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.

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 ...