Well no, I know it’s not spring really, we’re not even quite out of January yet. But after the bleak and freezing weather of the last couple of weeks there seems to be a little bit of softness in the air this morning, and so I’ve come up with my top ten reasons why I think spring must be on the way:

1) It’s typical springtime weather, bright, sunny and breezy. Well, maybe slightly more than breezy. But the near gale force winds whipping round the house will surely blow the cobwebs away.

2) When I went out for a walk I didn’t need my gloves  and hat on.

3) I turned the thermostat on the central heating down yesterday.

4) I’ve gone three days in a row without a hot chocolate. Oh alright then, 2.5 days. But who’s counting?

5) The pots in my garden have green shoots appearing. It won’t be long before I have beautiful spring flowers. Although the bulbs which didn’t provide a tasty winter snack for the resident squirrel population (numerous) will be a delicious treat for the snails as soon as they begin to bloom.

6) I’m actually thinking about my garden for the first time since I planted aforementioned bulbs in October. I’m no rival to Charlie Dimmock, so what I have been thinking is that I need to phone the local gardening firm and ask them to come in and do some pruning and tidying, but still. When they’ve done all the hard work I might plant some primroses.

7) When I went to Colombia Road Flower Market on Sunday it was full of the springtime flowers I love best – daffodils, hyacinths, tulips – and I bought some catkins to arrange in a vase. And we always had catkins on the Spring Table at primary school, ergo it must be spring.

8) It’s my birthday next week. Having a birthday in February is quite handy because I can revive all the New Year Resolutions which didn’t make it through January, and that gives me a sort of cleansing, spring like feeling. Oh dear, I seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel now. I should have stuck to a top seven reasons. But I’ll keep trying.

9) I’ve just made a list of little projects I want to do around the house. And I actually might do some of them myself, as opposed to phoning a man who can. I was a bit daunted at the thought of hemming a pair of curtains by hand, but have now decided that sellotape will be a perfectly acceptable substitute, so that’s ok. Painting the frame of an old mirror surely shouldn’t be beyond me. And all this is a displacement activity for cleaning the windows and hoovering under the beds, which is what my house really needs in the way of spring cleaning.

10) I’m really stuck now. Erm, how about, because the Easter eggs are already in the shops, and surely, surely, retailers wouldn’t indulge in cynical unseasonal product placement in an attempt to persuade us to buy things we don’t want or need, so it must be spring.

And having proved to my perfect satisfaction that spring is on the way I can now feel entirely justified in going out to buy my first creme egg of the year.


My desert island fiction

I am a compulsive, addicted reader. My osteopath bemoans my habit of never leaving the house without a book (or three), although the advent of Kindle has helped this a bit, and I am never relaxed if I don’t have a good book on the go. I think my tastes are fairly eclectic; I probably read commercial women’s fiction and crime fiction most frequently, but I also love the Victorian classics,  Renaissance and Restoration drama, the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, John Betjeman, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Sylvia Plath, accessible history by authors like Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser, anything by Alan Bennett, anything by George Orwell…and so on.

I had a hugely enjoyable day yesterday compiling my top thirty books for my website. It was agonising to decide, and there are many authors – Maeve Binchey, Adele Parks, Thomas Hardy, Sebastian Faulks, Wilkie Collins – to name but a few, who didn’t quite make it, despite being some of my absolute favourites. I can definitely feel more lists coming on in the near future.

For now though, check out my Desert Island Books selection, and let me know what you think. Agree? Disagree? Inspired to try a new author? I’d love to hear your views.

My Day Out

I had such a great day yesterday, although probably used up all my month’s social life credits in one go.

I dropped my daughter at nursery – it was ‘Yellow Day’, so she had to dress in yellow. Her only yellow item is a summer party dress, so she was crammed into a net petticoated number with as many long sleeved t-shirts as I could squeeze on underneath. It’s so not sleeveless dress weather. This was teamed with her brown leather winter boots, so I like to think she was channelling a boho Kate-Moss-at-Glastonbury type look.

Then, great excitement, Wednesday is her full day at nursery, so I have an entire 6 hours to myself. Of course I should have been working on my second book, or my website, or my blog, but instead I whizzed off to the station, and into town on the Tube. I popped up at Oxford Circus, facing Portland Place, and felt the heady rush of exhilaration that being in the centre of London, however mundanely, always gives me. I wondered, when I moved to London and started the daily grind of commuting, whether my love affair with London would grow stale, but it never has. Now, when I’m out in the wilds of Zone 3 for most of the time, our reunions are more passionate than ever.

I walked up a couple of blocks to Margaret Street to give blood at the West End Donor Centre. It’s the first time I’ve managed to donate for 4 years, which is a bit guilt-inducing, but it’s such a great experience. Seriously. If you can’t afford a spa day, then giving blood just might be a close second. You go in to a lovely warm, calm environment and sit in a comfy seat with a cold drink. You have a health questionnaire, and the iron levels of your blood checked (v beneficial health check – low iron levels are a very common cause of chronic tiredness amongst women of childbearing age). Then you lie down on a lovely soft couch and have a blissful half hour either alone with your thoughts, or, in my case, with my Kindle. Afterwards you get an at-seat service of more drinks and a tasty snack. All the staff are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and you get the small glow that you might just have helped save a life, which a trip to The Sanctuary never gives you. What’s not to like?

After the blood donation I popped off to Covent Garden to meet my friend R for lunch in Le Pain Quotidien. Delicious limeade and vegetarian mezze, and lots of life enhancing, mood boosting baby chat as R is expecting her first child any time now.

Rushed back to Walthamtow to collect Anna from nursery. Home for hot chocolate for two and an exchange of news about our days, then rustled up a Bolognese sauce and vegged out in front of a couple of episodes of Charlie and Lola.

Then after A was tucked up in bed and husband arrived home, I went out. Again! Oh yes, I kid you not. For the second time in a day, and after dark no less, I was off for a social engagement. This time it was for a fabulous 2.5 hour catch up with a very good friend who lives a couple of miles away but who I haven’t seen for months, mainly due to our children’s annoying habit of being ill frequently, and consecutively, but never simultaneously. Eventually we gave up trying to involve the kids, informed our husbands they were on babysitting duty, and threw caution to the winds with a 2 for 1 Orange Wednesdays deal at Pizza Express. Irresponsible party animals that we are.

So, a lovely, lovely day to brighten up a cold, dark and rather depressing January.

Spot of bother

The washing machine had been making death rattle noises for a few weeks, and I’d got used to it; and to fishing out slightly soggy half-spun clothes. Then, one dark day, it Just Stopped. Completely.

I was bereft. Great piles of pasta-sauce-stained toddler clothing began to mount up. My husband absent-mindedly mopped up a spill with a tea towel rather than paper towel and I was mentally filling in my divorce application. Surely unreasonable behaviour?  I worked my way through the Yellow Pages; washing machine repair companies either demanded sum sufficient to feed family for a week just for a call-out, or, when I told them the model number, laughed patronisingly and indicated that the machine we inherited with the house may well do as a quirky find on Kirstie’s Vintage Home, but was unlikely to see active service again.
Then a phone call from Anna’s nursery. Did I not notice that she was liberally sprinkled with spots and almost certainly contagious when I dropped her off that morning? No, because she wasn’t. No, really, I promise, she wasn’t. They must have just come. Honestly.
So then we were housebound amongst our growing mounds of filthy towels, clothes and bedding, adding layers of calamine lotion stains in for good measure as we battled chicken pox, or ‘chicken pops’ as Anna called it. Clearly this all meant that my new year’s resolutions relating to more exercise, healthier eating and better organisation and time management had to be put on hold.
Then a spate of people saying profoundly depressing things to me:
Anna: “Mummy, I think you’re getting chicken pox too, you have a very big spot on your chin.” (I wasn’t getting chicken pox, I just have a spotty chin. Apparently)
Nice Man from John Lewis: “I’m afraid due to a mix-up we can deliver your new washing machine this week but not remove the old one or plumb in the new one. However, as a gesture of goodwill we will pay for someone else to remove the old machine if you can organise that.”
Nice man from washing machine removal place: “Your hot tap connection’s broken. I can’t turn it off. There’s hot water going everywhere. You need an emergency plumber.”
But then, things started to look up. An emergency plumber sorted the spurting tap. A mop and bucket sorted the flooded kitchen. And I successfully plumbed in the new washing machine myself, a fact of which I am inordinately proud.
Anna’s temperature came down, and her mood looked up, and we baked a chicken pox cake to celebrate – chocolate sponge with chocolate butter cream and all the pink and red Smarties picked out of the packet and dotted across at irregular intervals.
This morning I was lucky enough to be a guest at a brunch to celebrate 150 years of London Underground. Standing in the St Pancras Grand sipping champagne and listening to Boris Johnson’s witticisms certainly made a striking contrast to the rest of the week. However, charming and amusing as he may be (and I say this as someone who still owns a ‘Don’t blame me, I voted for Ken’ badge), could Boris plumb a washing machine or bake a chicken pox cake?

So, this was Christmas…

Well, it’s official. I’m a grown up. I have hosted Christmas in my own house, and everyone survived it. In fact, possibly, everyone enjoyed it – although given I had sinusitis throughout, depriving me of the senses of smell, taste and hearing, I’m probably not really qualified to comment on that.

I cleaned and prepped the house like my life depended on it, braved Westfield Stratford City on 22ndDecember, despite thinking I’d bought everything I could possibly need, gave a pre-Christmas party for seven three-year-olds, paid a sum of money for the organic turkey which frankly suggests it should have made the stuffing and cooked itself, hung and filled the stocking, left the snacks for Father Christmas and the reindeer, baked and iced the Christmas cake, baked and iced the Yule log, made the trifle, bought bottles of spirits not solely intended for my own consumption that evening (how grown up is that?), got up crack of dawn on Christmas Day to cook the turkey etc etc.
Literally could not have done it without my dad, who was at my side throughout doing all the boring bits which actually make it work – endless onions chopped, carrots sliced and potatoes peeled, and also making the best stuffing ever. Or my husband who did all front of house stuff – tables decorated, drinks poured, conversations started, present giving organised. Or my brother and sister-in-law, who played endless games and puzzles from the Peppa Pig annual with their niece, and spent Christmas afternoon constructing Playmobil models. Or my mum, who lent me most of her kitchenware, bought M&S out of biscuits and chocolate, and bakes the best mince pies ever. Or my mother-in-law, who took a taxi across London clutching not only her presents to the whole family, but an enormous cooked ham, a dish of brandy butter, another of bread sauce and two bottles of champagne – basically everything I’d either forgotten or couldn’t face making. Or my daughter, whose look of wide-eyed, anticipatory rapture on the landing on Christmas morning made the whole thing worthwhile.
Despite everyone’s incredibly generous help, and the fact that creating childhood memories for my daughter is magical, it was bloody hard work, and I’m retrospectively much more appreciative of my parents for all my childhood Christmases. I had no idea!
Happy New Year!