End of an era

Well, in just over half an hour I will go and pick Anna up from her last ever day at Infants. Where did that time go? It feels like yesterday we took her for her very first day in Reception, and then husband and I went out for lunch afterwards to take our minds off worrying about her constantly until it was pick up time. And now it’s all done. That little girl, barely out of the toddler phase, has grown up so much, developed her independence, learnt to read and write and do fractions. Learnt to manage, and thrive, without mummy around for most of the day.

We couldn’t have asked for a better school, and she has loved pretty much every minute. Juniors is part of the same school, but on a different site, so moving up feels like a bigger deal than I think it might for some people. Anna is looking forward to it, mainly: “a bit nervous, but excited nervous if you know what I mean, Mummy”, and I know she will cope just fine. Better than fine, I think she’ll relish new challenges and new experiences. She is ready and eager to grow up and move on, and I’m so proud watching her, whilst also wanting to press Pause, just for a little while and keep my little girl little for a little bit longer.

Before Juniors, though, we have a summer to look forward to. She has eagerly anticipated trips planned to see and stay with both sets of grandparents, and I’ve been making a list of activities and day trips which work for a 7 year old and a 19 month old. It’s quite short so far, but actually if the weather carries on like this then they’re both pretty happy playing various very splashy games in their tiny paddling pool in our tiny garden with an ice-cream every so often.

Here’s to some lazy, hazy, crazy summer days which contain no school runs. Here’s to making the most of both children at the lovely ages they are right now. Here’s to me remembering to keep the freezer stocked with Mini Magnums and the fridge stocked with post-bedtime white wine. And here’s to my patience not totally deserting me by the middle of next week, leaving me desperate for Anna to go back to school, any school, just as long as I get some peace and quiet! Happy Summer, everyone.

summer fun



Wake up and smell the roses

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog lately. Like many people, I have been in something of a state of shock following the result of last month’s referendum. I’m not exaggerating to say that it feels something like a bereavement, and at the moment I am caught somewhere between anger and denial in the stages of grief.

In my more optimistic moments I can’t believe that we will do something as cataclysmic, as momentous, as disastrous, as leaving the EU on the basis of a very close result following such a horribly untruthful and misleading campaign. Leaders of the Leave campaign have already reneged on their promise – a promise they knew they could never keep – of an extra 350 million a week for the NHS.

I am so angry that the Remain campaign didn’t challenge the entire premise of this referendum. EU citizens living in Britain could not vote in it. Ex-pat Brits living in EU countries could not vote in it. 16 and 17 year olds could not vote in it, despite their futures being very materially at stake. We had no idea what we were voting for, because no-one (still) has the vaguest, remotest idea what Brexit will look like. Such a flawed plebiscite surely cannot justify such an enormous step, and one which the majority of the MPs we elect to make such decisions, do not support.

In a country that suddenly seems motivated by hate and fear, with an economic, political and social future which looks uncertain at best, bleak at worst, my blog which is deliberately small-scale and domestic feels trivial, inconsequential, even pointless.

And yet…When under pressure to cut funding for the arts in order to support the war effort, Winston Churchill riposted “But then what, exactly, are we fighting for?”. There are many reasons for believing that Britain’s future is brighter in Europe, but my own reasons for desiring it so strongly are very personal, relating to peace and security and opportunity for my children, and the delight I feel in living in a city, a country, which welcomes the world. The kind of things, in other words, that I often blog about.rose close up

My other reason for continuing to blog about the little things, is that these are what keep me sane. When the bubble of anger and panic gets too big to contain and my head and chest feel like they are going to explode, then kissing my babies, or baking a cake or smelling a rose helps me regain a little perspective.

We went to Polesden Lacey yesterday as a birthday day-out treat for my husband. It’s a gorgeous National Trust property in Surrey, a Regency period house which was bought by a Mrs Greville and transformed into the ultimate location for delightful and decadent Edwardian house-parties. Edward VII himself was at Mrs Greville’s first house-party in 1909, a few years later the Duke of York (subsequently George VI) honeymooned there. If you ever wondered what life was like inside Downton Abbey, this is the place to go. rose garden

There are also utterly beautiful and spectacular gardens, including the most lovely rose garden I think I have ever seen.

We braved the rain for a 90 minute walk from the local station (lack of car ownership can be a bit of a drawback when visiting National Trust properties!). Anna found an Enid Blyton book she hadn’t read before in the second hand bookshop. The rain cleared enough for us to enjoy our picnic (complete with four different types of cheese, houmous, Cava and strawberries), and to explore the gardens. Then the children went off to the play area, and I got to immerse myself in period drama land inside the house itself. By this time we were all pretty shattered, and very relieved to discover a mini-bus back to the station!

pink roses

I am still angry. I have never been more angry. And I think we have to be angry. We have to keep fighting. We have to make the positive case for Europe and inclusion and openness. We have to fight hatred and racism and xenophobia. But I think, probably, we also have to carry on living our lives and smelling the roses.



My June Books

June books

I seem to be getting later and later with my monthly book posts, and my only excuse is that life seems to be busier and busier. It’s coming up to the end of term, which means a plethora of sports days, tea parties, end of year shows with the accompanying need to provide costumes and practise lines, dance routines and songs. We also spent a lot of time campaigning before the EU referendum – sadly to no avail. I must admit to finding the result, not to mention horrible fallout of increased racism and hate crime,  so demoralising and upsetting that I have really struggled to find my writing mojo over the last couple of weeks. I’ve also been a little bit unadventurous with my reading choices, with only two ‘new’ books again this month. It’s lucky that I read so much in February, as it means I’m just about on target, having reached half way through the year on 26 new books! Phew.

Toddler Taming by Christopher Green

Someone gave us this book when Anna was toddler age, but I never really looked at it. The toddler years weren’t particularly difficult with her (or maybe that’s just rose-tinted hindsight) but for whatever reason this had been sitting on my shelf for the last few years, but caught my eye recently. Because oh my goodness, would I like to know how to tame my toddler! She’s almost unfailingly good-natured, but can seem totally feral. She loves to run and jump and climb, but her risk evaluation skills are frankly extremely limited. She is constantly on the move, so much so that even getting her to sit still in her high chair for the duration of a meal is a challenge. When she has consumed just enough to sustain her for the next set of adventures, she has a tendency to throw her plate to one side to indicate she has finished, and then clamber to her feet. Safety harness? Pah. What do we think she is, a baby?

I’m not sure really if the book has left me much the wiser. As Dr Green points out, toddlers, like the adults they will become, have distinctive personalities, and it is impossible, not to mention undesirable, to try and erase those personality traits in order to create a toddler who complies with our notions of what makes life easy. One suggestion to cope with difficult mealtimes was to ensure that everything was totally prepared before you sat down to the meal – table set, drinks prepared, food all ready. What a good idea, thought I, and put the advice into practice at the next meal. Which is why, having filled Anna’s water cup and put it on the table, I came back into the dining room from collecting plates and cutlery in the kitchen, to find Sophia sitting on the table, soaked to the skin, having poured the contents of the water cup all over herself.  Epic mummy fail. I’m not at all sure my toddler is tameable.

Taken at the Flood and Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

I am passionate about Golden Age detective fiction, and Agatha Christie is arguably its greatest, certainly its most celebrated, proponent so of course I have read these books before. I realised this month however that I didn’t have copies of either of them, and hadn’t read them for several years. Baby brain means, therefore, that I may as well have not read them at all. Unfortunately this goes for anything I read before 2009, which is unfortunate given that I spent 3 years gaining a degree in English Literature, and so know I have read all the classics, even have a very fancy bit of paper to prove it, but have no actual memory of the seminal works themselves. Hey ho, maybe a project for retirement.

I had some money left on the Waterstone’s card my parents had bought me for my birthday, and so treated myself to these two very attractive editions when Sophia and I had our day out in central London recently. And all that I can say is that re-reading them was an absolute pure, indulgent pleasure. For me, Agatha Christie is the literary equivalent of warm bubble baths, cashmere cardies or hot chocolate (and can often be enjoyed in combination with one or more of these), which was just what I needed this rather unsettling month.

The Secret Diary of a New Mum Aged 43 and Three Quarters by Cari Rosen

This is an absolutely hilarious autobiographical account of one new mum’s journey through pregnancy and the first couple of years with her daughter. As the title indicates, she is an older mum, but I should think that mums of any age can relate to most of her anecdotes. Having had a fairly large age gap in between my girls, I don’t have that many local friends with children the same age as Sophia, so there is less of the constant swapping of tales of woe and development milestones than there was when Anna was a similar age. Books like this are great for creating that ‘all in this together’ feeling, and a reminder to see the funny side of parenting a young child.

After the Party by Lisa Jewell

Lisa Jewell is one of my all-time most favourite ever authors. I absolutely love her ability to get inside the head of a huge range of characters, and her imaginative ability to create original and thought-provoking scenarios. Ralph’s Party was her first novel, and I have read it more times than I care to remember. It was my go-to comfort read as a twenty-something Londoner. After the Party picks up the story of the main protagonists, Ralph and Jem, a decade later, when cool inner-London flat-shares and drunken nights out have been swapped for life in the suburbs with two young children. The demands of this have placed an enormous strain on their relationship, and the novel looks at what happy ever after might be like in reality.

I read this when it first came out a few years ago, and to be honest found it hugely depressing, and not at all the uplifting experience a Lisa Jewell novel normally is. It is as brilliantly written as always, but Anna was a baby at the time, and the message I took from it was that it was impossible to have a baby (let alone two babies) and retain a happy, loving relationship and a sense of your own identity. For some reason I picked it up again this month, and enjoyed it a lot more second time. I think the main reason is that I am now more secure in my identity as a mother, wife and writer -it certainly isn’t easy balancing all three elements of my life, but it’s not as impossible as I feared it might be. I also know that, demanding as the sleep-deprived baby and toddler years undoubtedly are, things do get a bit easier, and with an older child there are many more opportunities for reclaiming a bit of time for yourself as well as enjoying  being with them.