Tag Archives: Birthday

Bacon, waffles, malteasers, birthday

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You can’t really tell, because he’s the eternally youthful type who probably has an ageing portrait of himself in our loft (behind the saggy maternity clothes and 20000 small empty cardboard boxes), but Tim finally turned thirty this month.

We were born in the same year, but I was first, so there’s a long eight months in the middle of the year where I am thirty and wrinkled and hobbling towards the grave, and he is gambolling along in the verdant Spring of his life at twenty-nine, so it’s always gratifying when he catches up. I have been telling him good things about thirty for ages. It’s been kind to me so far. I hope it agrees with him too.

Since it was a big one we tried to cram in all his favourite things. A boy-free night in a spa hotel in one of our favourite cities. A massage. Some huge dinners. The new James Bond film at the IMAX, in the squashy seats. Having arranged all this beforehand in secret, we left him a washing line hung with notes and sweets to follow from bed to the birthday table, to let him know what we’d be doing. Please imagine for a second pegging sweeties onto a piece of wool with tiny pegs and in the unrestrained presence of a ravenous two-year-old. At 6am. T thought Christmas had come early. I thought I’d panic-sweated out a full two pounds by the time we were done.

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Tim had specified a few techie presents I’d gratefully ordered from Amazon, so while he exclaimed over extra-powerful lights and a G-clamp (which sounds much ruder than it is, alas), the boys and I made waffles and bacon. He’d requested a Malteaser cake, and I’d rummaged all around the internet before settling on this one. It was a standard three-layer chocolate cake, made into a thing of wonder by pouring half a tin of Horlicks powder into the cake mix and frosting. Did you know the inside of Malteasers is basically solid Horlicks? I love them both, but now I love them both more.

We put an ice fountain on it instead of a regular candle. Because one thing we haven’t done yet with this house is burn it down, so we thought we’d have a crack.

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We had a quiet day while H was at school, spent mostly eating more cake, watching James Bond movies and weeping a little over Daniel Craig’s beautiful craggy face. Then we dropped the boys off with their grandparents and headed down to Winchester.

We haven’t been away without them all year. Oh, the bed. The huge, squashy-pillowed bed and uninterrupted sleep therein. The pizza-and-pie restaurant we found for dinner. The geriatric couple we made friends with in the sauna, until the lady ruthlessly stole my towel. After Tim’s massage the next morning he emerged smelling bewitchingly of lavender, and we popped into IKEA for a few bits before settling down to weep over Daniel Craig’s beautiful craggy face in HIGH DEFINITION. That bit where he drives the car into the oh my gosh I can’t even. Even Tim couldn’t even. The gentleman sat next to me couldn’t even, and this was despite Tim’s lavender oils drifting soothingly down the aisle. We haven’t been quite the same since.

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Anyway, he makes a good thirty. He makes a good basically everything. Ready for another decade, Mr J? I’ll bring the cake. You bring the G-clamp, now you’ve got one.

One thousand four hundred and sixty-one


Dear Henry,

Today is your birthday, and you are four. We’ve just got you to bed after a long and thrilling day, and I sort of want to run back upstairs and get you up again. Being four is such a serious thing. Your birthday was the last milestone between you and school. As with most things, you are forging ahead while I keep looking back over my shoulder at how much I’ll miss.

You have such a distinct character, but you keep it under wraps. With most people you are reserved, serious, tongue-tied. With us, with people you trust after a decent half hour has elapsed, you’re funny, fast-talking, spirited and curious. You like to know how things work. You have an over-developed sense of fairness and correctness. You’re our little back-seat driver (‘Mummy, that’s too fast for this road’) and my walking to-do list (‘You said not to forget the pushchair!’). You like your own space, your own things. You feel things very deeply, and often explosively. We work hard on things like ‘I need to spend some time alone right now’, ‘I will share even though sharing is hard’, and ‘will you forgive me’. You’ve come so far this year, with all of it. I want you to be comfortable in your own skin, more than anything, but we are so alike and oh, my love, I still make so many mistakes with both of us.

(‘Aw, Teddy is so cute’, you said last month. ‘Look at his great big head.’)

You love Thomas the Tank Engine, Captain America, bikes, books, being first out of the bath, eating anything that’s not very good for you (sigh) and sleeping longer than your brother allows. We talk about Space and The Animal Kingdom and Vehicles and The Human Body. The last time you had a cold you were tickled pink when I told you about white blood cells. You are fun, did I mention that? You have always been great company. You try hard to be a good and kind brother. We are the best of allies whenever we’re not at loggerheads, which can be some of the day or most of it, depending on the day.

(‘I tell you what’, you told me encouragingly once, when I was sad about something. ‘When we get home, you can have a fried egg.’)

Your nursery teacher told me that you would play with anyone, until they started doing something you knew was wrong, and then you’d quietly walk away until they stopped. I was more proud of that than of anything.

(‘Daddy’s really hairy, like a spider’, you said after a bath. ‘Some of it is called a beard, and that’s very funny.’)

I could go on, trying and trying to get to the essence of you. But it’s no good. You are full of contradictions now, like the rest of us. I love you so fiercely it makes my ribs ache. For your prickly vulnerabilities even more than your blazing strengths. On the days when you’re a beast and I’m a boar I like to remind myself of that: that you are tied to me as I am tied to you, and that love for you goes to the very heart of me, has made me in a lot of ways, and that I will never, ever, ever stop.

Happy fourth, darling boy. I wish you the courage to grab hold of all the wonderful things that come your way this year, and to be your own lovely self while doing it. You never need to be anything else. Let’s smash it.

Much love,

Your mother.


How to make a birthday balloon wall

Or, what to do when you love decorating for birthdays but don’t have a crafty bone in your sad little body, and also your budget is small-to-non-existent. Balloon walls tick ALL YOUR BOXES, BABY. Bring it on.

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Start with balloons. Obviously. I got five packs of ten from Hobbycraft, at £1 each. And they were the heavy-duty helium kind, which I thought would be more hard-wearing. There’s also a wondrous wealth of snazzy balloons online.

Then blow them up. I would recommend an electric pump: I only had a bicycle pump, and I have to tell you that this pile took 45 pumps EACH, on average. By the time I finished I was a decent facsimile of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, only quite a lot less fabulous.

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Attaching them to the wall was tricky. I tried masking tape at first, but they floated right off again before I’d turned around. So Tim suggested tying the whole row to a piece of thread, and taping the thread to the wall. Unfortunately we only had black thread, which wasn’t the most inconspicuous on our cream walls, but heigh-ho.

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The easiest way we found was to tie a long piece of thread between two chairs, leaving it fairly slack, then knot the balloons on one by one. I’m not going to lie: it was hella fiddly. Make sure you knot them into position so that they’ll sit comfortably alongside each other when the string is taut, just touching. 

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Then onto the wall! We started at the bottom, over the (switched-off) radiator, so all the others would stack on top of it. They needed tape at each end and then at several points between, but we put the pieces of tape as close to the balloons as possible so they wouldn’t be visible. Once the strings of balloons were up, we did a bit of fiddling: taping some of the balloons together when they were sagging, so that they all sat in a rough grid.

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All done! He was so happy. It made for some great photographs. And it lasted more than a week – in a heatwave! – before some of the balloons deflated. So, I’ll be doing a new one next week then, cool? Cool.

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How a bear does birthdays

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Ok, ok, just one more about T’s birthday, and then we’re done. PHOTO AVALANCHE AHOY, CAP’N. So help me, I cannot narrow them down more than this.

(There’s something about having a birthday midweek and then a birthday tea at the weekend that seems to make it last f o r e v e r. Lucky T. He sees any old open flame these days and yells ‘happee birthdee day!’)

We are in the middle of redoing our little garden at the minute – more about that later – so we wanted to celebrate in ways that would be fun, but also relatively inexpensive. I found this balloon wall on You Are My Fave, and it looked perfect: five bags of heavy-duty coloured balloons from Hobbycraft cost £5, and boom, done. Or should I say, boom, much late night fiddling with tape, bicycle pumps and string, done. I’ll do a quick tutorial for this later in the week, because we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we found one that did.

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You should’ve seen his face when he saw it. His mouth fell into a perfect O.

The thing about being a second child is that basically everything you play with belongs to your older brother. One of the nicest parts of the morning was seeing him overwhelmed by opening new, exciting things just for him.

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We’d given H the day off from nursery, and planned to go into London and visit the Natural History Museum. First though, lunch. On your birthday you want to eat your favourite food, and the problem with this two-year-old is that there aren’t many grape-and-strawberry-yoghurt restaurants. But he does love…curry, of all things. So we found a fabulous curry house just off Covent Garden and had a grand old time. They had a children’s menu, and we introduced T to mango lassi, which as a combination of milkshake and yoghurt (two of his favourite things) blew his tiny mind wide open.

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We will pass over the Tube trains we took on the hottest day of the year. Nothing like marinating in a sardine-tin sauna, air shimmering with the sweat of strangers, hanging on to two overheated and angry boys for dear life.

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H, I bless the day you got yourself a photo face. HAHA.

It all got better once we got to the Emirites cable car. It was like stepping into another world: cool breeze, open sky, and the blue Thames glittering ahead. And I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the cable car, but you MUST. If you have a day travel card you get a discounted ticket, and it is so, so worth doing. The views are incredible, and it’s just thrilling.

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At the other side we found a few splash pads next to the O2, and what looked like a worldwide Salvation Army convention enjoying the sun and spray. The boys were desperate to pull off their shoes and get wet, so we shrugged, and saved the museum for another day. They spent an hour running in and out of the water, soaking their clothes and cooling down before we headed home. Honestly, it was wonderful.

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Then on Sunday we had some family over for a little birthday tea (I am firm in my belief that it’s pointless to plan themed birthday extravaganzas before they can remember it). Most of the food was low-prep and easily done: veg and dips, fruit and chocolate fondue, scones and jam, chips and cookies. I found these brilliant watermelon napkins and cups at the supermarket, along with cocktail stick forks, which I found far too exciting for someone who claims to be an adult.

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The cake – oh, my giddy aunt – was an unmitigated disaster. I wanted to make the cinnamon roll cake we love, but in round tiers rather than a single tray. But the layers were too dense after baking, and became even more so after leaving them in the fridge overnight. The cream cheese frosting I’ve made before with no problems went through a terrifying cottage cheese stage, where the butter refused to mix properly into the rest. Then it wouldn’t set firm. Then there wasn’t enough to cover the cake. I’ve had many a cake horror before (you know this, loves) but never one in which, twenty minutes before guests arrived, I sat in a corner deep-breathing and saying ‘he has no birthday cake. HE HAS NO BIRTHDAY CAKE’.

Anyway, it slapped together with minutes to spare. Good enough for candles. And T was thrilled. He was getting the hang of this blowing-out-candles thing by this time, and kept trying to get it done before we’d finished singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

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That’s the main thing, isn’t it? Happy boy, covered in chocolate, running round the garden with a new helicopter. The balloons are still on the wall. We’re getting through the cake by heating it up into cinnamon roll pudding. The new toys and books are well worn already. It ain’t a bad life.

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A letter for two

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Today is your birthday, and you are two. Your day is supposed to be over, actually, but you haven’t yet given up the good fight: I can still hear you bouncing and yelling in your room. Most of the street can. You have two volumes: the cracked little fake-sorrowful voice you put on for apologies, and Is That A Jet Engine, No It’s Just Teddy.

You are two, and these last two years have gone before I could blink. You are two, and it feels like you’ve been two forever. You’re a mixed little thing, my love: pure sunshine with a streak of steel through your middle. You are good-natured, big-hearted, puppyish; ready to make jokes in silly voices and then to laugh before anyone else does. You give hugs freely, without the asking. At heart you are happy, and want everyone else to be too. You are also single-minded, stubborn and intensely strong-willed. When you want something, you shout. If you don’t get it, you shout louder. The other day you asked to be picked up in order to more conveniently hit me in the face, and I was stern (‘we do NOT hit’ / ‘sowee mammy!’) but also reluctantly impressed.

You won’t get this till much later, maybe ever, but I’ll say it for myself: like most second-time parents, I wasn’t sure what my love for you would look like before I met you. When you love a child for the first time, it knocks you silly. You’re shaken to the foundations of yourself and built up again into something new. It’s hard to imagine it happening again, a second time, the same but also different. And then it does. You open up, again. Caverns with vaulted ceilings expand, and expand again. With love, and love, and love.

But Ted, this is what I’m trying to explain: you made it so easy. No one has ever met you and not loved you immediately. You are laughably lovable (that hair! those eyes! that ridiculous smile!). You arrived three weeks early, quickly, unexpectedly, and none of us had any idea of the happiness you’d add to our store.

Like grace. Given freely, without the asking. That’s how I think of you, really. And I’m so grateful.

…And you were a pain in the neck on the Tube today, and you drank two mango lassis one after the other, and you wanged a metal train into a poor gentleman’s ankle because I wouldn’t let you leap onto the platform at the wrong stop.

I wouldn’t change you. How could you be anything but gloriously yourself?

I pinch myself when I think about how lucky I was to get you. Happy birthday, Edward bear.

Much love,

Your mother.

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Cake for breakfast


And so we discover that time, that fickle mistress, halts for no man, and no matter how sunny your good looks are, EVEN YOU WILL BE TWENTY-NINE IN THE END.

Or, in other words, Tim had his birthday this week, which means I’m not the only one in this house officially on the short slide to thirty. HARDEE HAR HAR.


We had a lovely day. We decided to keep Henry in nursery in the morning, because it would make it more likely that family naps could happen (and they did). But before that there were presents, bunting and cake for breakfast. I don’t know why we haven’t just done cake for breakfast every birthday morning before this, by the way. It makes everything better. Maybe it’s a special milestone in adulthood, being able to decide that cake is a meal without any regrets? If it is, we are there.


I found this root beer float cake on Joy the Baker’s glorious site some time ago, and bookmarked it immediately for Tim’s birthday. He is the sort of chap who drinks his own weight in the stuff every time we head across the Atlantic. Last year my sister got him a boxful of different brands in murky brown bottles, and he sat us all down and conducted serious taste comparison tests. With a spreadsheet. Love him.

Anyway, it’s a fabulous cake – the root beer comes through quite beautifully, and not too strongly – and I am a convert to bundt tins, because no more ugly first slices. My version was a little rough and ready, mainly due to the fact that a) I made it at 11pm, and b) I can never be convinced that it’s worth the effort of sieving cocoa powder and icing sugar, until my frosting comes out in pimples, and then I remember that it is. To make it a proper root beer float cake I stacked Cornish vanilla ice cream into the hole in the middle, which I think is the best labour saving device invented since I gave up the sandwich and started just eating peanut butter and jam off the same spoon.


We took the boys swimming in the afternoon, then around dinner time left them with Tim’s lovely mama to go on a birthday date. We tested out some digital radios for our kitchen in John Lewis, then went for obscenely good steak (mine came with beef dripping sauce. Hnnnnggghhhh) and watched Interstellar at the cinema, groaning from our overstuffed stomachs.


Interstellar is astonishing. It almost tries to cram in too much, and has some usual Nolan problems (some clunky dialogue, a twist a minute). But the visuals, the themes, the scope of the thing, Matthew McConaughey’s beauteous craggy face…oh my. We were overwhelmed.

We have a happy day whenever this guy has a birthday. Like steak and root beer and the great McConaughey himself, he only gets better with age.

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A science-y kind of birthday

Just a quick one about Henry’s birthday, before August is properly over and all my posts turn into meditations on apple crumble.

I didn’t organise a party this year, because we thought we’d be moving house in the middle of it. Then we weren’t moving this month after all (and do not even talk to me about that) but by then it was too late to coordinate everyone’s schedules. So instead of one medium-sized family celebration he had… three small celebrations, one after the other. I think he came out of it rather well.

When I asked Hen what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted a chocolate cake, and to see his friends. So we held a Favourite Dessert party the night before, with all his best little people, to tick them both off. For the birthday cake, I made The Cake Hunter‘s Ultimate Chocolate Cake that morning. It is an INSANELY good, easy recipe, and I will never need another chocolate cake in my life. The cake actually tastes of chocolate – this is rare, I find – and even though I’m not much of an icing fan, there’s something fudgy and incredible about the frosting. I doubled the frosting quantities, as I wanted to frost all the way around the outside (my cakes tend to need hiding), and threw on gold and silver stars at the end. It turned out pretty well.


We put up the bunting from Teddy’s party (I will be doing this until one of them is old enough to mind) and bought napkins, pots and dessert flags from the supermarket, which has seriously impressed me this summer with its party gear. In the middle of all this flour-tossing and sugar-inhaling we had a disaster: Teddy tripped over and smashed both his lips against a colander he’d taken for personal use. Oh, it bled like the River Styx, dear readers. I was about two soaked flannels away from taking him to A&E, rambling on the phone to NHS Direct with one hand, wiping nameless gunk out of his mouth with the other. In the end it dried up all of a sudden, and he seemed totally fine. So we all changed our clothes, cleaned everything up, and ate some desserts.


The day after was Henry’s actual birthday. First, a few presents from friends and admirers to open over breakfast.


Then we did as birthday celebrators do, and went to London. If our great capital consisted solely of a Tube network, and all you did was ride round and round till you were dizzy, he’d still think it was the best day of his life.

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As it was, we also had Shake Shack for lunch, along with a very serious conversation about whether Shake Shack or Five Guys do the better burger. Tim and I come down on opposite sides of this divide, like poor Littlefoot and his grandparents from The Land Before Time, and I’m not sure we will ever bridge the gap. We put a lit candle in his burger, because if you can’t have a burger cake when you’re three, when can you, eh?




PS, I love Covent Garden. There was a chap dressed up in full costume and paint as the Mad Hatter, drinking tea from vintage crockery, all SUP GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR A TUESDAY.


We’ve been to the Natural History Museum (‘dinosaur you-see-um’) a few times now, so we thought we’d try the Science Museum this time. He loved it. A word to the wise for parents of toddlers: you need to hit The Garden in the basement (the bit for under-sixes), the cars and planes on the ground floor, and then the Launchpad on the fifth floor (with all the hands-on experiments), and that’s all. Everything else is beyond them, and will only make your feet tired. We discovered this so you don’t have to.

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Know who else was hanging out in the Launchpad that Tuesday? STEPHEN HAWKING. ACTUAL STEPHEN HAWKING. It’s seriously impolite to stare at famous people, I know, but HELLO. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tim run so fast.

Happy belated birthday, Henny-Pen. Sorry I often call you ‘Hen’ in public and in front of people who don’t know your name. It makes you sound like a chicken. I know, I know. You can carry it off.


One thousand and ninety two

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Dear Henry,

Today you are three. Today has been a good day.

It’s getting harder to write about you properly, because describing you is becoming a challenge. The sweeping generalisations we hold up to babies – he’s loud; he’s busy; he’s a good sleeper – are poor greyscale things when held up to the patterned light of a three-year-old. You are multi-layered and contradictory, full of depths that surface and take us by surprise. You are increasingly a person. This is something we will both have to get used to.

Let’s just write you into this page a little. You talk. And talk and talk. You don’t say ‘I fell down’, you say ‘gosh, that was a tumble’. You don’t say ‘it’s dark’, you say ‘look, Mummy, outside it is dark and werry gloomy’. We laugh at you and with you a lot. Following your thought processes is like trying to catch a spark in blackness. It is difficult, but oh, it illuminates such lovely things.

You are passionate and emotional, as I think all toddlers must be, and we are learning to navigate this together. Not always very well. You love dinosaurs, books, trains, racing cars, Winnie the Pooh (a bit left-field, that one). You still run everywhere and only from the waist down. You whizz so fast on your little balance bike that I have to sprint alongside you with the pushchair, watching your hair stand on end. You can say seven wordless things just by raising your eyebrows. As of this morning, you do not own a single pair of trousers that fit.

I think now that all of my children will be special to me in their own way, and nothing will ever take away from the miraculous firstness of you. You were the moment I heard a jagged newborn cry through my own exhaustion and pain. The point at which everything in my head and heart changed all at once was marked, indelibly, by you.

I watched you open-mouthed, astounded, that first long night. I still do. I think I probably always will.

Today we have ridden trains, conducted serious experiments in the Science Museum, eaten chips in Covent Garden. Today we bought you pick-and-mix, and every time Teddy pulled on your sleeve for a foam banana, you very quietly and kindly passed one over to him. Today has been a good day. I hope you’ll remember some of it.

May three be good to you, little boy.

You are good to us.

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On losing Two, and trying not to be sad about it


Second birthday. The cheeks have it.

He is on the verge of being three. Hanging onto Two by his fingertips. You can see Three coming in those long skinny legs, the bony bottom in little underpants. Three is in his self-awareness, the jokes with a random punchline, the sentences with multiple clauses. There are Threeish days he wants books with more words than pictures, and days he wants me to pull stories out of my head. I can smell it on the days he sleeps till 7.30 instead of 6am, and doesn’t want a nap because it’s obvious he doesn’t need one.

You’d think this would be good news. It is, it really is. Two has been a marvellous, multicoloured fire-storm. I have sensed for a long time that he and I are very similar, and I’ve butted heads with Two so often we have bruises. I can see the seeds of logic in Three. There’s the unremarkable everyday use of the toilet coming (!!!), and the point at which he can get himself a seventh glass of water. I can see, very VERY distantly on the horizon, a day in which he can put on his own socks.


But oh, there is sweetness here I am not ready to give up. Two, with his chubby cheeks and flannel Thomas pyjamas. The process of watching him pull words from the air, awestruck with the discovery that things have names, and mispronounce them hilariously. Not ever again in his life will he forget how to say ‘porridge’. He won’t ever need my hand again to go down the stairs. That was Two’s thing, and Two has almost gone.

Three goes to nursery in September. We’re still waiting for the confirmation letter to arrive, but it should come any day. He’ll be someone else’s for five mornings a week, and he is so excited to go. Me, I’ve spent these sunny weeks holding onto Two with both hands: picnics, day trips, library books, lots of mornings jumping off walls and poking things with sticks, as much time as I can wangle with him wedged on my lap. For these last few golden weeks he is all mine, all day, and this life I make for him is the only one he knows. It was never going to last, and it shouldn’t, either. But I will close my eyes and breathe in Two for every minute I still have him.

Three is coming, lovely boy, and just wait till you see what you’ll find there.

Three is coming.


A little post-birthday fanfare

I’ve kind of lost the plot since our big group stomach bug last week (you know what they say: the family that shares gastroenteritis together, stays together). But I didn’t want the week to go by without giving a nod to this guy’s birthday.


Which, incidentally, was completely rearranged by said gastroenteritis, but you’d never know it from him. He’s not the whinging type, even when a Five Guys burger is at stake. (We are not the same.)

Let me tell you a story about Timothy. Just a little one. A few Sundays ago we attempted an afternoon nap, except Edward, who attempted a different cross face every ten minutes. Tim had had the boys a lot the day before – and he always, always does the early shift when Hen bounces out of bed at 6am demanding porridge – so I took Teds to settle him. After two hours, I’d rocked a lot, huffed a lot and slept not at all, and wasn’t best pleased about it.

‘It’s not FAIR’, I hurled at him once he’d woken up. Yes, really.

‘What’s not fair?’

‘Babies. I spend all day and night looking after them, and the one time in the week when I could have a proper nap, Edward won’t sleep. Why won’t he sleep?!’

Perhaps, you idiot, because he wasn’t tired? In my defence, interrupted sleep is the very boil throbbing on the nose of my existence, and, like any throbbing boil, it makes me more unreasonable the longer it’s there. As you see.

Tim took both boys away, and I huffed in bed by myself for the next hour, pointedly ignoring the chaos downstairs. Eventually I heard a knock on the door.

‘Hey’, he said, gently, a rack of homemade scones steaming in one hand, ‘are you coming downstairs?’

I did. We ate them for tea with butter and jam, watched Babe for the twenty-seventh time, and laughed a lot.

If I could choose just one thing for you to know about him, it would be this: that given half a chance he would bundle up your temper tantrum, take it downstairs, puzzle over how to make it better, and then get out the flour and start making you scones.

Also: they are amazingly good scones.

Happy twenty-eighth, favourite!

Tim's bday

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