Thursday, July 31, 2014

Air hug, bunches and sharing journeys.

1. He has manflu and doesn't want to get too close so we air hug with arms wide. We look like wheeling seagulls.

2. Maggie has her hair in bunches -- which was a good choice because now she is chasing our tennis ball and pretending she is a dog called Fido.

3. We have all been brave and decided to try sharing journeys from nursery. Today it is my turn to wait at home. I am watching at the front room window when they arrive. Alec is riding in the bottom of the buggy and looking very pleased with himself. He says he has had an unlikely number of flapjacks.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Full, cardboard and useful.

1. It rained in the night and the waterbutt is full. There is a dull but satisfying clunk when I thump its flank.

2. The six of us -- four children and two mothers -- add further details to Alec's rocket (the box the waterbutt came in) with pens and a stanley knife.

3. I always want to be the sort of person who does the small useful things that people having a tough time need but don't always think to ask for -- but I rarely spot these needs in time, or I am afraid to offer in case... in case I don't know what, really. Anyway -- today I saw a chance to make myself useful, and judging by the reaction my offer was welcome and needed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Breather, biscuit and not a plan.

1. Imagine my pleasure when Alec puts on his art smock, straps on the Scuba gear I made for him yesterday, claps a fleece hat on his head and goes into the nursery to deal with a Duplo fire.

2. "Look, Mummy!" says Alec. He holds up a BN biscuit.
"Who gave you that?"
Alec indicates with the now bitten biscuit: a lanky teenage boy sharing an open packet with his friends half smiles and waves.

3. "...and that's the plan," finishes Alec. I have been listening to Ann and I am about to OK it when I realise he is planning to throw Bettany in the pond as bait for a water monster. Anna and I swiftly compose a dead pterosaur that is lying at the bottom of the garden.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Steam roller, waterbutt and sunflower.

1. I was telling Grandad my story about the night I was woken by a steam roller in the wee small hours and he told me that his uncle operated a council steam roller for years and years until he retired at the age of 80. "After school I used to go to my aunt's house and she'd tell me where he was and I'd have my bread and jam and I'd go and find him wherever he was working. He let me up there and let me throw coal in the firebox."

2. Grandad has given me a little hacksaw and I use it to fit my new waterbutt to the downpipe. We spend the rest of the day anxiously watching the sky to see if it will rain. In the end I resort to pouring a few cans full of water in so I can test the tap.

3. To look up, catch a flash of yellow and realise that one of my two sunflowers has bloomed. It has its face turned to the wall like sulky Sue. I rotate the pot to help it feel more involved.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Company, too big and getting things done.

1. On a day when Nick has promised to spirit the children away for some hours, to go out quite soon after breakfast and do a quick supermarket shop with Alec trotting at  my side.

2. "Soon my legs will be too big for this trolley," says Alec as we try to arrange him in the child seat.

3. Yesterday I asked Nick for the help I need to finish my copy-editing course. Today he has helped me find part of the time required.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Making up, brave and chocolate cakes.

1. We have a brief altercation because Alec wants me to look (again) at his sticky ninja and I just want to a few minutes peace so I can hang out the washing. When things have calmed down he surprises and delights me with this: "Thorry for pestering you, Mummy."

2. Brave Amy tries to comfort a thrashing, howling Bettany while I deal with a thrashing howling Alec.

3. She has brought us moussy little chocolate cakes. "They're made with beans and coconut oil," she says. They taste delicious, like classy Bounty bars.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sharing, raspberry and more sharing.

1. The way Alec always asks for a lick of my freezy pop (even though it's exactly the same as his).

2. At the top of the road I am still turning the pips of the wild raspberry on my tongue.

3. Bettany very sweetly offers Alec a bite of her rather damp biscuit. He accepts, taking rather more than is polite. She quickly snaffles the complete biscuit in his other hand.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Clear skies, mostly successful and daddy's girl.

1. In the background I can see a no longer sulky boy burying his anger in the ground. "He really ought to go to drama classes," says his mother.

2. At the end of the day I realise that I have been mostly successful in keeping our cleaning lady's work pristine for Nick to enjoy.

3. It's getting on for 9pm and I'm feeling rather thundery because a certain small person is so busy practising her walking that she is not at all ready to go to sleep. But Nick says, with a beatific smile, as he plays with her, "She's like the loveliest pet."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blueberries, wet and tea.

1a. As we are leaving in a tearing hurry some friends come down the road. Bettany waves and squeaks from up in the backpack and her particular friend looks up with much pleasure and satisfaction.

1. To post blueberries though the netting of the fruit cage and into Alec's mouth.

2. A nudey Alec shrieking as he races through the lawn sprinkler.

3. My mother asks if I would like some cake and Bettany who was apparently deeply asleep in my arms quickly wakes up.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Puppet, fish fingers and bathtime.

1. We find a strange puppet man in town: he is not much taller than Alec, apparently unattended and burdened by a huge back pack. When I drop a few coins into his tin he chats to Alec and shakes his hand and then plays a tinny tune on his banjo. Alec asks how it works, but when I try to explain that the puppeteer is hiding in the backpack he doesn't believe me.

2. Fish fingers in a soft white wrap with some salad and tomato sauce.

3. To put the children in the bath when they are hot and grimy from playing in the park.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wake-up, peaches and roast chicken.

1. Alec wakes me up by rubbing the back of my neck.

2. Just before they leave for the park Alec hugs me round my legs and says "Your apron smells like peaches. Can I have some?" I pop a piece of fruit into his mouth.

3. To pull apart a roast chicken to make sandwiches for supper.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Helpful, conditions and red dress.

1. Suddenly Alec's helping is actually helpful. He cracks eggs with confidence and measures spoonfuls of sugar, baking powder and salt.

2. I have promised Alec a new Kindle game he has had his eye on IF he does something for me. He is now sitting at the top of the stairs, pleading with me to delete the game and from time to time whimpering sadly. His mission? To spend 20 minutes, rather than 15, trying to get to sleep. He definitely has a dramatic streak.

3. To put on a new red dress, leave Nick finishing off bedtime and go down the hill to a girls' night out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Not, ride and whirr.

1. We decide that it's too hot to go to Hastings for fish and chips and a walk on the beach. It's a relief to make this decision, even if I was looking forward to a day out by the sea.

2. It's such a simple thing to ride all the way up to the rooftop car park to look at a train pulling out of the station four floor below us.

3. Alec asks me to stop the pushchair: he can't believe that the clockwork whirring noise is crickets in the tall grass.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Afternoon off, collecting and storm.

1.  On our afternoon off we go out for cake and then have a nosey round the back of the High Street, following walls, slipping down alleys and sauntering into parking garages as if we were supposed to be there.

2. At going home time we peep over the fence and see our boy playing in the garden. He sees us and runs over to put his hands up to touch us.

3. Such a storm: I don't think I have ever heard thunder like it. The children sleep on, Bettany a self-contained bundle on the far side of my bed and Alec, damp hair plastered to his forehead, sprawled this way and that across this toddler bed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Not needed, amble and worth the work.

1. Alec is at nursery, Bettany is sleeping, Nick is somewhere downstairs. I lie on the attic bed and realise that I am not needed by anyone and there is no anxious knot in my middle.

2. I amble easily across the Common for a swim and massage at the Spa Hotel.

3. The massage is incredibly painful and not relaxing (though the facial that follows is mind-blowing) but at the end of it the knots are gone from my shoulders and there is no sharp ache in my right arm.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stuck, steps and Pimms.

1. Stuart comes out and tells us that Alec and Anthony came scampering together into his workshop to tell him something important and urgent: that Alec was stuck up on the bunk bed, too scared to get down, and could he come and help.

2. Bettany takes her first stiff steps. Her pleasure in this achievement has polished her face to a shine.

3. A large jug of Pimms (made up with three home-grown strawberries) in the garden. We can, very faintly, hear a choir rehearsing There'll Always be an England.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Eating out, new kettle and new knives.

1. Later in the day Alec asks if he can have breakfast in the park again.

2. Nick wants to put his new kettle in because it is fast and shiny -- I am just glad we went down to the Pantiles and brought the first one we saw, rather than trailing all round town.

3. We also bought Alec some new knives and forks that actually cut and spoink -- can't wait to see him get to work on his table skills.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beer cake, reception and kiss.

1. I have been wanting to bake the Beer Cake from Mary-Anne Boermans Great British Bakes -- it looks like a good plain cake and the recipe originates just down the road in Tonbridge. Alec and I are at a loose end so I re-brand the exercise as "an important mission". We scamper up the hill to the pub with a measuring jug. I make Alec wait outside -- The Grove Tavern is a proper, dignified drinking pub -- but the landlord says "He can come in, he's the customer of the future." So I sit him up on a stool so he can watch our half pint of Harveys being pulled. Everyone is rather intrigued by the idea of beer cake so I promise to bring a slice round later.

2. Alec reports to Nick that our slice of cake was well received in the pub: "And now everyone wants to marry Mummy." (The cake is delicious: it is well studded with raisins, smells charmingly hoppy and has a good, interesting flavour and a soft, neat crumb.)

3. An "Eeee-eee-eeeing" Bettany comes pattering out of the nursery, presses her face up to the bannisters that separate the landing from the stairs and gives my nose a moist and definite kiss.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Evacuation, curry plant and picnic tea.

1. I find Nick, still in his pyjamas, sitting on the edge of the sofa looking a bit... "I'm just stunned," he says. Alec has just woken him up and rushed him downstairs to the safety of the front room because there was a volcano erupting on the ocean floor in the kitchen.

2.  Another fantastic planting in Calverley Grounds: a generous border of helichrysum around some tall grass specimens -- I think perhaps a rye grass. They are very splendid with swaying stems displaying a flock of swallowtail seeds but to my mind the real star is the helichrysum. I had to look up the proper name because I only know it as curry plant. In warm weather the silver grey foliage and soft yellow flowers make me imagine an Indian takeaway has just arrived. Set out round the edge of the raised bed at the top of the Italian garden it gives the illusion of a solid cushion and looks splendidly opulent.

3. We eat a picnic tea, scavenged from the Polski Skelp and the news agents on Grove Hill Road, in the park. The bread and ham tastes delicious and it feels good to relax and forget about all usual mealtime discipline.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Advice, falling in and no meaning.

1. When I bring Bettany downstairs in the morning she is not happy at all. She grizzles and grumps and cries.
"If you feel like crying," Alec tells her in a sympathetic voice, "do this." He covers his ears with his hands and rubs them vigorously. "It'll make you feel much better."

2. We've quarrelled and woken Bettany. Instead of going home we end up, by disagreeable accord, walking in sullen silence round the block hoping to get her back into a properly deep sleep. I reach out and ruffle Alec's hair. A moment later he asks about a poster in a window.

2. We examine a forked stick in the middle of the path. "I think it's saying to go that way," says Alec.
"I think it means the other way," I say.
"Or it could just be a stick that fell in the road," he says.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Glue, growing up and chore.

1. The packet of cheap glitter glue sticks I bought for the craft stash turn out to be excellent: the glue is brightly coloured and it really glitters. Even better, they are popular with Alec. He tries forming letters with them.

2. I've thought of a prize for Alec's next sticker chart (see right) and now the next thing to do is to involve the stakeholders in the list of tasks. I want to encourage him to do more stuff for himself -- I've seen him put his own shoes on, and he can do things like put his plate by the sink and put his scooter away -- so I ask him what grown-up things he wants to try. He thinks for a moment. "Well I could do lessons to learn to drive a car."

3. To sit in a coffee shop... and do a supermarket order. There was a time when I drafted most of a novel in a coffee shop, how things have changed. I don't mean just marriage and children. Then, I was writing on paper with a pencil; now I'm dabbing and swiping at a touch-screen, a thing that still seems like a miracle.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Guide, bubbles and choose a commuter.

1. Bettany and I go to a school open afternoon. Our guide, Tabitha, proudly tells us that she is the oldest girl in the school. One of the teachers says to us "You've got to watch her, the trouble is she isn't afraid to speak her mind." He adds, almost absentmindedly, "I'll miss you, Tabby."

2. Blowing bubbles for Bettany when there is no terrible three-and-a-half-year-old there to jump up and pop them all.

3. At the station barrier I tell Alec that he must choose himself a dad from the commuters coming up the stairs. He examines each tired face in turn, saying "No... no... no..." as the workers march towards us. The stream of glassy-eyed people thins and we consider taking platform supervisor home with us. But then a dear bespectacled face emerges and Alec yells with joy and scampers towards Nick trying to shout "DADDY", show him a photo and tell him about four different things all at once.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Blue-orange, parallel path and barley.

1. While we are taking our afternoon airing in Calverley Grounds we come across a planting that takes my breath away: tall cornflowers with marigolds and orange poppies.

2. Alec often wants to take a path parallel to the one I am walking. I have to fight with myself to stay calm while he is out of sight, but go he must. Today he peers through a tall planting and pretends he's lost: "Mummy, where are you! I can't see you!"
Three old ladies on a bench chuckle like contented hens: "Bless him, he can't see his mum. She's just over there, look. She's coming."

3. Alec and I collected some wild barley seeds from the old cinema site just before they (finally*) closed it off for demolition last week. They've already sprouted. I picked them because I was hoping to get something of their unkempt blond look in the garden next year -- I'll plant them in a shallow pan and treat them meanly to keep them short and scruffy.
* It only took them 13 bloody years.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Strangers, carrying seeds and a moon.

1. Strangers who are willing to join in. Alec and I have set up a trap in the middle of the path, baited with a carrot stick. He is hoping to catch a mole and a water rat. I like the South African man who pretends to fall into it; and the older man walking a schnauzer who wishes us luck.

2. There are fuzzy goosegrass seeds stuck to Alec's socks. His excitement at this. We take them home to plant: goosegrass is a good medicinal herb and a salad vegetable, too.

3. An almond moon half hidden by a wrack of cloud.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Flora, bananas and coo.

1. After breakfast I find myself idly flicking through W. Keble Martin's masterwork The Concise British Flora in Colour and I fall in love all over again.

2. Mashing squashy brown bananas for banana bread.

3. Bettany leans across the seat of the nursing chair rubbing her face on the lambskin lying on the seat. She smiles blissfully and coos.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Going down, more porridge and asleep.

1. I can't get back to sleep so I creep downstairs and enjoy breakfast all alone.

2. Alec looks greedily round for more porridge -- I've eaten mine, Bettany has had her's, but poor Nick is still working on his bowl and will now have to share.

3. We have not long returned from a rather unsuccessful afternoon walk. We got our errands done, but we misjudged Alec's need for a nap and he had a meltdown. Now he is taking the sleep he needs and all is calm again.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Hay bales, shade and sweet peas.

1. With a terrible clattering a tractor is circling the field picking up hay and spitting out bales. We watch enthralled. While the men are loading up the wagon at the end of the afternoon Alec shouts "Hallo tractor men!"
They call back "Hallo little boy!"

2. To bring Bettany out of the sun and into the shade. She sits on the swing and laughs at me.

3. Alec brings a bunch of sweet peas upstairs. "Grandpa says they are for you, Mummy, for having such lovely children."

Friday, July 04, 2014

Dappled, bath and patient.

1. To walk along a road dappled with sun and shade.

2. I decide to use my free time by having a bath and reading a book about baking (Great British Bakes, a book of resurrected historical recipes).

3. Alec hides in a large cardboard box for 20 minutes in order to surprise Nick when he comes home. (I know, because he asked me every minute how long he had to wait.)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Compost bin, out and nursery train.

1. My compost bin arrives -- it's always exciting to receive a parcel. While Bettany sleeps I tidy a space for it, and then after lunch she plays with some stones and flower pots while I click it together and empty my scruffy sacks into it. The garden suddenly looks larger -- although it now needs a sweep, and Bettany needs a good brushing because she is covered in earth.

2. We missed the recycling collection a fortnight ago, and what with one thing and another the cupboard has got very full. Now we've caught up and the house feels lighter, somehow, less congested.

3. To get a message from Nick saying he is on the nursery train so Bettany and I can stay at home instead of rushing up the hill.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Yellow petals, scuttle and puff.

1. One of my nasturtiums has a bud that is revealing still furled yellow petals (my nasturtiums generally come out a rather flashy orange so a red or a yellow is a cause for excitement).

2. The way Bettany scuttles on all fours across the little house in the park giggling like a naughty beetle.

3. She asks me to make her little windmill turn by waving it in my face and making a puff-puff sound.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Sticky ninja, off the table and going to sleep.

1. Alec gets his final sticker and can claim his reward. It's a small ninja made from sticky rubber. You throw it at the window and it sticks, but gradually comes unstuck so it flops and flollops all the way down. Alec loves it, and so does Nick.

2. For what seems like the eighteenth time I pull Bettany off the table and put her back in her highchair. "Great big girls of one do not crawl around the table," I tell her -- and I _think_ she understood.

3. As promised I go up after 15 minutes. Alec is now quiet and pretending to be asleep. I sit on his bed and hold his hand for a few minutes while he smiles and watches me from under his eyelashes. In due course I leave, promising to set the timer for another quarter of an hour. The next time I go up he is deeply asleep.

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 ...