Monday, September 20, 2021

Spores, spiders and blackberries.

1. We find puffballs on the common and the children burst a few to marvel at the black smoke of spores.

2. The spiders have come back. One has strung a web in the ivy across from the kitchen window, close enough that we can see him watching and waiting.

3. I've nearly missed the blackberries -- but this time I remember to bring a box out with me. They are nearly over and I don't get many; I don't even fill the box, but it's enough to say that we've had blackberries this year.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Weeding task, glitter and grumbling.

1. To weed my oregano pot. For weeks when I pick oregano for a salad I've been dodging a poppy (now gone to seed) and a herb robert plant. They are not weeds elsewhere in the garden. There is a lychnis seedling in there, too, which I will save, perhaps tomorrow. 

2. There is glitter among the dust I have swept off the sideboard.

3. The sound of Bettany muttering grumbles about her day as she sits across my lap and watches a badly scripted YouTube fairy tale. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Knock, kick and comrade.

1. The tak-tak on the door that signals the arrival of my friend and her baby.

2. Someone has stuffed takeaway litter in a burrow under the wall. Someone else has kicked it all out again.

3. I bring Alec to his first Scouts meeting. The joy on his face when he sees a friend -- and the joy on the friend's face.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Epsom salts, comb and videos.

1. I love using epsom salts in the bath because you need such a lot of them. I weigh out half a kilo for Alec and bring them upstairs. He tips them into his running bath with a satisfying swish.

2. Detangling a doll's hair while I listen to Bettany reading.

3. With relief, I sink into Liziqi's beautiful world. I have no expectation of following her makes as everything is in Chinese, and there is a vast gap between her resources and competence and mine. There are times to be productive, and there are times to just watch. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Willow, hiding and moon.

1. To marvel at this season's growth on the willow that was cut down last winter. The shoots are now over six feet. I wonder which of them will grow into branches?

2. Nick comes upstairs to hide from Bettany: she has set up a supermarket in the kitchen and is forcefully recruiting customers.

3. The moon blurred gold behind clouds.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Bells, smoke and demonstration.


1. We hear jingling bells in the street below us. Bettany exclaims, 'Santa!' with a level of joy and wonder that surprises me, because she has unpacked and dismantled the Father Christmas story in great detail on several occasions. She squirms round to look out of the window: it's only a passing dog.

2. The smell of blue wood smoke at Forest School.

3. Alec in his wellies, down on one knee, showing his little sister how to use a fire flash.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Accept, old shoes and done.

1. To accept that today I will not be productive because it is the day of Alec's 11-plus exam.

2. To drop a bag of outgrown and broken down shoes into the recycling.

3. Alec returns confident, almost cocky. He is content with his exam performance.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Neighbourhood, change in the air and the rain.

1. The dog walkers caught us at the beer hatch buying a jug for our end of heatwave street party. 'Are you going? Be there in a minute.'

2. The party started to break up when the wind got up, blowing along the street lifting napkins and ruffling our hair and clothes.

3. The children and I watched the rain begin from their bedroom kneeling up on the sofa with our faces wedged below the sash window. A boy ran up our street in the growing dark, pulling against the parent who called him back.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Dew, table and sparrows.

1. The dew splashes my ankles as I walk around the cricket ground.

2. To find that Bettany has set up a little restaurant table in the garden.

3. Sparrows peering down at us from the gutters. I think they might be looking for water so I set up a shallow pan.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Tea, slow and cucumber.

1. Thinking that in this heat I need to drink more than usual, and then remembering that I have a box of liquorice tea.

2. It's hot today, but I don't have much work on so I can afford to take things at a slow pace.

3. To find that a cucumber has been growing un-noticed in the shade.

Monday, September 06, 2021

New path, greetings and tench.

1. We take a new path out of the industrial estate and find ourselves walking along the river, past a set of lock gates and through a cafe's outdoor space to the high street.

2. A joyful, friendly man in a red vest greets everyone who comes into the coffee shop as if he knows them well -- and perhaps he does. He gives his best shot at chatting with a man who communicates using sign language. The conversation is full of okay signs, thumbs up and comparisons of muscles.

3. Back at the lock the fishermen have caught a fish, 18 inches long, veiled in slime and glowing the same green gold as the river water. A tench, we are told. It waits patiently to be released.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Flowers, snails and back to normal.

1. I hurry to Nana's birthday tea cradling a large paper-wrapped bunch of flowers on my arm.

2. Nana has made herself a vivarium for small snails. 

3. The children tell us that they are all allowed out on the playground together now. And school start and finish times are no longer staggered.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Tomatoes, soap and reading.

1. The Sainsbury's man says he is impressed by my tomatoes, which -- so far -- have not succumbed to the blight.

2. It's the day for picking a new bar of soap from the tissue-wrapped selection in the bathroom cupboard. There are only two left of the original dozen but Bettany and I weigh up lavender versus vetiver, even though we know that both will be used eventually. 

3. Cuddling up with the children to read our current book, Peter Green and the Unliving Academy. We didn't find time to read any of it while we were away. It feels good to snuggle back into our old routines. 

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

That moment, wedding, and Minerva.

 We've been away for nearly a week to a wedding in Liverpool and then for a few days in Chester. Here are some highlights.

1. When I look up, the people ahead of us have vanished. I hurry ahead to see how they passed through a brick wall and find a doorway. I step through it, on to a quiet terrace above the Mersey where people are waiting in silence, just as the sun drops behind Birkenhead across the water.

2. The hundreds and hundreds of padlocks secured to the chains around the docks -- all representing promises.

3. I wonder if Bettany would like me to go with her when the wedding planner leads the flower girls round to the door the bride will use. No, she definitely doesn't want me.

4. The soft wave of kind laughter that greets the brides emotional apology for being late.

5. The man who reads a poem returns to his seat, and draws a finger under each eye to clear away his tears. (later Alec tells us that his suit with gold buttons is the best suit).

6. I turn round to find Amelia -- elegant and cheerful in her blue dress and coral shoes -- teaching my children to cross their eyes.

6. We leave the wedding before the evening party really begins. Bettany is furious. She won't say a proper goodbye to the bride and groom but stands creepily in the dusk bushes and then howls all the way to the taxi. The driver asks her what songs she would like him to play. She choses 'Blue Smoke' by Dolly Parton; 'Sun Spots' by Julian Cope; and a Hannah Montana tune. He comments that she has messed up the recommendations on the company's shared music account and says that his colleagues will laugh at him. 'Are we mates, you an' me?' he asks her in his broad accent.

7. A thing about this holiday has been enormous beds and vast bath towels.

8. We walk a long way to find the only in situ Roman shrine to Minerva in the UK in a park by the river. The image, carved into the wall of a quarry, is somewhat worn, but her robes, helm and owl are easily recognised and it was absolutely worth every step of the walk.

9. As we walk round the park the children wish so hard that the miniature railway will be running again today. We think that it might not be, because it's now the week when people start going back to school. But it turns out that it is running -- an inattentive teenage boy trundling delighted toddlers round tracks so narrow gauge that I can put my foot across them. I am so relieved that I pay them on immediately and they jump aboard.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Breathe, waffles and greyish.

1. It's such a little, simple thing, but the Google breathing exercise app; and the fact that Guanyin, Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion keeps appearing in various guises and places.

2. It turns out that it's fine to cook waffles the night before (when you have lots of time) and let the children put them in the toaster in the morning.

3. Alec comes home greyish from head to foot. He is full of stories about walking on a muddy beach in his pyjamas, having hot chocolate on his cereal and driving over The Sheppey Crossing.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Expedition, pineapple and independence.

1. Alec walks jauntily up the street with his uncle. They are going climbing and camping together.

2. This is a really good pineapple.

3. The non-sound of Bettany and her friend getting themselves ready for bed, watching a film and then taking themselves upstairs.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Occupied, can do and grasshopper.

1. When I look up again, the children are still sitting round a table doing a poetry writing workshop. (Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival is still going on this week)

2. 'I can't do poetry, I'm no good at English.'

I remember an editor once telling me that if I found something interesting, other people would, too. So I say, 'Just write down something you saw and thought was interesting.'

She thinks for a moment and writes a rhyming couplet about her dog's coat.

3. There is a bright green grasshopper in the hair of the woman sitting in front of me.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Cupboard, helper and hair.

 1. The sight of Alec tidying up the cupboard under the TV. I have tried for so long to tame this horrible mass of cables and devices, and usually have to hold everything in with one hand while slamming the door shut. But if Alec wants to take ownership, perhaps it will stay tidier for longer.

2. As I am leaving Nick asks Bettany if she'd like to help with the washing up. When I return, the step is by the sink.

3. I had my hair done this morning. Finally when I show up for drinks with Katie and Sarah in the evening, someone notices.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

I did get there, a sound and reconnect.


1. A kind friend gives me a lift to a poetry workshop on Ashdown Forest with the poet in residence there, Sian Thomas. We write in a magical spot called Gill's Lap, which looks out across the gorse to the sunny fields beyond. 

2. While we are doing the opening exercise, I hear a sound which I think is someone grumbling, or laughing to themselves. The moment I realise that it's a dog. 

3. When I get home, the children are almost ready for bed. Nick has been reading to them. I join them on the sofa and we all cuddle up for a while to reconnect.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Children are home, splinter and open mic.

1. The children come rushing through the gate with pockets full of sand and then we let the butterflies go.

2. Tears spring to Bettany's eyes when she washes her hands. She has a splinter in her finger. I sterilise my magic needle and work away. She is very brave throughout, complaining steadily, but never flinching. And soon there is a tiny thorn clasped in my tweezers. 

3. The various sights and spectacles at an open mic night for Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival. John Wheeler, who speaks like a fire and brimstone preacher, and shares a funny, dramatic Shakespearean soliloquy about a problem with his zip. A woman who speaks mainly through a patchwork pig to hilarious, chaotic effect. And the usually gentle, mannerly Steve Walter, responding to environmental concerns and background noise, unleashes the full power of his voice, which is electrifying. (You can see Steve in person at Remember the Earth Whose Skin You Are).


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Corralling numbers, not a wasted outing and eye-witness accounts.

1. Once I've done my financial admin and enticed the numbers back into their spread sheet cells, I feel much less anxious.

2. We take a stroll, really just to get out of the house, but we pretend we are going look at an antiques shop while we don't have children with us, and a mythical new food hall that is rumoured to be opening round the back of the Pantiles. They are both closed, because it's Monday. It's not a completely wasted outing, though: We run into our friends and they tell us with wide eyes and much joyful enthusiasm about their road trip round the south of England -- Jane Austen's house and the Bodleian Library were the highlights.

3. Talking to the children on the phone about their day's adventures. It's funny to hear how their stories differ.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Getting things done, poetry festival and butterflies.

1. The children are away with my parents for a few days and Nick and I have been resting and working down our to-do lists. Some of the tasks are tiny, but they've seemed insurmountable while also caring for children. Other tasks are bigger, but ticking them off feels as good as hours of rest.

2. Working down the programme of events for Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival and picking which ones I'm going to. Some are online, so they are open to anyone, anywhere in the world.

3. In between tasks, we've spent a lot of time watching the butterflies in their gauzy cage. I stare at the patterns on their wings, trying to discern differences between them, and marvel at their coiled tongues, furred bodies and fine antennae. We'll have to let them go soon so they can make their own way in the world.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Schedule, new client and new friends.

1. I try to avoid complex, close-call scheduling because as a family we don't need that stress. But today I drop Alec off just before 9am for tutoring; and show up over the road for a massage appointment on the hour. It feels satisfying and efficient.

2. A blank page for a new client is a challenge -- but today I've got the time and the headspace to work my way into the material. The client would be disconcerted, I think, to see my lists of words and the research rabbit holes I let myself tumble down and the snickets, twittens and ginnels I follow around the internet. But once I return to the writing task, the words go down easily and all the client will see is a smooth piece of content.

3. In the park after our picnic supper Bettany makes some friends, and I don't have to do anything at all -- just sit on a bench, poke at my phone and think.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Escape, the fairies reply and parcels.

1. During the dance display, a toddler escapes, runs to his big sister and joins in. 

2. A few weeks ago Bettany and Nick found a fairy village on the common, with a letterbox. They left a note for the fairies, of course. Today we are passing the place. The village has gone, but there are notes hung on the fence to all the children who posted letters. We photograph the note addressed to Bettany, but decide to leave it in place

3. Three large parcels of snacks arrive -- Grampy very kindly gave us some vouchers, and we had a bit of a spree.

3a. To meet some of my writing friends for the first time in 18 months. We aren't writing tonight, just chatting and being together.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Phase, parcel and chives.

1. Bettany has been experimenting with the phrase, 'What the heck is that?'

2. To find a parcel waiting in the undergrowth of our front garden.

3. I know that I put new potatoes on the meal plan, and I can smell them cooking as I come down from work to supper, already going through the tick list for the domestic side of my life. I am about to go in the garden and pick chives to snip and scatter over the potatoes when I realise that Nick is already at work with the scissors.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Start, churros and one of those nights out.

1. Nick comments, 'Things always feel better once you start work on them.'

2. As I am deep frying Lidl frozen churros, it occurs to me that this is probably a family memory. It's the combination of a late bedtime and a treat we are unlikely to have again that has to be made in small batches so everyone is waiting around chatting.

3. There is an article in this month's Fortean Times about the time Aleister Crowley visited Berlin and hit up Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger to track down Aldous Huxley so they could to a drag club.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Magazine time, watermelon and reading agreement.

1. Returning to bed to look through my new Fortean Times.

2. Slicing into a watermelon and feeling the skin crack. 

3. The children squabbling negotiating over which book we are going to read next. Alec makes a great case for The Land of Green Ginger; but Bettany wins out with Peter Green and The Unliving Academy. Alec is content with a promise that we will come back to his choice later.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Break, model and new book.

1. To look at my progress and feel like it would be okay to take a break.

2. Alec protests when I suggest working on his model car, but he gives in eventually. I cut the pieces out and hand them to him, and file off burrs as requested, but mostly I'm watching and drinking peppermint tea. He is very pleased when it is completed. We decide to leave the battery -- a cunning mechanism involving salt water and magnesium -- until Nick and Bettany come home.

3. There is, at last, some time to look over my new book of Hiroshige prints. There are sixty in all, ones I've never seen before, and I only get through half of them
.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Rainy evening, moon in a blue sky and swimming in the sea.

 We've had a short break in Bexhill, and this is a quick round-up of the best bits.

1. The sea is cold and it takes me ages to get in -- but once I am in, it feels so good to be part of the waters that cover most of our world.

2. A fingernail of moon hiding in a wrack of wispy cloud in the blue, blue sky.

3. Bettany in a rage that we have not found a playground marches us away from the garden in the old town that we planned to visit and down a twitten that takes us over a road bridge and right back to the seafront.

4. I convince everyone to go back to the garden and it is indeed very lovely, laid out around a ruined manor house in a series of rooms, each different and surprising, within the bounds of what municipal gardening can achieve.

5. To catch sight of Alec's friend waving at us in the park.

6. Eating dinner in the window of  restaurant while the rain falls steadily outside.

7. Our proper seaside landlady tells us she is going shopping and asks if there is anything we want for breakfast that we haven't been offered.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Art, apricots and paid.

1. To keep Bettany busy Jane gives her some oil pastels, a sheet of sugar paper and a vase of flowers.

2. Eating homegrown apricots.

3. As a freelancer, I love that moment each month when I discover that I've been paid.