1. The fog has closed our world off to one street.
2. Finding that the dishwasher didn't go off last night, so there is no need to empty it.
3. Alec says, 'Shall I take the key and run home to let the Sainsbury's man in?'
1. At the end of school to give Alec a quick hug before he makes his own way home.
2. To get the news that a story I entered for a competition has got me into the next round.
3. The most pandemic 2021 thing ever would be the adults in their masks dancing with their children to 'Agadoo' at the end of Watching Week.
1. I ask Bettany to put the scanned shopping in my bag... and she does.
2. The front room and kitchen look much larger now they are not full of Ikea boxes.
3. I am expecting the mattress to be an awkward lift -- but then I realise that everyone is helping.
Sorry, I've been ill again.
1. By the front door into which I'm posting a mis-directed Christmas card are a few bundles of sticks bound with hairy string. Magic, or kindling?
2. Nick brings a packet of cheese and some fig paste -- he's been up town to get his booster, and the centre just happens to be near a cheese shop.
3. While we wait for Alec to go through the bathroom, Bettany and I tinker with a magic set. She is keen to learn a 'find the lady' trick involving cups and a soft ball. She thinks we will let her set up a stand in the street* so she can separate passers-by from their money.
* No, we won't.
2. We get the early Christmas decorations out. Things that seemed tired and gaudy on 6 January 2021 are fresh and exciting and charming on 1 December.
3. I have disappeared a few of the Christmas books to keep the collection a reasonable size and so I can buy some new titles if I fancy it. But Bettany asks pointedly for 'My special book about the little girl and her brother writing to Santa.' So I will have to un-disappear that one.
1. We sleep and sleep and sleep. It's 11am when we wake up properly.
2. Our very competent landlord holds out his sticky hands for a piece of kitchen roll and says that this is why he's not allowed to do caulking.
3. The children tumble through the door and try to tell us everything all at once.
1. For a few days now people have been commenting that it really feels like winter now. The trees on Broadwater Down are no longer orange and brown; they are grey in the sunshine.
2. Standing waiting on the edge of the football pitch, at last we have time to catch up.
3. To come home carrying a parcel of warm chips.
1. To stand for a moment observing the drifts and layers of morning mist.
2. I realise that of course there is time to smooth Bettany's ruffled feathers and tell her that it's usual to be a bit anxious before you go and have your hair done in a completely new style.
3. It's my turn to do the Scouts run. It's an hour and a half, in a hall that is just a bit too far from home to make walking back worth it. I wait in the pub -- which has an open fire and two older men gossiping -- with a pint and then a half of bitter, my notebook and a nice soft pencil.
|Hiroshige: Man on horseback crossing a bridge (Wikimedia Commons)|
2. Instead of a dark walk home, we are offered a lift in a luxurious car with enormous leather seats.
3. I have had enough of reading: instead I stare at a book of Hiroshige prints until I am too sleepy to focus.
1. It makes me feel more than a bit vulnerable to be interviewed by Sarah Salway about my writing practice in a short video, but I'm so glad I did it. We even 3BT live on camera by way of a workshop exercise -- to my surprise I come up with three completely different beautiful things for the previous 24 hours. (Sarah has a collection of extraordinary short fiction out, by the way -- Not Sorry.
2. The mother who brought Alec back from his football match said he was a gracious loser.
3. Alec's post-football bathwater is brownish when he gets out, but he still has a smudge on his face.
3b. Bettany muttering darkly about the strictness of other people's mothers.
1. We hear Bettany's alarm go off, and then her thumping footsteps coming up the stairs for a morning cuddle.
2. At coffee time I find two heart-shaped lebkuchen in the biscuit tin.
3. At the bonfire, in the dark, a smallish person, well bundled up in waterproofs, runs up to Alec and says, 'You're my favourite Year 6.'
1. Surprise! Our neighbours are at the soft play centre. She says, 'I'm working. It's the only two hours I've got.' That's great, because I'd planned to sit with a coffee and read.
2. The casual, welcoming friendliness of really good pub staff during a quiet lunchtime.
3. Jupiter -- I think -- is hanging bright and clear to the south.
1. The small parcel is a mystery: I'd forgotten that I ordered a skein of silver thread.
2. I push on with a story that I'm finding difficult. It was supposed to be a ghost story for Halloween and it's set in a world I'm not familiar with. I got feedback from a technical expert, and it became clear that it needed to be re-worked from the ground up. So I started again, and it was no longer a ghost story. So now I don't have a ghost story for Halloween. But get me: I knew what to do with the advice; I'm still working at my story; and I'm fairly sure that in due course, it's going to be a piece of work I can be proud of.
3. The pub has changed hands, and dinner is a lot posher than we were expecting -- small portions of perfect, exciting food made and served with careful attention to detail. My parents tell the manager that they are here in the 1960s and forgot to pay the bill so the landlord called their parents a couple of days later. He seems slightly astonished to think that people were eating there more than fifty years ago.
1. Playing with polybead clay we discover that some colours are willing to streeeetch into long cobwebby filaments.
2. Alec has come in from playing football and even after washing he has put mud on the towels. It's such a boyish thing that we don't have the heart to be annoyed even though the towels were new clean this morning.
3. The children are, apparently, so tired that they don't have it in them to argue about a new book. They quickly choose Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I'm sure we've read before.
1. I could hear how very wet it was in the dark before dawn -- but now I walk to and from school the world seems new washed.
2. I do like being a parent helper at Cubs -- aid the leaders in their mission to get other people's children running around and over-excited. Also, learn about fire safety.
3. We stop in the darkest bit of the park and stare up through the trees at the stars.
1. On a clear evening to see Jupiter hanging just above the horizon. Alec, trying to get a picture, presses his new phone to the window.
2. I don't know why I fought so hard against reinstalling the printer. After that, it produces the perfect colour image that I wanted.
3. Douglas Adams once said that the only way to eat a ripe mango with dignity is to take off all your clothes and stand in a washing-up bowl. I realise I have one of those -- running with juice and tasting of coconut and resin as the best mangoes do -- as I am cutting it up for supper pudding. I contemplate putting the bowl in the fridge so Nick and I can enjoy it in peace after the children have gone to bed.
1. To remember that I can ask the children to take on a few tasks, and they will actually do them: set up the waffle-maker, do some mixing, dust the stairs, fold the picnic rug.
2. To catch sight of our friends waiting outside the station.
3. I have been quietly seething at Liziqi's morning glories (7:38) because I have never succeeded in growing them. But today I spot that a single spindly plant, surviving against the odds in our front garden, has some furled silk parasol buds on it.
2. Our beans are done now: the crop has slowed and they have stopped putting out new leaves against the snails. It's time to strip them out and let the vines sink into decay. The space they have left makes the garden seem more peaceful.
3. I come down to find Bettany diligently applying gel icing to the fairy cakes I made earlier for the school's MacMillan coffee morning. She asks me to help.
1. To spend some quiet time with Alec calmly packing for his school trip away.
2. Sunset is at our busiest time of day -- we're eating supper and persuading the children to take steps towards bedtime -- so I usually miss it completely. But this evening I'm on a train and I have a moment to look at the sky streaked pink and blue.
3. Our first in-person games night for eighteen months. The video meet-ups were very convenient; but I've missed the physical presence of my friends, the drama of dice rolling and the visual aid of figures and maps.
1. Something has gone wrong with Bettany's gingerbread dough. It is disappointingly soft and can't be rolled and cut. We blob it on to a tray and it bakes okay.
2. Bettany has promised to practise the ukelele for a Cubs challenge. She started to learn at school, but hasn't got very far amid the year's disruption. I sit with her as she works through her book, and we have a laugh making something close to music with the two chords we know.
3. Putting names in all the children's shoes. I get ridiculously excited when I come across a shoe with a white lining -- it means I can use a marker pen instead of a fiddly shoe label
1. We find puffballs on the common and the children burst a few to marvel at the black smoke of spores.
2. The spiders have come back. One has strung a web in the ivy across from the kitchen window, close enough that we can see him watching and waiting.
3. I've nearly missed the blackberries -- but this time I remember to bring a box out with me. They are nearly over and I don't get many; I don't even fill the box, but it's enough to say that we've had blackberries this year.
1. To weed my oregano pot. For weeks when I pick oregano for a salad I've been dodging a poppy (now gone to seed) and a herb robert plant. They are not weeds elsewhere in the garden. There is a lychnis seedling in there, too, which I will save, perhaps tomorrow.
2. There is glitter among the dust I have swept off the sideboard.
3. The sound of Bettany muttering grumbles about her day as she sits across my lap and watches a badly scripted YouTube fairy tale.
1. The tak-tak on the door that signals the arrival of my friend and her baby.
2. Someone has stuffed takeaway litter in a burrow under the wall. Someone else has kicked it all out again.
3. I bring Alec to his first Scouts meeting. The joy on his face when he sees a friend -- and the joy on the friend's face.
1. I love using epsom salts in the bath because you need such a lot of them. I weigh out half a kilo for Alec and bring them upstairs. He tips them into his running bath with a satisfying swish.
2. Detangling a doll's hair while I listen to Bettany reading.
3. With relief, I sink into Liziqi's beautiful world. I have no expectation of following her makes as everything is in Chinese, and there is a vast gap between her resources and competence and mine. There are times to be productive, and there are times to just watch.
1. To marvel at this season's growth on the willow that was cut down last winter. The shoots are now over six feet. I wonder which of them will grow into branches?
2. Nick comes upstairs to hide from Bettany: she has set up a supermarket in the kitchen and is forcefully recruiting customers.
3. The moon blurred gold behind clouds.
2. The smell of blue wood smoke at Forest School.
3. Alec in his wellies, down on one knee, showing his little sister how to use a fire flash.
1. The dog walkers caught us at the beer hatch buying a jug for our end of heatwave street party. 'Are you going? Be there in a minute.'
2. The party started to break up when the wind got up, blowing along the street lifting napkins and ruffling our hair and clothes.
3. The children and I watched the rain begin from their bedroom kneeling up on the sofa with our faces wedged below the sash window. A boy ran up our street in the growing dark, pulling against the parent who called him back.
1. The dew splashes my ankles as I walk around the cricket ground.
2. To find that Bettany has set up a little restaurant table in the garden.
3. Sparrows peering down at us from the gutters. I think they might be looking for water so I set up a shallow pan.
1. Thinking that in this heat I need to drink more than usual, and then remembering that I have a box of liquorice tea.
2. It's hot today, but I don't have much work on so I can afford to take things at a slow pace.
3. To find that a cucumber has been growing un-noticed in the shade.
1. The Sainsbury's man says he is impressed by my tomatoes, which -- so far -- have not succumbed to the blight.
2. It's the day for picking a new bar of soap from the tissue-wrapped selection in the bathroom cupboard. There are only two left of the original dozen but Bettany and I weigh up lavender versus vetiver, even though we know that both will be used eventually.
3. Cuddling up with the children to read our current book, Peter Green and the Unliving Academy. We didn't find time to read any of it while we were away. It feels good to snuggle back into our old routines.
We've been away for nearly a week to a wedding in Liverpool and then for a few days in Chester. Here are some highlights.
1. When I look up, the people ahead of us have vanished. I hurry ahead to see how they passed through a brick wall and find a doorway. I step through it, on to a quiet terrace above the Mersey where people are waiting in silence, just as the sun drops behind Birkenhead across the water.
2. The hundreds and hundreds of padlocks secured to the chains around the docks -- all representing promises.
3. I wonder if Bettany would like me to go with her when the wedding planner leads the flower girls round to the door the bride will use. No, she definitely doesn't want me.
4. The soft wave of kind laughter that greets the brides emotional apology for being late.
5. The man who reads a poem returns to his seat, and draws a finger under each eye to clear away his tears. (later Alec tells us that his suit with gold buttons is the best suit).
6. I turn round to find Amelia -- elegant and cheerful in her blue dress and coral shoes -- teaching my children to cross their eyes.
7. A thing about this holiday has been enormous beds and vast bath towels.
8. We walk a long way to find the only in situ Roman shrine to Minerva in the UK in a park by the river. The image, carved into the wall of a quarry, is somewhat worn, but her robes, helm and owl are easily recognised and it was absolutely worth every step of the walk.
9. As we walk round the park the children wish so hard that the miniature railway will be running again today. We think that it might not be, because it's now the week when people start going back to school. But it turns out that it is running -- an inattentive teenage boy trundling delighted toddlers round tracks so narrow gauge that I can put my foot across them. I am so relieved that I pay them on immediately and they jump aboard.
1. It's such a little, simple thing, but the Google breathing exercise app; and the fact that Guanyin, Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion keeps appearing in various guises and places.
2. It turns out that it's fine to cook waffles the night before (when you have lots of time) and let the children put them in the toaster in the morning.
3. Alec comes home greyish from head to foot. He is full of stories about walking on a muddy beach in his pyjamas, having hot chocolate on his cereal and driving over The Sheppey Crossing.
1. Alec walks jauntily up the street with his uncle. They are going climbing and camping together.
2. This is a really good pineapple.
3. The non-sound of Bettany and her friend getting themselves ready for bed, watching a film and then taking themselves upstairs.
1. When I look up again, the children are still sitting round a table doing a poetry writing workshop. (Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival is still going on this week)
2. 'I can't do poetry, I'm no good at English.'
I remember an editor once telling me that if I found something interesting, other people would, too. So I say, 'Just write down something you saw and thought was interesting.'
She thinks for a moment and writes a rhyming couplet about her dog's coat.
3. There is a bright green grasshopper in the hair of the woman sitting in front of me.
1. The sight of Alec tidying up the cupboard under the TV. I have tried for so long to tame this horrible mass of cables and devices, and usually have to hold everything in with one hand while slamming the door shut. But if Alec wants to take ownership, perhaps it will stay tidier for longer.
2. As I am leaving Nick asks Bettany if she'd like to help with the washing up. When I return, the step is by the sink.
3. I had my hair done this morning. Finally when I show up for drinks with Katie and Sarah in the evening, someone notices.
2. While we are doing the opening exercise, I hear a sound which I think is someone grumbling, or laughing to themselves. The moment I realise that it's a dog.
3. When I get home, the children are almost ready for bed. Nick has been reading to them. I join them on the sofa and we all cuddle up for a while to reconnect.
1. The children come rushing through the gate with pockets full of sand and then we let the butterflies go.
1. Once I've done my financial admin and enticed the numbers back into their spread sheet cells, I feel much less anxious.
2. We take a stroll, really just to get out of the house, but we pretend we are going look at an antiques shop while we don't have children with us, and a mythical new food hall that is rumoured to be opening round the back of the Pantiles. They are both closed, because it's Monday. It's not a completely wasted outing, though: We run into our friends and they tell us with wide eyes and much joyful enthusiasm about their road trip round the south of England -- Jane Austen's house and the Bodleian Library were the highlights.
3. Talking to the children on the phone about their day's adventures. It's funny to hear how their stories differ.
1. The children are away with my parents for a few days and Nick and I have been resting and working down our to-do lists. Some of the tasks are tiny, but they've seemed insurmountable while also caring for children. Other tasks are bigger, but ticking them off feels as good as hours of rest.
2. Working down the programme of events for Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival and picking which ones I'm going to. Some are online, so they are open to anyone, anywhere in the world.
3. In between tasks, we've spent a lot of time watching the butterflies in their gauzy cage. I stare at the patterns on their wings, trying to discern differences between them, and marvel at their coiled tongues, furred bodies and fine antennae. We'll have to let them go soon so they can make their own way in the world.
1. I try to avoid complex, close-call scheduling because as a family we don't need that stress. But today I drop Alec off just before 9am for tutoring; and show up over the road for a massage appointment on the hour. It feels satisfying and efficient.
2. A blank page for a new client is a challenge -- but today I've got the time and the headspace to work my way into the material. The client would be disconcerted, I think, to see my lists of words and the research rabbit holes I let myself tumble down and the snickets, twittens and ginnels I follow around the internet. But once I return to the writing task, the words go down easily and all the client will see is a smooth piece of content.
3. In the park after our picnic supper Bettany makes some friends, and I don't have to do anything at all -- just sit on a bench, poke at my phone and think.
1. During the dance display, a toddler escapes, runs to his big sister and joins in.
2. A few weeks ago Bettany and Nick found a fairy village on the common, with a letterbox. They left a note for the fairies, of course. Today we are passing the place. The village has gone, but there are notes hung on the fence to all the children who posted letters. We photograph the note addressed to Bettany, but decide to leave it in place
3. Three large parcels of snacks arrive -- Grampy very kindly gave us some vouchers, and we had a bit of a spree.
3a. To meet some of my writing friends for the first time in 18 months. We aren't writing tonight, just chatting and being together.
1. Bettany has been experimenting with the phrase, 'What the heck is that?'
2. To find a parcel waiting in the undergrowth of our front garden.
3. I know that I put new potatoes on the meal plan, and I can smell them cooking as I come down from work to supper, already going through the tick list for the domestic side of my life. I am about to go in the garden and pick chives to snip and scatter over the potatoes when I realise that Nick is already at work with the scissors.
1. Nick comments, 'Things always feel better once you start work on them.'
2. As I am deep frying Lidl frozen churros, it occurs to me that this is probably a family memory. It's the combination of a late bedtime and a treat we are unlikely to have again that has to be made in small batches so everyone is waiting around chatting.
3. There is an article in this month's Fortean Times about the time Aleister Crowley visited Berlin and hit up Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger to track down Aldous Huxley so they could to a drag club.
1. Returning to bed to look through my new Fortean Times.
2. Slicing into a watermelon and feeling the skin crack.
3. The children
squabbling negotiating over which book we are going to read next. Alec makes a great case for The Land of Green Ginger; but Bettany wins out with Peter Green and The Unliving Academy. Alec is content with a promise that we will come back to his choice later.
2. Alec protests when I suggest working on his model car, but he gives in eventually. I cut the pieces out and hand them to him, and file off burrs as requested, but mostly I'm watching and drinking peppermint tea. He is very pleased when it is completed. We decide to leave the battery -- a cunning mechanism involving salt water and magnesium -- until Nick and Bettany come home.
3. There is, at last, some time to look over my new book of Hiroshige prints. There are sixty in all, ones I've never seen before, and I only get through half of them
We've had a short break in Bexhill, and this is a quick round-up of the best bits.
1. The sea is cold and it takes me ages to get in -- but once I am in, it feels so good to be part of the waters that cover most of our world.
2. A fingernail of moon hiding in a wrack of wispy cloud in the blue, blue sky.
3. Bettany in a rage that we have not found a playground marches us away from the garden in the old town that we planned to visit and down a twitten that takes us over a road bridge and right back to the seafront.
4. I convince everyone to go back to the garden and it is indeed very lovely, laid out around a ruined manor house in a series of rooms, each different and surprising, within the bounds of what municipal gardening can achieve.
5. To catch sight of Alec's friend waving at us in the park.
6. Eating dinner in the window of restaurant while the rain falls steadily outside.
7. Our proper seaside landlady tells us she is going shopping and asks if there is anything we want for breakfast that we haven't been offered.
1. I've promised Alec a frappe from a particular coffee chain as a reward for doing an extra tuition class. I discover that I've collected enough points under Microsoft Rewards to get a voucher that covers it. It turns out that I can load the gift card on to an and when the time comes to pay, I hold up my phone for scanning. This seems like a miracle.
2. Nick's cocktail comes with a huge globe of ice. It's delicious, and I wish I'd had it myself. Alec and Bettany are both astonished by the strawberry on a bamboo skewer in their smoothies. Alec imagines that I might buy him all three meals here on his birthday.
3. Two tables along from us, a dad has brought his really tiny daughter out for supper at The Ivy. Sitting in a highchair, she hides behind the menu and pops out to make Alec and Bettany laugh.
2. The little smile that Bettany does when we unexpectedly run into one of her friends.
3. To look at a Hiroshige print showing a shinto shrine then tumble down a rabbit hole of maps and tourist guides to better understand the place as it is now.
1. I led the last workshop, and one of the writers sends me an email to say that it has continued to inspire her this week.
2. In the summer evening to chat with neighbours in the street while our girls chalk pictures on the pavement.
3. Alec comes home from his cricket match bouncing with stories about the close win his team achieved.
1. My disappointed friend tells me about her summer cold. I tell her about our torrential rain. A picnic in the park will be no fun for anyone.
1b. Alec tidied and dusted the stairs the other day. The clear space and the unexpected free time give me the courage to tackle the first floor.
2. In the rain a snail climbs up the water butt.
1. To open the butterfly cage and let our four painted ladies out into the sunshine. One of them flies straight off, one of them has to be lifted out on the dish of fruit. One climbs on to my fingers before leaving and the other sneaks off when no-one is looking.
2. Nick has made toasted cheese sandwiches for supper.
3. Bettany informs me I will be looking at her school books while she has her bath. She brings them to me, a bulky stack in a split plastic bag. It's funny to contrast the assignments she has really run with, writing page after page in her precise print; with those that she didn't think was worth her while (a work sheet where she had to fill in the adjectives in a story, and she'd written either big or small for every single one).
1. Bettany is very pleased that the head is welcoming us at the gate because it means she can personally give him the gift and card we've brought to thank him for keeping us all safe through prudent leadership. Usually we just pitch in to a group gift for the teachers, but Bettany wanted to give her own this year. She looks very proud to be carrying them in.
2. It takes a while to get home because I keep finding people to chat with: I haven't done a school run in ages.
3. I put a piece of melon down for the butterflies. Within minutes they are perched on it, their long tongues uncurled to enjoy the juice. We will release them tomorrow, so want to make sure they've got their strength up.
1. Bettany brings home her end-of-term loot -- an inflatable globe and a certificate as a prize for reading lots, and glorious pink and green dream catcher.
2. The rattle of columbine seeds falling into an envelope.
3. A middle-aged man on a folding bike does a joyful skid-turn in the empty road.
|Madonna with the Iris -- workshop of Albrecht Durer|
2. I run a writing workshop based on paintings -- like this one above -- from the National Portrait Gallery and one of us has the joyful experience of a poem popping out almost fully formed.
3. To take a phone call in the garden on a hot evening.
1. At the end of a meal, a really good cup of coffee, and time to drink it.
2. We come home to find that Alec and Nana have videoed his PE lesson to show his class at the afternoon video call.
3. The lovely Tom Carradine and his family are taking a summer break from the weekly sing-a-longs. We have watched pretty much every single one from the beginning of lockdown -- first me and Nick watching alone, and then the children joined us. The Thursday livestreams gave a structure to our week, and gave us insight into music hall culture -- as well as a rollicking good time. We often find ourselves humming the tunes days later, and I think that this familiarity with them is a gift that will last for the rest of our lives.
2. A parcel arrived this morning -- an Etsy order from a printmaker. I opened it immediately and looked through the bright papers. Now Bettany wants to look through it as well so we do and I enjoy it all over again.
2. To look at a project and feel like I'm on the home straight.
1. I definitely want the biscuit that comes upstairs with my morning coffee.
2. In the woods someone has built a mysterious tunnel out of branches. I am so tempted to walk through, but it is clearly child-sized and not for a tall woman carrying a rucksack.
3. Thanks to the diligent volunteers that support her Beaver colony (and Nick persistently documenting her activities), Bettany gets her Chief Scout's bronze award. I don't think she realises what an achievement this is. Chief Scout's Bronze is hard work, with dozens of parts to collect and in a normal year the leaders can offer a programme that lets a Beaver have all the experiences they need as long as they show up to most meetings and do some badges at home. But with meetings held under infection-control restraints, and a lot of extra responsibility heaped on them, often at short notice, leaders have focussed on surviving rather than thriving. On the whole, I'm pleased Bettany is heedless, because that means she is protected from the anxieties of these pandemic years. But I do appreciate this award with my whole heart, and I hope that is enough for all the excellent leaders of Scouting in Tunbridge Wells.
1. The smell of baked potatoes has reached my desk, so it might be nearly lunchtime.
2. The children are starting to talk about their plans for the summer holidays, which makes it seem within reach.
3. While we are staring into the vivarium before bed, we spot Slugmilla riding on the back of a snail. The snails like to sleep on the roof, hanging upside down like bats, and when the snail reaches its roost, Slugmilla slides off -- rather huffily, I thought -- and makes her way back down to ground level.
2. Bettany houses the woodlouse in her as yet unused vivarium along with a handful of bits from the compost heap. We add a couple of snails, and soon realise that a lot of smaller cheesy bugs and a tiny slug have come in too. They move busily around the space at their various paces, and it is compelling viewing.
3. Through the open window to hear the football fans cheering all over town.
1. One of the best things about being a freelancer is that I have complete control over how I choose to balance rest and work when I am ill.
2. Scooping the pips out of the middle of a melon.
3. Bettany is very tired so she is raging that she hates everyone. I settle myself on to the sofa in the children's room and ask if she would like a cuddle. I have never seen a child move so fast.
1. Our caterpillars are now the same length as the first two joints of my little finger. Naughty George and Fat Geoffrey are no longer distinguishable by their small and large sizes.
2. To chuck a little piece of bread for a squirrel. It comes over, hesitates, then takes it and runs up the nearest tree to enjoy its snack in peace.
3. Bettany correcting Alec's mispronunciations when he is reading to us; and Alec's tolerance for this.
1. We take Bettany and some of her friends to Clip n Climb to celebrate her birthday. There is a lot of climbing (for the girls) and a lot of clipping (for us) -- but everyone seems to have fun, and I am pleasantly surprised at how gracefully they manage the small frictions among themselves.
2. To come down on to the platform -- hurrying only a little -- just as the train arrives.
3. The scent of lime blossom is everywhere now.
1. The rose-like flowers of brambles.
2. We make our way to Alec's friend's house very slowly because the boys want to play catch, scramble around on the rocks and go a longer way round.
3. There are thick tangles of black caterpillars on the stinging nettles by the path.
1. I come downstairs after my phone call to find a bunch of scented sweetpeas in their auntish colours on the kitchen table, as well as some birthday presents.
2. Showing Bettany how to catch and care for pet woodlice.
3. To go to bed feeling as if I've done enough work for today.
1. We smell and feel the rain coming before it arrives.
2. Bettany's old school books are stuffed with crafts and photographs of class activities. As she takes me through the thick black pages, she can't believe how small she and her friends were two years ago.
3. I am sitting at my desk at the top of the house when I hear a shout. Alec and Nick on their way back from a cricket match in the rain have seen me through the open window.
1. It's inset day today: a little bonus Monday with a lie-in at the end of half term.
2. A little way off, we see Alec's friend on his bike; and later his mum stepping across the park for a catch-up.
3. To hurry home through the woods with a child holding each hand.
1. To see a stack of pancakes disappearing.
2. As we come across the common I ask if we can quickly divert to check on the tadpoles in Cabbage Stalk Pond. When we get there, a nice little dog, terrier-sized with curly gingery hair, is just coming out of the water carrying an orange ball. She drops it at Alec's feet and looks expectant, so he throws it for her, a good cricketing throw. She races through the grass, leaping like Bambi, and brings it back to me. We play with her for a while, wondering where her owner is. In due course a woman with crutches comes along and claims her dog. We chat -- about the tadpoles, who can be seen wriggling away happily -- and the dog keeps bringing the ball back so we can throw it.
3. At the market we chat to the people at the wooden bunting stall. They have started making little seaside scenes out of driftwood and beachcombings. Although they are not exact portraits, they capture so well the coastal places of Kent and Sussex that we love. Here's Hastings with its tall black net huts; and Dungeness's black and white lighthouse and shacks with coloured roofs.
1. Bettany is intrigued by a woman feeding the geese by the lake shore. She saves her crusts so that she too can summon powerful, dangerous birds.
2. Even at this distance we can hear Alec and his friends shouting in their boats on the lake. Bettany and I hire a boat a bit later: the water is a good place to be on this hot, still day.
3. I use PlantNet to check the identity of a tiny, dainty umbellifer growing in the park. It turns out that it is pignut. I try to learn a few wild plants each year, and I'm so pleased to add this one to my collection. I'm tempted to dig for its edible root, but I think that the borough council and the friends of the park would prefer I did not.
1. The post-bank holiday check-in emails that remind me I am working with real people. I always like the human being sentence -- the one that remarks on the weather, or mentions the weekend.
2. The news that the wildlife hospital declared Tim's rescued sparrow ready for release.
3. It's not great looking sushi, but we have fun making it and the children are getting some good knife skills slicing it up.
1. During a period of warm weather, to slide ice lolly moulds full of orange and pink smoothie into the freezer.
2. To ensure we avoid the attention of the council's weedkiller man we pull out the briza grass and avens growing between the fence and the pavement. The soil smells sweet and damp, and even in that tiny gap there are big worms at work.
3. To sit back with a comedy podcast.
1. When I wave the children and Nick off I realise that the air is so soft and summery that the only course of action that makes complete sense is to go for a walk before starting work.
2. In the park there are tall yellow and black irises, and in another bed the promise of another colour pairing that is too parcelled up to discern.
3. The children scampering around the house and up and down the street doing their dustbin duties. I only wish that they would do each part of the task without getting distracted and without arguing when we try to put them back on track.
1. We find the only patch of sun in a rainy morning and sit in it, just taking in the forest and breathing.
2. Nana won't let me 'sit in wet clothes' and so I put on her spare trousers and top without a fuss.
3. By the time I've finished there is a bright array of chopped vegetables ready for Nick to put in his noodle soup.
1. I am passed from hand to hand by smiling people in masks and hi-vis, and when I stumble out through a service door into the bright May drizzle, I am partially vaccinated against covid-19.
2. A coffee, a piece of cake and a nice long chat with a good friend.
3. To sit with the children doing rebus puzzles because I am too tired to read to them.
1. The curled buds of tulips hiding among the leaves.
2. To my surprise, Alec says he'd like to come with me.
3. Bettany's dance camp can't do the usual end of session show, but they perform one of the dances -- 'Stick it to the Man' from School of Rock in the car park, and it's glorious to see how much a good teacher can achieve in two days.
1. The moment between opening the blind to see unexpected snow and realising that it is going to spoil your plans for the day.
2. Bettany has made orange jelly with peaches in it for supper pudding.
3. I get the giggles during writing group.
1. To snip off a few dead hyacinth heads in the garden.
2. Alec announces that he will be taking a bath this evening. And can he listen to a podcast. He suggests I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue, and promises that all the rude jokes go over his head.
3. To have spent an entire weekend focusing on my own writing with a Solus Or virtual retreat.
1. To put on my shoes and leave the house.
2. Is that snow?
3. Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three is excruciatingly slow to start, as tedious Prince Gwydion infodumps a load of nation-level back story and central casting farmboy Taran moans about his identity crisis. As I read it to the children I can see why Alec has abandoned it. But then Gurgi and Eilonwy turn up, and the story seems to come alive. I think it's the character-level conflict: poor Taran can hardly bring himself to associate with either of them, but he has to, or he can't move forward -- and it's like the lights have gone on in the story.
1. To eat large pieces of Easter egg for breakfast.
2. My parents come to visit for the first time in over a year to sit in the garden, drink Champagne and see how much the children have grown.
3. In the April woods, still bare but so very nearly in leaf, to see the children running about among the trees, now behind us, now ahead.
1. There is leftover curry for lunch, and Nick even finds a bit of meat that the children did not gobble up last night. 2. Just before bed, ...