A Video That Might Play (Also Might Not)

I have a cold sore right now; I am stricken with the (herpes) virus. Luckily no one sees me except for the school run and then no one gets close and obviously I am masked everywhere else I go. Oh, who knew that masks would turn out to be quite brilliant for the days when a cold sore takes over your top lip like an evil scabby parasite. The whole half of my top lip gets huge and sore and the blister weeps and crusts over and then bleeds. No one wants to kiss you, but then – no one ever does usually anyway.

Except last night. I had a dream where a really kindly looking man (he looked a little like the genius Professor in Money Heist) had some sort of shared parenting situation with me (we had a cute but forgettable and nameless baby son together). Anyway, we were just friends staying at a hotel with our nameless baby and he came downstairs for breakfast and not only declared his love for me in the hotel lobby but also asked me if I had any usable eggs left in my womb to make another baby. I was swept away by his romantic request and I kissed him. It was lovely, like starring in a modern day inclusive romantic comedy. I felt wanted and desired by the gentle genius Professor. I remember those feelings fondly although historically they have never been attached to queries regarding my geriatric remaining fertility.

And I say this, because last week I had a really properly scary dream where some hooded shrouded demon people came to the side of my bed to incant terrifyingly undeciferable spells’o’evil into my ear and I couldn’t shout at them to go away because I had that middle-of-the-night dryness of the throat. So I breathed my foul just-woke-up breath of the dead all over them in a recurrent aggressive ‘hiss’ many times (in real life, no less) and I woke myself up.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Is the covid -despair entering my unconscious? Do I just want another baby? Am I watching too much TV? Should I drink more water in the evening? I just don’t know.

Anyhoo. Schools are back and so I have some time in the day to write my half-written novel. I try to write it, but this flat is like a run-down community centre with endless visitors and deliveries and workers and friends and dogs coming in and out and constant cups of tea being made and half drunk, left to be tipped over by an errant toddler. My office is the kitchen table and my chair is next to the kettle because that’s where the cord is to recharge the laptop and so I cannot run from the kindly throng. Also I like the kindly throng. It is fun but it is hard to write my novel.

So I tried 1000 words a day which weirdly worked when I had all six kids at home. I think that’s because they had to babysit the baby. Now, it is me who has to babysit the baby and he is one demanding customer – I can only manage 500 if the stars align.

Take me to the PARK! To the GARDEN! Give me your lipsticks! Play with me! Watch Christina Aguilera YouTube clips pinned to the couch with me to chart her facial transformations! These are the things the baby would say if he was more verbal which he is not. He has 20ish words which he rarely uses because screaming works much quicker. He screams, we all scream. We scream to ourselves about having a room, and some time, to one’s own.

Here’s a clip (quite long, but apparently fairly engaging to watch though I haven’t because I am TOO SHY OF IT ALL) of me discussing motherhood things with the brilliant Emma Beddington as a part of my publisher’s online mini-festival to celebrate The Best, Most Awful Job. She is a Guardian writer among other things like a proper, enormously successful blog, a book, lots of excellent features in magazines and papers. Here is it, if you fancy a little 17 minute respite from whatever it is we all do these days. https://www.instagram.com/tv/CFO07UmAFOY/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

It might not work.

IN OTHER NEWS

Forgive me if I have written about this before, but I went to Peter Pilotto socially distanced sample sale where you couldn’t try anything on. There was a one way system around the Music Rooms and you couldn’t double back so you had to pile dress after nutty dress onto your weak little arms until you arrived at the end of the embellished labyrinth where a lady in a visor measures your armpits and boobs to see if the dresses would fit. It seemed a bit bananas, but I went with it and bought a runway dress which must have been worth thousands of pounds for one fifty. Here I am on my way back from Soho House (because I’m quite ‘member’s clubby’, ya know?) in the dress which looks like a bridesmaid’s concoction circa 1983 and it makes me the happiest lady alive:

The baby steals my lipsticks and sits in wheelbarrows – all strategic wiley ways to make me stop writing:

Our lovely clever photographer friend Chris took these with a 35mm film. How cute, though, eh?

Otis turned seven and we went to GBK where I had a cranky mother humourless meltdown because we couldn’t figure out how to order on the app and the baby fell off his chair and Otis spilled his milkshake and I ended up not ordering anything for myself so I had to finish about seven lukewarm servings of chips which weren’t even very good and it all cost 170 quid:

Otis is a fan of a pink sequin, any time of the day – here he is with some birthday treasures. Note the scratch on his nose which was actually a tear through his nostril from a stick that one of his brothers was brandishing about. It’s all fun and games until someone spears someone else’s nose with a bit of tree:

A SHORT CULTURAL ROUND UP:

We are watching This Is Us and I do like it but I also think it is a bit sappy. We have started Better Things for later and it is funny but a bit….crass? I am feeling very old and moralistic as I write this.

I have bought the latest Ottolenghi book Flavour and I think it is not very good. Too faffy, too cheffy. Sad about that. I’ve only made the avocado and pea cold soup and it tasted like it sounds.

The dog has been on holiday with our other friend Chris while he has been self-isolating and while I love the dog, it was very nice not having to worry about him running out of the gate and down the street, causing strangers to berate me for my terrible dog-owning skills. But I also missed how he cleans up spilled cereal and flicked rice, so on balance, we are glad he is back.

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Turkey in the time of Corona

I don’t really know how to talk about a holiday right now.  I think any little recap makes me sound like an irresponsible selfish monster who takes global pandemics quite lightly. But there hasn’t been much going on other than my holiday and so needs must.

We did eat out at Honey & Co and Honey & Smoke to get the Rishi Sunak discount and we went swimming in the Thames at Henley one day, to our utter delight. I got my feet and fingernails fixed in preparation for the holiday and bought two bikinis because I am too old to care about whether or not I should wear a bikini. There was a nether-region waxing situation and I got my eyelashes permed to look like Bambi in my holiday photos. I bought a Batsheva skirt that transforms into a dress and I tried to do that neckmess thing – you know, the thing where you wear multiple necklaces of varying lengths to look a bit Rich Bohemian. I bought fabric masks for everyone to wear so we can shop at Waitrose without incurring the wrath of anyone. That’s about it.

So covid/holiday politics aside, getting on a plane two weeks ago was the most extraordinary and yet most ordinary thing I have done all year. Travel anxiety about suitcase weight, panic over getting to the gate on time, me squashed into a too-small seat, the baby screaming and furious at being attached to his baby seatbelt, squirming and kicking the guy in front of us – it was all the usual travelling woes, pandemic or not.

Masks are obviously the new travelling thing; from setting off for Turkey into the cab until we exited the airport in Dalaman nine hours later, we were all required to wear masks the whole time (except for the lucky baby and except for when we ate or drank). The baby spent quite a bit of time trying to rip ours off and we spent time with fogged up glasses and the feeling that we would soon asphyxiate and die. My masks did unspeakable things to my hair and were either way too tight or loose and slippery. They also seem to be responsible for deep reddish spots in unlikely places (bridge of the nose, near the ears), but whaddaya do?

So we did it – we went on a plane, we flew into another country, we had two weeks of unbounded joy and freedom, we swam and ate and jumped off a boat and picked figs from a tree, we got back home on a plane and we didn’t get quarantined. We are bronzed and rested and we have faith in the world and in future plans again.

It was a proper risk when I booked the tickets way back when summer looked cancelled, but it felt like a worthy one. The tickets were cheap and Turkey really is the most wonderful place in the world. The villa where we usually stay was available and our Turkish friends kept reassuring us that things were pretty calm over there. The country opened up to tourists in June and so I was emboldened, sick of the sight of the flat and the heat and the home-schooling and the general joylessness of life since March. Our return flights were cancelled in July for about one minute but then rebooked almost exactly the same which was the only real wobble. The rest was pure loveliness.

Please look away if you get bored of endless holiday photographs filled with smiling brown people having enormous amounts of fun.

This is where we stay, in a stone villa with a treehouse, an inbuilt barbecue, a glorious pool and an outdoor shower that comes out of an old tree and which lies at the bottom of an abandoned village:

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The baby very much approved:

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Here’s the village we walk through on our way to the clutch of little restaurants set up in old ruins:

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A camel:

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Vegetables which were so cheap they were practically free:

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A pancake, chips and fresh pomegranate juice restaurant in the Fethiye markets after we bought spices and yoghurt and cheese and nougat. The baby thought the hand sanitiser was lemonade and squirted quite a bit into his mouth. He went red and blotchy for a bit but soon returned to his holiday shade of nut-brown:

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Saklikent Gorge, the freezing rapids, the fresh barbecued trout, the rafting tube rides, the ceramic bird whistles which drove us nuts:

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Cold Water Bay where the water switches from freezing to bath-like in currents:

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Treehouse afternoons, obligatory knee shot:

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St Nicholas’ Island, swimming over submerged ruins:

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Batsheva dress, ruins and lovely baby:

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Amanda and golden hour #1:

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Late night BBQing with hot braziers and hot Gus:

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A day on the boat:

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Bikini days. Didn’t wear knickers once:

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Pancakes on the shore:

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Remi:

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Amanda and golden hour #2:

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Bought us a few rugs:

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Brunch under the grapevines:

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See? See how life-affirming and normal and natural and necessary it is to be open to the world? How important it is to stay curious and brave? To spend? To keep learning about how other people live?

Anyway. We are back now and even though I an insisting on short shorts, the darkness has crept in and there’s a slight chill in the air. And so it goes.

 

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Evenings Right Now

It really is time for an update, though there continues to be little in the way of exciting events to dazzle you all with. There was a time that I would go out on my own a few times a week to meet my sparkling intelligent sassy girlfriends at bars and theatres and restaurants and I would wear my ever-growing series of dresses in rotation, thinking about which earrings and shoes and bags work best with each look. I would get an Uber home and creep in to the dark flat, warm with the slumbering breath of seven other people (and a fluffy dog who never once bothered to look up from the couch as I came in, although he does go mental when elderly grannies and small adorable toddlers walk by our front gate, which is awkward). I would try not to wake Mark or the baby, tiptoeing as soundlessly as I could down the hall and into our bedroom where the path from our bedroom door to our bathroom door has always been studded by oversized ugly office chairs and discarded pillows, small sharp bath toys and upside down unworn heels. I always stumbled and always swore a little bit too loud.

These days I have nothing to do in the evening and if I do get an invite, I get all sad and anxious. Not because I am scared of getting sick but because my capacity for joyful socialising has shrunk to nothing. I am bewildered by the rules, suffocated by the masks, tired out from the realities of living in a small flat with seven other people, six of whom don’t really ever leave. They do eat a lot though. The idea of making something nice for dinner for us all now looms large, overtaking the part of my brain that used to multitask and think about word count and draft articles and the interviews that used to need to be scheduled. Dinner is my work and my work is our dinner. I wonder how it got to this.

I have one piece of paid non-dinner-related work (the second piece of work I have been asked to do since January) and it is a simple task, but it had taken on gargantuan meaning and I have disproportional anxiety over it. I feel ill-equipped to move through the world of LinkedIn and Twitter. I feel scared of new apps and keep second-guessing myself. What if I get it wrong? Once, a job like that wouldn’t have warranted a second thought – I would have done it, filed it, invoiced for it and then just hoped for the best. (The best being no rewrites needed, no followup, just the invoice paid within 30 days).

Anyway. My evenings now look like this:

5pm: Gin & tonic in the garden with Mark. The baby and half of the kids dragged out into the garden to play with the neighbours’ kids. The baby chases pigeons around and screeches with the joy of it all.

6pm: Some sort of dinner extravaganza. Chicken with chorizo and fresh sourdough made by my own eczema hands. Slices of tart made by Noah and I, crunchy with the remnants of baked-in raw rice because I do not understand the concept of blind baking LINED IN BAKING PAPER. A glass of sauvignon blanc or three.

7pm: Baby in bed. Make sure Barnaby has loaded the dishwasher and that Casper has washed the pots. Neither of them ever have.

7:15: Two episodes of slightly inappropriate family TV. Dead To Me a current favourite, though finished a few nights ago. Now switched to This Is Us. I cried a lot over the pilot with the babies.

8pm: Otis in bed. Another episode of family TV. A bit of squabbling over who has which cushions. Ned usually makes some sort of tapping noise, Barnaby loses his shit over it. Casper and Noah try to play their skateboarding game on their phones even though devices are banned during Family TV Time. Their faces light up from the glow, their knees tucked up to cover their covert playing. We throw cushions at them and shout until they stop.

9pm: Ned and Casper in bed. We switch to more serious TV. The Sinner. When They See Us. Normal People. We have tea and biscuits with the bigger teenagers. No one fights and after we switch off, we have a little debrief over the day or what we have watched. Sometimes the boys try to show us new music or Tik Tok stuff. Mark and I don’t get it but we love it that they try.

10:30pm: Bedtime. Blessed, blessed bedtime. A few chapters of something about dragons for Mark. I’m finally reading Why I No Longer Talk To White People About Race. Sobering.

4am: The baby shouts for about two minutes and then back to sleep.

You know, I much prefer my evenings now, although how much of this is laziness or Stockholm Syndrome, I just don’t know.

THE OTHERS:

Barnaby and Casper: Have been labouring for Mark. They are both extremely rich teenagers right now, planning on saving up for big purchases like dirt bikes. I am impressed. When they aren’t working they are on their bloody phones or playing on the Playstation which is the single most awful thing we have ever brought into the house. Total parenting fail. I have to insist they go out for half an hour each with the baby and that they go out again for half an hour to get some sunshine and fresh air so they won’t fall prey to rickets.

Ned: Walks the dog for pocket money, gets angry about it every single day. Storms out of the house shouting at us for making him do it. He walks a block or two. Spends the rest of the day doing Minecraft things or playing with Lego. He is a wild little knot of fury and floppy hair, although handsome.

Otis: Plays with the baby, torments the baby. Makes little paths for the baby throughout the flat, marked out with cushions and washing baskets and skateboards. Suddenly puts a blockage in the way so the baby cannot move forward or back. The baby cries, I rearrange the furniture. Otis cannot see what the problem is. He flounces off to come up with another ingenious trap.

Noah: No one ever really knows. He hides in his bed, behind his beanbag, under cushions. He is both writing a YA novel and watching too much Manga. He also has a floppy fringe. Avoids hanging out the washing as long as he can. Is pale and thin because he finds going outside quite the chore. Won’t eat eggs. Sleeps until 10:30am.

Mark: Really busy working. On a diet. Misses his mum.

Me: Worried about skin cancer on my nose. Trying to finish writing a novel (30,000 words so far). Quite good at making sourdough and have branched out into oily focaccia. Hoping to sell and buy a house in New Zealand (very close to doing both) but worried the country isn’t exactly welcoming now (and mightn’t be later either). Worried that keeping borders closed isn’t exactly tenable in the long term and might turn everyone North Korean-ish. But extremely happy to be going to Turkey in a week and a half.

CURRENT PHOTO GALLERY

Baby knots:

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Baby in a sailor suit!:

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Mask woes:

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Hyde Park blackberry situation:

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Oldest and youngest:

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Newspaper recycling

What’s new? Well, we have two kids back at school, with slightly shortened hours and slightly different start and finish times, so my mornings are quite busy doing double lots of shouting. The baby has become cranky about something at 4am so there has been some early morning screaming, and on the weekend we got two phone calls from New Zealand in the middle of the night because the caller forgot about international time zones.

You know that thing, when are are on the verge of sleep and something wakes you up, and you cannot sleep again all night? Your eyes get all sharp and sore and you feel like crying and you won’t look at your phone to check the time because if you knew the truly terrible late hour, you would get all anxious and so you just imagine how late it must be and how many hours have gone past in useless wasteful non productive segments of time. The kind of time I wish I could have to myself in the daytime, but never do. And then your husband starts snoring just loud enough, just rhythmically enough, that you realise you need a fresh pair of silicon earplugs if you hope to drown it out. You can never drown it out though. Then comes the next stage in the War Against Your Sleeping Husband. This involves careful, persistent prodding and sharp “SHUSH”ing until Mark finds the mythical sleeping position that doesn’t involve any shuddering, humming, deep breathing, soft nasal sounds or deep throaty growls. It is 50/50 whether any of this stuff even works.

On Sunday night I got him to turn him over about 17 times by prodding his arms, stomach, back and ribs enough times to get his brain to recognise the need for his body to move over but not quite enough to wake/bruise him. At this stage of a snore-filled night, I really do feel like bruising him. But on Sunday night it was to no avail. He started up again and again and so I cracked at about 2:30am and headed to the couch in the living room.

Bleary-eyed, angry, falling over the discarded tennis racquets and dirty socks left in the hallway and careful not to wake the baby, I made my way to the couch which had SO MANY CRUMBS ON IT. Luckily I brought with me a fitted sheet, which was the only thing I could pull out of the linen cupboard safely without sending years worth of duvets and old towels that I have shoved up there from killing me in a tragic suffocation-related incident. I wrapped myself up in it and tried to get some sleep in before my Monday morning 7am run. 

That’s how things are right now.

So. Directionless, tired, with silvery purple hair and nowhere to wear my puffed sleeved dresses, I wonder what to tell you. It is hard to find stories when our stories are the same every day. I sometimes try a new recipe or we start a new TV show. We’ve been to one non-essential shop which was the same as before but much more awkward, with added queues. The middle kids seem to have caught up on the hours and hours of work they had ignored since school closed. The baby refuses to speak but uses sign language (and screaming) to get us to do what he wants. The skin on my fingers continues to split and crack. The Serpentine is closed for swimming so if we want to cool down we have to take our clothes off and sit in front of the fan. I made a babka.

In lieu of much more exciting tales, I thought I could recycle the article that I was commissioned to write for one of the Sunday papers, all the way back in the olden times of January. It didn’t get used. I got paid a kill fee, but the only thing that was actually killed was my joy in being COMMISSIONED FOR A SUNDAY PAPER! A good one, too.

Anyway, here it is. This is my version before they Sunday paper’ed it up. So more my voice, but still with a mind for the Sunday Times readership. THERE! I SAID IT.

*clears voice*


Geriatric Mother’s Club

By Jodi Bartle

There are not many ways in which Cameron Diaz and I have any real sort of connection. I don’t have her adorable appley cheekbones or expensive caramel hair, I can’t surf, don’t do my own stunts and have never mastered that running-along-in-the-snow-back-to-Kate Winslet’s-cottage-in-heels-thing she does at the end of The Holiday (but Lord knows, I’ve tried). Similarly, Chloe Sevigny and I aren’t that much aligned, me having only been to New York once, and so far, appearing in no iconic ’90s indie movies, at all, ever.

But we three do share something rather marvellous and increasingly, it would seem, A Thing. Last week, Diaz announced the birth of her baby daughter Raddix while Sevigny was spotted swanning around NY with an elegantly sheathed baby bump. Both women are no longer in their first flush of youth – in fact, at 47 and 45 respectively, they are firmly entrenched in the Geriatric Mother’s Club, of which I too am a fully paid up member. If such A Thing were a trend, you could add to our role call Geri Horner (44), Rachael Weisz (48), Alanis Morissette (45), Janet Jackson (50) and Brigitte Nielson (at a spectacular 54); women who have also braved birth and babies in later life.

What does it feel like to have a baby after 40, whether it’s your first time or you’ve done all this before – you’ve worn the disposable pants, you’ve seen through cutting teeth – and come up for air, only to dive back into it all again?

In my case, I spanned the decades having babies, which perhaps puts me in another subcategory altogether (something along the lines of Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop – it’s a very small group). I had two in my 20s, three in my 30s and last year squeezed out baby number six when I was 42. I say ‘squeezed’, but more accurately he sort of felt his way out; the scaffolding just isn’t what it used to be.

The pregnancy was termed ‘Geriatric’ in my pregnancy notes and I was treated as such. There were extra appointments all the way through to check my blood pressure and urine in case of complications, and I was not allowed to labour in St Mary’s birthing unit, home of soft furnishings, birthing pools and dim lights, in case something went wrong owing to my probably knackered uterus and objectively middle-aged body. I said yes to the Down’s Syndrome test and was monitored for pre eclampsia, warned it would be best to wear compression socks on our summer holiday flight to Turkey for the possible blood clots and told not to jump off the side of the boat into the Mediterranean Sea from any real height – because, you know – spontaneous rupturing and all that.

All of this fuss of course makes sense – family lore tells it that my own mother swelled up like a blowfish and was bedridden with preeclampsia for the last six weeks of her pregnancy with me. She was, by today’s standards, a relatively fresh 37 year old but in small town New Zealand in the ’70s, she was a bit old with an appetite for risk. For women in their 40s now who dare dream to conceive, carry their babies, push them out and then get on with the exhausting job of keeping them alive – well, it’s a miracle, a joy, and a Herculean task best carried out under close medical supervision with full disclosure of the myriad potential dangers awaiting mother and child.

It’s also awkward, too, at times. My teenaged sons attend secondary school and I have turned up to Parent Teacher interviews quite obviously in the family way, which embarrassed the boys, because, you know – their mother must have had sex, WITH THEIR DAD, probably, which is utterly repulsive and deeply scarring if you are 15 years old and trying to fly under the social radar. Later, I’ve had meetings with disciplinary members of school staff to discuss short term suspensions (a whole other story) and fed my baby, flopping out my wizened breast flesh and puckered nipple while my sons slide lower and lower into their chairs, dying of the shame.

My friends, once tethered to their own tiny babies, have long since given away their bags full of speckled outgrown onesies and pointless baby hats. Now deeply enmeshed in their own satisfying, challenging careers, they sometimes call, seeking a night on the Soho tiles with me but forgetting I’ve got to be home for the 10:30pm dream feed. They sigh and tell me that, as much as they love that little Remi, he has become a bit of a bore. 

Pregnancy the first time around was a miraculous wonder, endlessly fascinating and worthy of daily pondering on the size and development of the foetus. Pre-smartphones and pregnancy apps, books piled up next to my bed on what to expect and on alphabetised lists of names full of post-it notes to test out with other young, as-yet-childless friends. I may have even taken to my bed once in a while in the first trimester, flouncing off in the early evening, owing to the extreme tiredness the pregnant books assured me I would be feeling. In my 30s, when numbers three, four and five were variously born and bred, I felt confident; though ragged by the demands of a feral tribe of preschoolers and babies, I was fully in the zone. My body was holding up and my relative youth, optimism and energy, such as it was, got me up and out of bed to tend to my little boys, again and again and again. There was precious little time to be tired.

After miscarriages, an unspeakably horrible molar pregnancy and a gap of six years, this last pregnancy in my early 40s was full of bloat and gas and a permanently dampish crotch. People, bacon and toast smelt bad and there was a permanent hangover feeling in my roiling gut. Postpartum, my body is now war-torn, stippled and stretched. My cervix seems to be slowly making its own way out, while my bladder is fairly relaxed about returning to work. There is upper arm weight that won’t shift so I’m having to say goodbye to a particularly nice Vilshenko blouse. My period, such as it is, comes and goes in the unconvincing, maddening way that echoes the periods of my peri-menopausal friends. I sometimes feel too old for this shit.

But then I get to sniff that little 11 month old head. I nurse that baby boy and his eyes close, tiny fingers brushing my skin, murmuring quietly as he feeds. My husband often comes into the bed with me as I am putting the baby to sleep, leaving the big boys in the living room to watch reruns of Friends on Netflix, escaping from the noise and the homework and the occasional eruptions of irrational violence to have a little cuddle all together. A baby in your 40s is different, somehow. Less slog, certainly; more lovely. We have both wondered if the other babies were quite as delicious as this one, and we don’t know the answer because we can’t remember. It was too long ago; we were different people then, we were drowning a little bit.  A baby after 40, when you really want one, and when you are hopefully settled in lots of mid-life kinds of ways, is a bonus baby, a gift. In this, my Geriatric Mother-Sisters Diaz and Sevigny, I can assure you – you are in for a knackering, miraculous, joyful, baby-shaped ride. Welcome to the club.


And there you have it – a recycled newspaper story because I have nothing else except for my usual roundup of photos.

Cute baby:

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Babka. Slightly burnt but a triumph nonetheless:

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Cute baby. Very much covered in chocolate mousse, but also a triumph, nonetheless:

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New on-sale Batsheva dress, slightly too much perhaps for a dog walk:

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Otis with excellent lockdown hair and chocolate mousse spill:

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My Bad (dyejob)

So, I got a little cocky about home dyeing after my lovely peachy hue washed out after a day. I ordered some more dye, but this time thought that something with a little more punch would be the thing. Never one to over scrutinise, I went for a Bleach London colour called Bruised Violet because the name made me feel youthfully emo. I was expecting a sort of cool, beachy, vampy dip-dyed look – a bit Maeve from Sex Education, perfect for pairing with long summery dresses and mismatching earrings in the manner of a self-assured personal stylist.

I wasn’t thinking Fortune Teller. I wasn’t thinking about that purplish burgundy home hair dye colour that you see some older ladies have now and then. You know, the one that sits like a jarring Lego helmet, accentuating ageing sallow skin with creeping strips of grey roots getting wider and wider all along the hairline day by day. But, Reader, this is what I got.

Here I am on Day One:

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After a few scrubby washes (pictured with a bowl of sourdough but which could well be a witches’ poultice in the making):

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This was last night:

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I mean – what is there to say? Most people take about three glances to know who I am,  only finally convinced I am who I say I am once they take in the dog and baby. People have uniformly acknowledged The Purple Hair right away although the closest I have got to approval (and we all know how much I crave that) are the words: “Well, it sure is FUN!”. To that, I laugh a bit and assure people it is on its way out, according to the packet instructions. But it isn’t in any kind of hurry by the looks of the greyish pinkish purple blueness which stubbornly remains after every hot-water-and-prayer daily shower. “First Glastonbury?” I am gently teased. This has not been my best DIY beautifying work, and I am very ready for Kamila from Blue Tit to restore me to my formerly less-fun but much less ridiculous Mystic Meg self.

But What Else?

We tried to swim last week during half term. We became members of the Serpentine Swimming Club which gets you into the Serpentine Lido between 5:30 – 9:30am every morning of the year for a brisk cold swim among the ducks and algae but, apparently, so too did the rest of London. The hi-vized man at the door looked aggrieved by the huge numbers of people turning up for a dip and informed us that we had to go away because the Royal Parks had decided not to let kids under 18 in. A day later we got an email saying that the Royal Parks had further decided to close swimming in the river for everyone, anyway. It felt a little harsh.

All the while the sun continues to beat down in this summeriest of Springs, getting us all hot and lethargic and longing for a cool body of water. We let the kids jump into the banks of the Serpentine away from the Swimming Club’s harassed gatekeepers as (poor) compensation for a proper dousing, until I got nervous about police vans and fines. The kids, as you can see, loved it.

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And?

Paid work remains elusive and there are days that I really cannot work out what my point is beyond making dinner and picking up greyed socks. There is nothing much to look forward to, but if someone suggests a little outing or a phone call I feel bit harassed and burdened and panicked. I think I am retreating into my pre-evolution non-sociable  slug self. Surely that isn’t a good thing? Maybe with the hair, it is.

On the dinner thing, I am getting quite grandiose. My daily Waitrose visits remain the highlight, although the queues are becoming disappointingly short and fast so there is less time to clear the inbox/finish the Sunday paper insets as there once was. I have been riffling through the recipe books and have latterly cooked up

bacon and egg pie

stuffed courgettes

tahini and white chocolate cake

raspberry and peach shallot salad

broad beans, leek and lamb meatballs

thrice-weekly sourdough foccacia

muhumarra with butter bean mash

roasted butternut squash and courgette on a ricotta and feta mash

giant sausage rolls

And on and on and on. At 5pm I am either cooking up three labour-intensive courses or staring into the middle distance and leaving the kids to fry up ten rashes of bacon each. Mealtime ennui or gastronomic overachievement – there’s nothing in between.

Otis went back to school this morning so that does feel like some sort of progress. He was a bit nervous but very excited and the teachers were welcoming and wonderful. I decided to celebrate my first kid being back where he belongs by buying cinnamon rolls for everyone (my third since Sunday)  and to spend my morning buying plane tickets for Turkey in August instead of working on the roughest of rough drafts on an idea for a novel, on the off chance that by August the world would make more sense, and because airline tickets are really really cheap right now. Am I a loon? Time will tell, time will tell. Meanwhile, this mainlining of cinnamon rolls is contributing to me getting quite puddingy in the gut.

Reading Right Now:

Underworld by Don DeLillo. It is a huge book that marries baseball with the Cold War. I have to say, it feels too hard and I can’t get past about page 36. Intellectually, I am like a little baby bird right now, unable to take in anything too big or complex. Just give me regurgitated worms and a pat on the head and I might just manage.

Watching Right Now:

A mixed bag. Schitt’s Creek, Dave, Modern Family, Little Fires Everywhere. Usually with a second or third gin in hand. The days are long, no one sleeps very well, all I want to do is crawl to the couch and lose myself a little bit.

Buying Right Now:

Old Rye pottery coffee cups (mostly because the baby has broken all of my other ones) and photographic prints for my Future Wall Of Art. Also dresses from Zara and interiors magazines. Cream for my eczema hands. Baked sugary goods. Hair dye.

Here we are on a sunny Sunday walk to Portobello for baked sugary custard tarts via the skatepark. Some of us like to wear puffer jackers, track pants and raincoats in 25 degree heat:

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And this guy, mid-yoghurt-fest. He cheers us up every time:

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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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