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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our time, professionals and I need a hero.

1. While Bettany naps after lunch, to cuddle up with Alec on the sofa. He loves it when I baby him a bit, and he is rather fond of being lavished with sympathy and invents all sorts of small woes to get it. He makes his bubbing face, a sort of pouty ooo-face, but doesn't push the matter when I decline. His requests seem to arise from habit rather than by any desire to nurse.

2. A large toddler protests by whining and struggling. His nanny says (with infinite patience) "Come on, you're tired, aren't you. I can't get anything right today, can I?" I am so, so glad to see that the professionals have those days too.

3. Alec gets stuck in the mud puddle at the end of the park. When I offer to pull him out he shakes his head: "I want Someone Else to rescue me!" I can only imagine he means the little girl with bobbed hair balancing on the log. She looks bemused. I scarper -- there are few creatures more unappealing than a man whose mother runs love errands for him.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Downpour, zoologist and orange juice.

1. At the end of the downpour the people caught in the playground emerge. Three teenage girls who were sheltering under the climbing frame shake their hair and come back to the swings. A large boy comes out of the little house and his mother who was left outside with an umbrella leads him away towards Grove Hill Road. The dogwalkers caught under the turkey oak have moved on by the time we start our third circuit. The sun comes out and Bettany finally falls silent. She is asleep when we get home.

2. I did say he could go outside, but now there is a thunder storm. He is ready to go, dressed as his latest hero, the zoologist Nigel Marven, with his backpack and wellies, Nick's sunhat and a pair of my old sunglasses. There is even a time portal set up across the back door. He is so furious that tears are rolling down his face. "But I LIKE thunderstorms!" I address him as Nigel and remind him that zoologists never, ever go out when there's lightning and then he calms down.

2b. As you can see, today was tough and I am so grateful that my aunt was here.

3. Bettany taking tiny sips of orange juice -- she has been raging with fits of colic and juice is supposed to get things moving. She is over the other side of the kitchen hugging Nick's knees but when she sees the box and the straw she comes over as fast as her drunken sailor gait will allow. She takes a little sip and then scampers back. By this time Nick is eating yoghurt. She asks for a lick off his spoon and then comes back to me for more juice.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Greeted, ripples and play.

1. The Ocado man doesn't know it but he has just been greeted with Bettany's first recognisable "'Allo!"

2. The flicker-flacker ripples in a sunny puddle and in a drain drowned in clear water are bright green liverworts and ferns.

3. I have new boots so I copy Alec by stamping through puddles and chasing the bouncy ball.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Magic numbers, lumpety lump and string.

1. Alec slowly and deliberately reads out the digits on the alarm clock (I can't see it without my glasses and I'm trying to teach him not to disturb me before 6am).

2. My cross and perturbed goddaughter cheers up a tiny bit when I put her on my knee and do 'A Farmer Went Riding' for her. Bettany stands beside me looking serious.

3. To roll string into a ball.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Help, fill your boots and pudding.

1. It's amazing how helpful people are when we travel: an elderly lady with two bags of shopping steps out to flag down our bus because a delivery van is in the way, and when we get off a man stops working on his tablet and brings the backpack off the bus for us. Then on the pavement a lady holds Bettany while I re-organise all the bags.

2. Grandpa has been smiling all day when he thinks about Alec using the hose to fill his own boots with water. In the evening I tell Nick and he enjoys the story too. Grandpa says Alec is the watery equivalent of a pyromaniac (he says aquamaniac, but I think it ought to be hydromaniac).

3. A bowl of plum crumble (hot) with malt ice cream.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Pansies, fever and not at all stereotyped.

1. The diminutive pansies growing in the cracks in the steps up to the front door at nursery. I wonder if they grew from seedbombs planted by guerilla gardeners?

2. By the time I get the message about Bettany's temperature she has been dosed, it has gone down and they report that she is back to her old self.

3. A child on each side of the pushchair -- one is planning to work on a women-only building site with Bettany for seven years before becoming a princess like Rapunzel; the other is telling me he will have a Boat and a Crew and Dive in the World's Deadliest Oceans.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Tidy, stay and tack ripper.

1. To quickly but thoroughly tidy the front room -- but not make any effort to clean it. It's amazing how much I can get done if I refuse to be distracted. It's easy because I know the cleaner is coming round after me with her bucket and the vacuum cleaner.

2. My mother is anxious to get away because The Archers is about to start -- but I ask her to stay until Nick gets in because it's the horrible hour before bed. And she does even though she is not convinced by my tales Nick hearing the screams from the end of the street.

3. I was on a mission to fix our director's chair but I stalled weeks ago because I couldn't untack the worn fabric using just Grandad's tack hammer. My mother brings a tack ripper and instructions: suddenly my project is on the move again.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

In the freezer, emptying and quiet afternoon.

1. I'm really not feeling well today, but there are plenty of lunches in the freezer.

2. To tip Alec out into the garden and let him run the waterbutt dry: it's going to rain tonight. We fill a bowl for Bettany and she stands beside it, dipping her hands in, flicking water up and shrieking about it.

3. Now they are both dry and clean but they both rather tired and cuddly so we retire to the sofa. I read and doze, Bettany bubs and sleeps and Alec watches Willows in Winter.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Over the wall, lamb chops and mystified.

1. To look out of the top window of a house near us and see over a wall that has always made me curious: there is a large cottage garden with white wirework furniture.

2. Alec and I get lamb chops for our lunch. We eat them with red currant jelly and gnaw on the bones.

3. Alec and the other two children are sitting on a grassy bank. We see them talking and then the girl storms off. The boys run back over to us for advice: "She told us to go away!"

PS: We went to one of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's family fun days and it was excellent -- just a big space full of games with lots of children running around playing freely.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Grounding, swings and toast.

1. One of Bettany's most endearing habits is that when things go wrong for her she will lie prone and press her cheek to the floor as if she is listening. After a short time she gets up and goes about her business with equanimity restored.

2. To push two children at once on the swings.

3. To make a stack of buttered toast.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Utopia, ye gods and little fishes and a good swap.

1."There's the clocktower," says Nick. And then we come up the hill to the astonishing Horniman Museum. The old building is arts and crafts and has that slight unrealness that makes the style so appealing. (Arts and crafts buildings look to me as if they have been transplanted from a future utopia that never happened). The collection is strange and eclectic; the site has views right across London; and it's very, very child friendly.

2. I put Bettany down on the floor in the aquarium. She totters around for a moment trying to get her balance and her bearings -- and then she sees the British Pond tank that fills most of one wall with cool greenish light and lazy tench. She points and squeaks and waves her hands as if she has never been so happy in her life.

3. To hand a stinky-bottomed secondborn to Nick and sneak into the bedroom to admire my sleeping firstborn.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Traveller's tales, why and supper outside.

1. I put out a call for company on Facebook and a jet-lagged friend steps up. Bettany conks out, Alec is content to play by himself for a few minutes and it is good to just catch up and hear a traveller's tales.

2. "Why are the sofa cushions in the garden?" I ask Alec who is playing with a toy butterfly.
"Ice," he says. "This butterfly must go from ice flow to ice flow on its long journey, while this female," he holds up a plastic stegasaurus, "is looking for its mate over here," he indicates a green plush hippo by the kitchen radiator.
This is what I get for letting a David Attenborough documentary babysit.

3. I can't tell you how much I loathe eating outdoors, but it did shake things up a bit so that everyone came to the table without a fuss, ate plenty without arguing and the clearing up afterwards was minimal.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Dressing, cut and waiting.

1. I tell Alec that his friend gets herself dressed in the morning. He takes it as a challenge and I must sit on my hands while he patiently untangles his T-shirt.

2. "Take lots off," I tell the hairdresser, gesturing.
"Not that short," she says. "It will sort of mushroom out. I'll take it to your jaw."

3. This afternoon it's my turn to do the nursery run. She's in the front garden waiting for us. "It's strange, isn't it. You're sort of... just doing nothing while they come back."
It's hard to put into words, or to even pin down the feeling, but I think it's that we are so used to moving our children from A to B that when they move themselves without us doing anything we miss the expected effort -- like when you overbrush your newly-cut hair, or overlift your newborn second child.

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 ...