Autumn love #2: it must be leaf

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When I was eighteen I used to run a Saturday morning activity once a month, for eight- to eleven-year-olds. What a dream assignment that was: all poster paint and pipe cleaners, and peeling PVA glue off the back of your hand and pretending it’s skin. One October I waltzed home from a lecture, stuffing flame-coloured fallen leaves into a bag, and that Saturday we made autumn cut-and-stick pictures. My little activity group are now the age I was then, which – let’s not think about that, thanks very much. But I have lovely memories of collecting those leaves.

All this is to say that I rather wanted autumn love activity #2 to involve leaves and PVA glue. So when we found ourselves with a spare afternoon in Luton, on Saturday, we headed across for a return visit to Stowe landscape gardens. This might be my new favourite National Trust. Edward slept obligingly in the pushchair, and Henry had a fabulous time. Except when it was time to get back into the pushchair himself, but you know. What kind of outing would it be without a minor meltdown in wellies? It wouldn’t feel right.

Meltdown aside. We got leaves. Tonight, we stick.

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Can’t tell you how good it feels to have a boy back in a bear suit, incidentally. We are our very best selves with a boy in a bear suit. Now we can get on.

Autumn love: a project for the crunchy-leaf enthusiast

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I want to do better with autumn this year. Last year was a catastrophe: pregnancy sickness, rain, dark, and a footloose one-year-old with walls to climb. Do you ever have days where you’re absolutely ready to not be yourself? I was ready for three months, last winter. I was sick of the sight of me. It was exhausting.

No more of that. When autumn’s done right, it’s intoxicating. Woodsmoke on cold air, trees flinging on their best reds, thick jumpers, hot apple crumble. The satisfaction of going out of your way to step on a crunchy-looking leaf, and then finding it’s just as crunchy as you thought it might be, and you’re the conqueror of everything. I was reading Penelope Lively this morning, on old age, and loved what she said about tiny, sharpened pleasures:

I am as alive to the world as I have ever been – alive to everything I see and hear and feel. I revel in the spring sunshine, and the cream and purple hellebore in the garden… Spring was never so vibrant; autumn never so richly gold. People are of abiding interest – observed in the street, overheard on a bus. The small pleasures have bloomed into points of relish in the day – food, opening the newspaper (new minted, just for me), a shower, the comfort of bed.

…It is an old accustomed world now, but invested with fresh significance; I’ve seen all this before, done all this, but am somehow able to find new and sharpened pleasure.

I am a fair way off eighty (someone tell my face), but this seems to me to be a highly sensible philosophy.

So I have issued myself a personal challenge – do at least one autumn love activity per week, during October and November (starting from now, I make that eight). I have in mind things like nature walks, pumpkin-flavoured baking, leaf collages, pyjama parties, and finding some outdoor exercise for myself that doesn’t involve lugging a pushchair. But that’s just me. Want to join in? Feel free to take the image above, or make your own, and let me know in the comments so I can follow along.

On Saturday we went pumpkin picking with Tim’s brother and his family. It was just the right kind of cold, and entirely the best kind of orange. We came back to chilli and cornbread and cinnamon roll cake, and it was as perfect an autumny afternoon as you can imagine.

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I’ll have seven more of these, please. Pass the apple crumble.

There is a world outside, and it’s got toy cars

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I would like to report something momentous: yesterday we all left the house together for an outing, all at once. We only traipsed up and down the stairs to load the car twelve more times than usual. We went to Beale Park, which turned out to be a wonderful destination for crazy-hot weather, a tank of a pushchair you’re not used to pushing yet, and a toddler with a severe case of cabin fever. There was a giant paddling pool, lots of animals, a little train ride and a whole village of toy cars and bikes. Edward preferred the inside of his eyelids, but Henry was entranced.

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A valuable lesson we all learned is that Henry will do an awful lot to get a ride from a goose. Despite all possible discouragement (including from the goose).

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This dinosaur-backpack-with-parent-strap invention? Best thing since the lightbulb. Oh, are we running full pelt towards that river, my darling? YOINK.

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I’d forgotten that newborns are quite content to spend all day sleeping, eating and rocking a pair of dungarees. What a glorious thing to be so happy, so uncomplicated, and so sartorially confident.

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He is actually using that cup to try and get the water away from him. The pool was ‘FWEEZIN’, and Mr Fearless over here was desperate to get out from the minute he got in.

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Family-of-four photo. I love it: we’re so symmetrical. It’s also nice to commemorate this special stage where Henry uses Tim’s ears as handles during his shoulder rides. My pelvis still hasn’t forgiven me for that pregnancy thing, but ice cream really helps with this. And, you know what, with most things.

Good HEAVENS is this post going to win the Pulitzer Prize, or what? Two-hour sleeping stretches do wonders for my words.

PS – on that note, I have a couple more What I Wish I’d Known About Two posts scheduled for the days this week when I can only think in monosyllables. Stay tuned!

The afternoon Mr Bingley did not invite us for tea

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There are two reasons for visiting Basildon Park. One is that it’s the house they used as Netherfield in Pride and Prejudice (the film version), and I’ll take any excuse to prance around the grounds on an imaginary horse, shouting OH MR GINGER BINGLEY I ADORE YOU. Don’t even tell me you wouldn’t do this, because I know you would.

The other is the chance to put your son next to a wooden rabbit to see how astronomically he’s grown in almost two years.

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Please put away those giant legs, Master Jeffcoat, and go about your business.

I came here with my mum just after Henry was born. Apart from a moment of madness where we made him ride the aforementioned wooden rabbit – which produced the best Benjamin Button face of disgust we’d ever seen – he managed to sleep through the tour, unimpressed by chandeliers and scones the size of his head. Last week he took rather more interest in the surroundings, though for that reason (and lack of time) we only visited the grounds rather than the house. It’s one thing to climb a fence; quite another to climb an 18th century four-poster, no? We followed the trails with sun on our faces and the sounds of a four-person choir floating over the hill, and it was just beautiful until we tried to take a group photograph, when it wasn’t.

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We only scratched the surface, and they’ve worked so hard to make it exciting for children: there are miles of footpaths we never reached and an interactive ball-run exhibit, not to mention a tea-room and many more unsat-in deckchairs. There is something about a deckchair that makes me feel all lah-di-dah. It’s not quite a carriage, but it’ll do.

Oh, and in news not unrelated to these photographs, I finally have a haircut scheduled for next week. Goodbye, insane wig-head. The way I feel now, you’ll be lucky if I don’t get a buzz-cut.

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Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, Reading.

Come in the summer for the walks and scones and open-air cinema.

And then come to my house, because we’re ten minutes away!