Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Monday, August 29, 2005

Just a moment

Just a moment to blog – a moment stolen from a weekend of packing up boxes of toys, painting walls and ceiling of P's room, and then re-arranging toys. Of course, P being P, the boxes were not just toys but boxes of 'precious stuff' like cardboard, stones, shells, tiny springs, paper clips, rubber bands etc. etc. Anyway, back to the moment.

This afternoon was warm - clear blue sky and the park was full of crowds of people eating, playing guitars, listening to music, throwing frisbees. I had taken Pearl for a quick bike ride and play, before we both went mad dealing with her room. She rode her bike, practising using her breaks and avoiding people. After that she went into the bushes to make another map of the paths, for her secret cousins' gang. Eventually we decided to go home and it was in the sinking sun of the ride home that the moment happened.

Pearl was flying ahead of me as the sun flickered through the trees around the park. I was suddenly struck by a memory so sharp it hurt, of cycling on a summer evening – probably when I was eight years old. The air was just starting to chill but I just wanted to pedal for ever. I felt such joy as I realised I was young, that I could ride like this for many, many summer evenings.

This memory arriving as it did meant that we took a long time getting home. We took every diversion, and I waited on a lot of corners, just so she could go on riding. It's one of the most wonderful things about being a parent, those moments when your children touch a memory and you are suddenly really able to connect with how they are feeling. I guess it felt especially powerful to me because after my sister was killed riding her bike (when I was fourteen) I never really rode again. Riding a bike seems like the epitome of childhood freedom and joy to me and something that I lost very suddenly. So I think I'll spend a lot of evenings watching our girl fly along powered by her skinny little legs – it's a beautiful sight.

Summer Lovin'

Here's a catch up of the last few days, organised by people, rather than chronologically, just for a change:


Has been doing lots of Sylvanian stuff. She was delighted to receive her introductory pack from the Sylvanian Collectors Club (paid for by a personal loan from the bank of grandma), which included two Badger grandparents, now named Flo and Sebastian. P. doesn't tend to use the given names of the Sylvanians, she makes up her own names and jobs for them. Today the whole badger family went on a camping trip to our garden.

She has also been working hard on making maps of the paths through the undergrowth of our local park, as a contribution to the club the five local cousins have formed. She does sketches while at the park and then neater versions on the computer.

Plus, she has been doing a lot of bike riding and some frisbee and bat and ball playing in the park, both with her cousins and with a friend from her old school, whom we've bumped into a couple of times.


Continues to be interested in eggs and nests. When not defeating monsters in the bushes in the park, he spends a lot of time creating nests and devising traps and defences to protect the eggs within from predators.

He is reading steadily, working his way through a pile of Blue/Red/Yellow Banana type books he has borrowed from the library, from P. and from his cousin S.

He is also quite dedicated to watching TV, and can frequently be heard snarling at anyone who tries to distract him from this with the fierce mantra "I am watching the telly!". (Allie and I are reminded of Waynetta Slob's "I am 'avin' a fag!")


Has been working hard on redecorating Pearl's bedroom. This involved removing a huge amount of accumulated toys, books, cardboard boxes, sweet wrappers, scraps of paper, etc etc to our bedroom, before painting the walls and ceiling (we couldn't manage the woodwork too, so we've left that). Now we're starting the long process of putting all that stuff back and trying to organise it a bit so that P. can find things and we feel like we've done something to improve the room as a living space. The walls are now a very vibrant lime green and the ceiling is sky blue.

Also took the kids to the library on Friday, where they borrowed several books touching on the Irish potato famine, as P. had declared she would like to do a project on it. This was inspired by reading Michael Morpurgo's Twist of Gold. A. and P. are planning to work together on this on Tuesdays, once we are back to our usual routine.


Also worked on the room decorating, and facilitated A. working on it by taking the kids to the park.

Plus going to work, worrying (and consulting doctor) about possible RSI in my hand, putting up a compost bin in the garden, and reading several of the lovely No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books.

We had a very enjoyable night out on Saturday, to celebrate our anniversary. We've been together 14 years, and both continue to be amazed by our good fortune.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

All the sights

We had a lovely, extravagant time in London, being tourists. We stayed for two nights at the Premier Travel Inn in Kensington. The kids found this very exciting, and we may try to do this kind of thing again sometime.

We were within walking distance of the museums, and managed to fit in two visits to the Natural History Museum and one to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We said hello to our old friends the dinosaurs and fossil marine reptiles, and made friends with some charming little mammals. We also popped into the Investigate room in the basement at the NHM, where you can touch and explore specimens, and talk to knowledgeable people about them. We all love this room, Leo especially, and find it a bit sad that they present it as being for 7-14 year olds – we actually walked past it a couple of times because of this.

At the V&A, we saw their exhibition about design and touch, which was fun and interesting. We didn't have the time or energy to look round the rest of the museum – maybe next time.

We did plenty of shopping, visiting both Harrods and Hamleys. I'd never been to Harrods before – it was quite an experience. Hamleys was a bit disappointing, I thought. Naming two of the five floors 'girls' and 'boys' was particularly irritating. The kids spent their share of the money we raised on our stall last weekend, and were very pleased with their purchases.

The highlight of the weekend was a matinee performance of The Lion King, which was my mum's treat for the whole family. I wasn't at all sure what to expect – I've never seen the film – but it was really fantastic, with wonderful African music, excellent dancing and singing, and spectacular costumes and scenery. All the kids (and all the adults!) enjoyed it, and it was lovely to meet up again as a family.

We kept forgetting to take the camera to things, so didn't get many photos, but here are some of the kids in the hotel room,

P. cartwheeling in Kensington Gardens,

and a real tardis we came across

Today was quieter – I went to work, and Allie and the kids went to the shops and then to the park, where P. rode her bike non-stop for about 2 hours.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Beach, bike, boiler and books

Dani was at work all day. The kids and I were a bit whacked after our day at Kew so we got up slowly and wandered up to our beach hut for the afternoon. We met my brother, his partner and my nephew B (5) along with my mum who was looking after my nephew D (3) and niece S (7). All the kids had a lovely afternoon. The boys played together on the beach, playing imaginary games in the sand and pebbles, based around soup making (B), nests (Leo) and the finding of golden tickets! Golden tickets are something of an obsession in the family at the moment.

Hard at work on the beach

Meanwhile S and Pearl were playing up at the beach hut, where S keeps her bike, and where Pearl was struggling to ride her cousin B's bicycle, without bashing her knees on the handlebars!

The kids and I had a quiet time at home in the morning – just pottering. Pearl played her new Zoombinis game, pretty much non-stop. She worked out the games very systematically and was very happily absorbed. Leo played a game that was all about nests (surprise!) In the afternoon the gas man came (yes, again!) to look at another leak in the boiler.

When he had gone all four of us went up to local park. The kids played happily in the late afternoon sun and Dani and I attempted to read the papers we had taken with us. But in the first half hour after we chose our spot we were passed by four different sets of people we knew – a work colleague of D's, some of the local cousins, a lesbian mum and her kids whom we used to see a lot of when the kids were younger, and another local lesbian mum (without her kids!) who is also a researcher at the university where I work! Everyone just crosses paths around here all the time.

We lazily bought the kids tea from the park café – marmite sandwiches for P and a veggie hot dog for L. That café proprietor really knows her market! We finally wandered home with a big bag of dandelions and grass we had picked from the wildlife area in the park, so the GPs had a good tea too.

The gas company paid us another visit in the morning and two guys spent an hour re-fitting more parts in the boiler. Dani and I decided that Pearl really needed to get her new bike, or the summer would be over before it happened. So they went to the bike shop an spent an obscene amount of money on a lovely bike for Pearl. They went straight to a fairly flat park to try it out and after a few struggles Pearl got the hang of it and rode around happily.

I took Leo to town to get him a little treat to make up for the big flashy bike coming home with his sister. He chose a sticker book of C and the Choc factory, which cost the grand total of £4. He was thrilled with it and did quite a lot of it as soon as we got home.

Living with some kind of sponge/tap device

This is a brief aside about Leo's current verbosity! He is talking, asking, presenting theories, abut 98% of his waking time. On Thursday morning the topics of conversation ranged widely from life and death to space, to the water cycle. He knows an immense amount about so many things these days and he has many theories about the things he knows. When we were talking about life and death he told me he felt that if someone who lived in another time said the same things, and did the same things, as a person alive today then in some way they were the same person. This took us into a conversation about reincarnation! Whenever he gets a chance (i.e. when P is not around!) he talks non-stop about such deep and complex things.

Dani was at work all day again. I took the kids to the library and the kids got given medals and certificates for finishing the Reading Voyage. They were very pleased. We didn't borrow much because we are off to London tomorrow for a long weekend break.

In the afternoon cousin B and his mum came round so we could explain the basics of caring for guinea pigs over the two days we are away. This is mainly to feed them lots and lots! I don't know if it's because they spent most of their lives in a neglectful home but they seem permanently hungry, and remarkably un-fussy.

Pearl gave her cousin B a beautiful golden ticket she had made for him – with the correct text on it, as given in the book.Pearl played more Zoombinis for an hour or two and then Leo played on Education city – who have been offering us another free five day trial for a while. I find Education City a bit silly. Most of the games are just computerised versions of worksheets. Leo played the same game (Kuko Nest – a year one English game) five times, scored 100% five times, and printed out five certificates! They were all in his new Education City pseudonym 'Egg', so they will be fun to show the LEA inspector.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Too busy to blog!

Well, a catch up is really impossible this time. We've somehow managed to work our 'summer break' up into a constant buzz of activity. Dani is still working her usual hours (apart from the odd day of annual leave) but I'm on my four week break. This week in a few lines:

Monday 8th

Our HE group met up in a park where there were free entertainments laid on by the council. These summer entertainments are good fun. They have a bouncy castle, some arty activities and sporty stuff too. They also have a small 'stage' area and kids are invited up to sing a song or tell a joke. Pearl got up to tell two jokes – which she did with great confidence and style. We were impressed with her guts.

Tuesday 9th

We had local cousins around to play. Lots of friendly games, drawing and a quick play in the park. Pearl spent ages on the computer before her cousins arrived. She was typing out morse code in many colours for her cousins, so they could communicate in secret. She told us this week that she is currently most interested in codes and ciphers. This is an interest that comes and goes for Pearl, but at the moment she is certainly gripped.

Wednesday 10th

Pearl had a friend round for the afternoon – which was apparently a lot of fun. I took Leo to the cinema to see the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film. He was gripped from start to finish. I liked the way Johnny Depp played Wonka but was annoyed that they'd mucked about with the ending. Dani had a fun time clearing out the kitchen cupboards!

Thursday 11th

We picked the cherries on our Morello tree and found we had about 12lbs of fruit! My mum helped us make jam with 6lbs of the fruit and we gave her the rest. The kids helped a fair bit with weighing and stoning fruit.

Friday 12th

Dani was at work all day. I took the kids to B&Q to buy supplies for making a ramp for our guinea pigs. This is a long story but basically the little ramp inside their hutch is way too steep and scary for our big piggies. Leo and Pearl loved B&Q and I treated them to signs for their bedroom doors ('No food and drink to be consumed in this area' and 'Staff only'!) and we staggered home laden with stuff and considerably poorer.

In the afternoon we went up to the park to find the free entertainment again. Pearl bounced a bit and Leo played a lovely game where he created a nest of baby crocodiles in the roots of large tree.

In the evening (and indeed late into the night!) Dani and I made a ramp for the piggies. This was a major task for us as neither of us is very handy but we were very impressed with the finished article. The GPs took a while to get used to it, but they are using it happily now.

The finished ramp Piggies' palace

Saturday 13th

We spent most of Saturday sorting out stuff we wanted to sell, and cleaning up old bikes and toys. In the evening we gave the GPs their first bath. Pity we didn't get any photos of that but we had our hands full of wet furry beasties. The pigs were remarkably calm about the whole thing and they looked very sleek afterwards.

Sunday 14th

Sunday was our local community festival. We live in a very vibrant and tight-knit community of a few streets and this annual event is always fun. Dani and Pearl took part in the parade, while Leo and I worked our stall. The parade was a wonderful Brighton mix. The local church plays a part and the statue of the Virgin was carried by two men (one in leather and one in a kilt), a local samba band was playing, many kids had homemade hats, two people were on stilts, etc!

Pearl's salad bowl hat - with real salad Dani's fruity hat

The parade Displaying our wares

The kids love this community day in much the same way that they enjoy Pride – both celebrations of our lives in this wonderful city, with all its wonderful people. I could say a lot more about this stuff, and how important it is to us as a family, especially in response to Jane's comment about the naff and embarrassing nature of our t-shirts at Pride, but I'm too tired tonight.

We had a very successful day – sold lots of things we didn't need and Pearl was very brave about letting things go. She didn't part with many things of her own, and was pretty unhappy about the things the rest of us decided to sell, but she was comforted by the thought that they went to people nearby. She was also motivated by our promise to split the proceeds four ways. The kids spent a lot of pocket money on the other stalls and Leo went off 'shopping' alone for the first time, managing the whole thing himself.

Monday 15th

Today we went off to Kew gardens for a family get-together (D's parents, D's sister and partner, their two kids, and two Aussie relatives of D's). We were pretty shattered but had a lovely day anyway. I battled a migraine that threatened for a while but the kids never stopped. Kew has so many beautiful trees and the kids love having the chance to just run for long distances without encountering a road. There was an exhibition of glass sculptures around Kew – they looked wonderful in the temperate house, like exotic plants.

So, that's all I can manage tonight – must try to blog more often.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Pride and piggies

We had a nice time at Pride, even if it wasn't as sunny as it might have been. I think it was probably the biggest ever Brighton Pride – the park seemed very crowded, and we were very glad of the foresight of our friends in Rainbow Families who had arranged for our stall to have a small enclosed space with a toilet in it. We were the envy of everyone in the park and had to keep turning people away who wanted to pay money for a toilet with a smaller queue!

We walked in the parade with Allie's mum, after watching the spectacular floats.

Our t-shirts were generally admired.

P. spent a lot of the day picking up feathers from the ground, and when we got home began work on a Sylvanian Pride. So far there's only one head-dress, stall and leaflet made, but she's planning a more extensive tableau.

For P. and L. the excitement of Pride was immediately eclipsed by today's expedition to fetch our new guinea pigs, Bunny

and Handkerchief.

We spent the afternoon shopping for more guinea pig supplies (A. and L.) and working on a guinea pig care rota and handbook (P. and D.) and the evening cuddling the piggies and letting them explore their run on the kitchen floor.

Bunny seems to be the braver and more dominant one, always making it to the food bowl first. But Hank has the funkier hairstyle!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Deadlines, deadlines…

It is August, A. is not working at all until September, so we have lots of nice family time… which we have immediately filled with a series of commitments and plans, all requiring extensive preparation.

So this week we have been designing T-shirts for us all to wear on tomorrow’s Brighton Pride parade. The theme is Heroes and Heroines, so we are all going as our own made up superheroes – Superhamster (spins in his wheel at the speed of light), Guinea Pig Girl (to the rescue!), and two Lesbian Supermums, complete with superpowers like a never ending supply of biscuits, 360 degree vision, etc. This was all great fun, but did require staying up till much too late last night ironing designs on t-shirts with transfer paper – much more difficult than you think, if you’ve never done it before.

We have also been taking delivery of lots of guinea pig related items – hutch, hay, food, etc in preparation for our new piggies arriving on Sunday. The two female ones they told us about were a bit too nervy to be placed with children, so we have been offered two long-haired brothers, whom the children have named Handkerchief and Bunny. They are very calm and mellow, so should be perfect. Tonight’s stay up till 1am job is to make corrugated plastic liners for the two floors of their hutch, which should make the cleaning easier.

Meanwhile, we continue to work slowly on hats for our neighbourhood parade and festival next weekend, and think vaguely about which bits of junk from our house we can sell on our stall there, and how we are going to get it all down the hill to our allotted pitch. I did have an idea to make and sell jam from the cherries that are ready to be picked from the tree in our garden, but I’ve no idea if we’ll have time to do that.

We have been doing other things too:

  • A lovely trip to the beach with our HE group
  • Lots of playing with local cousins, in various parks, at the swimming pool and at our house
  • Plenty of Discovery Kids
  • Smart new haircuts for me and Leo
  • A very pleasant visit to friends in a small Sussex village, including catching a fish in the stream, chasing the neighbour’s chickens back to their own garden, and an introduction to the delights of Lego Racers 2

Must get back to work now – more news and guinea pig photos to follow when they are settled in.