Of ships and shoes and sealing wax

Back-to-SchoolWe’re back from our grand summer tour, just one remaining mini-jaunt to the Kent coast planned for the week after next. It’s been a fabulous summer, reminding me why I love travel (hence ships), but I’m now back in London with a distinctly anticipatory back-to-school feeling, and really looking forward to feeling the first autumnal nip in the air. Hence shoes, because new shoes are always synonymous with back to school. I need to be Good Efficient Mummy and take Anna to have her feet measured (I’m really hoping they haven’t grown, because she has some adorable purple patent Mary-Janes my parents bought her in the spring, and which have been hardly worn due to summer weather which actually warranted sandals and Crocs as footwear of choice), but I have to guiltily confess to having spent a sneaky 30 minutes this morning browsing new shoes for me, and, ahem, during the course of this browsing I may have ordered a new winter coat as well. And I’ve identified the fact that my autumnal life will not be complete without black ankle biker-style boots. So that was a good and productive use of time really.

We arrived back from Corsica three days ago after a blissful week there. The weather was perfect, gloriously warm and sunny without quite tipping over into unbearably hot. Bastia, where we stayed, has a quaint old port surrounded by cafes and restaurants, and we fell into a comfortable and relaxing routine of an early dinner with Anna, then gelato for three as we strolled round to the lighthouse, watched the big ferries docking in the modern port, and then back to the flat to put Anna to bed, and curl up on the sofa to chat and read. I managed three new books in a week, which is pretty much a return to pre-baby levels. Izzy’s Cold Feet by Sarah Louise Smith and A Summer Fling by Milly Johnson were both fun and uplifting reads, and just what I needed, but I especially loved A Night on the Orient Express by Veronica Henry. I’ve always really wanted to travel on the Orient Express, and my husband has always promised me we’d do it for our 20th wedding anniversary, but seeing as I’m chronically impatient, and we only make it to three years this October, I’m trying to negotiate for 10th anniversary instead. Or, even better, 20th anniversary of getting together, which is a mere 6 years away. Or maybe even my 35th birthday…

Our own travel back from Corsica was a significantly less glamorous sleeper train experience. We’d taken the easy-but-boring option travelling to Corsica, and got a direct flight from Gatwick to Bastia, but coming home we decided to make the 6 hour ferry crossing from Bastia to Nice, then take an overnight train from Nice to Paris, then conclude the journey by Eurostar. In Pre-Anna days we’ve had several inter-railing holidays, and would have thought nothing of this journey, but this time around the closer it got, the more apprehensive as to how Anna would cope with 24 hours nonstop travelling, including a night spent on a train, we became. The last time we had shared a bedroom with Anna she woke at midnight and spent the entire remainder of the night screaming, until at 5am I gave up trying to get her back to sleep and decided to call it morning and start the day. Admittedly that was nearly two years ago, but it has instilled in us an almost pathological fear of being in the same room as Anna at night, and, in the run up to the journey, our decision to break this two year embargo by spending a night with all three of us cooped up in a six foot square compartment seemed…eccentric, shall we say. Luckily it passed smoothly. We arrived in Paris having all had a good night’s sleep, and with just enough time for a quick pain au chocolat in Place de la Sorbonne before hopping on the Eurostar back to London.

And now I’m fully refreshed and recharged and ready for the real new year (January is clearly an imposter, September is where it’s at). I have several projects on the go now. The most urgent and important of which is getting Anna ready to start school two weeks today. As well as the feet measuring, I need to go through her clothes and throw out things which don’t fit, and then purchase some indestructible, preferably wipe-clean, clothing as her school doesn’t have a uniform. She also needs a PE kit, but sadly, although my mum and I are both desperate to buy her one, I don’t think a new pencil case is really justified given that she can’t yet write. And appealing though those little protractor-set square-compass sets are, I should think they’d be positively lethal if introduced to a Reception class, so I think we’ll just have to exercise a little patience.

Secondly I need to finish writing my second book. Provisionally called To Have and to Hold it needs to be with my publisher by mid-October, which should be enough on its own to keep me busy.

Thirdly, our new kittens, Percy and Henry, will join the household two weeks on Sunday. Anna and I went to the pet shop this morning to purchase everything a feline (or four-year-old) heart could desire. When I left the house earlier, Anna was curled up in the fleecy cat basket, having spent the previous hour playing with the toy attached to the scratching post. I think when the actual flesh and blood kittens arrive she might spontaneously combust with joyous excitement.kittens

Fourthly, get some dates in the diary to catch up with friends we haven’t seen over the peripatetic summer.

Fifthly, before the cold weather sets in, our living room needs both some serious draught-proofing and a source of heat.

Sixthly, all my normal home-improvement resolutions about de-cluttering, streamlining our lifestyle, re-organising my wardrobe. And of course buying some new boots.

Seventhly, all my normal self-improvement resolutions about more exercise, reading the papers (and not just the lifetyle sections), blah, blah, blah. I never actually get round to them, so it doesn’t much matter what they are I suppose, it just makes me feel vaguely better to have them in the background.

So, that’s covered ships and shoes, but I should probably come  clean and admit that I don’t actually have much to say about sealing wax. Or even ‘ceiling wax’ as I always thought it was when my mum read me this poem as a little girl. I used to puzzle over why ceilings would be waxy. Was it the same kind of wax as you get in your ears? I remember lots of these kind of misunderstandings from my childhood, and my husband recalls hearing the “Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we” song, and mentally adding a non-existent comma which caused him to believe they were making a statement about their social class rather than their geographical location. It all makes me wonder what linguistic misapprehensions my daughter is currently labouring under.

Summer holidays

chateau-de-pornic-201-1A couple of months ago the seven weeks of school holidays loomed very large in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter to bits, but now she’s used to the stimulation and companionship of nursery I was worried that seven weeks home alone with mummy would prove rather wearing for both of us. In my panicked efforts to avoid this, and to catch up with various friends and relatives, I seem to have inadvertently organised the Helen & Anna Summer Roadshow.

Two weeks into the holidays and we’ve already clocked up a day trip to Cambridgeshire and a week in Nantes. Tomorrow we set off for the North West leg of the show – a weekend in Manchester with my brother and sister-in-law, and then five days in Liverpool with my parents, sans husband as he doesn’t get a seven week holiday. There’s then two days to catch our breath before we set off for a week’s family holiday, another home exchange, in Corsica. After that we have ten days at home before rounding things off with a couple of days on the Kent coast.

Our day trip to St Neots gave me the opportunity to catch up with my best friend and her husband and baby son, and then (almost as exciting) a trip to the Cath Kidston Factory Shop which is a 10 minute drive from hers. I acquired a red spotty tray, some baby blue melamine salad servers, a retro luggage-label style travel first aid kit and a strawberry print purse. Very restrained, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Nantes is a really vibrant city, which actually reminded us quite a lot of East London, and my Liverpool home, with its self-confident reincarnation of an old dockside economy into an artistic and cultural hub. It’s also only a half hour drive from the seaside – beautiful stretches of sandy, salty beaches. This meant I could indulge my passion for swimming in the sea which was fabulous, but had a downside in Anna’s throwaway comment of “Isn’t it funny the way wearing a swimming costume makes your tummy look like there’s a baby growing in it, Mummy?”. In an older child that might have been cheeky, but this was said with complete innocence and, thank God, a complete lack of consciousness that a rounded stomach might not necessarily be a positive thing. I’ve decided to take comfort from the fact that this observation clearly means that I don’t look pregnant the 98% of the time I’m not in swimwear, and to renew my resolution to do more exercise once Anna starts school.

We went with friends whose little boy is Anna’s best friend from nursery, and they had such a lovely time playing together:

“Daddy, when me and S are staying in the same house, it’s just like we’re twins, isn’t it?”

Add that to the fact that the home exchange family whose house we were staying in had left us with custody of their two cats, two chickens, two fish and one bunny rabbit, not to mention sandpit, paddling pool, trampoline, swing and slide, and you begin to see why we’re developing a miserable conviction that no other holiday we take Anna on will ever quite match up to this one. Although I was reassured yesterday when she confided, “Mummy, I really, really, really like holidays, but I like our house most of all.” Phew.