Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wet pigeons, supper for two and late night.

1. Pigeons on the ridgepole, black against the rain smudged sky. You know we're in for a long, wet day because they haven't bothered to find shelter. I'm so glad I'm not a pigeon.

2. Louise comes for supper -- we sit at the kitchen table and talk babies and sewing with small people.

3. Nick comes home late because he has been out to dinner. He is ever so slightly the worse for wear, and even more fond than usual. It reminds me of when a normally rather reserved assistant art editor I used to work with told me that the night before his girlfriend had come home after an evening out, and he was still delighted about it. "She was so pretty and giggly and happy and it made me love her even more."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Snooze, shorthand and addressing a duke.

1. It's Nick's first day back at work after his week off. He hits the snooze button and goes in late.

2. Reading back my shorthand.

3. I went to a lunch party for literary ladies on Monday, and everyone was full of the new Sunday night costume drama, Downton Abbey -- except me, because I hadn't seen it. Now that it's not football night, we can sit down to watch the scheming would-be heiresses and ambitious staff slug it out in a stunning country house. We are completely entranced. I felt bad about inflicting it on Nick; but he gets very caught up, and at the end he says the writer Julian Fellowes Got It Right because he is properly posh. "He knows how people would address a Duke."*

* Say the Duke of Westminster is your landlord. If by some chance he came round to collect the rent, you might want to show some deference and address him as "Your grace" -- "Sorry about all the sheets, your Grace. We could really do with a new washing machine. One with a condensing dryer."

If, however, he was just popping in for a coffee, you would be meeting him on equal terms, in which case, you call him "Duke". "Milk and sugar, Duke?"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gone home, birds and sequel.

1. I get an email from a proofreading client. He's finished his course and is going home -- boo, because his material was fascinating and challenging. But he's recommended me to a colleague, which is very satisfying.

2. I pick up a sewing kit I bought last year -- some birdy Christmas decorations from Buttonbag. I thought I'd better get them done in time for BB's first Christmas. They are meant for children, and I notice that in contrast to the sewing kits I had as a child that you are not told to be neat -- quite the opposite in fact, because the instructions call for visible stitches and raw edges. I never finished anything when I was little because I always felt as if my inevitable mistakes spoiled the project. Of course perfection has a place, but if you despise your efforts that fall short, you'll definitely never achieve it. I hope I can teach Baby Badger that -- it really shouldn't have taken me 30 years to learn!

3. I've picked up Stephen Baxter's Ark -- it's the sequel to Flood (which I've mentioned before), although the events run concurrently. It's set in the near future, and deals with a rapid rise in sea levels. In Flood, the protagonists took to rafts; but the characters in Ark are part of much more ambitious plan -- to find a new home off-planet.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stitch, light and baby gear.

1. To see Ellie start to get the hang of sewing. She picks colours from my floss box, and I show her how to sew buttons on to a piece of fabric, and how to thread a needle. Then I stitch a lazy daisy flower and she makes the centre in tiny orange stitches.

2. Daniel finds a lampshade in the attic and puts it on his head. "I'm a light."

3. Today, Cat and Alan have brought us a carload of bits for Baby Badger; then Ian, Caroline and Maggie roll up with a carful, too. We put the rocking moses basket by our bed -- just to see if it will fit -- and then tuck it away until the time comes. We sort the bags of clothes by size, and marvel at the tiny newborn onesies. Our friends say that they are glad to be rid of their baby clutter -- but we are so grateful for this equipment and the advice that comes with it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Retrieval, ripe and first concert.

1. These plums are disappointing. I bake them into Delia's oat and plum slices, which are not.

2. I have my doubts about the replacement plums, too. They are deep aubergine purple -- some of them -- but streaked and shaded with green as if they might not be quite ripe. I pull one out of my shopping bag on the way home. Very sweet, very juicy and very plummy.

3. This piece is pushing the boundaries of music. It's pushing the boundaries of what a clarinet can do, with haunting polyphonics and hysterical screeches. Baby Badger reacts with some hefty kicks that are visible through my dress. "Your first concert," whispers Dad proudly.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fibre, cakes and colours.

1. On the train, a mother tries to explain why brown bread is better than white without mentioning anything indelicate. "Wholegrains. It's got wholegrains in it." "But why is that better?" "It's less processed." "What does that mean?"

2. On the cake plate are Victoria sponges, one inch in diameter.

3. We walk through the rooms at the Wallace Collection, mostly ignoring the pictures because the decor is so astonishing. One room is the green of the deep sea or haematite, another is wedgewood blue, a third the colour of marrons glacé.

Sponsored post: Free time at the museum

In Catcher in the Rye, the hero talks evocatively about visiting his city's museum on a rainy afternoon. When I was younger, if we were out shopping, my mother would sometimes leave us to amuse ourselves in the town museum -- it was (and still is) free, and warm and out of the rain. She would come back 20 minutes later and we would still be crouched by the first case, entranced by the animals marching two-by-two into Noah's Ark. We also discovered that if you trod on a certain place on the floor, a single piece of meat in the toy butcher's shop would swing. The next room was set aside for natural history. We would stand and stare at the case of drooping privet leaves, hoping to see a stick insect move -- or at least some stick insect poo falling to the floor.

The village where I grew up had a museum, too -- and for us children, the most talked-about item was a mummified rat that someone had found while restoring their house. In my memory, it is the size of a small cat, with bared teeth. I went back recently, and it seems to have shrunk.

The museums in London were also huge treat -- we had our favourite items in each, and would dart in just to see one thing, which was worthwhile because they were free. At the Natural History Museum, I was content to see the brontosaurus skeleton right by the entrance and then leave. My little sister would always insist that we climbed to the top of the hall, though. Small and determined, she would march through the collection of stuffed mammals to find her Fairy Pink Armadillo -- wrinkled and white and whiskery no bigger than your hand.

In the V&A, there is a gallery dedicated to cast iron, and they have a 1960s casserole dish on display exactly the same as the one my mother had at home. Looking at it in a glass case gave me such a strange, shivery feeling -- as if, you know, maybe, we ourselves would one day be history. I still walk through that gallery whenever I visit the V&A -- even though I have now inherited my mother's red casserole dish and could look at it any time I want.

And once you have had enough of treasures, why not grab some food. Pizza Hut is offering a Kids Eat Free deal, which runs now until 9 January 2011. For every adult main course or adult lunchtime buffet purchased, an accompanying child can choose from either a FREE 2 course kids meal (includes a drink) or a FREE kids lunchtime buffet (includes pizza, pasta and salad). Find more details about the offer at

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Brownie, pride and the bed.

1. The rain has just started. We walk along St John's and get some lunch at Basil. They do the best brownie ever -- it's gooey and tastes of bitter chocolate.

2. The midwife apologises again and again for missing my vein -- I think she must take great pride in her work.

3. We take the bits of bed that are cluttering up BB's nursery up to the attic. A bedspread and a few cushions later, and we find ourselves with a comfortable place to sit in Nick's rooftop lair. We spend the evening lounging around on it listening to the lovely Bettany Hughes discussing Sappho.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

When life throws you lemons, dental health and nightmare.

1. Anna brings gossip and lemons -- part of a gift for a friend. The kitchen smells citric for the rest of the day.

2. Nick has been to the dentist and feels very sorry for himself. I tell him have been beside myself with worry all morning, imagining myself in one of those real life magazines: "My husband only went in for a filling and came back with NO HEAD."

3. I'm dreaming that I'm in a crowded place. Pain in my calf makes me shout. Faces look down at me curiously and I have no idea what to do. Then: "Is it cramp?" Kind hands flex my foot and lead me back down into the pillows.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Green, job done and off the line.

1. Snipping a few herbs over my soup.

2. I start to pump up my exercise ball, get discouraged and go for a nap instead. Nick wakes me up by bouncing it -- now fully inflated -- across the bedroom.

3. I like to bring in the washing when it's just getting dark.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dressing the baby, dancers and technical fault.

1. The postman knocks -- he has a large but light parcel. It's a set of baby clothes, handknitted by Heather. So now I have something soft and warm to wrap my baby badger in. The little shoes make me want to cry.

2. I'm working upstairs in the early evening, and the window is open because the attic can be stuffy when the sun has been shining. I can hear the mechanical clack-clack clack-clack of a flamenco class in the TocH Hall.

3. All my biscuits fall through the wire cooling tray. "We need one with smaller holes," I tell Nick (who is proud that he has bought the finest baking equipment money can buy. He points out the bleeding obvious: "Next time, bake bigger biscuits."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ceps, basket and papers.

Gabi Hampson has just emailed to ask if I would give a shout out to The Project Group -- it's a social enterprise based up north in Shropshire. Adults who have been in contact with mental health services get together and create things both beautiful and useful from recycled materials -- such as bags from tractor inner tubes, and accessories from broken zips. 

The group is up for a Future Friendly award, which will give them a much-needed £10,000, but they need votes to win! So Gabi hopes you will do three beautiful things:
1. Watch the video -- go to and click on The Future Friendly Awards link. The five finalists are listed on the left.
2. Vote for The Project Group.
3. Talk (or blog if you're that way inclined) about it.

1. We take a turn round the garden and my father shows me the ceps that have popped up this year. So far, he hasn't been able to catch any of them before the maggots, though, and their velvety brown caps are riddled with yellow holes.

2. "We should have bought something to put them in." But a seed tray lined with nut leaves does very well for the late summer raspberries.

3. Emptying old folders into the recycling bin.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fairytale, blushing and speech.

1. Katie's dress sparkled and prickled with light. Veiled in church she looked her usual elegant self, but ethereal, too. A proper fairytale bride.

2. The folk trio played Linden Lea, and the elderflower cordial and the canapes kept coming.

2a. Jules spent most of the day blushing -- he looked as if he might burst with pride and happiness as he showed off his new wife during the first dance. "I'm actually glad she made me do those lessons," he said.

3. I inhaled mineral water at a very stupid quip in the best man's speech. He said that the hospital staff still referred to the day Jules was born as 'Ugly Friday'. It's exactly the sort of thing Rosey and I would say to Robert.

4a. One wall of the marquee was a designated hat display -- all the fascinators and feathered headpieces were pegged up to keep them safe. "Now that's attention to detail," said someone at our table.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The force be with you, yes really and beauty.

Today Katie-who-I-used-to-live-with is getting married to her adored Jules. They've put so much work into the wedding -- can't wait to see the result. And knowing Katie it will go so smoothly that they'll have plenty of opportunities to appreciate the process. It's a perfect September day, just right for a country wedding, and it's an auspicious start to many years of happiness.

1. My new dressing gown in certain lights resembles a Jedi robe. Which leads to: "This is not the wife / cup of tea / Weetabix you are looking for."

2. "Who finished the Toblerone?" "It was Baby Badger."

3. I don't often wax my own legs -- but whenever I do, I remember exactly why I am happy to pay someone else -- someone skilled -- to deal with the mess and stickiness for me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pips, breakfast meeting and bread pudding.

1. The radio alarm goes off in the middle of the BBC pips.

2. I've got an early meeting, so I leave the house with Nick and kiss him goodbye at the station.

3. This mouthful of bread pudding contains both an astringent cardamom seed and a piece of apricot.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shawls, chocolate and carotene.

1. Kevin turned up at games night on Tuesday with two baby shawls -- as used by his now teenage children. "You'll need a few of these," he says "Babies are messy." I carry the bag up to the nursery, and it smells of clean washing.

2. A piece of Toblerone -- the large airport kind.

3. My soup has turned out autumn orange.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Violas, payment and shut up.

1. To spend some time with my mother at the garden centre discussing the relative merits of violas and wallflowers. I love violas for their surprised but neat faces -- I think they are afraid of spoiling their carefully pencilled-in make-up. As soon as the vegetables finish and some pots come free, I'm going back for a couple of boxes.

2. Clients who pay very promptly and electronically.

3. There's been a car alarm yipping and wailing ever since we got into bed. I go to the window muttering that I am really going to give it something to go off about if I can work out which car it is. It falls silent and does not start again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Spotted, dark heart and beans.

1. From the window behind my desk, I catch the cyclist I saw riding off yesterday at 5pm locking his bike to the pay and display machine.

2. Shaking an apple to hear the pips (that no-one has ever seen) rattle.

3. Beans on toast: always there when you're working too hard to cook.

Monday, September 13, 2010

In my pocket, falling with style and the pudding.

1. To put my hand in my dressing gown pocket and find a clean, folded handkerchief.

2. She is still getting the hang of this walking. A man who might be her father or her grandfather watches anxiously as she totters and then goes over. She wonders at the ground and then picks up a leaf and hands it to him -- she wasn't falling, she was having a closer look.

3. Nick has made steak and kidney pudding for supper -- it spends the afternoon steaming: pff-pff-pff, with the occasional feisty hiss.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Voucher, picking and blush.

1. Having a voucher that is burning a hole in your pocket.

2. It is raining hard -- but the garden is small so I am not out long picking beans, chives, mint and parsley.

3. The sodden yellow clouds blush peach pink as the sun goes down.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pipe tobacco, coming down and dessert.

1. A man smoking a pipe walks past the top of the road. When I come to turn left, I can still smell his burnt sugar tobacco.

2. The children come down to see what this dinner party is about, and you can see their parents' expressions and manners flickering in their faces.

3. Warm, dark brownies (two squares are missing from the tin) and ice cream.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nattering, in the sun and stained glass.

1. After yoga, the mums-to-be talk. It's not just me.

2. September lunch in the garden: jumper on, jumper off, jumper on, jumper off.

3. The light  passes through the cherries baked into my biscuits and marks red splots on the worksurface.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Dirty weather, up the hill and a square of chocolate.

1. The light turns dirty yellow and the rain comes down.

2. No more sun here -- but further up the hill it's still warming chimneys and gables.

3. I like to nibble on a square of soft Swiss milk chocolate. Three squares.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Timing, bond and soft colours.

1. To arrive home just as my aunt and cousin come to the gate.

2. Granny Pat says: "I love you, Clare and I love the baby." She is delighted over and over again by the news that I am her grand-daughter, married and carrying her great-grandchild.

3. Cyclamen in dolly-mixture colours, and pale autumn crocuses planted around trees. It's good to see some gentle colours among the deep greens and hot reds and yellows.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Be happy, first day of school and The Shipping News.

1. As always, he tells me to be good. I tell him it will be a tall order. And very seriously, he says: "Well be happy then."

2. As I start work, a mother and two little boys in school uniform come out of the footpath at the corner of the car park.

3. The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx -- one of my favourite novels ever. It's a story of redemption in an unforgiving climate. Finding books in our house is all about serendipity, and I am very glad to have spotted this lying on a heap of role-playing fanzines.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Tension, share and Karelia.

1. The masseuse keeps apologising when I gasp, but it's just the tension coming out.

2. To cut a chocolate bar in two and share it with Nick.

3. Nick spots Sibelius' Karelia Suite in the line-up for last night's Prom. I don't care that it's been heard so many times that it's worn itself into a cliché -- it's still one of my favourite pieces of music ever. And it was all the more forceful on this listen, because a couple of weeks ago, I sat with Nick and watched a documentary about the Winter War (1939-40). The treaty that followed this war -- in which the vastly outnumbered Finns fought bravely and skilfully -- resulted in most of the population being relocated into other parts of Finland. The documentary interviewed some of these displaced Karelians, who were still homesick years later; and the suite made me think of them.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Door, poplar and memories.

Rosey has put some more pics of her Arctic trip on her blog.

1. In Lamberhurst we stop at traffic lights beside a cottage with a weathered pink front door painted with blue cornflowers. The wheelie bin is decorated with pink flowers -- helpfully labelled 'cosmos'.

2. I can't get enough of poplar leaves flicker-flackering from green to grey. They make me think of TV static.

3. Katie must guess who remembers what about her: "When my boys descend, they leave me to do everything; but I go into the kitchen and find the kettle boiling and teabags in mugs." This one is from her mother-in-law-to-be.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Blue tits, baking and found it.

1. A few blue tits are bouncing in the holly tree. I'm pleased to see their cheeky, cheery bandit-masked faces here -- I've missed the birds from our old flat.

2. These cookies shouldn't be crispy. I'll do better next time.

3. It is strange -- I always think -- that I can search all day for a vital thing; and only find it when Nick comes home and says: "Let me help you look".

Friday, September 03, 2010

Bump, hair and jeans.

Wow, thanks for all the frozen food advice! Really appreciate it.

1. I buy a pair of maternity jeans -- after all, the midwife told me: "You really have got a bump now."

2. To find a hairdresser who is willing to cut my hair right now this minute.

3. To take off a new pair of jeans which still have their own idea of shape.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Wriggling, supper in and I will go to sleep.

I've been told that filling the freezer up with easy meals is very important in the weeks leading up to the birth. Does anyone have any recipes that freeze well? Or any freezer tips? Or even any recommended blogs on the subject? I've never had a freezer before, so I'm finding my way a bit.

1. If I'm working, I tend to not notice Baby Badger's movements -- it's horrible to suddenly realise that the last wriggle I can remember was just after breakfast; and I'm always relieved to feel a flutter (or a massive four-way jab as the case may be).

2. I like to stick my supper in the oven and forget about it until it's time to eat.

3. The scent of lavender on my pillow.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Good memory, flowers and help.

I've got a memory like a sieve, so here's a beautiful thing I should have written about yesterday. On Monday, I talked on the phone with Goddaughter Ellie's  father. He told me that she announced: "I'm a seed" and planted herself under some sofa cushions, asked to be watered and then after a suitable pause, put out a little hand shoot.

1. The delivery man asks how the writing is going -- I'm impressed he remembered.

2. Cutting the wrappings off a bunch of flowers, trimming the stems (the scissors make a juicy snip) and putting them in a glass vase of clean water.

3. There are orange shopping bags everywhere. Without a fuss, Katie packs them away into the larder.

Hardboiled egg, back in line and foxgloves.

1. I hardboiled a few eggs this morning. At lunch, I note that the one Nick is eating has a perfect yolk -- just a little soft. 2. It just t...