Looking on the bright side

Often as I’m pottering I mentally start writing a blog post. Sometimes just the theme, at other times phrases, sentences, structure all come flooding into my mind and I am desperate to get to a computer and commit my thoughts to cyber-space. This morning was one of those times. Today didn’t look like being a very good day. It is grey and cold and wet. Sophia has an ear infection and so isn’t her usual sunny little self and I feel miserable worrying that she’s in pain. Husband has a work dinner tonight and so won’t be home until late. We all have slight colds, so everyone feels a bit tired and below par and 83% of my life consists of answering the question “where are the tissues?” or picking up discarded tissues off the floor, or wiping the nose of a baby who is determined she does not want her nose wiped.

Then, having decided that Sophia was well enough to go to her Monkey Music class and that we’d both benefit from a change of scene, the bus still hadn’t turned up after thirty-five minutes of waiting, at which point I gave up because we’d missed class by that time anyway. After we’d been home a while I went out into the hall, and noticed a little red ‘failed delivery’ slip from Royal Mail. I was a bit puzzled, because I hadn’t noticed it when I came in, but I picked it up and discovered that it was for a delivery which had been attempted at 11.30am. Funny thing was, it was only 11.10am at that point. I phoned Royal Mail in a huff, and they promised me they would arrange immediate redelivery – but of course, nothing has yet happened. Grr. Throughout all this I was planning a grumpily witty blog post, groaning about the minor tribulations of life. And, to be honest, that is what a large part of me still wants to write. Especially as when I’ve logged into my WordPress account I’ve discovered they’ve changed the formatting and there’s an intensely iritating little preview box which I can’t get rid of and which blocks the left third of the screen, and will probably mean this post is full of typos!


However, I am going to try and rise above my glum mood. I am hurtling towards thirty-five at the speed of light, and there is a part of me that worries that if my grumpy-old-woman characteristics are left unchecked at this age, my poor children are going to gave an absolute nightmare with me in the decades to come.

Looking on the bright side – and not just the big picture I’m alive and well and so are my husband and kids and I have somewhere warm and safe to live and plenty to eat bright side, but the more detailed bright side as well, there are a lot of positives.

Cold dreary November weather is actually pretty enjoyable because it means we get to wrap up warm in lots of layers, and not have to worry about exposing more than a few inches of flesh beneath hat and above scarf until next March, thus cutting down on body maintenance. And the weather also justifies plenty of hot chocolate, comforting traditional puddings and things on toast for lunch instead of salads. I know that might make the body maintenance come March that bit trickier, but hey, March is a looonng time away. And it never actually gets warm until May anyway come to think of it.

I live in a city with great public transport, meaning I don’t need to drive, and although this morning was a failure, that actually happens relatively rarely, so I can generally get where I’m going easily and fairly cheaply.

Sophia was oblivious to the dreary wait for the bus because she, snuggled in four layers of clothing, a hat with ear-flaps, mittens and a pram fleece, was fast asleep and looking heart-wrenchingly angelic.

Husband is out for dinner tonight, which is disappointing because I enjoy his company, but Anna is also out for tea at a friend’s, and Sophia isn’t eating anyway because she’s unwell, but I have leftovers from yesterday I can heat up for her to throw on the floor, so this is an evening when I don’t need to cook! I will be totally satisfied with a bag of tortilla chips and a tub of salsa, followed by an early night snuggled in bed with my book. Things aren’t so bad after all. But if any WordPressers can tell me how to get rid of this stupid box, and where the tag boxes have gone, and how you now do links to previous posts, I’d be very grateful!



Rain doesn’t stop play

st michaels in rainI’m writing this in Cornwall, curled on the sofa with a view of the sea in the distance. Being Cornwall, and being summer, you can barely tell sea and sky apart, they are just slightly different shades of rather forbidding grey.  My husband has been coming on holiday to the Penwith peninsula in the far West of Cornwall every year since he was a small child. We got together when we were eighteen, and since then I’ve joined in with the family tradition, and our daughter came down here for the first time when she was just three months old. This is now her sixth Cornish holiday.

One of my favourite travel experiences of all time is arriving at Paddington Station to take the express train to Penzance. Just the list of stations – Lostwithiel, St Austell, Truro, Redruth, St Erth – is intensely romantic. Well, to me anyway. Maybe I over-dosed on Daphne du Maurier at an impressionable age. I love everything about this region – the sea in all its moods, the dramatic cliffs, the uncompromising granite buildings, the plethora of vivid wildflowers. When I did antenatal classes before my daughter was born, our teacher suggested we envision our own ‘happy place’, somewhere we could take ourselves mentally, where we would feel serene and tranquil, and therefore distract ourselves if we were scared or in pain. My happy place was Penberth Cove and, much to my surprise, it worked. As I lay in a strange and sterile operating theatre, being prepped for an emergency c-section, shaking violently all over from a combination of nerves and reaction to the anaesthetic, I took myself to Penberth, listened to the waves crashing onto the shore, saw the million different shades of blue, green and grey in the swirling sea, and felt miraculously calmed.

I say all this to prove my credentials as someone with a genuine love for, and loyalty to, Cornwall. However, I do have a few itsy, bitsy complaints, related entirely to the weather. It is late May. We are in the far West of the West Country. Was it unreasonable to imagine that we might get some sunshine? This is only Day Three of the holiday, but the answer so far is a resounding yes, the evidence I’ve amassed over the past fifteen years should have indicated to me that a week of unbroken sunshine was, at best, improbable. It’s all so resonant of my childhood.

It’s funny – in many ways my husband and I had very different upbringings. He was the only child of bohemian parents living in a fifth floor flat in inner London. My childhood was classic 2.4 children territory in suburban Liverpool. However, one set of reminiscences we share is childhood holidays. The Eighties was when many British families discovered the joy of the cheap package holiday – apartments in Benidorm or Majorca with balconies, pools and, most crucially of all, guaranteed sunshine. Not something we ever experienced. Our childhood holidays were all about cottages in Wales or Devon or Cornwall, about board games and dominos, the dreaded car picnic, about gazing out of the window with desperate optimism saying things like ‘I think it’s brightening a little bit over there’, about beach days where the children wore wellies and sweaters over their swimming costumes and the adults huddled shivering behind windbreaks. (I’m sure only the British have windbreaks. In other countries, if the weather is such that you need a windbreak then you wouldn’t be on the beach). The sun did shine sometimes, of course it did. And at that point, safe sun messages being another decade away, we’d get our shoulders and noses burnt and spend the rest of the holiday being slathered with calamine lotion.

And now here I am, aged thirty-three. On holiday with my daughter. In Cornwall. In the pours of rain. Yesterday, lacking even the car for a car picnic, we ate our lunch on the harbour front at Porthleven. Huddled together, waterproofs on, hoods up, in a race to eat our pasties before the paper bags they were in disintegrated into mush. Anna was wearing a long sleeved t-shirt, a tunic dress over leggings, wellies, a thick woollen cardie and a waterproof coat. ‘Why didn’t we bring my mittens, Mummy?” she wailed. Why indeed? Because it’s May? Every now and then one of the adults would look up and say “I think it might be going off a bit”, and Anna would just raise a sceptical eyebrow.

We’re clearly programmed to recreate our childhood experiences for Anna but, frankly, she could do a lot worse. I’ve now travelled fairly extensively over Europe, although sadly not much further afield, and I still think West Cornwall is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, with those other childhood favourites of North Wales, Pembrokeshire and Devon not coming far behind. There are fantastic walks, an abundance of wildlife, friendly people, quaint harbours, unsurpassable beaches and the gastronomic delights of fresh fish, pasties, cream teas and Cornish ice cream. And, you know, I think it might be brightening a bit over there. I’d better go and find my wellies.



Yellow Shoes and Happiness

Today is one of the coldest, wettest, rainiest, windiest days in May I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. My garden path this morning looked exactly as it does in autumn – almost impassable with slippery wet leaves. The difference is that today they were green not brown.

Anna had an eagerly anticipated school trip – a visit to the local fire station, with a picnic lunch in the park en route. She set off cheerfully enough with her exactingly specified packed lunch (can you buy cheese and onion hula hoops, please Mummy, and can I have tomatoes sliced in my cheese sandwich but also separate cherry tomatoes as well?), but I seriously hope that the teachers had a wet weather contingency plan or there will be thirty very soggy Reception children to collect later. I am disproportionately annoyed with the weather for spoiling their treat, and am very much hoping that the chance to explore a fire station makes up for a ruined picnic.

The cattens are coming in soaked and shivering from the garden and leaving little muddy paw prints over everything, and the wetter they are, seemingly the more voracious their desire to leap onto my lap and be cuddled.

With all this wet weather misery, I could feel my spirits sinking, and decided that retail therapy was the only answer. I pottered down to the local shopping centre, dry enough under my voluminous raincoat hood, but decidedly unglamourous and with severely restricted side vision. Then I got my first little victory of the day. Boots were selling Cadbury’s Mini Eggs! This is a bit of a lifesaver for me, because in a weak, hormonally induced fit of chocolate craving a couple of weeks ago I ate Anna’s Mini Eggs. I thought, amongst the plethora of Easter goodies, she might not notice the absence of one little tube. How naïve of me. I promised to replace them, but then was confounded by the total absence of Easter confectionary from all the shops. I’m sure that previously crème eggs and mini eggs have had almost year-round availability, but suddenly, less than a week after Easter they’d all vanished. Every time Anna asked about them I had to prevaricate, and I was getting increasingly panic-stricken, wondering how many Smarties I would have to buy to make up for it. But then, suddenly Boots was my saviour. I bought a replacement tube for Anna, and a spare one (already consumed) for myself. Now all I have to do is resist eating those…

As well as mini eggs, I also treated myself to some Sanctuary body lotion – I’m assuming that at some point over the next few months the weather might be such that I’m willing to shed some of my myriad layers and expose bare flesh. Just in case that doesn’t happen, though, I also bought two pairs of black leggings, so with those and my trusty cardies, maybe a scarf or two, and perhaps my wellies, I can and will start wearing summer dresses even if the weather doesn’t improve.

yellow sandalMy final purchase, though, really was a triumph of hope and optimism. I bought some yellow sandals! The thing is, yellow is one of my absolute favourite colours, but I have pale skin and fair hair, and it really does me no favours at all. My husband isn’t too keen on incorporating a lot of yellow into our interior décor, although I’ve snuck a bit into Anna’s room, so I’ve always felt deprived of yellow in my life. Having a daughter who has inherited her father’s warm olive skin and dark eyes, therefore looking gorgeous in sunshine shades, has helped a little bit, but I still lacked any yellow of my very own.

I spotted these sandals in Clarks a few weeks ago, and have been mulling the purchase over. The pros were that they looked comfortable, and not too high, but did have a definite heel. My days of 3 or 4 inch stillettos definitely ended with the thin blue line on the pregnancy test nearly 6 years ago. Summer shoes now are generally Birkenstocks, ballet pumps or Converse, but last summer I did slightly crave a shoe which could look a little dressed up on the odd occasion I go out for dinner, but which I can still manage to walk in. I was a little concerned, though, that yellow shoes, however desirable wouldn’t actually go with anything.

However, after several weeks of thinking it over, I noticed today that they were £10 off, and available in my size, so I just went for it. And am pleased to report, after a morning of extensive research, that they go with lots of stuff. And, did I mention? They’re YELLOW!

So I defiantly spit in the face of rain and wind. I have yellow sandals, and mini eggs and I’m happy!

Return to normality

After an absolutely lovely Christmas and New Year period, today has so far seen me doing the school run in the pouring rain, trying (and failing) to unblock the kitchen sink and doing a supermarket shop. Back to reality with a bump.

It would be easy to sink into depression, and wallow in nostalgic longing for the good times we’ve just enjoyed. However, I am going to channel my daughter and focus on the positives. I managed to get out of the most depressing task of the year – taking down the Christmas decorations – yesterday, but my husband reports that Anna spent the entire day sighing contentedly and saying “Isn’t it nice to get the house back to normal?”. And she’s right, getting back to normal should be a positive thing, and I am lucky enough to enjoy my normality most of the time. After all, I chose to call my blog A Life More Ordinary. 

New Year Resolutions have always seemed a peculiar concept to me. Why, in the coldest, darkest month of the year, with Spring still a distant dream but our credit card bill a recurrent nightmare, do we think that we should suddenly resolve to change all the things we weren’t able to manage in warmer, drier, lighter and wealthier times? September is the natural month for initiating positive change in our lives, January is for hunkering, for embracing the normal and everyday. Great expensive blow-out meals are wonderful, but so are meals from leftovers and frugal veggie curries. After a social whirl it’s incredibly satisfying to curl up somewhere warm with all the books you were given for Christmas, and, possibly, a mug of hot chocolate.

There’s a lot of extraordinary to look forward to in 2014 – my second book, To Have and to Hold is being published in June, we’ve got some exciting holiday plans and several of my good friends are expecting babies – but, right now, this afternoon, my chief excitements are going to be rearranging my cookery book shelf to accommodate the new titles I received for Christmas, putting fresh sheets on the bed and inputting all the scribbled info on the back pages of my 2013 diary into my pristine 2014 diary. A life more ordinary. And hopefully I can get the sink unblocked soon as well…

Lost in Margate

This has been very much a week of two halves – summer’s last fling, and the definite beginnings of autumn.

At the start of the week, Anna and I had a couple of days in Margate, on the Kent coast, with my parents. Despite the fact that the weather very firmly decided to treat us to a preview of its Autumn/Winter Collection – complete with lashing rain, howling winds and distinctly chilly temperatures – we managed to have a lovely time. Some elements of the trip had a distinctly deja vu element to them, as I re-lived childhood holidays, eating a ‘car picnic’ to escape the driving rain, or sitting in the back seat of the car listening to my parents puzzling over the OS map, with maybe a little companionable bickering. The only difference was that instead of my baby brother (29 this week!) sitting next to me, it was my own baby.

We got hopelessly lost finding the hotel (famous last words – “It’s right next to the station, and that’s sure to be signposted…),but Anna was utterly unfazed by that or the weather, sitting contentedly in her car seat with an Usborne activity book to look at while we drove round in circles  trying in vain to distinguish grey sea from grey sky. When we finally found the hotel she was then in positive ecstasies at the never-before-experienced treat of watching CBeebies, with mummy, in a double bed. When the rain cleared slightly she and Granddad set off to explore, and came back to tell me and my mum about all the interesting things she’d seen. We ate dinner in the hotel, Anna  insisting on ordering her own food in a very grown-up little way, and then enjoying herself hugely when her sausage and mash arrived with its own miniature gravy boat. At one point it seemed as though everything in the restaurant was going to get a liberal covering of gravy, but she was happy.

One of the reasons for going to Margate in the first place was that my mum really wanted to visit the new(ish) Turner Contemporary Gallery there. The exhibition at the moment is on Curiosity, and, although not in any way aimed at children, Anna actually seemed to get a lot out of it, particularly enjoying examining some Leonardo da Vinci papers with a magnifying glass. To be fair, I think it was the magnifying glass which was the main attraction, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Miraculously the sun even came for long enough for Anna, in her wellies, to get a little while on the beach in neighbouring Broadstairs with what she grandly calls her Corsican Sand Set (or bucket and spade bought in Corsica).

Then, thanks to the high speed rail line from Kent, just a couple hours after leaving the beach we were back in London segueing dramatically from the last of the lovely summer to the start of the school year and Anna’s formal education.

She started yesterday lunchtime, and although it’s very early days so far, seems to be taking to it like a duck to water. My husband took the day off work, ostensibly for Anna’s sake, but actually I suspect to hold my hand and try to avert any incipient nervous breakdown. When we picked her up we decided to go for a celebratory milkshake at a local cafe. She talked incessantly all the way there, paused for just long enough to slurp her banana shake, and the started again pretty much nonstop until bedtime. Being a thoroughly modern child she also insisted on sending text messages to Nanna, Granddad and Granny to let them know how she’d got on. When we took her in this morning she left without a backward glance.

I can’t say I’m managing the transition with quite as much ease as she is. I’m very lucky to have a fledgling career as a writer, and  finishing my second book to focus on, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the last four and a half years as a stay-at-home mum has been the best thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t feel entirely ready to leave this stage behind. Watch this space to see how I get on…