Monday, 30 September 2013

Boy In A Dress

One hundred years old; maybe a little older. Cotton so thin in places, I worried that you would put your foot through it as you tried to wriggle free.  I chose ‘heritage green’ ribbon for around the chest and arms. Pip had blue, but somehow, green seemed right for you.

I was worried it wouldn’t fit. But it did. As though it were meant for you. As though, at whatever point you put it on, it would always seek to fit you, to gather round you and embrace you. The gown worn by all the males in my family; you, Pip, my brothers and countless others.  Names and dates, embroidered around the hem with my mother’s hand; a visual genealogy, sewn with love.

As we stood at the font I felt overcome. Tears pricked my eyes and I had to blink hard to stop them flowing. As I handed you to Mother M, there was a lump in my throat as I said your name aloud, the only audible sound in an otherwise silent church; a life affirming reminder that you, like a rainbow that follows rainy days, are here - and that we are blessed.

Your godparents, the same as Pip’s. How could I choose anyone else? Innately good, kind, compassionate people. Friends since the start of adulthood. Twenty years on, they stood by my side, by your side; family in all but name.  How lucky you are to have them.

Afterwards, a celebration lunch, then later, tea and cake. I must have been feeling especially pious, or else, the champagne holy oils had gone to my head; I offered our guests ‘vicarage sponge’ all afternoon.

The autumn sun shone and you smiled, chuckled, wooed and cooed, looking as angelic as the blonde hair on your head. In our small garden, the atmosphere was alive, with warmth, good will and love.  It was a perfect day, celebrating you. My darling boy.

Friday, 20 September 2013

School Daze

It has been just over two weeks since Pip started school.  His energy and enthusiasm have been wonderful, he can’t wait to get there each day.  I am amazed at how well he has coped with the transition; the new routine, new rules and regulations, the new repertoire of foods served up at lunchtime by the school’s kitchen. My previously picky son even declared this week that oriental noodles with salmon were ‘quite nice’.  A plate which I’m sure, only two weeks ago would have caused a hysterical reaction by it’s mere appearance at the table. Who’d have thought it?

In stark contrast to Pip, I have found getting used to our new routine rather tricky.  In order to ensure we are in the playground for 8.30am when the bell rings each day, my bedside alarm is now set for 6.35am each morning. This is the time I need to get up if I want to have a shower and make some attempt to make myself look as if I haven’t been dragged through a hedge backwards. If I rise past 7am, there just isn’t time. Pip likes to coax himself into the day S.L.O.W.L.Y.  He has to be cajoled to eat breakfast - every spoonful is a victory. My worries about him not eating the school lunch have meant I’ve been encouraging him even more than usual to eat well at the start of the day. The kitchen has become an early morning cafe; pancakes one morning, bacon sandwiches another, poached eggs another. Thank goodness for my husband and his culinary skills. 

I am trying hard to be organised.  To lay all the uniform out the night before, to put the book bag with all it’s necessary pieces of paper by the front door, yet, despite all this, despite getting up two hours before we need to be at school, it is still a rush.  Two weeks in; this morning I found myself at the school gate with unwashed hair, no make up and EB in his babygro (counterbalanced with the poshest cardigan I could find so he didn’t look completely unloved.) Pip looked spotless but otherwise I, and my toast encrusted baby, looked rather dishevelled.  I saw a couple of mothers looking at EB in his babygro; I wondered if they disapproved.  Yet, I refused to feel guilty, refused to feel inadequate.  I am not going to succumb to school gate pressure. I’m determined to keep it real. Sometimes (like last night) you are up half the night with a crying teething baby. Sometimes it is really hard to get two children out the house for 8am. Sometimes I will turn up looking presentable, and other days, like today, a mad haired zombie. 

Getting to school on time is only half my challenge; it’s all the other things that I need to remember too.  Games on Monday; take the kit to school and get changed. Games on Thursday; wear the kit to school and stay in it all day. Different days of the week for library books, phonics, word strips, show and tell. And so it goes on.  In the past week timetables have attached themselves to kitchen cupboards and phonics strips have sprouted from the fridge door.  It’s a new world - one I’m struggling to get to grips with far more than Pip is. 

Last week there was a curriculum evening at the school, a chance to hear about the different focus areas for the year and see some of the work the children had produced in their first week or so in class. I was heartened to see that many of the things that Pip is going to be doing in his first year are a continuation of the topics studied at his pre-school.  That it won’t all be new to him, that some things will get the chance to bed in further.  The solidification of existing knowledge rather than 100% new knowledge in itself.   This past couple of weeks have made me realise how important pre-school is in preparing children properly for school.  Pip’s carefree, happy disposition each morning, is I’m sure, partly due to his positive pre-school experience.

In the classroom examples of the work the children had completed were on show. Hand drawn pictures and examples of, ‘gluing and sticking’ as Pip refers to it.  I was struck by the huge gulf in the abilities of the children, evident from the work exhibited.  Pip is a June baby and one of the younger children in his class, and it shows.  The gulf in fine motor skills, in being able to hold a pencil properly, even, being able to concentrate for a prolonged period of time.  Heartening, in the sense one can see how much more a child of 9 months older can do. I found it hard to look at all the work on show, Pip's name with some of the letters written back to front in places and not compare, not worry.  Not think, will the other children be mean to him if he isn’t as good at them at this stage? 

I peered through the window one morning after drop off, and he had started colouring the letters on a pamphlet. I noted, he was doing it upside down. Concentrating deeply, his tongue waggling side to side, as it does when he concentrates.   A little boy sat down to him, his Mother settling him in, and as I watched, I lip read their conversation; "Look Mummy, that boy is doing it wrong. He’s doing it upside down". "He's doing it how he wants to do it" said the mother.  My heart ached slightly for Pip. But so deep in concentration, he was oblivious to anyone else’s observations and I was glad. I don’t want him to worry about what he can’t do, just to enjoy learning all the new things that he can do.

These are new days for all of us. For Pip, for me, for us as a family.  In the past two weeks Pip already seems to have grown so much; the effect of new influences showing themselves positively in manners and remembering to wash one's hands, and in talk of  'light savers' (I think he means lightsabers) and 'Power Strangers'. As I wave the phonics book at Pip nightly, I wonder, are we doing too much homework or just the right measure? I want to help him learn, but I don’t want to be overbearing.  Am I pronouncing the phonics correctly? Am I sounding out the spellings correctly? All things I wonder - nightly.  I didn't expect Pip's school life to consume me as much as it is.

Letter after letter arrive from the school via the ‘book bag’.  A fancy dress outfit for when?  Wear jeans on Friday and take £1? A food contribution for Harvest festival? Here's how you can help out with the school charities. There’s a lot of stuff for this mother to remember.  

I’ve bought a diary - forget school gate style - I just need to  get seriously organised.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Summer In The City

Airplane jet streams leave a trail of white through a cornflower blue sky as they to and fro from Heathrow.   The city suburbs slow as people depart.  No Londoner wants to spend their summer days on a packed commuter train in conditions akin to a cattle transporter, or sleep at night in 30 degree heat in a poorly ventilated loft conversion. Those that can, leave.  Those that stay accept their fate; the close, concrete absorbing heat rarely tempered by breeze,  the news articles that talk of reflections from skyscrapers melting cars, the standard TV bulletin on the hottest day of the year showing an egg frying on the pavement.
In commuterville there is a feeling of peace. Even a sense of relief, that some have left, creating extra space for those that have stayed.  Those that stay, make the most of it;  city parks with parched grass become beaches; bikini clad women and bare chested men lounging on towels as if in the Med.  Al fresco eating becomes the norm, as pavement cafes and pub gardens brim and overflow with people, whilst indoor restaurant spaces appear grey and empty.

Many families in these parts depart to second homes in the ‘Country’.  “We’re off to the Country” is a phrase I’ve heard surprisingly often.  I've never quite worked out where the country is.  A loose term seemingly only understandable by those privileged enough to be in the second home club.  Suffolk, Dorset, The Cotswolds, perhaps.  I’ve never experienced these houses; but I imagine them to be rather grand, red brick piles, with sweeping driveways and meadows full of cows surrounding them.

It’s never bothered me spending the summer in London.  It's home.  That’s not to say I don’t crave the great outdoors, don’t wish sometimes that I was in the ‘Country’, under a canopy of trees or enjoying watching butterflies dance together on a country lane abundant with wild flowers.  But I have found that even in London, it is possible to leave behind the greyness, the concrete monoliths, to find plenty of green and open spaces. One just has to try a little bit harder.

Pip, EB and I spent countless days at Kew Gardens this summer.  The Incredibles exhibition was indeed, incredible.  Pineapple Island, a feature in the lake, became one of Pip’s favourite things. He loved hiring a boat and wearing 3D glasses to sail through the grotto underneath.  I loved the edible table with trees growing through it’s centre and it’s bespoke informative crockery. We all loved watching the various vegetables grow, as we meandered there throughout the summer. The wonderful straw mushrooms - the perfect prop for photographing little ones.

On other days we ventured to Richmond, to the park to search for deer, or climb trees, or to forage for blackberries.  Stopping to take a short break for tea and cake at Petersham Nurseries - after which, I stood open mouthed wondering who on earth can afford to buy the items from their shabby chic shop.

If we were feeling lazy, even the local meadow with splash pond and adventure playground was enough. A picnic tea on the grass with friends, and we were done.  Or a small paddling pool in the garden, filled with stacking cups. Watching EB good naturedly gulp and gasp whilst his older brother poured yet another cupful of water over his head...and laughed.

For the most part, summer in the city seemed easy. We got to green spaces, it didn’t feel claustrophobic. We got away too, for a week to coast / country. We came and went, and I surprised myself, as sole charge of two small children, how easily I rolled along, how easy the days seemed.  Managing the house project in tandem was tricky, but do-able.  Perhaps it was the sunshine that made the difference.

Yet shadowy thoughts crept in, framing the corners of my mind. Like a softly dripping tap, doubts gathering in a small puddle of water.   

'London, I love you so much.  Don’t do this to me now, not 12 years in - I thought we were in it for the long game?'

Some things took their toll this summer.

The relentlessness of salesmen knocking on the door; "I’m homeless", "I’m unemployed, can you take a look at my basket?"  £5 for a shoe shine or some micro fibre cloths.  Expensive by high street standards.  Backchat when you don’t buy. A feeling of being intimidated at your own door.  Suspicious looking individuals claiming they were raising money for a charity bike ride, and then not calling at any of the other houses on the street (I noticed.)

"Would you like a door intercom?" asked the architect.  I wondered; if these people are just faceless voices, will they be less intimidating? And then I wondered - what does this say about the world we live in? When people cease to answer their own front door and just talk to callers (known or unknown) from a phone inside their house?

Opportunists with ill intent.  My elderly neighbour was visited by a man who claimed he had just fumigated our property. (Not so). He was told he needed to pay half of the £4000 costs there and then, in cash. Another neighbour, an older woman on her own, answered the door  to a man with a tall story about a cat on her roof and also had a narrow escape.

My father’s car was broken into when he visited.  His retirement present of gardening vouchers stolen from the glove box.  The travel sweets from the tin scattered down the road, a taunting trail of boiled sugar in red and yellow shouting; ‘You can’t catch me’.

The suicide of a stranger; seconds before I was due to walk past,  jumping from a roof, adjacent to a London square.  Twenty minutes or more for an ambulance to come, and behind box hedges all the while, Londoners continued to laugh as they sunbathed and sipped iced lattes, oblivious.  It seemed wrong. All summer I was unable to shake the memory of it from my head.

The closure of Pip’s local play park, and the realities of living in a big city.

Two sides of the same coin. 

London, I love you, but city life lost some of it's shine for me this summer.  Autumn is your time to woo me back again.

Linking up with the very talented Older Mum in a Muddle for her #oneweek series.

one week

Monday, 9 September 2013

This Was The Summer...

This was the summer of dandelion clocks, we adventured in parks and grass covered lands and blew away seed heads, holding time in our hands.

This was the summer of games in the park, of picnic teas outside as the nights weren’t dark. Of ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’, and ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’, of chasing, racing, letting loose.

This was the summer of carefree days in the sun; Kew Gardens, the beach, the cinema; one to one.

This was the summer a large box of clothes came through the post; with smart blazer and cap and the tie you loved most.

"When am I going to big school, Mum?"  "Soon my darling, the summer’s nearly done."

This was the summer I wanted to last longer, the summer I felt our bond become stronger.  Proper conversations, an inquisitive mind; a companion like you is hard to find. 
This was the summer you seemed so tall, but at the end, in your uniform, you looked so small.  Knobbly knees and unscuffed toes, and at the last minute, a runny nose. 

On Thursday, a car journey and a scoot through the park, and then there we were; at the start.  A hug and a kiss, then you walked through the door, with one backward glance and no more.

I thought about you every second of the day, on this, your first big step away. Away from the mother ship, away from the summer. To autumn leaves and spending all day in the care of another.

At the end of this summer I allowed myself to cry, in recognition of saying goodbye.  To  four years of binding love, four years of fun, four years at home as mother and son.

My darling Pip, they were my only tears.  You’re ready and raring to enjoy these school years.  Be bold, be brave, be happy and have fun. I’ll be at the school gate each day when you’re done. 

Always by your side...

For little Pip, who became a ‘Big Boy’ quicker than I could ever have imagined.

Linking up with the One Week series at Older Mum in a Muddle; a seasonal linky on the theme of summer. 

one week

And also linking up with #magicmoments

Monday, 2 September 2013

Custodian of Old, Harbinger of New

I like old things. Antique and vintage have an appeal for me. I like things to have a patina to them, to wonder about where they’ve been, the stories they might have to tell.  I like old, historic buildings, particularly Victorian ones; London is a fantastic place to live from that perspective.  The Natural History museum is one of my favourite buildings; the exquisite blue-grey brick detailing of the outside, the stunning, stunning stone carvings on the inside.  When I take Pip to the dinosaur exhibit I barely look at the dinosaurs; as he marvels at T-Rex, I admire the animals and plants ornately carved in columns, in awe of the craftsmanship and technique.   Likewise, I love the magnificent stained glass in the domed cafe at the V&A museum. I could sit quietly there (with a good cappuccino) soaking up it’s intricate detail for hours. The Victorians knew how to build things, to make things, their attention to detail was fabulous.  The Gherkin, The Shard, may be held up as examples of modern day great architecture, but for me, they hold nothing on the V&A or the Natural History Museum.  I prefer the craftsmanship of bygone years.

It’s probably no accident that all the properties I’ve owned have been Victorian. I like the character features Victorian properties offer. Our first flat, a conversion in a Victorian church, our first house; a Victorian mid terrace, and now Faulty Towers; another Victorian abode.

It’s fair to say, that whilst some Victorian houses have been preserved in all their finest detail, Faulty Towers has not. Some of it’s original features have been ripped out by someone attempting to modernise (badly),  or damaged and not repaired.  Others; original cornicing, wardrobes and stained glass have been left in disrepair and are in dire need of some TLC. 

Whilst I love ‘original’ features and the patina of old, I am not prepared to live with them at any cost.  I’m done living with draughty windows (however nice the stained glass may be) or keeping a cornice that is cracked and crumbling beyond repair. And whilst I like the character features that yesteryear’s house can offer, I am rather a minimalist when it comes to interiors. Alcove shelves? Forget it. I’m a put it in a cupboard and shut the door kind of girl.

This has left me with rather a dilemma when thinking about the design and feel of our home.  In some ways, I want to rip out everything, the crust and scum of the last 140 years, and start again from scratch with a totally blank canvas. The problem is, my conscience won’t let me.  The stained glass, the fireplaces, the hall floor. The wonderful heavy wood front door, built to last with a quality you just don’t find in manufactured doors today.  I feel that I owe it to this old house to give those things back, to polish and restore them, to make them shiny and new. That they’re not mine to take out, that after so many years of being there,  I am merely a custodian.  Yet I wonder how they will sit side by side by my dream of a minimalist white kitchen.  Bravely, we have decided to mix the old with the new.  Mixing two styles is not easy, but I am committed to making the design work. Heaven forbid that I end up creating a ‘pastiche’;  it seems to me your grand design has failed if that’s how Kevin McCloud describes it.  

Regular readers will know that we are currently in the process of renovating our house.  I thought I would try to document some of the ups and downs here. Juggling life and this project is proving to a challenge, but I hope to provide a monthly update of how the project is progressing. Welcome to my new series; Through the Keyhole.