Jack-in-the-Pulpit 
1. When I come down for coffee, the latest Fortean Times is waiting for me.
2. In the Grove we find a Jack-in-the-Pulpit. We've been chatting about wild flowers, which is lovely, but they immediately name it 'willy flower' for its elongated spadix and dare each other to poke it. I decide that I might be better off supervising them from a distance.

3. To go to bed in clean sheets.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Coffee, supper and admin support.

1. To go down and make mid-morning coffee for myself and Nick; and to carry my mug back upstairs.

2. Bacon and eggs for supper.

3. 'That was fun,' says Nick, hitting send on a piece of editorial support work I've given him. I pay him a nominal amount for admin services each month, but I rarely call on him to check facts in his (many) areas of expertise. I should do it more often, as fact-checking can turn into a huge time sink. Today is also the day when I receive content from the two writers who help me out at busy times. It took me a long time to seek it out, but this support helps me to manage the 'feast or famine' lumps and bumps of freelance work.  

Monday, May 18, 2020

Long hair, elaborate and fallen oak.

1. I was well overdue a haircut before lockdown, and now my hair is very much longer than usual, and totally unstructured. Nick comes in while I am brushing it out and murmurs something about Pre-Raphaelites, which makes me feel better.

2. Bettany quietly working on an increasingly elaborate picture for her friend.

3. My back is too sore for me to join the others scrambling over a fallen oak, so I sit quietly on a mossy trunk and enjoy being in the woods. I notice that the side branches I am sitting among have grown straight upwards: the tree adapted and made a new life for itself after it fell.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Weekend morning, final onion and 11pm.

1. To sleep in and then make a fry-up.

2. With streaming eyes I tip the last onion into the pan.

3. To hear the 11pm chimes away across town through a fuzz of sleep. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Heating, science and new book.

1. To lie in bed listening to the central heating making its bumps and clanks.

2. Bettany runs upstairs to ask about supplies for some science experiments. It's nice to say 'yes' to most of them. 

3. To start reading a new book to the children. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Bouncy balls, cake and sing-a-long.

1. I throw down a double handful of bouncy balls on the hard path in the park. The children are embarrassed and we can't find one of the balls -- but I have no regrets.

2. During the NHS clap a lady comes round with gift bags full of cake, which is a cheering, neighbourly gesture and very much appreciated.

3. A glass of beer and a cockney sing-a-long with Tom Carradine makes my physio exercises less painful.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Work, looking on and book.

1. Tiny workmen in high-vis are moving around on the construction site that I can see from the window by my desk.

2. To look on as Alec sews a button to a piece of felt.

3. To know that though I have to work this evening, there's a good book waiting for me when I climb into bed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How are you doing, banana bread and malevolent.

1. Our lovely school calls us up and asks how we're doing. So I ask for advice, and get kind reassurance.

2. I've seen commentary that banana bread during lockdown is a middle class cliche -- but ours smells amazing, and Alec made it without much supervision. 

3. To let Bettany go through my box of costume jewellery: she needs a costume for tomorrow's dance lesson, which has an Aladdin theme. She puts together an excellent Jaffar costume and lounges around looking malevolent and louche. She will almost certainly have changed her mind by lesson time -- my money's on the magic carpet.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Catch, IT problem and writing prompt.

1. To throw and catch a cricket ball under the trees in the park with Alec.

2. Nick comes upstairs and sorts out an IT problem that is beyond my skills.

3. We wrote to a really pleasing prompt last night: I am most happy when... We wondered if it would make us despondent to write about things we can't do now -- but afterwards we found it made us happier to spend a little time in memory; and to spend time in the memories of others, too.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Climb, stitching and stash.

1. Alec looks thoughtfully at the ladder-like handles of the drawers and the kitchen step. He's planning how he's going to bring his long limbs up on to the work surface so he can reach to program the breadmaker.
to bake his marmalade cake.

2. Bettany rifles through my sewing supplies and starts her own piece of textile art with fabric pens, velcro, silver thread and piece of white felt.

2. I rifle through my sewing supplies and find a piece of unbleached cotton stapled to the frame from a canvas. I started this about ten years ago, and then never got any further. But now I've got something in mind, so I make a start (in between threading needles and advising on bread machine programing).

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Birthday, glass of wine and tick off.

1. We get together on Zoom to admire my niece on her second birthday. She is very excited and shouts and points at the camera, and shows us the dressing-up shoes we sent her.

2. In the evening, to sit in the garden with a really nice glass of dry white wine and chat with some old friends on the screen on my phone.

3. My latest round of physio comes with an app. It's oddly satisfying to tick off the exercises as I do them, recording the pain level and how many of the reps I managed.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Rake, herbs and co-operate.

1. I tell Alec and Bettany that in the next chapter of The Railway Children, one of the children gets impaled on a rake. They think I'm joking.

2. The herbs in the garden are now so lush and leafy that when I pick them for cooking I don't need to hold back.

3. To learn a new board game as a family. We're still playing rather co-operatively, but as we go along we can see ways to make it cut-throat and competitive.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Efficiency, roll and book.

1. Nick deals decisively and efficiently with a very much unwanted 16kg bag of self-raising flour that was delivered by mistake yesterday.

2. Alec rolling down the hill at the park 

3. To hand Alec a book I loved as a child -- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. 'Is it scary?' he wants to know. I have to admit that it is. 'But there are lots of happy and comfortable bits, too,' I promise him, thinking of the girls at the horrible school raiding the cheese basket; and Simon's cave with his geese and his chestnut bread,

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Copper beech, dance lesson and a good ruck.

1. The bright, deep red of a copper beech just coming into full leaf.

2. Bettany made a bit of a fuss about going home for her dance lesson. But while it was going on I peeped in at her and she gave me a little wave and a smile. She hates anyone watching her, so we have to put her and the laptop in the sitting room with the curtains drawn and the door shut.

3. A good ruck during D&D to help me forget my anxieties. We got in a fight with some evil druids and absolutely trounced them, despite some shocking dice rolls. Tim Knight has written up our adventures at Heropress.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Shine, dust and stop.

1. The shine on buttercups. (Yellow things from our walk yesterday).

2. To wipe dust off a surface.

3. I have to stop reading just as 'the game is afoot' and I can't wait to get started again tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Getting out of the house, things that embarrass us and clickbait.

1. The children request a duplicate of the walk they took with Nick on Saturday. It's a bit longer than our usual, and I have a call immediately after, so we're very firm with them about the consequences of all the things that make it difficult to get out of the house (not getting ready when asked to; refusing to put on socks; arguing about whether it's okay to bring a football; arguing about whether a coat is needed). And they are good as gold, so we have a long, relaxing walk.

2. On our walk, they confide in me about things that embarrass them -- namely, me saying hi to a boy we know who then ignores us; me photographing lichens; and having the wrong sort of football kit (not me for once). I make an effort to empathise while modelling a healthy disregard for the opinions of people whose ideas don't align with our own values.

3. At our writing meeting we make clickbait stories -- you know those tempting headlines that say 'The groom's mother asked the bride to change her hair and the reason will blow your mind'. And when you click through it turns out to be a tedious 30-page story designed to make you look at adverts. Anyway -- it's incredibly fun to write something that is not intended to give the reader a good time.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Re-model, blossom and bun.

1. While we are otherwise occupied, the children re-organise their bedroom. They wanted another quiet nook for reading, and ask for a new rug to make the floor more cosy.

2. There are so many flowers on the common. I catch beech, sycamore, holly and crabapple (which smells a little if you get your nose in close).

3. My saffron bun doesn't look as golden as the recipe promises (ran out of strong white bread flour again, so I had to make weight with wholemeal), but when I bite into it the new-shoes saffron taste is there.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Shopping, game and questions.

1. Nick goes out for our weekly shop with a bit of a tricky list. I didn't hold out much hope for capers and linguine... but they appear thanks to the magic of the corner shop.

2. Playing a game with Bettany is still rather 'Let the Wookie win!' But there's less board flipping than there used to be and she's more willing to help tidy up.

3. To sit near Alec as he reads and field the questions he has about the story. 

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Radishes, waterproofs and rest.

1. There are fat crimson radishes in our veg box, with clean, fresh-looking tops that will make a great salad. 

2. Though it's raining heavily the children announce that they are going out anyway. They put on the full waterproofs that they usually reject as being 'embarrassing' and scamper around the park, rolling on the grass and gleefully sitting in puddles. 

3. To suddenly remember a thing you wanted to listen to at a point when you know you need to rest.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Children's voices, cashflow and hailstorm.

1. We get the children video-chatting with their friends, and it's nice to hear different children's voices.

2. It's a bit of a juggling act when you're a freelancer. I want to maintain a stream of regular work to keep a good cashflow going; but I do need to take the odd big project on to bump up our income. And each month when I'm scheduling my work I have a horrible moment when it all seems like too much. Then I remember I have a few reliable, trustworthy colleagues I can hand routine work over to.

3. I am deep in my work when the sudden wild hiss of a hailstorm -- the sort that sets of car alarms -- brings me back to the world.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The swap, bouncy balls and Watson.

1. I hear the door go, and then voices downstairs. A lovely mum from school has come by with some dried yeast. We send her away with a geranium plant.

2. On the way out of the house I stuff my pockets with a double handful of bouncy balls.

3. I am finding Hound of the Baskervilles much more enticing than A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. It seems more lively somehow, and relies less on Watson's astonishment at Holmes's smug deducing. Watson always strikes me as a bit of a sad character, somehow. He's a first-rate storyteller; but he lets first the British Army and then Holmes treat him terribly badly in order to get excitement and adventure that he is not able to generate for himself.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Reflection, brioche and the guess.

1. The reflection on a wet roof of a bird passing overhead.

2. The smell of toasted brioche bread.

3. Alec speculating about what might be going to happen next in the book we are reading. It's The Railway Children, and I feel as if I've reached peak motherhood.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Birds, run and writing.

1. Watching birds -- too far away to see what they are -- throwing themselves about the sky outside my study window.

2. I escape for a run around the park with Zombies Run.

3. Our Zoom writing group is starting to feel 'normal' now. I am leading but I lose connection briefly because of network problems. I had passed a plan around beforehand, and the session continues without me while I get back online. I've noticed we're much less shy about sharing our work.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Leftover, dandelion clocks and hot cross buns.

1. At lunch, the children fighting over a salad of leftover rice that I had assumed I would have to eat myself.

2. We're reading Beverley Cleary's Ramona and Her Mother and the other night there was a scene where Mrs Quimby looked out on to a rainy afternoon and wished she could sit outside on a cushion in the sunshine and blow dandelion clocks. So I thought of her as my children jostled with each other to get a particularly good one as we walked on the common.

3. Hot cross buns for tea.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Jigsaw puzzle, snooze and slash.

1. To spend a little time on the jigsaw puzzle we have under the PVC cloth on our kitchen table. The children sidle up and join me, adding a few pieces here and there.

2. I love the snooze feature on Gmail -- it means a lot to be able to put a message to one side until the new working week.

3. It is satisfying to sharpen a kitchen knife and draw it quickly across the dough before the loaf goes in the oven.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Yoghurt, zoetrope and light reading.

1. It seems miraculous to make more yoghurt by adding a little of the previous batch to a litre of milk. 

2. We've got distracted chatting and suddenly wonder where the children are. To spot them flickering through the gaps in the shrubbery. 

3. I am restlessly searching through the library's selection of ebooks looking for something light and easy that isn't checked out. And then I remember that I have a complete Sherlock Holmes loaded up and ready to go.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Sprinker, loaf and promises.

1. We take our hour of exercise as a walk up to the cricket ground. The place smells of water on dry ground because they have the sprinklers on. It's a hot day and  the groundsman is way over the other side of the field. So the children run in and out of the spray for a few minutes when we arrive, and again for a few minutes before we leave.

2. To -- at last -- get a decent loaf from the starter I've been nursing on the windowsill. I let it rise all night, and then shaped it and let it rise until mid-afternoon. I think that I hadn't been giving it enough time before -- and this time I had better flour, too.

3. This evening was a bit exciting for the children. They watched livecast by the Tunbridge Wells District Scout leader, joining their friends at cubs and beavers in renewing their promises; and then they did the clap for carers in their uniforms. They were absolutely buzzing by the time we took them up to bed, but we felt very proud of them.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Equal, squeeze and the same line.

1. I nearly manage to pour equal coffee cups first time today. 

2. Alec comes up and gives me a really tight,  squeezy hug that make my ribs creak.

3. I've had a few nights of poor sleep so it's deeply satisfying to find that I'm reading the same line of my bedtime magazine over and over without really understanding it. I settle down among the pillows and I'm gone. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

FT, to talk and doll.

1. The new Fortean Times arrives, coinciding with an expected relaxing of my schedule.

2. After lunch, a nice long (socially distanced) chat with our neighbour over the garden wall. And then later, to talk in the park with another mum. It is almost starting to seem natural to stand six feet apart.

3. A colleague has been sending me cartoons from Punch, which I find very cheering. He sent one from 1859 showing a very Victorian papa in a top hat, cummerbund, watch chain and full whiskers walking down a city street holding the hand of his (equally Victorian) little girl. In his other hand, he is carrying her doll. It is titled 'TRUE COURAGE'. It made me laugh in particular because recently Bettany has been taking her doll to the park -- and of course she gets bored of being a mummy after five minutes and I'm left holding 'Baby', who has a slightly too real electronic cry and a manic laugh that go off if you are not very careful in the way you carry her. It is very satisfying to see something of my own experience represented in a scene from 160 years ago.

Also, the lovely Sarah Salway included this blog in her list of things that are cheering her up as she recovers from a bad case of coronavirus.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Mid morning, cartoon and darkening.

1. To stop work in the middle of the morning for a cup of coffee and a biscuit. 

2. Spotting the children watching a favourite cartoon from a few years back,  the excellent Phineas and Ferb.

3. During my writing meeting to watch the sky turn dark behind my laptop screen. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

No egg, butterfly kite and tear off.

1. 'Do you want an egg in your soup?' The children do not want eggs in their soup. Nevertheless, When we sit down to eat, there is a chorus of 'What's that in your soup? Can I have some? Why haven't we got any?'

2. The children have turned out a box of toys in search of something or other. I spot something shining in the pile -- an unopened butterfly kite, no larger than my hand. I slide it into my pocket for our park exercise.

3. To tear off last week's meal plan page and put it in the recycling.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Happy, new biscuits and reading for work.

1. Bettany confides to me that she is very happy she has a talking baby doll; and a walking unicorn.

2. Opening a new packet of biscuits at coffee time. 'Not healfy biscuits,' says Alec, looking at the packet with disappointment. But Mr Organic's Cocoa biscuits are delicious.

3. Digging around in the library's e-magazine selection, I find another old favourite, net -- which I remember as a gloriously enthusiastic publication about the sheer joy of the internet. It was gloriously bright and glossy at a time when the internet (for me, anyway, on a dial-up connection) was mostly white-on-black usenet posts and intimidating ftp servers. net is now 'the premiere print publication for web designers' and I understand about one word in ten -- although the long and helpful article on search engine optimisation was very much in my content-writing bailiwick.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Shower, happily ever after and a downpour.

1. We open the door to not much of a shower - just enough to wet the dust. Nick remarks on the pleasant smell and I can tell him that the word for it is petrichor.

2. As I turn the last pages of Howl's Moving Castle (a real classic by Diana Wynne Jones), it occurs to me that it's really more of a young adult book than a children's story. But Alec and Bettany are delighted by the way all the characters realise they love each other; and they want to know if there are more Ingary books with the same characters.

3. We are woken in the night by an absolute downpour, the first proper rain for a month. It is still a wonder to me that the atmosphere can hold so much water; and that we have so little control over it.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Pigeon, pause and reading material.

1. The children run upstairs to tell me that a pigeon has strolled into the kitchen and is now flapping around the front room. I decide that Nick is probably better off dealing with this alone and stay where I am.

2. Pausing during the Thursday evening clapping so I can hear people in the distance.

3. Finding that Viz! is among the electronic magazines offered by our library. It's not as funny as it used to be.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

At a distance, quick planting and social sewing.

1. While we're exercising out on the common we run into friends from school, and stand among the tussocks -- responsibly distanced -- speaking loudly and clearly as we catch up.

2. I found a few of those cards with seeds in them. This evening I have a spare few minutes so I quickly plant them.

3. A video call with Katie, during which we discuss our various makes, and I complete my embroidered bunny. It's a kit from Kiriki, but I don't think he's available any more, though they offer lots of other beautiful items.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Play, shamble and cooler.

1. To sit with Alec and play Lego Starwars for a few minutes, just to get him across a difficult bit -- until Bettany demands that I return the Wii-mote to her.

2. A video call from my sister, during which my small niece shambles about the kitchen and garden turning things upside down.

3. The temperature has dropped suddenly, and it makes me look forward very much to the summer heat.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Skive, replenish and glass of wine.

1. We skive off Joe Wicks' PE because it's bank holiday Monday.

2. The children's sweetie tins have been causing much anxiety because they were getting so low before Easter. They are much fuller now with bright treats in shiny wrappers, thanks to a lovely school friend who dropped an Easter basket round with sweets and a bundle of asparagus.

3. My aunt describing how, separated by a window, she has an evening glass of wine with a recently widowed neighbour.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Excited, slide and stitch.

1. Bettany climbs into bed with us very early. She says she had a bad dream, but really she is very, very excited about Easter. Nick goes off to sleep elsewhere, but I stay with her while she chatters, and eventually she goes back to sleep. In the grey light before I drift off I think that there won't be many more years when she is this excited about Easter.

2. In the park the children find a grassy slope and slide down it headfirst and arms around each other's shoulders.

3. The days have been merging into each other a bit, so I'm pleased to see my bit of needlework getting closer to completion.

PS: A few days ago, an old friend of Three Beautiful Things dropped me such a lovely email. He mentioned a blog and of course I tracked it down: Edible Reading. His corona diaries are well worth reading -- the story about the cauliflower curry during week one made me smile: we've had a fair few fails and near misses as we struggle to cook with unusual ingredients and improvise around missing items.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Fizz, isolated and reading aloud.

1. Nick announces that a Sodastream will be arriving this afternoon,  so I no longer have to go without my fizzy water while I read to the children.

2. There are two other families - both with bats and balls - in all the vast space of the cricket ground. 

3. Bettany complains long and loud that I'm not doing the wizard Howl's voice right. But Alec defends me, saying he likes the Welsh accent. It's a bit galling to have your audience complain,  but I'm pleased they're thinking about how the characters speak.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Real warmth, eggs and hot cross buns.

1. To feel real warmth in the air.

2. Bettany hangs colourful glittery eggs on the Japanese maple tree in the front garden.

3. Our hot cross buns are a bit rustic-looking because of an accident with the breadmaker, a shortage of strong white flour and because we're not yet entirely used to our sourdough starter. But they are OUR hot cross buns and they taste all right.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Pea shoots, sing-a-long and tired.

1. The peas Bettany planted in her fairy gardens are shouldering their way up out of the soil. And Alec has a sunflower shoot showing.

2. We liking tuning in to Tom Carradine's Cockney Sing-a-long on Thursday nights. It's fun to hear songs that you half remember, and the way the lyrics come edging back in your memory.

3. To crawl into bed feeling properly tired, so that the last few pages of your book don't really make much sense.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Rebels, choral arrangement and post-apoc domestic scene.

1. The children rebel against Joe Wicks' PE at 9am; but Nick puts on his exercise trousers, pushes back the sofa and does it anyway.

2. To dig around on Spotify and find the ethereal piece of music we were listening to the night before. It was a choral arrangement of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending by Paul Drayton.

3. 'This is how I thought the apocalypse would be,' says Nick contentedly. He is fixing a broken toastie maker while I make chicken stock from the bones left over from supper.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Jackdaws, meal plans and running water.

1. The sound of two jackdaws -- Chack! Chack! Chack! -- chasing each other around the rooftops.

2. To sit with children and a cookbook planning what we might like to eat, if only we could get the ingredients.

3. Because of the leak under the sink we've had the water switched off for just over twelve hours. The plumber comes early in the day, and at bedtime we're still marvelling at being able to get water whenever we want by turning on a tap.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Reading by video link, help is on the way and the quick brown fox.

1. The children are reading to their grandparents by video conferencing. Alec chooses a Pooh Bear story, which we know Grampy likes. Bettany, on the other hand, steps up with the notorious poo and wee issue of Okido (the science and arts magazine for kids). Lucky old Granny, I think. And I'm grateful that Bettany can now read it to herself.

2. There's been a drip under the sink, and it's turned into rather a rush. During supper we get a call from the landlord to say that a plumber will come in the morning.

3. Before our meeting my writing group had been having a go at entries for a competition for a poem containing every letter of the alphabet. I'd half-heartedly played with pangrams, chasing jigging nymphs and angry dwarfs round the page before giving up. But the others come up with absolute beauties: even the quick brown fox can make you startle when it's placed with a fresh new image.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Tussock, pep talk and nothing.

1. Jumping from tussock to tussock.

2. Watching the Queen's pep talk all together as a family.

3. I've been working so many evenings this week that I am very grateful for a chance to snuggle up next to Nick on the sofa and just do... nothing.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Reading, knife skills and hollow.

1. My aunt very kindly listens to the children reading over Zoom so I can get on with a short story for a competition.

2. Alec has been learning to use a knife and wants to practise his skills at every opportunity, so he's more willing than usual! I ask him to cut up some mushrooms and he goes at it with such vigor that he turns them into mushroom mince. The children usually complain -- loudly -- about mushrooms. I keep putting them in food because they are really nutritious and I'm convinced they will get used to them eventually. Alec's mushroom mince disappears into the meal and they eat it without comment, despite knowing it's there.

3. Using a teaspoon to scrape the seeds out of a courgette to make a space for stuffing.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Goldfinch, camping in and dream.

Note: comments are turned off because I can't be bothered with the spam. If you'd like to say something, please email me (not you, spammers).

1. More birds: a goldfinch -- I always think they look a bit predatory with their blood-coloured faces, though the colours are lovely -- on the bare branches of the dying elder tree in the corner of the car park. It's the nearest tree to my window, and the only one I can see in any detail so the birds on it are always of interest.

2. The children are sleeping in a den tonight for their scouting district's Big Sleep Out. We haven't got enough garden for camping, so it's just in the bedroom.

3. Just as we switch out the light there is the pad of feet. Bettany comes running up the stairs to tell us that she's had a bad dream about an owl with a hand coming out of its bottom. She lies between us wriggling, and then when I suggest I could take her back to bed, she jumps up, and we set off back down the stairs, her leading. The last I see of her is her pyjama ankle cuffs disappearing into the den, and as I often do with our Bett, I feel a bit redundant.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Never, nuthatch and Fiasco.

Fiasco [Print+PDF]

1. The way Bettany answers 'Never!' when we ask her to do anything.

2. I spot a nuthatch in the Grove. I think of them as country birds, and it never occurred to me that we might find them in our home park, a circle of green a quarter mile round and two minutes' walk from the centre of town.

3. To hang out on Zoom with my gaming group. We played a new-to-us game called Fiasco, which calls for a lot of improv and off-the-cuff roleplaying. It felt amazing to just... play, and have fun and laugh with my friends. Fiasco is all about greed and poor impulse control and we ended up with a tale of smutty books, poorly-stored explosives and climate-change denial.
At present we're putting so much energy into self-restraint and it felt great to let go and make poor choices and selfish choices (even in roleplay) that resulted in hilarity, rather than total disaster.
I expect there will be a write-up on Tim Knight's Heropress in due course, and I'll link to it for those who are interested.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Eggs, date and pie.

1. The postman brings the Easter eggs, which makes me feel a lot happier. We have got our usual large family egg, and a few foil-wrapped ones to hide in the garden.

2. At lunchtime Nick says he has recorded a documentary about the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, and would I like to watch it with him this evening on the sofa with some beer and a few chocolates. I would, very much. (The BBC documentary is excellent. It's presented by Mark Gatiss, who is a great favourite of mine).

3. The shepherd's pie that Nick brings out for supper. It is bubbling and golden with a tasty cheesy topping.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Yellow hedge, tiny people and snack.

1. There's a forsythia hedge over the other side of the car park, and the yellow flowers on leafless stems are always a joy. Picture: Michael Grant

2. As I pass the back bedroom I catch sight of the children. They've cleared a spot among the scattered dressing-ups and plugged in Alec's little radio and tuned it to a rock station. They are playing an intricate game with little plastic people. I don't stop to comment because observing them will alter their peaceful activity -- probably for the worse.

3. Nick brings me a plate of crispbread and houmous and a mug of chamomile tea as I work into the evening.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Birdsong, expedition and neat slices.

1. The deep silence makes birdsong stand out.

2. Alec comes up to remind me that we have decided to walk out one day and find the tall tree on the horizon.

3. The lasagne -- made with soy mince -- comes out in neat slices. 'Like housebricks,' Nick says.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Digestif, new leaves and sponge fingers.

1. After lunch, when the children have stopped arguing about going upstairs for quiet time, we drink a shot each of the mint liqueur I made last summer by way of a digestif. It feels very civilised.

2. There is a faint mist of yellow-green on a birch in The Grove and one of the horse chestnuts is hung with damp little leaves.

3. We eat a couple of those savoiardi biscuits for tea -- the Italian cafe on the corner has turned into a food shop, so now we're eating Italian versions of several staples. We had these biscuits when my siblings were babies in the eighties. They are a nice shape for small hands, and they melt in the mouth, so they're just right for people who are learning to eat. But they were called sponge fingers then.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Food shop, nap and predictable.

1. Nick calls up the stairs to say that he's returned from our permitted once-a-week food shop. We hurry down to see what he's got.

2. Napping in the afternoon.

3. I spend the evening watching the sitcom Spaced -- it's soothing, I know what happens next and takes me back to a comfortable, predictable time of my life.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Kiwi skins, acknowledgement and postcard.

1. The way Alec always insists that the skins of kiwi fruit are delicious, and that we would grow to love them if we would only give them another chance.

2. A client acknowledges a piece of work with 'a thanks for all you've done this week' -- and only then does it occur to me that yes, I have delivered a fair amount for them, at pace, this week, and I feel satisfied with that.

3. To hear that a postcard has arrived.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A sound, contact and sing-along.

1. While I'm picking tiny weeds out of pots I hear from one of the walled gardens up the road a toddler and his dad playing and laughing. The sound is such a joy, and I feel a lot better for hearing it.

2. During the 8pm cheering for NHS workers I catch the eye of a neighbour over the road and he gives me a firm nod to communicate, 'AOK. I'll call if I need anything.' His handclaps are louder than anyone else's in the brick box of his porch.

3. Alec calls down the stairs that Nick and I are being too noisy while we watch Tom Carradine's Cockney Sing-Along. We get the giggles, so I quietly close the door. The songs are not too rude, so perhaps we'll let them join us next week.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Bread machine, garden and handwriting.

1. The sound of the bread machine starting up. It always seems to be asking a question: 'What have we here?'

2. Every spring there is a day when Bettany announces that she want to clean up her fairy gardens. We salvage the decorations, and any pretty small plants and tip the rest into the compost heap. There's some scrubbing to do, and some snail removal, and then we put in soft fresh compost and hunt for new little plants around the garden..

3. I am working on a narrative project for a friend that calls for handwriting -- a lot of it, and it needs to be legible, and not my own script. It's pleasant to vanish into a slightly tedious task that calls for all my concentration.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

No touch, biker and SHE KNOWS US.

1. I realise that a physio appointment by video is completely pain free.

2. Bettany didn't know how to ride a bike at the start of the week. But today we watched her wobble off round the park, pedalling hard on a rusty pink bike with tiny wheels that is much too small for her.

3. We're doing a Writers' HQ Novel in Sixty Minutes video. The faciliter gets one of the other participants up on screen to read her story, and the children go crazy 'BECAUSE IT'S A GIRL FROM OUR SCHOOL AND SHE KNOWS US!'

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Up first, enough space and meet-up.

1. To wake earlier than everyone else and get some time alone.

2. We've had so many weeks of rain and the sense of vast space that clear skies supply is very welcome indeed.

4. My writing group meets on a video conferencing app. It's crackly and as a group we are still learning the grammar and syntax and etiquette of video conferencing -- but it's a relief to see the familiar faces and to keep the routine going.

PS: One of the exercises was to recommend three things online. Mine were:
a. Human/kind Journal
b. Morgen Bailey's website, in particular her 100-word story competition.
c. Dave Bonta's Morning Porch.

Monday, March 23, 2020

No ants, what's normal and front garden.

1. From my desk I can see the construction site down the end of the Pantiles. It is very still: there are no high-vis ants moving around on the upper levels.

2. For Mothering Sunday I have signed myself up for an online writing retreat. It's reassuring to see other people's word-counts for the day. When you work so much alone it's hard to know what 'normal' is.

3. My aunt says that she has been spending a lot of time weeding the front garden so she can talk at a distance with the neighbours she is not allowed to see formally.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Nothing exciting, compost heap and not reading to the children.

1. We are woken by the police knocking on our door, but we had heard and seen nothing of the thing they are investigating. We decide that once the police have woken you up, you can expect no more excitement for the rest of the day.

2. The bottom of the compost heap is ready for sifting -- which is fortunate, as I don't think it will be easy to obtain compost for a while. I've got some seeds saved from last summer. I'll sow them as soon as the earth feels warm enough.

3. I am too tired to read to the children, so I offer to put an audiobook on. They choose The Secret Garden, which seems an old-fashioned, out-of-place choice, until they point out that they've heard about a new film version. It's nice to sit in the dark on the sofa and just listen.