I don't know how I do it

In my biggest single act of maternal sacrifice to date…

We have left London. I have been moved out, find myself in the sticks, alone with a 16-month baby girl and boy of three, my chef spending most of his hours working his balls off in London.

Well, this looking out of the window and seeing no one, hearing nothing but the odd blackbird or sudden, startling bark from a pit bull, it is not for me.

(Goodbye children’s section of the Barbican Library, goodbye endless sunny trips to the zoo, Coram’s Fields, Fortune Street park…)

I have survived the initial trauma of swapping the pulsing heart of Shoreditch for rural hotels offering entertainment in the form of a ‘weekend of clairvoyance’ and the seemingly never-ending viscous remains of a snail that came a cropper in our washing machine. Have survived one month without computer, car, childcare or cleaner. Continue to get by without all but the most essential items of furniture, our tenants currently having need of our sofa, dining table etc.

And yet… I am not unscarred.

Yes, I moaned about managing life in a small, two-bedroom, fourth-floor flat possessing many storage demands but no solutions, no outdoor space, ten cold, hard, marble stairs in the lobby to navigate several times daily with buggy, children and shopping, the ever-closer-looming problem of dearth of decent local state primaries… I moaned, and yet…

And yet I should have heeded the warning bells (utility room?), done more research, at least seen the place before signing on the dotted line.

The old woman who lived in a vinegar bottle never had it so bad.

No more concierge to sign for packages, no more walls painted the shade of white we once agonised over. No more Pret, Pod, Eat, Starbucks, Nero, Costa within a 100m radius of our front door. No more ever-changing sea of faces, smorgasboard of street-style-blog fodder. No more reassuring all-night rumble of number 43s and 205s, no more familiar bums with their familiar scams, no more sirens, street art, street food, cocktail bars, convenience stores. No more sense of agelessness, of being a twenty-to-fifty-something year old in an ocean of twenty-to-fifty-something year olds.

No more history.

There, we fed the pigeons, here the ducks. There, clean-shaven young men and women in suits make way for a buggy, here we get held up behind the Zimmer frames, can’t quite get confident about driving on twisty country lanes, where something above buggy speed seems required, but where foxes jump out and riders lose control of rearing horses.

There, I peppered my days with meetings with wise, witty friends and colleagues, sometimes with children in tow, sometimes alone. Here I don’t have a babysitter and for the first time in my life am bothered by my laughter lines, grey hairs.

I am pining, am broken-hearted, lovesick and anxious. Hating myself for smoking cigarettes again after four years without.

It’s been over a year since I first tweeted: ‘London: true love or Stockholm Syndrome?’

I think I have found the answer.

And, while I know I would be a better person if, instead of this maudlin outpouring, I had written a chipper first-post-from-new-posting packed full of what I’ve discovered to love about our new life – because it is not without its charms – here I am, with the Charles Linden anti-stress method downloaded onto my Kindle, though not yet read, and the words of the late, great Nora Ephron coming back to haunt me: choose to be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.

How about tragic heroine?

Really, there’s no getting around it. I’m going to have to go out and make some friends.

Mothers of Godawful, Surrey, look out. I’ll be the one with the Play-Do-stained jeans, faint smell of home-grown about me, dazed look in my eye. Consider yourself warned.


The cat’s whiskers


Tiger, tiger, burning bright
You take the dark and make it light,
What explorations lie ahead!
But now, my kitten, time for bed

When it would really help if the temperature would at least reach double figures and they could go and play outside instead

I woke up this morning, In the guest room at my parents’ house, my boy in bed beside me. I didn’t remember him coming through in the night.

Warm hands and feet sought me out, burrowed into me.

When he opened his eyes, he told me, sleep-drugged and incredulous, that there was a white cat. A white cat with two horns. And the cat was stuck in the catflap. His hands flew up to gesticulate. The horns…

It was the first time he had described a dream narrative to me. The only previous window to his sleepscape I’ve had was when, for a while, first thing in the morning we’d ask him what he’d dreamed about, and he’d  say “broken airplane”, and we’d say, all rolling eyes and comic exaggeration, “Again?”, wondering if it was because of that picture he saw in The Week last year; an aircraft split clean in two following a crash landing.

I know there’s not a space for “first time you saw your son’s dreams” in the baby record book, the one that I have a constant nagging guilt about not filling in, but I know I’ll want to remember this later, when he’s grown: the bed-tousled hair, his sheer delight in the events of his dream, the not really believing that it wasn’t for real even when he knew it wasn’t for real.

In other news, the same boy now has a full-blown, problem tv addiction and it’s a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ I’m going to have to intervene: get him into therapy, throw a sheet over the telly, stop leaving him in front of it for hours on end while I work, that kind of thing. Otherwise my girl will be next. And then we’ll all be setting off to summer holiday at Nickelodeon Land, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which he fell for hard during an ad break today. His friends are all there waiting for him. Dora! Diego! SpongeBob!

The white cat with the horns sounds like much more fun.

The mousetrap

There has been another mouse incident. I am reminded of the furore in the press following the release of the 1996 Alanis Morissette hit Isn’t it Ironic. What was the argument? That a traffic jam when you’re already late is less ironic than unlucky? Ditto meeting the man of your dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife?

Yeah, so we had captured and released back into the wild a couple of shrews and cleared up the remains of a rabbit before lunch. Failure to have noticed the potential significance of a cat staking out the family’s wellington boot collection would have been reckless. I knew the drill: I made up the drill. Left boot upside down, two firm whacks on the sole. Pinch toe to make sure nothing is lurking within. Repeat with right foot. Upside down, whack, whack, pinch toe. In 40 years of family life at this address, no one has ever found a mouse in their boot.

Until now.

I slide my foot in. Tug. Push my heel into place, shift my full weight onto it.

Something soft and warm. Yielding. A slipping sensation…

I rip the boot off, shake it, take it to the window, peer in. I want to see an old, curled-up inner sole. I. So. Badly. Want. To. See. An. Old. Curled-up. Inner Sole.

The mouse is yellow and white. It is moving.

Aha! Oho! Oh my! Oh woe! I have stood on the mouse from The Gruffalo!

The kids watch, interested, as I howl for several minutes, a kind of horrified, intermittent keening. My chef’s phone goes to voicemail. As does my sister’s. It is just the children and me. And the mouse.

Anyone knows it’s inhumane to injure a poor, defenseless creature and not do something about it. I have to put it out of its misery. I picture myself knocking the mouse unconscious with a tiny, mouse-sized rock. Too visceral. I would have to bludgeon it to death after knocking it out. Could I do it? If I had to?

I call faybird33. She urges courage. Do the right thing.

And then it comes to me: I will drown the mouse from The Gruffalo!

I pull on boots, other boots, my stomach contracting in hideous anticipation as the right foot goes in. Safe. I close the door, leave the kids behind, pray that the toddler doesn’t bludgeon the baby while I am gone.

The water in the burn is clear and moving fast. I gently upend the boot. Sorry mouse. It plops into the water, swirls around a couple of times. Drifts to the doldrums, dead before it hit the water.

There is nothing to be done. I swallow. Set off back towards the house to face the children. I must soldier on.

When I pull my boots off, I remember my socks are new on today. They’re canary yellow, made by an American company. There is white swirly writing across each sole: Happy Socks.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Echoes of the past

Here in Scotland, where the kids and I are staying until we find tenants for our flat (having well and truly hit the wall in terms of coping in a small, two-bed flat atop Old Street roundabout with two kids, very little in the way of disposable income, one bout of flu following another and more stress than is good for one’s skin or psyche), I have been complaining to my mother about my tinnitus. According to her, it is because I once drank too much and took drugs. “Once” as in at one point in time. There was more than the one occasion, as I recall. However, as my maternal grandmother suffered from the same affliction, I suspect the condition is hereditary. Unless my late grandmother developed the annoying ringing in her ears during her youth following the trauma of fleeing war-torn Shanghai on a slow boat to Australia. And I from standing too close to the loudspeakers at a Bucks Fizz gig in 1983.

A dog’s life







I am not a dog person. If a cat is the friend who occasionally deigns to (badly) steer the buggy for her mate whose hands are full of pee-soaked pants and trousers,picnic lunch,jackets and shoes, a dog is the mutt who can’t shoot off to a private view at a gallery on the other side of London on a weekday afternoon and instead stands for half an hour in a rush-hour post office queue with a bored baby and playing-up three year old in tow, desperately trying not to catch anyone’s eye, all the while trying to conduct excessively stressful property negotiations. And look cute.

A cat wouldn’t even consider doing business with Foxtons.

So today’s outing to Hampstead Heath is intended to soothe jangled nerves, provide a green and calming, child-friendly oasis, break the spell of a week of bad news, ominous portents, of old adversaries coming out of the woodwork.

We sit down by the pond, hungry, in Nini’s case filthy. My baby, while I’ve been otherwise occupied, has learned to walk. Alerted by her guinea pig-esque squeaks, her legs kicking, finger pointing, I have today allowed her to roam muddy paths and winter lawns. Her cream snowsuit is black. Her face, hands, under her nails, caked in mud. I change her nappy as she lies, precarious, on the park bench. How long has she been roaming with a dirty nappy? Things are harder to monitor in the great outdoors. Strapping her back in for lunch, I search the many bags for a new packet of wet wipes. Milo wants some ham. Nini, hungry, impatient, strains against her five-point harness. The buggy tips, is caught by my feline-quick friend just before it’s too late. Only Mummy’s new leather tote ends up in the dirt. Milo wants a gingerbread man. Nini wants a slice of mango. Some ham. My phone beeps. Tummy rumbles.

Three dogs race by, scamper in circles around each other. One of them, quite big, the same tan as my leather tote, flashes by our bench. Milo wants some cheese. I am slow in assessing the situation, the last one to notice that the dog has got Nini’s dirty nappy in its mouth, its squishy, dirty, grape-rich contents flying. The dog runs, owner shouts, toddler laughs. A trail of poo-smeared wipes appears like breadcrumbs on the hill. The dog eats some of the nappy’s contents, then is off again, the other dogs hot in pursuit.

“I can’t look,” I say, several times, averting my eyes just as the dog bounds joyously towards a couple eating sandwiches, a man reading a book.

Half an hour later, when we leave, the dog has still got the nappy in its mouth. I still can’t look.

Other than “train your dog to obey commands”, the lesson I take home from today is that sometimes it’s okay to look the other way. Sometimes, it’s okay to focus on getting the kids fed and watered in order to finally get to one’s own Brazil nut baklava. Sometimes it’s just about keeping body and soul together. About refusing to accept responsibility for someone else’s dog.

I’ve got enough on my plate trying to keep my own puppies under control.

Wanna take it outside?









Politically correct? Me?


If that was my kid on a billboard with “Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier.” stamped across his face, I’d be ready to get in a fight over it.

Blue year, blue me

ImageHere is a gratuitous picture of me looking much happier than I feel in these dark days of the new year, and Nini, looking about as happy as she always looks, which can act as a bookmark while I spend the next few days tiptoeing my way around these new WordPress controls I have somehow stumbled across. If it wasn’t broke, WordPress, why fix it?

On the subject, who out there is still resisting Gmail’s new look? I feel time is running out but still harbour a hope that if enough of us click the “not yet, please, I hate change, just leave me ALONE, goddamn it, can’t you see I’ve got way too many demands on my time as it is [sobs and shouts at children]” tab the whole multi-million-dollar new interface will just go away.

As will January…


‘Twas the night before Christmas…









…and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Except this one.









Who only found my favourite cardigan on the floor and ate his way through it (who has time to pick up their clothes when they have two kids?). Exhibit A:










The mouse is stirring no more. I guess my cardigan didn’t agree with his digestive system. Although, wishing to remain resolutely festive of spirit, I am telling myself that it is better the mouse died of a cashmere overdose than ended up in a cat’s stomach.

Anyway, baby’s asleep, toddler’s asleep, refreshments are awaiting Santa’s arrival, final presents are awaiting wrapping and good smells are emanating from my parents’ kitchen, where my chef is cooking up a storm.

My Christmas Day tip: do Dr Henderson after lunch. No, not one of my father’s fishing friends. A digestif, designed to make one feel more capable of movement and speech after the overindulgence associated with turkey and all the trimmings. Or goose. Or duck. Or all three. And all the trimmings.

It’s one part creme de menthe to two parts Fernet-Branca.

And it’s my Christmas present to you.

Thank you for reading. Wishing you a Christmas that’s deep, crisp and even and a 2012 filled with comfort and joy.



Thorn in my side

So I may not have mentioned it but I’m an expert at avoiding broken glass on the pavement. I can hold a conversation, dole out zoo biscuits, give good text message and direct lost people to Moorfields Eye Hospital (“just follow the green line!”) all while avoiding even the smallest shard of danger. I like the ride pneumatic tyres provide, but the thought of having to do buggy maintenance has always made me feel slightly queasy. It was the same when I used to drive. The idea of being stuck, helpless, horrified me, feminist that I am. It wasn’t that as a woman I was incapable of learning the basics: how to change a wheel, check the oil, remember the right kind of fuel to put in. Just that I could never be bothered.

Anyway, I can spot a broken wine bottle at 50 metres, the glint of a cheap Smirnoff rip-off at 30. I can see the ground-up beer-bottle glass well before I’ve swerved to avoid the corresponding pile of puke.

(A funny story about puke… Last week on our way home from Waitrose I pointed out a group of pigeons happily pecking away in a tight circle. As we got closer, I was able to report to my toddler, in all innocence, that they were eating a big pile of rice that someone had given them. “That’s funny,” he said. “Pigeons usually eat bread.” And, yes, it was funny, because, of course, it was vomit, steaming in the cold air. Ah, the city in winter.)

Well, today I got a puncture. A first. On the last day before we fly home (to my parents’ house) for the holidays. A day on which I had 310 things planned to do, a tight, military schedule in place. I heard a rhythmic, clicking sound, bent to brush off what I was sure would be a sharp piece of grit on the tyre. Except it was a small twig. Which, when I tugged it, turned out to be attached to a huge, hooked thorn. My mistake was to remove the thorn from the tyre. Air started whooshing out. I stuck the thorn back in again but too late. The back right of the buggy sunk. The buggy board was unusable. My toddler was distraught, baby bewildered.

Through a combination of black cabs, sheer grit, and the kind of supernatural strength people find in the event of having to rescue a loved one who’s trapped underneath a burning car, I made it through the day intact, buggy safe in the store room at nursery, awaiting a trip to the bike shop for repair.

But a twig? A thorn? On City Road? I didn’t see it coming. That was the biggest surprise, really. That in the end our enemy was organic.

The moral of the story? I am not going to be so careful around glass in 2012. I am going to stop assuming that it is possible to anticipate disaster, prevent it in advance, be all-seeing, all-knowing. I am going to look a little more often at the sky; up, not down. Because, as my chef always says, “Blue skies, endless possibilities”.

But bloody hell! When my kids outgrow the buggy, I think I’m going to become one of those crazy bleached hair, fake Ugg-wearing women who shuffle to and from the supermarket with a knackered old Maclaren in tow to carry their groceries home. Or maybe just to lean on. Because God knows how I ever got by without the extra hauling power. Bugaboo Frog? They should have called it the Bugaboo Pack Mule.

No handbag is ever going to be big enough again.