Return to routine

September has to be a contender for my favourite month of the year. Especially on days like this when the golden sunshine highlights the leaves which are just beginning to change colour, and there’s that hint of crispness in the air. September is a month of anticipation; I guess a hangover from childhood when you had that thrilling triumvirate of Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night and Christmas to look forward to. And as I was a fairly geeky and Hermione like child, I’m not at all sure that I didn’t enjoy the return to school, complete with shiny shoes and a lavishly stocked pencil case, more than breaking up for the summer in the first place.

We have had a very enjoyable summer. We’ve paddled and built sandcastles and walked on cliff tops. We’ve made good use of our National Trust membership with visits to Plas Newydd, St Michael’s Mount and Speke Hall. We’ve spent time with friends and family, we’ve been to the zoo, we’ve eaten a lot of ice cream. We’ve had busy days, and days where no-one moved very far from the sofa. We’ve played frisbee in the park and visited innumerable playgrounds.

We’ve baked, and cooked, and swum, and crafted. We’ve kept the sticker book industry in business on various lengthy train journeys. I’ve read a million stories, and also made good use of the wonder that is CBeebies. And though I might feel like I’m the only person in East London not now sporting a Tuscan or Provencal tan, we did make the most of the changeable British weather. But now, I’m ready to get back into our normal routine, and I think the children are too.

I love my daughters more than I can say, and I know I am extremely lucky to have spent the last seven weeks with them. However, I think I may love and appreciate them just a little bit more when I have some time to myself. The windows of time  when Sophia is in pre-school and Anna is at school, and I get to write, or catch up on chores, or go to the toilet by myself, are so precious and they fill me with renewed energy and enthusiasm for spending time with my girls when I pick them up.

I also love September for the feeling of (generally unjustified) optimism at how organised and efficient and productive I am going to be in the coming school year. How my children will gobble up the delicious and perfectly nutritionally balanced meals and snacks I have prepared for them. How our mornings will be be calm and smooth, ending in both children dropped at school with a loving kiss and no cross words exchanged. How our after-school activities will be fun and active and creative and hardly ever involve Peppa Pig. How I will hit the sweet spot of time management which will enable me to utilise my 10 hours a week of childcare to write, to exercise, to relax and to do boring but necessary household tasks. Obviously this is all very unlikely to happen, and in a fortnight’s time I will be, as a friend put it this week, ‘crying into my gin in the corner’ after we make it to the school gates after an hour of ceaseless nagging with only 20 seconds to spare, and both children reject anything which bears even passing resemblance to a vegetable in their lovingly prepared dinner, and I realise that I just spent an entire 2.5 hour pre-school session staring blankly at Facebook whilst eating a family sized bar of Dairy Milk because Sophia has a cold and I was up with her four times in the night. But just for this next week or two I can plan, and I can hope, and I can buy a lovely new notebook to make lists in, and I can enjoy the smugly serene conviction that this is the year I will nail it.



Back to School

After a warm and sunny summer it felt appropriate that we woke up this morning to grey skies and drizzly rain. And, of course, inevitable that the rain cover on the new buggy promptly broke. It was a bit of a squelchy school run, but that didn’t dampen Anna’s enthusiasm at all. She’s been a bit nervous about the big move up to Juniors over the summer, but then getting together with some of her friends at the park last week for a class picnic, and then again yesterday for a cinema ‘n’ Pizza Express birthday party seemed to remind her of how much fun she has at school with her friends, and excitement took over from nerves.

One of the children at the party who has an older sibling told everyone that they had to have their own fully equipped pencil case, so we had an emergency trip to Wilkos yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t exactly reluctant – I absolutely love buying new stationery, and in between the pencils and rubbers I also managed to sneak in a couple of pretty little notebooks for me. Ahem. Oh, and a full set of multi-coloured pens. Husband did question the necessity for those given that Anna isn’t allowed to write in pen at school yet, and when she does it will be with a specially approved ‘handwriting pen’, but I thought they might come in useful for, ummm, stuff. And they’re so pretty!

back to school

Having been really looking forward to Anna going back so that I get that golden nap-time window all to myself each day and can start to try and organise the chaos that our lives and home have descended into over the summer, inevitably Sophia fell asleep in her (damp) buggy at 9.10am just after dropping Anna off. Grr. There’s no point fighting it, so instead we splashed down to Boots and I cheered myself up with a new nail varnish (Rimmel, ‘London Bus’ – a girl can never have too many red nail varnishes). Of course she then wouldn’t settle in her cot for an afternoon nap, so I ended up letting her amuse herself playing with a feather duster and a handful of fridge magnets while I hoovered, before setting off with the buggy to walk her to sleep for another little nap to prevent an evening meltdown. So much for time to myself for organising everything!

I really missed Anna as well, and the house felt very quiet with just Sophia and me in it. Thanks to my MIL looking after Sophia, though, I got to go and pick Anna up by myself and take her for a milkshake at our local cafe so that she could give me a proper debrief on her first day without interruptions from her little sister. It all seemed positive, with the highlights being a reading corner they are going to decorate themselves with covers of their favourite books, and the news that for the first time since Reception there is a class bear who will come home with different children over the course of the year. I’m hoping we’re fairly early on before the competition intensifies and we end up having to take Humphrey to Euro Disney or book a box in Covent Garden in order to show him a good time.

Anyway, tomorrow is another day. I have now at least made a list of all the jobs I need to do should I manage to get Sophia to have a nap in her cot. And we have crisp mornings, opaque tights, sausage and mash, cashmere cardies, and after-school hot chocolates and crumpets to look forward to over the coming months. Not to mention the fact that Anna just announced that now it is September she feels it is acceptable to start getting excited about Christmas…

Summing up Summer

I’m a bit slow off the mark with the obligatory summer in review post. I could blame the back-to-school rush, or the poorly catten, but I think my own disorganisation would probably be fairer.

For the past couple of years, when confronted with a six week summer holiday, I have scheduled, scheduled, scheduled in a desperate attempt to avoid boredom and cabin fever. This year was a little different. We had one week’s holiday in Cornwall planned, and I spent a few days with my parents in Liverpool right at the beginning of the summer, but otherwise we had a blank slate. I was a little bit nervous, but it turned out to be just what we all needed.

This was the summer that Anna learnt to ride a bike, Sophia learnt to crawl and I learnt the true meaning of multi-tasking. Feeding the baby her porridge, bidding on Ebay, eating my own breakfast and joining in a spirited Sound of Music singsong?No problem.

The weather wasn’t brilliant, but we had fun anyway, and spent time doing a lot of the things that just get squeezed out in term-time as weekends have so many competing demands. We had a pyjama day, took a selection of soft toys to the playground, made pizza, chilli, spaghetti sauce, butterfly cakes, chocolate cake and Smarties cookies (not all on the same day), did some gardening, started reading Famous Five, had some cycling practice, and got messy with paints and crafts. We spent a lot of time babyproofing and looking round for objects which could be dangerous to Sophia, and even more time removing the ones we’d missed from her mouth.

Mornings without the pressure of the school run were sheer bliss, and time didn’t hang heavy at all. There were days when I felt like I’d taken up a new, unpaid career in catering but generally it was a lot easier than I’d feared. There was a summer hero though. By about 4.30pm my nerves, patience and creativity would be stretched fairly thin and I still had teatime, bathtime and bedtime to get through. That was when the wonder that is Cbeebies came into its own, giving me breathing space to sit down for ten minutes and then cook tea with only one small person, who could be contained in her bouncy chair for a while, to worry about. Telly which is safe, fun, educational, perfectly targeted to young children and free from advertising is an absolute godsend, so I was more than a bit panicstricken today to learn that the BBC are thinking of scrapping it as part of their enforced cost-cutting measures. Frankly I would pay the license fee for Cbeebies alone, so I rushed to sign the petition against the cut. If you and your children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren have also benefited as much as we have from Cbeebies then I’d encourage you to do the same.

And now we have shiny new shoes, warm coats, school bags, PE kits, GBBO on telly, leaves turning colour…and the unbroken blue skies and blazing sunshine which were conspicuous only by their absence in August.

That was the summer

It’s been a long time since my last blog, and the summer holiday has passed in a whirl with barely a chance to catch my breath, let alone do any writing. It was Anna’s first day back at school this morning, and walking through the gates it felt as though the last six weeks hadn’t happened. It definitely did, though, and has been an incredibly busy time.

We travelled to seven different European countries by train (France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Italy, Spain), in a crazy, action-packed, fun-filled sixteen days which encompassed learning (and then rapidly forgetting) how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you in five different languages, eating schnitzel, strudel, goulash, sheeps cheese filled dumplings, mussels, pizza, spaghetti, paella, salt cod croquettes, tortilla, custard filled croissants, sea snails and a LOT of gelato, swimming in the sea, exploring Roman remains and a mountain top theme park, Venetian calle and Spanish ramblas, and journeys by high speed train, sleeper train, metro, coach, bus, taxi, boat, gondola, tram, funicular railway, trolley bus and aeroplane. We were variously attacked by vicious mosquitos, over-active automatic doors and poisonous seaweed. We watched the sun set over the river Danube, took a boat the length of the Grand Canal and ate tapas in candlelit Spanish squares. It was utterly magical, and we created a lot of very happy family memories.

There were lots of adventures back in the UK too, with trips to Liverpool, New Brighton, Speke Hall, Chester Zoo, the Museum of Childhood, innumerable playgrounds, and the Festival of Love on the South Bank. Anna completed the Magical Maze summer reading challenge at our local library and a week’s crash course of swimming lessons, baked a chocolate hedgehog cake, picked and ate vegetables from Grandad’s garden, and built a zoo’s worth of Lego animals with Uncle Matt. We had playdates with friends (ours and Anna’s!), I met my oldest friend’s gorgeous new baby boy and we said goodbye to my cousins-in-law who moved to the US a few weeks ago. We went to our twenty week scan together and Anna had her first, rather grainy, view of her new sibling. Lest all this sound too blissful, we also had no less than six increasingly fractious trips to different shoe shops in what seemed like a doomed attempt to find school shoes which fitted Anna’s feet and both mine and Anna’s practical and aesthetic requirements. After all that, the weather is so nice today that she has gone back to school in slightly-too-small sandals! There were also a few sessions with the nit comb and then a trepidatious visit to the hairdressers where, thankfully, we were declared nit-free and Anna had a hair cut which should hopefully enable her to actually be able to see her new teacher today.

So now I’ve got that back to school feeling. We waved Anna off in the playground – she and all her classmates seeming to have grown several inches over the summer – and although I’ve been looking forward to school starting and a little time to myself, I’m now counting the minutes until 3.10pm when I can find out how her first day in Year One went. 

If all continues to go well with my pregnancy (twenty-four weeks, five days and counting!) then I have a window of a little over three months to get our lives sorted out. In no particular order I have to: edit my short story, write the first draft of my third novel, get our old baby stuff down out of the loft, discover it’s been attacked by mice and/or moths and replace half of it, transform the spare room into a nursery, start taking some kind of pregnancy-friendly exercise, stock the freezer with wholesome meals to minimise our reliance on takeaways come January and make sure all our preparations for Christmas completed by the end of November so that I’m not trying to wrap presents while breastfeeding a newborn. Oh yes, and try and stock up on the naps and early nights which will soon be in short supply, whilst also spending lots of quality time with Anna in her last few months as an only child. Which all sounds perfectly do-able. Happy September everyone! 


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.