Thursday, March 04, 2021

Fog, coffee and learning.

1. It is a very misty morning, so that the buildings across the car park are barely there. I tell Alec about the time when he was a very tiny boy and called me to look out of the window on a foggy morning because he did not understand what had happened to the world.

2. The sound of Nick's tread on the stairs -- he is bringing me coffee while I work.

3. To sit in bed doing a few tasks on an e-learning archaelogy course with Nick. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Down/up, tomatoes and compost.

1. The beans have put out hairy roots and leggy stems.

3. Bettany quietly eats most of the tomatoes I sliced to go with our lunch. She enquires about a flavoured salt I had forgotten to put on the table.

2. Under the dry leaves is compost ready to use, and the rotted stem is all that remains of our pumpkin.


Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Spontaneous cuddles, parcel of books and ship tracker.

1. When the children go back to school I will miss the spontaneous cuddles.

2. A parcel of books arrives -- this time I've ordered things I actually want to read, rather than books I should be reading. 

2b. The whole school is studying a picture-only book called Journey by Aaron Becker as part of World Book Day, and I ordered a copy. The children have only seen it on screen and Bettany in particular is very excited to have our own book.

3. To use a ship tracker to see Uncle Rob's progress towards home.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Plastic tut, alone and wave.

1. We passed a box of 'free to a good home' things on our walk. Bettany picked up a plastic toy that might be a tiki bar. She has been playing with it ever since, adding characters to it from our 'people' jar.

2. In the woods I steal away for a moment alone.

3. As we are crossing the road a friend drives past waving wildly.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Strawberry smell, easy errand and crocuses.

1. There is an unnatural strawberry smell in the High Street that puts a smile on my face because it reminds me of something that I coveted as a child (not sure what, just that I didn't have it and wanted it very much).

2. An errand I expected to be complicated turns out to be pretty simple.

3. There is a mist of purple at the bottom of The Grove where the crocuses have come.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Light, air and roots.

1. This morning without being asked Alec opens the shutters of our bedroom so I have enough light to type.

2. To open a window and feel new air hurrying into the room.

3. My beans have put down roots.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Break, shortbread and dust.

1. Even though I don't particularly want to, I take my five minute stretching breaks after each hour of work.
2. A piece of Bettany's shortbread arrives on my desk at tea time.
3. To slide fluff out of the dustpan and into the bin.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Shortbread, tired and world radio.

1. I come down to dinner and find that Bettany has made more shortbread. 
2. The children are very tired after a day of schooling -- to hear them call that they are turning out their lights half an hour earlier than usual.
3. To spend a cheerful twenty minutes playing around with Radio Garden, as recommended by my writing group. It allows you to navigate the world's radio stations on a zoomable map. We listen to Japanese morning radio, and wheezy men in the north Pacific discussing what women want in various decades, and catch the last sentence of a chilling tale from the Isle of Skye, and a cheery woman talking in Faroese, punctuated by the occasional 'hallelujah'.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Iris, shortbread and flowers in the woods.

1. Before breakfast the iris is a dark spike. After, it is three flashes of deep purple and lemon yellow.

2. To leave Bettany making shortbread while I do some cleaning tasks in the kitchen. 

3. On the far bank, across from a memorial bench, someone has planted snowdrops. In another place, there are crocuses at the side of a busy path.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Memory, viewing and rover.

1. Alec tells us at dinner that his happiest memory is waking up hungry in the middle of the night and coming downstairs with Daddy to eat rice pudding,  
2. We snuggle into the big bed to watch Carradine's Cockney Singalong live -- because it's half term and we don't have to worry about bedtimes.
3. News that the Mars rover has landed successfully filters into the merry-making.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Banana bread, chocolate and reading aloud.

1. Banana bread warmed in the oven.

2. In the middle of the afternoon when I am deep in work, Nick produces a piece of chocolate from some secret place.

3. Reading aloud to Alec from Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam are almost at the mountain. This section has a lot of topographical description which I find as much of a slog as the two hobbits did. But Alec continues after I must stop and later that evening he calls out to me that they've arrived at the mountain.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Pancakes, blackbird at twilight and crow.

1. Nana, Alec and Nick make pancakes for us all to mark Shrove Tuesday.

2, The glassy evening call of a blackbird.

3. We finally get to watch the Upstart Crow Christmas Special. From 2018. We'll watch the 2020 one later this week.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Knock, plan and waiting.

1. The postman has to knock this morning because he has a heavy book parcel.

2. To make a pancake plan -- we're taking ourselves and our pancake pan to Nana's in the afternoon. 

3. After 9pm, I finally get to listen to the new episode of the The Battersea Poltergeist that dropped this morning.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Chocolate at breakfast time, pockets and not Pink Floyd.

1. Eating chocolate at breakfast time because it's Valentine's Day.

2. My mother-in-law has put a pocket in my previously pocketless pyjamas.

2. In the end we have to Google it, because Alec is so, so sure that Pink Floyd is responsible for 'Baby Shark'.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Rosey cheeks, behind and crackle.

1. When we go inside the children's cheeks turn bright pink. 
2. Turning round to look back at the sunset through the trees.
3.Walking on frozen mud and feeling it crackle under my boots.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Small tasks, snow and dance.

1. Today is a rest day: I spend a little time reading for fun after breakfast, and focus on small tasks and easy targets for the rest of the day.

2. We wake to a sprinkling of snow that is quickly gone and then enjoy a day of pretty flurries with large, feathering flakes.

3. Bettany bars me from her dance class watching week -- but five minutes before the end she comes and finds me for the final dance and I get to see the little Bettany dance smile that is, really, what I pay for when the dance class invoice comes in (although I am not allowed to join in because I'm still in my pyjamas).

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Ice rink, eggs and saved.

1. Watching people negotiating and navigating the car park behind our house. It is lan ice rink and I like all the different narratives -- two teenage boys with cans of drink deliberately walking up the most challenging part; 4WD vehicles going straight into a space; timid drivers thinking better of it; the dustcart coming by as if it's just an ordinary day; a dad with a tiny child on his shoulders; brisk ladies in bright puffer jackets with walking poles.
2. Nick has been experimenting with eggs by baking them in the oven. 
3. I have a long-awaited medical appointment in Tonbridge today, the first time I have had an urgent need to leave Tunbridge Wells since the start of the pandemic. It is snowing and there are no trains. My dad comes to give me a lift.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Snow, Harriet and one minute.

1. The park, frosted with an inch of snow, is empty and we are the first ones into the playground. We make footprints along the paths, and the children collect icicles to decorate their snowman.

2. We come to the end of our reading book, Harriet The Spy. It's quite a gruelling read, about a child navigating a huge life change as well as conflict and bullying at school, but we were swept along by the deft, light writing. And it let us talk in a non-urgent way about bullying and lies and truth and fiction and child neglect and snobbery and all sorts of things. It's one of those books that has jokes aimed at adults -- I read it as a child and I could tell there were things going over my head, and I'm so glad I've read it again, because it's very funny on that level, too. 

3. The exercise we do in writing is a revelation -- write a sentence in one minute to a particular prompt. A minute is ages in terms of a sentence, and it makes me think that, really, no little slip of time is too short for a writing session.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Early, snow and hot chocolate.

1. I've woken early and can't sleep so I go downstairs for breakfast. After a little while the children join me, scratching their hair into sleepy spikes, rubbing their eyes and complaining that the kitchen lights are too bright.

2. To glance up and see that snow is falling outside.

3. Alec asks for hot chocolate. To tell him that he can make it himself, if he likes -- so he does.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Green footpath sign, progress and bin.

1. After a short stretch of road walking, to find the little green footpath sign pointing into the hedge.
2. To look across the valley and see the way we have just come.
3. The children come scampering up the stairs to take my bin away for emptying. They argue in whispers about bringing it back and in the end one brings it and places it at the end of my desk; then the other takes it away and brings it back a second time. 

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Ginger cake, sunset and stirfry.

1. Alec runs upstairs to show me that he has obtained Granny's ginger cake recipe.
2. A sunset that turns the sky a deep orange-red that I didn't expect to see in nature. As the year turns towards spring the sunset moves out of view from my window. This week I have to crane to see it.
3. The pleasure Nick takes in his purple cabbage stirfry.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Can do, birdsong and prints.

1. Before he leaves Nick tells me that I'll have to print Bettany's maths sheet for her. When the time comes, Bettany points out rather tiredly that I can't print a PDF directly from Teams. 'You have to click those three dots to download it and then print it.' Which makes me wonder if she actually needs help doing this at all.
2. In a quiet moment I can hear birdsong from my desk.
3. After a day of looking at words to focus on a book of Hiroshige's prints.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Time passes, parcels and dates.

1. To look up from work and find that an hour has passed. 
2. A few parcels arrive -- I did my invoicing last week and now I've been paid so I could buy a few bits that I need.
3. To flip through an almanac checking what is going on in February -- Mars can be seen close to the moon in the middle of the month; there's imbolc, candlemass as well as St Valentine's Day; and the Chinese Year of the Ox begins.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Catkins, sit down and dusting.

1. To pick a few small sprigs of hazel catkins for Nana. 
2. Alec finds his hoovering work so exhuasting that he has to have a little sit down between areas of floor.
3. To finally get the high thread of cobweb  ont the landing that has been bothering me for a week.

Friday, January 29, 2021

View, downhill and waiting.

1. We come to the spot in the forest which I think of as Instagram Corner because it features in so many shots of wholesome family activities. There is already a man sitting on the bench breathing deeply. We keep our distance and stand watching rain clouds coming in from Sussex.  
2. Alec says that when they came here on a school trip, everyone spread out and ran down this hill.
3. I'd told everybody that we were going on a proper walk with no stopping but somehow we end up standing around watching the children poking clots of dead leaves out of a stream. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Fan theory, bath and phone conversation.

1. Bettany earnestly tells us about a Frozen fan theory she has discovered today. 
2. Alec lowers his lanky limbs into the bath until nothing is showing among the bubbles except his head.
3. A long refreshing phone call with a friend.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Crossover, more important and talk.

1. I hit send on an email to my goddaughter and see that while I was writing her mother had sent me a message.
2. 'No, Mummy, cuddling you is more important.'
3. Our neighbour calls me because she is upset about the trees behind our house being taken down. Talking it over helps us put our feelings  into words that we can -- perhaps -- use to help repair this situation.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Morning walk, piper and Burns Night.

1. On a crisp morning to leave the house alone and just walk.
1b. Alec comes up to tell me about a time-management disaster -- PE, assembly, a picture of a Mayan temple and all this English, and I've only got ten minutes. (I find out later that he's been sending gifs to his friend on messenger instead of getting on with his school work.) To tell him to take the easiest task first and let the rest follow. I'm hoping that perhaps these low-stakes experiences will help him avoid rougher times in future. 
2. There is an Australian playing the Star War March on bagpipes in Bettany's Beavers meeting -- because of course there is.
3. To settle on the sofa with Nick and watch BBC Scotland's Burns Night concert. Eddi Reader's wild Charlie is My Darling has always been a bit of a favourite on my playlist, but I can't bear to listen to her achingly sad John Anderson except on this one night. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Snow day, lap and origami.

1. It snows a tiny bit -- hard white pellets that are nearly hail and just enough to turn the ground white, but not for very long. The children run outside to the carpark and play in it before it vanishes.
2. Alec is almost too grown to sit on my lap, but he still finds a way to arrange himself.
3. I open an origami book on a project that calls for paper we don't have. But somehow, because Bettany wants to do it, we end up experimenting, and tweaking until we've made it.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Birdsong, contact and early bed.

1. The wind is still high but I can hear birdsong behind it, despite everything.
2. To half-listen to Bettany on a Zoom call chatting with one of her friends.
3. To go to bed early and just read.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Meal plan, sharpen and dark blue undersheet.

1. Alec checks the meal plan to make sure I've included the pasties he wants to cook for us.
2. To put a new edge on a kitchen knife and then use it to slice a tomato.
3. 'I feel like a playboy,' says Nick as he replaces the white sheet on our bed with a dark blue one. But playboys miss out on brushed cotton duvet sets, so we're one up on them. And it's possible that bedmaking is not part of the playboy lifestyle.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Tea, shut and chart.

1. There is a cup of tea waiting for me on the breakfast table.
2. I habitually make a point of keeping the shutters by my desk open until it gets dark so I can get a better idea of day and night -- but today Storm Christoph hits the back of the house and cold is rolling off the window into my workspace. It is a relief to shut that  out. 
3. It's very easy to get lost with larger editing projects and to start stressing about meeting deadlines. What really helps is logging progress on a chart that shows roughly how much more I have to do in the time I have.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Independence, pigeon and pictures.

1. We are lying in bed listening to Radio 3 when it becomes clear from the sounds downstairs that the children are getting themselves up and printing off their school work.
2. The pigeon sits in the back garden looking pointedly at us because no-one has opened the door and thrown out a cup of bird seed.
3. We play with surrealist imagery in writing group -- including making our own pictures. None of us are very good at art, but drawing loosens us up and when we write afterwards the resulting pieces are noticeably  uninhibited.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Hazelnut milk, wet woods and rest.

1. There is hazelnut milk to put in my coffee.
2. The woods are unpleasant, wet and muddy, and consequently not as crowded as usual. 
3. I have floated through the weekend in a leisure dream of home improvement TV and Carcassone and jigsaw pieces. On Sunday evening I find myself filling my pen to work at my writing. That, I suppose, is the subtle power of rest.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Small world, new oven and radio.

1. On this wet day the world has shrunk and from my window I can only see as far as the end of the Pantiles.

2. I am summoned downstairs by excited children to look at the dusty space under the worktop where the old oven used to be; and then a few hours later, to see the new oven that has been installed by our landlord.

2b. Alec announces that he wants to have a bath instead of a shower. It turns out that he has no idea how to run a bath; so Bettany does it for him. This has been a common pattern from about the time Bettany could walk, and Nick and I can see it continuing long after we are gone. 

3. I am too tired and grumpy to do anything this evening. I have a radio comedy recommendation sitting among my emails so I dig in with Conversations from a Long Marriage. 


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Interruption, snowdrops and crumpets.

1. Two roofers drop over the back fence to look at a couple of leaks. It is funny to be disturbed while I'm working by a man tapping on my third-story window.

2. There are snowdrops pushing white bells out of bare earth in a flowerbed.

3. To butter crumpets for the children's bedtime snack.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Full notebook, new book and remembering a detail.

1. To find my notebook is nearly full, and to wonder how that happened.

2. To start a new book with the children: we're reading Imelda and the Horned Owl, which was written by one of Alec's classmates (helped by her dad, the sci-fi author Andrew Wallace).

3. The games master wonders if we remember the names of some wines which were mentioned in passing during a gaming session back in early summer. Although Tim logs all our adventures on Heropress we all take a few notes as we go, and when I flip back through my gaming diary, I find the winelist -- complete with the modern-day prices we used to give ourselves an idea of the wine quality.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Walk, group and novella.

1. Alec is as terrible a procrastinator as I am, so he agrees to come for a quick healthy walk round the block before starting work. We see kiwi fruit hanging on a vine; a wary dog; swimming pool-blue tiles up a garden path; and we still make it back in time to get our work done.

2. We start a new term of creative writing. It seems like magic that a group of people can organise themselves into a helpful, supportive co-operative, even at such a difficult time as this.

3. It is very satisfying to read a novella because it is over so quickly that I can hold the entire story in my head.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Lego, freezing fog and inventory.

1. To sort through our vast Lego accumulation searching for the particular pieces the children want for the sweetie dispensers they are building.

2. The weather today is something rather magical -- freezing fog. Every twig of every tree is iced with crystals. We nearly miss it because we don't go out until late in the afternoon. As it gets dark the air temperature or humidity shifts a little and the ice falls away.

3. To count the shopping into the larder so I know that our cupboards are ready for the weeks ahead.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Walk, dinner and changing the bed.

1. We walk around a nearly empty park this morning. Bettany writes her name in the frost on the seesaw. I wonder who else will see it on this empty day.
2. When I ask at lunch what the children want for supper they decide immediately and simultaneously that what they would like is a Chinese takeaway. 'With crispy duck pancakes,' says Alec quickly. I order a set menu... and job done.
3. As my hour bell goes off Nick comes up the stairs to change the bed, so I get up from my desk and help him smooth sheets and shake pillows.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Revelation, printer and tax return.

1. To keep myself motivated I am working through a writing course.* I try a technique that seems really basic, that I learnt years ago as a way to fix a story that seems broken -- but suddenly I understand how to apply it much earlier in the process, and it is a complete revelation.

2. To hear the printer working when it has been rather unreliable.

3. We get our tax returns done. This is a task that hangs over us every year -- but it never takes that long once you get started. Over the years we've got better at record-keeping, so the information is easy to get hold of.

The course is on Domestika, with Shaun Levin. It's titled Creative Writing for Beginners -- but I always think that with writing it's worth going back to basics from time to time.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Musical beds, homefront and decorations.

1. I wake up in Bettany's single bed because she turned up in our bed in the middle of the night, kicking the covers off and wriggling between us. First thing Alec comes to join me for a moment and I marvel at how tall he has become.

2. PE is a Zombies Run Homefront mission -- thirty minutes for me, fifteen minutes for each child because they fight if they have to do it together. Then I hand them over to Nick for the rest of the day.

3. In the evening Nick and I take down the Christmas decs and afterwards our house seems huge and tidy.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Almond biscuit, easy meals and announcement.

1. Dipping an almond biscuit in my coffee.
2. I resent the amount of weekend time I need to spend cooking -- but I'm always pleased to dig an easy meal out of the freezer in the shape of a box of frozen tomato mince or parsnip soup for Nick to serve up later in the day.
3. We bring the children downstairs to see the prime minister announcing the new lockdown. It's unpleasant, discouraging news, but it seems important for them to see it. 

Monday, January 04, 2021

Gingerbread, hideaway and Marnie.

Sorry for the unannounced break. I was ill right before Christmas, and then, you know, Christmas happened. I needed a complete break from everything. But I'm back at my desk now.

1. We eat the last pieces of the gingerbread, rather rich and spicy, that we got for Christmas. 

2. Nick gets supper, and finding myself not needed in the kitchen I hide away upstairs to read a bit of my book.

3. We are reading When Marnie was There, which Bettany chose partly to annoy Alec because it didn't look very exciting. But we are enjoying it all the same, with much speculation about who Marnie is and asking so many questions about why Anna behaves as she does. I never liked it particularly as a child, finding it puzzling and a bit intense, although my own childhood copy has survived cull after cull of my books. Reading it now, though, I can see that it is very well put together and its honest treatment of children's emotions and unflinching portrait of parenting a damaged child makes for a compelling and uncomfortable read. There's a studio Ghibli film of it, which we might watch together.