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.

Lolly, rabbits and fairy festival.

1. As we walk, the grinding, crunching sound of Bettany working on a chalky double lolly. 2. Midsummer afternoon on the common -- rabbits gr...