New Zealandish

In the wake of the horrible Christchurch shootings, I have been trying to think about articulating what it is to be a New Zealander here in London. My experience here is very different from New Zealanders at home; we live in a city that acknowledges its vulnerability but just gets on with it regardless. We work and eat and shop and exercise and are educated side-by-side people who are different. My kids go to a state school that is Muslim by a large majority and we learn to buff our way through the school year, arguing the toss over what to call the nativity play and over the content of sex education classes and whether or not to serve alcohol at the Summer Fair but it all kind of works. This city is pockmarked by tribes all over, created by race, ethnicity, money and class, and we mix and we grumble but we mostly get along. For years, through the tube bombings and the London Bridge attacks and the current stabbings,  we’ve had family and friends tell us to get back to New Zealand so that we are all finally safe – but ‘safe’ is a relative term and you can’t get yourself into a state over what might happen when you walk out of the door, right?

So the New Zealand thing – as the place we come from, as an identity we wear quite loosely now, as a memory shared only by my husband and I (the kids having only known it as an infrequent holiday place) and as our likely future – has been on my mind. The global focus on New Zealand has been so terrible and lovely at the same time, and it has made me wonder about what it is to be one of them.

I’ve also been wondering what to say, but words are pretty inadequate. Luckily we have Jacinda in charge – wise and kind and unafraid, and who has managed to use her words to calm, to show respect, to cut down and to change things. After all the Westminster jiggery pokery, it is a relief to think that some people can lead properly out of chaos and make some sort of sense and order from brokenness. The majority of the country seem to  be woken up and spurred to active tolerance and love, having had to confront any prejudices and seeing the victims as people first and foremost. I’ve had to examine my own prejudices too. It’s always a bit of a shock to see that they things you’ve come to regard as a bit of a joke or a vague grumble coming out from your own head or mouth aren’t really ok.

So. In lieu of profundity, I give you photographs of me in my underwear two days before giving birth:

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My darling clever friend took these – she hasn’t retouched them yet so they’ll look even more modelly – and now I can die happily, knowing that everyone has the profile of my enormous belly etched forever into their memories. I know I am in my knickers which is a bit overshare-y but I might never look quite so taut again, and I am literally weeks away from having my hair fall out in clumps once the pregnancy hormones wave their last goodbye to my increasingly haggard visage. And when you are heavily pregnant, your curves make sense. Once the baby exits, and the ghosts of those former curves are still there, but in a lumpen, can’t-do-up-your-jeans-but-there’s-nothing-in-there-anymore kind of way, then it is heartening to see you at your fertile best. Like a glorious pomegranate. Or a snake that just ate a mouse.

In an effort to slim down the thighs and upper arms I have been running again, but this time with the addition of a very fast, inexplicably muscly, sprinty, effortlessly stamina-ed eldest son. I cannot fathom how or why he has become a fast sportsman when all he does is play Fortnite and laugh at instagram memes while taking up most of the couch, but there you have it. The athleticism of youth. He basically walks alongside me, occasionally giving me an encouraging smile for 4 kms while I set my face in Hard Mode and try to jog without stopping and with only a little bit of bladder disappointment. On Sunday, it was our third week in and he decided to sprint the whole way. It is mortifying, but also kind of like having a free personal trainer. I should be paying him £35 per hour for the shame-induced motivation.

Meanwhile, this is Remi and I in our natural habitat – Ottolenghi for cakes:

 

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And the real reason why I had baby number six? So I can go on Monday mornings to The Electric Cinema mother and baby screenings to watch movies for the princely sum of £17.50 per ticket. Outrageous, but worth it for the feeling of bunking off as well as the comfy seats and free tiny cubes of brownie:

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Here is Remi in his knits and be-scabbed by eyebrow cradle cap – poor kid:

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But so handsome:

 

IN OTHER NEWS:

Apparently, the children will eat soup if it is orange (Ottolenghi Simple’s coconut, tomato and lentil), but not if it is green (courgette, lime and pea). They feel very strongly about this but didn’t let me know until I had made a lot of it all.

My lovely parents are coming over to see us in summer, so if you live in W2 and need someone to live in your flat and feed your cat, my parents are the answer to all of your animal husbandry needs.

Casper turned 11 and spent over £100 of his assorted birthday money on Yu-Gi-Oh! cards where involve him duelling with his brothers and talking nonsense. (No, me either).

I went to a Smythson sample sale yesterday and spent a total of two hours in queues – to get in, to give them my coat, and to pay.  I bought six tiny little leather bound notebooks that were £25 down to £3, but now I feel bad about the unsustainability of £3 leather-bound notebooks that feel too good to write in. Now they will be given away as gifts to haunt someone else. I think we know the moral of the sample sale story here.

For your enjoyment, the baby, again:

 

 

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Six weeks later

And we are all still alive. The baby is lovely, the bosoms have almost repaired themselves from the weeping splits and shooting pains of a candida infection, the undercarriage feels as good as new. Today I went for my six week checkup and I asked the Dr whether I could start running again and to my deep sadness she said yes – that provided my body wasn’t poking out in parts that it shouldn’t be, then I  should be right as rain to go pounding around the park. I am a good 10kgs chunkier than before, so obviously a jog wouldn’t hurt, but OH IT WILL HURT. Not even the lure of a good podcast is enticing me back – but I must get back onto the horse, or into the leggings if I am to wear my excellent though wildly inappropriate sample sale wardrobe filled with floor length formal dresses and officewear. ATM most of my button-down shirts barely contain my upper arms and everything is too short. The maternity jeans are too big but my normal jeans are too small and the best I can do is shroud myself in layers of wool coats – a tricky thing to keep up when climate change has given us sunny 20 degrees in the depths of winter.

So, the baby sleeps quite well, in a pseudo-Gina Ford almost-there-but-not-quite kind of way. Mark has invested in some bespoke silicon ear plugs, made just for him when he attended a gun show somewhere in the English countryside, which annoys me greatly because a) he doesn’t wake up when the baby wakes, and b) if he does wake, he doesn’t have to *do* anything but drift back off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that no-one is relying on the presentation and sacrifice of his nipples to keep them alive until morning  and c) I don’t snore – but he still does. So some nights at 3am, when I am propped up in bed feeding the little snuffler, Mark starts snoring like a ruddy train and I could punch him with my one free hand – and I ask you – which one of us needs the special earplugs? Not that guy. For a few nights he slept on the couch and then he tried to sleep in the boys bedroom but he woke them with his snoring. Even the dog tends to move away from Mark in the evening. So…I wouldn’t mind handmade earplugs, but if it means I have to attend a gun show, I obviously have to pass.

Here I am with my no-longer-tiny-newborn. OH HOW I MISS THAT SMALLNESS!

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Meanwhile, the eldest has to have glasses and braces. How we all just deteriorate, piece by piece.

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Inspired by their father carrying Remi in a sling, the two formerly youngest took their babies out to Portobello Road strapped to their chests for small plastic treats from the £1 shop (I know, I know – the plastic thing has to stop) and later, rosemary fries and churros which are all hard things to eat without dropping onto your baby’s head. I know of what I speak here.

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Half term helmet-wearing and unfortunate gurning:

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Also on the half term subject, which was a loooong week but at least involved not having to go anywhere at 8am, we took the kids to Cliveden for a very late lunch and a play both near and in the Thames. This is the old dead tree the boys like to climb out on – this time, Mark suggested Noah try to go as far as he could onto a skinny dead branch which broke and Noah fell in. Falling into water is the kind of thing he does fairly regularly on trips out: into the Med, onto rapids, freshwater Turkish trout rivers, Cyprus harbours, etc – and so he was unfazed, though a little cold.

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Otis fell into this canal in summer when he was picking out the chocolate chips from his M&S muffin in a very intent way. He walked right into the water and sank. I heard a splash, turned around to see his little head bobbing about, dived to the edge of the concrete and with the help of a kindly bystander on a cigarette break, we dragged him out. He’s been a little nervous of the canal ever since:

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A gassy smile:

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Middle child. He wished very hard for the new baby to look like him – we think he does:

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More Portobello tales – (completely reasonable) refusal to share:

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Remi at five weeks. Still smelling like baked bread and vanilla and oil and raspberries and wee.

 

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My baby looks like David Jason

Two weeks ago, I had another baby boy. No surprises there, I guess. My imaginary daughter named Goldie will have to stay imaginary, because we’ve been given a very lovely alternative.

After the doctor accidentally broke my waters on the due date, and after me puking on the street and wetting my one remaining pair of maternity trousers on the walk home, and after a post-school, pre-hospital heated family argument involving the skewed attitude of teenage boys and featuring finger-wagging and quite a lot of comedy-esque mid-shout contracting, we went up to the hospital again where the contractions began to wear off and I became worried that I had, indeed, become an anxious first time labouring mother all over again, mistaking puny little are-they-aren’t-they? cramps for the real thing. I did some furious pacing around the hospital bed perimeters and some jumping  for about five and a half hours to keep up the momentum and three quick pushes after that, we got this guy:

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The initial OH, NOT ANOTHER BABY BOY wore off after a few minutes, and so did all of my 40- weeks-long anxiety that having another baby was a terrible, selfish, greedy, deluded mistake. As it turns out, it is a lovely, lucky, profound privilege to have another baby. I had forgotten that bit.

Here I am, post-shower, post-up-all-night the morning after delivery, sniffing the little velvety head and attempting to find my pelvic floor muscles. In an astonishing turn of events, I found them. Who knew that giving birth got a bit easier on the old 41 year old body by the sixth time?

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His name is Remi Scout – a name largely cobbled together after I asked the concerned Instagram community what might be a good boy’s name just in case it turned out that a silken haired, fragrant little Goldie wasn’t on the cards. Remi feels a little bit French, good for both a cute little boy and a fanciable man (am I allowed to say that?) and Scout is the name the boys were most keen on. They think Remi is a bit awful, and were quite adamant about it – Otis even suggested that the baby cried for the sole reason that his name was so bad.

But they are over it now and are all very keen to hold him and cuddle him and settle him back to sleep. They like choosing his ‘costumes’ especially. There was some initial enthusiasm for helping with nappies but they’ve moved on from that – any hint of a baby fart and they are outta there.

Boys with their newest brother:

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Oh, it makes my milk go just by watching that. Speaking of the boobs, at the latch-on, those nipples feel like someone is chopping them off with a blunt knife – even after six goes at it. It’s all winced-face and breathing through it, which feels a bit dramatic but is entirely necessary. Getting out of the shower is a trial, with my nipples as pointy as a pinky finger and accessorised by scabby bits that scrape against the towel, sending me into a World Of Momentary Pain and Swearing. There are disposable knickers in my world now, and a pouchy shelf for a stomach (good to balance the chomping razor-gummed baby on), puffy eyes and a bit of delusional glazed-eyes ranting whenever anyone asks me a benign question. I also cry quite a bit – today, I went to the Registrar’s Office to register the birth and when the poor man asked me how to spell my husband’s surname, my voice caught in a sob on the third letter. At the time, it felt like a very profound question, all right?

Current state of postpartum face (notice especially the under-eye situation):

Also, the birth seems to have given me a new crop of short, wiry grey hairs, hormonal spots, split ends and a persistent cough. Want to wake up the baby? Have a tickly 3am throat! IT WORKS WONDERS.

Here is my most treasured photo of the new baby – the one where he undeniably looks like David Jason as Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses. His knitted cap was made by Mark’s lovely nana twenty years ago – she made a whole lot of lovely things for  her future great grandchildren and we got a stash. Have you ever seen anything more fantastic? And that face – that FACE! And more to follow…..

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David Jason doppleganger situation:

David Jason Travels the West Coast in ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’ Series

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So big, so humourless, so musky-smelling

I am so pregnant right now. It feels like I am Henry the Eighth and I have just been at my banquet and my stomach is hosting an entire peacock, a spit-roasted hog and twelve chickens. I am down to one pair of H&M maternity jeans (washed every evening because,  erm, moist gusset issues) and tights and bras that itch and non-maternity clothes hoisted up and on and over me regardless of seam splits or wonky hem issues – I’ve broken one pair of dungarees so far and had to chuck one pair of maternity jeans because I outgrew them in the ankles and calves department. The horror. Boobs refuse to enlarge though. WHAT IS THAT? The fat just siphons into my upper arms, which has no aesthetic benefit whatsoever.

Most evenings I just fall onto the couch, pull down the top stretchy part  of my jeans and watch the undulating lines of my stomach rise and fall with little feet or hands or knees while asking for someone to pass me the chocolate, sitting upright every now and then to let the acid reflux out. It’s sort of nice and cosy being pregnant at this stage in the depths of depressing January but also awful (and a bit sharp in the back of the throat), and I am finally ready for this baby to come out. And ready for a new pair of pants. Maybe some knickers that don’t cut into me, and MAYBE I WANT TO PUT ON MY SHOES WITHOUT NEEDING TO GRUNT. An all-day-unduly-damp undercarriage would be quite a nice change, too.

BUT FIRST: I have one piece of writing to do for a new client before I can totally fold in on myself, and I have exactly five days to do it – they keep not sending me the work, so I keep panicking about having to write the piece while the baby’s head is crowning. It is really ruining my nesting buzz.

I have put the cot up, washed the baby clothes, been to my baby shower (thanks, Kerry, and everyone who was kind enough to come and be nice about me doing this whole thing again, like it isn’t really boring and like we haven’t all moved on from embarrassing geriatric fecundity – also showering me with gifts and money and feeding me cake), booked a pregnancy massage with the loot from the baby shower, stockpiled cotton wool and massive maternity pads and even – today, in fact, after stalking the reusable nappy section of the baby aisle in a shy kind of way for months – I purchased a cloth nappy kit because I can’t be dumping disposable nappies that take 300 years to break down anymore. It’s not all about me, fellas. Ready? Sort of.

As for names, Otis says the baby should be called Princess Flower for a girl, or Chuck Him In The Bin for a boy. The others are set on Scout for a boy, but we (the parents) like Remi for a bit of affected French insouciance (but can’t manage the accent over the ‘e’ – that’s waaaaay too hard). For a girl, we like Goldie. Sometimes Mark suggests a Maori name, but he stumbles over the pronunciation and I’m like – dude, if you can’t say it properly, then what hope for the kid?  Anyway, you never really know until they come out, right? I like to have a good long look at a squishy newborn face and try a few names out first. So – it’s anybody’s game ATM.

In other news, I found a lovely collated page of my writing for The London Mother which you can have a look at, seeing as I am so tardy with updating this blog – look!

Here is my new favourite weekend street food – the kimchi pancake from the Korean stall at Acklam Village under the Westway in Portobello. Weird, but very good:

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Here is that ragbag middle kid sitting on his beloved/hated eldest brother’s knee on the way home from the Tate Modern over New Year where I spent £40 on posters and magnets for them because I cannot resist a sale (and a lady sitting next to them, wishing they would just piss off, probably):

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We celebrated 21 years of mostly happy married years with a trip to Westfield to see Creed II after eating too much Lebanese food for our glamorous anniversary dinner. After our uncomfortable extended patch fighting over which part of the world we wanted to live in, and some excellent marriage counselling sessions, buoyed up by our priceless weekly cleaner who sorts the flat out and restores calm, and by the kids getting older and in some ways less horrible, we like – nay – LOVE each other again. He’s a good fella who loves my cooking and who likes my prattle and who values the joy of finding new weekend markets to eat at as much as I do. He loves The Durrells, bars of soap, the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack, gin-based cocktails, the Sunday papers, the Selfridges sale, vintage rugs, antique shops and reading – so, all in all, if you ignore the snoring thing, he was a good choice of marriage material.

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Oldest and currently youngest, doing something that looks like reading a menu but was probably actually just about watching a youtube video, on New Year’s Day. These two have infinitely capacity for each other and it kills me how cute it is:

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New Oxfam monkey jug turned into a vase with half-price supermarket flowers in a bid to increase my eclectic homeware vibe, a la Pandora Sykes:

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And, as ever, dirty children hanging around a vending machine hoping to rattle two bouncy balls out of the chute instead of one, so they have more stuff to bounce around in my living room and then more chance of breaking second-hand monkey ceramics:

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Something about Christmas self-gifting and a naked selfie

Merry nearly Christmas from the ol’ out-of-town chestnut of Devon. Mark said we couldn’t go away this year because, you know, finances being always a bit slim and the whole monthly “It’s RENT DAY! No one has paid their invoices again – can we transfer some tax money to pay for it?” panic, and I sulked a bit then remembered the power of a miserable pregnant woman and gave him this speech.

“By Christmas, I was be four weeks away from having another baby – I will be massive and unwieldy, with swollen ankles and a humourless demeanour. I won’t be cooking, or successfully bending over to accomplish tasks such as putting on mine or anyone else’s shoes or picking up tiny bits of rejected origami castoffs/cocopops/pencils with broken leads thrown in anger or dog fur balls and soon, sooner than you’d think, we will drown in childish spiky detritus. More than that, I actually won’t be doing anything but draining my water-retentioned extremities on the couch. You’ll have to do it all, for 18 days of the holidays with five turbulent little boys in a basement flat, chairing arguments over Fortnite, walking a thieving dog three times a day, thinking about meals and replacing toilet paper – all the while staring into the darkness out of our front window which is broken because the boys wrestled themselves into it during a fight over a hotly-contested piece of sparkly cardboard. Darling, there’s always the credit card.”

So Devon won. There’s a heated indoor pool here which they swim in for hours every day, and a spa pool which I dip in and out of, depending on my ability to moderate my body temperature. When I get a bit warm, I move to the side of the pool and read – read the papers, read one of four novels I have brought with me, read my phone, languishing in the holiday-ness of it all. Yes, there are fights over pool inflatables and yes, they screech a lot and dunk each other in and occasionally, when other people from the (mostly silent) other cottages are trying to swim lengths in a demure, polite way, my kids bang into them or lob balls very close to their heads. That stuff is awkward, but so much better than being at home attempting ‘festive’ when you can’t even fit your pyjamas any more.

Also – the food. Here, on holiday, you arrive at the cottage and they leave you milk, tea, a packet of mince pies and some instructions concerning fire escapes and wi fi passwords. You have to create Christmas from scratch, and that involves driving to the massive Sainsbury’s in an industrial complex ten minutes down the road. There, you buy all of your Christmas malarkey, knowing the fiddly stuff (like my imagined triumphs with homemade peppermint bark/gingerbread houses/attempts at stollen) just won’t be practical. So it’s a yes from me, Sainsbury’s Own Brand Pizza, and Taste The Difference All Butter Prosecco Panettone and some sort of random duck from the chiller and two types of Sainsbury’s trifle and also the weird things you would never buy at home, like Columbian hot chocolate flakes, tubs of clotted cream and Cornish Sea Salt with Roasted garlic. This sort of culinary abandon just wouldn’t swing in real life.

We’ve been down to Barnstaple town to hear the Salvation Army band play Christmas carols which always makes me weep, and the kids have spent £10 each on our family Secret Santa, which they can never keep secret. We split up and I took the three youngest with me and we honed in on the North Devon Hospice Charity Shop where Otis found Noah a metal detector for £3.45 and then they all fell in love with the weird dragon mystical tarot shop which had hideous glittery dragon figures with light-up crystals on sale for a tenner – they decided to buy them for each other. They are very, very ugly. I found Mark an 1880’s-era knife/scissor/letter opener relic from the Indian War – I’ve since googled and I really don’t know what “the Indian War” was, but I am hoping the historical accuracy aspect will fade away from him once he sets eyes on the wood and bronze contraption. He’s a tricky fellow to buy for – desiring new cars, deer-hunting rifles and fishing rods – and I don’t understand those things at all. I bought him a cashmere beanie as a pre-Christmas present but he just grabs the polyester kack-coloured ones he gets from building suppliers – he is a walking synthetic advertisement for Dremel Tools. Luxury is wasted on some people.

I, on the other hand, have made it very easy for everyone to buy for me – I have bought for myself, and they are all pretending it was their idea and their efforts. PSHAW, I say – best give me the credit card and forget this idea of ‘getting it right’. Zeitgeistly, I have bought into the sustainable fassssshun trend by spending months on eBay, Vestiaire Collective and TheRealReal, finding myself TWO second-hand Chanel things that I could afford (or that wouldn’t be noticed unduly). YES, TWO. One is a solid silver cocktail camelia ring and the other is a £5,500 runway jacket (ten years old and missing its detachable ostrich feather cuffs, but still) that I got for £240. Yes, it is a bit tweedy and yes, I am far too monstrous in size and temperament to wear it, but there will come a time, once I’ve knocked off the cinnamon rolls and double-portioned dinners, exited the baby, started to walk faster than a clueless pensioner navigating central London’s skinny pavements, breastfed a lot, cut out carbs and sugar, waited until my ribs contract and my inner organs find their correct anatomical positions again and the stomach deflates enough to become tuckable into jeans via constricting support underwear, that I might be able to wear it. It’ll be awesome.

 

But first! Here I am trying two weeks ago to get comfortable enough to finish Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine but finding all positions entirely unsuitable for comfort and OH the ITCHY SKIN!

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Here in Devon I have fled the marital bed because it is too small for us both and Mark is back on the thunderous snoring thing. So I am on a child’s bottom bunk, underneath Noah, blissfully happy to have a bed to myself and a silent roommate. I do have to get up hourly for a pee, and it turns out that this isn’t just the baby’s head pressing on my bladder but is also an infection, which just adds to the glamour of my pregnant state. And now mark has decided he wants to call the baby Abel which is just – so – depressing, in a Sons Of Anarchy way.

Here Barnaby and I are, about to watch Hamilton. Controversially, we didn’t love it.

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And here is Otis, eating a bafflingly yellow sponge cake from Lisbon Patisserie, which is how he often looks.

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Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Might Be FREE AT LAST OF THE MEAN LADY

So – I think, I am sure, that today I have filed the content for the most miserable work project with the meanest client I have ever had. I have never really had a horrible boss – there was the coke-fuelled one who made me redundant at 6 months pregnant and who made me cry for taking a lunch break on press day, but she didn’t seem to have a problem with me *as such* – she was just a very brainy, unhinged and hangry narcissist with a penchant for shagging many of the unavailable men in the office and ignoring her husband. Pfft – we’ve all been there.

This other one, however,  seems to really dislike me (even though we have never met in person and she has been happy with my writing for nearly a year) and has been decidedly weird about me being pregnant – WHY DID I MENTION IT? There is no sisterhood.

She has managed, through a process of mostly ignoring my emails and then getting angry about them by way of passive aggressive messages, sarcastic comments about my grammar and a subtle derailing of all my confidence in my ability to write, TO MAKE ME CRY QUITE A BIT. But – (and I expect I am getting excited too soon, because nothing suggests she will accept the work I have just done with anything other than anger and unkindness) maybe it is finished and I can remember about the joy I used to find in my life. I would like to go about the world unburdened by the heavy warty Toad-Of-Work-Related-Despair which has been sitting on my shoulders since late September. Oh! To no longer have dreams featuring spreadsheets and pie charts! To open my inbox and see only kind people and sample sale invitations have stuck something in there! To no longer be cc’ed into emails where my inability to write anything interesting is discussed. It is my dream – and I can only hope I am not asking too much.

Meanwhile, the dog nearly died when he stole an unopened £8 Waitrose fruitcake from the kitchen bench while I was having very serious words with the teenager about his behaviour and then confiscating his phone. We emerged from the bedroom, Barnaby was shut straight back in, I came out into the living room, all hot and sweaty and angry, and found the cake (what a cake! the perfect cake to eat with tea of an evening, while you lie fat and pregnant on the couch, full of acid reflux but still desirous of cake, watching Glow, drinking tea, unable to move) all gone and the dog looking a bit ashamed. The other kids had not noticed the dog and the cake apparently, faces deep into modelling clay and youtube videos. The next morning I made a tiny little instagram story about the dog, whose belly had gotten quite round and whose eyes looked a bit sad, and made a poll about whether eating a whole fruitcake would actually kill him. It turns out that – actually, because raisins cause renal failure in dogs – it might very well have killed him. No laughing matter, fellas. So after many people hastily sent me messages explaining that he was probably going to sadly die, I took him to the vet and they sorted him out.

Who knew the inherent risks of Christmas-time fruitcake? I thought it was just chocolate but no – beware of raisins and grapes and avocados, too – there’s a whole list of toxic foods for dogs, and in all my years of (quite casually, really) looking after a dog, it turns out I knew nothing of this. So Magic spent quite a few days lying on the couch (no change there for him or me), drinking a lot of water and shunning his food, but it was less than a week before he was off scarfing rotten chicken bone carcasses from rubbish bins and bits of very old Subway sandwich castoffs from the side of the road. He has a stomach like a…cast iron oven or something? A vice? A truck? What do you say when you mean that Magic, the furry fat little dude, can pretty much eat anything foul and poisonous and can still bounce back looking a bit peckish?

Face is cute though, and he smells nice, like toasty wheaty biscuits and warm feet:

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Speaking of smell

A few nights later, Magic came out of my bedroom reeking of Chanel No. 5. I raced in there, and found all eight vintage half-filled bottles (I know, it’s a weird eBay ‘problem’ I have) had disappeared, but the smell was very strong. I looked under my bed, under the covers, behind the bed, in my bags, in drawers, and finally found all of the Chanel bottles (but not the Tom Ford or the Prada perfumes) shoved under my dresser in a nice line. One of the stoppers had come off and both the carpet (and the dog, because he nuzzles into the small space between my bed and dresser) were drenched.

Who did this, I hear you cry? Well, there is only one man in the flat who is partial to a bit of fancy 50’s vintage glamour, and that’s Otis, the Human Magpie Of My Nice Stuff. He was asleep, and I was a bit mad and weepy and sick of people touching my stuff, and so I wanted to haul him out of his bed and interrogate him but Mark wisely said no. In the morning, I asked him about my perfumes and he denied all of it, looking very hurt that had accused him of any kind of blatant and disrespectful Chanel No. 5-related theft. I kind of believed him until he said he had seen Magic climb up onto the bed, read the labels and take them into his hiding place. He just went too far – I think it was the reading bit, or the absence of Magic’s opposable thumbs that confirmed it for me.

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Clay modelling – this is why the kids didn’t notice about the near cake/kidney/dog/raisin-disaster (photo taken by Human Magpie Otis as part of a series of Mostly Blurry Living Room Montages) :

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A bit of half term teenage drama

The snoring is back, but softer, less guttural, less like choking, though still quite loud and regular with just enough of a reverberation through the pillow to reach around my silicon earplugs and land into my perfectly good ear holes. So I’ve been hot footing it to the couch in the living room, but we have a gecko tank there and they have a blue light permanently on which shines through my scratchy angry eyelids. It’s a bit like a silent funky disco in this makeshift bedroom, complete with dog who goes nuts at 3am when the neighbourhood fox comes down to laugh at him through the window.

Let’s just say that none of this is ideal, and that very soon it will have to be Mark who has to share the living room with the dog, fox and geckos if he doesn’t learn to breathe quietly out through his mouth like normal people – rather than the very pregnant me who is getting less kind, less nimble and less forgiving by the day.

So it’s not just the sleeping arrangements that feels a bit unnecessarily stressful right now in our two bedroomed flat. It’s also the fact that the children are turning into massive young men, all greasy hair and long legs, adam’s apples and surprising arm muscles (they do no exercise – surely they can’t have formed biceps from the strain of carrying phones/sticks/blue tac blobs everywhere with them?). And because they fight over everything, all the time, from 6:31am onwards, over where they sit and who has the longest tie and how many mini wheats they get and how much milk the other brother got and over the preferred cutlery/last non-mouldy piece of Vogel toast/last available pencil that doesn’t have lead breakages caused by gleeful repeated throwing of it onto the hard tiled floor etc etc and because Casper and Ned both go from room to room wailing over their lost school jumpers and too-small trousers and missing reading books, well, the flat has probably, finally, become too small for a family of seven + new baby soon + dog + geckos and hoarded brass marine instruments and a job lot of 80’s cassette tapes rescued from a bin.

Sometimes – nay, oftentimes – the fights escalate into punches and hair pulling and leaping over furniture to deliver a blow. Early this week, another bloody half term week, the eldest and the 8 year old had a little fight over squeezing past each other. One wouldn’t tuck his chair in, the other exaggeratedly squeezed past but sort-of rubbed himself all over the 8 year old who got blinded by a fit of rage and threw a Halloween skeleton decoration at his biggest brother who flew over the dining room table to go and  get him back, but he knocked over a whole bottle of green milk in the process and I went completely and utterly batshit in response. Screamy and crying and sweaty and I whacked him around the shoulders like a lady possessed and then he went nuts and we were all crying and he got sent to his room after cleaning up the milk and later, I made him go buy some more green milk  – because, consequences! – but I added a request for a bottle of blue milk as we were out. He said no – he would only buy the green, not the blue, just to spite me – so I took away his phone, the playstation, his headphones, and inadvertently ruined the tv reception for days.

We all went out later – I took them to see the Royal Academy’s Oceania exhibition like a good mother who really needs to be finishing her work project but instead she shelves her plans to help her children become well-rounded and culturally engaged citizens of the world, etc etc –  my eyes pink from the crying, eldest wrapped up in a hoodie, still crying and lagging half a block behind, the other boys traumatised into a well-behaved silent cavalcade, and we came across a friend of mine (and mother of a teenage girl) on her way to work. She took one look at us, said she knew exactly what must have gone on and showed me nasty red scratches down her neck from her daughter who had, just that morning, attacked her and called her a whore. I felt a little better that our morning hadn’t spilled over into drawn blood and vicious name-calling, although I remain convinced we have raised appalling, entitled brats who need to get a part time job and feel a little pain and who need to learn empathy and discomfort and to turn their focus from themselves and their perceived needs onto kindness towards other people. And who could pick up a dirty pair of their discarded socks every now and then, ya know?

I think we have to move, and it’ll probably be back to Oceania. We’ve found a house – if we get it, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I am compulsively researching mid-century modern furniture like a new-convert bore.

Here’s me in full tight vintage dress mode, a month ago. I’m even fatter now:

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My birthday, when I turned 41, with my snoring husband:

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An interactive birthday card made by Ned for me. A work of utter genius:

One of the less violent London days of the half term break, which included pork rolls and donuts from Borough Market and a bit of the Tate:

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See, it’s not all bad. But think of the hormonal domino effect as each kid turns teenage and vicious, one after the other, slowly destroying the furniture and my mental health. I should have thought about this when it was all endless baby making fun – but you don’t, do you? Clearly we didn’t.

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