Saturday, December 31, 2011

The long nap, off the floor and husband.

1. After breakfast, Alec and I sprawl on the bed and  have a very long nap -- so long that lunch is almost late.

2. It is disgusting when your baby picks things up off the floor -- and not even your own floor -- and tries to eat them, but it's rather endearing when he offers such 'found food' to people sitting at the next table.

3. When I go up -- quite late -- I find that Nick is in our bed and not sleeping in his study.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Oil on water, I saw and peppermint creams.

1. Lenses of oil on water magnify the bottom of the bread tin.

2. A man and a woman are talking outside the window. Only the child on the man's shoulders sees Alec in his blue cardigan waving and smiling.

3. A box of peppermint creams in opulent red and gold foil printed with moons and suns and stars. They look as if they might have magical properties -- with this one you'll see the future. This one will make you sprout (temporary) wings. That one has a flavour now lost to history. Another will give you visions of paradise.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Birthday boy, ta-da and simple amusements.

1. "Happy birthday, manlet." This morning -- it's really stretching the definition of morning, though -- I don't mind helping Alec back to sleep in the small hours.

2. If I have no pocket, I stash my handkerchief down the front of my dress. Alec has a habit of pulling it out. He looks as proud as if he'd produced the flags of all the nations, a bunch of flowers and a live dove.

3. To watch him anticipate. He giggles before a 'boo' or the popping of the weasel. He holds his breath for the turning on (or off, either will do) of the radio. And he flutters his fingers greedily when I offer him milk.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

First word, gifts and my time.

Alec was one today. He seems big and little at the same time. I'll write more about him tomorrow.

1. Maggie's first words are reported on Facebook. We like and like and like.

2. We open -- it's a slow business, though -- a couple more of Alec's Christmas presents. He takes his time, stripping off tiny pieces of wrapping, tasting them, offering them to us, getting distracted by the contents of the previous parcel. I wish I was more like him.

3. Everyone else is in bed. This is my time in my kitchen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Snoring, found and in the dark.

1. Uncle Rob carries Alec, fast asleep, in the backpack. When asked if he is all right, Robert complains: "He's snoring."

2. To see, in the twilight, away up the road, the missing blue boot.

3. I go to the sitting room, but no-one is there. Black needle shadows. The Christmas tree glows softly in the dark.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tiny tree, conference call and book.

1. Outside our bedroom door is a wooden cart with a baby Christmas tree on it. "For Alec," says my mother. He touches the red baubles with a gentle -- gently, Alec -- finger.

2. Rosey is down at the bottom of the world -- just a conference call away from a family Christmas. She says the weather is good, and she's going skiing later, though there's a chance she might be needed for co-piloting.

3. We'd been told that he would prefer the wrapping paper to everything else. In the end, it's a book with a finger puppet that lights up his world.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Peace, home and he's come.

1. Nick needs some peace, so I take the baby in the backpack (there is no room to get the pushchair out because of all the packing) and go to the park. It's quiet and cold, and children keep asking why Alec is not wearing any shoes. "He's growing too fast," I tell them. I wonder what their parents are thinking about my baby standing on the roundabout in his socks? We sit together on the big swings and he dozes against my chest while I sing fragments of songs. Another mother and son are on the other two swings -- but he's about ten times older than Alec.

2. The beams are laced and lanced with holly and ivy, and we are home for Christmas.

3. The sound of the back door and Robert's modest 'Hello?'

Saturday, December 24, 2011

New mother, new baby and baby in bed.

1. I go round to Katie's to meet the new baby. Chloe is asleep in her pram, and Katie is eating bacon and eggs. We have tea and cake and laugh and cry -- new mothers cry about everything, and I'm just relieved and happy that my friend has come through safely and that the baby is beautiful.

2. She is so still, so gentle. Her movements are like those of a slow, soft creature swaying in a rockpool. She opens her eyes a crack, closes them again. Her tongue tip pokes out, and goes in again.

3. When I go upstairs after clearing away the supper things, Nick and a clean, dry, Alec-in-his-sleeping-bag are playing quietly on the bed. "That was the best bath for a long time," says Nick.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The swing, roundabout and lingering.

1. Alec laughs -- and shows all his teeth -- when I push him on the swing.

2. She is small, but she looks kind and sensible, so I put Alec on her empty roundabout and stand back while she pushes him round.

3. Alec's key person comes back from lunch just as we arrive at nursery. It's the first day that I don't have to go to work, so I dawdle in the baby room while she finds her slippers. I like to linger over unbuttoning him, and to watch him take in the changes to the room.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Piggy, mix and affordable.

1. I discover that what Alec really likes -- what he really, really likes -- is to have 'This Little Piggy done to his toes'. I think he must have heard it at nursery, because he anticipates the wee-wee-wee part, and I'm sure I've never done it with him  before (the reason is that I find the 'I can't find my way home' line a bit upsetting. Even when I change it to 'all the way home', the other version is still lurking).

2. Louise says she likes Carluccio's because it always has a mix of business meetings and children. "It's an odd combination," she says, looking round at the high chairs and the men in shirt sleeves and women with leather notepads.

3. "Crafts should be affordable," she says as we load up with hand-stitched notepads (stamped with 'made in Tunbridge Wells') and ceramic Christmas decorations in petrol blue and scarlet. I'm really drawn to the feather-thin birds, but they are unglazed, which is my own fingernails on a blackboard. She seems surprised when I mention this.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tickets please, Christmas lights and nap time.

One of today's beautiful things reminded me of another sort of journalling that I missed out of the essay. I save my train tickets for bookmarks, and I write notes on them about the journey. Sometimes it's just where I was going, or the purpose of the journey; other times it's a few words to jog my memory about the day ('a row of birds'; 'cable theft in Maidstone'; 'the proud man'). Our train tickets are about the size of a credit card, and have orange stripes on the front and a black magnetic strip on the back. Some of the conductors carry patterned punches -- I've got tickets punched with a dog's paw, a dolphin and a semiquaver.

The stack is an inch thick and goes back nine months at the moment -- this depends on how much reading and how much travelling I'm doing. I keep it in a battered green tin painted with a Japaneseish scene of flamingoes. When I need a bookmark, I take out the oldest ticket (it goes back about nine months at the moment). When I finish the book, I leave the ticket in. Where the book goes, the ticket goes.

During my holiday in Africa, one of my travelling companions remarked that a lot of the books in the truck's library had tickets to and from Tunbridge Wells tucked in them. I confessed to my bookmarking habit and he said that he reckoned one day he'd pick up a book in a far flung place and find a Tunbridge Wells train ticket between the pages, and he'd know, he'd just know, that it had passed through my hands.

1. Alec has a passion for train tickets -- we often give him a couple to wave around. He likes it when we say: "Tickets, please. Tickets, please." Today I let him empty my bookmark tin. He lay on his back and dropped handfuls on to his face -- he looked like a caper movie character enjoying his ill-gotten gains. He bashed two together. He concertinaed a couple and pulled them open and shut. Then he dropped them, one by one, on to the floor.

2. To turn on the fairy lights and make Alec smile.

3. Oh blessed, blessed nap time. I sit on the sofa, wrapped in a red fleece blanket and rest. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Eating, TV and the sleigh.

1. Alec -- who has not been eating much (apart from raisins and milk, don't ask about the nappies) -- picks up a fragment of my bread and puts it in his mouth. And takes it out. And puts it back in. Chews and swallows. I tear off another (raisin-sized) piece.

2. We've been enjoying Abney and Teal.

3. Tim texts to say that he and Rachel are loading up the sleigh and coming down. Oh my goodness, the boxes for Alec -- I've never seen anything so magical. His Christmas and birthday piles are like something out of a children's story with a very happy ending. Tim says rather sheepishly that he expects Alec will enjoy the packaging more. But he promises that Nick and I will enjoy the contents, too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Morning baby, the noise and finding a tenner.

1. I've had a night -- alone -- in the spare room. When Nick brings Alec up in the morning, I am very pleased to see him with his soft baby hair, plappy hands, four-and-a-half teeth and his skinny legs and big fat nappy bottom.

2.  When Alec is happily engaged in something, he often makes a little noise that sounds like "um-hum". It has a resigned cadence similar to "heigh-ho" or "oh well". This morning, he says it as he takes himself off the breast. 
"I really like that noise," I tell Nick. 
"So do I."

3. At the cake stall: "I've got enough for one cake. Which would you like?" And then: "Ohhh, Nick, I've found a tenner I didn't know I had. You can have as much cake as you like."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Considering, don't care and a night alone.

1. There are a lot of things that need doing: a Christmas tree, presents to buy and wrap, washing, cleaning, supper to consider -- but the most important thing is that Alec wants to be close to me. He burrows in, hot and damp. He doesn't want to feed -- he just wants to rest his cheek on the bare skin of my chest.

1b. I bring the Christmas box down, and lay out the Christmas books.

2. When he asks what I want for supper, I tell him that I don't care. "I don't want to think about, and I don't want to deal with the consequences." He says: "Fish and chips."

3. To go to bed in the spare room and know that Nick will deal with whatever the night brings.

Journalling and blank page fright

New year, new diary! Is anyone planning to journal more in 2012? The good people at Taschen sent me a Keel’s Simple Diary (volume 2) to try out. It’s a hardback guided journal that comes in six colours. Each page has space for a date (you don't have to work through the book in order) and a set of surreal options to tick. There's a quote, and some brief prompts to fill out -- you can get the idea at the Keel's Simple Diary website. It's a pleasing little book -- but aren't all new diaries? Holding it made me think about my own experience with journalling, and I felt an essay coming on...

I'm not very good with a plain notebook: I suffer terribly from blank page fright -- that's why Three Beautiful Things has a simple but loose instruction.  Every time I feel inclined to stop I think “What sort of a loser fails to find three things they like in a day. And what sort of rubbish writer would fail to articulate those things.”

Three Beautiful Things has one serious limitation -- it is not a place to write about the grimy, grotty and depressing (unless the day has been particularly rotten). But Fiona Robyn overcomes this with her Small Stones, "a polished moment of paying proper attention". They can be about anything that catches the eye (or the ear, or the nose. Fiona is running a River of Stones during January to encourage more people to give it a go.

I was doing well with Morning Pages, a habit left over from The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I filled page after page with early morning chatter and I was certainly writing, but words that I was not going to look at again. I prefer words that continue working after they hit the paper, so I made my own story diary by writing a prompt at the top of each page and... well, just going for it each morning. Plenty of good story seeds resulted, and every time I dig back into the books I find another exciting project to explore.

If the thought of a whole page daunts you, there are other options. 
Keri Smith’s works  How to be an Explorer of the World and This is Not a Book  are both in my library, embarrassingly un-used. I think Explorer's focus on actual collected objects didn't work well for me -- I'm more about words than things. But I would love so much to be the person who accumulates and is inspired by found objects. My ownership of this book says more about the person I want to be than the person I am. Having said that, it's full of ideas that apply to anyone who wants to look more closely at the world, and I've adapted some of the thought experiments and exercises to my own ends. This is Not a Book issues prompts with which to journal, or even just experience.

Follow these links to Amazon if you'd like your own copies of Keel's Simple Diary or How to be an Explorer of the World or This Is Not A Book or The Artist's Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Unimpressed, no and finally.

1. "Look, Alec, snow!" He looks back at me unimpressed, as if there are so many wonders in his world that no strange behaviour on the part of the sky would surprise him. He's got a filthy cold, though, so may be excused some world weariness.

2. To remember that 'No' is a complete sentence.

3. The supermarket delivered at 10am and the bags are still on the floor after supper. At last we have time to check down the list and put everything away.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cheesecake, manlet flu and dispatch.

1. Strawberry cheesecake with a crumbly topping. Alec doesn't want any, so I eat his share. It is so delicious that I wish I'd bought two slices -- Nick loves cheesecake more than anything.

2. To sit on the sofa and cuddle my poor feverish baby.

3. Late at night, to press send on an email carrying a piece of work.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best feet, red satin and cold chicken.

1. Poor Alec -- another fun thing cancelled because he isn't feeling well. We put our best feet forward, though, and go up town, just to get out of the house really. He has a sleep on the way up the hill, and wakes up refreshed at the library. He shuffles himself around the book boxes while I pick out some books for him. Then we sit and I read him a story. I can feel him getting heavier and softer, and we sit in silence until he falls asleep.

2. It's secret Santa time at the office. I am delighted by mine -- it's a red satin handbag and some pearls and a box of chocolates. I am particularly touched when Mandy says that it came from the delivery driver, who I've never even met before. I'm going to look out for a matching red dress.

3. I do like a cold chicken sandwich with mango chutney and lettuce.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Up first, climber and panto.

1. Oh how lovely, it's morning and Alec is asleep. I come down to the kitchen and make Nick's breakfast. While he eats and gets ready for work, I make pancakes for me and Alec later on. Then there is time to put two casseroles in the oven. I miss my mornings.

2. "I don't want you," says my mother as a wet and nappyless Alec climbs out of my arms and on to her. "Get off, I'm cold and I'm covered in zips," she says. He hasn't even given her time to take her coat off.

3. Caroline takes me off to the panto -- it's Sleeping Beauty this year, with a show stealing Derek Moran as Silly Billy. I try to see it though the eyes of future Alec -- I think he would have liked the prince flying through time, and perhaps the dancing toys. He might have got a bit over-excited, and been the child who shouts out just before everyone else. And he'd have been half-scared, half-marvelling at Nanny, who was a very lusty, hale pantomime dame.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red blanket, earth and just us.

1. In BHS there is a gorgeous red fleece blanket with a laser-cut edging. I am consumed by covetousness because it's so nowishly Scandi, and it's just a tenner. But there is only one left, and it's in the display. Then I spot another scrumpled up and tucked away behind the display bed. I ferret it out and bear it in triumph to the till. When Nick comes home, he says that a laser-cut blanket sounds like something out of the future.

2. I get to the cashpoint, and find I've forgotten my purse. I think back to the advice I was given last week about being more grounded. I am so ungrounded these days that I don't even remember how to be grounded. As I turn the pushchair round, I look up at The Common and for a moment I know how it feels to be connected to the earth again. That's something to hold on to.

3. We have the playground almost to ourselves, and we know the other people there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bun fairy, gravy and shelf swapping.

1. The cinnamon bun fairy leaves a box on our doorstep early in the morning. We have them warm for breakfast.

2. The chicken comes out of the oven sitting in perfect gravy. All I had to do was skim off the fat and serve it. I have no idea how this happened, as normally I make gravy in the pan with some stock. The meat was a touch dry, though very tasty, but I can't work out what I did differently.

3. The spices come down, the cookery books go up and the writing books get moved out all together to make way for toys. It's amazing how swapping the contents of two shelves freshens things up. There's been a lot of shelf swapping round here as we move valuables out of tinksing range. It's like preparing for a flood.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Skaters, the capture and the welcome.

1. The sound of ice skating at the temporary rink in Calverley Grounds -- the psh-psh, and the soft clonks of skates hitting the barriers, and voices in the cold night air.

2. There is a hazy ring around the full moon tonight. It's low in the sky as I go up town, and particularly large. A boy and his mother -- she's carrying a camera and tripod -- walk ahead of me. Hunters.

3. As I come out of the dark and into the church hall, the smell of cinnamon buns wafts through the doors -- so I know I've come to the right place for Anna's screening of It's A Wonderful Life.

And now a public service announcement for the people of Tunbridge Wells: Anna organised her wonderful film night partly because she loves a feel-good movie -- but also because she wanted to bring in volunteers for the pop-up ten-bed shelters that will be open at weekends in January and February. You don't need me to tell you how vulnerable rough sleepers are. These shelters will save lives this winter. But if they are to open, more volunteers are needed -- although it's a church initiative, anyone is welcome to pitch in, and it's organised so you can do as much or as little as you want. Here's a link to more information.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Swept, pleased and warm towel.

1. Last night's storm has cleared the leaves from the trees and swept away the old year.

2. In Alec's nursery book, his key person has written that "He has been walking with one of the wooden walkers this afternoon and was very pleased with himself." Which sounds a lot like my little boy.

3. To spread a warm towel from the radiator over my legs. Alec knows it's nearly time to get out of the bath.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Home, storm and cellar.

1. I bring the pushchair in and shut the door behind us. The heating has been on for half an hour.

2. To go upstairs to the attic and listen to the rain pelting down on the tiles and the water running into the gutters.

3. Our landlord's handbook warns that the cellar floods in bad weather (we're on a hill, so water comes in and then goes out again). Well, the rain hurling itself at the windows is definitely bad weather, and for the first time since we moved here, there is not a sofa on the cellar hatch. I open the door to have a look. Bone dry... and much, much larger than we thought.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Are you happy, movement and advice.

1. I tell the health visitor, and she looks straight at me and says: "Are you happy doing those night feeds? Do you mind them?" I think for a moment and I say that mostly I like to feed him when it's still and quiet, but there are nights when I'm so tired I want to curl up and die. She says: "It's never too late to teach them to sleep by themselves, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. There's always something we can try."

2. "He's very..." She looks down at Alec, a blur of excited arms and legs, babbling, pen stealing, thrilling and giggling as he rolls over, eats a sheet of stickers and tears up the paper changing mat. "He's very active."

3. She hands me my tiny bag of treasure and I hang it on the handle of the pushchair... "Oh," she gasps, "don't put it there. It's got glass in it!" She takes it and tucks it into the hood.
I am dazed and apologise for being careless with the beautiful things that she sells. "I'm all over the place at the moment," I confess. "I leave a trail of lost things..."
"Do you?!" she is surprised, it seems to me. "You need grounding," she adds almost dreamily.
I'm so very glad I walked into Blue Moon Gallery on a whim because the baby was asleep. (Go and have a look if you're around -- Iaysha Salih really does have the most fantastic taste.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Fire warmth, lamb provencal and game on.

1. "There's a fire going in the sitting room," says my father. And there is -- warm red light is glowing through the woodburner glass.

2. A deep red pot of my mother's lamb provencal, sour sweet and very savoury. Alec has it blended smooth and does good work with his spoon.

3. The kindness of gamers -- and their wives. We are playing in the dining room, and I can hear Alec chatting to Audrey who is looking after him so Nick and I can both join in. We haven't been to Tim's table since before Alec was born.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Understands, bites and guilty.

1. It's amazing how much Alec understands -- I head off a howling melt-down by telling him: "Milk when we are both dry and dressed." He latches on when I bend over to dress him. I disengage him and tell him again: "Milk when we are both dry and dressed." He grins cheekily -- he knows he was pushing his luck.

2. She brings out Alec's toasted sandwich cut into baby-sized bites. The Romanian Hospice Tea Shop volunteers are always so welcoming.

3. The laptop battery runs out, so it's time for bed. Nick is still on his computer when I come out of the bathroom, and I go to the bottom of his stairs and call up (like he does with  me): "Not too late, now." His reply is similar to the reply I always give him, and I recognise my own guilty, defensive tone. It makes me smile to know that he is prone to the same faults as me -- even if it is only once in a while.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Time, swap and wreath

There's a post about 3BT on fromi2us with some pertinent quotes about gratitude. Do go and have look.

1. We've come all the way to the industrial estate for a small but important errand (getting Alec a car seat). The purchase is the fruit of much worry, and much research, and walking out of the shop with the seat is a bit of an anticlimax. I feel as if we've pushed hard on a door, only to have it glide open easily. There is a bit of time before our train, so we go for coffee in a bland chain cafe. It's actually very pleasant -- bland places often seem  more baby friendly than indie places -- and it feels like good family time.

2. Alec reaches for a pain au chocolate at the next table. "Sorry, mate," says the owner. Next time he looks up from his paper, Alec is holding out fragment of muffin in a conciliatory manner.

3. Twining ivy from our garden into a wreath.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Time alone, retire and detail.

1. I wake early, but the boys do not, so I go downstairs and sit with a mug of cocoa and a computer game.

2. To retire to bed in the dark middle of the afternoon and read and doze until Nick brings the baby up for a cuddle.

3. "That's what I really like about Downton," says Nick. He is impressed because Lord Grantham stands alone with his arms by his sides in a crowd of saluting soldiers. "He's not wearing a hat," my detail-conscious husband says. "In nine out of ten dramas he would have saluted, but not this one."

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Magic bag, brownie and dance.

1. Alec gets bored of the toys I've brought for him -- but Katie produces her magic bag and pulls out some trucks for him. She is now past her due date, and into the waiting days. She is much more patient and more graceful about it than I was.

2. A perfect chocolate brownie -- warm and bitter sweet and squashy.

3. ...and everyone got up to dance. A work Christmas party is like Saturnalia, or one of those festivals where everything is turned on its head, and the barriers of rank are washed away. We drink and talk and dance and make fools of ourselves. Bold questions are asked, and flipsides examined. On Monday we'll see each other with clearer, kinder eyes.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The bite, toast and not very good.

1. When I pick Alec up from nursery, they tell me that there's been a biting incident. My heart plummets to my boots. Alec bit me badly while feeding a couple of weeks back (it got infected, I had to have antibiotics and now I've got oral thrush which is so painful that I don't want to eat, particularly chocolate). He's been biting when he gets excited, and we've warned the nursery and worked hard to curb this troubling habit. To my relief it turns out that he was bitten by another child -- identified only as 'A' in the write-up. He was putting his finger in their mouth at the time. The treatment was a cold compress and a cuddle, and he seems to have forgotten all about it. Of course I'm very sad and sorry for my poor manlet... but a terrible part of me is thinking: "Now you know how it feels, you little horror."

2. After an afternoon apart, to sit and eat toast together.

3. Catherine rings. "Good time, bad time?" she asks as always. Tonight it is definitely a good time, and we chat on. She says she has had a tough time herding the children into bed tonight. Ellie started making a crown at an awkward time. When challenged she said she needed it for school tomorrow. "What? You need a crown for tomorrow and you tell me now? What's it for?"
It seems it's for a swimming class.
"But you don't learn swimming, Ellie. Go to bed."

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Get through, narrative and fennel tea.

1. To try ringing again, and to get through.

2. I love my NCT group because it embraces a wide range of parenting philosophies, and because if you ask, you get a set of honest views. I've been struggling with the amount of milk Alec requests. I'm happy to give, but I want to give on my terms now he's almost one. He's still behaving like a newborn though, demanding all the time, but now he's strong enough to climb on me and co-ordinated enough to grab at my top and pat me down. I'm wrung out and I'm losing weight, and he still isn't sleeping through the night. Both my GP and the health visitor suggested I cut back on the feeds by encouraging him to eat more food. But I'm struggling to set the boundaries: He is so grown up in some ways, but he is also still a baby in a loud, bright, confusing world, and milk works for him when it all gets too much. Michelle says: "If he asked for a cigarette when he was 13, would you give it to him? I know it's not the same, but you know what I mean..." And I do. I really do. That tiny story helped me see the situation clearly. Alec will learn other ways of comforting himself -- but only if I push him a little.

3. A mug of fennel tea.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lilies, mince pie and early.

1. My anniversary lilies opened on Sunday. The stigma is coated with velvet the colour of aubergines, and the white petals have a zing of cold lemon yellow up the middle.

2. "I just fancied a mince pie," says the mother. Then she puts the kettle on.

3. Alec goes to bed early -- very early -- at his own request, and Nick comes home to a tidy, quiet house, a plate of sandwiches and a gently steaming cup of tea.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rejoice, wipe and mountains.

1. While we are waiting, I get chatting to a lady on another table. She says a lovely thing about Alec: "He makes me want to sing and dance with happiness."

2. Tim reaching over to wipe Alec's nose during lunch. I get a lot of pleasure from... well from Tim's pleasure in the time he spends with Alec.

3. We go to bed early and do some reading. I pick up one of the graphic novels Nick gave me on our wedding anniversary. It's an adaptation of HP Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. I first read this novella during the year I was Tim's housemate, on his recommendation; and it was a throw-away Lovecraft reference that helped bring me and Nick together. But anyway, Ian Culbard's illustrations -- they are reminiscent of Tintin -- convey the oddly claustrophobic (given the Antarctic setting) feel of the original. And I think the cover is just perfect.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Water vapour, control and roast dinner.

1. A shaft of long low winter sun hits the water vapour in the bathroom, showing how the air currents move and swirl. I stand in my towel fascinated, watching the illuminated specks dancing as I breathe.

2. Alec finally  makes himself understood -- he wasn't asking me to change the radio station, or dance with him. He wanted to the remote control.

3. Perfect crackling, and perfect roast parsnips.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A word from Alec, bagels and home farm.

1. I wake up super early with a knot in my stomach. Nick is half-awake beside me, and I tell him that I'm feeling anxious. Alec rolls over in his cot and pulls the cord on his music box. "See," says Nick. "Alec doesn't want you to worry either. He wants us to listen to Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

2. There is one step in the recipe that I'm a bit wary of: the poaching. I can't help but imagine my bagels falling apart in the seething water. But they bob around and puff up -- they take on the texture of wobbly thighs, however. They smooth out as they bake, and turn reddish brown and glossy.

3. "Oh, really," I tell the lady on the rapeseed oil stall, "I grew up in Staplehurst."
"Small world," she says.
I tell her which farm.
"That's the one," she says. "The big field behind the white cottages."
Really small world. And I buy a bottle of her oil.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cake, wonder and early night.

1. A little brown cardboard box containing a piece of cake. I'm glad I stood my ground and waited, rather than rushing straight into work.

2. I have been working all afternoon on two separate computers -- an office Mac and my own PC. I've had my Gmail account open on both machines, and I've been using both to send emails and download pictures as the need arises. Sometimes I've had the same email open on both machines. I still can't quite believe it's OK to do that, but I've never yet had a problem.

3. By the time Nick gets in, Alec is asleep. We have a whole, long evening ahead of us -- and then we spoil it by dozing off so Nick's supper is late...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rigid, planet and found my phone.

1. When I try to put Alec in the pushchair he grumbles, arches his back and goes rigid. It's irritating because it's cold and dark and I really want to get us home. But it's funny, too, because my mother recently described me doing exactly this as a baby; and I'm very flattered that he would prefer to be carried in my arms; and it's amazing to see him expressing himself so clearly.

2. The first star is so bright that it must be a planet. It's in the eastern sky and we are walking straight towards it. I can't wait to see Alec find out about space.

3. To see my lost mobile phone glowing down the back of the sofa.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lunch, climbing and up and down.

1. A bacon roll and a cup of tea. Lovely.

2. Alec is climbing up me at the soft play area -- he's got the wrong idea somewhere. I lie back and let him climb along me instead and my back slowly unpings. Last night was tough, and I seem to have picked up a bit of tension. "You look like you could stay there all day, Clare," says Laura. It's tempting... If only bacon rolls and cups of tea were allowed in the ball pit.

3. It didn't even occur to me in planning today that to get home we would have to bump the pushchair up the station footbridge and down the other side. It's just as well , because I would have worried about it, and it wasn't as bad as I imagined.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thorn tree, voice and wrap up.

1. From the train I catch sight of a hawthorn tree glowing red with berries alone in the middle of a misty field. Just that image, before Alec calls me back.

2. Rosey phones in her lunch break. It's strange to think of a person in the Antarctic having a lunch break; and it's strange to think of our voices going back and forth across that distance. She has seen more penguins, and says that later in the year, as the long night approaches, you get round-the-clock sunsets.

3. A shout outside the window interrupts my work. It's my parents and Alec off out for a walk. I send them back inside to get another blanket for him. It's not very cold, they tell me, and Alec is a hot little body. Of course I trust my parents totally where his care is concerned, but there is some pleasure to be had in bossing your own mother and father around.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

All right, new sister and anniversary.

1. The postman has brought the parcels, the engineer has mended the internet and my work on the magazine is done. All's right with the world.

2. She leaves her mother and her granny and her seven-week-old baby sister to come and stare at Alec. I tell her that he wasn't much fun at first. He was just cross. "That's what she's like," says her mother, pointing to the tiny baby on her chest.

3. Nick and I curl up on the sofa to eat chocolates, drink fizzy wine and enjoy the books he has given me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cava, chocolates and fruit.

Our internet went down for a few days, hence the interruption. Everything is OK now. It's been pleasant chatting to each other, and wondering about things, rather than rushing to look them up.

Rosey has written a few posts about her new life in Antarctica, or Auntarctica as we call it now. I'm sure she'd be glad of a few comments to say hi! She's very far away.

1. We open a bottle of Cava to drink slowly throughout the day as we celebrate our wedding anniversary.

2. Nick and Alec come home proudly bearing a box of chocolates the size of an occasional table.

3. To cut pieces of fruit and hand them to my boys.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My bath, time and my milk.

1. To loll in the bath -- by myself, without someone using me as a step ladder or trying to feed.

2. In Marks and Sparks, I suddenly remember that I'm supposed to be listening for the alarm on my phone, telling me it's time to get home. I pull it out of my pocket just as it goes off.

3. Alec detaches himself and squirms feet first off the sofa. I tell him that if he doesn't want milk, then I'm going to offer it to Blue Lamb. Blue Lamb loves milk. Alec looks horrified and asks to be picked up again.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pyjamas, meet and early to bed.

1. At Alec's nursery, everyone is wearing pyjamas to raise money for Children in Need.

2. If I hadn't stopped to buy a cupcake (only I discovered when I came to pay that I had no money on me) I wouldn't have run into He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, on his way back from buying a dinner jacket.

3. Afternoons at work and nursery have tired us out. By the time Nick gets in we are both asleep.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mop, progress and phone.

1. To clean the high chair area with a wet mop and put down fresh newspaper.

2. "Are we doing all right?" I ask the designer. "Yes," he says. "I think we are."

3. "He was playing with this," she shows me the toy phone. "When I said 'ring ring' he picked it up."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back to sleep, morning and which one.

1. An unhappy baby cheers up enough to fall asleep in my arms. I roll him very carefully on to the bed next to me and snuggle down beside him.

2. Alec falls asleep after his morning feed and I leave him in bed and go upstairs to cuddle my sleepy husband.

3. Alec has been gobbling down his cereal (he likes them soaked in milk and then put one-by-one on his highchair tray). When Granny comes in, he squirms round, trying to get to her. Then he remembers his breakfast and squirms back again. Then Granny. Then breakfast.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Work, gutted and making the bed.

1. At 9.30, I leave work and go home to where Nick is waiting to start his day. "It's amazing what you can do in an hour," I tell him.

2. "Oh!" I am dismayed and despondent. "Supper is going to be late." I had assumed that the fishmonger had cleaned and gutted the dabs I'd bought for us. They were intact. "Brave girl," says Nick, as I search for information about preparing flat fish. It's not so bad really in the end, and they are delicious.

3. We stand Alec in his cot while we change our bed. He watches us shaking out the duvet, and then picks up and shakes his own blanket.

3a. I come to bed late and crawl into the clean sheets. They feel so good that I want to wriggle and squirm right across the bed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Schoolgirls, Mrs K and on the floor.

1. A group of ten schoolgirls in the street sounds like a busy stream on a very still day in the height of summer.

2. Godfather Tim brings the lovely Mrs Knight to lunch.

2b. In the November fog, approaching her house feels like the opening scene of a gentle ghostly fairy tale novel.

3. We put Alec and Xavi on the floor and they reach out to touch each others' faces.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Apple, construction and rosemary.

1. There is nothing quite like Alec eating an apple with his four (nearly five) teeth.

1a. Cat says: "Ellie has started writing books. Luckily, she hasn't finished one yet. It would be awful to be beaten at book writing by your five-year-old daughter." Later I am allowed to see a work in progress. It is like an illuminated manuscript. Every single letter has been outlined and coloured.

2. Ellie is building an undersea castle for her Playmobil mermaids and mermen from a shoe box. I help cut out crenelations for the towers (which are, of course, made of cardboard tubes).

3. At the bus stop, Ellie hands me a rosemary leaf to put in my pocket -- for remembrance, perhaps?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Steps, tell me and shall we.

1. We have been wedging Alec's toddle truck against the wall so he can stand up holding it, but it won't run away with him. Today he sees me go round the corner and sets off after me, one wobbly step at a time, pushing the truck in front of him. Nick hovers close by, and we are both amazed..

2. Something upsets Alec during dinner. I give him some milk to cheer him up, and put him back in his high chair. He throws another wobbler. I ask him what the matter is, and he takes my hands and puts them on his ribs. "Pick me up, Mummy, just pick me up and give me a cuddle."

3. "Shall we have some ice cream?"

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reading, jonquils and a story.

1. ...and he's asleep. I should get up and do... and do... important things. Instead I lie back in bed and read for a while.

2. The Mother's jonquils peeping over the top of the computer screen.

3. I tell Alec three times, four times, five times on the way home that I'm going to hang my coat up, change my shoes and put supper in the oven before I feed him. This time he waits calmly for his milk, rather than crying and raging with frustration.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fitted in, chemists and crunching.

1. "I know," says the receptionist. "It's horrible when you it hurts to feed them. Let me think how I can help you... I can fit you in at ten to twelve. It won't be with your usual GP but..." I can't thank her enough for her kindness. I'm so glad she understood and didn't trivialise my problem.

2. The smell of a pharmacy -- I don't know what it is, but it hasn't changed since I was tiny.

3. The sound of Alec crunching on a bread stick.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Giraffe, bus and writers.

1. Sophia has a plush giraffe looking over her changing table. Alec is fascinated by its long eyelashes and gentle face. Sophia also has a beautiful pink and white nursery, with a princessy net over her bed, an embroidered sampler and a knitted tea set. Our nursery is full of books...

2. It's already dark, and a long way home. The traffic is so bad that I have no idea when the bus will come. I tell myself that if it arrives just as we get to the next bus stop, we'll jump on. Then I wonder what Nick would say about pinning my hopes on such an improbable event. But as we crest the hill, there it is, full of light and coming round the corner.

3. To see some favourite writers -- Francis Spufford and Sara Wheeler -- on TV. It's like meeting old friends. Francis Spufford is less posh and academic than I thought; but travel writer Sara Wheeler is just as glamorous, and I admire her even more than ever.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Service, home early and recycling.

1. When I come back I find that my mother (who is looking after Alec) has hung out the washing and emptied the dishwasher.

2. The laptop runs out of battery at 4pm. When I go downstairs to fetch the cable, I discover that Nick has come home early and is bouncing the baby (who looks very pleased) on his knee.

3. Remembering -- just before I get into bed -- that we need to put the cardboard out for the dustmen. The box was so full it was leaking into the can box and spreading into the cupboard under the stairs. It really needed to go, and I would have hated to have to get up and do it in the wee small hours.

Launch, deep blue and Downton

1. Alec launching himself off the side of the pool with more enthusiasm than style. He goes under water and comes up coughing and smiling.

2. I drift into a charity shop on the way home and a deep ocean blue catches my eye. It's a knitted jacket, pure wool the label says, from Guernsey. Dense and heavy and rather bohemian, it's a steal at £6.50.

3. To -- finally -- find time for the new series of Downton Abbey.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Dust, gap and reflection.

1. When Nick and I go down to retrieve the balls Alec has dropped on Nana and Grandad's kitchen floor, we am impressed at how clean it is. "I sweep it every day," says Grandad, "And mop it a couple of times a week. He goes on to wonder idly about the make-up of 'flick'. "It's from us, I suppose," he says. "And dead people." It makes me think of a poem by Emily Dickenson --
This quiet dust was Gentlemen and Ladies,
And Lads and Girls:
Was laughter and ability and sighing,
And frocks and curls.
2. As I am putting Alec in the push chair, I feel a light touch on my back where my top has ridden up and my trousers are too loose. "It wasn't me," says Grandad.
"You get yourself a longer vest," says Nana.

3. There is a flashing orange light in the car park on the other side of the lake. The elongated shadows of walkers fall into its reflection on the water.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Warm enough, masks and mash.

1. I put my hand into the push chair footmuff -- again -- to check that Alec's little legs are warm enough. It's toasty down there, and he laughs because he thinks I'm being very silly.

2. We are stopped in the park by two masked 12-year-olds (one balaclava, one Guy Fawkes). "Did you know Scientology is scam?" Yes, we did, thank you.

3. I put a spoonful of mashed potato and squash down on the highchair tray. Alec lets out a joyful squeal and slaps it with both hands until it is flat enough for his liking. Then he eats it in fistfuls.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Box, snowflakes and hugs.

1. There is a large -- and I mean large -- and sodden box in the sitting room when I come down in the morning. We had a delivery yesterday afternoon and the driver left it under a tree in the front garden. No-one saw it in the dark, so it sat out in the rain all night. Nick must have spotted it as he was leaving for work, and brought it in. The cardboard mushy tears apart easily, and the contents is safe.

2. To catch a man pasting the snowflakes on to Hooper's window.

3. "He really hugs me," says the nursery nurse. I'm glad someone else thinks Alec gives good cuddles.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Jog on, meatballs and accident.

1. "Tell him to jog on," says Oliver. "It's what all the young people are saying these days, I believe."

2. The meatballs go down well in the highchair zone -- hardly any ends up on the floor. It's very satisfying to serve something that Alec seems to like -- although I think it might be just that he's putting on chub for a growth spurt, rather than any comment on my menu choices.

3. Alec does a little poo in the bath -- but it lands on the lid of the wipes box and can be disposed of without too much inconvenience.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Village news, first dog and traces of Halloween.

1. Katie-who-I-used-to-work-with is waiting for us at the station. She is half shy, half proud of her village. It's on our newspaper patch, but I'd never been there before. It's a bit like visiting Middle Earth in some ways.

2. Alec meets a dog for the first time; and he is Doris' first baby. She licks his feet and hands, which he likes very much.

3. To spot traces of Halloween -- a wisp of cobweb in a rose bush. A witch's hat stuck in a rosemary bush. A pumpkin on that doorstep and a plastic skeleton on a hedge.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Bye bye, warm cake and last thing.

1. After my mother has gone, Alec waves sadly at the closed door.

2. Banana bread with chocolate chips -- warm.

3. To be the one to lock the door and turn out the lights.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Diver, mother and baby-safe.

1. Alec gets bored of picking a sinker up off the step below in the pool, and instead tries to jump through the water and into my arms.

2. Today I am nothing but a mother. I pace up and down Tonbridge High Street with my baby sleeping in the sling and I feel happier than I have done for days.

3. Godfather Tim says he has something for Alec. It's a crocheted Cthulhu, complete with stubby wings and glowing red eyes. "They're baby-safe," he says.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cold care, comics and slow food.

1. Annoyingly, it looks as if I'm going down with the cold that Nick and Alec have had. Very kindly, they amuse each other all day so I can rest up.

2. Have I mentioned before how much I like Kurt Busiek's Astrocity? It's character-driven and location-driven superhero comics.

3. To spend time -- because we have it -- lingering over a meal and playing with Alec.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Carrying, cake and Rosey is off.

1. I've been mourning Alec's sling -- he's getting too heavy for it -- but we've dug out the backpack, and it works excellently. He falls asleep while we are walking, and (unlike the sling) it's manly enough for his grandfather to use.

2. My mother quietly feeding Alec cake.

3. My little sister who has been focussed and tenacious and got herself a job in Antarctica. It's a fantastic opportunity to experience the last great wilderness first hand, but oh, such a long way away, and for 18 months. The thought of the time and the distance brought me to tears as we said goodbye. Can't wait to see the pictures and hear the stories, though.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Game, eat and shake hands.

1. Fifteen minutes of office larking around towards the end of the afternoon. We play a game where everyone writes a tune on a piece of paper and they are drawn at random, played on Spottify and we have to guess who picked what tune. The stairs is the only place that everyone can hear the music, and there's lots of looking over the bannisters to gauge people's reactions. It's strange to look down at upside down faces that are studying you right back.

2. It is gratifying to hear that Alec won't take pasta at nursery, either. I'm still a bit annoyed that he will eat their yoghurt from a spoon, though. At home spoons are just not done these days.

3. While we are queuing for chips -- the queue goes out of the door, down the steps and up the street -- a respectable looking grandfather type (he must have just left the pub because he smells rather of drink) stops on his way out, shifts his paper parcel to the other arm and shakes Alec's hand. He hurries off towards a taxi which has been waiting, lit up red.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Moving round, lightened and pink.

1. I read on Facebook that Heather is grateful for the strength and agility to re-arrange her furniture. I am inspired to have a go at our living room. Lately it has stopped feeling like our cosy space because the TV dominates it, there's a draught from the front door, and the pushchair always seems to be... well, there. Alec is somewhat perturbed when he comes down from his nap, and Nick has a similar reaction when he comes home from work. But I think they'll start liking it soon.

2. The boss is in, but the office is full of laughter.

3. The sunset and the autumn leaves between them redden the light.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On the move, rain and dry.

1. Some of the NCT babies are mobile -- but they all do it differently. One crawls so fast that you can't take your eyes off him for a moment. One bum-shuffles, stretching out her legs then bending them to pull herself forward. Another commando crawls, dragging himself on his arms. Someone else is working his way round the furniture.

2. I am completely soaked by the time I get to the top of the road. I'm so glad that Alec is safe and dry in the push chair under the rain hood.

3. To peel off all my wet clothes and put on warm, dry pyjamas. Outside, it rains harder than ever.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Trick, sleep and back on his feed.

1. I show The Mother the trick with the greaseproof paper when grating orange rind*. I am very gratified that she hasn't seen it before.

2. I have some baby-free, work-free time. I go to bed and sleep.

3. After a few days of not wanting any food, Alec takes an interest in supper. He eats almost a whole sausage and good piece of toad batter.

* Put a piece of greaseproof over the grater, and grate the orange through it. The rind sticks to the paper and is easy to scrape off.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cavalry, swings and tired out.

1. The cavalry comes -- in the form of the mother and Rosey. They confirm that Alec is indeed looking peaky, and I feel a lot more confident as a parent.

2. Alec cheers up for the swings -- when he is not tired, he's his old giggly self, so I don't think he's seriously ill. He just wants more milk and more cuddles.

3. He doesn't even wait for his good night milk, but falls asleep in Nick's arms. "Put him in his cot and come down for your supper," I tell him. Nick's in no hurry. He says: "I love holding him."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Late, watching and outdoors.

1. We are not going to get out of the house for 9am, and we are not going to make the cafe at nine thirty. I text Katie to warn her, and get a message back saying that she's running late, too -- because she was looking up out-of-print Ladybird books... I don't feel so bad for giving Alec a good long feed in bed.

2. To sit next to Alec on a squashy sofa. I chat to Katie and he pulls himself up and looks over the back at the garden centre staff spraying frost on to branches.

3. It's late when Nick brings the washing in from the garden. It makes the kitchen smell of outdoors.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sour face, cake and what I am doing.

1. Alec makes a sour face at the segment of orange. Then he picks it up and gives it another suck. Same sour face.

2. After supper, there is cake.

3. Entertainment tonight is a radio series. By the start of episode three, I have adjusted a winter shirt for breastfeeding, cleaned up my computer desktop, hung out the washing and launched a virus scan. I sit still for a moment, try to think of something to do, and then remember that I am listening to the radio. That is what I am doing. Listening.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Breakfast duty, first oranges and rising.

1. Nick take the baby and does breakfast duty so I can pull the duvet around myself and doze..

2. The season's first oranges in our vegetable box.

3.  We've had a few disappointing loaves these last few weeks -- dry crumb and knotted tops. It is a relief to look into the machine and see a perfect round top rising up.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Snow suit, ready for supper and with Nick.

1. I dig out Alec's snow suit, and try it on him, because it looks cold in that push chair. He squirms and protests and tries to distract me, but once it's on, he looks rather pleased with himself, waves the gloves around and tips himself over backwards on to the bed. He seems to like large puffy snuggly things -- duvets and pillows are also popular.

2. When I get in from work, Nick has gone out to collect Alec from nursery, but the oven is warming ready for our supper.

3. Enough work now. I sit back and enjoy an evening of TV with Nick.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Meeting, falling over and damp baby.

1. To come out of the hairdressers and see Nick and Alec strolling down towards me.

2. Alec thinks it's great fun to fall over backwards on the bed. It's even more funny when he discovers that he can 'push' me back and I'll fall over, too.

3. To lift a damp baby out of the bath and wrap him in a towel on my knee.

Bread, spinach and chin.

1. "A man asked me where I got my bread," says Nick proudly. It was just from the newsagents over the other side of the park. They do that soft white English bakery bread with a glossy sesame seed crust. I'm sure artisan bakers turn up their noses at it, but it is very delicious.

2. I love the way a pan full of spinach cooks down, until there's just a wad of dark green in the bottom of the pan. I mix it was nutmeg and butter and chop it finely (Alec still doesn't like it, though.)

3. Blowing under Alec's chin to make him laugh.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hungry, baby care and lift.

1. To wake up and want -- really want -- a bit of breakfast.

2. I open my mouth to ask, and my father says: "Shall I take him?" Moments later I hear the sound of bells coming from downstairs.

3. Today, tired and very sorry for myself, I was glad to be given a lift home.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Uncle, sleep and good timing.

1. Robert says: "Can I have a go?" and holds out his arms for Alec.

2. A good long sleep in the afternoon, for both me and the baby.

3. I throw up for the second time while we are watching Stardust -- it's just at the point where Yvain makes her speech about love.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rosey, painting and coffee cake.

1. To spot a sister down at the end of the platform. Robert and I plan to spend the weekend giving her 18-months worth of pushing, pinching and biting so she doesn't miss us too much in Antarctica. Or Auntarctica, as Alec will be calling it by the time she gets back.

2. My cousin Laura has completed the painting my father commissioned from her. We're all in it, and the more you look at it, the more details you spot.

3. A thick piece of coffee and walnut cake with lots of buttery icing.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sketch, fishcakes and pleased to see me.

1. To see a person in the park carrying a sketch book.

2. "We know they're good," says the fishmonger about the fishcakes I've just asked for "because we made them ourselves.

3. Instead of raging at me when I arrive to pick him up, Alec looks up from his comfortable spot on the nursery nurse's lap, smiles and bounces because he is very pleased and excited to see me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Giggler, almond tart and tweak.

1. I leave the room for a moment to get Alec his jumper. I hear giggling. When I go back in he has rolled over and hidden himself under a pillow.

2. To stop on the way home and buy an almond tart as a treat for Nick and me.

3. We have had to tweak the bedtime routine -- Alec had started howling in the bath. He is growing so fast that he is more tired in the evenings. Instead of waiting for Nick to come home and do bathtime, I take Alec up right after supper. When Nick gets in, he reads to Alec. It's much calmer and more fun for everyone.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lull, not competitive and on the roof.

1. Anthony -- unlike some babies -- smiles and nods when his mother swings him. Smiles and nods, nods and smiles and lolls... and smiles and nods and nods and... "He's asleep, isn't he." In the next swing, meanwhile, Alec is so excited he keeps forgetting to breathe.

2. "It's not a competitive NCT group, which I like," says Jane. "Although we are winning the teeth." We are proud of her son's astonishing eight -- the rest of us have only two or three.

3. A birch tree on a gable end is catching the last of the sun, leaves flashing green and gold.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Soup, looking up and sauce bottle.

1. My soup goes blup blup blup in the pan.

2. I love the way Alec looks up when he hears Nick coming through the gate.

3. This is going to sound like Hyacinth Bucket, but the glass Heinz Tomato Ketchup bottle that arrived with our groceries looks so much better than the old squeezy one. I may decant in future (or I might recant when I remember just why we switched to squeezy in the first place).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Baby girl, toast and swing.

1. After swimming, a mother sits in the communal showers soaping her fat and giggly baby girl.

2. At the tea room they bring toast fingers for Alec, which he seems to like very much. But then I discover that he has been dropping them over the bannister next to us, so I run down and pick them all up.

3. There is a swing like a giant dream catcher. We put Alec on and he lies back, closes his eyes against the sun, curls his fingers into the ropes and enjoys the ride. I tell Godfather Tim that it looks like a spider's web, too. The spider would think all his Christmases had come at once. Tim says he likes the dream catcher better.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Travelling lunch, bells and home.

1. The pasties tucked into our travelling bag smell very appetising.

2. We walk round the side of the new Marlowe Theatre and discover that a quirk of the architecture makes the cathedral bells loud in one spot, muffled in another.

2a. I assume it's a shop, open on a Sunday -- but it's not, it's a tiny Catholic church in a white room with chairs set out and bright crocheted cushions and the door open ready for mass at noon.

2a. The silver balloon has followed us home. Alec catches it, laughs and tries to gum it.

3. To pull the house keys from the bottom of a bag, where they have been sitting all weekend.

Chance survival, archaeologist, balloon.

1. Roman glass, cloudy, glowing and so unlikely.

2. In the children's room at the Roman museum they have trays of bones and potsherds to examine. Alec checks them out in his own way. "Those are real finds," says the curator. We hurriedly pull a piece of cattle bone out of his mouth. "It's OK," she tells us, "That's what they're for." The couple who have been following us round say: "He's going to be an archaeologist. Did you hear him talking about it all?" "I did," says the curator. "I've been enjoying listening to him."

2a. The artists' impression of Roman Canterbury slipping into ruin.

3. The waitresses at Strada tie a shiny silver balloon to Alec's chair.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Arrival, Charlie and stop worrying.

1. "It's such a joyful feeling, arriving somewhere," says Nick as we come out of the station.

2. We are all a bit drunk and giggly when the owner leads us off on a tour of his museum.
"Can I call you Charlie?" she asks.
"No," he says and continues the tour.
"He kissed me on the cheek at the end," she says afterwards, so I don't think he really minded.

3. To be told to stop worrying and do my own thing.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Picture, irises and cooking chocolate.

There will be a short break in posting -- I'll catch up on Monday.

1. Alec's key worker is very proud that she has managed to take a picture of him for his book. He is digging into a basket of musical instruments. The updates she gives me always sound very much like my baby: "He's been looking at books" and "He was fascinated by the wind in the trees".

2. I have a moment to look -- really look -- at the irises Nick brought home on Monday. They are a dependable violet and clear hot yellow. As he walked home, a woman outside a pub shouted: "Your wife upset with you then?" I felt a bit sorry for her, that she needed to be annoyed with her husband before he would buy her flowers.

3. Thank heavens for a bar of cooking chocolate in the back of the larder.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Cheering up, tomatoes and reading.

1. We have a rough morning -- Nick leaves us for the attic at 5am. Alec is so demanding and implacable and so unlike his usual cheerful self that I decide to get a doctor's appointment about his cold and cough. But then we fall asleep and don't wake up until 10am. He seems happier, but just wants to cuddle, so I cancel all our plans and we do just that.

2. I'd given up hope of my tomatoes ever ripening -- but one of them is streaked with red, and another is looking distinctly orange.

3. This quiet day has given me plenty of time to read -- in particular The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, which Caroline brought round (as usual she has judged my taste very well). It's a modern gothic novel set in Provence, and if you've read Rebecca you'll find some of the other threads and themes very familiar. Caroline thought I'd like it because one of the perfume theme running through it -- one of my aims with 3BT is to capture input from all the senses using words. Now I've read this, I don't think I do smell very well and it's something I should concentrate more on.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Help, everything I know and email.

1. "Is there any housework I can do?" my mother asks. I hand her some carrots that need making into soup, and the mince for a supper I didn't have time to cook. What a relief.

2. "Good thinking!" says Anna at my suggestion. I remind her that she taught me everything I know about sourcing pictures on zero budget.

3. Halfway through the afternoon, a charming domestic email from my husband.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Scone, pat and own time.

1. I realise as we are getting on the train that I don't have a snack for Alec, so I pick up a bakery scone. We find a shaded bench near the swimming pool and share it. The pigeons step up in their crisp grey suits and pick at our crumbs.

2. She is dimpled and small -- but giant compared to Alec. She squats down beside him in the water and stares. Then she reaches up and pats my shoulder.

3. A long nap time meant that I got plenty of work done today -- so the evening is my own.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Chimes, the seat and giving up.

1. The ice cream chimes ring out, and tinies run out of the bushes where they have been playing. Their dads, who are lounging on the grass outside the pub, call: "You've already had some, go back." And three of them burst into wide-mouthed howls. The dads laugh guiltily.

2. We are sitting in the park, Alec and I. A two-year-old girl strolls up and examines him. Then "Sit?" I nod, and she plumps herself down next to Alec on my legs.

3. Alec won't go to sleep and won't go to sleep and won't go to sleep and I have to work and I'm running out of time. "I give up," I tell him. "I'm going to come to bed now and and I'm going to lie here and feed you." Within 15 minutes he's so deeply asleep that I can work next to him. So much of motherhood is about surrendering.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Saturday breakfast, shower and bake-off.

1. Coffee and crisp croissants for breakfast -- and someone else to do the Weetabix spooning.

2. I love to take a steamy shower when I have bunged up nose.

3. The Great British Bake-Off is oddly compelling -- it provides good baking tips and the contestants' fortunes can change in a moment under Mary Berry's steely blue gaze. It's undemanding viewing, though -- the bakers want to do well, of course, but they haven't built their entire lives around it. Even the losers go away with a bit of a spring in their step -- they're glad to have got this far.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Nap, book and news.

1. Alec takes a nap from 9am to 10am.

2. I come to the nursery and see through the door that Alec is sitting with a book -- upside down, but he's an alternative kind of guy. "He does love his books," they say. And that he's been much more settled today.

3. To hear a helicopter circling, and to check the Tunbridge Wells Twitter stream to see what it's all about -- @kentpolicetwell is ever informative and vigilent.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Away, Blue Lamb and balloon.

1. The mother takes Alec off in his push chair and I lie down for an hour.

2. "Hallo! Hallo!" The nursery nurse comes racing after us -- we've forgotten Blue Lamb.

3. There is a hot air balloon flying low over Mount Pleasant. The passengers are waving at us as we hurry home across the ground. I stop to show Alec. All around us people are lifting their phones to the sky for a picture.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Good company, falling asleep and coming to bed.

1. The afternoons are still long, and in this indian summer, they are very beautiful. We spend ours in the park with some friends.

2. Alec makes it clear (by biting me) that he's had enough milk. We lie down on the bed together and he twangs the straps of my vest and chatters for a while. At last he falls silent, and all I can hear is his breathing. I lie still, count 100 breaths and then lift him into his cot.

3. I've gone to bed early to sleep off my cold. I like to half wake up when Nick gets in beside me.

PS: There's a new Canterbury Index out, and I've got a story (and Alec's got a picture) in the Tunbridge Wells edition on page 27. We used Chris' layout for the Halloween pages across both editions because the team liked it so much.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Indian summer, black bream and taking over.

1. ...And just when we had given up hope, we get our summer back. The forecast for the next few days is sunny and crisp.

2. The fishmonger says of the black bream I am about to buy: "They're in good condition -- got a lot of fat on their bellies. They're getting ready for winter.

3. Nick comes home and takes over.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bless you, bacon rolls and into work.

1. The taxi driver says to me: "Oh bless you" -- he was being sympathetic. Nick remarks that there's been a lot of blessing this weekend -- the waitress last night blessed our grumpy Alec in a similar way.

2. Our bacon rolls come, and they are in floury buns.

3. Nick finally gets the chance to show off his son at work. Alec behaves pretty well, and gets plenty of compliments and adoration, and also the opportunity to gum on a Scooby Doo desk toy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Growing, pudding and blessings.

1. Saiya comes to the door wearing a royal purple dress with silver trim. It's nearly two years since we saw her, and she looks so grown up -- but she's still funny and cheeky and wise. Vishal (it's his day) has grown too. "He's six foot," says his father proudly, "and I'm only five eleven. And we got him a new suit for school..." he lists the sizes as if he is slightly dazed by the wonder of it.

2. When I ask what the pudding is, their grandmother explains that it is made from carrots and almonds. "With condensed milk, and cooked until it is dry, and then add the sugar."

3. As he leaves, the priest looks at us, does a double take at seeing these two (plus a small one) people who are clearly not Sikh, and says "Blessings!"

4. Just as the rain starts to really come down, we spot a bus shelter up ahead.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Travelling, conkers and park.

1. Our journey -- from train to bus to train to taxi -- has gone without a hitch. There were no delays, and no panics.

2. There are so many conkers that it's hard to avoid treading on them, and hard to resist picking them up (but I know that Alec would just want to suck them, so that helps me to leave them alone). At first we are worried because there are no boys picking them up, but then we meet a grandmother and grandson with double handfuls; and later see a mother and two sons picking their way through the damp grass outside our hotel.

3. The receptionist tells us that there is a park not far away. We follow her directions, and just as we are feeling lost, we spot a flash of bright red and yellow at the end of the road, and hear children's voices. The park is a good one -- it has gym equipment for adults; a zip wire, a stack of huge stones and a wild rotating swing for teenagers; swings for Alec; and climbing frames, earthworks and a fake treehouse for everyone else.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Husband, done and escape.

1. Another rough night, and a tough day ahead. When the alarm goes off I can't bring myself to be a mother. "Take him away and stop him whining," I tell Nick. And my husband does this, goes into work late and laughs about it when he comes home.

2. My work on the magazine is done. I can relax for a few moments before starting work on next month's issue.

3. I tuck the latest Interzone into my travel bag. The stories will provide a few hours of escapism, and perhaps one will stick around for the rest of my life.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reassured, joke and everything stops for tea.

1. I ring the nursery, and they say: "He's a different child today. He's settled down really quickly, and we've had a play and looked at the books."

2. This joke popped up on Facebook. I've been laughing quietly at it ever since:
How many sub editors does it take to change a lightbulb?

3. To stop everything in its tracks because Alec wants a feed.

PS: We're going away for a few days to visit family friends. Back soon with catch-up posts.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Red berries, chivalry and zippers.

Before I forget -- the Oxfam bookshop here in Tunbridge Wells has a brilliant window display. It's all the strange things people have left tucked in donated books: cards, letters, bookmarks, bills, even some sheet music. Have a look if you're down that way.

1. Half a hundred starlings spring from a rowan tree, top branches stripped of berries.

2. He picks up Jane's pushchair -- and son -- in his arms and carries it up the steps. "'E's used to it wiv 'is own li'tl boy," says the girl walking behind him. At the top of the steps he wheels it over the bridge -- there's a  swagger in his step, so I think he felt good about it -- and carries it down the other side.

3. Three tiny school girls on their way home at lunchtime. The zippers on their grey tunics are silver flowers.

Tooth, biscuit and paper bag.

1. I am chatting to Anna when I feel a sharpness on Alec's gum -- his first tooth. Later he lets me look -- it's as tiny and as bright and as sharp as a new moon on a frosty night.

2. She leans past me and says to the grandmother with a crying toddler: "Just give him a biscuit."
"I can't-"
"I've got one if you-"
"-when the other children don't-"
"Just give him a snack -- no-one minds."
And she gets out a packet of maize puffs, he stops crying and no-one minds at all.

3. So I can cook supper without thinking up animals Old MacDonald to farm, I give Alec a large paper bag. When I turn back he has put it on his head.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No inhibitions, nap and nudey kick-around.

1. One of the things I love about the baby is his lack of social inhibitions. Today he was in a shouty mood, and we walked around town with him telling people in a loud voice. I've no idea what he was saying, but he seemed very certain about it. It always makes me laugh -- it must annoy some people, but there's nothing I can do about it.

2. After breakfast and well before we had to leave for swimming, Alec went down for a nap -- in his cot, not on me. And then around teatime, he made it clear that he was tired again, and I had a whole hour in which to do whatever I wanted -- a bit of work, as it happens.

3. There was a nappy incident during supper, and as it's not long until Nick comes home for bathtime I put Alec on a towel for some nudey kick-around. He waves his legs and arms, shouts and laughs and rolls and wriggles, I think enjoying the feel of our bedding on his skin.

Dealing with the muffins, cordial and dealing with the baby.

1. My batch of muffins is a total disaster -- they have sunk and the crumb is a wet grey sog. Nick says: "Shall I get rid of them?" The next time I come into the kitchen, they are gone and the tray and the cases are waiting to be dried up.

2. Elderflower cordial with fizzy water.

3. It's been half an hour since the baby went to bed, and I'm just getting into my work when I hear Alec cry. I push the chair back and wonder tiredly (and meanly) when my baby will learn to put himself back to sleep without a mouthful of milk. But Nick says: "I'll go." I hear footsteps, a grizzle, more walking and then Nick comes back down: "He's asleep, but I don't know if he'll stay." But the rest of the evening is peaceful.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jump, give me that disc and toffee apples.

1. Alec laughs when I jump up and down to adjust the sling. He is a bit of a thrill-seeker, I'm afraid.

Picture by Paul Viney
2. Spotting PaulV across a crowded room at a launch party. As he is a photographer, he turns up unexpectedly at all sorts of random events, and of course I'm always pleased to see him -- but this time I know he has a disc of pictures that I am particularly keen to get hold of.

3. I smell apples and  remember the pan I left on the stove. Nick leaps up and saves the day with a bit of water and some quick stirring. "They're a bit brown," he says doubtfully. But when I come to taste them, they don't seem so much burnt as caramelised.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

White, cat and honouring our marriage vows.

1. Very soft white bread and butter.

2. Discovering another thing that makes Alec laugh -- saying "Miaow".

3. We drop Alec off at nursery for the afternoon. When we get home we eat cake, have a nap and take a bath.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Parcels, carer and Nick cooks.

1. It's a day of parcels -- two for Nick and two for me. One of them is a long-awaited cook book all the way from Canada.

1a. A woman passing us in the streetsays to me "What a beautiful necklace." I look down, puzzled, and realise that she means Alec in his sling.

2. We take Alec to nursery for his first proper session. He takes one look at the nursery nurse, squirms out of my arms and gives her a hug.

3. Nick takes over cooking dinner so I can give Alec a catch-up feed. We have noodle soup -- cheap quick noodles in homemade chicken stock and bright finger-food sized vegetables for Alec.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fish eye, still here and take a break.

1. Jane has an fish eye mirror above her fireplace -- it makes me remember that I used to pass an antique shop with three in the window, and I coveted one. Perhaps I still do.

2. Anna says: "You weren't expecting me to still be here, were you?" I could do with going on the mac that we share, but I have my laptop, and I like working with someone else nearby.
"That story about Unicef saying that our children were all materialistic because we didn't have time for them? I asked my daughter what made her happy, and she said: 'Mummy, Daddy and Germany.'"

3. Nervously we take Alec out to a restaurant for supper. It's his first time, and we go to one that we wouldn't mind not returning to, just in case it all goes embarrassingly wrong. It's fine, though -- Alec sits up in a high chair and eats bits off our plates -- though he's too excited and interested to eat much. We're all finished in less than an hour, so he doesn't have time to get bored. It was so good to take a break from washing up and cooking.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sleepers, spotted and rattle.

1. I come home from work and find my boys asleep, side-by-side in our bed.

2. "I recognise you!" I tell her it's from the post-natal class she ran. But she says she's seen my picture on my Courier column.

3. They've saved for Alec a plastic Horlicks jar, which is just the right size for his hands, and apparently of a pleasing smoothness for plapping. And they've put a peg inside so it rattles, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Raspberries, chain of command and a quick feed.

1. It's stupid o'clock. Alec has woken for his feed -- not just a little bit, but a lot. I give him both sides, but he's still wide-eyed, chatty and wriggly. I walk around with him, rock him, cuddle him. My head is heavy and my eyes are drooping but he doesn't get the message. I put him down between us and encourage him to help himself to milk. The last thing I remember is hearing him blowing raspberries in the dark.

2. As we are getting out of the pool, we run into a friend and his small girl. He says: "Our childminder called in sick, so I rang work and told someone else they were in charge, and I get to go swimming instead."

3. We stayed too long in the pool, so Alec is tired, overwhelmed and hungry. There's plenty of time, so we sit in a changing cubicle and I feed him off to sleep.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bigger is better, the engineer's advice and amuse bouche.

1. This was a near-disaster, but I can't help laughing at it. I left Alec in his high chair playing with a muslin and went to make my coffee. A swoosh sound made me look back: Alec had pulled the oil cloth off the table and was using it to hide under. Judging by the delighted giggling, size does matter when you're playing 'Where's the Baby?'

2. The steam train offloads an engineer. Slowly and deliberately, pace by pace, he walks down the platform with us, hat in hand, head tilted back and hair sticking up in the heat. He tells us: "With boys, one word from the mother can make all the difference. With girls, it's the father. I don't even realise sometimes with my girls, and my wife says to me 'Ouf, you've said the wrong thing. Go and sort it out.'"

3. Making a few amuse bouches before supper -- a tinned oyster on a Ritz cracker spread with soft cheese.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rugby, landlord and developing.

1. I stray into the sitting room where the rugby is on -- lots of substantial men in tight shirts.

2. The landlord comes and fixes our bathroom tiles and the drip under the sink -- what a luxury to have someone cheery and competent to do these things for us, and someone who cares about the house, too.

3. A noise upsets Alec. I show him that it's just the vacuum cleaner, but he is not convinced, and it takes a good drink of milk to calm him down. Later, he spots it standing in the kitchen and won't be soothed until I've put it away in the cupboard. Poor manlet -- what a trial for him, but how clever he is to remember what made that scary noise.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nursery, the meeting and noodles.

1. This time, I leave him at nursery for 20 minutes. I leave the sling and the nappy bag with him, so he knows I'm coming back and explain where I'm going: "I'm going to drink hot chocolate without someone putting their fingers in it, and you're going to stay here and play with the toys." When I get back, he is being carried around one of the nursery nurses. He was very good, they say -- except when they tried to wash his face after snack time. Which sounds like my baby.

2. "Which mat do you... Oh, it's you!" I run into an old school friend in the baby room at Fenwicks. We've been bumping into each other for years and promising to meet up, but never quite managing to do it, though we still enjoy each other's company. We go for lunch, and properly swap phone numbers this time.

3. If my spirits need raising, there's nothing like the sight of Alec with some noodles. He also gets a laugh out of me demonstrating how to suck them up.

The blonde, feet and nibs.

1. A tiny person with blonde curls, a red and white blanket and sleepy eyes totters out of the nap room, followed by her key worker.

2. Alec is sitting on a bench in the wendy house. I turn away for a second and when I look back, he is on his feet and looking very surprised.

3. Crunching on cocoa nibs in dark chocolate.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Reader, junk and a good long feed.

1. Alec wakes before us and grumps from his cot in the corner. Nick and I just want to doze through our last half hour together before the day begins. I bring Alec into bed with us, but he squirms and won't feed and is even less restful than when he was in his cot. Finally, as a joke, I sit him up at the end of our bed with his animal book. It's bigger than his lap, a board affair. He opens it on the pets page, leans forward like yogi to kiss (or possibly lick) the puppy. He sits back up, slams the book shut and lets it fall open on the crawlers page. This time the spider gets a kiss. I lie down, and he continues to open, lick, shut until the second alarm. Peace.

2. We look down at our babies playing on the floor. "All these toys and they're fighting over yoghurt lids and playing with bottles full of pasta."

3. At the end of a busy day, to sit down and give Alec a good long feed with no distractions.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Can't smell, look of a blogger and coffee cake.

1. I have such a cold -- I can feel the peppermint oil on my pillow cooling and clearing my nose, but I can't smell it.

2. It's been a chase across town in the rain -- but I spot Mr London Street in the Corn Exchange. I know it's him although I've never seen him before because... well I don't know how I know, but I do. Perhaps bloggers have a look about them.

3. Once the baby has gone to bed, we have the last two slices of that coffee cake. I can't taste it now -- except the bitterness and the sweetness -- but I can remember how the first slice tasted yesterday.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Tales, pincer grip and work experience.

1. For my birthday Nick gave me the second Tales of the Ketty Jay book -- The Black Lung Captain. I know that he enjoyed the first of Chris Wooding's swashbuckling diesel airship pirate caper, so I'm looking forward to discussing this new instalment with him. I've watched Firefly since reading the first book, and these books are more of the same but with enough differences to make it interesting. The crew of the Ketty Jay are less wholesome and more haunted than the Fireflies; but their internal battles are handled with as much skill as the external battles -- which are frequent, splattery, and often funny.

2. Alec spots a fragment of last night's cabbage on the table beside him. He picks it up, examines it and then drops it on the floor. He --sometimes -- picks things up between his thumb and finger, rather than trying to use his entire hand.

3. I settle down to work on my listings and discover that the work experience girl has done a better job than I realised, and got further along than I realised, too. I wish I'd thanked her more and better.

Sleeping on, our neighbourhood and soother.

1. I hear Nick's alarm go in the attic at 6.30am -- he'd promised last night to come and take the baby away so I could have a lie-in. But the baby is sleeping, and I am too dozy-dazed to push for a shift change. An hour later -- which is much more civilised time -- we all wake up. Then Nick comes down, and I am left alone to catch up on my sleep.

2. "Ohh, what's that arch?" wonders Becky. She and Scott are former neighbours and they've come down for a walk and coffee. A morning spent with them has put a pleasing shine on streets and views that we have allowed to turn dull with neglect.

3. A mug of honey, hot water and apple juice for a sore throat.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Better in the morning, yeast and in bed.

1. It's been a rough night -- Alec has a cold, and has been burning hot and feeding every hour. But now morning is here, and he is cooler and laughing at all his normal amusements.

2. We ordered in the wrong kind of yeast, so I've been baking bread by hand for the last fortnight. I've always used a machine up until now, but when Grayson Perry came round he made a remark that needled me rather, about using a machine to do a craft.* I opened my mouth to say that I never hand baked because I didn't like the feel of dough -- but then I thought that this was not an argument I wanted to have with a potter. Anyway -- the more I get to know dough, the more I like it. I've discovered that the sticky feeling that bothers me so much wears off as you knead. I've discovered that arms that spend all day hefting a weighty baby are equal to kneading -- and that it only takes ten minutes of hard work. Then there's a bit time to go and do something else, before the pleasure of punching down the sponge and hearing the bubbles pop.

3. I'm so tired, and it's going to be a difficult night -- but I do like having Alec as a warm bundle in bed beside me. He feels needy and pathetic and just wants to be held. Under normal circumstances he wouldn't be happy in with me -- he would roll and wriggle and squirm until I put him back in his cot.

* In one of those ah-ha moments, I discovered that GP has curated a show at the British Museum on the unknown craftsman.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Adoration, our summer and trying to stand.

1. An elderly lady with the sort of white, soft hair that I want to touch: "I couldn't leave without saying how adorable they are." Alec and the twins look up at her wide-eyed. Later a man comes up and guesses their ages (incorrectly -- they're eight months, the same as his new grandson). And still more later, another grandfather is laughs at Alec's clapping ("We've got a sealion here!" and leaves his own granddaughter hanging disappointed in the next swing along.

2. Finally... one of those long, hot summer days that feels as if it will never end. The park is full of ice creams and wasps and we cluster in the shade. We're all wearing jeans because it looked a bit dull this morning.

3. At the library I kneel up and sit Alec on my knees. He keeps trying to stand -- and the librarian smiles at him. At the end, she says: "He's already got a sense of rhythm."

4. The table in the toddler's play house is just the right size for Alec to practise standing. A boy who might be four climbs in through the window and leans across the table and examines him. "Not too close, Zack," says his mother. "He's got a new cousin of seven months and he's absolutely smitten," she explains. I think Zack is being very good -- and Alec seems rather taken by him. They have a conversation about cake and tea (I have to supply Alec's part, but I like to think I am qualified to say what he would have said.)

Friday, September 02, 2011

Tiny cakes, up to the park and good night.

1. The mother and Alec have brought back tiny fairy strawberry fairy cakes and flapjacks from their morning shopping.

2. At the end of work, I walk up to the park to meet them. I feel like a dad instead of a mum.

3. As I am adding milk to Nick's tea, I hear him call down the stairs: "Little man bagged and a bit cross." I put the mug by his plate of sandwiches on the table, and go upstairs -- quietly -- to give Alec his last milk.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Design, gardening and refusing.

1. Chris the designer has gone to town on our lead feature for the October issue. It looks great, and there's a bit of a buzz in the production room. We're worried about what the publisher is going to say... and then the email comes back: he likes it.

2. Everyone is in the front garden when I come home. Alec is lolled in his pushchair, very asleep; the mother is filling a black plastic sack with weeds.

3. He's been turning his head and making a tight line with his lips every time I offer the spoon. I put his meat and potatoes to one side and start eating some fruit and yoghurt... and suddenly he's interested.

PS: This is what all the fuss has been about -- I'm working as acting editor of a new magazine.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grown, watch the baby and good work.

1. I come home from work at lunchtime and get a proper hug from Alec. He seems heftier, some how -- more barrelly around the chest. He's been feeding and feeding, but surely he can't have grown that much in three hours.

2. My mother comes into the kitchen to see how supper is doing. "Watch the baby," she says to my father. "I can't do that!" he says. "Just make sure he doesn't fall off the sofa," she tells him.

3. I've mentioned before, I think, how my first manager used to say to me at the end of the day: "You've worked well today, Clare" (if I had, I  mean -- she wasn't the sort to hand out praise that wasn't deserved). Today, when I turn off the lap top and tell Nick I'm going to bed, I feel I can say it to myself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thank you, blowing and fried sausage.

1. To pick out a box of chocolates to say thank you.

2. To make Alec laugh by blowing in his face.

3. Frying thin slices of sausage until they are crispy.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A piece of England, crimson and blackberries.

1. Nick is standing under an oak tree watching cricket. I am picking blackberries. It's raining. Nick says later that this is England summed up -- all we needed was some Vaughan Williams playing in the background.

2. I love the broken crimson of bramble leaves when summer is wearing thin.

3. The sweet wild smell of stewing blackberries.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Up early, kissing and going down.

1. Alec is up early, unlike his poor old dad. I dress quickly and take him out for breakfast at a cafe that I like very much but normally avoid because it's not baby-appropriate. Since it's so early for a Saturday, we're the only people in. Alec sits on my knee and we share my porridge -- I feed him using the vintage teaspoon from my hot chocolate.

2. There music on the Pantiles this weekend -- Local and Live organised by Paul Dunton, who is like Beau Nash for the 21st century -- and we go along to enjoy the spectacle. We park Alec up in his pushchair and while his attention is elsewhere, do some kissing -- it is a festival, after all.

3. I hear Alec cry, and I go upstairs, meaning to soothe him back to sleep. But he won't go and he won't go and he won't go. So I bring him down and feed him on the sofa in front of the TV. It's bright and noisy, but he settles and relaxes in a way that he couldn't upstairs in the quiet dark, and finally falls asleep.

Review post: All Tea Towels

Recently Al McCarvery of All Tea Towels got in touch to ask if I would like to do a review of some tea towels from his site. He has developed his business out of a passion for collecting tea towels. Well, of course if you've been reading for any length of time you know that I am fond of domestic minutiae, and you don't get much more domestically minute than tea towels.

I'm also a complete sucker for people with a passion for work-a-day objects -- there's nothing like talking to a collector to help you find magic in the mundane.

Al has some gorgeous designs in his shop, and I could have picked out a trousseau's worth if I'd had a mind to. Both my choices are gorgeously printed and luxuriously large. The Scandi folk art design (right) is cotton and the anemone is linen -- I selected one of each fabric in the interests of fairness. I've never been a huge fan of linen tea towels -- my mother has one with a 1978 calender on, so I know they are long-lasting. But my experience of them has been that they just move water around without actually drying. However, being a tea towel expert, Al offers some advice on his site about the correct seasoning and care of linen tea towels -- and having followed his instructions, I now understand the linen love.

Al has some other interesting tea towel tips -- he suggests using them to wrap presents, which is an idea I like very much (except that I'm cross I never thought of it in my quest to cut down on throw-away consumables). You could match the design to the gift -- perhaps this one for a bottle of wine, or this one for spring bulbs.

He also says they make excellent security blankets for small children -- you can pick a design depicting whatever they are into, and maybe buy two or three so you can sneak one away for washing. Alec was using the anemone to play "Where's the baby?" within moments of the package being opened, so I think we're on to a winner here.

I would also consider some of the botanical designs for stitching -- my Di Van Niekerk embroidery is printed on to a tea towel.

Since looking around All Tea Towels, I've been peering into our kitchen linens drawer and wondering if it's time to cull the torn and stained towels, just so we can stock up again with designs that will make us smile every time we use them.

Art book, gossip and watermelon.

1. Among my birthday presents is a new book of Tove Jansson's art, featuring lots of bits I've never seen before. 2. Stopping for a ...