Monday, December 15, 2014

A short intermission.

Everything is exactly as it should be but various things have piled on and now I'm struggling to keep up. I'm going to take a break to give myself some space to recover and re-group. I've always advised people to not worry about leaving gaps in their record, to just pick up without embarrassment or apology in due course. 'Due course' is Alec's least favourite phrase because no-one can say when it will be; but I expect to return in the New Year. In the meantime I'm turning off comments to keep my workload minimal. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Good deed, all you wait for and something sweet to share.

1. To show Alec how very easy it is to do a small good deed -- we go to a toyshop and buy a little gift for the Mayor's Toy Appeal then take it to a drop-off point. (I explain, briefly, why there is a need for this appeal. He says the toy for a little boy whose mummy fell in the water and was eaten by a shark.) Information here, links on the right hand side.

2. An elderly lady behind us in the Santa Special land train is grumbling to herself about the lack of '...ruddy music. It's all you ruddy wait for, isn't it.' The driver offers up a roughly tuneful snatch of We Wish You A Merry Christmas over the PA system to console her.

3. A text message confirming our arrangement '...and we've got something sweet to share!' It's a fat panettone -- Otto is so excited that he throws it through our door the moment I open it.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Steam, presence and name.

1. To watch steam swirling around under a glass pan lid.

2. I retrieve and comfort a furious wailing Bettany and manhandle an on-the-verge-of-a-tantrum Alec out of the soft play area and march back to where I had been waiting and watching. My gaze is at small boy height but I am aware that some shoppers have rested their bags on 'my' bit of the bench. I continue in full tirade: '...and we are going to sit here quietly until you are a calm boy and then you can apologise and I will decide whether we need to tell Daddy why Bettany fell over...' It is gratifying to see the bags swiftly removed without any need for interaction.

3. Bettany's attempt to say her own name sounds very like 'Baby! Baby!'

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Trick, buttons and all down.

1. Alec finds a Christmas box and tells me I have to pretend I think it's full of chocolate (it's not, it's empty) so he can say 'TRICKED YOU!' Then he wants me to persuade him that it's full of chocolate.

2. It is such a small thing, but to have twenty minutes to sit down and sew the buttons back on my coat. I've been going around buttonless for the past few days. And to have someone else cook my supper.

3. When I get home both the children are asleep and Nick is looking very pleased with himself.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Distracted, warm up and sprawl.

1. It is ridiculously easy to buy the umbrella that Alec wanted without him noticing. The shop staff think it's very funny to see me holding it high up while he is distracted by the low mirrors and the displays of shoes.

2. To warm up with a huge cuddle on the sofa and Cbeebies on TV and the blinds and curtains drawn tight against the chill and dark.

3. When I've finished getting Alec off to sleep I come out to find a rather bemused Nick looking down at Bettany, who has fallen asleep on the bathroom floor, sprawled out in her 'new' and oversized 18-24 month sleep suit.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Craft, no children and proud.

1. Rather boldly, just before lunch, I turn off all screens, slap poster paint on the children's hands and feet and make some prints to use in Christmas present crafts. Bettany is not taken by it, but happily dabbles with a brush. Alec -- normally very unwilling to do anything messy -- dances gleefully on a piece of increasingly yellow tissue paper and then on the floor and I have to use THE VOICE... 'that's enough, Alec- I said THAT'S ENOUGH.' Oh well, poster paint wipes off easily enough.

2. Child-free afternoon. I spread my stuff out across the table and do gluing without immediately clearing up and eat a sandwich not at a meal time and read a book while eating crisps (salt and vinegar).

3. I glance down the pre-school play cast list and see that Alexander is to play a sleeping child... no, no, no, I am told: Alec is down here -- he's Father Christmas. What a proud mother I am: I must think of a natural way to mention on Facebook without appearing to boast.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Ball, stuck and state.

1. As we come round the corner by Mountfield Gardens a football bounds across our path, bounces and rolls down the grass. It is followed by a boy in school uniform who looks embarrassed, as if he didn't mean to let it go so far.

2. 'I stuck, I stuck, I stuck' is poor Bettany's refrain today. She is feverish and her nose is snotty and she keeps being sick. I shove everything else to the bottom of the to-do list, cover the sofa with an old blanket and sit with her, dozing and nursing, chatting and putting on the TV and picking up her doll as required.

3. It is one of those days when it never really gets light. Everything is flat and grey, insipid, half-arsed and badly made. Nightfall, sometime around 4.30pm, is a relief because the dark feels entire and definite.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Away from the bed, paperchains and prank.

1. I manage to point my puking child at the floor and away from the bed. The clock reads 1.50am, which means another four hours of sleep if I am brisk about the clean up.

2. To make a paperchains with Alec (it is slow going as he keeps stopping to measure his chain as we add each link and he will keep pulling off great lengths of tape just to hear it rip, but I am glad to be doing any sort of papercraft with him).

3. Alec gleefully plans a prank (a bowl of screwed up yellow paper with a label (written by me) reading 'cheesecake for Daddy' and a string to jerk the whole thing away when Nick is tempted). We make a real, tiny cheesecake in case Nick is not amused -- but he is.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Box, game and sleepy baby.

1. Alec and I dig into the December 1 box and get out all the Christmas books and the first of the decorations. Then we settle on the sofa with 'Twas the Night Before...'

2. The sound of Aunty Biddy bravely pretending to be Darth Vader looking for Luke Skywalker, who is hiding under the kitchen table.

3. My mother is discussing important house sale matters with her sister. Bettany is dozing comfortably on her lap.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Pushed, crepes and notes.

1.  'I'm glad I did that,' says Nick of the Christmas shopping I pushed him into doing.

2. We have French biscuits for tea, crepes dentelles. They are lacy pancakes, rolled up and wrapped in pairs in gold coloured wax paper. They melt on your tongue (or shred into tiny flakes, if you are Bettany) and Alec eats two pairs before we notice what he is up to. Nick says they are the most French thing he has ever eaten.

3. To pile Alec's party invitations in a neat column as I complete them. To avoid mistakes I fill in each blank for all the cards and then go back to the top of the column for the next blank.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gift of sleep, reading time and on the sofa.

1. After we've cleaned up the bed and Bettany... and then cleaned them up again and cleaned me up, Nick asks why I don't go upstairs and sleep in his bed for a bit. I do and it's lovely. It's amazing how much better the world seems when you have had two uninterrupted hours of sleep.

2. Bettany spends most of the day asleep on top of me on the sofa. I spend most of the day reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion -- it's the story of a strictly scheduled genetics professor who decides to find a wife by filtering out unsuitable women using a questionnaire. It's very touching and very funny and what might have been a frustrating day passed quickly and pleasantly. A friend has nudged me into a bookclub and this is the first pick for the new year.

3. Godmother Jo sitting with Alec and Nick and Bettany on the sofa watching Star Wars: Rebels.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

By myself, not lost and weird citrus.

1. Bettany asks to be lifted up on to the horse on a spring. I do so and start to wobble it, holding her safely. She removes my hands and squawks 'nah nah nah!' She is very far off the ground and can't even reach the bar meant for her feet. But the surface is woodchip so I back off and let her get on with it. She looks very self-satisfied.

2. I had sort of assumed that the yew maze would be closed: but it wasn't. We tramped confidently along the gravel paths to the centre and then Alec scrambled through a hole in the hedge and wouldn't come back -- I couldn't follow him because I had Bettany in the backpack. I left him to it, though I was nervous that he might come out before me and tumble into the moat. I could hear him giggling to himself and occasionally caught flashes of his colours through the hedge so I knew roughly where he was and that he was happy.

3. It is not often that Janey is startled by an unknown plant -- but the weird citrus Buddha's hand surprises her (and me, too).

Friday, November 28, 2014

Freedom, recuperate and collecting.

1. I can never get over the sense of giddy freedom I get when I run out of the door at nursery -- whether it's one or both children it's like a burden has been take off me.

2. I am starting to feel ill,  but it's a Thursday afternoon so I have a chance to rest and re-group.

3. Bettany in her brown dungarees sees us arrive but goes on playing. After a while she notices us properly and gets up. She runs round in a circle and then bends over to put her head on the floor -- she often does this when excited.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cobwebs, excuse and you do it.

1. The hedge in Calverley Grounds is decorated with silvery grey cobweb platforms -- they look like abandoned dance floors.

2. I was going to run once more round the park but Bettany is complaining from the pushchair that she is stuck. It's just the excuse I need to go home. ('I stuck' is her go-to phrase for any situation that isn't to her liking.')

3. To hand over to Nick this child who won't go to sleep.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Roots, independent and way back in.

1. One of my paperwhites has put down a few roots, following unknowable senses to the water below.

2. At toddler group, to watch Bettany across the room. She has just realised she can't see me. She looks this way, that way, back the way she came, cranes up and then catches sight of me waving. She smiles, waves and then she goes back to trotting along by the wall.

2b. I see our neighbour in the park and when I say I'm sorry about the noise from Alec's tantrum she says 'Oh don't worry, it's just family. That's what it's like.' and she says if I need an extra pair of hands for a moment to just knock.

3. Alec is helping make french toast for supper; and he breaks up one of the soaking slices. We're still all of us walking on eggshells and I snap because I'm convinced supper is RUINED. I start to fish out the broken pieces and he comes and stands next me and puts his arm around my leg in the most comforting, gentle, kind way possible. It gives me a way back in and a safe space to admit that I over-reacted. The smaller pieces of toast crisp up much better than the larger pieces.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Off duty, skating and jigsaw.

1. Our friend the guide dog is having a carefree lollop in the park. She is skittish and when Alec runs after her up the bank she turns and nearly knocks him over: he is half scared and half thrilled by the experience (I think he is very brave).

2. We drop Bettany at nursery and scamper down to the park to see about ice-skating. The rink is empty and they attendant says 'I've never seen the ice more perfect. It's thick because of the rain yesterday and now it's cold so it's frozen hard.'

3. Alec works independently on a jigsaw by my feet while I bub Bettany off to sleep on the sofa.

Monday, November 24, 2014

New game, craft and shoes.

1. While it is still dark Alec and I lie in bed together and whisper about things. I tell him that there is a new chapter of the tablet game Monument Valley out -- and I don't think I've ever seen anyone get out of bed and into his clothes with more enthusiasm. We eat breakfast together, just the two of us, before we begin.

2. Two mothers escaping into the rain for a paper craft workshop. We spend a happy couple of hours with Freckles and Fire making decorations without small hands tugging at our legs. It is such a luxury to be able to focus completely on the task at hand.

3. The clippity-cloppety sound that suggests Bettany has asked Nick to help her put her new shoes back on.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Noted, hostess and stuck.

1. To write a firm note in my baking book about how much we disliked working with muffin dough. It has no fat in it so it is horribly sticky (the muffins were delicious, though) and next time I will use the mixer instead of kneading it by hand.

2. To watch Anna bobbing round her party moving guests towards people they need to meet. She bumps past the group I am in and mentions something that we have in common, nudging another person into the circle and filling our glasses at the same time.

3. I come home to find my delighted mother stuck on the sofa under the sleeping Bettany

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Anniversary, black shoes and running home.

1. Today is our wedding anniversary, the fifth. Both children sleep late. We creep down and eat breakfast together, just the two of us, and then kiss on the doorstep as Nick leaves.

2. We are rather at a loose end so I conjure some errands out of thin air to get everyone out of the house. We go to the post office, pick up this, pick up that and end up at the shoe shop: I get their feet checked every six weeks or so because tight shoes are a misery. Bettany needs a new pair -- and a new pair of real shoes instead of the soft cruisers she has been strutting around in up until now. They have a black patent pair in her size -- last year's style so very, very cheap. They make her look rather formal and she is charmed by the clippity-cloppety sound they make.

3. On a dampish, greyish sort of day to run home pretending the big bad wolf is after us. We make it through the door just - in - time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Drop-off, village and paperwhites.

I've written a blog post for Depression Alliance about how writing these lists helps me stay healthy.

1. An easy nursery drop-off: two small people trot away, quite self-sufficient (Alec comes back, as always, to give me a little kiss.

2. When we come to pick Alec up from nursery he is hiding in a cardboard house in the Christmas village. Judging by the way the walls are shaking it is quite full.

3. Anna comes in the evening and we plant up paperwhites and talk. We do it (apart from because we like paperwhites, and each other's company) because we want to remember the gardening journalist Elspeth Thompson.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tasks, leading and bath.

1. I love the quiet satisfaction I get from the Wednesday tasks: I do a lot of the things that need doing once (or twice) a week on a Wednesday, taking advantage of the disruption caused by the cleaner coming. It's things like chucking all the kitchen linen in the wash, cleaning the water bottles, adding things to the shopping list, changing towels and flannels, clearing the places where clutter gathers.

2. After lunch Bettany leads me upstairs because she wants a cuddle and some bubby.

3. It's been a trying evening and so Nick sends me off to the bathroom. Before I've even got in, though, he and Bettany and a horrible nappy are knocking on the door. But that's OK, because the bath bomb I've just used, Lush's Golden Wonder, is completely spectacular and I want someone else to see to confirm that the deep green shimmering water is real and not just my tired imagination.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Aiming high, here now and pushing.

1. We visit a primary school with Alec today. It is bright and noisy and busy and studious and the children who show us round are enthusiastic and confident and we like it a lot. Afterwards Alec tells us he thinks it's a good school for him because the teachers have not killed anyone.

2. When I came to pay I found I'd forgotten my purse. "You're here now," said the coffee shop man, "So drink up and you can bring the money in later." This is extraordinarily kind of him: he hadn't even started making my tea yet.

3. Deliberate naughtiness on Bettany's part: the third time she grabs the bucket of sugar packets off a nearby table she glances behind her to catch my eye, gives a naughty laugh and then scampers round to the seat of a wing chair where I can't see her. When I get there she is emptying the bucket in double handfuls. This is sophisticated, boundary testing and she is getting very grown up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why, worth and Bettany.

1. I am besieged by Alec's whys today. Finally I throw them back at him. 'Why do you want to know?'
'Because I asked you?'
'But why?'
He says with exasperation 'Now you've got the why bug, too!'

2a. One of our favourite shop assistants gives us a jigsaw out of the bag she is taking to charity.

2. Alec is being particularly (almost) four this morning -- he is asking for everything that looks like a snack (I am sorely tempted, sorely, to buy him that piece of soap) and jabbing at fragile-looking packages and responding rudely to any correction. 'You need the patience of a saint,' says the shop assistant serenely, and I know she is not judging my worth based on my son's aggressive interrogation of our social customs.

3. After Alec has taken his boundary testing (and all the associated drama) off to sleep (I assume he is analysing his data) I get some time to play with Bettany and enjoy the discovery that is giving her pleasure today: lip wibbling.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tender, will power and bowling.

1. As promised our shoulder of lamb is pull-apart tender. The children eat and eat and eat.

2. We get everyone ready for an outing, open the front door- and it's raining. We nearly turn back but the children need a run-out so we thrust unwilling limbs into rain gear and go out anyway. I would not have had the strength of character to do this if Nick was not at home.

3. Nick bowling a rubber ball to Alec (armed with an undersized cricket bat) in the rain is the most English thing I've seen all year.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ready to eat, quick read and chorizo.

1. Our butcher's display always looks delicious, about as ready to eat as raw meat can be. I can't put my finger on what it is -- but there's nothing clinical about it, and nothing industrial, like in a supermarket. No plastic trays or fake parsley. He presents it all on mismatched kitchen plates so it looks like food.

2. To snatch a quick read of my Steampunk Cthulhu book.

3. 'It's chorizo, you won't like it,' Nick tells Alec.
Alec takes a nibble and spits it out -- the flavour is too strong. But then Bettany has to have a piece, too, and she does like it. So Alec's competitive spirit kicks in and he gives it another chance.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Playdough, memory and lids.

1. All the children sitting round the table with playdough. To have another parent marvel at our tools -- I tend to forget that we have accumulated a good set of moulds and cutters until someone sees them with fresh eyes.

2. We discuss mumnesia, which is the bashing your memory takes while the children are small from a combination of distraction and sleep deprivation. She's lost her car before now; I've... I've er.... and now we can't place what I put in the playdough a couple of days ago to make it smell so nice.*

3. Bettany turns out our tin of plastic lids (she often does this and then wanders away). Our guests are fascinated and use them to make pictures. We mothers sit on the floor and idly sort them by colour.

* Ginger. It was ginger.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Done, Father Christmas arrives and following.

Three Beautiful Things has been recognised by the respectable and long-lived mental health site Psych Central as one of 2014's top ten depression blogs (they do acknowledge that this isn't a typical (or topical) depression blog, but I'm on the list because other depression bloggers are talking about me). Anyway, thank you very much to Psych Central for the recognition, and thanks to all you depression bloggers for mentioning me: I'm very glad to be of service to you. One of the most wretched things about depression is that it is hard to talk about and I'm pleased to be helping the dialogue along.

1. At the end of the afternoon I go to do a few household tasks and discover that Nick has emptied the dishwasher. I was working feet away at the kitchen table but I was so absorbed in my task that I didn't notice him clattering plates and cutlery. I thank him. He laughs at me.

2. I see on a social network that nursery have taken 'some children' into town to see Father Christmas arriving. When we pick Alec up they hand us a Golden Moments sheet recording the visit and I tell them I'm so glad they went: I'd been feeling sad that I wasn't taking him myself because it was nursery afternoon.

3. To follow Bettany across the landing and to enjoy the the way she walks with one hand behind her back and to look down on the beautiful shape of her head while her hair is still so sparse.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cleanish, water and childcare.

1. Our cleaner is ill and can't work (which is actually OK because Nick is ill, too, and needs to rest). I look around and realise that it's all right. The house is cleanish, and it will take me perhaps half an hour to do the bits that really matter.

2. To remember to ask for a glass of tap water with my lunch -- and later to buy myself  bottled water and refuse to entertain guilt over spending 55p that I would not have spent had I thought to fill myself a bottle at home.

2b. Two sleepy children in pushchairs and an hour of sun between showers means two mothers get to walk and talk without distraction.

3. A poorly Nick means there is someone at home to look after Bettany while I scamper out to collect Alec -- it is very pleasant to leave the pushchair at home.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Help, gloom and over her head.

I've scribbled a quick encomium to Sarah Salway's beautiful garden book Digging Up Paradise because I really have enjoyed it very much.

1. A lady with a storybook Scottish accent helps Alec on to the train and then off again at our destination. She is concerned about his legs in the gap between the train and the platform. (He is more concerned that people might think he can't do it himself.)

1b. Across the aisle there is a man holding a conversation through his tablet using sign language. The soft claps and clicks suggest strong feelings and much emphasis. In the still spaces he smiles at Bettany.

2.  To spot gloomy purple mushrooms -- they are the colour of new bruises -- pushing out of the moss at the roots of a beech tree.

3. There are dark clouds on the horizon but Bettany is just too unsocialised to pick up our cues and . She just wants me to puff out my cheeks so she can pat them flat and then laugh.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mycologist, back for lunch and bookshopping.

1. Alec wants to stamp on mushrooms. This is the sort of mindless violence against nature that I loathe (even though our Learned Aunt Jane says that stamping on mushrooms is the plant harming equivalent of picking a leaf off a massive oak tree). So I make him look -- properly look with his whole self, so he can describe the colours and textures and smells of caps and stems and gills and pores -- and we agree that he can stamp only on specimens that have fallen over, are already squashed or are more slug bite than mushroom.

2. On our way back for lunch we run into our friends in the park. In passing we discover that their dishwasher is broken and so we bring them home with us. There's one of those satisfying good deeds that is easily accomplished and makes our lives more delightful, too.

3. As a child I was always intrigued to see the title of Gumdrop and the Secret Switches in the list of books by the same author in many of my brother's extensive library of Val Biro books. Alec finds a copy in Oxfam and then goes back to his busy schedule of chasing a giggling Bettany around the shelves (there is no-one else in there and the man behind the counter appears more amused than horrified so I don't feel too guilty).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Over quickly, excuse and bright side.

1. I wake not long before the usual time to the sound of Bettany being sick in bed next to me. To be able to hand her over to Nick for cleanign while I deal with the bed. She bounced back in her usual way and ate a full breakfast, so I suppose it was just a passing bug. We forget about it until we come to change the vile nappy that always follows a few hours after a sick bug.

2. To let Bettany fall asleep on me so I have an excuse to sit on the sofa reading.

3. An early start makes it feel as if we have all the time in the world.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Up and down, walnuts and Hungarian biscuits.

1. The way Alec rides up and down on the escalators as if he has never been afraid of them. We end up traipsing around the shopping centre looking for excuses to move between floors.

2. To buy the last bag of walnuts -- fresh walnuts are such a treat, and Kentish ones even better -- foreign wet walnuts are always musty by the time we get them.

3. The Hungarian honey bun lady was at the farmers' market so I bought some of her cornflour biscuits. At tea time they melt on our tongues, moments of sweetness, quite insubstantial, like chatting on a night out with a charming but shallow person who you don't care to see again in daylight.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Just three, catching up with sleep and catchy tune.

Lucy at Box Elder has mentioned us in her knitting report. She is taking part in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Post Month) and I am much appreciate the increased output -- her posts are always delightful and thought-provoking, much better for me than my usual slurry of Mumsnet AIBU and Cracked.

1. We leave Bettany with my mother and walk out with Alec, one of us holding each of his hands. It feels great to give him our undivided attention.

2. I doze off while I am settling Bettany for her after-lunch nap and don't wake up until after 3pm -- by which time a supermarket delivery has arrived and been put away by my efficient husband.

3. To realise that the droney la-la-la that Bettany keeps coming back to is her attempt at one of our songs (Aiken Drum, who lives in the moon, plays upon a ladle and dresses up in all manner of foodstuffs).

Friday, November 07, 2014

Listen, massage and haircut.

1. Alec and I spend some time yelling at each other to 'LISTEN' before it occurs to us to take our own advice. Within moments the problem is resolved to everyone's satisfaction (including Bettany, who gets at least half of Alec's banana because he likes seeing her signing 'please').

2. I treat myself to a massage from my beauty lady (she's really very good indeed and can get all the knotted places without hurting me). That moment when a muscle I didn't know was tight gives up and lets go.

3. I complain to the hairdresser -- as always -- that my hair feels so heavy it makes me feel tired. She uses a strange pair of scratchy scissors to thin out the layers and it is such a relief to see puffy tufts falling all around me.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Too much skirt, cat faces and man hug.

Dave Bonta's blog Morning Porch is seven years old. You should go over and check it out because it is perfect and tiny (and he said on Facebook that I was one of his microblogging inspirations, which blew my mind a bit).

1. Bettany goes down for her nap wearing her Halloween dress. The skirt is so generously frilled that her fat little legs stick up at an angle.

2. There are some leaves in the park, I think from a sort of lirodendron, that look to me like cat faces. I snaffle a few in different sizes to use for Nana-pleasing leaf prints.

3. There is a boy from nursery who keeps getting namechecked in Alec's reports. I am brave and ask his mum if she fancies a playdate some time soon. When we look round our boys are wrapped in a tight embrace.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Balec, mud and last piece.

1. I find Alec tapping away at a two-player game.* He says: 'I'm playing with my imaginary friend, Balec.'
Balec is losing badly so I play a couple of rounds to boost his morale.

2. Three small boys (none of them mine) stamping in the muddiest puddle in the entire park.

3. While I am making supper I remember that there is one last piece of millionaire's shortbread in the fridge. I eat it quickly while no-one is looking.

* Pettson's Inventions Deluxe is hugely popular here at the moment.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Comics at the table, playdough and stained.

1. At lunch Alec and I eat chips and read the Beano (which is a bit different to when I was little, but not much -- just enough to make it accessible to a thoroughly modern Alec).

2. Kneading more colouring into blue playdough (Alec was dismayed because the ginger we added to scent it turned it green).

3. Two faces covered in blueberry stains.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Observation, OK and Wally.

1. I escape for the morning to an event called Stop Look Draw that aims to encourage urban sketching. I go with a friend who takes her art seriously and we investigate the same 50m of Camden Road. At the end I am astonished to see that she has moulded from charcoal and paper a perfect view that I hadn't even noticed (I was too busy interrogating weeds and scrutinising aerials).

2. I put Nogs up on my shoulders so we can hurry home though the downpour. I am afraid she is feeling shivery up there (I didn't put a jumper under her puddle suit because I thought it would be too bundley), or perhaps worried by the hissing rain -- but then I hear her laughing at something that has delighted her.

3. Alec patiently searching a page of Where's Wally.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Empathy, kale and fruitcake.

1. 'Don't worry, Mummy, you'll feel better soon.'

2. A mass of slightly bitter deep green kale to go with the chicken and ham and leek pie I had kindly stashed in the freezer some weeks ago.

3. I also found a large lump of fruitcake, carefully wrapped, that is just right for our tea. It has whole glacé cherries in it.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Pact, appearance and down.

1. We make a pact to let the children have whatever sweets they want this evening and it works well. Bettany has a different lollipop in her mouth every time I see her and Alec keeps asking me what he is eating.

2. Bettany's pleasure in her appearance. She keeps glancing down, patting her dress and smiling.

2a. All the people willing to play along with trick or treating -- and those who showed they enjoyed seeing our children out and about.

2b. Our friend very kindly runs out to find Bettany's missing boot: it had fallen off in the darkest part of the trick or treating circuit.

3. Two cursorily de-sticked children fast asleep by 8.30pm.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gingerbread, box and away.

1. While Bettany is napping Alec and I make gingerbread biscuits using the recipe from my cousin's handwritten cookbook. The paste is a delight to work with, fine and soft with a wonderful smell of treacle and Christmas. We eat quite a lot of it raw. The earlier batches are a little puffy (but some gingerbread is soft) though our later batches are crisp and thin enough to make me feel very proud.

2. In my clear-out I discover a long unopened box, just a small one, of trinkets and junk from my time at university. A torn wristband for the college ball; a couple of corks from my 21st birthday Champagne. A programme and a ticket for a concert. Junk, to be thrown out the moment I die. But each item makes my brain replay a few vivid memories: my legs stung by nettles in the botanic gardens after the ball; the corks hitting the high ceiling of our third year house; my acute embarrassment at hearing my own lyrics sung at the concert (and the composer saying they were easy to sing).

3. To whisk a bag of unwanted toys away to the charity shop -- and to enjoy the space created by a re-arranged living room.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Departure, cooking and puff pastry.

1. To hear Alec chatting calmly with Nick as he sets off for nursery.

2. To show Bettany how to use a biscuit cutter (she loses interest after one and goes back to stamping around the kitchen in her wellies).

3. I notice with some satisfaction that my rough puff pastry has formed plenty of layers -- so all that folding and rolling was worth it. (I'm not normally allowed to make pastry because it's Nick's job).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Costume, headspace and taking over.

1. Godmother Catherine arrives with a historical parade: Daniel with a Roman gladiator's helmet and shield and Ellie dressed in a carefully composed outfit topped off with a rather outré Laura Ingalls Wilder-style straw sun bonnet. I wonder if anyone on the train saw them and thought they'd slipped in time.

2. Bettany's small friend pushes her on the swing while we mothers chat. With Bettany entertained and Alec away with Daniel I find I have enough to headspace to remember why I wanted to introduce these two people -- but not enough to jostle the topics-in-common into the conversation. Luckily they do it for themselves.

3. Catherine takes over bathtime so I can make downstairs comfortable for Nick. It's a gift for both of us (as well as a pleasant change for the children).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sketch, mushrooms and hands.

1. While I am dressing Bettany I remember with shameful pride a cheeky verbal sketch I made when I was ten of a classmate's overbearing mother: 'She's the sort of person who always makes sure her son has his vest on and then checks everyone else's vests, too.'

2. To find a pair of beautiful boletuses in the park -- velvety warm brown caps the size of espresso cups. Later Alec calls me over to see what I think is a purple russula -- he has very sharp eyes to spot it among the leaves.

3. It's one of those moments that I ought to photograph, but I don't bother to get my phone out because I don't want to miss a moment while trying to frame it and catch it behind glass. Alec holds Bettany's hand and they walk up through The Grove to the playground. At the corner he tells me seriously 'Me and Bettany are just friends.'

Monday, October 27, 2014

Expression, badger and sticky.

1. My mother tells me that she has come across a photo of her father as a small boy. 'He has just that sad, thoughtful expression that Alec has sometimes.'

2. Nick comes home with a new pair of trousers for Alec. They have a badger on the pocket, which is as close as this family gets to a totem animal.

3. To watch Bettany gnawing the Kinder Hippo that Nana sent home with her. Alec ate his in double quick time and now he is hanging round her high chair with a pathetic look on his face, hoping she will be generous and give him bite. He is daft: the hippo is a mess of stick and dribble and Bettany is oblivious.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cthulhu, up the hill and rolling grapes.

1. Alec explains that we are going to the Specific Ocean to set camera trap for Cfulhu, to be fixed down with nails and a padlock. Much later I entice him into the bath by suggesting he can test his design with a mock-up made from a soft cheese tub and some sucker hooks.

2. I discover I can sell the walk to Auntie Katie's house by explaining that the long hill is The Mountains of Madness. Alec scoots the entire way without once asking for a tow. I do end up promising to take him to the actual Antarctic one day, though.

3. Rolling grapes across the table to Baby Ella, who is much happier now she has had her lunch and is sitting on her mother's knee.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Encore, spin-off and costume.

1. To sing to Bettany while I change her nappy. Alec from the other room looks up from the tablet long enough to ask: 'Sing that John one again.'

2. I come down from settling Bettany for her nap and find Alec in front of Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. His eyes are like saucers and he is so full of questions (me too -- how did he even manage to navigate the watch again menu?). Later he tells me that the two of us, like Sarah Jane and her adopted son Luke, are a team defending the Earth from aliens.

3. Bettany's Halloween costume arrives. It's beautiful and it will only fit for a short while so I put her in it. She pats the layers of net and struts around with a little smile on her face... and then brings me her wellies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Printed pumpkins, descent and between.

1. I give the children some painted pumpkins, a dish of black paint and an old sponge cut into triangles. Alec examines the experimental pumpkin face I stamped out yesterday and then pronounces himself disappointed with his own version. 'Throw it away,' he says.
'No, put it up here and look at it when you do the next one so you know what you didn't like.' I warm to the subject. 'It's good to make mistakes. It shows you're working hard.' I stop, feeling a bit awkward and overbearing. But he looks... he looks exhilarated.

2. Bettany's first pumpkin is pretty uniform: I showed her where to put the stamps and pressed her hands down. (She definitely said 'Press!') The second pumpkin is covered in small coaly fingerprints and faint black triangles where she has re-stamped. And the third... the third... it's just dark.

3. When I pick Bettany up we sit on the floor to do the handover. Bettany runs first to me and squeezes me and then back to the practitioner, gives her a squeeze and then runs back to me.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

No chores, still no chores and Bettany's wellies.

1. To ignore most of the chores and play with Bettany instead.

2. At naptime I continue to ignore chores and set up some printing for Alec to do tomorrow. He recently enjoyed a sticker sheet that came with the Boden catalogue -- pumpkin heads and some scary eyes and jagged mouths -- and I thought he might like using a sponge to print features on to a colouring page we found last week.

3. It is time to go but when I try to put Bettany's shoes on she pushes them away and sets off to the shoe rack in a determined fashion. She comes back with the shiny wellies I bought for her today.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ask, aid and achievement.

1. When I turn back Bettany has escaped -- somehow, over the roar of conversation, the rolling of the ride-ons and the voices of busy children, she has heard a mother opening a snack packet. When I get there she is signing 'please' and being adored and admired for it. 'Can I give her one?' asks the mother holding up a bag of rice cakes. It seems rude to say no, really.

2. Alec wants to leave, and then he doesn't and then he has a tantrum about it. We are rescued by a friend of a friend who says that her little lad did the same in the supermarket yesterday. 'Sometimes it helps if a stranger...'
'Yes please,' I say quickly before she can change her mind. She goes back and talks with Alec about how it's hard to stop crying sometimes and then she takes him by the hand and walks with us as far as she is going. I feel as if she opened the way back in and shoved Alec gently through it.

3. To have both children asleep when Nick gets home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Little dog, courage and yard work.

1. The feather soft fur on Alice, Godfather Tibby's new dog. I want to compare her to all the things at home that I go out of my way to touch when I pass: my frivolous ostrich feather duster, our fleece blankets, my cashmere jumper, Bettany's fast disappearing baby hair

2. Alec screws up his courage and strokes Alice -- he is scared of dogs, particularly excited ones, but Tibby holds her firmly so she is calm. It is amazing to see him come round to things he is unsure about:

3. To open the back door on what might be the last warm day and do some garden work. Bettany is driving Alec crazy by poking the calculator key on the laptop so I put her shoes on and shove her out, too. She eats some nasturtiums and squats down to examine things too insignificant for me to see. I ignore Alec's requests for technical help until he joins us. He quickly finds himself planting daffodils for spring. It's rather fun to watch him diligently placing bulbs on the compost, and to see Bettany removing them all the moment he looks away. And then there's a little scrap over who gets to place the last bulb (until I find the second, third and fourth last bulb that Bettany has stashed under a nasturtium).

Monday, October 20, 2014

Compost, close and plums.

1. The compost has come out well. I have to sieve it to get rid of the mats of unrotted mind-your-own-business, twigs, leaves and a few unbroken eggshells (these go back into the composter for another go). It is a satisfying task on a weekend morning and I end up with about half a sack of lovely soft compost that smells good enough to make me jealous of the bulbs I'm about to plant in it.

2. I close the cellar door and Bettany says firmly and clearly 'DUT', which I think must be her go at 'Shut'.

3. Bettany's enthusiasm for baked plums. She sucks the flesh yellow and then hands the skins to Nick. I used this recipe, which has an interesting meringue crust, and it was very good.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lessons, taster and skills.

1. To walk out of the Saturday morning house for a day of cookery lessons.

2. 'Oh, just use your finger,' says my cooking partner offering me the nearly empty pistachio paste bowl.

3. I am very pleased to be taught some proper knife skills, and to see that sophisticated, exciting food is really is not out of my reach. And it's fascinating to get a bit of insight into the bodges and fixes that chefs use: we saw a scrambled custard rescued with white chocolate and soft cheese, and an over-sweetened custard redeemed and elevated with a squeeze of lemon juice. And I was particularly glad to see that top-of-the-range kitchen equipment are plagued by the same glitches that affect my own gear.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Snap, pints and going home.

1. I let Alec win several rounds of dinosaur snap to encourage him and to make the game last longer. When I lose all my cards he gives me some from the back of his own hand.

2. To be able to carry three pints. 'I can see you're proud of that by the look on your face.'

3. I have to hurry home after an hour because I left Nick with Bettany awake. I have to down my last quarter pint and I am very sorry to leave such genial company -- particularly as Paul only flits in once a year -- but on the way home I realise that I am very pleasantly drunk. I notice all sorts of odd, inconsequential details on the way home -- Two men crossing the road, one of them laughs and says 'You're never happy'; the sound of a penny whistle; the windows open in my old flat; water falling down a drainpipe.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Buttons, rest and click.

1. After lunch, to give the children a few chocolate buttons before I bundle them off to nursery.

2. To ignore the lunch mess in the kitchen and take a break on the sofa with some reading material and a cup of tea. And some cake.

3. To click a new ink cartridge into the printer. I am glad to do it now when I am not desperate for a print-out.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fourth cake, share and duties done.

1. I am just thinking with some regret that I should have asked for a fourth cake so that Nick can have a treat this evening when I realise that I nodded at the wrong time so they've got my order wrong and added a brownie to the bag.

2. Alec loves to share... provided he likes the look of whatever is on your plate.

3. My baby settling duties are done so I can sneak upstairs for a last thing at night cuddle with Nick.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Woodsmoke, capture and slide.

1. It is not quite foggy and not quite raining in the garden this morning. I am standing with the empty coffee pot in my hand and I can smell warming woodsmoke.

2. Bettany bolts off round the corner while I am paying for my cup of tea. I send the boys after her. By the time I've put my cup somewhere safe and caught up Alec and Anthony are escorting her, with her arms held high, out of the toilets, one on each side.

3. At the bottom of the slide, with Bettany laughing between my knees and Alec already asking to go again, I can still feel the writhing anxiety I felt at the top of the slide.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rain park, dam and guilt trip.

1. To take Alec to the park in the pouring rain and let him jump in a large and muddy puddle. I join him after a few minutes -- I have my wellies on and there is no-one to see. We jump in and out 'My turn!', 'My turn!' until the puddle is much emptier and surrounded by a halo of sodden leaves.

2. To show Alec how to dam a trickle of water using handfuls of red and yellow leaves.

3. Our nursery is always asking for family photos for their picture box and I never seem to get round to doing some prints. A friend tells me that she was guilted in to it after hearing that her toddler picked a photo of another child's granny and carried it round with him all afternoon, embracing it tightly if anyone tried to take it away.

Monday, October 13, 2014

LTM, share and helper.

1. It is rather jolly to go into a museum and not bother about any of the history stuff but instead to go straight to the bits that Alec loves -- the play area and the model bus and the large selection of children's books at The London Transport Museum.

2. Alec's cherry lolly arrives but my pudding (which I was planning to share with Bettany) does not. I persuade him to give her a lick and he is marvellously patient and generous. When my pudding comes and he realises that it is delicious his patience and generosity go into overdrive.

2b. Another mother laughs kindly at my disarray: 'I was wondering when it would change from "Stop licking me!" to "Stop biting me!"' I'm glad I'm not the only one.

3. The darling, charming lady on the train home from London who chatted so easily and naturally with Alec to keep him entertained (and she was even kind enough to play along when I threatened to give her his jelly if he didn't calm down).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Run out, laugh and a good lunch.

1. I don't find my keys but at least I got a good run out on a bright, rainwashed morning -- and we ran into Bettany's favourite big girl friend which resulted in many squeals and eeee-eee-eees.

2. 'I've never heard him laugh like that,' says Nick.
Alec is watching The Sooty Show and it's true, he is laughing differently: not in that overexcited way that we rather dread. Alec never quite enjoys surrendering to high emotion but now he sounds relaxed and happy and uninhibited.

3. We give our guests hot dogs, Brut and gypsy tarts for lunch. Convenient, classy and local.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rascal, not open and refuge.

1. Bettany stands on a rock chanting not quite the words but the noises of 'I'm the king of the castle, you're the dirty rascal!'

2. When I discover that I've lost my keys next door's builders come up and try to get at the latch through the letterbox. This is beautiful because it was very kind of them; and because they failed.

3. We arrive at Carluccio's dripping wet (luckily our waterproofs were stowed in the bottom of the pushchair) and very wretched. The children are hungry and tired and I have no idea how I'm going to make them sit for an hour until Nick gets home: it's too wet to wait outside. The manager welcomes us as if we were the most important customers ever. Things look much better after some juice, pasta and ice cream (them) and a glass of wine, a larger portion of pasta and a plate of tiramisu,

3b. Bettany squawked at Alec and signed please. He understood immediately and leaned across to spoon some of his ice cream into her mouth.

Friday, October 10, 2014

No negotiation, adventure, choice.

1. Alec has not been the most agreeable of creatures this morning and I am expecting a fight when Jane and Anthony set off for the swings and we go off to nursery. But he is calm and doesn't pull or bolt or try to negotiate and I am very grateful.

2. The sky is filled with sycamore seeds. 'Are they going on an adventure?' Alec asks.

3. 'Did you have your eye on any particular piece?' she says.
'No,' I lie, so as not to seem greedy.
'That one at the back is bigger, and it's a corner piece.'
I love the staff at the Cake Shed.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Turning year, at play and story.

1. There is something irretrievably autumnal in the movement and the taste and the temperature of the air and as I jog along with the pushchair trying to keep up with Alec on his scooter I feel a great rush of melancholy that magnifies every single one of last summer's lost forever pleasures.

2. I love to watch my children playing -- in the bath tonight they were not still for a moment, busy busy busy. Alec was serving cups of bathwater coffee; Bettany was copying him, pouring water from one cup to another, over and over again. They did not add to the world and did not subtract from it (though I know they were adding something to their own selves).

3. Alec asks very politely if he can come downstairs and have a story on the sofa. When I attach conditions (one chapter, straight upstairs to sleep by yourself afterwards) he is continues to be agreeable and calm. What a grown-up man!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Tidy, handing over and gentle.

1. The low autumn sun is not kind to dust and muddle and it has motivated me to move round the house interrogating one shelf at a time. It takes just fifteen minutes work with a basket to wake up the corner by the front door: all the sunhats and sandals need to go; the sling that is now too small for our Betts and my exhausted winter coat, which I need to replace right away.

2. To hand over the bedtime story to an audiobook -- this complete Beatrix Potter, which I had on LP as a child, is just lovely -- we lounge around listening (mostly) until Nick gets in.

3. Pete gives me a lift home from games night: the gentle way that he shows concern about the tiny walk up the hill to our front door.

PS: report on last night's game, in which we may have opened a hell mouth, is here at Chronicles of Cidri.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Snack, helicopters and not interested.

1. To show Alec how to wedge his fingers into Hula Hoops before you eat them.

2. 'What's that falling?' It's sycamore helicopters tickering across the bowling green in this morning's gusty wind. I shake a low branch to make more fall for his enjoyment.

3. When we go in to collect Bettany from nursery she looks up at us and then goes back to playing with a set of stacking shapes.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Duty, sky and plan.

1. I wake late when Bettany is placed on top of me. "She's dressed, she's had her breakfast and I've just changed her nappy," says a very pleased-with-himself Nick.

2. Auntie Katie walking towards us on the Pantiles. She is wearing one of her beautiful jumpers -- it's a warm blue like the sky on a really hot day (and we are pleased to see her for her own self).

3. Alec carefully describes his plan for when he loses his first tooth: he's going to pretend to be asleep and then grab the tooth fairy when she comes (I couldn't get him to explain why).

Sunday, October 05, 2014

At play, extra time and off my hands.

1. I stand well back and watch Alec at play on the wooden pirate ship. He is scrambling around quite happily when a boy about half his height comes up and gives him a good shove. He looks surprised and puzzled and then the boy's mother comes down like the Assyrian and sweeps her son away in a torrent of angry Spanish. Minutes later a boy closer to Alec's size starts to lecture me about how TV villain The Numbertaker has stolen all his tools. "DON'T LISTEN TO HIM!" his parents chorus -- but I'm well used to this sort of thing with Alec and a new story always makes me smile.

2. Everyone wants to go upstairs on the bus, but I have to stay downstairs with the pushchair. I have a book on my phone, though, and it is lovely to have 15 minutes to read in peace.

3. Alec is having a colossal tantrum. I am so glad Nick is there to take Bettany so I can focus on Alec.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Chalk, guide and reading.

Nana recently sent Nick home from a visit with a magazine published by one of her favourite charities, Bransby Horses. Leafing through I noticed an appeal for used postage stamps, which for some reason seem to accumulate round here ('for some reason...' -- I save them because I like the tiny pictures). Anyway, we parceled up our pile of stamps (it was enough to need a LARGE letter stamp) and sent them off to Bransby Horses. I know there is a ready market among collectors for used postage stamps and Bransby say on their webpage that they made £9,000 from them last year.

So anyway, if you have a stash of used stamps you can bring joy to Nana's heart (and give aid to vulnerable horses) by sending them on to Bransby Horses, Bransby, Lincoln, LN1 2PH.

1. While blowing bubbles for the children to chase round the garden I step on a piece of chalk. It crumbles beneath my heel in a pleasing way.

2. Nick comes home with a present: a pocket mushroom guide. I love reading the names -- russet toughshank, poison pie, spectacular rust gill, plums and custard, deer shield, dog stinkhorn. And I enjoy examining the descriptions of those I know and comparing the words with what I've experienced.

3. I am not ready for bed but Bettany is not sleeping well. I stick her on the bub, wedge her in place with some pillows and read Lucia In London (which is just right for my poor overworked, oversensitive brain)

Friday, October 03, 2014

Story, afternoon off and want.

1. Instead of immediately turning to the TV after breakfast Alec asks me to sit and read him a story.

2. Rosey and I escape: we leave the children and nursery and go to one of the town's grand hotels for lunch, a gossip and a play in the spa.

3. While I am swimming up and down enjoying my freedom I suddenly think of Bettany's face, her wispy hair and her sticking-out ears and her four or five front teeth and her large round eyes. It makes me want her so much it almost hurts.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Run, wasting time and cheese.

1. To run with a cheerful Bettany sitting right forward in the pushchair.

2. To waste time indoors on a fine afternoon -- we are rolling round on the bed singing to each other.

3. The crispy cheese on top of a shepherd's pie.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Joining in, stars and treasures.

1. Alec joining in during story time and song time at toddler group. They are handing out vegetables to illustrate the story of Joseph and he tells me later that he got a radish to hold.

2. While we are trundling through the woods Bettany looks up at the leaves and the spaces between them and says 'Dar, dar!' which is what she says when we stare at the stars on the bedroom ceiling.

3. Alec has filled his blue bucket with conkers and carried it himself all the way up the hill. We find the pile of hay from Sunday and he empties the bucket on top of it, abandoning his treasures without a second thought.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chocolate, knocking down and dropping.

1. They give Alec a large chocolate button with his cup of milk and he mentions it from time to time for the rest of the day.

2. To stand on the steps of the Town Hall and crane our necks to watch the demolition work on the old cinema site.

3. I discover that I can persuade Alec to stop dawdling by flinging down handfuls of conkers drawn from the recesses of the pushchair hood. He runs after me to pick them up and then hurries to get in place beside me to make sure I don't drop any more.

3b. To spot adults picking up a few conkers.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dancer, wild places and puff balls.

1. While I am impatiently grating a carrot I catch Bettany bobbing up and down in time to my aggressive strokes.

2. On what might be the last warm day of the year, to pack a flask of tea, two mugs, some biscuits and an emergency banana for an afternoon walk on the common. We find a pile of hay which Alec 'bayonets' and then rebuilds several times, helped by Bettany trotting up and down with wispy handfuls. We find what might be a troll hiding in the bushes and the bones of what Alec says is a Meat Eater.

3. I loathe people who mindlessly destroy mushrooms -- but I do love to see Alec stamping on puffballs to make a smoky cloud of spores. I have taught him test them first: only leathery ones that yield to a gentle poke can puff. I hope it will encourage his interest in natural history to branch out from dinosaurs and yetis.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Double decker, nap and plums.

Sarah Salway has posted about using my old love The Pillow Book as a creative writing tool.

1. Every time we hop on a bus to go up town Alec asks if we can go upstairs a double decker. The answer is always 'No, because we have Bettany in the pushchair' or too much baggage or the buses that hop around town are all single deckers. At breakfast today Nick says he is going to take Alec to Tonbridge on a double decker bus. And moreover they will buy some winter clothes for Alec (which is a task I am glad to see scratched off my to-do list).

2. With Alec out of the house Bettany is bored enough to take a long nap.

3. I make a crumble out of a bowl of plums that have come ripe all at once. The recipe says to drizzle with a teaspoonful of honey and roast them before putting the crumble on -- I am dubious about anything sweetened with honey. Honey is so rare and expensive now that it needs to be the main event, not just a sweetener. In the end they are delicious and the honey flavour comes through to great effect.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fanclub, swing and taken.

1. When I go out to load up Granny's car with everything we need for our day out at Penshurst Place. I look back at the front window. Her screaming fans -- both of them -- have their joyful faces pressed to the glass.

2. To push Alec in a birds' nest swing: he looks like a sorcerer riding on a magic flying disc.

2b. A garden made of rooms laid out so that it is hard to tell what is coming next. I catch a glimpse of a tall fountain of water but cannot see how to reach it. There is a topiary bear over there, and we run towards it only to find that we've scampered straight past a yew porcupine with branchy spines tied into place with twine.

3. Two children not much larger than Alec take a fancy to Bettany. When I look up they are, one on each hand, walking her very definitely away from us. 'Where are you going with our baby?' I ask them.
'We wanted to show the little fella to our mums,' they tell me pointing over to the other side of the playground.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lunch, nasturtiums and chipping.

1. It is very satisfying to provide a lunch that everyone eats.

2. I always hesitate to pick the flowers from the garden: I always have so few. But two interesting nasturtiums (one dark velvety red and one clear cadmium yellow) have popped up in a corner away from any windows by the compost bin and I don't want to miss out on them -- so I pick the lot.

3. Our photos have got a bit out of control. I spend time chipping away at the task and re-discover some memories.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

News, reading and not worried.

1. My phone rings at about the time Nick will be getting on the train. My heart races, ready for bad news and action. He's just calling to say that Alec went off to nursery with a confident thumbs up.

2. To eat lunch alone, while reading, because Bettany is having a good deep nap.

3. It is such a soft Autumn afternoon that we go to the park. Her son is so tired that all he wants to do is sit by her and Bettany is content to sit on the ground playing with conkers and sticks. We talk about the usual primary school place worries, and other mothers come by and join in, adding their concerns to the mix. Afterwards I reflect that we are so so blessed. Mothers in different parts of time and space would be talking about an outbreak of measles or polio or cholera, or a war coming in from the next valley or whether the rain is coming to break the drought.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jolly, emergency and good report.

3BT has got a mention in the local paper along with a few other Tunbridge Wells blogs.

1. A rather jolly librarian welcomes us to a Baby Bounce and Rhyme session that we were not expecting. She is very cheerful and a lot of fun so the session flies by and both children join in. Someone was singing harmonies in a few of the rhymes -- I wonder if it was her. Afterwards Alec is very brave and asks her to help him find a book for Bettany.

2. Alec gets stuck edging along the embankment in the park on the wrong side of the fence. 'Emergency! Help, help, call the firemen.'
'I don't think they'd be terribly sympathetic, Alec. Here, I'll lift you over.'
'Give me your phone, Mum, and I'll dial 999.'

3. After yesterday's trials, to be able to give Nick a good report of the day's doings: Alec joined well at the library, ate plenty, looked after Bettany and had no tantrums. And no meltdowns from me, either.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Knight, quest and burn.

1. The homeless guy with blue eyes who distracted Alec from his refusing-to-walk tantrum by offering him a go on his blue guitar.

2. To make a cup of tea and sit at the table with Alec and a large picture book (it's Henry's Quest and I have to explain things like 'post-apocalypse' and 'peak oil' and 'collapse of civilisation'). He has a lot of questions, mostly about the overgrown safari park.

3. I splash hot oil on my hand at supper time. I've done enough first aid courses that I put it under the tap almost before I've stopped swearing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Remedy, on a stick and escaped.

1. To remember a really simple, effective home remedy: a slice of cucumber and a quiet sit down for an itchy eye.

2. At the food festival we find a stall selling sausage wheels skewered on sticks. They are perfect for Alec.

3. Bettany conks out after lunch so we leave Alec with our favourite babysitter who never judges (the TV) and sneak upstairs for a nap in the big bed. We get forty minutes before anyone notices.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bringing lunch, held and fungus.

Today my phone has been reminding me that it would have been Plutarch's birthday.

1. To be the one bringing lunch.

2. To see my goddaughter, who turned one this week, taking such pleasure in being held by her mother. She snuggles in and almost shines.

3. On the way home I hesitate, turn and take the pretty way. I am lucky enough to find this strange and wonderful fungus by the side of the path. It looks like a lacy cabbage.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

No, up down and best face.

1. 'I just want you to know now,' I tell Alec as we close that garden gate, 'that I will not buy anything for you in town. No icecream, no sweets, no toys, no books, no comics. So don't bother to ask me.'
'What about comic books?' he asks -- I think genuinely innocent.
'I am not buying you anything.'
It works.

2. I used to tell people that married life was better for me than single life because the highs and the lows were less high and less low. Having children has shaken things up again. It took two tantrums to get out of the house, but Alec is now feeding the imaginary hippopotamus that lives under the old bowling green and Bettany has just discovered dandelion clocks.

3. There is quarter of an hour until Nick gets home and I am ready to sink into a sulky corner of the sofa with my Kindle. Instead I make some nachos, open a bottle of wine and open the back door. I am glad I did -- we get about quarter of an hour in the twilight garden before Bettany wakes up.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ice, listen and his version.

1a. Alec and I make chocolate crispies. They are cooling on the worktop when Bettany comes down from her nap. She can't see what they are, just that they are in cake cases. She signs 'Please,' covering her delighted mouth with one starfish hand.'

1. Bettany strutting about bandylegged with the stick of a Minimilk held firmly in her hand.

2. To put on my current audiobook, Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman, without worrying about her scandalous words influencing small ears.

2b. When I try to collect Alec from nursery he hides himself in a stack of tyres and says he is staying there all night. (It is a bit exasperating when four out of five drop-offs feature a red-faced person clinging to my clothes and crying that I mustn't leave him.)

3. At the end of the day Alec tells Nick about his icecream: 'It was sort of bobbles and you twisted the lid and it made a hole and you tipped it back and they went in your mouth but they didn't and I couldn't do it. So Mummy tore off the bottom, tear tear tear, and she had a spoon and then I could eat them.' I feel quite good about my problem solving skills and the fact that I had a spoon in my handbag.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Leader, waiting and calling.

1. Bettany is not often in charge but as it's a quiet afternoon I let her lead the walk. She meanders up and down the High Street, climbing into shops, putting litter in bins and pressing her cheeks against cool plate glass windows.

2. There is a gleaming convertible parked in the High Street. In the passenger seat is a boy asleep, head thrown back, mouth open. His dad sits in the driver's seat with his newspaper.

3. Nick and I are discussing Alec, who is asleep in bed. Bettany stands up and, nappy rustling, walks with great purpose to the bottom of the stairs and says 'A-la! A-la!'

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Egret, low tide and watch.

1. The crisp white curves of an egret inspecting the beach stripped bare.

2. To walk with Alec out to the sea: his first low tide. He is half delighted half horrified by Pett Level's mud -- just as we were when we were small and inexperienced. I remember the contrast between the sunwarm surface covered in blown sand and cool mud beneath. I am worried that the pub where we are about to get lunch with throw us out if we are too muddy though, so I pull him away and take him off to look at mussels and the petrified forest.

3. My father sits vigil as Alec splashes where the sea meets the shingle. I remember him watching us in the same way and somewhere in my head a switch clicks and I turn all my attention to Bettany who is pulling at my top and signing 'Please.'

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A random read, beans and hedge trimmings.

1. 'He chose it for you, I've no idea where it came from.'
Her small son has brought me a historical thriller about the Indian mutiny. I think I'll give it a go.

2. She says 'Beans on toast is so comforting.'
I am glad to be able to help on a day that has been hard for her.

3. I am stuffing hedge cuttings into a rubbish sack. I bought rather expensive extra-strong dark green ones for this purpose and I am very glad to have paid extra to get the right bag for the job.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Going ahead, bedtime story and Alec's beautiful things.

1. I went on ahead up the hill with Bettany in the pushchair, slowly and steadily, while Alec and Nick stopped for a look at the fire station. After a long, slow walk I stop and glance back. There's no sign of them. The pavement is blocked by a lorry and some workmen. I wait, talk to Bettany. The jam clears. We wait some more. Then remember that Nick has my phone, my keys and my purse. I turn round and set off back down the hill, getting crosser and crosser because I can't call to find out what's going on and I can't even give up and go home. They are still on the fire station forecourt -- but when I hear that they were offered a tour and that Alec wore the station officer's helmet, sat in an engine and had a go with the hose I find it is easy not to be angry.

2. To sit in bed with just Bettany snuggled up to me. We read Each Peach Pear Plum (she thinks it's all about dogs and ducks. Alec at the same age thought it was about trains).

3. And finally, a word from our sponsor. Alec said that his day was good because 1. Sugar! (we had icecreams at the park and biscuits for afternoon snack). 2. He visited the fire station. 3. He watched Steve Backshall on telly.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

BFF, bug hunt and conkers.

1. We are touring the new building at the nursery -- Bettany has been playing with Nick quite happily, and then she spots a member of staff that she knows well but doesn't see often and it's all 'ALLO-ALLO-ALLO!' until he comes over to see her. He picks her up to show her the mirror and the fish. When we have to leave I reach out to take her but she screeches and clings to his shirt. Little beast.

2. Alec's bug hunting equipment: a toy frying pan, a plastic sandwich bag, a plastic spade and a whistle. He likes to hide behind a tree and blow the whistle. When I find him, he asks 'How did you know where I was?'

3. To put a few conkers in my pockets.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Feeding the fish, watched over and lemons.

1. We have been deftly evading Alec's questions about feeding the fish (there is a sign asking us not to for the good of their health) when the tropical ranger appears with a bucket of pellets. He warns us to be careful of the sturgeons, which are as long as Alec as is tall, because they splash.

2. While we are lined up on the garden path with all our baggage Linda-next-door puts her head out and says she is just checking we weren't strangers stealing the veggie boxes that she noticed on our step earlier: "I was going to take them in for you," she adds.

3. To walk into our own kitchen -- it smells, for just a moment, of lemons.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Enthusiasm, owl and bike.

1. Sometimes (several times a day) I am tempted to grab Alec by the ears and tell him to cheer the hell up and stop complaining. It is so early, before 7am, and I do not know if I can summon the double cheerfulness required to sell the activity that I, with much thought and consideration, have picked out for him. 'It's mini jet skis,' I tell him, bracing myself to defend the £5.50 20-minute session with every last volt of my willpower.
He smiles in the grey light and says 'Yes!'

2. The moment when The Mighty Thor appears: he is a very young and vocal burrowing owl who scampers across the woodchips on legs that are much too long for his fluffball body.

3. I am sad to be returning our rented bikes -- but I am glad my last run is with the trailer only lightly laden (one sadly unloved child's bike with stabilisers and pedals that 'go round too fast', instead of my two fat, bossy offspring). I thoroughly enjoy whirring through the woods along smooth cycle paths.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Buoyant, slides and kingfisher.

1. 'A red one, like the coastguard,' says Alec about the buoyancy aids. He is suddenly much more confident and talks about rescuing me from the wave pool. We head for something called Lazy River, which turns out to be a sort of circular corridor with a current. We whirl round several times clinging to each other and very excited. On the fifth rotation we pass an elderly lady clinging to the rocks by the entrance. 'They've taken the rope away,' she calls to another lady bobbing past. Grab my hand!' She's still there on our seventh time round and I think her friend was not trying very hard to escape.

2. 'You go and have your swim,' says Nick gently but firmly. I leave him getting the children changed and scamper off to find the water slides and the rapids. I had forgotten how much I love waterslides and feel like a naughty school girl when I scuttle back up for a second go, and join a group of hooting, stamping men in their early twenties on a horrible thing called a water piste which dumps you very fast and suddenly into deep water.

2b. The nervous stout party who I came across at the bottom of the first slide in the rapids -- she was clinging to the rocks and wondering about getting out. While I was bobbing around in the current she announced decisively that she had come this far and... oooops, down she went towards the next pool.

3. Nick reports that in the pond behind our lodge he saw a kingfisher, not just the usual flash of blue but actually a kingfisher perched on a dead branch.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bolt, spa and my evening.

1.This is the morning of my spa session. I bolt out of the lodge as soon as I can and race down the hill on the bike without the trailer -- I would have gone faster still if it weren't for the pesky zig-zags in the path. It's mostly boardwalk, which makes a very satisfying dumpety-dumpety noise. The spa still wasn't open so I ran twice round the lake to make sure I deserved my morning off.

2. The spa is everything the brochure promised: it has about... fourteen (I'd lost count by 10am) different sorts of bath. I lounged warm tiles, on hot wooden slats, breathed steam scented with fresh rosemary, ylang-ylang, eucalyptus and salt, floated in an outdoor pool, scrubbed myself with ice and bounced on a waterbed.

3. To be able to pour a glass of wine and sit down with my husband not much after 7pm.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Anchors aweigh, ducks and butterflies.

1. To be loaded up and setting out.

2. I am rather horrified to discover that there is a pond not far from the end of our unfenced garden -- but then  Bettany shouts 'Duck-duck!' They, and a single moorhen, are quite happy to snap up bits of bread end from our hands.

3. To spot red and white admirals in the patches of evening sunlight. They are most interested in a plant with fuzzy discs of ointment pink flowers that I have an odd feeling is distantly related to cannabis.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Forecast, going down and a list.

1. To look at the weather forecast and see that next week will be fine.

2. The children are asleep -- finally -- and we can have a chocolate.

3. To draw up a list of the things that can only be packed in the morning and then go to bed.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Disengage, sign and detail.

1. I got up earlier than I wanted to this morning. It is wonderful to hand over to Nick and totally disengage myself from the tangle of children, washing, everything.

2. Bettany approaches me and makes sucking noises. "You want some bub?"
She smiles broadly and lays a finger beside her nose.

3. To get some small but important detail about our holiday. It sends us into a delightful frenzy of planning and speculating.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Magic carpet, things to eat and mothering skills.

1. To be swept up by our friends and whisked away into the deep Sussex countryside on a visit. I like this particular friend because we both speak nineteen to the dozen -- mainly about work with words -- and I never feel as if I ought to be polite and slow down for her.

2. Diana's garden is full of good things for our children to eat. I crack nuts with my teeth and hand the kernels to Alec; I lift Bettany up to pick white grapes from the vine. I am sent off to find "a collapsed tomato plant in a tyre", but the seeds from our haul are running down my greedy baby's sleeve by the time we get back.

3. I am astonished and awed to see Diana's daughter-in-law arrive with a baby on one arm and a bouncy chocolate brown puppy attached to the other -- that's some accomplished mothering going on there.

4. Bettany bites the back of my leg as I reach up to put something in a larder. I read the riot act and put her on the doormat. She doesn't seem to understand but sits there so patiently and politely that I want to melt, but of course I can't because biting is becoming habit of hers and is about as serious as it gets in the infant world.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Guilt, sympathy and serendipity.

1. My mother calls to say they are just having a coffee on the High Street. "Don't let Alec have anything to eat so close to lunch," I tell her, but I can almost _see_ her shifting guiltily from one foot to the other. Alec arrives home later and with an air of great virtue hands me half a blueberry muffin.

2. I was very grateful for the sympathetic look I get from nursery's deputy room leader as I thrust a furious Alec at him.

3. To walk into one of those secondhand bookshops with unnatural geometry and put my hand on exactly the volume I didn't know I needed (and to realise they have a sale on). It's one of countryman BB's memoirs, decorated with his deep, dark scraperboard illustrations.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Boletus edulis, new shoes and deep sleep.

1.Our cleaning lady mentions that the mushroom season is coming.

2. To put Bettany in her new shoes and let her march importantly about on the Pantiles.

3. Late in the afternoon Bettany falls asleep on my lap on the sofa. I don't often settle her there any more and it reminds me that time is ticking on.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Adventurer, more and back to the table.

1. To sit on the manicured, mannered lawns of Calverley Grounds while Alec pretends to be wildlife expert and adventurer Steve Backshall catching fish for his supper (I am pretty sure the real man would not crawl into his mother's tent if he found a spitting cobra in his sleeping bag, however).

2. My greedy small children gobble up their suppers and ask for more, more, MORE please.

3. I made it back to the Tuesday Knights table and had a thrilling night helping to explore a very trappy dungeon. We rather surprised Gamesmaster Tim by responding to a wandering bear by hanging back rather than charging in with axes raised. And he introduced an innovation: each of us was asked to recount an incident from our characters' past. The reward was a card that gave us a useful bonus to be used later in the game -- and even this tiny bit of roleplaying reminded us just how much investing in your character enhances the fun of games night.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Autumn days, cuddles and eating.

1. We get out earlyish to take Bettany to nursery. The sky is clean and clear and the air is cool --  now it's September I can enjoy the start of Autumn rather than feeling sad that Summer is all used up.

2. While we are waiting for pudding Alec says 'I like cuddles, give me a squeezy one.' (he is not a particularly demonstrative person, and a lot of our affectionate interactions still involve bub so this request gave me a lot of joy. It means my limits are taking effect and that we are moving onwards and upwards).

3. Alec declares that he doesn't like French Toast but later I see him putting the cubes I have given him into his mouth, one by one.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Lunch, appreciation and quietly working.

1. Meatballs in a tangle of spaghetti -- and to remember that, for now, Alec prefers his sauce on the plate rather than on the pasta.

2. Nick's "Ohhh, that looks good."

3. Bettany working away quietly at her lunch. My memories of her are a series of snapshots and tableaus -- very different to the Technicolor 3D THX experience that is Alec.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Retreat, drosophila and star.

1. When I am feeling tired and cross and out of sorts to retreat to the garden with my secateurs.

2. Fruit flies rise up every time I open the composter. Some of them have freckle brown bodies, some black. Some have ruby red eyes. Like the tigery spiders that have stretched webs across the garden I hardly know which way to look.

3. At our sleep time I put the night light on and cover the ceiling in stars. Bettany stops trying to crawl down to wake Alec. She points upwards and says 'Dar! Dar'.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mixing paint, brushing and box maze.

1. 'Look what happened!' says Alec with wonder in his voice. A dab of blue has got into the yellow and streaked it with green. I am glad I was brave enough to get the paints out, just for that. The handprints I set out to get for a keepsake seem like a bonus.

2. Bettany meanwhile is contentedly brushing a smear of red paint around a paper plate.

3. Disorganised me, I forgot to keep an eye on the events calendar so we are surprised by the second of the council's fun afternoons in Calverley Grounds. Alec at first is not keen. But the registration lady tells him that she generally feels that way in the morning but that it's important to jump up and join in. He defrosts. This is good because they have made a sort of tunnel out of cardboard boxes. He shoots inside and holes up in the middle. Children keep going in but no-one comes out. Even Bettany has a look -- I have to pull her out by her leg. I peer in between straining strips of parcel tape and see long hair and long legs. Ahhh, it's full of what he calls 'big girls' (ie, over four).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Handing over, 20 minutes and treat.

1. To hand over my children for the afternoon. Within minutes of shutting the door behind me I feel myself relax completely.

2. 'Someone's turned my wax off,' says my beautician anxiously. 'Can you wait 20 minutes?'
I can. She sits me comfortably up on the couch with a cup of tea and I read my month-old Interzone. Absolutely perfect.

3. While food shopping to remember how much pleasure I get from picking out a small treat for Nick (in this case a packet of sliced chorizo).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Just cleaned, adventure and can't.

1. Nick is off sick, which is not much fun for him but it means that he gets to enjoy the work of the cleaner that he pays for before it gets trashed.

2. "We're in South KOREA going up the river in a KAYAK and this turtle is the bait and we're going to catch an electric ... TIGER!"

3. I'm sulking on the sofa because it's almost the end of my evening and A Certain Small Person has still not gone to sleep, despite what feels like hours of bubby. My nose is buried in a magazine when I become aware of a great effort going on next to me. It's Bettany climbing up to be next to me, her arm wrapped round the middle of a large teddy bear, her sleepsuit feet trailing and smiling so her darling gappy front teeth are shown off to their best advantage.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bounce, no animals and happy noises.

Today we visited Bocketts Farm Park with Great Aunt Janey and my cousin Laura.

1. Alec often asks at home "What can I bounce on?" and I make a vague reply about things at nursery. The first thing we saw at the farm was a large enclosure full of trampolines -- with free access on such an un-crowded day. I peered through the mesh at him and his cheeks were flushed red and his eyes were properly bright.

2. We were supposed to be visiting Marwell Zoo today but the weather was awful so we ended up here instead. Alec, terribly disappointed, announces early on that he will not be looking at ANY ANIMALS and he is pretty much true to his word, apart from when we forced him to join in an animal handling session with a very patient goat.

3. I put Bettany into her waterproof suit, abandon the pushchair and carry her out into the rain to look at the horses and donkeys. She makes all her happy sounds -- mainly the gentle ones rather than the startling shrieks.

4. I walk into the large animal barn and... it's like falling in love: you know when you notice someone in a crowded room and it's like there's no-one else at all there. I discover that the enormous pair of brown eyes, silvery face and huge curved horns belong to Zebedee, a hand-reared zebu (that's a variety of primitive cattle).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Moomins, with you and teleport.

1. Today is really very wet indeed. We spend the morning watching Moomin and Midsummer Madness , an edited, re-mastered and rather carelessly dubbed version of the TV series I loved as a small child. We mostly enjoy it -- it's Moomins, after all, and the story has something for everyone.

Here's the trailer for the film:

and here's an episode from the TV series:

2. "Shall we all go?" asks Nick about the supermarket errand I need to make.

3. Alec was asleep when we arrived so I teleported him into bed and left him there. He sleeps through dinner and chocolate cake full of jewel-like fruit; and he sleeps through Bettany's efforts to wake him up for a play; he sleeps through me struggling to get her down for the night. She is limp and heavy and milky when I finally roll her into bed and lie down myself. And then Alec wakes up. He sits up in bed and looks around the darkened living room with much interest. "Is it morning yet?"

Monday, August 25, 2014

Long shanks, early and fizz.

1. My boy has such big legs now that he hardly fits into the supermarket trolley any more.

2. My parents come unexpectedly early which means that Nick and I can get ready to go out at our leisure. It is rather wonderful to do things like pin up my hair and roll on stockings without an audience or interruptions.

2b. There is a catalogue for the Matisse cutouts exhibition on the coffee table -- I won't get to see the real thing at the Tate Modern, but I'm glad to see what it's all about. I particularly like the low-techness of it: it's essentially large pieces of chopped around papers pinned to a wall.

3. A merry Jane brings round the bottle of fizz once again.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New app, same talk and my age.

1. Alec and I sit on the bed and look through a new app on my Kindle. It's an interactive story book called Amelia and Terror of the Night. It's a charming baby-goth story about a girl and her friends (a tortoise, a cat with wheels and large bear called Teddyteddy) going up against a creature that steals souls. Alec loves it -- we both love it and it's hard to keep myself from dabbing at the hot spots to turn on the lights in Amelia's house and reveal chittering, chattering creatures in the trees. There are stars to collect and bonus content to unlock and even a few two-player minigames. I'm looking forward to tonight when I can examine it closely without being told to stop helping!*

2. We comment again -- we always do when we meet up -- that we've all been friends since we were ten and we're still doing the same things (first comes love, then comes marriage and here they come with the baby carriages containing their second children).

3. Nick tells me that Alec carried a crate of washing downstairs and told Alastair (who is a year younger than him) that "You have to be three-and-a-half to do this".

* Another app that we've both enjoyed is Monument Valley, the strange Escheresque adventures of a silent princess seeking forgiveness. It is not long and it is not difficult but playing it is such a wonderful experience that we've both run through it several times now.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mix, surprise and achieved.

1. I feel such a mixture of things when I see Bettany scuttling off down the path -- worry that I won't be able to catch her, exasperation that I've got to stop picking blackberries and chase her, pride at her walking skills, concern that someone might think I'm a careless mother leaving my youngest to range free.

2. It's so easy to surprise children: I distract them with a fake request for a dock leaf while a pair of chalky dinosaur eggs are being hidden in the grass.

3. We mothers can achieve so much when we work together -- at the end of the afternoon we have seven and a half jars of blackberry jam, two sleeping infants and two rather sticky big children.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kit, a year ago and cake.

1. To help Alec pack a bag with equipment -- we're going on a bug hunt so he needs a zoologist's hat, a magnifying glass, a notebook, insect book etc etc. He loves kit far more than actually hunting bugs and we end up clambering on the rocks.

2. To go walking with a child about a year younger than Alec: it's wonderful to see how far Alec has come along, and it's reassuring to hear another mother saying all the things that I used to have to say (also I can persuade Alec into good behaviour by telling him that he must set a good example).

2a. To have another mother present who will pick up Bettany when I bolt off to rescue Alec from a slightly ambitious climb.

2b. To get a call from the TV engineer wondering if he can come this afternoon instead of tomorrow -- this means we don't have to wait in; and it means a pleasant surprise for Nick this evening.

3. To be able to nip down the hill for a slice of cake from Juliet's and be back in five minutes.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Orangey, difficult hour and new colours.

1. To remember a packet of Jaffacakes in the back of the larder; and Bettany's face when she tries her first one.

2. My cousin Laura and her Nick come round at tea time and stay for the difficult bedtime hour. I am so glad to have the extra pairs of hands -- and to see Bettany giving first Laura and then Nick a beaming, extra-special cuddle; and to hear Alec say loudly "I like Nick!"

3. To put out the new flannels in the bathroom. Alec pulls them all down and puts them in his bath to see how the colours darken when they get wet. He is rather delighted that the label says name of Dad's colour is 'cocoa' and his colour is 'waffle' -- even more so when I tell him what a waffle is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ghost train, paddling and message.

1a. Our first train was cancelled and now there is an announcement that the next train will be twenty minutes late. We've already waited half an hour with two small children so we are thinking of abandoning our trip... when a train pulls into the station with a driver on the phone and HASTINGS on the destination board. We jump on and the guard explains that this was going to be a fast train, non-stop to the coast, but it's stopping in Tunbridge Wells for a few minutes to let people on.

1. "What does she want?" asks Nick. He is down by the edge of the sea and Bettany is in the carrier on his back. She is struggling and complaining loudly. We get her down for a nappy inspection and all becomes clear: She wants to sit on the beach and play with the pebbles. She smiles and smiles and her voice softens with delight as she drops stones on to the rug, clicks them together, waves them around and rubs them on her face. Later she makes the same sounds as we walk among some seagulls.

2. I have to remind paddling Nick that he has no spare trousers or socks.

3. Nick suddenly remembers that he saw "YOU ARE LOVED" written in scrabble tiles pasted on to the subway wall. "I wanted to show you but you'd galloped ahead."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Careers advice, not hungry and money's worth.

1. We pass a block covered in scaffolding and Alec asks what is happening (he has been much interested in playing builders lately). While we are speculating about the tools and the buckets a dusty builder comes out of the side door. He says "This isn't any good. Work hard at school and do something nice instead."

2. At lunchtime I realise that I have not been hungry all morning -- thanks, I suppose, to the enormous cafe bacon sandwich I had for breakfast.

3. It seems that Bettany has eaten a lot of nursery's food (we got her there in time for breakfast) and she has blown out her vest with a dirty nappy: I feel we've got our money's worth.

Monday, August 18, 2014

First breakfast, first out and go ahead.

1. Bettany has been waking and nursing all night and I don't want to deal with Alec's 5am demands for breakfast. I feel bad when he patters off to disturb Nick's sleep; and worse when I hear him calling up to the attic: "I've digested all my supper and now my stomach is empty so I'm very hungry." Rather later he comes pittering back in again and says that Daddy gave him three bowls of yoghurt and some bread and butter "But I only had one bite of that". Then he climbs quietly into his bed and sleeps until (proper) breakfast time.

2. To come round the corner just as the first people are coming out of church. There is a lot of embracing of the vicar and talk of holidays -- the rest of the congregation can't come out without barging past and they are piling up inside the church looking rather tetchy and perturbed.

3. To race ahead in order to get home early so I can make a start on lunch without any children clinging to my knees.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Radio, web and not awake.

1. To cook with the radio on (I'm enjoying Punt PI).

2. The fat bluebottle that has been investigating the washing up has got caught in the spider's web in the kitchen window. I stand staring as the tiny freckle brown spider lunges and feints at its frantically vibrating prey. I feel sorry for the fly, but I won't rob the spider of its meal. The buzzing gets fainter and the spider becomes more confident; and then at last the fly is silent.

3. There was some scrapping over bub, and a lot of determination to "stay awake until Daddy gets back so we can watch Nigel Marven" but eventually Alec rolled over and then Bettany's head lolled and she didn't even wake when she fell off me. When Nick comes in I can show him two children asleep together on the big bed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fishmonger, flannels and waterproofs.

1. I am half-listening to Alec roleplaying with himself: he is both fishmonger and a customer buying the crab claw he asked for as a treat.

2. To pick out an almighty pile of brand new flannels to replace our sorry rag-bag collection (Alec selected most of the colours and did very well).

3. We have our waterproofs so when the rain comes hissing out of the sky and everyone else runs for cover, I am happy to stand and watch while Alec scampers around the park.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Blackberry, snacks and your post, Sir.

1. To pop a sun warm blackberry into Bettany's mouth (I always tell people very fiercely that they must "give it to her hand, not to her mouth" because I think that if she handles her own food she is less likely to choke on it; and also because it's better for her fine motor skills; so what a hypocrite I am!)

2. There is something very satisfying about handing out the snacks as we leave nursery.

3. There is some post waiting for Master Alec Law: It's a lot of chocolate and one of Nana's pictures. She has made a block of flats using the bits of sticky paper in between a sheet of labels -- each hole is a window displaying a different scene. She has even drawn a waterbutt on the side of the building, just like ours.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Time wasters, different and not a chore.

1. A friend once said "Babies are great time wasters" and it is so true: I will happily lose hours playing on the bed with Bettany, singing songs with her, finding faces and finger games to make her laugh and just enjoying the last days of her baby-soft skin and her downy hair.

2. As soon as the cleaner is out of the bathroom I race upstairs holding Bettany at arm's length. I have to let her go for a moment so I can put the changing mat down and get the nappy ready. When her feet touch the floor she gives a surprised squeak -- it is still wet and rather slidey.

3. I have a pleasant task to do while Bettany naps: it's checking details and making some plans for the holiday we have booked.

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 ...