On Night Time Noises

Today it is Father’s Day, and Mark is slumbering on our bed loudly. I usually get the morning sleep-in on a Sunday but the best present I can give that man is EVEN MORE sleep, and so, in lieu of a pair of socks (Paul Smith from the clearance shop, natch), or a CD he will never open past the plastic covering, he got my sleep-in. I think this was big of me, and maybe utterly pointless, because still he seeks sleep like a greedy little sleepy gnome whenever he can get away with it.

Last weekend, I went to two parties one after the other and hadn’t eaten much because of the upper arm situation, and it was very sunny and there was a lot of champagne and rose flowing and suddenly, at 7pm, while lying down on the grass in our communal garden, the trees started to spin quite alarmingly with the blue sky and I staggered back home and Mark said “Let’s put mum to bed, shall we?” and I lay down, shoes on, contacts in, and slept until 11pm when I woke up and asked for dinner.

This is what it feels like to abdicate your responsibilities and just go to bed. It was marvellous and soul-enriching and perhaps it taught me a few things – drink more water, eat the lamb chops and cake when people offer them to you instead of fretting over your arm girth, and go to sleep in the daytime more.

But, you know and I know that I never will do that because I am a hardened cusk of a person, all narrow-eyed and resentful of the freedoms other people take and tired martyrdom suits me.

And oh, the snoring! He came back from New Zealand about a month ago and he was in good humour, and I was pleased to see him, and the first night he slept quietly and I thought perhaps New Zealand had fixed his soft palate/sinus/heavy breathing issues somehow. Perhaps Saint Jacinda had passed his managed isolation hotel on the way to open up an Arts Centre somewhere and her magical powers had escaped through her shedding skin particles and blown out of her Prime Ministerial car door window and had somehow landed on Mark, passing through his plastic-covered exercise area and coursing through his mandatory mask like a modern-day MIRACLE taking away the burden of his nightly purring/humming/snorting sounds, but no.

The snoring lull was all a mirage – a false hope, a dream that was destined to die. He kicked off on about night three and within a week I had become reacquainted with our living room couch.

The living room couch is not a place people should be eating on – it’s in the house rules – but each time I sleep there I have to spend a lot of time fielding popcorn and little bits of scratchy toast crusts first. This is because people do not pay heed to the house rules.

Anyway. He’s asleep now. I wish that his snoring had a limit – like, God gave him a daily limit of horrible throat/nose/flapping mouth noises to use up for each 24 hour period. If that were true, then I would really encourage him to take naps for hours throughout the day. Instead of me finding him furtively reading his Kindle in the weekday when he should be writing up a quote or dropping off some paint, I would say ‘Go to sleep now, my precious sleepyhead’ in a pleasant (not sarcastic and worn-down) kind of way, and by the time it got to 11pm he would be silent. That’s my dream right there – to sleep with someone who is silent. I know I am silent, and I sleep with myself every night, so…there’s just one person stopping me from making my dreams come true, am I right?

My friend Bone, the most loyal and wise friend, felt sorry about the snoring/couch/popcorn situation and so gifted me a pair of her very special, super soundproof heavy duty blue silicon earplugs. I am an earplug wearer from way back, but only of the Boots kind, so getting a whole box Amazon-delivered blue ones was quite exciting. I thought they might well work, and so shoved them in very hard one night a few weeks ago. I am happy to report that they are better than the Boots kind – perhaps 25% better, but there is a cost. They make me deaf in one ear until about 10am the next morning.

It’s a trade-off, right? Sleep better with the vaguest sense of an incoming ear infection brewing and the resulting partial deafness of someone who has been swimming too long under water, or another night poking Mark and whisper-swearing at him and recording his worst bits to prove it to him in the morning and finally communing again with the snack-speckled couch?

When I am able, I will have my own bloody wing like Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright had in House of Cards. My room, off the tastefully decorated landing, will be filled with vintage dresses hung up on the walls like art works, and antique dressers and a Hollywood Regency vanity table with floor lamps and tasselled shades and chandeliers and a massive wardrobe so that I can hang my long frocks and actually see what I own. Another of my pathetic dreams right there.

I think I’ve digressed, though there isn’t much to say. Work has settled down into a 80/20 fun/terrifying ratio. I have forgotten how to cook. I had a fight with Mark over filling out a tax form, a yoga retreat and watching the news on the telly. I had another hair cut and half head of highlights which took four hours (I mean…why does it take that long?) but they did offer me two glasses of prosseco with a peach schnapps addition (see the photo above). It was lovely to be there but because of the Covid there weren’t any magazines because obviously touching magazines might kill your or someone’s grandmother and so I had to try to download Vanity Fair but the wifi was patchy and my battery ran out.

Let me tell you – four hours in the hair salon without magazines or your phone is quite the thing. I thought yogic thoughts, and about the power of silence and meditative stillness and about how good it is to get bored and be with myself in a mindful undistracted way, and then my eye got sticky with a dry contact lens and I thought I might just lie down on the foils and have a nap. I didn’t though, because daytime naps are for babies and noisy men.

I also had an excruciatingly difficult, stupid fight with a teenager over Instagram which seems like it might be the end of our formerly beautiful relationship. I am still amazed that your kids can really seek to hurt you. It still feels new. I am trying to ignore it, but I have a heavy, bruised heart and moving around my flat this weekend feels like I am living with the enemy. I suppose this is entirely normal -otherwise, they would never move out, right?

Here’s a child who is kind and sweet and lovely except when he spits at us. This is not frequent, thought he did do it in the posh mattress shop we went to today, because, you know, the old fella needs a new mattress, according to his new private doctor. I just wiped the spit back into my t-shirt and hoped the mattress shop assistant didn’t notice.

The dog. He stole half a cherry and almond cake that I made last night. I honestly think he regrets some of his choices sometimes:

The neighbour’s flat which is no longer the neighbour’s – photos of the wall below. He was a sitting tenant and lived in the massive flat since the ’60s with a New Zealander friend of ours. He died two years ago and our friend has just been evicted. The flat hasn’t been touched since the ’30s. We went in to see what the wallpaper layers looked like when the developers began stripping it and there were these three in one of the bedrooms. The whole peeling, damp, decrepit 3000square foot flat is 3 million if any of you fancy a project:

Lastly, there is a very exciting thing happening on Tuesday. A great big painting by Harriet White that I’ve been paying off for about a year and a half arrives to be admired and then fretted over because it might not fit and it might get damaged by those children of mine and their nerf gun bullets/swords/darts, etc. But it is a glorious thing and it shall make my nighttime excursions to the living room much more enticing. Photos of this masterful wonder to follow….

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Homestretch

I have been absent, but that is because I am now too busy to do anything at all. Mostly because of the new job (now, less new, but still very different to part time freelancer life which felt like I had time to draw a breath), but also because I have been solo parenting for a month. Mark has been in New Zealand seeing his mother. It has been hard work, what with Covid measures like two weeks’ worth of pointless, performative, draconian hotel quarantining and cancelled flights back to London and sickness and sadness all round.

It is very boring and clearly politically/morally/socially problematic to complain about these measures, so I won’t. Not really. Except to say that zero cover policies sound insane. Mark was flown to the South Island, very far away from where he stated he needed to be, but the perceived safety (hallowed, sacred, semi-religious ‘safety’) of all New Zealanders is obviously worth individual sacrifices and so he got holed up and watched the entire series of Games of Thrones while his family sat around his mother’s hospital bedside praying she would make it through, ON THE OTHER ISLAND. What she doesn’t have is time, and Mark was made to squander his. He did manage to get out of his little room for exercise once a day, in a plastic-covered car park by himself. The plastic covering was there for his ‘safety’, presumably to stop his fellow New Zealanders from extinguishing the threat (as a vaccinated man) he posed to them. I asked him if he meant that the plastic was there to stop New Zealanders trying to…what? Shoot him? Throw tropical fruits at his head? Laugh at his pallor and his growing quarantine-belly? He said, yeah, all that, probably.

He was interviewed by a Stuff reporter because he applied to get out early to be at his mother’s bedside but this was refused, on the grounds that he had been put on the other island and that travelling back to his other would pose a risk to all New Zealanders. So he had to wait a few more days when the magic 14 day number made him safe again. It’s amazing how that pathogen works. So good at reading calendars and curfew times and how here, in Britain, it understands regional borders and can count how many people are sitting around an outdoor table. Science is just…wow.

So anyhow, he is out and he is very happy to be spending time with his mother who is looking and feeling a little better. He will be back to London on Wednesday and there are very good things about this, but also, I am sad about his snoring which I have not missed. I have enjoyed my massive bed, the tidy bedroom, the easier meals, the quieter evenings, the freedom to watch Call My Agent on my own. I have missed somebody giving me a hand. I miss sleep-ins.

We have experienced a bad haircut while he has been away. I haven’t cared much about the children’s flowing locks, kind of enjoying their ’70s shags, but Otis’s teacher asked for his hair to be cut. This was something I discovered at the rushed school pickup at 3:20. I don’t finish work until 4:30, so I told Otis I would take him up to the barber then, but he got embroiled in some sort of McDonalds voucher scheme with his brothers and their friend, and it was raining, so by the time I was finished I really couldn’t fit the barber in. So three of us cut his hair and it looks partly Liam Gallagher/Hoxton mullet and partly ’20s era Milly-Molly-Mandy. Like this:

I mean, I quite like it, and so does Otis. Apparently everyone in his class said he looked adorable, but then…did they? I mean…it’s a challenging ‘do. I will never know.

I’ve also had phone calls from school to say that Noah is so behind in maths that he might not catch up. He went to an intervention on Thursday afternoon to try to help him but apparently left after 15 minutes, telling his maths teacher he had a dental appointment. I emailed right back and told him that was a bald-faced lie, and that, while he is a lovely boy, he is ‘as ambitious as a piece of seaweed’. Then I thought – that is unfair on the seaweed. So I have taken his phone again and this weekend will try to look cross whenever I remember about the maths and mutter the phrase ‘do your maths’ when he tries to tell me something funny about his parkour shenanigans. ‘Maths!’ ‘Maths!’ ‘Maths!’ I shall hiss, all very threatening and authoritarian-like. That is parenting, right there.

What else? Tax. I owe lots of tax so working is just paying off the tax. The New Zealand accountants want a checklist of things for our tax accounts there and the list makes me want to hide in my cupboard and cry a bit.

The coffee machine started leaking so it is in the repair shop. We hauled out the La Pavoni from deep in the recesses of the cupboards and cranked it up again but it too is leaking. The kitchen bench is sagging a little now from all of the leaks and I imagine it will just collapse one morning in a dampened MDF sodden heap.

The first week Mark was away Noah had a late night shower and came out of the boy’s bathroom all pink and scalded and with a welt on his chest and it turned out that the hot water tap had shot off into his torso, and hot water was pouring out in a boiling chest-high flood. He managed to draw the shower door closed and when I went into to see what had happened, the shower room was steamy and all this water was hitting the glass door. Like a hot upside down waterfall. So we had to call Mark in his little hotel prison and he explained how to turn the water off at the source. We managed to get back into the shower and fasten the tap back on and hope that it wouldn’t pop back off in the night.

An hour later, after midnight, Barnaby came into my room and woke me up, saying that he couldn’t breathe. It was a respiratory thing, brought on by hay fever, though I didn’t know that then. I drugged him up with Piriton and Sudafed and got him to sleep on the couch in the living room where there was less dust (and small boys bodies) and told him to wake me up if he felt he couldn’t breathe again and then we would brave A&E together. I tried to get back to sleep but, you know, was a little worried that he wouldn’t be able to breathe again.

The next morning we got him a video call with the GP (because, of course, COVID) and she tried to look at his eczema though the screen but the wifi kept cutting out. She did manage to tell me that giving him Piriton every day for the last two months was probably why he was struggling to stay awake during class. If he does pass his GCSEs now that he is mostly conscious in class, that’ll be no help from me, then.

He is now on an inhaler, but when I tried to get the prescription for the inhaler filled (which had been sent from the GP electronically to the pharmacy) they hadn’t received it. I said ‘please sort this out because he might not be able to breathe tonight’ and the pharmacist said ‘excuse me, I cannot hear you through your mask and this plastic screen’ and so she asked me to write what I was trying to say all down but not before making me use antibacterial gel because, you know, The Danger Pen! and my potential capacity to spread some illness throughout the borough because of that Pen. I despair.

IT TURNED OUT I DID ACTUALLY COMPLAIN! Sorry for that, and yet, not sorry. It’s been hard.

Any More News, Then?

I had a hair cut, I went out with friends to a pub (sat outside, zzz), met my new boss at The Ned (but had to install the NHS tracker app before they let me in) and I went on an anti-lockdown march and cried because there were people there who were feeling like me and they mostly weren’t mental.

Otis discovered that if you stick a cushion into your onesie you look like a sexy tiktok lady:

I accidentally bidded on (and won) some Chanel earrings which may have been fake but PHEW they aren’t:

I read Shuggie Bain and have nearly watched every episode of Superstore. Last night the teenagers and I watched The Blair Witch Project and we all had to sleep with heavy objects. Just in case.

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Lady with a full time job

Yeah. That’s me now. You’ll find me perched at a swivel chair in the bedroom which also works hard as a photocopying room, a two-person office, a baby’s room, a junk depository on Mark’s side (golf clubs and amplifiers and a laminating machine, anyone?), dressing room and dressing table featuring many pairs of earrings, chandelier storage solution and a place for daytime weekend snoring naps (not so much for me, that bit).

The office desk is really for one person and Mark pops in and out all day and he has a bad back so he gets the ugly cream fake leather office chair. It is a big chair and it won’t slide under the desk when not in use because of its big chrome arms that are meant to look mid century but just look like a big ugly chrome arms, so it sits in the narrow bit that requires sideways walking between the desk and the bed and always features in the background of my Microsoft Teams calls. Because it is so big, my swivel chair and me are shoved hard up against the wooden drawers underneath the desk and my thigh gets softly crushed from 8:30am until 12:30 when I race out for a quick lunch (all the way into the kitchen) and then at 1pm I start work at the kitchen table while the baby goes to sleep in my multitasking office. These three weeks have been overlapping Easter school holidays so my kitchen table office has been shared with at least six, seven or eight kids shouting a lot and pulling shredded paper from the shredded paper machine and making hamster nests on the living room floor.

Then the baby wakes up from the shouting and I think AHA! Time to be reunited with my tiny compromised fake office space and I go back and slip my thigh hard up against the wooden drawers again and start work again. There’s also a little hook that Mark stuck onto the corner of the drawers to keep the baby out from touching his things (batteries, old broken watches, a box of sharpened pencils that we aren’t allowed to use) and sometimes my thigh gets nicked by the sharp metal and I think AT LEAST I KNOW I’M ALIVE.

Skills I now have:

Can use Teams, can invite people to meetings and join them

Can navigate Excel sheets without becoming overwhelmed by anxiety and prickly crying feelings in my eyes

Have learned to brief a video editor in India and only go back and forth over pixelation and pantone about 17 times

Have written a House Style Guide which may well be wrong in parts, particularly concerning capitalisation

Might know how to use AI for transcribing but I suspect when it comes down to it I do not

Got back on LinkedIn and am starting to think of it like Facebook but without the memes and passive-aggressive fighting. Contributing to the LinkedIn community by saying ‘Congrats’ to people for work anniversaries and suchlike

Skills yet to conquer:

Making an email signature stay on my emails

Using Excel beyond very simple lists

Navigating the delicate balance between using my initiative and making a tit of myself

SEO implementation and key words. I mean…minefield

Having any original thoughts about Diversity & Inclusion

On the plus side:

I do like getting paid and I do like it when I say something which sounds convincing, but there are days that I feel it would be best for everyone if I just resigned and hid under my bed. Which I couldn’t, because it is actually a junk depository under there too. There is no where for me to go to run away from my new life of working and being squashed in my thigh and not seeing the baby all that much.

Because ladies with full-time jobs need proper childcare. I’ve spent years trying to work around small boys – when they sleep, when they are lost in TV and their stupid devices and when making dens with all the sheets and linens from all the cupboards and drawers. But now I have a beloved lady who comes and takes the domestic load away from me. From 8am-2pm Ms V comes and takes care of the baby, the mess, the shopping, one dinner a week, the laundry and the bins. For the rest of the week dinner is now this loose fluid concept where I will probably do it but I also might not. Now come evening, we all just look at each other at 5ish a bit wistfully and sigh and then do another round of wistful sighing and look in the direction of the kitchen but no one will be in there doing anything. They tend to hold their nerve until I crack and rustle up something even though I keep saying to Mark that we must make a roster. I’ve asked him to name two days a week where it falls on him but he just pretends he cannot hear me and I am too squashed-of-thigh fatigues from the new full time job to bother remaking my arguments about division of labour.

Here’s a photo I found on my phone of some party tricks tomfoolery. Note the rather excellent glass milk bottle we get delivered twice a week from an actual milkman:

And here is casper, enjoying his second lockdown birthday. He asked for a banana cake and a load of cash:

Casper looking very elegant in my coat:

Fuzzy but typical photo of the baby. A curly-headed, stick-wielding, smiley-faced joy:

More tomfoolery:

And this is the baby who stuck a piece of label-making plastic tape on his head and called himself ‘Cobra Kai’. All his own work, I promise:

What else? My phone has broken so I am using Casper’s old one which is my old one and the battery lasts for about four hours and it has nothing of mine on it so paying for things and buying things and doing things has become more difficult, especially now I am a lady who works and has no time any more. This morning my laptop with the manuscript on it has also given up – refusing to charge – so perhaps I will have to fully retire my sad little dream of actually finishing the book. There is no toilet paper, laundry tablets or cheese in the flat because I am not around to ensure we don’t run out and I think my swivel chair is giving me a bad back. Apparently I also owe huge amounts of tax which will be taken out every week alongside the childcare bills which means I am going to be sitting in this tiny chair in the squeezy space been Mark and the hard wooden drawers to earn precisely nothing for about a year. HEY HO THIS IS THE LIFE!

*I sound complaining and, well, I am a bit, but then, having a job and thighs and children and various earrings to choose from – these are all firmly marvellous and good things and really, to have gotten a job in the quagmire of economic despair out there….well, I am a lucky lady indeed. Just a bit busy right now.

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A List Of Woes

It’s been one of those days. A few days, really. Actually, it’s been much longer than that, that I/we (it’s not just me, surely) have had a creeping sense of dread and sadness skulking around the bodily peripheries and sometimes just sitting heavily on my chest. I feel like my eyes are about to prickle and start leaking and that my breath is unnaturally short, my ribcage feeling sour and tender. Anxieties over money and masks and schools and swabs and futures and teenagers and screens and parenting choices and ugly furniture and friendships and too long hair with fried ends are turning me into a humourless old wine-sodden bore. Apologies in advance.

It goes like this:

  1. Teenagers are hard and mean and they will make fun of you and make you feel stupid and small, they said. Be kind to them and to yourself over these tricky years because they too will pass, they said. Well. This is all fine in the abstract but actually witnessing your kids curl back into themselves, shielding from people and challenges and the outside world, while also being mean and scornful and mocking with exaggerated use of rolled eyes and performative sighing… it REALLY REALLY HURTS. I didn’t know how much. I thought we could all have a laugh and a quick cuddle and we would be back on our way again to how things were but this is my first experience of the Split, the Tear, the Breaking Away from me of my babies who are now becoming young men. I didn’t know that it got personal. That they could chuck well-aimed barbs at you again and again and it would cut you like it does. And now I know. There’s another five sons to come after, but I am hoping it gets easier. That I will get better at absorbing it and taking the hit and loving them hard right back. But the signs, so far, aren’t good.
  2. I have had a very strange few days of showdowns with the indirect neighbours over what my kid may or may not have said and what my kid may or may not have meant by what he may or may not have said. Then about what the parent said to another parent, depending on which parent you speak to. It escalated out of hand and we had to have a series of words, trying to listen and not get too mad, trying to get our piece across, trying to say the right thing and not to forget to breathe in and out and definitely not to cry. I don’t know quite whether or not we resolved anything and I do not think that tricky little chapter has closed. I await some further outraged WhatsApp messages in the dead of night to kick it all off afresh. What’s a midweek without some sort of community-scale fight after all?
  3. I am starting a full-time job next Monday. This fills me with wonder and awe and joy and excitement and then a suckerpunch of worry and panic. How will the baby cope? Who will cook dinner? Will I ever have free time again? What about school holidays? Where will I physically work? Will the baby be able to visit me if I lock myself off in a room all day and if I do, will I get rickets from the lack of light? All this remains to be seen and to be obsessively picked over by me in the middle of the night in between furious WhatsApp missives from the indirect neighbours.
  4. Mark brought home a gaming chair, gifted to him from some very nice wealthy clients of his. He thought OH YES I THINK WE NEED A MASSIVE UGLY GAMING CHAIR and plonked it on the living room floor. I thought it was a seat for the go-cart he and the boys have half-made, and so I didn’t think much about it other than it was a) ugly and b) soon to be hammered onto a piece of wood, rolled down a hill, broken and then put into the bins. It turns out it was always meant to sit on our very nice wool rug in the small space we have in between our oversized couches, taking up a huge amount of space and making me want to weep hot tears of fury and resentment whenever it swims into view which is ALWAYS BECAUSE IT IS MASSIVE AND UGLY. You may recall Mark and I have only just recovered from a weird bout of overbuying at auctions and a result of that was too many chairs in our living room. We worked hard to find the storage places to put them in, then another chair would come via courier and Mark would hope that I would turn a blind eye to its bigness and stealing-of-space-ness but I didn’t and I cooled and sulked and pleaded and strategised to get all of the buggers gone, one by one. ‘No more extra chairs in our already overfilled flat’ was my mantra. But then, like a man who doesn’t know his wife, or like a man that isn’t particularly bothered about what gets on his wife’s tits, he brings home a gaming chair. The chair I hate more than anything else on the planet right now. Last night I was filled with post-argument adrenaline (see 2. above) and I told Mark in a loud, authoritative voice that I was putting my foot down – the hideous chair had to go – but Mark loves nothing more than a challenge. He said HE was putting his foot down and it was staying. Now we have an icy standoff over a faux-leather gaming chair and it kills me. I said it could stay as long as it was never, never in my sight when those boys weren’t using it for their loserish gaming so now they all have to scramble around as soon as the playstation is turned off to find a place to hide it. Which I suspect is in their already overstuffed and messy room, under a pile of discarded school uniforms.

On a lighter note, here we are playing on a frozen pond in Hyde Park in half term. Climbing a tree, complete with obligatory stick:

An attempt to be seductive in my new glasses. The lenses are as thick as old school jam jars. I have a prescription of minus 8 which means that if I lost my glasses and my contact lens stash ran out, I would probably die because I wouldn’t be able to find my way to the fridge. See how small my face and eyes become under those babies?:

In the half term we went mudlarking and *maybe* wrote ‘bum’ on the algae-strewn rocks. There was a fair bit of sifting through the pebbles and we found 17th century pottery, a 1938 three pence coin and a rock which may have been a neolithic flint tool but may also have been a rock:

Righto. I am sorry for the sadness at the beginning. I have since been outside and experienced the early spring sun on my wizened face and had a glass of water and kissed a sweet baby and noticed that Otis spells his second name like this: ‘Wilebee’ and my heavy creeping sadness has slunk away for the afternoon. Good luck to you all in this weird time. I hope we all find ways to feel a little better, even if it just for a little while.

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First Draft

Oh man, I have been re-reading my last post with a deep sense of embarrassment. I feel almost protective of my former self, those few weeks ago, all enthusiastic and sincere. I really did think that I was done writing my first novel. I really did. Of course, I had heard that no one writes a good novel from scratch – that novels take time and work and effort. But I thought I was different. Special, even. Different and special and maybe gifted. Like, this novel-writing lark is quite FUN! I should do it again! But wait – first – let’s share this work of comic genius to a few first readers…. WHAT FUN.

And so off that manuscript went, to various people. I was just waiting for the love to come crashing down ‘pon my frizzy lockdowned head.

We got back, quickly, a very carefully considered and not unkind piece of constructive criticism that basically said WHOA THERE. Back that literary truck up, hold your horses, STOP, FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS AND WORDS AND YOUR VERY SELF-RESPECT! A well-known writer (gah…) gave us the sage advice that what we had produced was an extremely first draft kind of first draft and that, sure, for people who weren’t writers (argh…) it was a stellar effort, etc, etc… but the real work had not even begun. The prologue was boring, there was no real hero, the premise of the whole story was a little ‘off’ and the sub plots were tired. Then it was suggested we read a book on how to write a novel so that we could salvage it rather than rewrite the whole thing.

I died, quite a bit. And what made me die the most was that she was right. It was good advice. Advice that burned my heart and shrivelled up my ego and made me realise I have so much more work to do. I read the book she recommended and rethought everything and now, if you need me, I’ll be at my kitchen table with post-it notes working out a structure. Figuring out a proper Act 3. Working out quite why my main character is so lacking in confidence. Rolling my eyes at my misplaced and enormously premature boasty pride in a job well done.

Let it be a warning to you, my novel-curious friends. You have to read a book about it first, OK? Read the bloody manual.

What else in this new, cold, boring, restrictive new world we call currently? It has been very cold – here is a photo of the fountain in the playground behind Waitrose:

There has been lots of fleeting snow and residual ice which has made the usual early morning runs in the dark quite impossible. Well, impossible if you don’t love falling over and breaking your old lady bones, that is. I have still gone running, but slowly and much later, coming home fiery pink and with itchy extremities. I have to run because lockdown and mid-winter means I barely move all day otherwise. And even though I am back on the intermittent fasting, if you don’t move all day and you use your non-novel-fixing time to bake cakes to both warm the flat up and to make people feel like there is something to look forward to at the end of the day, and if you make your way though impressive quantities of Aldi’s very impressive sparkling wine offerings every evening, then you just get fatter.

Fatter and fatter and fatter, so that your upper arms don’t fit the Isabel Marant denim shirt that acts as my trusty Weight Gain Monitor. It is a very nice light blue shirt that either fits or it doesn’t, because I am either a bit fat or I am not. Right now, as soon as I put it on, the upper arms feel tight. Not as bad as 2011 tight – it fitted like a tightly packed sausage back in 2011 – but fitting my arms now like….like a badly packed sausage. Tight, but not entirely filled to capacity. But on its way there. You know? I know.

So in between weighing myself (a twice-weekly habit that tends to make me mutter loudly to myself about the weirdness of numbers and the likelihood of the scales being broken) I just try the shirt on sporadically to see how things are in that specific department. And so – running four times a week, ice or no ice, snow be damned, it has to be. I know I should also cut out cake and wine, but answer me this: if I did exorcise all the fun joyful things like cake and wine, then WHY even get out of bed right now? Why indeed? The children, I guess, are sometimes joy-making and so is TV – collectively quite good reasons to stay alive – but really, we could be enjoying kids, TV, wine and cake anywhere in the world. Why battle on in a small flat in London if London is semi-permanently closed for business? Why stay if we can’t even leave this borough without potentially incurring a fine?

Anyway. We had two more birthdays which were certainly joyful and, sure, featured cake and wine. Ned turned 11. He got Lego, a laser pointer for cats that he uses on the baby, a label-maker and a box of chocolates. All this made him happy but clearly not in this photo. Casper was quickly shoved out of shot because he was intent on fighting someone, and this is all we have. One for the family album of forced jollity and EXISTENTIAL DESPAIR, obvs:

Cute curls on that baby, though, eh? And some nice footage of the two teenagers having a chat. Everyone needs a haircut but whaddya do?

Here’s the baby out on one of our daily walks to glean as much vitamin D that we both can. He has marshmallow on his face and a very nice new birthday coat from his little friend Maisie, sassy velour trousers and leather boots like someone who is really owns his Outfit Of The Day:

While in late January, the eldest – my love, my heart, the source of my pain when he says withering things – turned 16. He had a glass of champagne and declared it a bit gross and gave the rest to me. His brother (on the left) wore a onesie all day and we ate Nigella’s brownies with fresh raspberries and extra thick chunks of chocolate swirled through. Mark wore the same shirt he seems to wear for every birthday photograph, going back to 2018.

Here’s the baby on another daily Vitamin D walk, this time in his baby bonnet. He likes to visit the Modernist estate next to our square and walk up and down the staircases and along the balconies until I feel like we are definitely trespassing and I have to drag him screaming back down the stairs.

I know, I know. It’s all about the baby. But there it is. He tried Ned’s tummy rolling trick and while it could do with some finessing, it’s a very good start. Better than my novel has turned out to be, in any case:

Lastly a photograph of my soon-to-be-picked-up new glasses. There is much to unpick in this photo. I am having trouble with my hair right now because the bits that all fell out after the baby was born have grown back quite fiercely and now I have an undeniable and increasingly thick undercurrent of short greyish hairs. Like a middle-aged man might have. Helmet-like, but buried underneath so as to give body but not volume. On top of that I have long, frizzy, formerly wavy hair that desperately needs a cut and a colour. There are perhaps three hairstyles existing all at the same time upon the same head. It is very hard to style out, but then, no one is looking because everyone has been persuaded to stay inside and to therefore not make judgements about other people’s hair.

I am also in my eBay Batsheva dress here which has a bit of a Jane Austen/Bridgerton vibe, all ditsy floral print, empire-line and lamb’o’mutton sleeves. It is almost a great dress but verges on just being quite ‘passably Amish’. Modest to the point of religious cult. So I’ve gone for these ironic glasses (ten years late for that particular train) to make me look fashionably knowing. My eyes look different-sized in this photo too but I’m assuming that’s just because I was about to wink suggestively. Who can really tell?

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I’ve Finished Writing A Book

Today, I finished proofing a novel that I finished last week. I’ve been writing it alongside my Chief Idea Generator and Plot Coordinator Ashleigh since about April last year. It might be good, it might be bad, but I think it is probably somewhere in the middle. Wonky, funny, odd – too much explaining and not enough dialogue, too much swearing, not enough character development, too many terrible side jokes about hair. In reality, I think it is probably about six months away from anyone objective (read: anyone who might want to publish it, heaven forbid) saying The Thing Is Done. But for now, I signed it off with The End and it feels like it is, indeed, The End, for now.

And so today for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can have a lunch break. Since that delicious baby was born, every weekday 12-3pm slot has been taken up with magazine work or the novel. The magazine work died a staggered, sad death in January last year and the novel is, as you know, pretty much done, so now I am my own lady. With free time. After I’ve put the baby to bed and scrambled some eggs and drunk tea, I am free to tentatively wade into the Twitter waters now that Facebook is not my go-to time waster. (Though word on the street is that I am still on the bloody thing…getting off it properly has defeated me.)

Today someone said something mean to me in reply on Twitter – I had said I felt silenced by the morality surrounding Covid and a man told me to “Just Be Quiet Then” and I replied “Ouch” and then I thought Twitter is actually pretty horrible and arguing with strangers is a bit stupid. All in all I think I am better off not saying my piece out loud because I am not very good at dealing with people saying unkind things to me or even disagreeing with me, even if they are mean men I will never meet in real life.

And then I thought OH NO I HAVE TRIED TO WRITE A NOVEL AND SOMEONE WILL SAY SOMETHING CRITICAL AND I WILL JUST WITHER AND DIE

And I will wither and die because I am a big spineless baby.

So. I wonder what job I should have pursued which might have allowed me to avoid criticism at any cost? Certainly not parenting and we all know what a defensive paranoid I am about that. WHAT? Did that lady in the frozen aisle give me and the kids the side eye just then? Did that innocent bystander sitting at the bus stop reading the Evening Standard just look at me briefly because she thinks I’m a terrible mother? HOW DARE SHE, etc, etc. This is me and my thoughts, all of the time.

I didn’t think that one through enough. Parenting is, as even the non paranoid-defensives among us know, a tricky job for those who seek to remain untouched and unrattled by other people’s opinions. Admittedly there are a lot of panicky parents around these parts who see my rather free-range approach to mothering as dangerous and irresponsible and there does seem to be quite a number of older ladies in Waitrose who like to hiss things about my ‘revolting children’ (ok that happened twice and it was the same woman) but still, I could try to let that stuff go a little.

It’s just that I have always sought approval and I wish only to garner praise and likes. That is all. These are my daily motivations. Not to improve the world or raise kids who will be good at vaccine-making or to volunteer at a soup kitchen. I am driven to be a good girl, not to disappoint, and to never, ever do anything that causes someone to be mad at me or say I am not…excelling. Nothing illustrates this more than when I went to law school after having a lovely, blissful time doing my BA in English and Art History. It was all just fun and games and paintings and novels and essays and time spent poring over faded books in the old University library. Then law school happened and I remember lots of stout confident people from Canterbury who wore primary-coloured rugby shirts and who drank a lot of beer. Those same wankers had dads who owned law firms and they got summer internships and I just….couldn’t quite get my head around Land Law or Jurisprudence and I did quite…exceedingly….averagely. And what did those years of being very average at law make me want to do?

TO GIVE UP! To never try to be a lawyer because I thought I would be too shitly average at it. Who wants to prove these things – these fears of being utterly average in real life? Far better to run around avoiding things that you aren’t top-o’-the-class-at. And keep having babies because I am definitely very good at turning them out regularly. No one can accuse me of not doing that part properly.

So anyway, Dear Reader, it turns out I have issues around avoiding difficult things and around criticism. My poor husband has occasionally given me some constructive criticism about, say…an eyebrow tint or a new recipe and I do not take it well. Snippy and biting off his head is more my default response. And now, every night after I have cooked dinner, I have all six children and one husband sitting around the table and I ask – nay, I demand – that they all praise me for it. I know I am doing something needy and annoying but I can’t help myself. And if any one of them has even one thing to say that isn’t glowing, I get defensive, mad or sulky. Chicken too dry for you, is it? You dare posit that the broccoli was left boiling for slightly too long? Falafel not good enough for you and your finely tuned palate, hmmmm?

I am a monster. If someone doesn’t like everything about this book….well.

Never mind about that right now.

More importantly, that unbelievably excellent baby turned 2 on Saturday. He didn’t get presents because shopping for a baby online is soul-destroying and anyway he isn’t much bothered about presents if Christmas was anything to go by. He simply ripped things open and tossed the contents across the room as all babies have done since time immemorial. Instead of more things to open and discard, for his birthday he got a packet of hot chips from a stall in Portobello and some cakes from Ottolenghi that mostly I ate. See him expertly and wetly blow out his candles:

Note the excellent cardigan my mother knitted for…maybe our fourth kid? and handed on nicely to Remi. And here he is in a newborn baby bonnet (in the snow, the day after his birthday) that Mark’s grandmother knitted for her future great grandchildren before she died. Dressed generally quite like you’d imagine a late 30-ish-something City worker might dress when out at a gastropub in a posh village somewhere:

And the only family photograph I think we have, complete with support bubble Anna, gurning Noah and a deflating Baby Yoda:

Otis in Portobello complaining to me that his spicy chicken might make him die because Noah told him it might make him die:

My annual wedding photo reveal. On January 3rd we were married for exactly 100 years:

Casper’s carefully translated French Swear Word book, full of disgusting phrases collected and lying in wait for the next time his biggest brother and he has a spat:

Snow Day on Sunday:

The cutest Happy Birthday spitty delighted-grin few moments you might ever see in your whole life:

In Other News

  1. I am selling lots of clothes on eBay because my spending got a bit out of control there for a bit. The auctions were fun but how many Pierre Vandel coffee tables and nesting trios does one family need? More importantly, where can one family store all four glass-topped tables so that the baby doesn’t cut any more of his chin open on them? So there will be no more auctions and no more late night eBay ‘cheeky offers’ sent to people who unexpectedly accept, leaving you with wondering how to pay for your new Erdem dress as well as your Self Assessment Tax due in, like, six days.
  2. Home schooling has largely been resolved because two secondary kids and two primary kids were allowed to go back into school. This was based on the fact that we don’t have enough room or an adequate quiet space in our two bedroomed flat for eight of us all, as well as not having enough devices to work from home and do all day live learning. So I have only two kids at home with me all day – the nearly-16 year old and the baby – and the rest trot off to school in their uniforms to do remote learning supervised by someone else on the school site. This has been a blessing of unmeasurable proportions and I am aware that I am extremely privileged to have been given this ‘out’. I can not understand how anyone is coping with trying to work while also home schooling. It is an impossible, unreasonable task.

I shall provide updates as to the manuscript, if, indeed, there is anything to tell. Tomorrow I start looking for a job again. Wish me luck.

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Happy New Year thus far. Argh. Covid-boredom trigger warning also

Firstly, apologies if I’ve cornered you IRL or otherwise in some way over Covid. I can’t seem to help it and it is becoming a bit…problematic. Annoying, probably, or boring at least, and certainly for me it is the closest I’ve come to feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and righteous fury and deadened despair. I’m normally so robust! So mild-mannered! So Guardian-y and leftish and gently, nervously tiptoe-y ‘hope-I-don’t-offend-anyone’ when it comes to politics. I always thought the papers were smart and that governments were quite sensible, on the whole. Maybe even a little interchangeable. But OH I don’t feel like that any more. The schools won’t open after the Christmas break and I doubt they will open effectively until Easter, which would make it a year that kids in this country have had seriously disrupted, half-arsed education. The remote learning is a sad little substitute at the best of times, the quarantining of perfectly healthy kids frequent, teachers spread thinly as their colleagues are sent home after PCR tests tell them (and everyone they’ve been in contact with) that they are positive.

My kids are pretty much fine. We have a small flat but enough old laptops and spare phones to facilitate five of them accessing online lessons although the quality of that (and the so far complete absence of actual teachers popping up on screens in a facsimile of a classroom situation – something that has yet to happen) is not convincing at all. It seems every school has done things a little differently and I am sympathetic to that but OH MY GIDDY AUNT there is very little learning being done this way. And I say that fully aware of my luck and privilege to be able to be here, present, physically in the flat, monitoring the ‘learning’ (hollow laugh) and not having to split my attention by doing paid work other than my usual freelance odd hours that can fit in with the round robin of shared tabletop time. (I don’t actually have any paid work and haven’t had since the beginning of 2020, that bastard of a year, but I count my nearly-finished novel as my ‘work’ because if you discount that, I am just a very bad housekeeper).

My family is functional, my flat is warm, we have snacks in the fridge. But there are many children who do not have comfortable home lives and the school closure condemns them to staying locked in there. Kids with unsafe homes and unsafe carers and no access to remote learning. We know there are those kids out there. Of course, we know the government has opened the schools up to them, the vulnerable children, but we also know that many of those kids will not be turning up. They didn’t turn up in vast numbers last time, and that is probably because vulnerable kids slip through the cracks because they are vulnerable. It’s hard to picture those kids if you don’t really know any. I suspect the people campaigning to close schools do not know any. I also suspect most of them have been able to complete their own education in relative peace and security and have somehow forgotten what that means. Being safe, being able to learn in an appropriate, supportive environment, being surrounded by teachers and friends who are all in the business of helping everyone become their best selves, socially, educationally, and otherwise. When did that become a privilege afforded just to the lucky ones in the olden days?

Then there is the hideous gap between the luckiest kids and the rest of them. The luckiest kids will have a school that manages remote learning well. There will be accountability and regular check-ins, face-time with teachers, enough devices to go around. A space that is quiet. Some will have online tutors to help them with gaps and to give them an advantage. The rest of them will find themselves somewhere on that spectrum between wealthy and lucky and poor and unlucky. And what does all that do after a ten year Governmental effort to close those gaps? It destroys all the work done. It opens the gap wider, creating a bloody great Grand Canyon of inequality. We we never equal, right? But this…this finishes off even the illusion and the hope of equality good and proper.

Before the latest school closure, a friend of mine who teaches says that when the kids got back to school in the Autumn, her staff were astounded by how much knowledge the kids had already lost. Big red crosses next to most of the kid’s names. And the Government, alert to those losses, threw the equivalent of about £20 per kid to help close that gap again.

I mean, I despair. And I despair that kids are retreating into their phones even deeper, sat around their flats and in bedrooms (if they are lucky enough to have a bedroom of their own – five of mine share theirs), finishing netflix and finding online girlfriends in other countries so they can’t actually meet them IRL – instead texting them all the time in their best approximation of what a big boy might write (I speak from experience here *wink*). I despair that they aren’t able to sashay down a school corridor like Marianne and Connor could do, brushing past someone they fancy and getting that rush of teenage swooning lusty feeling that is rare and short-lived and ephemeral and magical. That they can’t meet up legally with their dorky mates and hang out, talking who knows what kind of shit to each other and learning from all that boisterous loutish showy-offy stuff. Instead, they are growing up inside, told to be scared, told they are likely to make someone sick. That avoidance of risk trumps everything. That they are super spreaders. Might kill a grandma. Act like you are sick, says Matt Hancock.

I’m in the business of kids so this stuff matters to me. I am in the business of trying to raise fearless, good people. I thought we had a system that wanted to support me in this, that sought to nurture the best out of all kids, no matter where they came from and what they had to offer. But now, in the pursuit of saving the NHS, we are dismantling the education system. Children are being punished and they are making sacrifices they can’t conceive they are making and it is rotten. Ugly. Immoral.

So. There is that to think of on this first day of the new year. We did as we were told and didn’t celebrate with anyone. We did what we usually do on any locked-in evening which is watch TV. I tried to get the kids to watch Little Miss Sunshine but the husband gave up and went to bed, Barnaby started deep diving into his phone again and Casper fell asleep. I sent them all to bed at 11:27pm (so close) in a bit of a rage (‘why don’t you guys TRY HARDER?’) but came out again into the living room with Barnaby so I could show him what happened at midnight.

Nothing happened at midnight. I sent him up the stairs to watch the few fireworks being lit and one nearly landed on his face, so I guess that happened. He came back down the stairs and we looked at our phones – him to one of the girlfriend threads he seems to have many of and me to rage on Twitter about Covid things and then I tried to go to sleep but it didn’t come. The baby, usually so good at sleeping, usually waking at 6:30am-ish, went for a new year, new him early-riser 4:30am thing and so I struggled out into the living room with him to find the dog had gone through the rubbish, tin foil and chicken bone shards everywhere.

I slept on the couch a little with the baby, trying to fob him off on Sesame Street music clips, hoping that the kids would wake up and sit with him and relieve me but those little sleepy buggers couldn’t wake up after their exciting night of distracted uncommitted movie-watching and so I gave in and made Remi and I bacon and eggs. Two coffees later, kids awake, husband out of bed, I went for a run (good) and then came home and ate eight Ferrero Rochers (less good).

Now I am tired. I am expecting nothing from this year but an insidious backsliding into an unrecognisable, unimaginable new normal. God help us.

Photos to sift the sombre tone.

Noah had a little role in a documentary about a brilliant watchmaker, playing him as a 70s child. Here he is being filmed by Nigella’s DOP in a rambling enormous house in Crouch End one weekend. He was clearly a cinematic star:

Baby goes to Wagamamas before the last lockdown:

Otis looking joyful and in need of a haircut:

Christmas earrings. I kind of forgot to write about Christmas but because of the Tier system our holiday to Devon was cancelled. Christmas was reduced to a greyish sock found under the couch covered in dog hair. But these earrings were lovely:

Something we are allowed to do – go into the park and spend some time in there but not with more than one other person. Thank God for the park:

Here’s to better times, eh? While that sentiment feels as hollow as my sense of humour lately, let’s hope it all comes good somehow.

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You might remember me from Facebook

Hi. I tried to leave Facebook last month but it turns out it is really hard. Mostly because I didn’t do a very good job of it. I did a sort-of slap-dash exit which involved some general “How To Leave Facebook” googling, the downloading of old photos and terribly embarrassing twelve year old posts where I have written little missives (which I thought at the time were comic and now, just, KILL ME with the cringiness), and then I got bored with the next steps which required more of a deep-dive, committed, computery fiddling. Something to do with third parties. Unnecessary and dull said my naive, giddy-with-a-newfound-false-sense-of-freedom inner voice and so I skipped the third step and went on to babyishly imagine I was finally one of those people who had broken free.

Of course, I know – I KNOW – that Facebook owns Instagram and so I also know that a real, proper Facebook-Leaver would delete Instagram too, and also WhatsApp if we are being thorough, but I felt like those were steps too far. I love a little (long) scroll through the Instagram world which I fill with interiors/babies/friends/foodie worlds. It is like I have my own TV channel and I am the boss of it. Also I am the star, and the presenter, and the HR hiring and firing person who makes decisions about who gets airtime and who can piss off and so I couldn’t give it up. Not my Instagram joy. Especially not now, when everything has the sheen of sadness on it and joy requires a bit of work to first uncover and then to hold on to for dear life. But I was prepared for a little Leaver-compromise and no one would know that I hadn’t done it perfectly well, and how deep should one really have to go and isn’t it too late for us all to really break free and why can’t I just treat Facebook leaving like I do folding the washing – do it for a bit and then chuck everything into a hallway cupboard and walk away before it all falls back out onto the floor to become part of someone’s cushion and blanket soft-toy upholstered den?

So it turns out that I’m still on Facebook. I can’t get into it to mindlessly scroll though and while I miss that a little, all the checking in and seeing what people have been up to, all the photos of birthdays and sunny days in New Zealand, I do not miss the aggravation I was feeling over people who do not agree with me. Which is a whole problem in itself. I would sometimes wade in and argue with people and then feel weird about arguing and then rant IRL about it and sound, once again, like a nutter. Now I do not have to argue with people online because I am blind to them. BLIND. Also wholly uninformed about whose birthday is coming up. It’s a bit hard to get used to.

I have effectively left but it turns out you can still find me listed on it and WORSE is that my Instagram stories are still there, posted whenever I post some dumb little video about us walking along the canal or eating Korean chicken wings in buffalo sauce. And so here I straddle – one leg in the Leavers and one leg in the Remain. I have failed. I am a social media slave. Weak, blind, missing Messenger quite badly and yet never again able to write someone a short birthday message on their page as though I had actually remembered and not just been spurred on by the social pressure of everyone else doing it after being reminded duly by that Zuckerberg.

Also. There had been more auction house stalking and bidding and ‘winning’. ‘Winning’ at an auction is a funny phrase because you haven’t really ‘won’ if you absent-mindedly put a bid on another vase/chandelier/table lamp/Taschen coffee table book/wall sconce and then forget about it but later discover you owe an auction house somewhere deep in the country quite a bit of money plus hammer price plus VAT. We have been having couriers turn up frequently and we don’t even know what will be in the boxes. I mean, things are getting very crowded in here again. I will show you a little sample of the delights that are now put back into cardboard boxes and shoved into corners and wardrobes and under beds and behind the doors. They are all a bit mismatched but if there was a theme, it would be mid century Murano glass with a bit of Hollywood Regency and a dash of 50s toleware. All for the house we don’t currently live in, of course. The house in New Zealand we will one day visit (me for the first time) and that we will one day live in and that we will furnish in this multi-era interior design mashup of ABSOLUTE DREAMS:

We are expecting any day now for the courier to deliver a thick 70s gold chain necklace, two Art Deco club armchairs, another toleware chandelier, another Murano pink 70s waterfall chandelier and a green velour walnut framed early 20th century button back sofa. Mark has also bid on a small brass statue of a gorilla in a baseball cap. He ‘lost’ it last time but is trying again because, out of some Christmas brass gorilla-shaped miracle, another one turned up at the auction house. He is quivering with hope and excitement and I am, well, I am hoping the auction gods let that one go to a more gorilla-appropriate dwelling.

In other news, someone asked me (again) if I was expecting another baby yesterday. I was wearing navy corduroy dungarees but, like, still…it was a bit sobering. Also sobering was the lovely night on Wednesday in celebration of us all being allowed out again – we went for cocktails at the Connaught Bar but could only afford one drink and a shared pizza because it was expensive in that way that you think it might be an in-joke, and then you realise it is not. Still, good for my rather pickled liver to have to stop at one.

This is me trying to look fetching, not freezing, with the cutest baby in town. I think the photo has been squeezed, so ignore that. See instead those parched lips, crepey neck and crispy fringe! Lovely new Emilia Wickstead coat though – new with tags, usual price 2000 pounds (oh yes!) but bought for a song (well, 200 pounds) on my old faithful friend eBay:

And finally, the oldest and youngest of our clan, having a cuddle and cheering us all up:

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Tin Foil Hat

I’ve turned into a bit of a squinty-eyed, suspicious person of late. I hesitate to call myself a ‘conspiracy theorist’ because those people are nuts but I am increasingly sounding a little like one. It is boring everyone, especially me. I left Facebook without a word because I wasn’t sure the world needed another post declaring that someone was ‘taking a break’ from social media because WHO CARES but if you are looking for me on there and I am absent, it’s because I’m sitting with the conspiracy theorists in our tin foil hats, warmed by the light of obscure alarmist websites and sweating a bit with all the collective anxiety.

It’s a cold odd world out there and apparently that’s the way I am finding my way through it all. I’m listening to scientists on podcasts I had never heard of, stomping through the park in the bright cold sun throwing the ball for the dog and patting the baby’s head while becoming enormously worried about faulty PCR tests and the inefficacy of vaccines. I can’t read The Guardian anymore. Admittedly, I am also intermittently fasting every day until 1pm so maybe some of all this is just that I’m hangry.

Why are you fasting, I hear you say? Well, you’re more likely actually spending a moment worrying about my descent into paranoia, but if you have skipped that bit, I’ll tell you about the fasting. The fasting is because I can’t quite fit my shirts around the upper arms. Before I had that delicious baby I had intermittently fasted and I lost that pesky 3kg that ruined the line of my jackets and silk blouses. It worked that time and it was quite…addictive. You stop eating at 9pm and don’t have anything else food-y until 1pm the next day. You feel a bit hungry when you wake up and at 11am-ish, but then you go all manic and clear-eyed and kind of twitchy. You get shit done at warp speed until you collapse into a bowl of softly scrambled eggs on buttery toast with slices of truffled brie at 1:02pm on the dot. Those Clarence Court orange yolks are what I live for. Them for lunch and a glass or two of some sort of wine in the evening post-dinner while lying on the couch with a kid at my side and a kid at my feet and a dog stealing food scraps from the bin. That’s my jam right now in these uncertain, dull, stressful times. And that’s how those shirts began to fit me properly without the fabric getting its own kind of stretchmarks. Upper arm fabric stretchmarks.

But this time around the fasting isn’t doing much and that might well be because of my advanced age. And the bars of Sea Salt Green & Blacks that I stuff into my gob at 8:58pm every night in another manic frenzy before the food curfew kicks in. I don’t know. The fasting feels a bit fruitless but then you have to do something, right? Perhaps it’s the scales that are just not telling me the truth about my fasting results. Perhaps I am very muscly from the Saturday yoga classes that my dear husband and I are doing. That could explain the stubborn 81kg situation that oscillates only slightly one or two kgs over the week.

Now, is there anything more boring that reading about someone’s weight? There isn’t and for that I apologise. It’s just that with this second pseudo-lockdown there isn’t much else to report. I can’t tell you about restaurants or cafes or shops or outings with friends. I can’t tell you about exciting job opportunities or school concerts or any new exciting floor-length frock purchases because no one does that now. We have nowhere to go. It is quiet and gentle and boring all at once.

I’ve started baking a bit more than usual because of Bakeoff and because of general malaise. We’ve made babka, coconut and almond cake, Dorset apple cake and Barnaby made biscuits. Actually we got all of the buggers baking over halfterm which was close to being a triumph. Each of the kids except for that delicious baby had to choose something to cook and something to bake; they had to make a list of ingredients, shop from them, bake and cook by themselves and then feed the whole family.

Then I ruined it by making it a competition. Everyone had to vote but it got complicated because there were two categories and Otis teamed up with bigger different brothers each time because he is only seven which made the winners kind of fuzzy and then the prize, which should have been a lovely trip with me to Ottolenghi to buy loads of very expensive cakes, turned into some sort of order-your-own-individual-takeaway and it blew the budget. It also erased the joy because there is very little joy in watching someone eat ten Korean-fried chicken wings when you were envisioning an Autumnal wander down Westbourne Grove with your big DIY Cook-off and Bake-off winning son/sons with you, talking about Important Stuff on the way to buy little cakes and lattes while peeping into the closed-down shops which used to be fun and now probably won’t ever reopen. I mean, those kids stole my tart and pastry dreams from me. Deliveroo stole them from me too.

The kids made sushi, tacos, spicy chicken wraps, dumplings, lentil soup and cornbread and for the baking they made pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, babka and Victoria Sponge. It was *quite* the week. The washing up sucked, but I didn’t have to think about that infernal question of what to have for mother-truckin’ dinner for SEVEN WHOLE NIGHTS.

Here are some photos of the Victoria Sponge made by Ned and his friend Anna (yes, we had emergency baking expert child ring-ins) and a masterful babka by Noah:

Here is our baby feeling very Autumnal and joyful in our garden (and in a very wonderful jumper knitted by Loretta’s mother Lynne that has passed through about seven kids):

Here we are in between Lockdowns #1 and #2 on halfterm swimming at 7:30am in the Serpentine. It was extremely cold – so cold that it hurt and made breathing difficult for about a minute and it made us very pink and sort of frisky afterwards. It was a joy – but a shortlived joy as now the Serpentine Swimming Club has closed in case we all spread Covid to one another like mouth-breathing infected monsters. There were about four people there, in the open air, but still. One mustn’t be too complacent:

Do I sound fed up and cranky? I think it’s because I am. But even in the midst of a pandemic, there are delicious things to be found everywhere – like oversized chesterfield sofas and a husband who loves online auctions as much as I do. Just this weekend we have bid on and won a Scandinavian three piece set of leather and bent wood armchairs by Oddvin Rykken – kind of awful but maybe cool if I figure out how to make them look stylish and not just…really ugly…and a 1970s Murano pendant light which is PURPLE (I hate purple) and a four bottle champagne ice bucket thing which seems a bit hefty and ill-thought-through. Mark got excited about a brass sculpture of an ape wearing a baseball cap and bid on that but THANKFULLY we were outbid. I think our downfall might lie in auction houses.

More lovely things though…babies who are beginning to talk and all these teenagers and boys who spread on the couch and talk amusing rubbish to each other all day. Sometimes they do kind things for each other – Ned has been helping Otis with his handwriting and Casper has been walking the dog at least twice a day. I tell them that they must never leave as I will die of the grief and then I realise how creepy that sounds and I tell them that it is ok to leave as long as I can visit a lot. How are we supposed to disengage from our children who keep growing up? I am hoping that having a bunch of them might make it easier but imagine how weird it will be when I lock the baby in a small room when he reaches 18.

Luckily the aliens/climate change/covid vaccine/robots will have gotten us by then. PHEW.

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Jumpers for school boys

I did the move to my winter wardrobe a few weeks ago, after reading the writing on the wall. AKA getting a bit cold. It turns out that not listening to your mother about washing your wool jumpers in a kind of…careful way renders them unwearable. She is a clever lady, my mother, and she did an excellent job of mothering and one example of that is she told me to hand wash your woollens in a special mild liquid soap and then you gently stretch them back into place and lay them on a towel to let them dry. I heard her, I did it a few times, then I got bored of it and thought ‘If They (The Man, that is) can send a bloke to the moon then surely They can make washing machines and detergents work in a harmonious way to not ruin my Bella Freud jumpers’.

Reader, it seems that They have not managed to work out this particular sartorial sweet spot and so if you chuck your jumpers into the wash with all manner of pissy boy’s pyjamas, muddy rugby socks and diaphanous silks then some things don’t survive. My jumpers are now very small. They can only fit the boys aged ten and under. I remember with a bit of wide-eyed shame that last winter these jumpers were just as ruined and just as tiny but I wore them anyway. I was either very thin (unlikely) or I was so pleased not to be postpartum anymore with that lagging inability to fit things that I reckon I probably just shoved those tiny jumpers on anyway and to hell with the red welts around the elbow joints where your arms sort of refuse to bend and the accidental crop top situation every time your arms venture higher than your ears. I mean, all power to me.

But now, the jumpers look just a bit wrong and so what is a sustainably-minded lady to do? Particularly when the weather in this country is all nice and mild for so long and you just wear flattering dresses and t-shirts until one day it changes and you only have about a three day window to wear your eclectic and carefully-curated-from-eBay-and-sample-sales-over-a-long-time jacket/blazer collection and then BAM it’s time for coats and jumpers.

Coats and jumpers. Great, sure, yes. There is magic in a leopard print coat (I am still relying on my Stella McCartney £1250 coat which was reduced to £150 in a magnificent Selfridges sale triumph) or my dusky pink Whistles dropped shoulder cocoon coat or my vintage rabbit fur number or even my boring but quite useful leather biker jacket worn with a scarf. (I don’t own any proper scarves really because they make me feel like I am asphyxiating and/or itchy but in my mind I have a lovely collection). Anyway. What do you do? Long time readers will know I am a terrible clothes snob and cannot just buy any old jumper. It needs to have something expensive about it. A cashmere element or a high price tag or some quirky zhoug about it. And of course you can’t go to the High Street for jumpers in the correct size anymore because:

a. All the local shops in Queensway have been picked off over the years: sacrificial lambs to the Westbourne Grove curse, then to the bloated Westfield down the road and then to a tortured, loud and never-ending development/gutting of the former department store Whiteleys which used to have a Zara, an H&M, a movie theatre, an M&S, a greeting card place, a book shop, a jewellers, a fountain, cafes and which is now a literal block of rubble with the heritage-listed original facade still barely in place. When they first started demolishing it you could hear deep drilling into survivalist-level storeys below ground and it sounded just like an unbalanced washing machine. Like an unbalanced washing machine that happened to be HAUNTING YOU, a distant ‘thump thump thump’ all the time. I quite liked it. It was like having my cheerful noisy companion which is perfect for people like me who get lonely in their own company after fifteen minutes but it did drive many of the neighbours mental.

b. Covid makes it very boring to go into shops now, but ordering online seems to be very lazy and is often full of similar potential incorrect sizing hazards. The mask thing is understandable but it is horrible when you are wearing glasses or lipstick or if you want to communicate in a nonverbal way with another human being – even if you want to communicate in a verbal way the masks make it all a bit joyless. BUT I’M STILL WEARING MINE OK? I do what I am told, like.

c. The High Street jumpers are not designer-y enough for me and more importantly are most likely made by a small boy in a terrible factory somewhere and then, of course, end up in landfill. I’ve seen the Attenborough film and so I know.

It leaves me with the charity shops (the ones that are still open, that is) and Portobello Road on a Saturday which is very good for ivory woollen cardigans and vintage Fair Isle ones.

That’s what a sustainably-minded lady should do.

In Other News

I turned 43 in the beginning of October. We went out for brunch at Honey & Co on Friday, had unlimited pizza and drinks with the very lovely primary school fellow parents, then out for dinner and a movie (On the Rocks) at the Electric Cinema.

On Sunday I slept in and we ate all the small cakes we bought from Ottolenghi – all eight of them. We were going to share them magnanimously with the children, honestly. When we bought them, squeezed into the tiny Notting Hill deli with our masks and the awkward socially distanced queue which snaked outside, pointing and shouting and arching our backs to let the staff past, we were all: “Let’s have that one and yes, I’ll take that slice of carrot cake too and I think the boys will like the look of that raspberry cheesecake thing”, etc etc. Plenty for all. But when we got home we realised children have no real appreciation for expensive lemon and polenta cakes or blueberry clafoutis or flourless mousse chocolate cakes and so we hid them and scoffed them later.

It was short, that birthday suspension of normal rules and normal aggravations and aggressions. There was a definite half-day where my Birthday Princess-like Self was venerated and adored by all. Where people treaded softly and wished me the happiest of days and where small hands drew balloons with lead pencils and wrote my name with lashings of curlicues. By afternoon the goodwill was nearing its natural end and there was squabbling and a husband who had tired little piggy eyes and who really deeply desired an afternoon nap but I said NO!

NO! It is my birthday and so you must not let yourself slip into unconsciousness, even for a minute because then I would be doing all the boring childcare and for this day, THIS DAY ONLY, please spare me from the drudge of that.

And he said yes, he would cheer up and shake off his afternoon lethargy and so we went out into the driving rain with our masks on and fogged-up glasses and had a birthday date featuring chilli pisco sours and Bill Murray. And it, and they, and he, were good.

Cute baby wrapped up in a blanket on the couch. Nothing much to do with my birthday except that he is a gift that keeps on giving (except when he screams and when he pretends to be in a boxing match with you with balled-up chubby little hands that hurt a little). I’ve no idea why his body and head are so squashed in this photo but be assured, he has normal girth for a baby his size:

An apple with quite rude bits, as delightedly found by Otis:

Portobello Market Spicy Korean Chicken birthday lunch complete with a Moscow Mule so that we can sit at the open air bar tables for free:

Honey & Co Birthday bun:

Birthday earrings and 43 year old face:

And there it ends. I am now 53,000 words into my novel which has so far had two rejections from agents. I also have to try and work out where the baby is going to sleep now that he has outgrown the hallway cot.

Wish me luck.

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