Sicilian Tales

We are having an intergenerational holiday. Some of us are 80, some of us are 7 months, most are somewhere in-between. It’s pretty good, though the pace is a little slower than we are used to. We went on a boat trip yesterday and the baby totally cramped my style, all crying and fussing and being a bit vomity, but then my 78 year old mother donned her halterneck one piece and stepped delicately from the boat into the fairly choppy Mediterranean waters and swam like a true Queen. My father amazed me by kneeling solidly on the boat floor (is that called a deck, maybe?) to play with the baby, long legs tucked under him, knees bent, no trace of the arthritic inflammation and scar tissue that I carry around. They’ve both swam from the shore in amongst bronzed Sicilians and kept up with us in stomping around the hill towns of Castelbuono and Collesano in 30 degree heat. They’ve learnt to share a pizza for dinner while the rest of us go a bit mental overdoing the calamari and gelato, calmly sitting just outside our overladen table of 14, one in a cheap camping chair bought from a cut-price supermarket so her back won’t hurt. They have given advice and observed and soothed and cleaned up and wiped down and been the very best kind of grandparents you might be lucky enough to have, still beating people at word games and fitting in with new teenagers and helping set the table. The baby hasn’t been half as useful, I tell you.

Watermelon session in the outdoor kitchen of dreams:


So, the villa is a massive 80’s number with a weird mix of once-state-of-the-art appliances and broken tiles. The outside looks as if someone with a penchant for hard surfaces went halfway towards a grand landscaping scheme and then gave up. There are sweet cats everywhere who turn fiendish at night and claw their way into our croissant packets, and lizards which are too hot to scamper away. The villa is reached after a 15 minute terrifying hillclimb in the flashy little Fiat, of which we have three because our party is so big. The road hairpin bends and turns and winds and scrapes and finally you reach a twisted tree trunk and a very unlikely dirt road which leads you past a well-placed sign of Jesus at the most scary narrow bit until you come to the villa. The best bit of the whole property is the outdoor kitchen and the pool, the worst is the invisible bugs which have left our legs and shoulders full of weeping little bites. The view, over Cefalu’s Rock, looks like this:


Odd interior:


Excellent al fresco kitchen (wth pizza oven, obvs) which frankly will make every other outdoor area for the rest of my life seem a bit shit:


Parents who keep each other afloat stay together:


We’ve been to the beach three times. The first was the beach at Cefalu town, and was filled with more people than felt seemly. I quite liked seeing all the Italians wander around in bikinis, old and young and fat and thin, and the men in speedos, hairy and mostly very ordinary-looking except for the OTT brownness. There was none of that teenage thing I remember where you felt so fat and huge and ashamed of yourself once your denim cutoffs were shed. Here, everyone is fine and unremarkable.

Here are my two eldest and youngest sons, once of whom likes munching on sand:


Dinner. Probably pizza and calamari:


Remi’s enthusiasm for, well, everything:

My intrepid behatted travelling parents with their 14th grandchild in a hilltop town:


A stop in Collesano for the best gelato I have ever had. It was fondant and pistachio – a dark chocolate with a pistachio white soft chocolate ripple. The baby went for a more restrained vanilla:



Golden hour at Salinelle Beach:


We’ve got another five days until we say goodbye to Mum and Dad who are going to do a bit of their own touring in Italy without the assembled crowd, and we won’t see them again until we move back to New Zealand to our new (old) house. We will head back on Saturday and gear up for school and September deadlines with fading tans and very dry hair and a lot of boring mail. They are all geared up to go, although Mum really wants to take her new supermarket camping chair with her because it is so comfortable. It won’t fit into her suitcase though, so her and dad are busy thinking about ways to pull the rivets and/or stitching apart to fit the bugger in. This particular line of conversation is doing my head in a little bit. Ah well.

And So It (Nearly) Ends

Each year I panic about the school holidays and each year I get to the end and feel a great sense of loss – of time passed and of childhoods that are running out – and wonder why I was so worried. Six weeks with your kids and parents and friends is really just a massive gift, and one that you won’t get in the same way ever again. This year, with teenagers and elderly parents and sore backs and screen time fretting and the baby being both cute and a massive pain, has been the odd mashup of different needs and values, of repeated trips to the supermarket for more tomatoes, of too many bottles of prosecco, cradle cap and possible bed bugs. We’ve needed phone chargers and nappies and special fibre powder to keep old intestines running smoothly. It’s been so lovely and so magical and restful and so final and I am so grateful for it.

We are soon off again, out of the villa, into our three rental cars, praying not to smash them up or scrape the paintwork too badly, to wander the streets of Cefalu to buy crap at the souvenir shops and to find even better gelato. There will be dinner overlooking the sea, halved pizza and local red wine and the baby will cry because it is past his bedtime. I  just wish it could last.

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Overdid the culture maybe

Current mood: variable. We’ve just finished the first week of the seven (!) week school holiday and it wasn’t…very…bad. Usually the first week sees me hiding somewhere in tears, or on the phone to Mark or my parents, vowing I won’t be able to handle all those days and days and days of settling arguments around who got seven raspberries when I said they could only have six each, or separating boys who have fistfuls of each other’s hair because one of them has called the other ‘Fatty Gay’ in a literal description of the French ‘fatigue‘.

Not this year though? Perhaps the summer of 2019 has signaled a sea change: a wedge of maturity and sensibleness into my great big Cheesecake of Chaos (if my family dynamics could be reduced to a dessert foodstuff, metaphorically speaking).

These things have helped:

  1. Mark has taken on the 14 year old as an unskilled labourer. He rises at 7:30am for an 8am start, dons white overalls, a cap and a bottle of water and goes across the road to sandpaper and paint walls and take the rust off old gateposts. He is making a healthy £40 a day and has not shirked or complained once. He plans to save the money, though he did spent a tenner on some vintage binoculars from Portobello Road yesterday. He is usually a bit of a pain at home, all very alpha and hormonal and shouty, so his absence has been a blessing though I do miss his enthusiastic babysitting. (His 13 year old brother can watch Remi for about three minutes before he loses interest and invents some increasingly rubbish excuse for why he cannot do it anymore. Things like “I can’t hold the baby because I think I have giardia” or “I can’t have Remi any more because I have to protect my beanbag”. But this kid doesn’t tend to whack anyone, so it’s half a dozen of one, six of the other.)  

That biggest boy is a great kid really; when we were away in Poland he texted us to ask if he could buy a film to watch with his best buddy. It was “Darkest Hour”, the Winston Churchill film. He loves an historical biography and I love a kid who wants to watch a film about Churchill.

2. Casper is away at Scout camp – this helps us all immensely. Another lovely kid but OH a little break is good for everyone’s mental health.

3. Living right here in the belly of Westminster and availing ourselves with the free stuff makes everything easier too. In a week I’ve taken a kid (or three) to see Cindy Sherman at the National Portrait Gallery, Dior at the V&A and the Manga exhibition at the British Museum.

Remi came along for the first two. It turns out that Cindy Sherman puts him to sleep but that the sheer excitement of being in the same room as Dior’s New Look Bar Suit sends him into a state of overstimulation and eventually a scary loud tantrum that caused several older women to ask me if they could help in some way. Others just looked on despairingly/crankily as he ruined their £24 per ticket sold out Dior experience (as he did mine, to be fair). I had to buy the book so I could take a proper look at all the gorgeous dresses I had belted past on my way to the exit and away from the shame, all the while accidentally dropping sucked-upon pieces of clementine that had failed to keep him quiet.

The Manga exhibition was a clear disappointment for Otis and Ned who were expecting to see an exhibition on mangoes. They decided to play a game of Running Around Hide & Seek to transport them from the hell of being in a room full of life-sized cartoons and fun stuff to dress up in until a guard came and asked me to stop them. Ned stopped running around but Otis didn’t which made me very embarrassed because it is very hard to chase a small boy intent on playing Run Away From Your Angry Mum Who Has A Cumbersome Pushchair when there are partitions and corners and little spaces everywhere. Finally I got him and squeezed his arm a bit hard and wouldn’t let him buy anything from the giftshop. The others did; everything was at least ten quid and by that point I was very sick of taking kids to exhibitions. Casper and I went out to find some chairs to sit on so I could breastfeed the baby while the others agonised over what tat they could bankrupt me with and Casper caught all my thin fringe hair in a handheld fan. A lot of it came out which is a bit of a tragedy as I am a bit bald at the best of times and so I eventually broke the fan to get the rest of it untangled and now Casper says I owe him a hand held fan breakage fine.

4. But then there’s been the Diana Memorial Fountain which is the cheapest (read: free) and best source of water fun this side of a pool, and the Serpentine Lido for swimming in amongst the algae and duck shit and there are parks everywhere to sit down and cool off. Yesterday as we came home from Portobello Road after eating our lunch at Acklam Village (I went for the Iranian broad bean and dill rice with chicken curry and yoghurt sauce and the kids ate burgers, churros and Szechuan popcorn chicken) we came across a Westminster-funded pop-up carpentry workshop along the canal. Ned and Otis made their own boxes by measuring and sawing timber and nailing them together. They have both slept with their boxes. No one cut off a hand, either.

Here is a photograph of me with a mullet – centre right in blue:


Here’s me in a Batsheva dress, out w’ the laydeez. It is very prairie-meets-Minnie-Mouse and quite tight on the arms:


My lost babysitter:

Noah who turned 13 and may well have giardia:


Casper’s photo of a pigeon with a wacky haircut:


Acklam Village Saturday lunching:




Post-Manga exhibition in Bloomsbury Park where we ate, sweltered in the heat and looked for ants:


Sweaty with a horse and baby:




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Potato Pancake and Start Again Food

In a roundup of existential wins and losses – we’ve been to Poland for a long weekend; one kid has graduated from primary school; the baby has learned to roll over; I had a properly horrible run-in with a Child Protection Officer at a church camp which ended in tears, a swift exit and a recalibration of, well, EVERYTHING; I organised our Square’s annual kid’s party and got broken by the administrative emails surrounding wording of insurance policies and repeated questions about exactly who was paying for the face painter (Marsh & Parsons – it is still Marsh & Parsons whether you ask me once or four times) and vowed never to do it again; I bought a Ganni balloon-sleeved dress from the Selfridges sale and wore it to the kid’s party which prompted one lady attendee to say she thought I was remarkable to have “so many kids AND have time for fancy dress!”; the buying and selling of two houses in New Zealand went through on the same day last week which means we have somewhere lovely to go home to (should we ever summon up the courage); and one son finally acquiesced to having his long trucker hair cut into a shorter trucker hair cut (see below for the former): 


Quite high and exciting times indeed.

The trip to Poland was for Mark’s most long-time and faithful tiler’s daughter’s wedding. It was in a village called Lipnica Murowana, about an hour out of Krakow. Who knew that it would look all so much like New Zealand, all lazy green and grassy hills and forests and sunny blue skies, but with 1000 year old churches and men brandishing huge instruments and wearing traditional leather’n’floral embroidered outfits? The village itself was very clean and unfussy and Alpine-ish, with incredibly steeped roofs for all the snow that gets dumped for five months of the year, but two weekends ago it was hot. I wore a DVF silk jumpsuit which Mark was worried about looking a bit un-Catholic Churchy but was actually fun and entirely appropriate, mostly because a) no one looks at me anymore because I am old and b) it allowed me to get my bosoms out for Remi without too much conspicuous yanking of the long, withered, much-abused appendages.

Here is a photo of me and the father of the bride and Mark, who looks a bit like he’s had too many Polish potato pancakes. Its just the angle, man. He is in a gorgeous bespoke suit, however, straight from the Iraqi tailor. That’s a pink tie, no less:


Those are Polish pancakes with mushrooms and a garlic cream that we ate the first night we got to the village, after a starter of garlic soup. The whole main meal cost about £4. Even I could not finish it:


The wedding was a very vodka-fuelled affair which began at 3pm and ended at 3am. That’s a thing, apparently. The Catholic service was beautiful (even if entirely in Polish which was a little tricky to follow – especially the songs with the words displayed on a electronic ticker tape screen that looked like this: “Młoda temu winna, młoda temp winna pocałować go powinna”) and held in a glorious church.

Swiftly, after the service came the breaking of the glasses and the throwing of the gold coins and the presentation of the loaf and salt and then the bride and groom and the 180 Polish guests and us three (Remi was in attendance but the other five were farmed out by the best three families ever) went to the wedding reception really to do three things: to eat, to drink, and to dance in a kind of cyclical, insistent, excellent kind of way. The reception followed a pattern – over the course of the evening, four main meals were served with constant unveiling of elegant snacks made with local meats and cheeses and wine and salads and staters and jellies and desserts and then shots of vodka, followed by frenzied dancing with partners. Not your usual groups of women dancing around their handbags at each other while men boredly watched from the sidelines – no. This was a proper ballroom dancing kind of scenario, with flared frocks and graceful spins and everyone knowing that to do. We could only watch, amazed – thinking that not only did everyone the room speak about four more languages than we did, but that everyone – old and young – could also dance properly. Respect.

Remi and I crept off to bed at 10pm but Mark got involved in some Polish musical chairs game or something and didn’t get back into the room until 3:30am. The vodka fumes entered the bedroom before he did. I said “DON’T SNORE” and he said “I WON’T” and he flopped onto the bed and snored like a bloody rumbling bloody train for the next three hours while I kept trying to poke him into silence and when that didn’t work, I maliciously videotaped him and repeatedly told him I hated him. He woke with a throat that he said felt ripped to shreds and I said “THAT’S BECAUSE YOU GROWLED AND SNARLED AND TRUMPETED LIKE A LOWLY TOAD ALL NIGHT” and I showed him the video and he groaned and said he needed some paracetamol. We ended up getting a very twisty ride for an hour in the back of a cab all the way to Krakow and he kept thinking he was going to hurl everywhere and I thought that was marvellous divine justice.

Here are some photos of Krakow, taken with my very clear head:


When we were ready to leave our airbnb from the centre of Krakow to the airport, the Uber driver refused to take us because we didn’t have a baby car seat, and he told us that no one would be able to take us at all – there were no exemptions for taxis of any kind. We didn’t know how we would get to the airport but just then a man drove up near us, got out of the car, saw we needed help, heard our sorry tale and even though he was on his way to work, he decided to drive us to the airport himself because he had a babyseat in his car. That was a half hour drive each way. HOW GREAT ARE THE POLES?

Here is the baby being weaned. There is nothing messier:


Casper, his teacher of two years and his little mate on their Graduation from Primary School Day:


Otis photographed beautifully by another school friend’s mum on the reception class Sports Day:


He just told me, apropos of nothing, that when he eats Start Again Food he gets very sick and vomits. I wasn’t sure what Start Again Food was, but after some interrogation, it seems that he means leftovers. Everyone’s a critic, baby.

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M’knees! M’knees!

I’ve got gammy knees right now. There is no glamour here; no sashaying from room to room in a green satin sheath dress, no jumping out of bed in the morning lookin’ sharp. No running, no fast walking, no getting down the stairs in an elegant way;and it’s all thanks to my psoriatic arthritis which comes along every so often in the Spring, kicked off by the barometric pressure or the plane trees or just some type of unkind scaly skin/glass shard knee curse which sees me walk like an unoiled grandma robot. It hurts – I am downing anti-inflammatories every four hours and drinking expensive tart cherry juice from Planet Organic in the vain hope that my knees remember themselves and snap out of it. The swelling in one leg led to an emergency doctor’s visit in case I develop a Baker’s Cyst again like last time (it’s sort of a hernia but sticking out of the back of your calf) and my jeans won’t go on over my tree trunk legs. My ankles – my formerly perfectly normal ankles – have disappeared into a wad of puffy flesh that looks like an amateur prosthetics person had a go at making The Elephant Man’s lower half in the dark. In the night, when I move my stiffened legs, it feels like someone is bending my knee joint backwards. My stupid knees are waking me up so much more than the baby.

So it comes and goes and it debilitates me for awhile and then slowly gets better. It is very good for perspective and makes you long for the days that you feel no pain – for the days when you can run around the park and chase the kids up to school on time and bolt after the dog when he has escaped to the rubbish bin for some rotting chicken carcasses to gorge on. Oh, to be able to get off the couch or out of the bath without first figuring out how on earth I am going to do it. Luckily, we live in a Hoarder’s Flat and everywhere there are random bits of furniture, cane baskets filled with 1990’s cassette tapes, broken chairs and huge round bits of wood that “one day” Mark will “making a carving with”. These are my crutches.

To all those who have actual permanent chronic pain conditions – I do not know where you draw the strength. The least I can do is try not to take my usual good health for granted when these knees return to normal size and function.

Here’s a cankle photograph. That ankle thickness just goes up and up and wider and wider. Please ignore the nasty polish – it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to get down there, what with nine months of pregnancy, post partum uselessness and broken knee joints:


But that’s not all in the realm of broken things. Casper came home after walking back from Scouts one night a few weeks ago with an arm that looked like a white sock loosely packed with a few tennis balls. He had unsuccessfully attempted calisthenics, which a kind of outdoor gymnastics where really strong ripped young people use their upper body strength to lift them up and help them jump from bar to bar. Casper slipped and broke and fractured some bones which needed a dose of ketamine so two people could try to strangle the bones back in place, and then he needed an operation to pin the bones back together. ITS ALL DRAMA ROUND HERE.

See the sad cast in a sad sling:


We had highs: finally our house in New Zealand got sold and we have almost bought another smaller one (tiny mortgage – hurrah) which feels like it would be great to come back home to. It’s exciting and fun and scary and it has made my eBay watchlist jump up a few notches. I’m thinking Murano chandeliers! House of Hackney reupholstered couches! Slim Aarons’ framed prints! Mid century modern sideboards! Vintage Heals’ foot poufs and antique French linen stacked in freestanding walnut art deco cupboards! I’m thinking teal and orange and stripping floorboards back and patchwork quilts and conch table lamps and mosaic side tables and a great big clock. Metro tiles in the bathroom (black grouting, obvs)and glossy houseplants (won’t stay alive for long though) and whether or not to paint our big brown furniture in bright citrus coloured chalk paint. Outside in the big garden there are protected trees and we can all walk to school and to work and to the park and to the town harbour for very good coffee. Not so much to work, really though, because we have no jobs as yet. And two of our six boys need braces and that is entirely free here but $12,000 per kid in New Zealand. This stuff must be thought about, you know. So.

The other thing we have been doing is winning pub quizzes. We have a very very brilliant team of Mark, Kerry, Chris and me, and sometimes the temporary resident Australian director Gregor – and we have won three out of five at our local pub. Each time we have been showered with £50 pub vouchers so we will save them up and have a giant boozy lunch. Gregor turns out to be a secret brainy all-rounder weapon and he stole my anagram crown by working out in about 40 seconds what the only anagram of TEARDROPS was – which is still hurting me a tiny bit. But OH the fun! What have I been doing all my life up to this pub quiz glory?

Here is my nose and I hugging the lovely lovely lovely baby:


And to finish – five of the six after another Portobello lunch last Saturday. I cannot tell you how marvellous they all are. They make me forget my knees for several seconds:




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Sad Day

We had a bit of a Sad Day on Sunday, making it officially a bit of a Sad Weekend. It was another bank holiday weekend here and weekends, especially bank holiday ones, should really be full of joy and instagrammable FUN – we should be day tripping and eating out and all getting along. But weekends are actually pretty horrible round these parts, mostly because our children should be run like dogs but I’m the only one who believes this to be true.

Every weekend my role is reprised as the principal old crone who shrieks and whispers and cajoles and pleads and threatens and demands that people get up off the couch and into some shoes and out the door, but they all just fight me right back with collective inertia and a steadfast refusal to move. I get all furious and mutter to myself about how lazy and gross my whole family is as they lie around in stained pyjamas with unwashed teeth and breath of the devil, either glued to devices or wrestling each other to the ground with the pent-up energy of little cave-boys who really should be out hunting mammoths with their cave-dads. The wrestling often escalates to object-throwing which always ends up with glasses or picture frames getting smashed but never adequately swept up, so there is always someone in the family with a little bit of the glass-in-foot hobble. Finally we go out but by then it is lunchtime and I am sick of them all and the dog has farty guts. 

If you add baby-related sleep deprivation to this normal weekend bad mood, it’s a recipe for serious familial disharmony.

Sad Weekend RunDown

1. It started off badly on Friday when I let some scammers convince me to have remote access to my laptop so they could “run a router scan to check for efficiency”. I was a bit sceptical and was clearly not that into it when they asked me to download all sorts of scammer-enabling programmes, and I expressed my vague distrust of it all by emitting annoyed-sounding sighs and pulling cranky faces throughout the 40 minutes that I allowed them full reign of my laptop. This demonstrative skepticism was, in hindsight, very ineffective because I bloody well LET THEM FIDDLE WITH MY LAPTOP FOR 40 MINUTES. In my defence, the router had been a bit slow so I figured they were probably legit, until they mentioned refunding me money. Then I remembered I wasn’t a tech-shy sweet-yet-naive pensioner but in fact a savvy first generation digital native and so I hung up and spent quite a while trying to uninstall the software that was helping them to potentially rob me of the £62 I have in my First Direct account. I then had to call the bank and my internet provider, change passwords and finally fess up to the family that I was a total liability.

2. Saturday morning someone let the dog out and I thundered up and down the streets of W2 in no bra calling out “MAGIC!” like a nutter but then we found him (after he had eaten something chickeny and rotten, according to his subsequent poo). Then the day got better because we walked to Portobello Road for food and managed to spend £100 on various crepes, afghan wraps, pulled pork sandwiches, brownie, olives, san pellegrino and coffee. It was cold and rainy and it hailed on us and I spilled pulled pork fat down the front of my new/secondhand Mulberry Alexa bag in the most ugly shade of glittery khaki that I accidentally bought at an online live auction in a fit of clicking-frenzy. After that, Saturday is all blur owing to the sleep deprivation playing tricks with my mind.

3. On Sunday morning Barnaby and I ran to Portobello together and stopped midway for a pastel de nata and a latte at the Lisboa Cafe, which was fun but a bit sloshy as we ran back – and I did worry a little about the custard tart calories negating the run.

I then escaped the stinking sweaty flat full of my inert little boys and their dad to go see the Martin Parr exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I had an inkling that the day wasn’t going to go well – when I left, Mark was deep into the dark, dirty wormhole of America’s Got Talent audition tapes which is impossible to get him out of and the others were silently staring at assorted screens. When I got home four hours later, Mark was simmering with resentment and Casper had a bitemark from Noah, there was glass all over the floor, no one had gone out to buy food, there was no dinner organised, no Sunday papers, no washing hung out, bread and bits of tomato were smeared everywhere and the dog had barely been walked. The big family outing was to walk across the road to the garden – a total of about 100 steps. Of course, I was incensed.

4. But then the actual bad thing happened. Magic was sitting at the top of our stairs as he usually does with his nose out between the gate bars, watching people and barking at them a little bit. I was passive aggressively tidying up, trying to shame everyone by my exaggerated poncing about, and then we heard a scream which I ignored because I was on a self-righteous roll. Mark went to investigate and discovered that Magic had bitten a small kid who had wandered over to him and stuck her hand near his nose. Her skin wasn’t punctured but there was a mark and the poor kid (and her mother) was terrified. Mark was horrified and told us all that Magic has to go. I don’t think that he does – I think we should just keep Magic down here in the flat and not let him up near the pavement, but we’ve yet to have a proper discussion about it. We are all very sad.

5. Noah was squirting his gecko tank on Sunday night and he let out a yelp and discovered that one of the geckos had died. It’s the first time we have lost a family pet (actually, we lost some fish once but they were boring and we didn’t really mind) and Noah was very upset. He howled and wailed so much that I asked him to sleep in the living room near the tank so he wouldn’t wake the others. On Monday he painted a perfume box with a cross for a casket, took the gecko over to the garden with his brothers and one neighbour (all of them were wearing my black jumpers over their teeshirts as Noah requested, while Noah himself wore his school blazer with a dark blue t-shirt, dark blue jeans and his school shoes), said a few words and dug a hole for the gecko with our ice-cream scoop. It was a very sad day in the pet department, I tell you.

Enough of the sadness. Here’s a photo of Ned’s massive strawberry and below that, a photo of the baby draped in Mark’s clothes to make him look like a big man:




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Easter and False Economy

Came and went, as it does. We went to church on Good Friday because you can’t expect the kids to pick up your religious heritage by osmosis, you know. Otis apparently thinks that Jesus has something to do with Van Gogh, so we realised something has gotten a little lost in translation. We went along to the children’s service at the fancy Anglican church down the road but there were only us there, apart from the family who put the service activities together, the door guy’s kids and the vicars. LUCKILY we bring such a hoard of children with us – enough for three regular-sized families, am I right? So the kids got the full attention of the curate who organised the creation of an Easter garden, complete with a small Gethsemane made of small herby shrubs, crosses, a tomb (actually a terracotta pot on its side), sandy bits for the path, rocks, a biggish boulder that would have been rolled away for the Sunday service but we wouldn’t know because instead we were having an egg hunt and prosecco-and-cassis brunch in the garden with some new, exciting, fresh-from-the-telly ‘sleb neighbours. That’s a whole other story – meanwhile, I PROMISE I will do my best to ensure Otis learns how the Easter story ends, and that there is much more to it than thorns and blood and post-impressionism.  the garden with

What news? I weighed myself and I am not getting any skinnier – I was expecting some sort of natural thinness to occur after the baby, but apparently I am just gaining kilograms, little by little, to my shame and horror and sadness. So it’ll be OUT with the two pieces of toast and large boiled eggs of a morning and OUT with the devil-may-care attitude towards cinnamon rolls and OUT with half price Easter eggs and IN with rationing and running. I shall pick my vices wisely, because without something to look forward to of an evening, no one would last very long. Mine shall be negroni cocktails. I make my own now and they are like medicine. Literally, they taste like medicine. But in an acquired-taste kind of way, you know? Like, drink enough of them and you rather get to like the numbed face feeling. The running has been once a week now cranked up to twice, and I think I can squeeze in another from Monday. It’s all very dull to talk and think about, but those upper arms aren’t going to fit into my breastfeeding-friendly button up shirts by themselves. I have a new sample sale Erdem shirt which I bought in a size 16 which is perfect for the bosom situation and was reduced from £680 to £65 but it barely contains my arms – quite literally bulging at the seams, so needs must.

Also, I have a new Chanel jacket which fits on the wrong side of snug. Remember the Chanel jacket I bought from a charity shop for £62 years ago? It was green and pink and cream striped and reminded me of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, and I could never figure out how to wear it without looking a bit mental, so I sold it for £245 on eBay. Great work, I hear you say. What a profit! Well, yes, it was, but as soon as I sold it, fuelled by my homemade negronis, I immediately bought another one from The RealReal which was reduced from £450 to £255 + £30 shipping. So far, so reasonable and actually brilliant –  right? But then, alas, I discovered that I owed UPS £93 in taxes because it came from the US. Which throws all of my clever up-selling maths into some sort of ugly cauldron of false economy and shame. And it arrived and it is a bit tight on the arms. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Let’s not even get into the fact that I have alerts on my phone to tell me about Chanel jewellery auctions and that I bid on a horrible necklace a month ago, and accidentally won it and now it is on its way to me and I will have to flip it pronto because it is both so ugly and so emblematic of my conflation of happiness with buying stuff.

So that’s all a bit embarrassing. I did buy a very nice skirt at the Erdem sale which was £750 reduced to £100, and I wore it last week and THREE random people came up to me and told me it was lovely, so it isn’t all bad buying decisions – not all of the time, anyway. And it fits and flares nicely over the empty-sack post-baby stomach, so that’s something.

But really, truly, there is more to this post than overpriced clothing. The Easter holidays also featured Otis being run over by a dickhead on a big heavy bike in Kensington Gardens, ending up all bruised and bloody. I went completely apeshit and the young man on the bike probably went and had a cry somewhere after it was over. We also went to the zoo, National Trust gardens for picnics and egg hunts, the movies, Holland Park for the peacocks, Westfield for the Lego and Brick Lane for the dumplings.

Here’s the jacket that briefly made me profitable before I blew it on a tight-fitting imported substitute:


Brick Lane outing with eldest and youngest:


What we do when we get a tree and a swing and no one from the National Trust is watching:


Otis running off to photograph a peacock in Holland Park so I could do some work (as a diversion, it lasted about seven minutes):


Easter Monday at Cliveden  – the third time in a week. Not all of us are thrilled to be there:


Joy of joys – the baby. I am less into him today though as he did some sort of loud sad thing from 8pm until 1am last night, sending Mark onto the couch and me into eye-prickling despair. All smiles today though:



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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:

preg shots purple and red

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:



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:


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


But so handsome:



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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