More of the same, also eyeliner

I am convinced that lockdown tales are not very interesting, so I won’t have much to report on that. Every day is the same, with spikes of violence when subtle provocation gets too much for a kid who has been inside too long, and then stretches of device-enabled calm. Sometimes there is a flurry of creative activity that makes me wish someone was filming me so I could make some sort of How-To-Parent-Amazingly short video to flash about on social media, but these often don’t last long or I have had to pay them to do it in the first place, which isn’t quite in the spirit of the aspirational parenting I might be hoping for. (Although it is imprinted on my brain that A.A. Gill would get his kids to do their homework by chucking them £20 a time, and if he could do that then there is hope for all of us flagrant and disengaged (and fiscally irresponsible) parents everywhere).

I asked the kids to make a collage out of the Vogues I never read which sit in the hallway loo, gathering all sorts of germs which we don’t care about because there are Bigger Germy Fish To Fry right now. I’ve been buying some art over lockdown and I like clever collages and figured out we could make our own and frame them. I told the kids the best one would earn them £5. Two of them made collages, we all ran out of steam at the cleaning up part, then I had to judge them but I felt mean and unqualified so now I owe them each a fiver and my Vogues have been ruined. It would have made a nice video though.

We are playing Scrabble together (well, we did once) and the kids are into competitive pancake making each morning. This causes a lot of smoke to get into our clothes and hair and we are going through bananas, frozen berries, eggs and flour at a terrific rate. Unfortunately they won’t band together on the pancake thing which would save on labour and resources, but instead have three batters going each day, with three different bowls and three different recipes and a congested kitchen lineup at the stove when they should actually be getting ready for online schoolwork.

I am torn. It is good to learn to cook but perhaps if it segued into dinner preparation for us all I might be more enthused, because cooking a different dinner every night for eight people is wearing me down. For perspective, cooking for eight is like one nuclear family inviting another nuclear family over every night, and my kids are no less exacting. They don’t *love* leftovers, one hates cheese, one hates pasta, I won’t eat fish, Otis only really likes soy sauce. Mark is used to quite an elevated culinary event because me doing the elaborate cooking (which often involves new recipes and various side dishes) and Mark wolfing it down with heaped praise is actually pretty much what our marriage boils down to, and so I cannot really lessen off. My marriage is really dinner. Make of that what you will.

Of course, all this is compounded by the fact that you have to plan to go to the supermarket, and take a book to read while you wait outside in the long, long queue. I usually dress up for this. I have never knowingly gone without a full face of makeup, an outfit lewk (mostly enormous dresses with trainers, big earrings, my hands dripping in spiky dangerous jewellery (see previous post for the fun and games that they entail), oversized sunglasses and glossy lips. To add to the sense of occasion, yesterday I dyed my hair Bleach London’s Awkward Peach, so now I feel a bit young and fun (this makes me sound very middle-aged, doesn’t it?). Each day, regardless of the need to visit Waitrose, I had been trying to work on my liquid eyeliner application which is finally getting steadier. I really cherish this Waitrose queue time, because it is without the dog, without the baby and without the children. I leave them at home while they shout up the stairs for me to not forget to bring them home Cawston Press Sparkling Rhubarb drinks and two types of Pot Noodles. This supermarket time is gold, and I like to pretend to myself that while I am in the queue, people notice me and think I am single and young and fun, and that my eyeliner is not wonky. That is all I really ask.

The other thing is that I have joined everyone else in baking focaccia. This is making us a bit fat, although I am running quite a bit to counteract this. I was delighted to note yesterday that I can finally get my upper arms into my Isabel Marant denim shirt. I haven’t been able to wear it since about halfway through my pregnancy, which is is nearly two years. Two years of tightly-packed sausages for upper arms. I wore it yesterday and while it did leave red pressure points in my inner elbow folds, you couldn’t really tell. Not when you were distracted by my peach hair, anyway.

Camera Roll Photo Essay

The other thing not making me thin are the Gails cinnamon buns that we order once a week:

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Me in the Waitrose queue, hoping that I am being admired by strangers:

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The dog. He embarrassed me on Friday by insisting on making a high-pitched bark at a big branch. An older lady came over to tell me that there are videos on YouTube that would help me with his annoying barking and that she thought it wasn’t only her who was sick of it, but everyone in the park who was there for some peace and quiet. I think I may have given her an eye-roll. I hope she noticed my much-improved liquid eyeliner application, anyway.

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The kids after playing in the park with the dog who is helpfully demonstrating his annoying bark. The kids had been under the trees playing a game about lion/monkey hybrids:

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Disco eyes for Waitrose:

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Oily focaccia:

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An example of how life can be your own personal catwalk, complete with a soundtrack in your head and imagined paparazzi:

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A photo by my friend Rebecca of the divine Remi at 4 days old:

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Biscuits. I cannot bake biscuits:

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But I do bake lovely babies, amiright? Remi in his romper:

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Lastly, my peach hair (and pretty good eyeliner):

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Lamb and Spiky Rings and Forgiveness

Right now, there’s a whole leg of lamb slow roasting in the oven that’s been marinated in a paste of onion, garlic, ginger, parsley, paprika, coriander, cinnamon and cumin (which always smells like a sweaty man but somehow tastes like the earth, in a good way). The weather is properly early-summery, with the bluest of skies and a sun that gives you a reddish little smudge on those bits I think you are supposed to spread bronzer on – nose, chin, forehead. The streets are quiet. The kids are quiet, having walked the dog and finished their home schooling and having already built some marvellous and unfathomable things on Minecraft. The flat is tidy (no thanks to me) and we will soon go out for a walk in the park and come back to that lamb, to eat with warmed pitas and thick yoghurt tahini sauce.

That is today – at least, that is right now. Yesterday was different – by 9am Otis had shoved the TV which had knocked the mirror behind it which was holding up a framed collage which smashed onto the floor, spreading tiny little fragments of glass everywhere underfoot. The boys refused to do their schoolwork and gave me that talking-back sass which I think they suspect is kind of charming and which I know is just rude and out of line and which threatens to break me. They undid each room of the flat (of which there are not many) in that careless way that kids do – moving things around and dragging duvets from room to room and opening drawers and taking out seven things which end up stood on or all the way under the kitchen table and always, always, making half-arsed dens with piles of cushions in really inconvenient stupid places. 

Then they woke the baby up halfway through his precious, hard-won nap by running down the hallway, shouting nonsense at each other and trying to sneak past his cot to retrieve a foam sword. Because foam sword retrieval apparently waits for no man. I followed the sound of the baby down the hallway to find three of them looking a bit guilty, my bedroom door wide open, baby puffy-eyed and creased, crying with the shock of a rude awakening. I swore and shouted and swatted two of them about their heads in my white-hot fury (while wearing my enormous spiky rings, more of which later). I made them console the baby who was in pieces, up an hour too soon, cranky and probably quite sick of sharing his space with these ever-present brothers who in the old days used to go somewhere in the daylight hours but who now just litter up the hallways with Lego and their prepubescent clumsy limbs. I was so sick of them and the tasks of schooling them and feeding them and keeping the tensions at some sort of manageable level. I told them that they weren’t even supposed to be here – that they should think of themselves as my unwelcome daytime guests, thank you very much, until the schools reopen and they can go back to where they belong.

Then we went to the garden, they played silently with their magnetic dart board and I realised they are great. My raspberry gin and tonic confirmed that view and by dinnertime I was remorseful and in love with them.  I asked them, over fish goujons, roasted baby potatoes and peas, what they think we could do to have a happier home life. Noah suggested I take my rings off before I swat them on the head. I thought that was fair enough.

A Bit Of Bad News

It’s such a weird time (she says, stating the obvious). We woke up to the news that our house in New Zealand, which is untenanted following the lockdown which saw our tenant leave for the other island, has been robbed. All of our furniture gone, including a kauri chest that was made by my father-in-law for my husband’s mother a long time ago. I can only hope that the thieves needed that furniture and that they can sell it and pay their bills. I have to think that or my belief in people being ultimately good gets a little shaky. And no one died, you know? It’s only stuff (and if I am being entirely honest, I am not sure the Rimu slimline early 2000s restrained furniture aesthetic sits well with my middle-aged newfound love of Hollywood Regency flounce – give me a ceramic lifesize panther and a gold toned palm floor lamp over a skinny bit of wood any day). But it does feel pretty grim, and the Level 4 lockdown situation in New Zealand means that the police can’t do much about it. Nor can we get the house tenanted again soon, so we are using up all our savings pretty quickly. Gah.

Photos of a dirty baby always helps. The first is post-chocolate croissant, the second is what happened when a tin of paint exploded in our storage room. It would have been funny except for little baby eyes, etc. It took a few days to come off and there are still spots in his see-through sparse hair.

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This was taken on our weekend walk to Portobello. I bribe the kids to walk up there for Portuguese custard tarts and fizzy cans of passionfruit pop.

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In other middle age cliched news, my sourdough game is getting stronger. I’ve found a strong bread flour supplier and so I can make all the loaves I want. Look at that rise on the score! I’ve also started making my own sourdough crackers. (I am boring myself, writing this).

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But look again! Here we are, doing our daily park softball shenanigans. Apart from the frequent fights, the hayfever and the dog that runs away, it is magical there right now.

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I hope everyone is ok and is learning to navigate the highs and lows of all this oddness. I hope everyone has a strong internet connection. I hope you all have somewhere to go for your mental health and a dose of vitamin D. I wish for you all plenty of hot, fresh tea and books, for friends on zoom and for dinners together and for excess kindness after you inevitably explode.

Let this be over soon, eh?

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Easter Egg Hunt #4

How best to lift the mood right now? My answer is simple and lies in half price easter eggs from Waitrose. Sure, there’s an hour long wait in the queue which snakes up around the block on the shady cold part of the pavement and sure, you can’t cut the supermarket queue by sneaking into the carpark anymore because they got wise to that little #lockdownlifehack, and SURE we are all getting fat and slightly yellowed in colour, but cheap easter eggs are a joy unbounded. And easter egg hunts can restore your faith in humanity. They really can.

Except for the one we did on Easter Sunday, in our communal garden. I told the kids about the Easter Bunny quarantine problem, so they knew that I would be standing in for him/her and would have to hide the eggs in the garden myself. I also knew that the garden, shared as it is by 100 households, would potentially be overrun by children and Easter Bunny parental substitutes. So I got up early for a run, got back, unlocked the garden, looked for who else was there, and started hiding the eggs. There was a middle aged couple doing exercise, the woman jogging around and around the perimeter and the man doing squats. I smiled at them and scattered the eggs as best I could, rather obviously, and then called the kids to come on over. They lined up at the gate, I told them to keep their distance from other people, they counted down from ten and off they ran, checking pathways and under hedges and in between branches for foil covered eggs that the squirrels hadn’t yet torn into.

The exercising couple were clearly not digging our hunt. The lady kept doggedly jogging around and around the path, glaring at my kids every time their steely egg hunting took them off piste. Her arms flew wide and outraged whenever they got near, and she shouted at them to KEEP YOUR DISTANCE! I mean, I get it. But we live a full four minutes walk away from Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. There are joggers there, and paths, and valleys and hills and rivers and ponds and castles and art galleries and horses and trees and dogs and parakeets and kids tend to be largely avoidable. This was early morning on Easter Sunday and my kids were having a 15 minute Easter Egg hunt in our garden. They could have given us a pass. It crushed me a little bit.

What Else Though?

What else is there? My top tips for helping you realise that life still contains some joys:

  1. Gin and tonics from 5pm. Massive icy glasses. Experiments with mixers. Cheese and crackers to stop the tears and balance out the chocolate situation.
  2. A twice weekly delivery of cinnamon buns from Gails. Expensive, yes. But what else are we spending our money on?
  3. Keeping Mark working every day. This means we can pay the rent and buy cinnamon buns from Gails. If the four days off at Easter is anything to go by, keeping Mark at work is also helping him from having a rage-fuelled kid-related heart attack.
  4. Ozark. Modern Family. Tiger King, obviously.
  5. Opening up all my mysterious, often ancient, unused makeup and trying it on. Today’s look is a thick cat’s eye flick and golden eyeshadow.
  6. Trying on clothes that you think you hate. It turns out, I still do hate quite a lot of it but there are some gems to be found. Wear your wardrobe and sell the rest.
  7. Do those things you wish you had time for, but never usually do. Read. Sew a button back on and gain a shirt. Chuck out 26 pairs of boy’s shoes (that might just be me who needed to do that, perhaps). Make home videos of your husband attacking your children’s thick lanky hair with his electric razor. Work on your upper arms. Venture under the couch and retrieve old oranges and apples that look like mouldering shrunken heads. Buy more murano glass vases from eBay. Bake if you can find flour. Walk the dog, avoid the cops.
  8. Don’t worry too much about the kids. Too much TV never really hurt anyone, and we all need a bit of an escape.

I have been asked by a lot of people about how the lockdown is going at our place. Frankly, it felt much worse when we thought that Mark would be out of work and I felt desperate and scared. But then he went off to work and he keeps getting paid and suddenly the fear shifted.

Now our days are about filling them up and avoiding any fights over name calling and preferred positions on the couch from escalating to physical violence (because A&E can’t help us now). I let the kids do what they want after chores, schoolwork (resuming next week, thank the heavens) and after our little tree climb/softball game/dog exercising in the park every afternoon. Barnaby, Mark and I do the Joe Wicks PE lesson every day and I’ve been cooking from Sam Tamimi and Tara Wigley’s new cookbook Falastin. It’s all quite…nice.

I think the kids have never been happier – no school and all – and I am just thankful they don’t have much of a grasp on economics. We are fine, really because we have a warm and comfortable flat, we are all quite nice to each other, we have plenty of food, we have a dog, a park, a garden. Mostly we are fine because we have an income.

What that means, what it gives us – the security and comfort of an income just cannot be overstated. I think we shouldn’t forget what the impact of all this is for people who have no backup plan. Stay at home, yes, for sure – shout it from the balconies and from your front door –  but also, be just as vigilant and aware of the damage that loss of income, homes and businesses will have on everyone too, and factor that in to the conversation.

To cheer us up, here is a photo of hot cross buns:

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Remi as a Lockdown Bunny:

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Remi as a Lockdown Baby in Shorts:

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Me in a £25 Zara Lockdown Victorian Nightie:

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I hope you are all well. Stay safe, don’t be mean, eat warm baked goods and smile at small children doing small children things.

 

 

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Lockdown Lament

This is how lockdown with six kids and a dog in a two bedroomed flat looks like.

5:27am. The baby wakes. I get him from his cot in the hallway outside our bedroom door. He has breastmilk. He has used his teeth to lacerate my left nipple recently and it really hurts. Every time he drinks he seems to open the wound a little bit. It doesn’t seem to bother him. I wince and flip him to the intact right nipple as soon as I can. We get up.

6:30am. The other kids slowly drag their little sleepy selves out of their beds and flop onto the couch for a bit. Silence. The baby is walking around the flat now, pulling things out of drawers and ripping things. I am drinking coffee.

7:30am. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings I go for a half hour run through the park. Currently this is an approved lockdown activity provided I keep my distance from other people. It is light and gorgeous at this time of the morning and the evidence of spring is everywhere. The roads are empty, runners are everywhere, respectfully apart. There are dog walkers and swimmers and a few people on bikes.

8:30am. I get back, warn the kids that they have to be dressed and fed and ready for home school at 9am. They ignore me.

9:00am. I am out of the shower, this morning with a bout of pinkeye that I can’t seem to shift. It is caused by overusing my contact lenses (read: wearing them all day and into the night) but I am too vain to wear my glasses. Even in lockdown. It makes no sense. I decide today to switch back to glasses and I feel grubby. Glasses are greasy and annoying and they make your foundation pool up at the bridge of your nose. Mine also make my eyes look tiny because I am so blind. They make eye makeup a bit redundant. I am entitled to hate them because I have had to wear them for 33 years, even though people say WHY DONT YOU WEAR YOUR GLASSES? THEY SUIT YOU. They don’t.

9:05am. There is a flurry of activity while all the children hurriedly make themselves bacon sandwiches. I shout at them that they are already late for school and that lessons should have already begun but are, once again, delayed because NO ONE LISTENS TO ME.

They eat their bacon sandwiches on the couch, I shout some more, they try to find the assorted laptops and iPads and iphones that we need to access all the different portals of remote learning. Most of the devices need charging so there are fights over the working chargers and where they will all sit. The baby cries and wants to be held but I have to log into different computers and not get tripped up by various misfiring charger wires. The baby keeps falling over and banging his head on furniture because he’s tired but it is too early to put him into bed.

Otis won’t sit down at the table for long. There are no sharp pencils even though we have many hundreds of blunt and broken-leaded ones caused by the children historically tossing them over their shoulders when they have finished with them. There are no pencil sharpeners. Casper starts making really loud noises with his mouth so he is sent into our bedroom. He plays really loud music from there; I shut the door and go back to the kitchen table and notice there are vases of flowers and cold cups of tea all over it from breakfast and that soon someone will spill something onto a laptop and we will be one down and all of our work from the Time Before The Virus will be lost. I attempt to clear up. The baby cries again, snotty and still in his pyjamas. He needs a nappy change but Otis has to start his work or I will have lost the tiny window a mouthy six year old gives me to get him on track to do his lessons. I try to log into his schoolwork but the links don’t work.

10:30am. Everyone says they need a hot chocolate and a biscuit. I make them one each but use all of our milk.

11:30am The older kids say they have finished their work for the day. I don’t believe them but am too busy trying to get Otis to write a sentence about his favourite animal and its habitat. In large letters, taking over nearly two lines, he finally writes:

“My frafrit animal is a gry parit. My uther frafrit amilv is a ant tha liv all ov the world. I icspecd the wethe to be sunee in Africa.”

WTF?

12:00pm The baby is taken to bed. He is grateful for it, and so am I.

12:30 Everyone stops to eat. There is not enough bread for all of these people. I raid the cupboards and invent Baked Beans in Pitta Bread Halves, with a side of Oldish Leftover Taco Mince in Pitta Bread Halves. They eat it all.

1:00pm. Everyone goes silent, playing on phones or the playstation or the iPad. It feels good. I sink into an eBay wormhole, searching for Hermes silk scarves and up-cycled dresser drawers. My eye hurts and so does my nipple.

2:00pm The three middle children attempt day four of the Lego challenge. This requires them to make a shipwrecked boat from their imaginations. Inexplicably they will only use white lego bricks though so I am set to work raking through the boxes of Lego to find a pure white stash. I find dog bones, sharpened pencils, prosecco corks and old chocolate wrappers in among the sharp little non-white boxes of bricks. As much as it seems to dry out my cracked hands even more,  I love this task because it is mindless and yet rewarding. The kids lose interest but I stay, hunched over the Lego box getting excited over the white bits I find. There is Lego everywhere.

2:30pm. The baby wakes and drinks and I wince again and think about cocktail hour which thankfully starts quite soon. I shout at the children to put their shoes on because we have to exercise in the park for an hour. The kids have a fight over a rugby ball. There is crying and still no one has shoes on.

3:00pm. We walk to the park. We find a tree, the kids climb it, Barnaby throws the rugby ball at the kids in the tree and one slips out. There is a lot of crying. There are police vans driving around looking for people to forcibly socially distance. I am scared we will get in trouble because there are so many of us and it looks like we are having a shouty, crying party. The baby walks off and find a discarded Bach’s Flower Remedy bottle with a soft nib like my broken nipple. He bites it and it splits. I feel like I know how the rubber tip feels.

3:30pm. We walk back, worried that we are enjoying the outdoors too much and that we should #stayathome even through there is no one else around us. As we walk back through Kensington Gardens, an older lady calls us “selfish fucking pigs”. The children are scared but I tell them not to worry. She is scared too.

How’s lockdown going for you?

 

 

 

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Publication Day

Yes, that’s right – March 19th is publication day for The Best, Most Awful Job (YOU CAN BUY IT HERE: Hive: http://bit.ly/bmajHive [for independent bookshops in the UK], Amazon: https://amzn.to/39MC0sO, Waterstones: http://bit.ly/2IMwM4l). There was supposed to be a launch party tonight, for which I was going to wear the long black spotted Ganni dress or the red Batsheva which is very tight on the upper arms. I considered doing something with my hair, like getting it blow dried, but that always looks a bit news-reader-y. I would certainly have painted my nails in a colour that didn’t pop against my scabby eczema fingers (still a problem and not getting any better with the constant hand-washing).  But, alas, like the world itself, the launch was cancelled.

Instead, we are having a virtual launch between 7:30 and 8:30pm GMT on Twitter and Instagram on Thursday eve where we will toast the book. This is not the same, but needs must. My contribution is a small video clip where I read out a paragraph from my essay, (including TWO of the ‘v’ words, so avoid if you find female anatomy chat alarming)…see below.

I am sad to say that the video reveals I am full of spots – one on the chin, one under the eye and one at the end of my nose like a mythic evil stepmother  – and more wrinkled than I would like, but I am also free of any viruses and therefore ALIVE!  In the misappropriated words of Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody got time for worrying ’bout their spots or fluffy hair or wrinkled eyes right now, so there you are. 

And so here we are. I’m not working right now – all of my steady writing gigs have slowly ebbed away over the last year, leaving me with a few badly paid ones (and some potential-but-as-yet-nothing-but-talk jobs which might well come to a big fat nought). But just as well I have nothing to do besides look after the baby and make endless meals because the schools will surely close soon. Having all six boys cluttering up my living room for weeks on end will be maddening and messy and shouty, but better than sending them (or me) off to the trenches – am I right? Perspective is all. And in between their “remote learning” (ha! sigh) I could probably get the boys to babysit while I go and brainstorm some brilliant way to make money for us all while we eat the last of the tinned tuna and boil up the sprouting potatoes.

The local Waitrose is of course completely bare in the toilet roll/disinfectant/hand sanitiser shelves, but the panicking public have also moved onto quite curious hoardings. There was no sea salt today, or baking paper, and the packets of Canadian Strong Bread Flour have vanished. Are we all now baking our own sourdough in the event of a civilisation collapse, I wonder? Luckily, the smaller Middle Eastern shops next door are not only full of Ottolenghi recipe staples, but also have aisles and aisles of rices and preserves and spices and tinned tomatoes and hunks of halal lamb.

The school whatsapp groups are full of feuding parents arguing whether or not the kids should still be in school, and there have been politely British virtual fights over the propagation of (mis)information of governmental policy. Meanwhile, Mark struggles over the word ‘corona’ and keeps talking about the ‘corner virus’ which both infuriates me and makes me laugh. He sometimes just mashes all the new words up and I hear him talking very enthusiastically to other people about ‘corner-19’ and I slink away.

Time For Pictures

Here are my big boys plugged into devices but looking quite cosy while they are at it. Imagine trying to get them to do some sort of educational work every day if the schools close…

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Here is the baby to cheer us all up while he plays the Bath Snorkel:

And here is the lovely Charlotte on her birthday in Camden at the Bingo. This was a few weekends ago, but it feels like a lifetime away, when we all socialised freely, took public transport, shared prosecco and sat near each other:

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I’m there gurning in the background in my questionable dress which I am sure adds girth in photos but hopefully not quite as much IRL. We didn’t win anything but the bingo was more fun than its retirement recreation reputation would suggest. And just look at that adorable Charlotte:

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But The Swim

The big news here, the thing I am taking a long time getting around to, is the tale of the Serpentine Swim. I met up with a new/old virtual friend who invited me to go for a swim in the Serpentine one morning last week. It was quite scary because I have only ever dipped my toe in over the summer months when it is still freezing but also quite green and slimy. In winter, it is freezing but without the algae. This is what it looked like on one of the photos I sometimes take when I am showing off about my morning run:

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Full of birds, feathers, some dodgy microscopic things and probably terrifying rusting shopping carts somewhere – sure. But I was undeterred because life is short and you should say YES to things that challenge you and swimming in the cold fresh water is very healthy and I have always admired the early morning be-capped pink wet bodies emerging out of the Serpentine when I go past slowly on my morning jog.

So I met up with Louise and her friend at 9am in the weak early spring sunlight, and they led me to the Serpentine Swimming Club’s tiny communal changing room filled with all sorts of people getting in or out of swimsuits and chatting to each other cheerily. It felt like camping or something – everyone squeezed in, towels wrapped around, discrete quick whipping on and off of things, steam and wet towels and goggles and, most fabulously, a table laden with cake crumbs, overhanging shared mugs and tea-making facilities. Everyone had a ruddy glow and a kind word – it was wonderful.

Anyway, the actual swimming was less of a ‘swim’ and more of an endurance test, a little like giving birth or getting a tooth drilled but wetter and a tiny bit less painful. I was advised to keep going once we got in, and not to forget to breathe. It was cold – shockingly cold – and clean and fresh. It felt like a satisfying slap. We front crawled to the end and most of the way back, and I was encouraged to get out because the cold gets to your organs pretty quickly. I rinsed off in the open air cold shower (which felt positively tropical in comparison) and squeezed back into the steamy communal changing room. Speedo onepiece stripped off, pinkish boobs strapped firmly back into my bra, jumper on, dungarees strapped, socks and trainers shoved back onto my numb feet, I gratefully sipped my searingly hot tea and accepted some banana loaf brought in by one of the Serpentine Swimming Club members.

Reader, the whole thing blew my mind. It felt like being let into the most secret, special thing. Shoved into that communal dressing room and then dipping into the expanse of the fresh, cold Serpentine, right in the middle of London in the middle of the week, there is this whole community of people – kind, welcoming, ordinary, extraordinary people. It costs £20 to join – you can swim any time from 5am to 9:30am all year round. I’m gonna do it. I want more of that tea and more of that cake and more of that freezing swanny dubious water.

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Finally, the baby today. He discovered the garden, mud and the sun. It’s been quite the week already.

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PS Buy the book!

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Another Mean Old Lady Says Her Thang

It’s been such a long time since an old lady had a go at me in public for my terrible parenting. I was beginning to think I had this gig objectively nailed, but that, alas, was not to be the case. On Monday, the newly arrived-from-Auckland-via-Hong-Kong Otis and I went out to Waitrose to buy some stuff. He didn’t want to wear a jacket, and I said:

“You have to wear a jacket or you can’t come”

and he said:

“No. I won’t”

and just like that I relented because WHO CARES and you’ll never learn anything if your mother shields you from atmospheric conditions by insisting on weather-appropriate clothing all the time. And if you can’t don a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans for a five minute walk up the road after a 30 hourish-long flight, then what do you really have in this world? You have nothing, is what. So he and I wandered up with the dog and the baby hanging off me in a sling and we went inside to buy whipped cream from a can because Otis said that was the only thing he felt like eating, and, although it wasn’t my usual choice of lunchtime food for an offspring, I went with it.

After we came out, me laden with two big heavy bags of shopping (not all whipped cream cans, mind) and with the big sling-bound baby which is convenient but eventually feels like your shoulders are breaking, I went to the bike racks to untie the dog. As I did, the bags beside me, the dog’s lead lying on the pissy ground, the baby straining his head back to get a better view and nearly falling out from the effort and the gravity and Otis beside me in his long sleeved shirt, looking quite excited about the whole whipped cream from a can thing, I heard a muttering behind me. I turn and there is an old lady, long hair in a grey braid, small and dressed in that ashram kind of way that you see sometimes, and she is muttering intently and staring at me. I strain to hear (while still trying to untie the dog, keeping the baby from crashing to the ground with one cupped palm and attempting with my feet to keep the bags from spilling out onto the pavement) and I hear her. She is saying:

“…something..something….NEGLECT….something…I should call the police…no child should be outside without a jacket….what kind of mother are you…something, something….shocking…poor boy, so cold…”

And I am a bit over all this by now. Like, quite a bit tired of it. Fairly unwilling to take the criticism on the chin because I am doing my best with only two arms (with scabby eczema hands) and I’d been looking after five kids and the dog with no husband or help for two weeks (and a constant stream of couch visitors, but that’s another story) and I thought I AM DONE.

I looked at her, straightened up and said, quite calmly:

“Lady, what is wrong with you? Why would you say those things to me? Can’t you see I am trying really hard and I am struggling with too much stuff? What’s the problem here? What do you want from me? And SPEAK UP, I can barely hear your nutty observations”

and she looked at me, smirked a little and said:

“Oh, I see! You’re AMERICAN” with what felt like some self-righteous joy to have ousted me not only as a Bad Mother but also from the US of A.

I pretty much ran into her then as I advanced, shoulders aching but squared, shopping bags gripped into my eczema-bleeding hands, baby shoved back into safe bosomy place, dog lead short and tight so he couldn’t trip me up on his way to smell some old dog piss, and I said, quite loudly:

“YES THAT’S RIGHT I’M AN AMERICAN WITH A NEW ZEALAND ACCENT” and I rolled my eyes in a very theatrical way and she hurried to the other side of the corner to get away from the big angry lady with a dog and baby and cold son and lots of cans of whipped cream.

It wasn’t my greatest comeback. I know that the poor old lady might have some sort of dementia or maybe she has just gotten to that age where, as a woman – when you’ve been serving everybody and getting them cups of tea for 50 years and you’ve had enough of wiping the toilet seat for specks/streams of wee every time you go and no one has thought to clear the table after dinner ever and the whole family suspect you do nothing all day but when you’ve run out of cereal or forgotten to put lunch money into their biometric account they get furious –  well, maybe she decided not to shut up any more. Maybe she decided that being accommodating all your life is a bit shit and the alternative is enormously liberating?

Even so. Otis was fine, because a little bit of cold won’t kill you, and READ THE ROOM, lady. I needed help, not a whispered lecture and a very bad unprompted interpretation of my accent. AM I RITE?

Now, here is a lovely thing, because the world is full of lovely things as well as mean old ladies. Barnaby made Remi a cardboard car and then he made him a cardboard house. (In viewing the video, please don’t be alarmed at all the stuff in my hallway. Eight people, two rooms, a dog – and one of us is a hoarder. It’s not all Bafta screenings and trips to Soho House, you know):

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House construction underway:

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Happy baby moves in:

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Likes his north-facing view:

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Here are Ned and Barnaby at the Tate. Guess what one of them drew on the walls?

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And here is me, in one of my awful attempts at bathroom selfies. I only include this because I am wearing a secondhand Chanel jacket from my beloved eBay. It’s very very very 80’s with the definite musty whiff of a long time in storage and puffy shoulders but it has lion’s head buttons and racing stripes. I think I love it but I can never be sure. I would canvas for opinions but I don’t take well to hearing other people’s, so let’s just go with it being awesome and challenging-in-a-good-way, shall we?

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Update On The Solo Parenting Sitch

It’s been nearly a week since Mark and Otis left to fly through the night, and day, then drive for hours into the summery afternoon half a world away with jetlaggy dust clouding their vision and sinusitis colonising their nasal passages – well, Mark’s vision and nasal passages, at least. They arrived, there are no signs of that pesky coronavirus even though they popped into Hong Kong for a few hours, and now they are both spending time with family. Hopefully my dear husband will be making the tea rather than getting it made for him, but this is really out of my hands.

With little to distract me, I Marie Kondo’ed my drawers and have finally emptied our spare fridge (the one in the entranceway, opposite the front door to the left of the buggy, tools, screws, hammers, golf accessories and a massive surfboard) of all the food that usually Mark would have eaten as Leftover Lunch. Oh, how I hate Leftover Lunch. Sure, Mark may have had to take a hit by spending all that money and inflicting upon himself several hours (30-something in total) on the flight, but I too have sacrificed. I have eaten through the old cornbread and the wet unidentifiable curry like someone who doesn’t like throwing away things, but who also really hates leftover food when they are on a kind of pseudo-fasting period in order to slim their arms down enough to reclaim all those lovely pre-pregnancy silk blouses bought at sample sales on the days that they felt a bit like Gillian Anderson. I didn’t want to eat all that stuff, but my parents are postwar and so I have been brought up to believe, quite rightly, that we do not waste a thing.

I would have fed the formerly delicious, now somewhat worryingly old bits of food to the dog but he stole half a massive traybake brownie from the kitchen table on the weekend and has been shitting tar everywhere and so I thought it wasn’t the most prudent of ideas. He is on a lot of water, frequent walks, a vet-watch and strictly No Chocolate Or Other Things That Might Kill Him Diet until that dog poo resembles once again the crumbling log we all hate to pick up. But pick up we do, of course because we are good dog people. It occurred me today that since Karzan fixed our gate, the dog has not run away even once, and thus no one has yelled at me for bad dog ownership. This is quite a turnaround.

So life without the others is really quite nice. The bed is now massive – a sea of a thing, something to roll over and thrash about in while I marvel at how there are no oily man-head smells wafting over to me throughout the night. The sheets stay clean and smelling of shampoo. The bedroom is tidy because I put all of Mark’s weird stuff away in his cupboards, hid the portable pizza oven in his wardrobe and wiped down all of the dust next to his bed. No wonder that guy always has some sort of sinus infection going on. I’ve gathered up all of his loose change and given it to the boys, chucked out some stashes of very old chocolate bars and recycled the things I felt needed recycling. I get to chose what we watch in the evening, working through The Hustle, For Sama, The Windsors and The Great Pottery Throwdown and in the evening I read for as long as I like. I do not need my earplugs. I can’t exactly sleep very well without him there which galls me, but all in all, I think it is a fine short term arrangement.

We have had two of the boy’s birthdays since he has been gone and I have been part of a complicated surprise 50th birthday party for a very tiny woolly headed little lamb friend – all of these things have been a bit tricky to pull off when solo parenting. Thank the Heavens and the Lord Above and the Angels for our babysitter and cleaner, who swoops in, looks after the kids and shines the flat like a Christmas bauble. I wouldn’t mind marrying her if she wasn’t already taken.

So Friday, as part of the 50th surprise birthday plans, we met the Little Birthday Lamb at Selfridges after she had been busy in the Soho editing suite (cool directing job, doncha know) with some cockamamie story about getting our makeup all done together so we could see her before we escorted her home so she could go out for dinner with her family. None of the story really worked but she had the grace to go with it and not examine the nonsense we were spouting from our as-yet-mildly-made-up lips. This is me, slightly apprehensive but up for what ever makeup they thought I would look most ‘party’ in, wearing my ever-present Batsheva party dress which I thought was the greatest until I saw some photos of what it did to my waist. Please ignore my fingers which look like I have killed somebody and forgotten to wash the blood off. It is really just an unfortunate combination of dermatitis and badly removed nail polish.

Behold – The Before:

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The AFTER:

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So horrible, and yet quite fun.

Here we all are, me with weird hair and a lot of waist-girth like an old drag queen oak tree with the other two lovelies who got better makeup. From left is MAC, the middle is Tom Ford, and mine is Pat McGrath. So beige! So eyeliner-y! Ugh, I can bear it no longer. Scroll down. 

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This is much more flattering because the light is not so department-store-harsh and we had all had had a drink. The pub makes everything better:

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I would TOTALLY do it again though. I paid £35, got 30 minutes on the chair, came out with an odd pancake face but also with very nice lipstick in a great enamel blue case – the cost was redeemable with a purchase, so of course you would. FYI the Tom Ford makeup sessions are free.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ned turned ten and I made him three cakes in total. As you do. Here are two banana chocolate cake triumphs:

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Tonight, we feast on GBK burgers and milkshakes (except for me because of that whole curry/cornbread mashup) and watch any kinds of movie we like. No one will be permitted to sit in Mark’s chair though – it just seems all wrong.

 

 

 

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