Category Archives: adventures

In which I am not a bronze god

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At some point along the way, I’ve turned into a person who can leave the house having forgotten to brush her teeth. And not just once, often. If it makes you feel any better, I’m never any less disgusted when I remember. It doesn’t make me feel much better, though.

Today was an accidental dirty-teeth day. which should have told me something. The weather is good at the moment – lovely, in fact; a generosity of sunshine and clear April skies – so I decided to drive down to Winchester: Tim was working just a few miles down the road, so I thought we could take some sandwiches and have a nice walk, then meet up with him after work.

I was halfway up a ramp in a multi-storey car  park, making an especially tight turn, when my power steering died. Let me tell you, until you’ve had to wrench a full car up a hill, back into reverse because you can’t turn fast enough, then forward again juuuust managing to miss the parked cars and all of this using only your own puny arms, you do not know the meaning of panic sweat. There were cars queuing behind me, Tim wasn’t answering his phone, I was blocking several people in, and both the boys were grumpy. And then my phone was about to die. Thankfully a beautiful hairy man helped me get the car into a space, for which good deed he has earned his place in Paradise. Then I got through to Tim, who came and wrestled my car out of the car park so the AA could come get it, leaving me his in return.

When I make grand, impulsive plans and they end up causing a lot of bother, I feel so foolish. Babies are a juggling act, a plate spinner of enormous proportions, and every time I feel like I’m getting the hang of it I get conked on the head. But if there were ever a city to heal a battered day, it’s Winchester in the sun. That cathedral is something else. There are so many lovely little alleyways and intriguing shops. Today there was a market, and we admired cheeses and gaping fish with great enthusiasm.

If you follow the path alongside the cathedral, under a series of archways, you eventually end up at a little square pond, where a great bearded bronze someone glowers over the proceedings (Jesus? Hercules?). It’s so quiet and forgotten-about back there, it feels like another world. Henry had just fallen over his own feet – a particular talent – so to distract him from crying I told him that the pond was magical. We picked two shiny brown leaves and dropped them into the water.

‘Now you have to make a wish’, I told him. ‘Let’s wish for… a milkshake’. (Priorities.)

He didn’t say anything, but looked down at his floating leaf, absorbed.

‘What will you wish for?’ I asked.

‘Stars’, he said.

We bought milkshakes from Shakeaway, later. Some wishes I can grant, but I am puny-armed and only human. If you ever happen to be in Winchester, and follow a little path behind the cathedral to find a square pond and a bronze god, do ask him how he’s getting on with Henry’s stars.

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Hey, if you have a spare clicking finger and a mild fondness for this blog, perhaps you wouldn’t mind voting for me in the MAD Blog Award finals? You can find me under Best Baby Blog. Voting closes soon! Thank you so much!

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Virused, outside

Some truths all little boys know in their bones. You can be blistered and crusty but the park still loves you. The best way to get over an achingly dull case of hand, foot and mouth is to get out in a gale and shout a lot. And it still counts as quarantine so long as there’s no one else there.

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We’ve been spending a lot of time in Goring and Streatley, lately. Not on purpose (inhabitants of Goring, you can rest easy in your beds). A couple of weeks ago the boys and I hopped on a train for a couple of stops, came off at Goring, admired the weir with a very tight grip on everyone’s wrist, and stopped in a cafe for hot chocolate. Last week Tim and I got an unexpected afternoon off when Tim’s mum popped in for a few hours, so we went back intending a country walk. It pelted it down five minutes into our opening swing competition, so we ran back to the same cafe and ate pastries instead.

Today – windy, bright, hotter than it’s been for months – we went back to the park with blistered boys hoping it would be deserted. It was. Isn’t it better to be quarantined here than at home feeling gross in front of an iPad? We think so.

PS, let me apologise in advance for the ludicrous number of photos in this post. The light was good, and crusty or no, I couldn’t narrow it down.

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Ted’s hair. My goodness. He’s like a newly hatched chicken, but twice as ridiculous.

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‘Boys, we’re going to go for a walk now. On the proviso that you DO NOT LICK ANYTHING’.

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Before we realised quite how hot it was going to be (i.e., very).

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How many ‘Henry runs with determination’ photos do I have? They are numbered as the sands of the sea.

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Spiderweb!

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(Hand, foot and mouth: you know where you can shove it.)

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Theatrecraft

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Stratford-Upon-Avon is essentially a Shakespeare theme park town. I say this not to be disparaging, but to insist that you go. There are not enough Shakespeare-themed items in this world, and I would like to caress more of them with my cheek, please. And who can blame the local authorities for wanting to make the most of their most famous inhabitant? I would. We don’t know much about Shakespeare, but we know he was born and buried in Stratford-Upon-Avon, damnit! Tim and I spent two days there last week, and I loved every minute of it with a holy and flaming love.

Firstly, we were there to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, on successive days. Do you know how much I love Hilary Mantel? Surely you do. I was on pins for these plays, worried that they might not live up to my sky-high expectations, but they were VERY good indeed. The Swan Theatre is small, wooden, creaky and atmospheric (possibly not creaky – that might’ve just been the atmosphere). Ben Miles made a witty and razor-sharp Cromwell, Nathaniel Parker was volatile and vulnerable by turns as Henry VIII, and there wasn’t a weak link in the cast as a whole. We were leaning precariously against a metal pole for most of the six hours – standing tickets only, alas – and I didn’t even notice.

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I loved the RSC theatre, too. They’ve done a revamp of the building since I was last here, and on Thursday afternoon we went on a backstage tour. This was fabulously exciting – wig rooms, costume change notices on walls, and lots of fascinating behind-the-scenes information. Our tour guide was brilliant. I tell you what: being part of a repertory company is hard. Only do it if you have a passion for words and wigs.

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We sat in the vast, echoey theatre while the stagehands hammered together a new set: a wooden throne stood empty and portentous on the stage, ready for Henry IV to fill it this week. ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’, he’ll say, so I’m not sure he’ll want to sit there long. (This was the point I decided to stop being so melodramatic.)

On one of the afternoons, just after Wolf Hall had finished, we saw a sweaty Nathaniel Parker come back into the bar while we hunted for my missing scarf. We were lame (and/or considerate) and didn’t say anything to him, and I hope my burning look was enough to communicate YOU WERE A LIFE-CHANGING HENRY, DEAR SIR, AND I THANK YOU FOR IT.

Also, a dressing-up box.

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In between all this larking about in the theatre, we ate a lot and wandered around the town, spending the night in a country house hotel fifteen minutes away. We popped out for chocolate ice cream at 9pm and read, uninterrupted. This is what passes for rock and roll living for us these days, but do you know what? It was rock and roll. It was just wonderful. 

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Go. Enjoy. Try the beef pie at Garrick’s Inn – it’s enormous.

Oh, and just so you know, eleven years pass extraordinarily quickly. But not quickly enough for me to get a new coat, apparently.

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On learning to love the mud

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Boys love mud. I’ve had to learn to love it, too. Last Sunday we went for a walk around Lardon Chase and The Holies, just outside Streatley, and even on a sunny day we slipped and slid. We left the pushchairs behind, put Teds in the back carrier and Henry in wellies.

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You notice a lot more when you’re going one-eighth of a normal walking speed. The feeling of crunchy bark on the trees, the pattern of sunshine and shade on the ground, the exact sucky-squelch of the churned-up soil. Sticks become swords and molehills launching pads. He tends to be more interested in where we are than where we’re going, and I try not to yell for him too often. Wandering by yourself in a sunlit wood is one of those childhood experiences that needs to be lived so you can remember it later, and the mud on the seat of your trousers is your triumphant souvenir.

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In like a lion, out like a lamb

And March came in with a beam.

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Of course it did. After the long, brown dreariness of January and February, in comes March with a spring in its step. It’s my favourite month, and not just because it crams in our anniversary, my birthday and mother’s day with more celebratory breakfasts than you can shake a stick at. March is the month of the purple crocus, crowding under any old scrubby tree it can think of. It comes blazing with the promise of brighter things.

We spent today altogether – O, miracle! – at Mottisfont Abbey and Gardens, in Hampshire. You drive down a long, straight Roman road just the other side of Winchester, past a quarry, through a village, blinded by sun and green. Since we came with wellies and pushchairs, we decided not to do the house today, but the gardens were a dream. Sometimes I feel like the National Trust designs these places with little boys in mind.

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Here’s a secret: one of the best things about having small children is that when you get to a walled garden path just begging to be a runway, you can buzz around like an aeroplane and no one stares [much].

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We decided to do the Meadow Walk, forgetting that now it would be an Underwater Walk. It was, but we sloshed on, fording the bog with the pushchair. Teddy made a valiant effort to stay asleep, and very nearly managed it. I remembered – again, too late – that my beloved Joules wellies have a hole in the bottom, and it might be time to find some more that I could love as much (NEVER). There were daffodils waiting on the other side.

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Look, I hate to brag, but Henry now says ‘en guarde!’ when he wishes to challenge you to a sword fight, and I kind of think it’s my finest motherhood achievement to date.

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(PS, if you think you know how to spell ‘en guarde’, but you’re not entirely sure and you don’t want to look stupid, don’t Google it. The first hit is a Wikipedia page called…well, you can look it up. Is this a Google joke?)

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One of the trees was called Madame Lemoine. Is this not an utterly perfect thing? Everything was budding and poking its way through grubby earth towards the sun, and I sympathised entirely. March is my favourite month, and you guys, we made it.

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Embarrassing crushes: city edition

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‘The thing is’, said Paul, over bread and olives at Carluccio’s, ‘in Manchester, everyone’s friendly and happy all the time. People talk to you on public transport. Look, there, see them singing happy birthday to that table? If this were Manchester, the whole restaurant would be singing. It’s very off-putting’.

He’s a barrister in London – also one of my favourite people – where such things aren’t done, at least not in rush hour, and his case in Manchester has made this obvious. You’re not supposed to chat in London, particularly on the Tube. It’s alright, though, because the streets can speak for themselves. I don’t want to get weird and say that they sing, or anything – but I’ve been popping in and out of London for ten years, and I still have the most ridiculous, dizzy enchantment with it. It’s a bit embarrassing. London was my first city crush, and it hasn’t faded at all. It’s like still being obsessed with Peter Andre, circa Mysterious Girl.

Lucky that two of my nicest friends live there (as well as several family members), so some Saturdays we get to drive to the nearest Underground station, while I play it cool and laugh uproariously hoping London will notice, and send over notes saying ‘London, do you like me, pls tick y/n’.

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If you were wondering what the best thing about having boys is, well, I’d say that dressing them up as Mischievous Scraps from the Twenties is a pretty strong contender.

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The Victorians, eh. They were just bonkers, weren’t they? Did you know that when the Natural History Museum was first established, Sir George Shaw (Keeper of Zoology) threatened to stamp on any shell that didn’t appear in the 12th Edition of Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae? Then some famous naturalist contributed his conch collection, and as it was carried across the courtyard the wind blew off all the labels. The collection never recovered, says Wikipedia. No kidding.

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Disney films come in especially handy at the Natural History Museum. You should have seen us identifying stuff in the fish section. We were ALL OVER IT.

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Lunch, Tube, museum, wandering. I do not need anything more than that for a blimming perfect day. My No. 1 city crush still has my heart. Does yours?

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This sort of weather calls for an emergency evacuation

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Gosh, is it the rain, or what? How on earth does February feel so slow you can hear the clock tick, when it’s three days shorter than your average? You’d think that all these enforced indoor days would be great for the housework, but my bathroom floor of dirty laundry and kitchen counters groaning with crusty plates have a little something to say about that. It probably has swear words in it. They’re not best pleased.

Either way, these cold, cold wet days are enough to make any sensible person start thinking overly dramatic things. Like ‘there are NO MORE INDOOR PLACES IN TOWN’ and ‘maybe I should have auditioned for Frozen, after all’ and ‘I will shave off my hair completely rather than spend another minute with fuzzy rat-head’.

At this point I usually get in the shower, because a hot shower is my most effective drama killer. (This is why I am obliged to have one every morning.) This week we did one better, and made a run for it. Only to the temple, and to Brighton the next day, but we had a car full of road trip sweeties, and it was far enough. It was a cold, cold wet couple of days, and the sea was like boiling slate. The smell is the same, though, even in drizzle. If you lived by the sea, would you stop appreciating the smell of salt in the air? Because I’m not sure I’d ever want to lose the pleasure of that first, giant sniff.

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We ran on the pebbly beach, investigated a fishing museum, winced through the pier arcades, and ate the largest plate of fish and chips ever seen. We got blown to pieces and my hair has probably never been so foolish, but it was like being freed from something. I could still smell the angry sea when I came back to the washing-up, and it kind of made all the difference.

(To me, not to the washing up. Which is – um – still there.)

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We’re going on a bear hunt

Or, in other words, How To Visit Your Local Park Yet Again In Rubbish Weather Without Going Insane.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is one of Henry’s favourite books – you should hear his pronunciation of ‘what a bleu-la-ti-foo day’ – so I suggested we go to the park for a bear hunt of our own. There are a lot of bear-friendly hiding places in Prospect Park. We checked them all.

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We found the thick, oozy mud (and so did my car boot)…

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…then the deep cold river (squelchy duck pond)…

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…then the big dark forest.

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No bears. I speculated that they might be hiding under the tree roots. Henry scoffed. Too small for bears, he said. They’re probably having their lunch. Still, we brought a (very unimpressed) bear with us as a back-up, so we weren’t totally empty-handed.

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Of course, we should have known. When you go looking for bears, you’ll end up finding a swirly whirly snowstorm, which in real life doesn’t go ‘hoo wooo’, but something more like FEEL MY ICE BRICKS AND DESPAIR, FOOLS.

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We’re not going on a bear hunt again (until all of us have dried off, and February decides to stop being a prize ass).

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The year of the wave

Like United Airlines on days ending in ‘y’, I’m a little behind. It feels silly to be posting a year-in-review when we’ve clearly been in January for an age. January has a particular flavour to it, don’t you think? You can taste it in your mouth. It’s like December never happened.

Still. I like to look over these, afterwards. When the newness of January wears off and I’m just cold and cross, I like to remember that there is progression. This January is not the same as the last. We are not the same. And 2013 was a blinder.

Let’s go, then! In 2013, we:

woke up one day with an eighteen-month-old who could talk;

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hit our five-year anniversary with a million flashbacks;

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nearly peed in front of a Van Gogh in deliriously lovely Paris;

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posted our dummies off to the Dummy Fairy, and considered posting Henry off to an orphanage thereafter;

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got bigger,

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and bigger,

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and bigger;

fell indecently in love with the Hay Festival (again);

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got Henry a new roommate and a new favourite person;

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made Tim try on a giant fake pregnancy belly just to make ourselves laugh;

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met Edward in a hurry at 3am, and loved every last bit of him;

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spent Henry’s second birthday roaring on the Tube;

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saw some fancy houses and had some lovely days with my Mum and baby Teds;

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bumped over cobbles in drizzly Edinburgh;

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went on a date and invited Shakespeare;

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celebrated the heck out of autumn;

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had a cracking time selling poppies for Remembrance Day;

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and spent Christmas frying turkeys and jumping off sand dunes in Alabama.

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I tried hard to write honestly, this year, even if it was ugly. The intricacies of pregnancy, fiery toddlerhood, expanding motherhood, and all of the feelings that went along with it felt like earth shocks to me, a whole undiscovered country that at times I couldn’t fathom. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one. Thank goodness for blogging, and thank goodness for you.

There were milestones for Henry and me together: finding the seeds of independence, accepting him as a firecracker, trying positive discipline, letting him know his place. I wrote about writing: discovering words in India, kindness on Earth Day, and the recipe for blogging the real you. I tried really, really hard not to hate pregnancy style, packing a hospital bag, or dealing with third-trimester panic. In the scary newborn stage I tried reformation, giving up control, and on/off days. I finally admitted how I really feel about breastfeeding, and working mothers. I came up – again, and more than once – against post-partum body image. I wanted to be a single-tasker. I owned up to some pretty bizarre feelings about having two children (my favourite post of the year, this, because of the overwhelming ‘me too’s that came in response). And then there was the day I pretended to be Katniss Everdeen, formulated the Love Actually Theory of World Peace and got very, very angry about the princess in the tower.   

2013, we salute you. You were a tsunami, but after the wave, there were flowers.

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A note for Christmas Eve

Christmas is coming! We have TWO turkeys marinating in something top- secret, and today is the day the Big Traditions come out: joke stocking presents, the Feliz Navidad dance, the ritual watching of Home Alone, and that point at dinner time when we go for a Chinese buffet in Christmas pyjamas (when did this become a thing? I love it).

I’m now taking a little break from blogging till the New Year, so I wanted to just pop in to wish you the very happiest of Christmas seasons. Thank you for being here, and thank you for everything you’re kind enough to share with me in the comments. I can’t count the number of times the discussion on this blog has saved me from feeling like a madwoman. It means a lot to me, truly.

Take good care of yourself and your families. Be happy. Be kind to yourself. And see you in 2014!

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