Tag Archives: Outdoors

Two time-stoppers

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I am walking to school. Pushing the pushchair with two hefty toddlers in it, wellies mud-streaked, balancing H’s scooter over the top with a spare finger, sweaty enough to make me feel like this is exercise. It’s one of my favourite things to do. The light is grey as steel, but the woods look good in anything.

I look up, and there’s a kite balancing on the topmost branch of the nearest tree. A kite, or a hawk? I never know. I wish I did. We see them quite often, wheeling far overhead, but I’ve never seen one perched before. This one sways gently on its spindly seat. So much bigger than I expected. A muscled, burly chest, layered with feathers. I’m overwhelmed by how solid it is, how heavy and powerful it looks, how its stillness communicates itself as terrifying, ferocious observation. I wouldn’t like to be a sparrow in the field below and feel that glare on my back.

I stop the pushchair and point up. ‘Look, can you see the bird?’ I want them to see it too, and I don’t want to move before it does. Then I don’t have to: it lets out a pure, cold, bird-of-prey cry, the kind I’ve heard on documentaries but never in front of me, never slicing through the air on top of my head, and peels off. Wings open smoothly as it falls and then it’s not falling anymore, but flying. It must have seen a sparrow.

I let out my breath, and push on.

 

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I have heaved all three of our shopping bags in from the car, and closed all the doors. It’s our doing-things day, the one where I wheedle T around two supermarkets and clean up the house after the weekend. I love restocking our empty fridge and cupboards, cramming the shelves with a week of fresh food. Planning and making our meals answers one of my deepest, most basic needs as a mother: I can feed them good things, I can keep them well, I can keep them loved. I think about this every Monday, stuffing onions into the fridge drawer.

‘Put music on?’ T asks.

‘Of course’, I say. ‘What would you like?’

I don’t really expect him to answer, but he screws up tiny nose and does: ‘Um…Starman’.

We’ve been hitting the Bowie back catalogue hard since he passed away. I suppose you pore over someone’s genius more when you know there’s no more to come. The boys are old enough to recognise them this time around. They love them, though they’re not as fierce about Life on Mars as I am.

I crank up the volume and the slightly discordant guitar riff jangles through the kitchen, then Bowie comes in for the first verse, that hard, spare voice lingering over the repeated ‘oh-oh-ohs’. T starts to dance, all shoulders and lunges. I join in, swirling my coat around us like a cloak. He grabs my hand and I spin us both round in lazy circles on the kitchen floor, waiting for the moment where the chorus kicks in with a rush and an octave leap.

I know this is something I’ll remember years later: this minute, this chubby hand and leaping toddler and soft late-morning light and Bowie loud in the air. I can feel it solidifying into memory in front of me, like our edges are turning sepia before we’re quite done with them. Possibly I’ll never listen to Starman again without being transported right back here. Swishing coat. Hand in the air. T’s laughter. And here comes the chorus: Star-maaaaaan, waiting in the sky.

He laughs. I laugh. I get out bread, grapes, cheese, and make us some lunch.

Earth days

Today is Earth Day.

And I could wax lyrical about the walk we took by the canal on Saturday evening: the setting sun turned everything green and gold, and I was so grateful for any sunshine, any at all, that I could’ve cried with the loveliness of it.

I could tell you about how we took a wrong turning (we always take a wrong turning) and there was a moment where I used an old tree stump to swing out over a swampy stream, ankle-deep in stinging nettles eff-why-eye, and thought this isn’t quite as picturesque as it was ten minutes ago, and also um, I think that sheep might be dead, and also dude, is this a badass third-trimester thing to be doing or WHAT.

Timothy said, with Henry on his back, ‘hey, do you want me to carry you?’, and I said ‘what, all three of us? You’re not He-man’ and the laughs came hard and fast after that I can tell you, though that might’ve been because we were getting stung on the ankle rather a lot.

Instead I’ve had this in my head all day, from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

…With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

I have a quotation kind of memory, and over the years I’ve learned to pay attention to the lines that come from nowhere. I’ve been thinking about this one, because some of the search terms used to find my blog lately have made me want to reach out and hug you, whoever you are. ‘Jaundice baby’, and ‘underweight four-month-old’; ‘paintings that make you feel life’ and ‘message for a friend who will go abroad’. They’re all so human it hurts.

I would like to tell you, worried search-engine mother, that I have spent many hours panic-Googling myself. Oh, I feel so much sympathy for you. I wish we could tell each other how grindingly hard it is sometimes, this baby-raising endeavour, and how we’re just doing our best. I want to talk about Picasso with the painting searcher. And to the person searching for ‘do all pregnant women get outies’, I’m afraid the answer is probably ‘yes’ and also ‘if you have a toddler, he will use it as a car horn whether you like it or not’.

Let’s just stop for a minute, on Earth Day, and say that we are all made of stuff that formed in the stars, and we all have a right to be here. It is a beautiful world. I would like my tiny corner of the internet to be somewhere we can recognise it, and be kind.

And to Mr ‘toad in the hole for twenty-four people’: RESPECT, my good man. Hope you’ve got a flipping massive oven.

The Desiderata is worth reading in its entirety, by the way, and you can find it here. I was given a copy at a crucial, painful point years ago, and have never forgotten it.

UPDATED to say the copy of the Desiderata I found was heinously full of errors, so I’ve replaced the link with another, hopefully more accurate. If there’s an official link somewhere, point me to it!

That’s what I’d do on a farm

Hey, you: it’s sunny. Let’s go outside.

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I cannot tell you how giddy I get when it’s warm enough to let go of winter coats. It hasn’t been for months. I saw the sun streaming through the window this morning as I listened to Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van – a joyous, funny, bittersweet thing, by the way, and worth reading if you can’t get hold of the radio version – and still took us outside wrapped up in scarves and jackets. Then I realised we didn’t need them. And did a little dance, I think. It’s a bit hazy.

We picked up our fabulous playdate friends and drove to Bucklebury Farm for the afternoon. Hollie is one of Henry’s favourite people – she’s the only person he’ll willingly hold hands with, at any rate – and Meg is definitely one of mine. Incidentally, Bucklebury Farm is just down the road from the Duchess of Cambridge’s parents, royal fans, though Kate and William didn’t grace us with a visit. Must’ve had a previous engagement.

We fed deer, Shetland ponies, donkeys and tiny lambs (me from a pregnancy-appropriate distance), and then somehow ended up trapped in a pen with three hungry goats, a few guinea pigs and a giant rabbit. Henry was insistent that the littlest goat wanted to give him a piggy-back, despite all evidence to the contrary. When that didn’t work, he wandered over to let the huge goats chew his hair, and enjoyed it so much he headbutted them twice more before I managed to pull him away. After that, thankfully, the nice farm worker let him ride in the tractor for a bit. Thus making his entire year and beyond, and saving the little goat from some serious chiropractor appointments. 

The playground and bouncy castle went down equally well. I had to promise Daddy and dinner and five yoghurts before he was happy to come back to the car and take his wellies off. And he spent dinnertime reenacting his bouncing technique for us, which made it harder than usual to get shepherd’s pie into his mouth.

It is the loveliest thing to spend time with people who are easy to talk to. Conversation is not one of my skills, so it’s a huge relief when you just click and it’s effortless. Especially when not even one of you is wearing a winter coat.

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(I think I’ve just found some goat spit in my hair, FYI.)

Lunch with a side of blue sky

They said it was the last summer day of the year. And we were jubilant about Henry’s newfound willingness to Eat Some Things Some of the Time (his own fork, and a seat at the table. That was what he was holding out for. The cad). So, a Saturday picnic? Obvious.

We went to The Vyne. It’s an old Tudor manor house in Sherborne St John, though really we went through the house as an afterthought. We were there for lunch on the front lawn. The sky was a Van Gogh swirl of white and blue, and we sat under the shade of a big oak to eat sandwiches and grapes and ice cream. They had a walled garden with a little hut full of children’s toys and a croquet set, and deckchairs at strategic places to admire the view. Henry did not fall into the lake even once, though not for lack of trying. What a victory.

Later, in the house, I played Gymnopedie No. 1 on a piano from 1840. When Frederic Chopin – my favourite, favourite – toured London in 1848, he played two pianos of the same kind. Rather better than I did, I suspect, and I don’t have the excuse of lung disease.

Sky-chasers

The sun came. Oh, it is marvellous.

On Sunday, we had some friends over for dinner and then went up to The Holies in Streatley for a walk. It’s a National Trust-owned slice of woodland with gorgeous views over the Thames Valley. And it’s best in sunshine, so there we were.

On the way, we found a bench where Tim’s family had had a photo taken eons ago, so we took another to start a Family Tradition (if you do it twice, it’s tradition. Or, if you’re me, if you do it once and announce very loudly that THIS IS A TRADITION NOW, it’s a tradition).

I also discovered that a) you can’t roll skinny jeans into workable shorts, and so b) I have no shorts, and also c) I am total insect fodder. My ankle has swollen bites all over it. They look, I am sorry to say, like little boobs. Inappropriate ankle alert.

And on that bombshell, some photos.

The Holies and Lardon Chase, Streatley, Berkshire. Good for stargazing, deep thoughts and Sunday afternoons. 

Yo ho ho and a cup of herbal tea

There are things in my life that make me feel terribly English. See, exhibit A: love for scones and jam; exhibit B: inability to sing ‘Jerusalem’ without bellowing; exhibit C: crippling awkwardness in social situations. Spending the day on a narrowboat chugging down an Oxford canal has to be in the top five.

We did this last year, but it was even better to do it again when I could actually fit through the doors. Two of us had babies this year, which makes you wonder how many years we can keep going before our rate of increase actually sinks the boat.

Off we sailed, passing boat parks and beautiful houses by the canal, overhanging ferny trees and crumbling bridges. Henry didn’t stand for the lifejacket for longer than five minutes, but he agreed to be Keeper of the Rope in exchange for not hurling himself overboard.

I think all of the country’s eccentrics go and live on the water. One of the gardens we passed was set up like an abandoned outdoor wedding reception, but with cobwebbed silver teapots and Finding Nemo chandeliers (yes, really). As we sat and ate barbecued sausages in our makeshift campsite, another narrowboat inched past on the water. ‘I say’, said the chap at the tiller. ‘You haven’t seen a dog walking past, have you? We seem to have lost ours’. We hadn’t. A narrowboat is an odd place to lose a dog, but the owners didn’t seem very concerned. Perhaps it’s a regular thing, and the dog quite often leaps off to go and solve crimes or something. I would believe it.

It was a sunny-rainy, chocolate-button-and-cheeseburger, entirely delightful day. We arrived home with damp clothes and sunburn. See? Totally English.

Oxfordshire NarrowboatsThrupp, Oxfordshire. Drink up, me hearties

And then: sunshine

This morning someone nudged May in the ribs and told it to get its act together. And so it brought out the sun.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to live in a country that was sunny in season. I am so unstoppably cheerful on a sunny day. When I wake up and the house is flooded with light I could run around kissing everyone on the mouth, and that includes you. Unfortunately for all concerned, this has been the wettest, dreariest spring I can remember. I had to buy Henry an unscheduled cardigan; that’s how bad it’s been.

Today, blazing and blue-skied, was my sister-in-law’s birthday. Felicity is the kindest, sweetest eighteen-year-old you will find anywhere. She laughs a lot. She’s very cool, but effortlessly includes those who aren’t. She is equally at home talking to adults or tickling baby cheeks, and I don’t think she’s ever slammed a door in her life. If anyone deserves an afternoon in a sunny park followed by a hefty quantity of ice cream, it’s her.

(Today is also my brother Rob’s birthday; he is pretty marvellous too. But he’s a missionary with no blog access at present, so I’ll praise him when he can read it.)

We sat lazing in the heat, admiring the sweet pull-ups some bare-chested chap was performing for us on the basketball court. If only we were as cool as that suckah, we lamented. But otherwise, it was perfect.

Felicity, Ben and Jerry and a Cadbury’s Flake (or seven) would like to wish you happy birthday. They party hard, Flakes – go wild.

Inside and out

This time last year, almost to the day, Tim and I went for a picnic in Prospect Park. It was unusually good weather for early spring. I was working from home on Wednesdays, sick to my bones, and Timothy took a break from his finals revision and pulled me out of doors for an hour. We chose the slope uphill from the playground because the grass was nicer, and ate sandwiches and smeared Rolo ice creams all over our faces. After lunch we watched the families by the swings, thinking about the point not far distant but still unimaginable, when we’d be one of them.

Today, Henry and I went back to the park. It’s been unusually good weather for early spring. We chose the slope uphill from the playground because the grass was nicer, played with Sir Prance and the blanket, and took a nap. He’s much better company now he’s outside making me laugh and not inside kicking my ribs all to heck.

It’s odd for me to think back and realise that Henry was who I was growing. It was him, all the time. I’d find it hard to believe if that ski-jump nose hadn’t been present and correct right from the outset. Some noses are determined to make their presence felt. This one was.

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