Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Crate, lunch waiting and arrangements.

 Here's a short story I wrote for Christmas -- Lydia's Christmas Resolution. Merry midwinter, everyone.

1. I ordered in a small crate of easy peelers with our supermarket delivery. It's a lot of citrus, but I have no regrets.

2. I've had a long, busy morning (it's now 2pm) but Nick has my lunch on the stove.

3. It turns out that Alec has made all the arrangements over the phone. When I come down, he and Bettany are sitting ready in their waterproof trousers, coats and shoes ready.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Quiet hour, pomander and gingerbread house.

1. I wake before everyone else and the quiet hour is a gift to myself.

2. The scent of a decade-old pomander in our box of Christmas decorations.

3. Alec shows off the purple welts on his hand from squeezing the icing tube to draw tiles on the roof of the gingerbread house.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Planning, catch-up and cardamom.

1. I find Alec sitting in bed with a Madhur Jaffrey book, planning dinner.

2. It's been a difficult week. While no-one's looking, I quietly play catch-up with the cardboard house advent calendar, fitting a tiny jelly to the table and assembling a few beds.

3. The scent of cardamom seeds and the oily, gritty feel of them under the pestle.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Best use, late arrival and on the mend.

1. At the back of my mind there's a commentary going on about how lying next to Bettany under a pile of blankets and watching a broadcast of the Wind in the Willows musical is a waste of my time -- but I ignore it: I'm resting AND spending time with my child.

2. Alec is rather late home from school and I have just messaged him to enquire when he knocks at the door, laden with secret Christmas shopping.

3. Quite suddenly, I can't bear not to clean the bathroom, which is how I know I'm getting better.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Low-hanging fruit, stopping and snowmen.

1. It marvels me that no one has run up the common and tugged on the low branches of the trees to shower their friends with snow. It's as if everyone has agreed to keep this snow day pristine.

2. I can't keep up my usual pace for long. It's a good excuse to stop and look around at the unfamiliar flat light and the buds packed hard and black against the snow. 

3. In the distance we can see three snowmen. When we arrive, we are impressed by the beer bottle nose and the broken stick teeth.

Monday, December 12, 2022

One bun, floating and weather.

1. Out of the batch of cinnamon buns, one looks perfect. I make sure Nick gets it.

2. It's my turn to be ill now, and I lie in bed listening to an audio book and floating around between asleep and awake.

3. ...and suddenly it is snowing.

Friday, December 09, 2022

Up the hill, between pavement and stars and hiding.

1. We walk to school along the valley bottom. The sunlight is catching the woods above us, still hanging on to their autumn colours. It's not until we're nearly at school that we can stand in the sun ourselves.

2. There is a perfect Mary Poppins sunset, with smoking chimneys before a dirty orange sky fading up from duck-egg blue to night blue.

3. It feels like Bettany and I will never grow out of lying under the covers, holding our breaths and trying not to giggle while we wait for someone to be surprised at finding us. 

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Gingerbread, even the winter sun and forgotten fiver.

1. To eat a few gingerbread biscuits at coffee time.

2. It's very cold indeed -- but towards the end of the morning, when the world has swung round, the light changes at my desk. I go downstairs and open the blind in the back bedroom to feel the warmth of the winter sun.

3. Alec has the joyful experience of finding a forgotten fiver in his winter coat.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Power, sempervivums and sky watch.

1. To our collective horror, the music teacher starts picking parents out of the audience to play an impromptu set -- just to show us the mighty power of his teaching methods. It's an effective demonstration -- some of these mums and dads have never even tried the instrument before; but We Will Rock You is recognisable.

2. A display of sempervivums at the garden centre catches my eye in their soft slatey blues and greys and pinks.

3. There's a nearly full moon to look forward to on my walk up the hill tonight, with Mars and Jupiter close by.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Not cold, treats and park in the dark.

1. The air is cold, but I, in the middle of a bundle of blankets, am not.

2. It's a foggy night and the park, though cheerfully lit for skating, feels secretive and rather intimate.

3. Catching sight of Bettany's hat coming round the rink. She is holding someone's hand, but looks determined.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Watching, gingerbread and spices.

1. Today we are resting. So we lie on the sofa watching Lilo and Stitch.

2. The ball of gingerbread dough is rather daunting; but thanks to the notes scribbled around the recipe, we find our rolling, cutting and baking skills again.

3. To let Alec loose among my spices so he can make hot apple juice.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Sunset, siblings and closing the door.

1.  The alarm goes off telling me that it's time to go and watch Bettany's dance class. I go to close the shutters before I leave and see that a deep red sun is touching the dark horizon.

2. In front of us very small siblings bob along in time to the music.

3. We close the door behind us, and we're home for the evening.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Parcels, wrong tea and advent calendar.

1. The children are very excited to find that two boxes of Christmas presents, and two mysterious advent parcels in biscuity wrapping paper have been delivered overnight.

2. At breakfast, somehow there is rooibos brewing in the pot, rather than tea. It makes an interesting change.

3. Bettany and I sit at the kitchen table with the house calendar and write festive treats and happenings on the tiny cardboard squares that go in our advent calendar house. It feels nice that she values the advent house experience so much that she wants to get involved in it, rather than just letting it happen to her.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Toy panic, tinplate and soon to be.

1. The post has brought a new Fortean Times, which promises lurid tales of panic about satanic toys -- just in time for Christmas shopping.

2. I have a few minutes to wait and I spend it looking at the bright simple graphics on tinplate toys in a shop window.

3. The joyful news that our friends are soon to be grandparents. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Headache, unicorn and in person.

1. I've had the vague, jittery kind of headache all day and don't really want to take anyone out for hot chocolate -- but sit down in the window, a chat and a huge mug of sweet chai sorts me right out.

2. We cross the road then stop and have a good look at the illuminated Christmas unicorn rearing above the tall laurel hedge.

3. I'd heard through the grape vine that she'd had an accident: to see her in person, cheerful and healing.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Mutiny, sneezing and spring onions.

1. I enact a one-person mutiny at the thought of making pancakes for breakfast -- I've always done it, but today, I just don't want to. Nick asks where the recipe is, and when I come downstairs he is making the batter. Later, we show Bettany how to cook and flip a pancake.

2. I step away from the market stall we are admiring because I'm about to sneeze. I sneeze once, which is a relief, and then I sneeze a lot of times. When I stop, I get a round of applause and some congratulations. Bettany, meanwhile, has sidled away because she doesn't want to be associated with a parent who draws attention to herself. 

3. Green and white spring onions dropped into the middle of the soup make it look like human food, rather than bland fuel. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Work, easy button and extra.

1. This morning has been hard work. It's a relief to slip in between the lines of a structural edit, which is a task where I can let the words be and concentrate on the story.

2. Nick reminds us on this rainy evening to 'Hit the easy button all the way. Get a taxi up there,' he says.

3. '...and then Mummy said it looked delicious and she was starving, and the lady gave us extra.'

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Blackcurrant jam, broad beans and selecting.

1. Homemade blackcurrant jam -- it's a summer afternoon that you can put on a toasted bagel.

2. Nick exclaims rather happily, 'Broad beans are nothing like they used to be.'

3. Granny and Bettany go through the toyshop's Christmas catalogue.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Paperwhites, M&S run and Brut.

1. Anna and I plant up some paperwhites and look after our minds. Remembering Elspeth Thompson.

2. With a jar of Anna's homemade jam in the bottom of my handbag, I hurry on to M&S to stock up with scones and cake for a special tea.

3. We've been working our way through a bottle of Brut -- courtesy of Nick's mother -- since lunchtime.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Morning after, prizes and so pink.

1. The children bounce into our bed and demand to know if we have 'a drunken hangover'. We assure them that we do not: we only had one drink, although Nick did stay out very late dancing.

2. Even a grown-up person like Alec takes pleasure in shaking my phone to see what prizes we've won in the Christmas giveaway on the coffee shop's app.

3.  Bettany painted my nails a bright coral pink for the party last night. They keep catching my eye. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Houseplant, last of the leaves and bellicose.

1. Helping someone else choose a houseplant. It's a beautiful thing with great gleaming leaves and long speckled stems; and I won't have to pay for it or look after it.

2. My gaze is caught by the last fragments of bright yellow foliage on the birch tree that you can just see if you sit in the right spot in our kitchen.

3. Coming up the hill and spotting Mars's angry red face glaring down at humanity. A moment later, and he's stamped himself off behind the roofline again.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Between, sewn on and mistakes.

1. At least there is sunlight between the showers.

2. To look up and find that Bettany has sewn on three buttons while I wasn't looking.

3. It sounds as if Alec has had a lot of fun at the Scouts cooking competition. His team came second to last and he recounts the disastrous mistakes ('but at least we didn't serve raw chicken like the team that came last') with a glee that belies his claims of sympathy for the Young Leaders who were doing the judging.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Job ad, clearing up and audiobook.

1. A job ad has appeared in our bathroom, saying that Bettany's shop is now hiring. I explain to the advertiser that it would be conventional to put her contact details on the tear strips along the bottom of the poster, rather than leaving them blank. 'But I don't have phone,' she says. 'Maybe I could write "Shout Bettany" on each one?"

2. It was raining so heavily as I was getting ready to leave the house that I put on all my waterproofs. Now there is a clear Jupiter dodging among the chimney pots, and the square that makes up Pegasus nearby.

3. To plug into an audiobook and vanish into the world of Madeline Miller's Circe.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Earl Grey, reassurance and long shadows.

1. The scent of Earl Grey tea.

2. The feeling after a fortifying coffee and a reassuring chat.

3. Even the crumbs of soil on the patio have long shadows. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Parade, autumn colours and sport on TV.

1. Catching sight of our children in the Remembrance Day parade, marching with Royal Tunbridge Wells Scouts. They both look rather pleased and proud to be there. It's nice also to catch sight of our friends from school in the crowd and in the parade.

2. 'It's like a lightshow,' says Nick of the yellow leaves on the long hedge of lime trees.

3. As the afternoon goes on, in Nana's living room I am half distracted by Bettany's requests for help with her hedgehog pincushion; and half distracted by the TV. It is showing incredible athletic and physical feats by aggressive and wheelchair rugby league players. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

After rain, better biscuits and tracking.

1. The last time I was at the cricket club at the back end of August, the ground was like a piece of toast. Today, it is lush green and rather muddy underfoot.

2. These stroopwaffels are rather superior, being both crisp and soft at the same time.

3. What a difference a tracking spreadsheet makes to my productivity -- not necessarily to how much work I've done; but how much work I know I've done.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Change of air, cold weather and soft fruit.

1. Wintery sunshine and a brisk drying wind make all the difference after a week of long wet days and heavy showers.

2. Alec comes in from school and remarks that he has enjoyed walking home in the sort of cold weather that makes you glad it isn't a hot day. He suggested I might like to use this here, and so I said I might. Then he suggested I add that it's the kind of temperature that makes you want a piece of Granny's flapjack. I'm not sure why he doesn't just send her a message and ask. 

3. I rarely buy fresh soft fruit out-of-season because it's often disappointing to taste; it's not very good for the environment; and it's poor value compared with frozen fruit. But Bettany doesn't know any of that -- and inevitably if Nick needs to pop to the shops on the way home from school he bribes her by allowing her to add raspberries or blueberries to the basket. It must have been a hard sell today, because they also have a small chocolate cake, which goes very well with the fruit.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Flock, bicarb and caraway seeds.

1. A flock of starlings rises briefly above the trees.

2. The chocolate swiss rolls -- special edition for bonfire night -- that we have with our coffee have captured the bicarb taste of cinder toffee rather well.

3. To find there are caraway seeds in the rye bread I have bought for lunch. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Dot, bathtime and a good night's sleep.

1. 3.30ish: to watch Alec's dot on the map getting closer and closer.

2. The smell of Bettany's chocolate body wash mixing with the disco tunes we're listening to while she plays in the bath.

3. I'm already in bed, packed round with pillows and the winter quilt, when I hit the tiredness wall. I'm half aware of the shifting mattress and the change of light when Nick comes to bed; and then nothing until morning.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Craft, beads and muddy coat.

1. When I bring everything together from various stashes around the house, I realise we have a lot of boxes, tins, picture frames and other things that can be decorated on a rainy afternoon. 

2. When I turn back the girls are making something complicated using Hamabeads.

3. Nick takes my muddy coat from me and puts it in through the wash.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Umbrellas, music lessons and quilt.

1. Bettany's friends share their umbrellas with her, until they discover that they can use them to flick water at each other.

2. Flicking through some books my mother has brought for Alec's piano lessons, I remember the kindness and encouragement of my own music teacher.

3. With the heavy winter quilt on the bed, our night-times feel extra secure and snuggly.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Liquidambar, parting and dump.

1. The fallen leaves of a liquidambar lie spikey in the grass.

2. Where our ways part, we linger chatting.

3. There is a real feeling that when the older Scouts dump their slightly creepy guys on the fire that something uncomfortable is being driven away, out of the circle and into the sky by the blast of light and heat.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Coffee break, still there and the right snack.

1. After a short break, we are back to having morning coffee again.  

2. The book I didn't buy on Sunday is still there.

3. Today I have brought the right snack.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Trick, good manners and family planning.

1. Before breakfast, quite casually, Bettany demonstrates a sleight of hand that proves I have eleven fingers. It's only once everyone has left for school that I work out how it is done.

2. A boy who left the children's primary school a few years ago comes to the door in costume for some Halloween sweets. He recognises me and politely asks after the children, which both charms and impresses me.

3. At bedtime I remember that I have a new video of the cousins dancing around like a pair of loons. Alec and Bettany make me play it four times. Then Bettany tells Alec that he should think about starting a family soon because he likes toddlers so much.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Timing, project management and moon over Mount Sion.

1. As Alec and I are coming up the High Street, we see Nick coming towards us.

2. We tried telling Bettany that the papercraft she's set her heart on couldn't be done because the video instructions are in Korean and the printables, taken from screen-caps, are not designed for A4 paper. But she was having none of that. And so we're all sitting round the kitchen table cutting out tiny accessories for a paper kitten.

3. Bad Moon Rising shows up on our Halloween playlist. I look up and see a huge crescent coming over Mount Sion.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Ready for Halloween, syrup and unseasonable.

1. To put Bettany's carved pumpkin out at the front of the house and help her go through the dressing-up bag in search of a costume.

2. To half-supervise Alec spooning treacle and syrup into a pan -- he's making another parkin.

3. It's an unseasonably warm night and there are even a few stars peering through the haze when I put out the last of the recycling. We are surprised and delighted by this evening of soft air that makes you think you wouldn't mind sitting outside in the pub garden. But with October, you never quite know what you're going to get; and I think that we would be no less surprised and delighted by a hard frosty night with our breath shimmering in the air under brittle stars. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Massage, averages and parkin.

1. A lot of the massage therapists appear to be moonlighting physios. Today's one is happy to spend time coaching me through some pre-massage stretches; and then poking down the sides of my spine to find exactly where the stiffness is coming from.

2. It is a relief when Nick comes home: he is much better at explaining averages to Bettany than I am.

3. At supper time, we unwrap the parkin, which has been waiting in the dark for four days. This year's one is a bit wholesome and boring; but we've already given half of it away and eaten quite a lot of it, so I might make another.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Walkers, cone and seasons.

1. A nursery walks down the other side of the street, hanging on to a Walkodile. One of the children has a dolly tucked into her coat; another child is clutching a train ticket. A boy near the back suddenly sits down on the pavement. 

2. Alec's pleasure in the 'perfect' ice cream cone that he has made.

3. It's autumn now, with all the joys that brings -- but the season in our book has swung round into spring, and it's reassuring to remember that the storms and the fallowing won't last forever.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Not too closely, breaking up and rolling up.

1. The best approach is to supervise, but not too closely. While Bettany pours acrylic paint over pebbles, I chop swede and strip wintery greens from their woody stems.

2. The children are fighting over a blanket. I drop a heavy square of crocheted wool on Alec's legs, shove the red fleece over Bettany and sit between them on the sofa.

3. That moment when the last of the physio is done, and I can roll up the mat for the day.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Screen time, beaten and a quick outing.

1. I wake early and it's raining hard. I get on the XBox before anyone else and build an elaborate watery city in Townscaper.

2. Being beaten by your own child at a memory game.

3. After Bettany has had her afternoon bath we run down to the Pantiles in the washed autumn light to catch the tail-end of the market.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Gaming, red jumper and too tired.

1. At coffee time, Alec and I play a bit of Minecraft Dungeons. 

2. Then suddenly we remember that Bettany has a red jumper she can wear tomorrow to 'show racism the red card'. 

3. I am too tired for the thing I planned tonight -- but then I remember that I still haven't watched half the 'new' season of Futurama that I completely missed because it came out while Bettany was tiny.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Out, last day of term and new serial.

1. The fly that has been buzzing around our bedroom for the last eighteen hours finds its way out of the open window.

2. It's last day of term for Alec and I keep having to remind myself that it's not Friday.

3. A new Danny Robins serial -- The Witch Farm -- has begun, and the first episode is waiting for me on the BBC player.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Flicker, survivors and little red.

1. In the garden on the edge of my vision, the flicker of little birds, and their shadows.

2. In the antiques shop, eggshells painted with flowers.

3. To pass Bettany a blueberry-sized tomato at supper.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Girls, it's done and read again.

1. The cafe lady says, 'See you soon, girls,' which makes us both laugh, because we've been sitting there moaning about editing and menopause.

2. This has been a terrible writing session. Everything has come out ashy, and the ink on my fingers seems more meaningful than the words on my page. But I kept going; and now it's done.

3. Alec asks me to read again a few sentences from our book.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Last, launch and Ronia.

1. I pull down the fading sweetpeas. If anyone asks why I haven't gone all the way to the end of the fence, the ones on the downhill end are still flowering. I'm waiting for the first frost, in case the last of the bees have a need.

2. To join some of the local literati for a book launch -- Available Light, which is a collaboration between the poet poet Val Pargeter and the artist Marilyn Garwood. Some of Val's poems started life at the Monday night writing group I used to attend, and it's so exciting -- and hopeful -- to see creative people producing beautiful objects, and to be part of a living local arts scene. 

3. Bettany says it's her turn to choose next, and what she wants us to read is my battered copy of Ronia the Robber's Daughter, even though we've just this evening finished watching the animated series. She says she is a bit scared of this Ronia -- my Ronia, the wild, fierce, defiant, adolescent Ronia who asked child me to choose her book. She looks rather different from the BBC's cute anime girl.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Master, harvest and striped packages.

1. Our boy, after a perfect morning routine, setting off cheerfully to school.

2. The hard greenish pearls of tomatoes that probably won't ripen.

3. At the end of the summer holidays I bought new tights for Bettany. They came by post in striped paper packets and we put them away ready for colder weather. As she is putting her clothes out for the morning, she tells me that she doesn't want to open the stripy packets, that she likes having them in her drawer. But, nonetheless, she carefully tears one open and brings out, folded in a coil, a pair of grey school tights.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Short wait, reach and mango.

1. There is just time -- a couple of minutes -- to examine the variety of things stacked outside an antique shop, but not time to buy any of them.

2. Bettany is very cross with me, but still reaches for my hand when we go over the road.

3. This mango is really very good -- perfectly ripe, piney and sweet -- but the children don't want any.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Released, typing up and homework.

1. Released into a bit of open space and with no one telling them what to do, the Cubs dart around like little fishes who have just realised crumbs are being thrown on the water.

2. Sitting in the pub with a pint, I type up a scrap of a writing exercise, letting the characters reveal more about themselves, to see if I can bend it into a story. 

3. We come home to find that Nick and Alec have both done Alec's art homework.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Crimson leaves, circuits and essay.

1. A wild creeper with crimson leaves drapes the neglected trees at the back of the car park. Bettany and I raid it for vines to weave around an autumn wreath.

2. We sit playing with an electronics toy, building circuits, testing them and clicking them apart again. We both marvel at the conductivity of Bettany's wet fingers, a pencil line and a cup of salty water.

3. Nick brings the printed copy of Alec's history essay downstairs.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Coffee time, bulbs and in my notes.

1. Softening a stroopwafel over my coffee cup.

2. Burying bulbs feels like sending a message to myself in the spring.

3. We suddenly remember a phone call a while back in which we got some advice on a matter that is troubling us again. I flip back through my notebook, and there it is.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Bulbs, crimson and like her.

1. After coffee with our friends, Nick and I poke around the garden centre choosing bulbs for next spring.

2. Up the hill I can see the bright crimson leaves of a cherry tree facing the end of the growing season.

3. We are watching Ronja again. Bettany observes Lovis, tall and strong, taking charge of the robbers and her volatile husband, and says, 'I want to be like her.'

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Red/blue, roux and myths.

1. Ripe orange tomatoes have tumbled off the vine to lie on the grey-blue slate chips I used as mulch.

2. There is something a tiny bit magic about making a roux -- and it's fun to see Nick discovering that as he prepares cauliflower cheese for lunch.

3. Bettany brings me an enormous, richly illustrated book of world myths.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Mnemonic, coast bus and the list.

1. Bettany, who is really, really good at putting poems to memory, murmurs a maths mnemonic.

2. As I am walking home at 9pm, the bus from Brighton stops at the lights. It will go up town then turn round and go all the way back to Brighton this evening. The late night wash of sea on shingle under orange sodium lights and a chip shop with steamed up windows, still serving at 2am, pull at me like an undertow, then are gone.

3. To sit with Alec and hear the list of important things in his day.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Welcome, I know what that was and compost.

1. The toothy smile on the birthday boy's face when he catches sight of Alec.

2. They shout that it's cash only from now on and the woman in the queue ahead of me turns away. But she is called back and given a free pizza slice. 

As I am leaving the shop, I hear her tell her little girl, 'I know what that was. She's my godmother.'

3. I spent an hour in the sunshine on Saturday turning and sifting the compost heap; and now I have soil to pot on some languishing houseplant cuttings and to finish a number of tasks that have been -- similarly -- languishing at the bottom of my to-do list. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Having a go, firmament and what might happen.

1. We go to a secondary school open evening, and Bettany dissects a kidney, implodes a drink can, builds a circuit, does some match-stick puzzles, writes a secret message using starch, watches chemicals change from 'water' to 'wine' to 'milk' and decorates a paper leaf. 

2. After a quick supper in a Turkish grill we hurry home under a sky where rags of cloud and drifts of mist move aside to reveal the stars

3. We're definitely home before the menfolk, but Bettany wants to spend some time standing on the door step imagining that they are sitting in the dark on the sofa, and that when we come in, they will say in soft, creepy voices, 'We've been waiting for you.'

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Bedding, less than a packet and audiobook.

1. I briefly stop work to help Nick put clean sheets on the bed and enjoy the thought that later we'll be sleeping in fresh sheets.

2. There is a packet -- or rather less than a packet now -- of Fox's Crunch Creams in the biscuit tin.

3. I have read an awful lot of words today for work. To wind down with an audiobook.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Hurry, unexpected rainstorm and sit.

1. I'm glad I went out to drink tea with a person who is in just as much of a hurry today as I am. It's cheered me up, and given me the energy to finish the afternoon.

2. I jog home in my shirt, my unsuitable coat bundled under my arm to protect it from the unexpected rainstorm.

3. What with one thing and another, I've barely seen Alec all day. There is time now, right before he goes to bed, to sit with him and hear what he has to say.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Sleeping in, conkers and bullrush.

1. I sleep so long and so hard that Nick gets up before me.

2. We have to keep stopping because the children are playing conkers.

3. There is a single broken bullrush in the pond, and I think it would be all right to take it so the children can examine it and feel its brown velvet coat and maybe pull the seedhead apart and let the fluff float away. They fight over it all the way to Nana's. When we get there, they tuck it carefully into her flower arrangement and forget about it completely.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Split, coffee time and eggs.

1. A tomato so ripe and full that it has split open. 

2. On a clear cool day, to drink hot coffee with Nick in the kitchen.

3. Hard boiled eggs with soft, deep yellow yolks.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Apples, real people and read aloud.

1. From my desk I can smell the apples that Nick is cooking for supper. 

2. We're watching Ronja on BBC iPlayer this month. It's a faithful adaptation of one of my favourite books, and Astrid Lindgren's story- and character-craft shines through so that Ronja's actions are utterly convincing. Bettany and I find ourselves discussing her parents, Matt and Lovis, as if they were real people.

3. Bettany lying half on me across the sofa reading aloud from her school book.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Soften, bus and handful.

I recently provided editorial support to this charity anthology of festive stories, Written in the Stars. All net profits to Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity and The Butterfly AVM Charity for their work helping children with life-threatening illnesses and supporting their families. There's something for everyone in it, and if you think the causes deserve more, there's also Go Fund Me page where you can learn more about the little girl, Sophia, who inspired the project.

1. After I pick up Bettany, tired after a day of school and tutoring, she walks next to me complaining loudly about everything. Nonetheless, as we wait for the crossing at the bottom of the hill, she reaches for my hand.

2. To rock along the side of a hill at dusk on a near empty bus.

3. I need to roll seven dice for this action: it's a good handful.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The bride, verse and too many rabbits.

At last I've got some time to reflect on the wedding we went to on Saturday, and here are my beautiful things.

1. The people sitting nearer the arched entrance have a view sooner, but at last we can see our beautiful Jo 'sprig-muslin drest' coming up the aisle to meet her patient groom.

2. The groom's mother reads a rhyming, well scanned poem she has written and I am beyond impressed that she has worked in the word 'itinerary'.

3. We are interrupted by a conjuror who assures us it's all sleight of hand -- but it's very clearly magic when he instructs me to open my fist, which I have just closed around a single toy rabbit, and I find my palm is full of six or seven smaller bunnies.

4. After the formal pictures, Bettany and the other bridesmaids -- ten of them, because Jo is very fond of children and has a lot of goddaughters and nieces -- disappear and return wearing trainers under their dresses.

5. Alec chatting frankly and seriously with another guest who happens to work for Xbox.

6. Nick is reunited with a few colleagues and is delighted to discover that one of them has set herself on the dream career path that she always talked about over drinks.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Leave-taking, not a kingfisher and millennium green.

1. We feel very sad to be leaving the large and beautiful house we have been staying in. It has large rooms with dark oak floorboards and carved stairways, vast beds, long sofas and more towels than you can imagine.

2. I go in the opposite direction to check out a pub and the bridge that I think must be at the end of this road. A flash of blue catches my eye. A kingfisher? No, far too big. Two kingfishers sitting on top of each other? It's a macaw, turquoise and egg-yolk yellow, climbing about the rail, apparently belonging to the man washing cars in a yard by the river. While I'm staring, startled, a walker coming the other way smiles at me and stops for a selfie with the bird. I call the others over and they come and marvel, too. THEN, a little myna bird flies over and starts chattering away. THEN, I spot a pile of kittens playing in the garage, four or five black, and one that -- strangely -- is red and green and yellow. We spot the mother cat, who is similarly coloured. The car wash man doesn't want to catch my eye when I go to ask, so I just thank him for the wonders.

3. The owner of our accommodation told us that there is a place by the river with a mill and a gravel beach where people like to go. We come upon it rather by chance, and it is lovely -- one of the millennium greens, it says.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Urgent, gasp and the queue.

 1. In the rain, across the way there are three men doing a one-man job, as if it's something urgent that must be complete before the building gets any wetter.

2. Bettany brings her bridesmaid dress downstairs to show our neighbour, and she gasps so loudly when she sees it.

3. Watching the quiet live footage of the Queen lying in state in Westminster Hall. The public shuffles past, some pausing, some bowing, some walking right on by, and no-one says a thing. Every quarter of an hour, the queue halts and the guard changes, the strike of their boots and staves echoing in the hall. It is comforting to know that she does not spend this in-between time alone.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

News cycle, certificate and recalling.

1. The soft racket of the news stories about the nation mourning the Queen.

2. The postman hands me a rigid envelope. Certificate?

3. I threw a frozen lump of elderflower syrup into the pan of fruit. Over ice cream, it tastes of early summer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

'Working', mystery pot and night rain.

1. An instructive hour is spent researching the work of a top-selling author for an upcoming edit which will be marketed in the same niche. Of course I need to read a couple of the books, and I am quite justified in putting them on expenses.

2. In a back corner of the garden I find that a pot of soft strappy leaves has put out long stems topped with whitish minarets.

3. In the dark, beyond the shutters and the window glass, rain is falling.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Tagine, old shoes and hats.

1. When my mother arrives, Nick is diligently bringing together a lamb tagine that will cook slowly through the afternoon.

2. That's one bag of worn-out shoes gone to recycling.

3. Some of the officials at the proclamation ceremony have worn hats. Others have not, and are saddened when they realise they could have raised them during the shouts of God Save the King and the three cheers for King Charles III. 

Friday, September 09, 2022

Rainbow, ER and watering.

1. Nick opens the shutters, letting in grey-yellow light. 'There's a rainbow,' he exclaims. Bettany and I get up to look.

2. We've been waiting for this sad news all day, and it's almost a relief when Alec comes back into the kitchen after supper to say that the Queen has died. We stop and put the radio on. The soothing all-channels BBC national crisis coverage helps us into the new reign.

3. It's been a week: two PMs, two monarchs and we're facing down a cost-of-living crisis. But the houseplants still need watering, and so I fill my little watering can with rainwater and pick up my orchid spray and paintbrush.

Photo by Ryan Johns on Unsplash

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Stove, scarlet and tuck.

1. To unbox and marvel at the tiny folding stove that I have bought.

2. From the window I spot scarlet among the toothed leaves, a tomato that I have missed.

3. Tucking Bettany's hair into a shower turban.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Grapes, looking forward and swan.

1. Once I've snipped off the stalks and turned the bunch over, the bowl of grapes looks much more enticing.

2. Nick and I take a few minutes to anticipate the accommodation we've booked for a wedding we're all going to in a few weeks. One of the bedrooms has a freestanding bath in it, like you get in a posh hotel.

3. Bettany asks insistently for 'that swan dance music' for Barbie's ballet recital. We find Swan Lake on Spotify and this seems to satisfy her. Barbie has to go through many, many rehearsals before she is allowed to perform to an audience of one -- her mother (a long-suffering Scott Tracy doll in a dress. He stands in for Ken and several other men in Barbie's complicated love life and is emphatically not allowed to rescue her).

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

A bigger church, Katie's girls and iterations.

1. If the bigger church is needed and the orders of service run out, that's a life well lived.

2. In a rush of bright maxi dresses, Katie's girls race round the corner calling my name.

3. To see the iterations of a family face

3b. To know that all these people are holding safe a version of the story. 

Monday, September 05, 2022

Playing, crown and hush.

1. Beyond the expert talking about the dark final days of Romano-Britain, away on the other side of Crofton Roman Villa, I can see our children with their heads over a board game.

2. Bettany brings me some yellow leaves and asks for a crown. Unexpectedly, my construction holds together and she wears it all the way home.

3. There is a restful hush in the garden in these last days of summer -- despite the sounds of our children playing, and the neighbours' children over the fence. It feels like the quiet that comes after a job well done. 

Friday, September 02, 2022

The nod, French biscuits and event.

1. As we go up through town, we see more and more boys wearing the same uniform as Alec. I keep checking to see if he'd like me to leave him, and in due course, I get the nod.

2. At coffee time, there are salty French biscuits. 

3. At the end of supper, I escape from the evening routine (taking my pudding) and go back to my desk to watch Sophia Jansson discussing Tove Jansson's peaceful essay collection, The Summer Book, which is 50 years old this year. 

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Comb, my one and clean-up.

1. Sitting with Bettany combing out the hair on a Barbie. She was very keen to buy a new one -- but between my combing efforts and Nick showing her how to buy doll's clothes off Ebay, we've encouraged her to consume a little less.

2. Even though there are a lot of boys in games kit walking towards me in ones and twos, I spot my son from a very long way off.

3. Nick patiently and tolerantly cleans up the mess from Bettany's cocktail shaker accident.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Homework, reward and stages.

1. The neat pencil drawings of laboratory hazards on Alec's homework.

2. ...and when he has done enough of them, we can go out for coffee.

3. Bettany looks down at her empty bowl and announces that she will not be ordering off the children's menu again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Small children, red and sow's bread.

1. Before Rosey comes back outside, we have got Jimmy out of the birdbath and convinced Annie to put her dress on again.

2. The sun shining red through a turkey's wattle.

3. Under the hedges and at roadsides, when you think summer is starting to finish, among dry leaves and dusty earth there are pink and white wild cyclamen flowers.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Ramen, easy and mocktails.

1. Alec has organised lunch today -- ramen with leftover chicken and a fried egg on top. 

2. I've been floundering a little with uncertainty over work for a new client. It is a relief to switch over to old familiar content that almost writes itself, and to remember that one day, the new client's work will be easier, too.

3. I come down for supper to find Bettany mixing up juice drinks in a cocktail shaker wrapped professionally in a towel. 

United for Ukraine: out now. An anthology of prose and poetry to raise money for the people of Ukraine, United for Ukraine is a celebration of hope and solidarity featuring work by Maggie Yaxley Smith, Fiona O'Brien, Clare Law, Margaret Beston, Linda James and more. Edited by Susan Norvill. Published by Boudicca Press.

To buy a copy of United for Ukraine, visit Boudicca Press.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Ping, an evening talk and across the sky.

Today I’m reading as part of the launch of an anthology to benefit the DEC’s Ukraine fund. You can find the livestream for the United for Ukraine launch from 12noon London time on the Boudicca Press Facebook page and the Boudicca Press Twitter.
The anthology includes work by some of my favourite poetry people -- including Susan Norvill, Gavin Rodney, Fiona O'Brien, Peppy Scott, David Smith and Steve Walters. If you'd like a copy, it's available here.

1. Nick calls up the stairs his supermarket points app has pinged -- which tells him Bettany has successfully bought something on her first solo trip to the shops.

2. Even if it's over screens, a good long commiserating gossip with my friend.

3. I'm inherently suspicious of Starlink, but I do love spotting a satellite hurrying across the sky.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Ice cream, underfoot and Cranford.

I’m reading in the livestream launch of an anthology to benefit the DEC’s Ukraine fund tomorrow (Thursday) at 12noon London time. Anyone can view it through the Boudicca Press Facebook page and the Boudicca Press Twitter. Please do drop by.

1. The children's excitement when they discover the ice cream wafers and sauces I have ordered with the groceries.

2. The path is thick with fallen acorn galls that crunch satisfyingly underfoot.

3. Last thing at night, to vanish into Mrs Gaskell's Cranford, which is fast becoming a favourite. She has the knack of sketching a whole personality from a single habit; and Mary Smith is a kind but perceptive observer. It reminds me a lot of L. M. Montgomery's Avonlea books -- but Mrs G is much less wedded to a happy-ever-after.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Cathedral trick, top floor and pudding pans.

1. In Canterbury, the mysterious way the cathedral appears and disappears -- by some miracle, its great sandy gold mass is invisible in the streets closest by, but in the outer streets snapshots of the pinnacles and spires are framed in alleyways and between the buildings.

2. Alec, dancing ahead down the hotel corridors, leads me up the stair to the fourth floor to see the view (it's the cathedral again, but it's worth it).

3. At the Roman Museum there is a case of reddish pottery dishes, some crusted with sea worm casts. They were pulled up near Pudding Pan Rock by fishermen, and were prized by their wives for daily use. It turns out they are Roman dishes, Samian ware -- some marked with maker's names -- from a shipwreck or dumped cargoes.

4. It's a bright hot walk from the bus stop to the station. To our right is a green space where the river is split by sluices for a long-gone mill. We divert through to walk on the grass and look down at the passing water, then re-join the route that Google Maps is telling us to take.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Early out, snakes and accomplishment.

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1. To leave the house before anyone else is awake.

2. Bettany has been asking for a pet snake this summer. We're on a mission to find out lots about them so we can work out if we'd be good at keeping snakes: it's a big commitment, and they live a long time. Today Kacper and his mum bring us three snakes to visit.  We marvel at the shimmering scales on the heavy python and the boa, and call our neighbour to wonder at them through the garden gate. But the one we really like is the slate blue and orange corn snake that quests around our pockets and around our shoulders.

3. We knew Kacper when he was a very little boy doing his best with his second language in a new country. Today, he is an almost grown man, articulate and knowledgeable and a great ambassador for the National Centre for Reptile Welfare. We are very lucky to have such a great source of advice, and if you see him with NCRW at any shows or events, ask him lots of questions: I guarantee you'll learn something interesting. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Tea, climb and sparring.

1. Towards the end of the afternoon when I'm busily writing b2b web content in the corner of our bedroom, there is a scuffling on the stair, and afternoon tea swings into view, complete with a loaded cake stand.

2. After a lot of discussion about routes and many, many questions about whether they can jump this or that gap, the children make successful bid for the top of Wellington Rocks.

3. While Nick and I are clearing away supper, the cheerful sounds of Alec and Bettany knocking each other about the boxing ring on a copy Wii sports that is older than they are.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Rain, houseplants and catching myself.

1. When I start work, there are long spatters of rain on the window, and a faint pricking sound of more to come.

2. In the rain boys from an office line up houseplants in matching white pots against the red brick wall.

3. I've been focussed on my work today, not rushing exactly, but pushing ahead and not lingering on anything. Now we are making sushi for supper, and I'm hungry and I want to hurry the children along. 'Make some sashimi,' I say. Slices of salmon and tuna are faster than the rolls they've been making. But then I realise, this is our family time. We've nowhere to be but here, and soon the rice will be finished.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Watering, pauses and Bugsy Malone.

 1. The scent of wet earth through the bedroom window tells us that our neighbour is doing her watering on this hot dry morning.

2. I have a lot of desk work to do today, and I'm grateful for the natural pauses of a physio appointment, coffee time, going out to fetch a child from an activity.

3. We stop our evening's work and watch Bugsy Malone. Bettany has been listening to the songs all day at her dance workshop, and she has many, many questions. It is a bit tricky to get her to go to bed because she is more interested in constructing a mobster costume out of school uniform.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Pineapple, in the envelope and night streets.

1. The pineapple part of my ice lolly. 

2. We're playing Cluedo with Bettany. I ask Nick if he's sure the cards are in the envelope. Our gazes meet and we both laugh remembering Father Ted.

3. It's bedtime, but in the cooling dark I'm circling our streets to find an alarm that is going off. Fragments of quiet chat, lamplight and TV sounds finger their way out of open windows, and the scent of jasmine, honeysuckle is everywhere.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Delivered, walk and the end.

1. 'Your passport is here!' Nick calls up the stairs. Looks like I'll be going skiing next Easter, even if the children aren't. Their first passports are taking much longer than my renewal.

2. After supper, Nick leaves the washing up and we walk out, just for the exercise.

3. To feel desolate at the end of a book.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Blackberry, fading and phone call.

1. Picking and eating an early blackberry -- sweet and warm from the sun.

2. To sit in the garden watching the day fade out of the sky.

3. Towards the end of the evening, Alec calls to tell us about his day.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Making friends, productive and permission to move.

1. The list of names that Bettany mentions at the end of each day's workshop has been getting longer as the week passes. 

2. At the end of the day, I'm a bit boggled by how much work I've done -- both in terms of hours and in terms of quantity. I've mostly had my headphones on, full of white noise, against the scaffolding racket and the household distractions. The day has flown by.

3. The physio has loaded me up with an exercise routine that is really pushing me -- and it actually feels okay to do that work.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Green stem, surprise and lines.

1. Linda next door has a marvel growing in her garden. It's like a small green pineapple on an electric green stem speckled with brown. She says she planted it years ago and it never came up. 'It's not meant to be outdoors,' she says. We imagine that the hot weather might have brought it out of hiding. I'm admiring her vigorous pink lavatera and she says conspiratorially, 'Wilco. Their seeds are only 50p.'

2. Alec asks to walk home through the shopping centre. We're on the same floor as Wilco, and remembering Linda's advice I go and look at the seeds... and nearly have a heart attack when the woman herself bobs up in front of us.

3. I am supposed to be feeding Bettany her lines, but the script is downstairs, and I don't know the parts of two other characters not played by my daughter. But it's okay, because she can prompt  me by bellowing those lines at me in between her own.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Quotation, measure and artist.

1. Years ago Bettany and I made a shrine box for Amelia Earhart. I'd forgotten what was inside it and when I dig around looking for her quote about shirts, I am surprised to find  a pack of cards with an early aviation theme, a dicast model of her plane, Bettany's certificate for doing a good presentation and some unfinished trading cards, one of which carries the quote in question. 

2. Today I am being measured for a bespoke shirt. It is such a relief, after years of holding my body up against commercial clothes and coming up disappointed, to know that there will be a garment made especially for my shape.

3. To wonder at the skill of a writer who can sustain a first person narrative in which the reader can see what the character cannot. (I've got an audiobook of Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World on the go).

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 ...