Tag Archives: Autumn

October, you beauty

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Here I am, which is unusual enough, because whenever I have a spare hour and have to decide between Lying Still or Anything Else, the Lying Still tends to win. It’s frustrating having to slow down, especially now the sickness has gone (whee!). I like to get on. I keep having to remember not to define myself by things I can’t always do.

I feel quite anxious about this pregnancy, in a way I didn’t with the others. Oddly my visits to the midwife make this worse, not better. Most of the time I can assume (or tell myself to assume) that everything’s fine. When I go to the midwife, I have to wait the agonising three minutes before she finds the heartbeat, and get test results back where ‘this is a little unusual, but nothing to worry about’, I mean CLEARLY I WILL NOW WORRY ABOUT THAT THING, WHAT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR.

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Still, without the sickness, I am gathering myself together again, bit by bit. Folding some laundry. Taking the boys out for walks in the woods. Making proper dinners, and eating them. Meeting deadlines, cleaning the kitchen. Reducing my snack breaks from seventeen a day to an entirely reasonable eight. On Sunday I wore a dress that I loved, and pushed Tim off to bed while the boys and I went exploring and did not eat a single bag of beef crisps all day, and it felt like the best day of my life.

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Yesterday I baked a new kind of apple cake that turned out to smell (like apples) a great deal better than it tasted (mostly like baking powder). Still, the baking was therapeutic, and it was a much cheaper way to make the house smell nice than dropping £30 on a White Company candle.

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I feel like doing a Rocky air-punch on the rare occasions I get to hand out fat slices of homemade cake after school. It makes me feel like Mary Poppins. Although –

H: ‘What are these on top?’

Me: ‘They’re called almonds.’

H: ‘Urgh.’

Me: ‘They won’t taste of much by themselves. You’re supposed to eat them with the cake.’

[Five minutes pass]

Me: ‘H, haven’t you started yet?’

H: ‘No, I’m taking out all of the Normons, because they look awful.’

Take that, Normons. Sorry for the body-shaming.

We’ve got our back-to-school bugs and September Rages mostly out of the way now, I hope (T is feeling ‘asspalootely better’, if you ask him). Both boys have settled into their new routines. We cycle to school whenever the weather’s kind, and then after school H and I do a mad dash from one playground to the other, a mile and a half away. T comes bursting out of nursery, jumper sleeves rolled up to the elbows, usually filthy and clutching all his bags, which he hands over to me before they race their bikes home. H would always win, except that T cheats.

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See? Cheating.

See? Cheating.

It feels like autumn has been slow in coming, but now we have crunchy leaves, misty mornings, and reddening holly berries all over the place. There’s a whole colony of enterprising mushrooms growing out of the gigantic pile of horse poo down the road, and I feel compelled to point them out every time we pass, for educational reasons. While also holding my breath. Motherhood is weird.



I’ve been reading a lot. There’s something about cold weather that gives me permission to retire with a blanket and a book – which is what I really want to be doing all the time anyway. I read a very unusual book (From A Clear Blue Sky) about grief and siblings by Timothy Knatchbull, who was on Lord Mountbatten’s sabotaged boat when it was bombed by the IRA in 1979 (Mountbatten was his grandfather, and Timothy was in his mid-teens). Timothy survived, and so did his parents – just – but his twin brother Nicholas died. Years later he wrote the book to come to terms with the griefs he’d buried at the time. It’s not political at all, very honest and completely fascinating. I thought it was wonderful.


I’ve also reread The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver has never written a better), Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (because I watched the BBC adaptation, and missed it), an Agatha Christie every other week (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. FLAWLESS) and last week got hold of David Mitchell’s new-ish novel, The Bone Clocks. Which is as mad as David Mitchell ever is, and as delightful. And if poetry’s your jam, or you would like it to be, you must get hold of The Emergency Poet. It was compiled by a superhero woman who literally bought a discontinued ambulance and drove around in it, offering consoling poems to people who were struggling. What a life! It’s a gorgeous thing.

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Are you watching Poldark? It’s as beautiful as ever to look at, but I’ve been put off a bit this series by the fact that Ross Poldark is kind of a jerk. Look, screenwriters, if you want us to believe that everyone likes him, you have to give us some reason why. It can’t always be scything topless and glistening in golden fields. That combination of getting into debt, being surly and condescending to his wife and galloping worryingly near cliff edges is not calculated to set the heart afire.

Also Bake-Off. BAKE-OFF. Every episode brings us closer to the last one ever, and the fact that this series is so delicious is both helping and hurting. Like eating an entire plate of Tudor pies in one go (I would. Did you see them? I WOULD).

Who ate all the pies? (Me, probably.)

Who ate all the pies? (Me, probably.)

T helped me watch the first Harry Potter film a few weeks ago. Some observations:

‘Dumbledore! He’s the master…head’. (‘Headmaster?’ ‘Yeah.’)

‘Look, it’s Yogrid!’

‘Harry is using a… a feather crayon.’

‘My-knee? Who’s My-knee?’

(Harry, onscreen: ‘And Snape wasn’t blinking.’) ‘I’m blinking. Look.’

[sigh] ‘I am weally not a-pwessed.’

I’ll win him over eventually.

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Ooh, October, you’re looking well

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I have given myself a towering challenge this evening. Well, two. One is to get rid of today’s lone nappies lurking in our house without gagging. I will track each powerful stench to its source like a veritable crap-hound, and throw them into the bin where they belong. The other is to write a blog post in half an hour. I have been writing more essays than rambles, lately, and I feel like my ramble output has been a little disappointing. Sometimes it’s more important just to write than to write perfectly. Not that I ever do that either.


October is looking well so far. Ooh, October, you’re looking well. Those oranges really suit you. H is mostly out of his screechy rage-demon phase and is loving school. I’m amazed by what it’s done for him in less than a half-term. He’s drawing things voluntarily, obsessed with playing an exciting new game called Tag (!), joins the queue at the classroom gate when the school bell rings, and went for a playdate and pizza on Friday with one of his new friends (‘I needed a wee during dinner’. ‘Did you go?’ ‘I put up my hand and asked’.) He also calls the school dining hall The Great Hall, Harry Potter-style, which I CAN’T EVEN. If he’s got floating candles and golden plates going on and I’m sat at home with T flinging around chicken supernoodles, I’m going to be peeved.

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He had a Harvest Festival service at the little medieval church down the road last week. I have been looking forward to standing in a chapel bellowing ‘Cauliflowers Fluffy’, while children bring baskets of cup o’ soup up to the altar, since I gave birth. It was completely wonderful. We also sang the ‘Autumn Leaves’ one about jet planes and it felt like the jauntiest moment of my life so far.

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Our school runs have become very autumny all of a sudden. I am trying to walk or cycle most dry days. Cycling is more time-efficient but pulling both boys up the hill in the trailer, oh legs, forgive me. There’s a route through the woods that T and I take if we’ve got the time (it’s off-road, so he can walk), and it’s been all dew-dropped spider webs and misty fields for a couple of weeks. The other morning we saw red spotted toadstools, and I was so astonished to see one in real life, outside of an Enid Blyton book. It was like seeing Moon Face waving from the nearest Faraway Tree and making awkwardly racist remarks. We moved into this house in autumn last year, and it was a big part of why I fell powerfully in love with living here: all crackly russet leaves underfoot, red holly berries, cold blue skies and brown forests of ferns. Coming into the season again has been a real pick-me-up for the soul. And has reminded me how hideous my damp autumn hair is. Like a bad Meatloaf wig. Especially after cycling.

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I am trying not to be weird in the playground. It’s hard when you’re wearing a Meatloaf wig and have no small talk. People are nice. It’s an ongoing project.

Spending one-on-one time with T – for the first time, really – has been great. We go to a playgroup one morning a week (‘traydroup’) and he barges from station to station, shouting ‘HELLO’ in people’s faces, making pastry cheese twists and then scarfing them down at snack time. He makes the bull in a china shop look like a refined sort of chap. He’s talking mostly in sentences and is too brilliant for words.

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I am trying hard to find a good balance between the different parts of my life. My big, scary aim for this year is to try to get paid properly for writing. Urgh. Writing is such a vulnerable and necessary part of me that wanting to succeed in it makes me feel very exposed. I’ve been spending too much time thinking about it and feeling insecure about it. Then too many late nights generally. Last night Tim was out, and I was determined to read a single chapter of my new book in bed and then be asleep by nine, as a symbol of how totally adequate and in control of my glowing and brilliant life I am. But the book was H is for Hawk, and it was saturated in grief and love and a completely transporting description of falconry and nature: lyrical and coldly beautiful. So I read all of it, obviously. And I was about to feel terrible about missing another opportunity for an early night, when I thought that reading an excellent book all in one go was exactly myself. And then I got up to sit H on the loo, and that was exactly myself too. And I decided that all this was a bit of alright, and then I went to sleep.


Jewels, grasses, chestnut shells

I am commemorating Autumn this year in the best way: by teaching the boys that ridiculous primary school song that pretends to be about autumn but is actually about jet planes and gratitude. You’re singing it already, aren’t you?

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled 

And the silk inside a chestnut shell

Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled (?!)

Oh the things I love so well

So I mustn’t forgeeeet (swaying)

No I mustn’t forgeeeeeeet (descant)

To say a GREAT BIG THANK YOU (fist pump)

I mustn’t forget

This is such an adorably dorkish song that everyone needs to learn it, so they can sing it while swishing their way through leaves on their way to nursery. I have never thought to be grateful for jet planes, personally, and didn’t know they refuel in midair (do they?), but it’s an autumn essential, so now you know. YouTube it!

Oh, and we went to pick a pumpkin on Saturday, which was brill.

You may remember, reader love, that we already had a pumpkin from Odds Farm Park. Two days after we got it home, I noticed a bit of spidery mould inside, and by the next morning it was pushing out of the eye holes like some grotesque fungal disease. Halloweenish, yes. Sanitary and toddler-appropriate, no. So that pumpkin ‘went on holiday’, and we went to Garsons Garden Centre with my brother- and sister-in-law to find a healthier one.

Garsons is a bit of a drive for us, but I really like it there. The pumpkin patch was much gloopier than last year, after the recent rains, but we’d come prepared with wellies so were totally devil-may-care about it. Teddy couldn’t decide whether he was more excited about the pumpkins or the free mud bath. Why choose, Teds? Pick both.

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We are the absolute winners of the family photo, though, aren’t we?


Do you want to see something scary? This is us standing in the same spot, a year ago. I expect Teddy to have grown, since he’s leapt from baby to person this year, but Henry, oh, Henry. You are so much bigger now, and yet you’re still wearing that top. (Also, this photo looks like it was taken in the sixties. What kind of camera did I bring?!)


Boy 1 loves his cousin. I tried hard to get a photo of the two of them, but they wouldn’t stand still long enough.
Finding a tree-star did the trick.


After the pumpkin patch, there are two huge farm shops: one with fruit, veg and other food, and the other with everything else ever. There’s an expansive Christmas section where I got our special bauble for this year, and enough lovely toys and kitchenware to make your purse hurt.


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Don’t forget the mutant squash. I think that long chap is the one that can turn things to ice, and you know the two-headed monster is the one with the retractable claws.


This sort of outing can only be rounded off with giant hot dogs and curly fries, and – luckily for us – it was.

Happy October! Wishing you jewelled grasses and jet planes in bulk.

Garsons Garden Centre, Esher, Surrey. I like Esher because Edward Seymour lived there once, but also because of the mutant squash. 

Autumn love #6: this is my fireworks dance

I love Bonfire Night. One of my favourite British traditions. The smell of woodsmoke on the air, the hot soup and hotdogs, the frenzied flapping when a spark from a garden firework falls into your jumper, the quaint silliness of everyone gathering to celebrate something not being blown up by…blowing a lot of things up: it’s all about as November as you can get. Henry loves Bonfire Night too, as it happens, though that’s because of a favourite episode of Sarah & Duck, rather than because he’s ever been to one. (Teddy is on the fence.)

Of course, you take your life in your hands when you spend two hours in a field on a windy November night. Wet n’ wild. We visited the big display at Aston Tirrold on Saturday night, all wearing hats and/or bear suits, carrying chairs, blankets and chocolates, and deliberately making Henry wear the coat with reflective strips. And I still nearly lost him once or twice.

He was thrilled with his torch. And the bonfire. And the fireworks display, though he agreed to watch the second half only with the proviso that I put my hands over his ears. Timothy carried Teds in the Baby Bjorn, wrapped in more layers than a puff-pastry sausage roll. He wasn’t a huge fan of the firework noise, but then again he’s still too young for Sarah & Duck.

Tonight, on the fifth of November proper, we went outside and lit some sparklers. Having accidentally thrown the first one over the wall, we hit gold with the second. The light comes off in perfect stars; how do they do that? Why is it impossible to burn a sparkler without a) moving it in circles and then b) writing your name? Don’t ask me. It was lovely.

Firework reflections; cold noses

Firework reflections; cold noses

The double-hander

The double-hander

Ah, there we go. Circles.

Ah, there we go. Circles.

Three-eared boy is fascinated

Three-eared boy is fascinated

Extremely serious.

Extremely serious.

Autumn love #3: the pie’s the thing


One of the advantages of not frequenting Pinterest – apart from having no burning desire whatever to upcycle my plumbing – is that we’re almost done with October and I’m still hugely excited about pumpkin recipes. I scoped out Waitrose a couple of weeks ago for canned pumpkin (there were five tins and I only took three, which I thought was supreme self-control) and it’s been sitting in my cupboard and winking at me since then. Yesterday I finally got an afternoon where the toddler/baby/naptime stars aligned, so we opened the pumpkin cupboard and let those babies run free, FREE.

Pie first. Of course. I unimaginatively use the recipe on the back of the Libby’s can, and a pastry recipe courtesy of my sister-in-law (Fannie Farmer’s originally, I believe, and reproduced below) that is the veritable bomb.

I love every bit of this: stretching springy pastry dough over the pie dish, the mud-squelchy sound when the pumpkin tips out of the can into the bowl, mixing the spices, and – ahem – drinking the left-over condensed milk. From a glass. Don’t judge me.

There was a bit of leftover pastry, too, and Hen made himself a tiny jam roly-poly. Watching him wielding his miniature rolling pin and then scoffing his prize in front of Finding Nemo was the cutest thing ever. Teds would’ve been jealous, but he’s not the type.

The pie’s gone, by the way.









Pastry recipe:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
3-7 tablespoons cold water 

Mix flour and salt, then add shortening and mix in using two knives, dragging in opposite directions. 

Add cold water until it starts coming together, then roll out on a floured board. 

(Makes enough for a 9-inch dish). 

See here for a step-by-step, from the first time I made it. Happy baking!

Autumn love #2: it must be leaf


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.




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


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.


The sky this week has been like a damp, grey, fuzzy blanket. The itchy kind my nanna used to keep on her sofa. You’d accidentally exfoliate your legs as you leapt on it to escape from crocodiles. You know the ones? Of course. Everyone’s nanna had those blankets.

I think of crocodiles when I think of my nanna because she had a big, crumbly volume of poetry with a crocodile on the front cover. This was the point in my life at which I thought ‘Anon’ was an actual person. ‘This Anon chap wrote a lot of poems’, I thought, sitting in front of the three-bar electric fire on a scratchy blanket, a slice of toast at my elbow and the crocodile book on my knees.

She didn’t stand for any nonsense, my nanna. She wanted your best manners for everyone from the fishmonger to Uncle Barry, whom we didn’t see much, but who probably lived upstairs and definitely had the best Batman movie collection we’d ever seen. The fishmonger smelled disgusting, but there were always pink wafer biscuits at the end of it, and a fire, and Mr Anon to catch up with.

Now that’s the way to spend a wet autumn day.

Yesterday, stuffy with cold and headache, dizzy from a frantic weekend, we stayed in. By 5pm Henry was bouncing off the walls, so I did one of those right-shoes-on-out-out-out things I’m doing a lot at the minute. There’s only so long you can stay indoors watching Small Potatoes before the air goes stale in your mouth, even on an itchy-blanket day.

I rolled Henry up into his coat and we went for a walk round the block. There’s more to do than you’d think. The tree on the corner has shed all of its fiery leaves at once, hiding the pavement underneath damp and shiny yellow. He doesn’t believe in pavements, anyway. Who needs ’em. There are drain covers to stamp on, puddles to wash your hands in, other people’s cars to embrace when your mother’s not looking. He was wet to the knees within five minutes but I let him wander for ten more before we went inside.

And then, fuzzy-haired and pink-cheeked, I found a blanket and we read a book about crocodiles. Because that – thank you, nanna – is the way to spend a wet autumn day.

(if I could be a no-nonsense, best-manners, pink wafer sort of mother, well: I’d think that was pretty much a-ok.)

Reasons to be cheerful: the Sunday night breath

I think the whole world sits down on Sunday evening to take a deep breath. Tomorrow is Monday and everything starts again. We’ve had a low-key weekend after five days of sick bugs, busy evenings and interrupted nights. On Saturday afternoon we walked to the park and let Henry run off his lethargy, while we sat in soft grass together without saying much. It felt like convalescence. It also felt like the end of something. The late summer sun, using up its last hurrah.

Sure enough, today a persistent autumn rain set in early, driving us indoors and under blankets. I wasn’t sorry. Tim read a book while I cooked shepherd’s pie and listened to talks. Henry sat on the floor in his cardigan and bare legs (where were his trousers?), looking at the pictures in his library books. No one at all was producing or mopping up sick. It was blessedly quiet.

This week, this month, this run-up to the end of the year will be crammed as full as it always is – crammier even than usual, with a boy sprinting through the flat with his arms full, yelling at the top of his voice, getting taller every time he wakes up. I feel good about where we are and the things we have planned. I’m a little afraid of stretching myself, of doing more and being better; I’ve always thought that throwing yourself into things and letting things change takes a very particular type of bravery. But I’m ready to be busy and work hard. Still, I always need a breath before the plunge. And a Sunday evening, with jammy scones and shepherd’s pie and rain on the windows, gives me space to take one.

A love letter to my favourite Saturday

I think I am in love with Saturday. Saturday is just the luckiest of all days. And Saturday-me is so much more congenial than Monday-me. Monday-me cleans the house from top to bottom, dodges flying balls of tomato soup – BIFF! WHAM! – cleans up again and eats far too many chocolate biscuits, for which Tuesday-me will pay the price (Tuesday-me does the jogging). Don’t get me started on Thursday-me. That girl is a prize ass.

Oh, but I could be Saturday-me for the rest of my life and not mind. Saturday means acres and acres of Timothy. It means, often, a lie-in. It means adventures. Sometimes it means pancakes. This week, it meant a walk into town and some cake.

We took a walk to the shops for some winter gear for Henry. The last time it was frosty, he was five months old. Even he has managed to bust out of that jumper collection by now, and it’s getting too chilly for t-shirts. But you can’t shop without smoothie, and you certainly can’t shop without cream cake. I’d like to see you try.

That is French chocolate gateau, with a profiterole on top and caramel in the middle. I know, WHAT?

Turns out that Henry is about as fond of clothes shopping as his father. But if there was a version of this boy to love the most (there isn’t; they’re all as good), it would be the version in a woolly jumper. Squeeze him, somebody. Oh wait, I will.

Once we’d finished, we wandered home in the sun and I packed away all of Henry’s too-small clothes, sniffling like a Mister Softee. Then we ate, squeezed Henry into his dinosaur suit and headed off to our friend’s lake, for s’mores and a fire pit. We sat for hours while the fire burned down, talking and looking out over the water. It was restful. It was perfect. It was Saturday, of course. What else could it be?

Is Saturday-you the best version of you there is? And how much do you want to punch Thursday-you in the solar plexus? Tell me honestly. And hope you had a lovely weekend, you marvellous people.

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