Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Here's what's getting me riled...

My post below was not intended as a blanket statement that no-one needs, or should have, a car. What is driving me to the point of despair is the reality of life in this city.

We live in a small street – approximately fifteen minutes walk from the main station. There are buses to town that run every five minutes or so from either the top or the bottom of the hill on which we live. You can walk to a supermarket in ten minutes and there is a post office, chemist, doctor’s surgery and selection of corner shops within five minutes walk. There are five primary schools in walking distance and a bus that takes kids to the secondary schools. Yet, the street outside looks like this.

The road in the middle there is not wide enough for two cars to pass each other, so we often have horns blaring and little dances of cars to and fro until someone backs right up to the end of the street. If I have the misfortune to open my front door just as someone pulls away from the kerb outside I get gusts of exhaust fumes into my house. My kids have a tiny strip of pavement on which to play but that is usually impossible as they may touch a car and set off an alarm.

These streets were built in the 1860s, for ordinary working folk. No-one ever imagined that ordinary working folk would need one or two carriages per household! All those cars pootle about the streets of this congested city and then, when the sun shines, thousands more pour in. Then we get situations like the roads this bank holiday.

I know that many people like the 'freedom' of a car. It's just that I am feeling less and less free here...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cars, cars, cars – rant warning!

Yesterday we went on an enjoyable little jaunt up to the grandmothers’ allotment. The allotment is on the outskirts of Brighton – a part of town where we have had some family connections over the years. It is where my mum grew up and where we had cousins when I was a child.

This part of Brighton lies to the north of the city – right on the edge of the Downs. When I was a child we used to play at the cricket pitch and ‘up the track’. When I was a teenager they built the Brighton by-pass – something they’d been planning to do for years. When I stand on that cricket pitch now I can hear the constant swishing noise of tyres on tarmac. It is still a beautiful spot – I saw a Sparrow hawk yesterday and we picked lots of blackberries. But the noise grates away at my sense of peace – chips at my sense of calm – lights a little flame under the anger in me and starts it bubbling.

Then, on the way home our bus had to head back south, into the city, along the main road from London. Buses are great for getting around most of our city as the council (in the face of many objections) put in loads of bus lanes over the last decade. But the lanes don’t cover the whole city. As we headed back home we found ourselves in an almost stationary line of traffic – inching along in the hot sun. Eventually we got off the bus as little cousin D (5) has been known to vomit all over buses and had gone rather quiet. We walked away – leaving the bus behind. Yes, with a five year old walking we were able to go faster than the bus!

As we walked home – crossing roads with cars bumper to bumper – music blaring and engines humming – I wondered when (WHEN!) will people start to realise that this car culture is not sustainable? Why does it not look mad to people – these streams of cars idling away in the sun? The people inside were missing out on a truly beautiful afternoon – the kind that makes Brighton sparkle. I can understand their desire to get to the sea – just as I wanted to spend some time at that quiet spot on the edge of the Downs. But, every individual choice to get in their car had led them to that slow, painful inching along the road. Presumably every one of those car drivers would have given me a good reason why they needed to get in their car and drive but, whatever their reasons, it just isn’t working any more. Or is it only me that feels that way?

You can reach Brighton by train from North, East and West. The fares aren’t cheap, it’s true, but car ownership costs people thousands a year. Most of the people I know who complain about how ‘impossible’ or ‘expensive’ public transport is don’t seem to look around them much. Isn’t this car culture ‘impossible’ now? Or shall we just keep making more room for the damn things until the whole country is tarmac? Isn’t it ‘expensive’ – your tax, insurance, maintenance, petrol? Not to mention what it is doing to our environment and our physical and mental health.

I guess it must be that I just don’t understand the appeal of car ownership. So maybe it’s pointless my trying to understand. I try not to get angry but sometimes it just bubbles over. If I didn’t love this place – the city where I live, with its sea and Downs and beautiful views – then maybe I wouldn’t care. But I do care. How did we get here? Is there a way out of this madness?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Family Reunions

We got Pearlie back on Friday, looking very bronzed and full of tales of seaside hi-jinks and campfire games. She said she had a good time, but was very pleased to be home. She went straight to the computer to set up an MSN account so she can keep in touch with the new friends she made at camp.

We’ve had a busy weekend, involving:
  • Tennis in the park for Allie and Pearlie

  • Weeding and cherry picking in the garden for me and Leo

  • A lovely cherry cake

  • Breakfast in bed for me and Allie, thanks to Pearlie, who thought it was not right for us to let our anniversary weekend pass without any celebration (lack of funds this year), so secretly bought us each a ‘Guess how much I love you?’ bookmark, made us a card, and cooked us both crumpets on Sunday morning.

  • A pleasant picnic in Kensington Gardens, with my parents, my sister and her family. This involved some romping about in the Princess Diana Memorial playground (a little bit too health & safety for my liking, with a bouncer on the door to keep out children with no adults and adults with no children, and other staff patrolling to make sure glass containers were removed safely from the playground),
    some picnicking under lovely trees by the pond,

    some long-awaited catching up chat for the girls and some mutual lessons in how to be an annoying little brother for the boys.

  • Another extended family day at the grandmothers’ allotment. All the kids dug a few potatoes, which we’ve brought home for their tea, then we removed their little trampling feet from the precious ripe crops and took them to run around at the nearby cricket field, where we all picked blackberries.

  • The eventual completion of my Penrose tile blanket. Here it is, with a crochet border and everything.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I am a Human Dalek! I am your future!

Leo is enjoying a week of pleasing himself – all quite relaxing.

Wednesday morning (at 9am!) I talked two builders through the work we want done in the house – Dani had left for work. Leo spied on the builders from various vantage points! Then he and I spent a quiet couple of hours up in his room, watching ‘Army of Ghosts’ and ‘Doomsday’ (Doctor Who), while playing with Geomags. ‘Doomsday’ is the episode when Rose gets trapped in a parallel universe – and she and the Doctor have to say goodbye. I *always* cry when I watch that episode!

After we’d put all the geomags away (I am obsessive about getting all the bits back in the boxes – as it is so expensive!) we did a 100 piece dinosaur jigsaw together. I’ve been trying to get things down off the shelves that rarely get touched. So, this week we’ve been playing games that were a bit dusty, Leo has made a plasticine Ood (more DW!) from an untouched box in his room – and we worked together on a pom pom animals kit to create a bizarre looking puppy and cutsie little ladybird.

Dani came home at lunch time. While I was doing a couple of hours cleaning for my neighbour, Dani helped Leo with a bit of experimenting. They got some bits out of an old circuit kit and raided the batteries box. Leo really enjoyed holding the wires to a battery to get a bulb to light, or a little motor to spin. This was all inspired by an old 1970s book that I got free in a stock weed at work. It is a great little book that encourages kids to experiment with batteries, wire and a variety of household objects.

This led to a discussion of how my siblings and I used to play with lighted candles and matches on a big tray on our kitchen table. We called this ‘candle surgery’ – and enjoyed making puddles of liquid wax, lighting matches off a flame – and so on. Leo was keen to give this a try – and was happily mesmerised for an hour or more. Sadly, we got a bit too relaxed after a while and both took our eyes off him - just as he burnt his finger tip in a candle flame. GUILT. I suspect I was a bit older than Leo when I used to play with these things. Anyway, he held his finger under the cold tap for ages and then in a bowl of cold water. I gave him an ice pack to take to bed, but it looks ok this morning – just a white mark.

Today, Dani has gone to London for a grown up afternoon with her parents at the British Museum. Leo finally reached £30 saved (helped by some cash from my dad but still quite an exercise in self-control for Leo, who is tempted by all Doctor Who products!) and we went to town so that he could get a Dalek Sec Hybrid helmet.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Just the three of us

The sun has finally come out – probably because we gave up on the park and came home!

We’ve done rather little over the last few days. Leo has been enjoying time at home playing with his Sylvanians, Doctor Who figures and toy rats. We also played Mouse Trap yesterday, with the slightly dodgy second-hand game we own. This had one piece missing and one broken when we got it, so it’s always a bit fiddly to get it to actually trap mice!

Leo has done some work on a book all about Daleks. I have his permission to share this page with you. It shows how his punctuation continues to develop.
“Their home planet, Skaro, was destroyed in the time war. The Daleks evolved from Kaleds. It was Davros’s idea to evolve into Daleks to survive. But it did not lead them to survival at all. It actually did the oposit, and exterminated them.”
Leo still writes in almost all capitals, so he hasn’t adopted the conventions regarding capital letters. Yet he is getting to grips with apostrophes and commas. I do find it fascinating how he finds his way through these things.

Leo and I popped in to see the grandmothers yesterday. We’d been at a park across town and we stopped off at their house on the way home – it was a long walk. We stayed for lunch and ate freshly picked corn on the cob from their allotment.

I must go and tidy up as we have another company coming tomorrow to give us a quote for our kitchen/bathroom work. This work will involve spending more money in one go than Dani and I ever have. Part of me wants to just forget it – but we do need three decent bedrooms.

I can’t wait until there’s four of us in the house again – it just feels a bit ‘wrong’ without P.

This is a great place to waste some time – especially if you like biccies.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crafty Camping with Chrestomanci

Leo and I had a fine time at camp, though I must say I ended the week rather more tired than I began. Woodcraft Folk camp is organised along quite communist lines, with everyone obliged to participate in the work of running the camp, through a system of ‘clans’. There’s no Gulag involved, but it’s in many ways quite the opposite of the self-pleasing life of the autonomously educated child. Leo had no trouble adjusting to this new reality, and turned up for all his duties with enthusiasm. He’s showing no inclination to increased helpfulness around the house now that he’s home, however!

In between shifts of cooking (for 100!), washing up, cleaning toilets, fetching wood etc, we did some fun things, including:

  • Tie dying and screen printing. After some initial difficulty getting to grips with the requirements of the screen printing process, Leo finally produced this lovely golden dalek.

    I had a go at this too, and was pleased with my two-tone Penrose tiled fabric.

  • Making salt dough and modelling with it. In about five inspired minutes, Leo sculpted this amazing pig slave head (as in Daleks in Manhattan). Everyone who saw this (including me) was quite stunned by it.

  • Running a stall at the pea fair, introducing people to Japanese Kumihimo braiding, which we first learned about at the Bridges maths and art conference last summer. A pea fair is a lovely event, entirely improvised on the spot, at which people offer each other games, activities and goods for sale, using a currency of dried peas. As well as our stall, there was a whack the rat type game, something involving sponges being thrown, face painting, beautiful decorated mirrors, salt dough creations and origami for sale.
  • A walk in some lovely woods near the campsite
  • Playing Doctor Who, sometimes with a friend, and sometimes happily alone. My improvised washing line was further improvised by Leo into a climbing frame for Dalek Sec hybrid

  • A bit of knitting. My Penrose blanket is nearly finished.
  • Singing songs by the fire, melting marshmallows, eating chocolate bananas cooked in the embers and other fireside activities.
  • Reading. I finished Fermat’s Last Theorem, and Leo and I both enjoyed Charmed Life, by Diana Wynne Jones. This is the first book in the Chrestomanci series, published in the 1970s, of which I’m sure I read some as a child. We are now on the hunt for more of them.

I’m pleased to be home. I think we were both a bit tired by the end of the week, though Leo is keen to go on another weekend camp with his Woodcraft group, so he must have enjoyed it.

It’s quite strange here without Pearlie. She’s phoned a couple of times from her camp, and seems to be having a great time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ready for the off...

Tomorrow I shall be taking P to meet her Woodcraft group and leaders, and she’ll be off to camp for six days. She’s never been away for so long without one of us and it is especially challenging as we haven’t seen Dani and Leo for six days now. But she is looking forward to it and I think I’ve done all I can to make myself feel that she is really prepared (tissues, phone, box of snacks etc!)

P’s tennis course finished today – certificates aplenty, as predicted! She really enjoyed the last session. There were two tournaments – one for the older kids and one for the younger. Pearlie was especially pleased because she knew the girl who won her tournament – someone she was at school with , more than three years ago! She loved playing but has told me that she doesn’t want to join a tennis club as it would be too competitive. She wants us to play more in the park and ‘get a long rally going’. I’m glad it has been a positive experience for her – you never really know what you’ll get on these sports courses.

This afternoon P went to see her cousin perform in her ‘end of the week’ show. She’s been on a drama course. Apparently she acted in a three minute playlet based on ‘Animal Farm’??!

Anyway, got to get some sleep as we’re up early tomorrow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Life at Pearlie Pace

We’ve been having a busy time, in spite of being two down here.

Here’s what we’ve been doing:

Tennis – Pearlie has been on a two hours per day tennis course in a local park. This is one of the summer sports courses run by the council – and I’ve been quite impressed by it. They have about 30 kids, aged between 7 and 14 – of very varied abilities! But, most of them seem to be getting something out of it – getting tips and practice and improving.

I do despair a bit when I see the ones who really don’t want to be there. I saw a mum dropping off her son, who was actually crying and saying he didn’t want to go. It’s hard because you pay up front for these courses and maybe she couldn’t bear to see the money ‘wasted’. But I happened to stay and watch that day and her boy spent the whole time trying to avoid the experience. He wandered off, dropped balls that rolled out of the court and he wandered after them, just sat down, ‘fell over’ and lay on the ground for ages, and looked miserable. So, what was the point of making him be there?? Ah, well. Pearlie is giving it her best shot and enjoying it. She really does embrace learning opportunities when she can see that the people teaching know what they’re doing.

Swimming – I took Pearlie to her swimming club on Tuesday night, where her group was rather small (it was peeing with rain!) and she got a lot of advice on breaststroke. We’ve also been to the pool twice this week – just to general swim sessions. I don’t know how P finds the energy – two hours tennis on Wednesday, followed by two hours in the swimming pool. It’s good for me, though.

Finishing a book that I’ve been reading aloud to PMrs Frisby and Rats of NIMH. I don’t know why I never read it in my childhood! It was one of the books I got free from a stock weed at work – and yet another brilliant read. We loved it. I’m looking forward to reading it to Leo when he gets back.

Reading our own books. Pearlie has finished Haunted and also enjoyed Valley of the Cobras – a Herge she had never read before. I finally read a book that I have had on my shelf for twenty odd years – Village Affairs. I’d kept it because it belonged to my sister (she had all the Miss Read books) and she’d written her name inside. Somehow this one book had ended up in my possession and yet I’d never fancied these books at all. But I snaffled it up in a couple of days at the beginning of this week and (as I have no idea what happened to the rest of her collection) I had to go to the library to get more. You might think that stories of a village school mistress in the 1950s-70s are a strange choice for an urban home educator – I guess it’s escapism. Very relaxing.

Packing! I’m trying to make sure P has luggage she can carry alone to camp, as she is travelling by train and the adults won't be able to help everybody. She’s getting very excited.

Visiting grandmothers. We had a nice lunch and play in their sunny garden today. Pearlie amused herself with a set of red plastic animals that I played with as a child. She set up scenes in the undergrowth and made a watering hole. We picked lots of juicy dandelions and long grass for Bunny.

Buying ever more socks! Pearlie is having a bad time with socks at the moment. This is an irritation which comes and goes for her – but at the moment she is finding most socks unbearable. They tend to be less irritating when new, so we bought some more today. Does anyone have any sock recommendations for people who find seams etc horrible?

Talking on the phone. We’ve had lots of calls with Dani and Leo who are enjoying themselves, in spite of dodgy weather. Our tent seems to struggle whenever it rains. I suspect that it got damaged by the force of the wind at HESFES. I think we had to peg it so firmly that some seams got over-stretched. Dani is patching it up as it leaks! Leo seems to be having a good time, though he told me they ‘keep having baked beans’!

Playing games and relaxing. This evening I beat P at Monopoly and she beat me at chess. We also watched a TV programme looking at a conspiracy theory about the sinking of the Titanic. It was one of those silly programmes that give you all the evidence in favour of the conspiracy theory and then (in the last ten minutes) present you with water tight arguments that destroy the theory. Never mind, it was fun while it lasted.

Terrifying each other and getting giggly! Something about the quiet in the house is a bit spooky. Last night my phone vibrated itself off the desk upstairs and smashed onto the floor as we watched Poirot in the basement below. We crept up the stairs and then fell about laughing when we realised what had happened. Then, this evening I set off a musical hobby horse in Pearlie’s room at bedtime (I was just in a silly mood!) The thing in question whinnies loudly and then plays rousing music. Pearlie let out such a scream of terror I was filled with shame and rattled off a stream of apology that made her laugh hysterically!

Last day of her tennis course tomorrow – and I bet there will be certificates…

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mother love and other love

Pearlie and I are both feeling a bit odd and the house seems very quiet with the others away at camp. At bedtime on Sunday we had a nice cuddle and P told me that she loves me and will forever – and I told her the same. I don’t often blog stuff about our family relationships but I have been meaning to for a while – and this week seems to be the moment. I’ll post about what we’ve been up to later this week.

Dani gave birth to Pearl in April 1997 - about five and a half years into our relationship. I don’t want to talk about how the children were conceived as I think that this is their information to share, or not, as they wish. They know all about it and we’ve always been completely honest.

Dani’s labour was induced as P was sixteen days ‘late’. Luckily that didn’t lead to an escalation of intervention – one dose of prostin gel and Dani strode into labour like a woman on a mission. During the second stage the sun was setting and there was a fantastic view across the sea. Dani managed never to lose her focus, in spite of their best attempts to irritate her (like trying to break the waters, as it was on their list - even though her labour was progressing beautifully!) and she gave birth standing up. I was chucked out of the hospital in the early hours and walked home without my feet touching the ground.

We were complete novices with the whole baby business – had never even changed a nappy before Pearlie was in our lives. Dani had a really tough time with breastfeeding – something we’d both decided would be important. Dani fed that girl pretty much constantly but, over the first four months of her life, P fell steadily off the growth charts – and looked scrawny. That was a really worrying introduction to the parenting game. We couldn’t understand what was happening and were terrified of ruining the breastfeeding altogether if she had any formula. I think I was biting my tongue for the last month or so of this time – really wanting to offer P a bit of formula but very well aware that that decision was Dani’s to make. The stress was compounded by the fact that Dani was due to go back to work (Mon-Fri 9 to 5) when P was four months. We’d always planned that Dani would have built up a stock of expressed milk, but there was none of that to spare, so when Dani started work we started giving P some formula too. This actually worked fine nutritionally – P gained weight and got herself settled on the 2nd centile line (the one she’s followed ever since!) and Dani breastfed her every morning, lunchtime and during the night.

So, from the start we learned that being parents was not going to be something we could plan and execute! We learned that we needed to be flexible – and the next change of plan was when P was 12 months and Dani decided that she needed to work part-time too, as she wasn’t seeing enough of Pearlie. That set up a pattern of work and childcare we’ve stuck with ever since.

But, what I really want to write about is how I bonded with P and what I learned – something of a baptism of fire. When she was four months I found myself looking after Pearlie alone for several hours a day, with no magic boobs! For the first few months I found she was most calm and ready to take the milk if I held her against my naked breast and snuck the bottle teat in her mouth. That didn’t make it very easy to go out! Later on she was happy to take bottles from me but I was very careful not to overdo that – so she still breastfed.

Pearlie wasn’t that keen to go out until she was mobile on her feet – slings and buggies often frustrated her. (She tried to climb right out of a back carrier when she was about fourteen months!) I spent a massive amount of time alone with her in the house. She was a very ‘sparky’ baby from birth - she used to strain to sit up if placed on her back after about three months. There wasn’t much of a gap between sitting, crawling, walking and running – all done by 12 months. I spent most of my time on the floor in those early months, building stacking cups to be knocked down, proffering hammers for the walloping of pegs, and conducting crawl chases round and round the kitchen table. We had agreed from the start that the person at home with the baby wasn’t expected to get anything done in the way of housework – we stacked washing up, left buckets of nappies, kicked the toys into a heap.

After a full morning of play, and a flying visit from D for a breastfeed, P would get tired mid-afternoon. I used to make a bottle of formula and curl up with her in the middle of our double bed – and put Quincy on the ancient portable TV. She’d suck on that bottle, little hands grabbing at it, and eventually her eyes would swim and her lids fall. She’d sleep in my arms, or on the bed beside me, while I half watched that weird US show and gazed at her perfect face.

One of the problems I have with some of the ‘alternative’ parenting ideas is the absolute supremacy of the role of the birth mother. I am an avid fan of breastfeeding and I think that there are lots of times when birth mothers get a lousy deal. But I also think that it can be self-defeating to declare yourself ‘the one and only’ for your child. Maybe some people want that – but neither I, nor D, did.

Nearly three years later, after a very sicky, itchy pregnancy – I gave birth to Leo. This was not a fun birth. Leo was OP (back to back with me) and had been for weeks. I knew this – his knobbly knees stuck straight out my belly – and I also knew that he needed to turn round. After three days and nights of contractions – including a terrifying night when I let them give me a sleeping pill and spent hours wandering in a confused haze between my bed and the toilet – I was exhausted. I cried while they rigged me up with epidural and drip. The epidural didn’t work properly – leaving me with a ‘window of pain’ down one side. The breathing I’d been doing to manage the ‘natural’ contractions didn’t help much with the pain of the contractions once I was on the drip. Eventually I was fully dilated and Leo was still the wrong way round. They gave me a ‘spinal’ to kill all feeling from the middle of my torso and said they’d do their best to get him out with forceps. I swore a lot about the possibility of ending up with episiotomy and caesarean wound – the only time I’ve ever sworn in front of medical staff! I had the good fortune to have a very experienced Doctor who the midwives said was great. He was apparently a consultant in his own country but was only a registar here (why??) and he managed to rotate and extract poor Leo, who came out very bruised and misshapen of head. My most scared moment was flat on my back in the operating theatre when I caught sight of a box labelled ‘hysterectomy packs’ – erk! Dani stayed right with me in the theatre and, most importantly to me, went with Leo when they whisked him away to the special care unit to stick a needle in him and start antibiotics.

The staff couldn’t figure out who she was – most assumed she was a midwife as she was in those weird operating theatre clothes! I was made to stay in for three days while they pumped the boy full of antibiotics – this was because I’d had a slight fever during the labour. The midwife told me that this was probably because of the epidural... Whatever, I hated it and so did he – and not a drop of colostrum or milk came to my breasts. I exchanged frantic phone calls with Dani, while the doctors from special care fought with the midwives over whether or not Leo should be given a bottle. In the end I couldn’t go on with zero sleep and a frantic screaming baby and I gave him a couple of bottles. Dani knew I was very sad about that. We were so desperate to get home.

At home, something soaked my shirt as I sat down to my first meal in my own kitchen. Leo never touched another drop of formula! Dani was there right through my hideously broken and bleeding nipples – taking Leo and rocking him while I applied Jellonet and cried. (Still got the scars!) Poor Pearlie had been very unsettled by my stay in hospital and I was desperate to be with her. I needed, and wanted, Dani to pop Leo in a sling and take him for walks – something he loved. It did settle down, gradually, with lots of thinking and re-thinking, and healing nipples!

The whole business of two kids was (in some ways) more challenging than one had been. I had to go back to work gradually, from when Leo was about four months, and I was glad that Dani was always there for him. I expressed loads of milk, which Dani lovingly poured down his vests! He was generally happier to wait for a boob to return than allow any fake teat or spout to sully his lips. But I knew he was safe, loved and that Dani was bonding with him in the way that I had with P as a baby. She was taking him here and there (P was a very active toddler!) and being his parent without me available. We both feel that being in that situation was vital for the building of confidence.

I breastfed Leo until he was two and I am glad that we had that. Some of my happiest memories are hoisting a sleepy, bathed, heavy little toddler onto my lap for a ‘bedtime feedy’. But I was just as glad that he had Dani to give him banana to squish and tuck him up in his buggy with his ‘mama’ (dummy) for a snooze when I wasn’t there.

I guess I could have been a ‘one and only’ mother for a child, or children – if I’d had to. Some of the sharing involved has been tricky to work out at times. But I wouldn’t have wanted a partnership where I was the only one who felt she could soothe the crying baby, be acceptable in the night, or know what toy was beloved. I don’t think biology is nothing – sometimes I think that Dani finds Pearlie easier to understand and I find Leo easier. But, I think that too much can be made of it all – biology, ‘instincts’ and ‘motherhood’. I think that what children need is love and commitment, more than anything else. Of course, I can only speak from my experience and I may one day be contradicted by my children, but I think that reliability beats most things in a childhood. I think that being there, every day, cooking tea, finding a plaster, cuddling, talking – that is what makes relationships deep and trusting.

Before we ever had children, Dani and I talked about what would happen if we split up– perhaps a bit gloomy, but we wanted to make sure we had the same basic ideas. We agreed that the children would always stay together – that their sibling relationship would be respected by both of us. And we knew that, whatever might happen between us, we would both be parents to both these children for the rest of our lives. If I hadn’t trusted in that fact, 100%, I’d never have had children with Dani. Thankfully, that situation (splitting up!) has not arisen – and I think it unlikely that it will. I believe that one of the things that has made our relationship so strong has been supporting each other through the years of babies and little children – now not so little. It is not all roses – real life never is – but I feel very lucky to have such wonderful children and a partner who is as much ‘number one parent’ as I am.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A strange time ahead

Tomorrow, Dani and Leo are off to Woodcraft camp for a week. The following week P is off to a different Woodcraft camp. I’m sitting happily at home, waving people off and welcoming them back – and secure in the knowledge that I wouldn’t enjoy Woodcraft camp! What with a packed programme of activities and work ‘clans’ to participate in, I’d be on my way home by day two. But it will be very odd not to be our ‘four family’ for a couple of weeks. ‘Four Family’ is our kids’ term for the immediate family and ‘Share Family’ for our extended family.

Over the last few days we’ve been:

Swimming – pool and sea. It was a glorious day for swimming in the sea today and we all had a fine time.

Reading and visiting the library – both kids really powering through the books at the moment.

Shopping – Pearlie scoured the town to find a Martha Jones action figure but drew a blank. She went with a Judoon Trooper instead.

Cycling – Dani and Pearlie rode out to the beach hut today but Dani’s brake cable snapped on her Brompton, so the bike needs a bit of work now.

Packing – because the Woodies camps overlap we have to think carefully about who is taking what. Luckily, P doesn’t have to take a tent – one will be provided.

Making paper – Leo did this (with a bit of help from Dani). He is thinking a lot about how to recycle and conserve energy at the moment.

Bonus link!

Check out this fine Dalek Sec song on YouTube - Leo loves it!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Good Life, Good News!

Just seen that Felicity Kendal will be a guest star in the new series of Doctor Who! Barbara Good was a high point in my week, back when I was seven or so. Can still picture her in her dungarees, fuming and running her hand through her hair... Hoorah!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Leg on the bathroom floor

The other day I was sweeping up
Mountain of pubes, scraps of tissue
Nameless grey fluff
Bathroom floor was due for a mop – long overdue

I found a Leg

Leg lying there
Blue, plastic
Hinged at the knee and muscular of thigh
Silver screws and rivets

Power Ranger no doubt
Some plastic man or other
Shed a limb and hobbled off
Back to his comrades

There were days
Chase them through the snatches of memory before They came
Days when there were no legs to be found on my bathroom floor

Candles, scented
Solid rivers of wax from a night before

Magazines, books, papers
No-one would splash

Feminist Review, even
A whole article read and no-one calling…

“I need a wee!”
“Something’s wrong with the TV!”
“I’ve spilled it on the fluffy rug!”
“Come and see this weird black bug!”

There were bottles of stuff
Bubbled, oiled
Heady, steamy

Moments and moments
And silence

But, for now

Crazy soap
Water pistols
Old sponge dinosaur
Squirty fish

Hump-backed whale of dirty clothes that has swallowed our laundry basket

And a Leg

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Full on summer time stuff


Dani was at work all day. The kids spent most of the morning reading and then we went to Squeezebox for their band session. They are currently working on several songs, my favourite is ‘Stray Cat Strut’.

After their session we went to the park for a play. Many home ed kids were there and both kids found playmates. I held a chubby little baby for a while!

In the evening Dani had to go to a meeting and she took Leo with her. I took Pearlie to her swimming club – and read my book of short stories. I was quite impressed with the swimming club – the teacher was a woman well into her seventies, who seemed to be really watching each child and giving them tips. P had a good time.

We were all home at nine and watched a Doctor Who before bed.


Today has been a lovely, but tiring, day. Dani went off to work and I packed up a lunch and took the kids on buses to the beach hut, where we met my mum and my brother and his two kids. I had a gorgeous swim in the sea – chilly but invigorating! The kids played with their cousins – collecting seaweed and rocks and building sand constructions.

After a while we went off to the play area along the prom and the kids played on the climbing frames and so on. Pearlie had changed out of her sun suit and back into her dry clothes, which she proceeded to soak by playing in the paddling pool! Luckily her sun suit dried enough to be worn home.

We now have the cousins here for a sleepover and everyone is a teensy bit overtired… Hoping we can coax everyone into bed before there are further tears as they may turn out to be mine!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Trip, Splash, Ssshhh...


On Sunday we set off to Watford to see grandparents (D’s parents). We had to go into and out of London again, as the trains around the west weren’t running. This is not a big deal now the kids are older and we don’t have to do all that faffing about with buggies and so on – but it was very hot.

The grandparents had made a sumptuous lunch of many dishes – so we all ate very well. After lunch we explored their garden a bit – finding an abandoned clutch of eggs in a nest and spotting several small frogs in the pond. Then we went up to the local adventure playground. Can’t imagine how such a place survives in this age of health and safety overload – but it does. The kids really enjoy the stuff there – so much more fun than the tame things in the play parks. I’m not someone who is blasé about accidents, but it seems significant to me that some of the play experiences I remember with most clarity were the scary ones. I think risky play is necessary – as is risk taking generally.

Unfortunately we were all a bit tired – some of us more than others – and tempers could have been better. This was probably a combination of the heat and the cumulative effects of Pride and a sleepover.

We got home in time for the kids to fall into bed at 10ish.


D got up and went off to work. The rest of us had a slow morning and were visited briefly by some grandmothers, while I was still wild haired and wearing pjs. We talked about our plans for the house changes. One of the grandmothers owns half this house, while we own the other half – thanks to a fantastic fit of generosity on my mum’s behalf. She decided that she’d sign her half over to me earlier this year. Before that we’d been renting from them both for twelve and half years and figured we’d never get on the property ladder here. As it looks like we’ll be in this house for ever (or at least the rest of the kids’ childhoods) it makes sense to get the rooms exactly how we want them. We’ve had the last thirteen years to mull it over so I don’t think we’re making a mistake!

D finished work at lunchtime and we set off to the swimming pool for a family swim. As it was a two mummies outing we were both able to get away to swim some lengths. I managed a rather laboured ten, and Dani rattled off sixteen in ten minutes. I am not at all sporty – hate running and am happy to give all ball games a miss – but I do like swimming. I am determined to find time for a grown up swimming session once our schedule of groups etc starts again. Taking the kids is great, but I don’t really get any exercise mucking about in the little pool. Once Leo is eight I guess we’ll be able to leave him alone in that pool and go and swim in the other one.

Pearl’s swimming club seems to be making her very enthusiastic about swimming at the moment – which is good. She did four lengths of the big pool with me – using a mixture of strokes. Her breaststroke is way tidier and smoother than mine. Leo had a great time in the little pool, swimming about under the water and paddling along on top.

After the pool we went to the library and the kids signed up for ‘The Big Wild Read’. They like these summer reading programmes – though they make me groan a bit. The library assistant actually asked, “Do they go to school?” which astonished me. I imagine she must have had an assertive home ed family sign up already! I have always wondered why they ask the school. I imagine they do a bit of adding up to find out which areas of town they’re failing to reach.

The kids have been buried in their books on and off since we left the library. Leo is reading ‘The Beast of Crow’s Foot Cottage’ and Pearlie is reading ‘Betrayal’.

Dani and I both got treat books for ourselves. She chose a book about Fermat’s Last Theorem, a book about the hidden maths of everyday life, and a crochet book. I got some Jackie Kay poetry and short stories. I read all the poems on the bus on the way home – lovely. I always think a book of short stories is like a new box of chocolates and have serious trouble not scoffing the lot in one go, but I'm trying to be disciplined.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Lots of real nudity and fake nudity! The fake variety always makes me laugh - little things and little minds perhaps... No idea how people walk the whole parade in shoes like that.

Many police on the parade these days.
Bubbles in the sun.

Kids on big slide. It was very tricky to catch them actually on the slide and not just in a heap at the bottom!

Lots of super costumes.

Gay Men's Chorus do Sound of Music.

Amnesty - good eggs.

Quakers with t-shirts.

Dorothy, Dorothy, Dorothy...

Seems like just a twinkling since last year’s Pride but today we found ourselves there again. It was a fantastic day – bright, warm sunshine and much merriment. The theme was shows – so there were a lot of Dorothies and Von Trapps in evidence. We spent much of the day with various family members – my mum, her partner (J) and then my brother and his two kids – cousins S(9) and D(5). It was a good Pride – they’d got more child friendly fun-fair rides and lots of the community group stalls had great freebies for the kids – sweets, pens, key rings and wonderful squashy cows from Unison (so that’s where my subs go…)

P and L had an especially good time because their cousins were there to play with. P and cousin S spent an hour queuing for a toilet – during which time the boys were entertained by bottles of bubble mixture given to them by a passing woman in a pink ballgown and black leather helmet. As usual, D and I would have liked to have spent the afternoon watching the acts in the Women’s Performance Tent. But we had a great night out last night when we saw a lot of those acts, so we can’t complain really.

The kids saw my stroppy side when we arrived at the park, at the end of the parade, to find some Christians waving placards urging us to repent. My belief in freedom of speech means that I support their right to do that – but also my right to boo and hiss. Sadly, I think it all kicked off a few minutes later, in spite of the Christians with placards being surrounded by a cordon of police. There’s no way I support violence but if you invite yourself to someone else’s party and then behave rudely, you can’t really be surprised if they get cross.

So, I won’t be ‘repenting’ the ‘sin’ of my sixteen year loving relationship – YAWN… It’s sad that the people they really upset are the LGBT Christians, of whom there are many on the parade and in the park – MCC, Quakers and more. These are often people who have been through so much to get to place where they can be happy.

We all need an early night as we were out on the razz last night and the kids were at a sleepover. Off to visit more grandparents tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

All play and no work

I have a 45 week per year contract at work so, every summer, I get five weeks off work (and two at Christmas). I look forward to the summer break because it means that we get more family time all together, but I always forget that when it actually happens I miss going to work.

Here’s what I miss:

The journeys each way – a chance to spend time entirely alone and listen to music or an audio book, or just think.
The views from the library where I work. These are soon to be somewhat wrecked by a new football stadium, so have to be enjoyed while they’re there. The sunsets are often spectacular.
Aimless chat with colleagues about weather, tv and bus shelters!
Getting a pile of stuff sorted without being interrupted to sort out an argument…
The smell of the library and the peace of a final headcount on a quiet evening.
A good session on the enquiry desk, where you never know what might come up next.

Of course, there are a lot of things that I don’t miss! I won’t list these…

But, whenever I have this break I realise that I need a job outside the house. I took four months maternity leave when Leo was born, and then went back to work gradually, but that is the longest break I’ve had from paid work in the last thirteen years. I’d hate to work full-time again, but equally, I wouldn’t be happy at home full-time.

That aside, we are having a good time in the sunshine. Today we all went to our beach hut for the afternoon. Various people swam in the sea, Dani and Pearl rode there and back on their bikes, Leo did extremely well on his cousin’s bike with stabilisers – a new thing for him.

Yesterday, the kids went to Squeezebox and then we hung out in a park again. Pearlie had swimming club in the evening, and Dani managed to combine dropping her off and picking her up with a visit to a Pride week event. Looking forward to a night out on Friday and then the main event on Saturday – and it looks like it’ll be sunny.