Latest Favourite Things

It’s time for a round up off the things that make me feel that, on balance, ’tis a lovely life and I’m a lucky lady who has, so far, had things work out pretty well.

The Children

I think that they are my all-time favourite things, particularly so now that the nights are darker and colder; when I clock off for the evening and exit the boffice (that’s ‘bedroom/office’ to you) and see them all cosy under the lamplight, silently watching youtube reels and questionable manga cartoons, still in their uniforms and with their dirty shoes tucked up underneath them on the couch, no chores or homework done but still all calm and familial, well, it’s life-affirming.

They are still cute, but not in the way they used to be. I only really remember what those days were like – the days of double buggies and nappies and changes of clothing and high chairs and uncompromised routine – because my phone throws up slightly mad photo compilations every now and then and I get to see them all snotty and fat-fingered, with dirty faces and wild toddler hair and I just want to weep into my new Vilshenko wool jumper because they are now into their girlfriends and pot noodles and hoodies and unconfirmed but suspected flirtations with vapes. I miss those babies terribly.

The eldest has begun a love affair with books, which brings me unbridled happiness. I let the children buy books whenever they want as a rule and so now we have quite the steady stream of Sylvia Plath, Camus, Dostoyevsky, Joseph Conrad, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams and Charlotte Bronte arriving down our rickety leaf-strewn staircase. There’s a growing little library in one of the alcove spaces in the boys’ bedroom that is constantly being arranged and rearranged by its proud owner, and a glance at the stacked spines gives me a bit of a psychological parental golden star every time I brave entering their room. That little open-shelved square is an oasis of calm and escapism, an ordered outward sign of what it is to feel grown-up, connected to the world and to imagining across cultures, continents, and class. He’s saying something about himself in displaying these new-found treasures like this, rising up from the sea of discarded clothes and sweat-hardened socks and towels with varying degrees of dampness. It is lovely to be a part of it, even if I only get to pay for them.

The baby is, obviously, still able to meet me where I am at – a small-child glutton. He says funny things and his wispy hair still has that warm biscuity smell and his body is unsullied and unscarred, still with the soft roundness of a toddler, but that is stripped back a little more each morning. He has given up nappies at night and takes himself off to the loo like a child genius. Pleasingly, he drew all over himself this morning with the letter ‘M’ – “for Remi”, he said – and then drew all over the bathroom walls. I thought it was quite cute and considered the energetic scrubbing off that I had to do a bit of a welcome workout for the upper arms. He calls his trousers ‘leg jammies’ and everything from the past is referred to as ‘last day’ which is a very endearing mashup of ‘last night’ and ‘yesterday’. He likes stories about dinosaurs and monkeys and his very favourite things are hammers, eggs and his tiny shiny converse sneakers. He won’t wear socks under any circumstance.

The Middle Others

How terrible that the middle children get lost in the bookends of my first and last. This will be one of the many kinds of things they will bring up with therapy professionals. But there’s a younger middle who has begun to practice magic tricks and he is good, although his preferred thing to make disappear is my engagement ring. So far, it has been returned unscathed. He is also starting to talk to us about his day and his beloved history class, and when he does that, we realise that this feels different because he has never opened up. In the constant noise and drama of our big family, he has quietly observed and saved up his stories. Now, when he turns to us and begins a quiet little tale, we are trying to remember to put down our screens or close the laptop and really, actually listen.

The eight year old has huge trouble getting the tooth fairy to pay up because she or he never has coins anymore and she or he can only remember about the increasing tab in the cold light of day. The troublesome most middle kid is both mouthy and tricky, and hugely receptive to hugs and kind words. But the tricky mouthiness means we forget to hug and be kind. It’s a vicious cycle, hampered by phone calls home from teachers addressing disruptive behaviour, emails saying he didn’t get to school on time, and attention-grabbing pronouncements that he’s spending his afterschool hours asking strangers for money which he then spends on overpriced spicy packets of crisps from the American sweet shop and then resells to gormless and easily-impressed younger kids with pocket money and a high threshold for e-numbers. But they are all amazing and when they leave me, I will need to get a kitten or I shall surely choke on my own sadness.

Shopping, But Discounted

I am cyclical with this stuff – I don’t buy anything for ages, I sell stuff on eBay and feel proud of the pruned wardrobe and the better paypal balance, then I emerge out of my smugness and start buying things again. I’ve recently become the owner of a new-with-tags Erdem wedding dress which was £3220 but which I cannily bought for £170, and two Vilshenko silk 70’s dresses which were £1000-ish but I got them for the tiniest £120 each, and a wool jumper (see somewhere above) for a miniscule £50. I think these represent real bargains – bargains of the century – but then, sometimes, when I say this stuff out loud, people look at me a bit funny. A wedding dress, you say? A silk dress that makes you look a little like a Soviet newsreader with buttons that pop open over your stomach and you don’t notice until much, much later in the evening, you say? Hmmmm. And obviously, buying bargain after bargain can add up. Which might be why saving for a house deposit seems to be an impossible task.

Cocktails

I cannot help myself. These are joy-inducing inventions, buzz-feeding, expensive and always, always very elegant in this London-town. Now we’ve begun to go out again, it’s a ‘passionfruity-freezing martini kind of thing for the lady in the dress with the buttons wide open, please’ kind of sitch.

Bafta Season

The free movies are back on, biatches! I’ve been to The Lost Daughter (loved it, and there were canapes and wine in the foyer first) and Licorice Pizza (indulgent and too long but we did get to watch Alannah Haim – lead singer from Haim – do a q&a with Paul Thomas Anderson) and going back into the cinema is just the most gorgeous thing. Particularly if there are cocktails after.

Parents

Mine just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary and they really love each other and they are still healthy-ish and it would be great to see them but Jacinda won’t really let us into the country. Also, Mark has discovered that she’s not going to give him a pension unless we live back there for ten years first. He’s bummed out because he values loyalty above all else and he feels like he should be able to get something back after he paid taxes there for 25 years. But then I said ‘what about all the capital gains we got from owning property there’ and launched into a badly-understood and ill-equipped rant about socialism and asset wealth and poverty divides and then I ran out of steam and sat there for a bit, wishing I had listened during 5th form economics better. But my parents are pretty great.

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On Service

What a thing to neglect your writing. Better than neglecting a child or a dog I suppose, but still. It’s something of a shame. Partly this has to do with me being a working lady, partly to do with hours spent on my phone looking at various passing fancies such as my recent Victorian fob necklace mania (auction houses, eBay – 9ct gold albert chain searches gone mad, that kind of thing) and a little to do with the fact that the children have broken the laptop by watching too many youtube videos containing fake facts. For instance, Otis told me this morning that, if you put a spoonful of sugar into your tea but you decide you don’t want it in there anymore, you just stir it anticlockwise and the sugar separates and you can…scoop it out, I think he said. He has facts about nostril hair and WW1 and polar bears and gemstones, all patently rubbish and all from youtube Shorts.

Anyway, the laptop opens up onto a navy blue screen, and nothing else. We had a little laptop drama a few months ago (which I may have written about) where the manuscript of the novel that was going to save Waterstones got erased, and then every single photograph that I had ever taken and saved was displayed all over the desktop like some sort of nightmarish bespoke family wallpaper, and then all of the desktop files went away – hopefully into the cloud, but I do not understand the cloud and really doubt anything has been saved – and so this new navy screen was kind of on the cards. I decided to take the bull by the horns and go to the Apple store to sort it all out once and for all. Because I am such a busy working lady and must do all my chores at once, I also booked a bra fitting appointment at M&S because one of my friends quite often hints that my boobs are hanging too low and need some sort of proper scaffolding. Some hiking up from the mid ribcage area back to where they once stood. Stood? Protruded? Grew? So I took the hint and last Sunday, tried to sort myself out.

First stop was the M&S at Westfield. I took some kids with me and they went off with £7 each for lunch. I was free for a few minutes, and found my way into the lingerie department and felt a little excited about the new, probably bigger, yet tighter and lacier new bras I would be soon wearing. I was imagining my boobs would be finally at their best – with a bit of middle-aged fat to plump them out, but now, with added up-ness, like younger women or women who haven’t breastfed six kids might have.

Into the changing room, where some other poor lady had apparently taken my bosom-measuring slot – she was shown out the door and told to make another online appointment for another day, which seemed mad, being at there were only about three customers in the massive shop. A very young lady came in and chucked a tape measure around my ribcage, under my drooping boobs still optimistically cased in one of my now-non-elasticated bras, and then left to get me some merch. I was imagining Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley’s bras, or a middle-England version of sexy/pretty/functional kind of bra that would fit me so spectacularly that all my clothes would look different and I would look thin and high and young and amazing. But the girl came back in and gave me a white matronly bra, size 34 D and another beige bra which was my usual size. I tried the 34 D one on, because if I fitted that one, it might mean I was narrower that I thought, and all that extra weight around my back and arms was probably just glorious (though spreading) breast tissue after all. But no – the 34 D made big dents in my torso and squashed everything back out in little lumps. So the M&S salesgirl told me to try the other one on, which is my usual size. I did, and she came in and told me it was correct, and then left me to get changed and to leave the store. No selling, nothing else, no advice, no nice bras to entice me to refresh the lingerie drawer.

Apparently, through all those babies, up dress sizes and down, while still breastfeeding (yes, I am, and no, the baby is not really a baby anymore, but think of the antibodies! And the fact that I cannot let go!) my boobs have stayed the same size. What kind of fleshy madness is that? So I was massively bummed out, and wandered the lingerie section with my old crappy bra back on, boobs ten centimetres lower than they probably should have been, and I bought knickers that hold your stomach in instead. WHAT GLAMOUR.

Then, I found the children but they were crying because they had lost half of their lunch money and the eldest had mysteriously spent £9 on manga posters with mysterious money that he ‘found’. BIG scratching head moment right there, I tell ya. Then I went to Apple to sort out my navy screened laptop and opened it up and it worked perfectly. Screen back on. It even looked clean. The guy ran a diagnostics test and told me that everything was fine but the battery was rooted and needed replacing for £200, and perhaps the screen, bringing the replacement up to £680. Or I could get a reconditioned laptop for £850, or just a new one for a million pounds. I thought, all and all, once everything was said and done and weighed up and cooked, that I was better off to have a struggling laptop that would mostly work, but one day just never turn on again. So we went back home after finding that no one wanted to fix my boobs issue and no one wanted to fix my laptop issue and no one had eaten properly and I thought – what, really, was the point of all that? You could say that I did get new knickers but they are tight in that way that your organs hurt after a full day of wearing them, and if you angle your leg wrong, the muscles in your upper thighs get fatigued.

So this morning I tried the laptop again and guess what? It’s a navy screen. It probably died on the bus ride back home. That’s really why I haven’t been writing my blog much.

Photos of the Posh Hotel Weekend

Something amazing happened the weekend after my 44th birthday. We had booked a posh staycation weekend at a hotel near Birmingham for Mark’s birthday but then lockdown, etc etc, etc…and so we delayed it and went a few weekends ago. We are not hotel people, having grown up never hoteling anywhere, and then never doing it as adults because it’s a rich person’s thing to do, and definitely something to do without kids. But now our kids are old and we have a handy nephew who can help out every now and then.

We took off Friday and drove there, stopping at Leamington Spa and buying crystal decanters and Tam pottery from the local charity chops from Kenilworth, and then turned up at Hampton Manor for the best three days of probably our whole sorry lives. How does one go back to being ‘not really a hotel-kind-of-person’, I ask you? It was all excellent wallpaper and wonderful food and wine tastings and freshly baked sourdough and their own salted butter and hand-ground coffee and double ended baths and fire pits and record players and William Morris prints and reading the papers and early Autumn sun traps and kind ness and whispered voices and JOY. PURE JOY. Weird photos, but joyful, all the same.

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New Car

My husband has bought a new car. He needed to, because his work truck is diesel and there’s this ULEX charge everywhere we go, and from October I think diesel cars will incur a 12 quid daily charge just for existing.

So he spent a lot of time trawling boring-looking car websites, and sometimes turning the laptop in my direction and flicking through really boring photographs of cars that just looked like different versions of the same kind of boring car and saying boring things about past owners and mileage and I would not even pretend to care and would just keep tap tap tapping away on my own laptop doing actual WORK while he talked to himself. But he did the deed, traded in the evil shameful work truck, and spent all of Friday in Warwick at a car yard doing car-related things that would no doubt have made me really bored and probably badly-behaved.

It came home and last night I sat in it and I said:

“This car looks a lot like an Uber car, but it doesn’t smell bad like your last car.” The last car smelt like milk, warm plastic, and wet wool. No one could ever work out why. Mark couldn’t actually ever smell it because of his complicated sinus issues but when anyone of us got in it, we would have to stick our t-shirts over our noses and Otis would invariably vomit. This car is a shiny white BMW station wagon with quite a few digital-looking screens and some interesting light-effects. It has cream leather seats which I think will be also an interesting thing, as he runs a building company and has six filthy children who tend to throw up in cars. Also a dog who throws up in cars. Not that any of us will be going anywhere in it, as it is a five seater and there are eight of us, plus the dog.

Anyway, our other car is a nine-seater Land Rover, considered ‘mine’, although I rarely drive it and find it a bit of a noisy behemoth, hard to park and too tall to get into the Westfield car park. It would be wonderful in the countryside, and has been useful for our big family, but it is also a diesel and so we need to get rid of it as soon as we can. I suggested we get a small run-around car to replace it so that we can all go somewhere at the same time. I know the teenagers don’t really fancy National Trust day-trips anymore and generally prefer sitting in our airless basement flat alone with their phones than do anything at all with the rest of us, but I like the idea that they could come along if they so fancied it. HOLLOW LAUGH. However, because I was not very encouraging or effusive about Mark’s new car, and after I made some noises about cars only ultimately really being things to get you from A to B as cheaply as possible, Mark says any other car we get will be exactly as I asked for – a cheap crap car. The cheapest, crappiest car he can find. I said fair enough.

He took the shiny new white car to rugby this morning – its second outing. And he called me an hour later to say that someone bashed into the back of the new car on the A40 at the lights. What to say? What to say, indeed. Tis a shame he hadn’t already bought the crappiest cheapest car destined for me and smashed that one. C’est la vie.

More

Otis turned 8. He asked for a brownie volcano cake with a whole lot of sweets all over it and I obliged. Chuck a few marshmallows on the top, add a bit of fire, and every child’s mind gets blown. Note the mysterious scab on his chin that school has already asked me about:

Here’s a little bit of post-holiday London weekending. I thought these were ducks, but apparently not:

Casper and I. Any excuse for a selfie:

The adorable baby who incidentally uses the word ‘disgusting’ and ‘exhausting’ and has nearly stopped using nappies in the day AND night:

The dog, hoping for some very spicy afghani chicken wrap:

What else? Work is pretty much good fun and I adore my co-workers. Next week we get to meet up again IRL and stay overnight in a hotel that has an actual pool. We will be attending a conference and will have to do a bit of networking which fills me mostly with pleased feelings as I love nothing more than wafting around with lots of makeup on, big considered earrings dangling to and fro, dressed in some sort of overdone statement outfit. The only worry is about shoes. I have man-sized feet at the best of times, and a whole lot of dusty pointy heeled shoes mildewing under the bed. I imagine my feet have only grown in girth and general unwillingness to remould themselves into something not paddle-shaped over our period of Covid-related resetting, so it might have to be a fancy frock and grey Seinfeld trainers. Who will even notice? We will all be breathlessly excited to be unmasked and face-to-face. It’s TOO MUCH FUN TO EVEN CONTEMPLATE.

Books

I read Sorrow and Bliss and it is as good as everyone says. On holiday I read Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom and I was utterly blown away by its beauty and its cruelty. Wonderful. I am now reading Dolly Considine’s Hotel by a friend of mine, Eamon Somers – it’s a jolly good read too. We have the launch party next week, and I will be sure to wear an inappropriately fancy dress. With trainers.

The Snoring Sitch

Still bad. I am setting up a semi-permanent home on the couch which isn’t as bad as it might seem. There’s a lot of air in the living room and I have the entire couch to myself – no baby talking nonsense in his sleep or husband making noises that combine a scrape, a hum, and an alarming gutteral choke. Just the dreaming dog and the possibility of the W2 Wanker – an actual person, so we discovered on Thursday night – spying me on the couch through the cracks in the curtains and flogging one off while I slumber in my perfect silence. Still better than the snoring, I’d say.

Children

One has a lovely girlfriend, one started secondary school and likes it, one started at a new sixth form school and loves it, one got concussed at rugby and might have a head injury but seems ok so far. All generally seem to be happy, so something is working.

Accountant

Apparently we spend more than 95% of the population does. This was a sad and alarming thing to find out, and we have to make some sort of a stab at a budget. This makes me feel horrified and morally bankrupt. I find talking about money very scary and if we didn’t spend all our money on…food, or cars…I reckon I would go find a therapist to help. But we cannot, because that would be spending money. Chicken and the egg, man.

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Photos That Husbands Take

We are in Greece – hallelujah and praise the Lord above. We took a punt on a summer holiday, like wide-eyed Pollyannas still believing in joy and curiosity and risk and fun and, hoped for the best. Weeks before Holibob Day four of us got Covid, then recovered, took PCR tests, still came up positive, hid in the house for a bit, waded through the confusing and stressful requirements for travelling in our screwy pandemic world, booked a villa and plane tickets and crossed our fingers that the testing and the government both would let us out of rainy old England and into somewhere sunny and not deeply depressing.

Reader – we made it.

Of course, we had hiccups on the way – some random taxi vomiting, EasyJet telling us our tests had been taken at the wrong time -“you’ve missed your testing window by two hours – easy to do”, they said, and *kindly* offered us the retesting booth which probably cost another thousand pounds until one of them looked at the tests and said “actually, you are fine, please go ahead” – and then stopped us again because the scary Locator forms only showed up half the kids which is, like, against the law or something, but we eventually got on that plane, dammit.

We landed in Greece just in time for an hour-long wait at the car hire place because it seemed like HSBC were refusing to let us use our credit card to get the car out of the lot. 45 minutes later, still on hold to HSBC (“your call is important to us, please wait while we connect you to a team member who can help” ad infinitum), we sweated in the 36 degree heat and wondered who we could tap for 1700 quid at short notice. As 10pm segued into 11pm, the car hire guy realised it wasn’t HSBC causing the card to decline, but in fact, ’twas his card machine. Apparently he just needed to punch in the numbers manually. Punch? I’ll tell you about the need to punch something….ha, no. Never punched anything in my life. But anyway. We got onto the road, followed the local taxi guy who had been hired to drive us to the villa and arrived, three hours later, at one thousand o’clock.

But see here! What a joy to be on holiday! The food is very much about lamb and garlicky yoghurt things and oregano and olive oils and daytime white wines and cocktails on the beach. There is swimming, and there are beaches and pools and sunburn and heat rash and bikinis. I have packed all of my seven bikinis and mostly I feel fine in them, even though we are also here with two flawless teenage beauties who exude youth like, well, like the young do. All unmarked skin and eyeliner flicks and skimpiness. I just try to accept their glowing gorgeousness with the good-nature of a middle-aged person who had her time, once, long ago. I mostly feel like my 43 year old body could be much worse. That’s my mantra. I could be waaaaay worse. Which is a bit of a bittersweet mantra and perhaps not quite what the body positivity people are aiming for.

So yesterday we drove to a waterfall that the cocktail waitress named Connie – who grew up in the village where we are staying in an extraordinary mid century hybrid house – told us about. It required a scary drive up into the mountains and back down again, and Amanda’s hire car kept skidding in front of us. We found the waterfall, underneath some ruins, and it was all freezing rushing water, clean and clear and full of hundreds of tiny frogs in leafy little muddy pools. We walked until we got to a tricky bit and most of us climbed up a little rock face to the top. Mark took photos of my attempt, looking up my shorts and showing the clenched rough terrain of my thighs and later, a shot with me in a bikini top and my six-kids-later doughy stomach sitting atop my shorts, and posted these on Facebook.

WHY oh WHY would you do that?

I do understand that the poor man is totally lacking in vanity – for himself, as well as on behalf of me – and that his photos aren’t about my thighs or stomach as such – more about the waterfall and the adventure and the fun and the pride he was feeling that I was scarpering up a little cliff face without being a big baby about it, but c’mon man. He’s been hitched to my vain little caboose for such a long time. He’s been witness to my anxieties and fasting regimes and heavy photograph editing and so he knows. He knows. I deleted them, and he told me to get off his phone and snatched it back, annoyed that I had ruined his photo essay.

The Novel

Remember the novel? Since the full-time job came my way, rendering me unable to do anything past 4:30pm except to heat up some leftovers, add parsley and rename it to the bored and left-over-savvy layabouts I call my children before I walk the dog, do admin, put the baby to bed and do boring-but-necessary domestic stuff until the telly comes on at 8pm and I surrender myself it to, fully and wholeheartedly, the novel has lain on this laptop. There was a day that I realised the kids had infected this laptop with all sorts of bugs and viruses and so spent some time deleting everything, including the novel, but I spliced it back together pretty well, and since then it has gotten all dusty and irrelevant. I did try to fix it once, and when I got into it, the rewriting and the proper planning and the scrubbing out of lines and descriptions that used to seem funny and now just feel embarrassing, well – it was fun – but there are other demands on my time now. Now, I am one of those women who have a proper job as I am fond of reminding those layabout children.

Sample dialogue:

No, I cannot find your swimming googles…

You can fry your own eggs…

No, you’ll have to walk the dog before he dies of some urinary tract malfunction…

Somebody, make some dinner or we will be having parsley with rice and unspecified chicken again…

BECAUSE I HAVE A JOB NOW, INGRATES!

That’s the gist, anyway.

So, the novel might become a reimagined thing. Ashley and I, (co-creator extraordinaire) wondered about an Instagram drop, as it were. Think Charles Dickens dropping his chapters to an enthralled Victorian audience, storming the newsagents as each new piece emerged. The mini-cliffhangers! The complex plots! The ability to rewrite stuff in small bits! It’s a brave new literary world out there, fellas. I shall keep you posted.

In Other News

I keep hurting myself on his holiday. Day two saw me bringing the lunch stuff from the pool area back into the kitchen, wearing my old silver birkenstocks. My feet were seemingly on holiday too, and didn’t want to lift very high with each step, and the birkenstocks were hanging low, and they collided with uneven tiling around the pool and I did a slow motion faceplate onto the tiles, chipping my tooth, bruising my knees and elbows and wedding ring finger, and breaking the only really large platter they have in this stylish (but, platter-wise, unfunctional) villa. Then the day after, I was brazenly walking like a big strong girl over the same pool area and, perhaps emboldened by the lovely local white wine, rammed my foot into a sharp piece of metal guttering and sliced the underside of it open. Now my foot hurts, and my tongue cannot keep from worrying my rough chipped front tooth. Luckily I can count on my doughy bits to keep me somewhat armoured if I find myself facedown on the tiles again.

Mess and Sleep

The kids – all seven of them, not counting the blameless baby – have used 57 different cups and glasses over a 24 hour period, and left them in places that are definitely not a) the kitchen, or b) near the dishwasher. We know this because we have counted, and today is the day of the Reckoning. The older ones also like to chat and play cards with each other until about 2 or 3am, and then sleep until bloody lunchtime. WHAT IS THAT? I say this as an aggrieved middle aged person with not only a doughy belly but also an internal alarm clock that nudges me awake at 6am, and also an actual alarm clock called Remi who stage-whispers at me if I am awake at 6:15am and could he have some milk please? Oh, to be young and flawless and ignorant of drinking glasses etiquette and to have the energy to be awake longer than about 11:07pm. So last night I came out of the hot bedroom and stage-whispered to the teenagers to go to bed. At 2am, then at 2:30am. I don’t want to be a totally killjoy, but….yeah, I actually do.

Photos For Your Viewing Pleasure

Here’s the villa
Here’s the baby
More villa
Red happy beach faces
Some of us are not at all body conscious. A good thing
Late night dinners by the Aegean Sea, no less
More villa – note the glasses have been tidied away
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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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