Love in a Supermarket Kind of Climate

Something is afoot in the Waitrose self-checkout section and I am ill-equipped to know how to deal with it.

Last week, when that fake summer situation came by to bewitch us all into thinking our coats could be packed away and our legs could be revealed again, I wore a waisted shirtdress to the supermarket.

As anyone who lives here knows, after winter when the ladies bring their dresses out, everyone gets all a-flustered. Men get starey, women get worried about their unpolished horny toenails. A woman wafting around in a flowery print speaks of potential. Of holidays. Straw totes. Sunglasses and strapless bras. Sandals and cracked heels; freckles and naturally-lightened hair. Of drinking Pimms in a beer garden, of camping and wild swimming and late evenings sitting in someone’s garden.

The guy in Waitrose was no exception – helpless in the face of a warm few days and somebody’s belted torso. I was at the checkout with my reusable plastic bag shoved full of cheese and cremant, all summer-like, and he came up to let the booze sale go through. He looked at me and said this:

“Can I ask you something? You’ve got four or five kids, right?”

“I’ve got six,” I say. I love this line of questioning. It pretty much only goes to a good place. Well, a good place or someone will tell me that I’ve missed a kid in headcount and one of them is still waiting to be picked up from school or something. Anyway.

“Well.” Nods approvingly. “How come you look so good?”

BINGO! SCREAM! Someone noticed me! NOT INVISIBLE! The summery dress worked its mystery once again! I STILL GOT IT!

“Well,” I say, giving him the Lady Di eye. “I pretty much don’t eat much anymore, and the light in here is surprisingly great. Thank you!”. He politely chuckles a little, and I FLOAT out of there with my processed snacks, probably mincing a tiny bit.

This was all a most welcome little conversation. But now? Now I have begun acting really oddly when I go back in. The first thing I do, currently less alluringly dressed, wrapped in my layers to avoid the distressing cold snap, waist hidden, dirty wool coat greying at the cuffs, is look for him. I search him out among the reduced bread trolley and chilled ready-meal aisle as soon as the escalator deposits me on the grocery floor.

I search him out because how can we NOT acknowledge each other now that he has professed his feelings? My eyes dart eagerly around for him (also scanning the weekly specials wall) and when I see him, we say “hi”. It is so awkward. My near-daily shop is becoming dominated by our wordless dance. Led entirely by me. It’s my eyes that greedily seek him out. My hair that I hastily rearrange once I see the back of his Waitrose green uniform and his jauntily placed headset. I wonder now, post-fake-summer, post-surprise Zara frock, if he still thinks I look good. What can I do to get that floaty feeling back? How can I find the sweet spot of being many-childrened and heavily-burdened by such things as whether I have remembered to bring enough reusable bags but also, hot enough to have the checkout guy come up to me and tell me a kind thing?

This is simply an exquisite pain; one I am very happy to have to endure. I hope my Waitrose man feels the same and is not kicking himself he got a middle-aged lady all over-excited.

In Other News

I fear I am becoming menopausal because I cannot sleep anymore. For the past three nights I have lain in bed, ever-so-slightly itchy, with my hip feeling all arthritic on my right-hand side. The hours have ticked by slowly, and I have been in and out of sleep but mostly out. Is it time yet for HRT? Will HRT make my hair thicken up? Will my neck bloom out in a puffy youthful way to hide the crepeing? Will HRT let me sleep once more – snore-compromised, sure, but still. This new middle-age is a myriad of fresh horror, and I fear it has only just begun.

I went to the hairdressers on Saturday and asked for ‘something to cover the greys and some kind of cut that might help get rid of the afghan hound effect’ and the colourist asked me very confusing questions about tints and ashiness and whether I wanted a warm brown or an ashy blonde. It was tied up with what would happen when the regrowth came through and it was just one of those times when you wished the expert would just do the thing, whatever that thing was. So then she suggested I drink a bellini, which I did, and things felt quite cosy and comfortable and when she found out I had so many children she said I really deserved a second, which turned into a third, and ended with a forth. When they were finishing up (by this time I had white hair which has since settled into a peachy orange white) I asked how many people took advantage of the free cocktails and drank too much, and they said hardly anyone. I tried to look sober and made a quick exit. Lessons? Grownups don’t think getting a haircut is actually a party thrown just for them.

I’ve made a new friend. Like when Anne of Green Gables met Diana, and they both knew they had found their bosom buddy, I think I have found my new bosom. It’s really fun, a little like being in love all over again. There are texts and laffs and visits. It’s actually rather wonderful to know that that part of you, even when you are crepey and you thought you had completed your tribe, is just as ready to find and adore a new person as it ever was. As I have oft said before, the joy of female friendship is a wonderful, expansive, deeply satisfying thing. One day I shall grow old in a women’s only commune like Holly Hunter in that Jane Campion show Top of the Lake, with long grey hair (thick, prob through the HRT) and everyone sharing cooking duties and doing crafting and drinking as many bellinis as they like without feeling weird about it after.

Here’s Casper turning 13. This was a staged photo because the first lot had shadows that did not show my aged face to its best advantage. See how enthused everyone is to have to do it all over again. We didn’t bother relighting the candles, either:

This is Friday night at a Spring Ceilidh (barn dancing for Celts) to celebrate the birth of the adorable Chris. See here the adorable local Hot Priest also:

The baby eating a sausage roll on a freezing picnic situation he insisted we pursue:

Me, the dog, and a bunch of other parents in our new roles as Campaigners Against Multi-Academy Trusts. (‘Twas in the Evening Standard and all.) Note distinct lack of waist:

And to nearly end things, it’s your Annual Reminder I Was Once In An Ad for Mother’s Day. Never forget.

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Becoming Better At Some Stuff

I’m all for normalising things – bringing things out into the open. Longtime readers may remember when we went to marriage counselling and I wrote about it? And no lightning struck me down. In fact, Marriage Care got in touch to ask me to be their literal poster girl for newsletter fundraising efforts. Quite the proud moment as my Linkedin profile photo went out into households to ask for donations. I hope it worked.

In that spirit then, I can say that one of the kids is now seeing a therapist. I fought against this for so long, thinking if I asked for proper help, I would have failed. I would be admitting I was a bit of a shit parent. I really hate showing any sign of weakness, and this has felt a little like one. I like to be bold and brave and insist on things being under control. But we had a small incident, after many other small incidents, and these add up to one little kid being not very happy, but not really knowing how to say so, in this small flat of relentless noise and people and stuff.

I can see I haven’t been very good about accepting feelings that don’t fit with my overarching view of stoicism and optimism. I thought you were supposed to give no airtime to bad behaviour and I think I’ve extended that to giving no airtime to anything that is a bit hard. I am the Queen of Ignoring. Of the Middle Distance Stare, of Disengagement. Ugh, I must be a cold, cold mother to kids who need reassurance. Kids who are needier than I would like them to be. Ugh.

Anyway, it’s early days but it seems that giving this one kid a space to talk, without us in the actual or psychological room, is at least a start. It shows this wee kid that his parents might learn to listen better, and that we acknowledge there are other ways of feeling about things, and that that’s ok. And he gets someone to himself who has some space for him, finally.

To cheer me out of my regret-induced melancholy, here’s a kid I haven’t yet shut down, although arguably it looks like it:

The job-front has been great from a freelance point of view – there hasn’t been a week where I haven’t had something due, and quite a bit of it has been properly well-paid. As for the other jobs that might or might not happen – the full-timey ones – well, I am waiting and waiting and waiting and trying to stay enthused. The world of full-timey work, working for proper corporate places, seems to move at a glacial pace. I am hoping that’s what’s going on, anyway. It’s either that, or I am just too rubbish to bother replying back to. Argh – job hunting is a true test of character, is it not? Putting yourself out there, hoping to attract some talent acquisition person/algorthim with the right set of words in your CV? Thinking of ways to make your bitsy nichey ‘portfolio’ career look like you planned it that way. It’s enough to turn a person into a 4pm negroni-swizzling lush. Erm….

So my days have been partly working, partly hanging out with the smallest baby Remi who is actually not a baby anymore. He is a big three year old who likes hummus, chips and apple juice. He doesn’t meed me for anything really, although he is still having breastmilk of an evening and a morning. Bit weird I know, and the nipples are well and truely shredded, but he’s the last baby, etc etc. I cannot let go of the last baby thing. Though I may well very soon(ish) if these nips don’t heal up. It strikes me that even if you keep having baby after baby, they still grow up and away. It cannot last.

Here’s Remi at Comptoir Libanais this week on a drizzling day out with his mother. We scootered through Kensington Gardens, stopped to look intently at worms, puddles and rubbish bins, and ate lunch. He very much likes pickles, so that’s how I got him to agree to Comptoir Libanais. It was the pickles. He calls them ‘pinecones’ and that’s reason enough to take him out to eat them.

Then we went to the Natural History Museum to get thrillingly scared by the T-Rex. It was a magnificent day, topped off by pancakes for dinner. I mean – what is not to like?

I also attended my first poker game night on Sunday. There was an actual croupier there who was excellent at shuffling, dealing, following conversations while watching the game, working out the bets and helping me not make a total dick of myself. I had some Larazus moments, she said, and was the second person out of the game. Could have been worse, all told. I also misread the vibe a little – one of the players had made stem ginger and chili brownie and I just munched through three pieces of it, one after the other. It turns out some of the other players may have liked a piece too.

I think that’s one of the many things about living with and in a big family. You have these rules, ill-defined maybe – and they relate to managing yourself in a group of people. With food, you have to at least call everyone to the table, but once that’s done, you better get in quick. So I see a plate of really great gooey-but-crunchy brownies and it’s been about half an hour and no one is polishing them off, so I do. It seems obvious to me. But the other players may have wanted to stagger their culinary experiences. They may have wanted to wait. Anyway, it was a sharp reminder not to be greedy and to read the room. READ THE ROOM, LADY!

Here we are, admiring a very nicely-executed card sweep. A proper card table and everything. Everyone concentrating on the game and behaving like restrained grownups. Me with chocolately fingers and shamed eyes.

For the record, I’m intending on becoming a better poker player and a better guest. Perhaps a better mother too. Baby steps.

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Things I Do Now

  1. Search auctions for ‘9ct albert chain’, ‘9ct gold chain’, ‘9ct puffy heart pendant’, and ‘vintage pearls’ on Sometimes I accidentally ‘win’ these, and find I have two days to pay the invoice plus 34% hammer price and VAT, plus another £15 for postage and packing. I am literally dripping in vintage jewellery and I am finding it all a bit of a problem. The pearls are lovely, but I will wreck them and their lustre very soon because of my lavish application of handcreams and perfumes. Take them off, I hear you say. But I desire to be permanently dripping in jewels, especially as I get older and wrinklier and my finger joints get increasingly misshapen, because I think that’s a better look than restraint. I like the more-is-more approach of Iris Apfel, with a touch of Miss Havisham and maybe the ladies from Grey Gardens. So the jewellery must fit my lifestyle, rather than the other way around. The time for ’90s Carolyn Bessette Kennedy-esque minimalism is not now.
  2. I have also dipped my toes into the matchesfashion and net-a-porter sale for a Pat McGrath eyeshadow compact in pink (though disappointingly Mark says the rosey hues make me look extremely tired/pink eye-ish), two mini Tom Ford lipsticks, another pair of adidas trainers and a Batsheva pearl button ruffle neck puffed sleeve blouse which is part chef, part Lady Di, which is amazing and was only £51. Both sites entice me daily with more reductions and I scroll through like a good consumer but really, that wardrobe of mine is shamefully overstuffed with odd sale buys and so, I should really stop.
  3. I have been working, so can sort-of pay for these daily packages left under our stairs. I say ‘sort-of’, because freelancers never actually know when they will be paid, and they (if they are me), don’t know quite how much money to expect, and they may also forget that a persistent and by-now utterly mysterious tax bill comes out of their account every 28th which turns the account into a whimpering overdrawn empty online sack of shame. Which means that I can’t actually pay for my precious jewels and ’80s blouse revivals. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
  4. I have been babysitting Noah, who has been suspended from school for kicking through a wall at school on a dare. I am very happy to blog-shame him about this little incident because kicking a hole in the wall at your school is dumb and vandal-ly. So for the past two days I have been sitting across the kitchen table from him during school hours, sternly bringing him back in line when his attention wanders from his set schoolwork, which is constantly. He has been grounded indefinitely, his phone has gone, he had to have his long fringe cut off because it was enabling his retreat into the world of Floppy Hair I Don’t Care, and he cannot do anything nice ever again, such as sleep-in, which he likes to do moe than anything else in the entire universe. I got him up at 6am this morning to walk the dog while I went into the park for a run, but the bugger didn’t even make it into the park gates before he swanned off back home. He is as motivated as an old wax candle. Which isn’t much. Nice, though, but still.
  5. Eating out a lot, because when you aren’t working, mealtimes take on a special kind of quality. Lunch feels full of potential – I am in London! I could go anywhere now that I am not chained to my boffice desk and hurting my thigh against the sharp metal bits of the desk! There are restaurants of all kinds right outside my doorstep which is much more fun than a bit of old leftover felafel that has already been refried and represented seven diferent ways! Also, when you bring the baby with you, it is a sensory experience for him, right? so he learns about the world, gets to chat to people who aren’t me, and we get to gobble pizza from Franco Manca or an excellent shakshuka from Cafe Beam – ALL SOLID WINS. I tell myself I must not feel guilty about these frequent culinary adventures because who knows when someone will employ me to do a proper job again? And soon that baby will start nursery and I will lose him forever to the world of Out There.
  6. Birthday season is upon us, so I have been making cakes (coconut and almond, and butternut squash and chocolate), accepting a stream of Amazon packages, and blowing up balloons. The baby turned three last week, this weekend the eldest turns 17, and next weekend one of the Middles turns 12. We took the baby to an indoor softplay area where he disappeared for two hours, and brought him back to the flat to eat pizza again.
  7. Attending parent teacher interviews for three kids and only feeling sad about two of them. Which is 33% good news (one of the Middles turns out to be a genius in all subjects and we just never noticed before) while the other two Middles are barely managing to hold a pen. Needless to say, perhaps, that one of these disappointing Middles also finds kicking walls in to be amusing. So there’s a whole load of murky parental guilt and fury around these parts.
  8. Not applying for jobs because there are two potential ones on the hazy periphery if I play my cards right, etc etc. I did apply for some – features writer jobs, an editorship, a script writer job – but I think I am too old for the cool lifestyle writing positions and too inexperienced for the terrifying ones. Also, my CV is utterly questionable and I am not very strtegic when asked those playbook interview questions. I have a self-righteous and misguided idea that I should be able to just be ‘me’ and answer from my gut rather than learn the rules to this job stuff. Like, can’t you tell I am fun and smart from my chatty, informal approach? Apparently not, according to the one rejection email and the deafening silence from the other applications. Just as well I have a whole list of restaurants to try in my ‘in-between-roles’ time.
  9. Planning a party. This party will have lots of friends, a big roasted beef rib, goose fat potatoes, a cake or two, and cremant (we are too good for prosecco now but too tight to buy champagne). It shall be on a Saturday and I shall wear something very celebratory. There will be children running around, popcorn everywhere, a few tears and hopefully everyone will leave by 11pm.
  10. Reading Joan Didion’s ‘Play It As It Lays’, wearing The Perfumer’s Story ‘After Hours’ and ‘Old Books’ (Old Books smells like stale cigarettes, old leather and an unwashed man), pearls (obviously), watching Ozark, Ted Lasso (terrible but oh, so good!), eating felafel (still – they are like the triffids, clearly multiplying in the fridge), listening to the Roberts Radio and finally learning how to stream (mostly Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Dave Dobyn, Cat Stevens and the Moulin Rouge sountrack), drinking negronis and espresso martinis, and selling stuff on ebay to help out the paypal situation. Also booking Margaret Atwood at the Southbank Centre and a little trip to Carcassonne with the ladies.

Example of lunchtime restaurant outings featuring Remi and one enormously amused Amanda, because lunchtime adventures are the BEST:

Happy third birthday to my sweet baby:

An example of over-zealous Murano glass auction buying:

An attempt at corner-scaping (please ignore the phone and charger because they do not fit the colour scheme AT ALL):

The rest of the month I will be hoping beyond hope that I get paid, somehow, and that Noah becomes less vandal-ly and better at handing his homework in. I will be hoping for good job news, a smoother forehead, and less felafel to wade through in my rare lunchtimes spent at home. Wish me luck.

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Erm, An Extended Holiday Break

This is a little awkward. You know my recent posts where I have been a tiny bit whingy about having a real job – one where I have to work at a desk that is shared by my husband and it is really just a cobbled-together table at the end of my bed? A ‘boffice’, I think I termed it? And that the baby comes into this boffice, often, when perhaps I should be concentrating fully on the Teams meeting rather than having to find him helicopter cartoons to watch to keep him from screeching, all while taking notes and not breaking the Teams eye contact thing? You remember those halycon days – days which added up to ten whole months of fulltime employment?

Well, on Dec 1, on an otherwise ordinary Thursday afternoon, that all came to an end. My particular skills, mutually agreed to have been useful up to launch, were decided not to be quite right for the project going into Phase Two and so it was decreed that I would leave, effective the following day after handover.

This has been a funny old time. It occurs to me that I have now been made redundant a dazzling four times over my career; once, because I was brought onto a magazine to fulfill a role for a project that didn’t end up getting the go-ahead (and I had instead been ‘given’ to the editorial team who weren’t ever quite sure what to do with me – and then I got pregnant and six months later it was ‘BYEEEEE’), another time because the project ended (fair dues, I guess), and another time to cut my part-time lowest-hanging-fruit costs. This time, a job spec rewrite. So I kind of sat there for a bit, wondering what to do about the nanny and her job, also suddenly made redundant (although not redundant really, because who is actually willing, six kids later, to go to four playgroup sessions a week without literally plunging their head down the small person’s loos?) and wondering, more existentially, about my career and where it all went funny. And not ‘funny haha’, either.

Sit with the sadness, friends told me. Sit with feeling embarrassed and unemployable and small. Cry a bit for a few days, if you must. Go to a daytime movie and drink some wine and then start looking for a new job. You’ll have all of December to find one, they encouraged. January will be fizzing with employment possibilities and, and….don’t forget, there’s a talent war out there! A virtual battleground with young people flinging uncompromising flexible terms like pointy paper-cutting darts into the inboxes of companies everywhere! You’ll be the voice of reason, of experience, compared to those teaming hoards of brilliant digitally-savvy youngsters! They’ll like you because you are old and don’t demand anything! YOUR TIME IS NOW! Just imagine.

Well, so far, I’ve pitched for freelance work, written some stuff for the Americans, applied for four jobs, been sad about the pay rates, drank a fair bit of wine, and cried twice. I have worn my sadness like a fairly heavy woollen poncho – the kind of poncho that restricts the arms and makes me just kind of sit still for a bit, leaden and trapped.

I have sighed audibly – OH, how I have sighed! I have to figure out what to tell my lovely nanny who, only ten months ago, gave up all of her jobs and rearranged her life to help us out. Awkward doesn’t begin to cover it.

Anyway, it has meant that December has been less difficult than usual – I could actually attend the nativity service and could sneak out to buy stuff and met up with quite a few people at Cafe Beam for their excellent shakshuka. Gardening leave (oh, what a term!) was, in retrospect, quite a grand thing, though it runs out in a week and so there will be less brunching and more fretting over endless CV versions and tweaking the old Linkedin profile. My profile photo currently has that badge that says ‘#Open To Work’ and every time I see it garlanding my photoshopped sweet trusting face, I feel like I am wearing a conspicuous dunce’s cap. It may as well say ‘#Unemployed Loser’. That badge says what I need to say, but, like, do employers want to see that I am ‘in-between jobs’? Or does that just make me look recently fired? There’s a line here, and I’m not quite sure where to draw it.

We could just shortcut this pain if anyone of you want to hire me. I’m mostly great with words, though have been known to make terrible decisions over capitalisation. I’m pretty good at work events and will talk to anyone. I get my copy in on time and always reply to emails. I love Teams. I love a good bit of gif banter. I’ll definitely bake for the office every now and then.

Argh, all this makes me feel like a red light district working girl with my boobs out. Words! Boobs! Take me, please! Shimmy shimmy wink toss of the hair – here’s my latest piece of writing – suggestive lick of the lips. URGH.

In Other News

We are in Devon again and this week, I am mostly concentrating on fitting excess meat into the small cottage fridge. Mark gets extremely excited by farm shops and begins to build a small butchery for us. We have a big ham, two ducks, two rib roasts, two massive packets of sausages (venison and cracked pepper) and a turkey. I said:

“I really don’t like turkey, mate” which is something he should know because we have had Christmases together for thirty years but he assured me that I would like this one because ‘we’ (read ‘Jodi’) would create some sort of cranberry thing to drown it in so it wouldn’t taste like protein-y nothing. Meanwhile my eyes shift to the ham, my one true meat love, and I wonder why we need to even have this conversation. Ham requires nothing but butter and crusty bread. Ham is Christmas. Turkey is a pallid big dino bird with red warty things on its face.

So far we have gone into Barnstaple twice to raid the charity shops which are both a’plenty, and smokin’. I bought myself Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow, Abigail Dean’s Girl A, and Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, all for £3. We discovered the Lidl and marvelled at its £3.50 pandoro and Mark choked on its £7 ducks, hence why we have two of the buggers jamming up the fridge airflow. Each time we open the fridge door, something flies out – twice now the uncorked prosecco which hasn’t yet seen me on all fours slurping the spilled contents, but may well if it keeps happening.

Today we are headed towards Woolacombe for some bracing wind and enormous sand dunes to sustain us through another evening of Christmas movies. We have seen them all. Last night it was National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and let me just say, Beverly D’Angelo is a fox. That Christmas evening outfit of green silk ice skating skirt teamed with a high necked plunging keyhole blouse was pure perfection. Tonight, it’s a toss up between Love Actually and The Family Stone, although Mark just keeps trying to watch back-to-back violent TV shows whenever there is a lull in proceedings, even if he has a small innocent two year old on his lap. It breaks me.

Here are some photos of the joyful beachy outing:

Before we got to the beach we had roared around Ilfracombe, looking for somewhere to eat and finding nothing, really. We settled on a big ugly pub at the harbour, but not a ‘pub’ pub – more a Wetherspoons big ’80s building which was full of the entire town and about one thousand sticky menu options. I was all snooty about it, being the cultured London lady that I am, and audibly despaired at the myriad food genres on offer. Why not keep to a theme, I wondered? A simple green or red shakshuka choice, perhaps? But the children were nonplussed about the horrible burgers and fat pasty chips and, in fact, became very happy. The eldest looked around the place and said:

“I love it here. It’s so Christmassy.”

I gave him a pained look and he told me to stop being such a Debbie Downer. Fair enough, really. This is neither the time or the physical or emotional place to begin being a gastro-bore.

Here is our cottage:

It occurs to me that the kids will now and forevermore associate Christmas with holidaying in Devon. This is very different from my own Christmassy memories. We obviously had a very different climate in New Zealand in December – everything was warm and sunny and beachy, in a non-windswept, jackets and scarfs kind of way. But my memories are more about the coming together of the aunties and the cousins, people turning up to camping sites and unloading the cars, setting up the caravans and bring out the Scrabble. Christmas is really about Scrabble – Jesus, yes, but really Scrabble.

My three aunties, one who has now died, another who is now in a home, the other one I haven’t seen for perhaps twenty-something years, and my mother would come together from different parts of the North Island and would get serious about Scrabble. I remember sleeping on stretchers in the caravan awning as a kid while the aunties and my mother would play into what felt like the early hours, the weak caravan light just enough for them to thumb through the Scrabble dictionary checking each other’s words, and their own ambitious attempts. Is ‘Mi’ a word? What can I do with this ‘X’? I feel like they stripped to their bras while they played, but that might have been me confusing the Shuggie Bain aunties with my own. I know the husband-uncles were elsewhere, perhaps in another caravan, but not drinking or eating crisps or posh cheeses, because that’s what I would do – that’s not what the post-war Salavation Army husband-uncles would do. Possibly fishing on a small aluminium dinghy that would likely make my dad seasick. The next day we might dig for cockles or pipis and then soak them in buckets to cook up later.

Anyway. We’ve substituted those traditions for a cottage, movies, beaches and North Devon pannier markets, and all is good with the world. Until we get back and I face the Job Problem. Merry Christmas to you all!

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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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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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