Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

If you're going to say anything at all about New Year's Eve, it's best to do it like this...the gorgeous Zooey Deschanel sings with Joseph Gordeon-Levitt...

Or, like this...

Whatever you're up to, remember this: lighten up, breathe, enjoy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fire, flames and invincible summers

A couple of weeks ago, I adopted Laura Veirs' song July Flame as a sort of personal anthem for the season.  Whilst the world around me seemed to be revelling in snow and jingle bell tunes, I had an unashamed longing for summer.  I really took the song to heart and found it a great comfort.  And then, inspired by the song, I made this...

I don't know what to call it.  It's round so maybe a mandala.  Or a solstice light catcher.  Or a paper cut.  Or all three.  Why not.

Since then I've also been stumbling across this quote by Albert Camus: "In the midst of winter I finally learned that there is within me an invincible summer."  The few times I did stumble across it, I read it and my heart sank.  My reaction was, "Oh, I wish."  I then had quite a hellish few days.  But, long story short, I came out through the other side and even found some contentment, some joy bubbling up out of nowhere.  That's for another post, but last night I remembered that Camus quote and thought - yes.  I found my invincible summer.

And then I saw that my friend over at Lickety Split posted this.  I love that poem.  I remember that it got me through some brutal fucking heartbreak about 10 or so years ago.  This is a photo I took during that time...

"what matters most is how well you walk through the fire." 

So there you go.  Walk well.  Mind how you go.  Happy Solstice.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The wisdom of no escape" or how a jam tart saved me

So you might have noticed that December has been a hard month for me.  It hasn't all been bad.  There have been ups as well as downs.  And those ups have been pretty good while they lasted.  But I thought they would help make the downs suck less.  They don't.  Having ups even gave me a false sense of security.  Just when I thought I was getting through the worst of things, just when I thought I'd already hit my low point and was now coming out the other side, something happened to wallop me and make me see that there's always somewhere lower I could fall to.  It made me remember that quote I blogged about a few weeks ago - "Abandon any hope of fruition."  Not because I was feeling particularly morose and hopeless (ok, I was) but because there is a truth to it.

It may seem contrary to all your survival instincts and it hurts like hell, but when you are at that point when you feel there is nothing left to hold onto, when you feel there is no choice but to let go, when grasping and resisting and holding on - to anything - is so painful, you have to stop, that is the point at which things can start to turn around.  And the hardest part: there's nothing you can do about it.  Whether you resist it or welcome it - you can't make it happen.  All you can do is be through it.  Just be - when each minute feels like an hour and each hour feels like a year and each breath feels futile.  Resisting makes it worse.  I don't know what welcoming it does because I've never been able to do that.  But I imagine it could make it worse too - like the anticipation of an eagerly awaited visitor who is delayed, and delayed some more and delayed some more and you go from being angry at them to wondering what's happened to them to fearing the worst, to trying to bargain with whatever force you might suddenly decide to believe in just to make things ok again, until you reach the point where you give up because they're not coming and you wonder what you've done to deserve this.  And then they show up.

But life goes on.  And they leave and may not show up again and the whole cycle begins anew.  The only thing you have control over is trying not to escape.  The only thing you can do is to be there, wherever there is.

One of my low points this month was when a batch of jam tarts failed.  Go ahead, laugh.  Yes, I cannot bake without swearing, but this was monumental.  Things didn't actually turn out alright in the end.  I was making them for a community centre fundraiser.  I'd spent two hours making the damn things from scratch.  But I made a mistake and that mistake made itself clear all over my beautifully rolled out pastry.  I overfilled the tarts.  When I pulled them out of the oven, it looked like there had been a jam explosion.  I lost it. Obviously it wasn't just about the tarts.  But they tipped me over the edge.  I behaved just like a two-year old and had an almighty tantrum.  Afterwards, the tarts were still ruined and nothing had changed.

Something happened to me then.  Something in me cut off.  I didn't notice it straight away, but when I woke up the next morning, I realised that I felt numb.  Like there was a glass wall between me and the world.  I didn't feel anger or pain anymore, instead I just felt nothing.  A dull nothing.  That distressed me, but even that sense of distress was dulled.  I hadn't felt, or not-felt, this way for a long time.  Something sank in me.  I remember that the last time this happened, it went on for weeks.  I tried to prepare myself for it, to prepare myself for having to live like this.  All the things that seemed important, all the things I'd hoped to do, hoped to achieve, it all went out the window.  I knew I wouldn't have the energy to even try.  I knew that trying - to do anything at all - but especially to make me feel better - would only make it worse. 

I was standing in my kitchen.  Some of the ruined jam tarts from yesterday were still on a plate on the counter in front of me.  I went to throw them away and noticed that one of them was a lemon curd one.  I'd really wanted to try them, I hadn't had lemon curd for years.  So I took a bite.  The pastry still had a crunch to it, but also a buttery softness.  The sweet tangy lemon burst on my tongue.  The combination of the pastry and the lemon curd was exquisite.  For a few moments I forgot about everything but those tastes on my tongue.  Then I looked up and noticed the blueness of the sky and the outlines of the starlings on the roof opposite.  The sound of their calls hit my ears like I'd never heard them before.  Then I noticed that the glass barrier was gone, the dullness had lifted.  I'd been pulled into the present moment by my senses.  Nothing special, just tastebuds.  But I could feel again.  And I felt very fortunate. 

Of course things weren't all fine after that.  I've been sobbing for the Olympics for much of this week.  And each time, I felt better after.  But that's not the end of it.  Of course it's not going to be all bad.  But things will never be all fine either.  The point is there is no real escape.  So maybe, if you can let go and manage to be present, be mindful, pay attention, wherever you happen to be, maybe you'll find that there is also joy.  Even in the midst of all the crap.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Spirit of Christmas

I've been wanting to write a post about the C-word for a while.  I'll 'fess up right now and say that it's a hard time of year for me and the things that usually help me through life's hard times just don't work.  (And that's code for, I become a miserable, morose grump.)  It happens every year but it always hits me as if it's brand new.  The fact that it happens in winter as well is just a happy coincidence.

Because my family is scattered between two continents and most of my closest, oldest friends are living in other countries, this time of year always emphasises and heightens the distance and aloneness that, at other times, I am able to tolerate and cope with.  The last two years have been unexpectedly bearable cos we had some lovely neighbours over on Christmas Day.  They were also far from their own families and we got on well.  But they moved away this year.  Plus, this is gonna be the first time trying to negotiate Christmas as a "broken family."  Even without that though, I think it is a hard time for a lot of people, for all kinds of reasons.  But there is a prevailing sense that you're not supposed to talk about that.  What you're supposed to do is put on your false cheer face and grin and bear it.  Otherwise people call you Scrooge or a Grinch or take delight in shouting Ba Humbug! at you.  And it's supposed to be funny.  Well it isn't.  And sometimes, even when I try my damndest, it don't help.  Today for instance, I actually woke up chirpy.  Yes, you heard right. I woke up positive and determined to make the most of things.  Then I took Jake to Sainsbury's.

Christmas is a whole 9 days away, and yet, people are out shopping like the apocalypse is coming.  Sainsbury’s on a Thursday morning is not normally rammed.  Today it was.  After managing to manoeuvre Jake in the buggy, laden with a basket and carrying a 20 litre bag of cat litter past ridiculously long checkout queues populated with the most sullen people on earth, I get to the relatively clear self-checkout area, and wait behind the person who is just finishing off their checking out.  I’m just about to plonk the massive bag of cat litter on the little shelf next to the check out I’m about to use when a woman holding three small (not 20, 10 or even 1 litre) bags of vegetables and who had just gotten in the queue behind me, plonks them there instead. 

“I know you’re ahead of me in the queue," she said, "I just want to put my stuff here.”

For the purposes of veracity, I'd just like to point out that she is no older than me, able-bodied and in possession of both her arms and all her digits.  Anyhooooo....

She then turns to my gobsmacked face, frowns and says, “What?  I’m not trying to cut ahead of you, I just want to put my stuff there.”

I said, “Yes, I was just wondering where I’m going to put MY stuff.”

“Well," she said, "all you had to do was say if you want to put your stuff there, why do you have to make that face?!” !!!!!!!

I surprised myself by saying, “Because I have feelings and don’t like being harassed.”

She then put her hands on her hips and said, “All I wanted to do was put my things there, you don’t have to make that face at me.”

I’m not a fan of confrontation.  Plus I was sweating and knackered and my arm was about to fall off from holding the fucking giant bag of cat litter.  I didn't have the energy for a pointless argument so I decided it would be easier to join another queue.  I started to do so and she actually HAD A GO AT ME!

“Hey, I told you I didn’t want to cut in front of you, I just wanted…”

So I snapped.  “Look, I don’t need this right now okay?  I have a child in a buggy and heavy shit to carry so please, go ahead, put your stuff there.  I’m going to join another queue.”

As soon as I did so, the bleedin’ woman grabbed her three bags of veg in a huff and buggered off.  

The moral of the story is, (cos don't Christmas stories always have to have a moral): Sometimes, even when you get what you want, you still ain't happy.  And that just about sums up Christmas.

There are 10 days to go till it's over.  Will there be a happier ending to this story?  Anything could happen, but don't hold your breath.  And let's not forget the delightful arse-twitchery of New Year's Eve to look forward to. 

If you were looking for something more warm and fuzzy, you can try the usual channels.  There's more than enough of that stuff out there.  <Ba Humbug>

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


You know when you're all cranky and ranting, say about Christmas, and what you really need is simple kindness and understanding, not advice, not patronising, not judgement?  Well I'm fortunate enough to have a friend like that in my life - who, upon hearing of my ranting crankiness, immediately wrote to me, understanding what was beneath it all and knowing exactly the right thing to say - sending me the kindness I didn't even know I was looking for.  Along with a link to this beautiful song and the exhortation that I am "stronger than December."  Thank you.  You know who you are.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to be out of your comfort zone

I've been going through some stuff lately that I'm sorry to be cryptic about, but it's safe to say that I'm so far out of my comfort zone I don't even know where it is anymore.  I feel like I'm walking around wide open and vulnerable, with my heart in my stomach and my stomach on the verge of spilling out of my mouth.  It's scary and it hurts but you know what, it's also thrilling and oddly right. Because shutting down and being closed off is worse.  It might feel less chaotic, you might even be more able to pass as a normal functioning member of society, but I'm not so interested in that these days. (And to those of you who've gingerly suggested that I try counselling - it's ok - I'm not gonna break if you're honest with me and it's ok, I'm already in counselling.)  Plus, I'm like maybe growing and shit?

So I alternate between grinning like a fool and wanting to curl up in a ball under my duvet, or wanting to go climb a mountain (or a wall) and wanting my Mum (you know, in between changing nappies, clearing out the litter tray, making jam tarts and generally being at the beck and call of a "tiny overlord").  I'm listening to music and poetry when I can, the latter of which consoles and terrifies me in almost equal measure.  Three times this week I picked up a book, read a poem and found myself in tears at the end - gut-wrenching, sobbing tears.  And when a friend hinted that I too might feel grief, I became indignant, took umbrage with being patronised, ranted and then realised she'd hit a nerve.  Oops.  But I'm here.  I'm trying not to escape, trying not to push the feelings away or bury them, which is what I usually do.

So how am I doing it?  Like a wriggly worm.  But here are some of my guides:

"Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news." (because it's an opportunity to wake up) - Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

"Hold your beliefs lightly. ~ Sometimes our very human desire for meaning, can get in the way of having a good experience of the world." - Grayson Perry

(I'd go a little bit further and say that our very human desire for certainty can get in the way of having a true experience of the world, good or bad, happy or sad, painful or joyful - and it's never one or the other.)

The poems of Mary Oliver, in particular Wild Geese and In Blackwater Woods.  Plus Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye and many by Sharon Olds.

"Be grateful to everyone. ~ Others will always show you exactly where you are stuck.  They say or do something and you automatically get hooked into a familiar way of reacting - shutting down, speeding up, or getting all worked up.  When you react in the habitual way, with anger, greed, and so forth, it gives you a chance to see your patterns and work with them honestly and compassionately.  Without others provoking you, you remain ignorant of your painful habits and cannot train in transforming them into the path of awakening." - From the teachings of Pema Chodron

"Real security is not only being able to tolerate mystery, complexity, ambiguity, but hungering for them and only trusting a situation when they are present." - Eve Ensler from Insecure at Last.

And finally, laughter.  Cos you gotta have balance, even if most of the time, it feels like I'm falling off the beam.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A return to poetry

In the midst of NaNoWriMo, I got a sudden urge to sit somewhere quiet and sunlit and immerse myself in poetry.  It's been awhile.  The urge has actually been there for a long time, but I've mostly ignored it.  Then, while listlessly trying to up my word count, the urge got a bit rude and said, "Stop fannying about with this bullshit and go read a poem NOW."  I listened.  And discovered this one.  It was like being welcomed home.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The ordinary made weird and wonderful

I didn't want to neglect you entirely during my Nano expedition (it's going slowly, thanks for asking), so I thought I'd post up some weird and wonderful things I've stumbled across in the last few days...

I just love this song, especially the lyrics. 

David Lynch takes dental hygiene to a whole new level in the track Strange and Unproductive Thinking.

Then there's this volunteer snake catcher in the rai. (If my very rusty and basic Thai is correct, I believe rai is the Thai word for a field.)

Did you know there are graphic short stories?  I didn't until today.  The stunning graphic short story, Love In A Very Cold Climate by Isabel Greenberg, just about melted my heart.  (If you click on the link, her story starts on page 115 of the slide show / insert.)

And this flash, stunning in an entirely different way, just about broke it.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Join the insanity

Having written a post about being busy and letting several "projects" fall by the wayside, those of you who know me will not be surprised that I have since decided to do Nanowrimo this month.

Yes, trying to write a 50,000 word novel in one month is insane under any circumstances. Trying to do so whilst wrangling a pre-schooler and also somehow trying to have a life is going to lead to even more sleep deprivation.  Yay!!  Fancy joining me?

In order to keep the insanity at manageable levels, I'm adopting the attitude of "Let's just see what happens."  If I manage to make even half the expected word count, I'll be happy.

Wish me luck! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Abandon any hope of fruition"

I know I've been absent here lately.  Apologies.  I've also stopped writing small stones (I still don't know if this is a temporary hiatus or a more long-term one) and it appears I've also let my Stitch A Year project fall by the wayside.  But I have actually been writing, a lot.  On top of flashing here every week, I've also joined a local writer's group which has given me the incentive to edit all those weekly stories and even resurrect some poems I wrote years ago and had forgotten about.  I've also taken up a meditation practice which has sort of replaced the Stitch A Year project.  I just don't have the time to do it all and as ever, it's the truest things that remain. 

Alongside the meditation practice, I've been reading Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are.  The whole book is a revelation but the chapter entitled "Abandon any hope of fruition" is possibly the best thing I've ever read and I wanted to share it.  So I've pretty much typed out almost the whole chapter for you here:

"One of the most powerful teachings of the Buddhist tradition is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will.  As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.

One of the deepest habitual patterns that we have is to feel that now is not good enough.  We think back to the past a lot, which maybe was better than now, or perhaps worse.  We also think ahead quite a bit to the future - which we  may fear - always holding out hope that it might be a little bit better than now.  Even if now is going really well ... nevertheless there's a deep tendency to think about how it's going to be later.  We don't quite give ourselves full credit for who are in the present.  ...

In one of the first teachings I ever heard, the teacher said, "I don't know why you came here, but I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you're never going to get everything together."  I felt a little like he had just slapped me in the face...but I've always remembered it.  There isn't going to be some precious future time when all the loose ends will be tied up.  Even though it was shocking to me, it rang true.  One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level or at the spiritual level or at the level of mental peace.

Nowadays, people go to a lot of different places trying to find what they're looking for.  There are 12-step programs...there are a lot of support groups and different therapy groups.  Many people feel wounded and are looking for something to heal them.  To me it seems that at the root of healing, at the root of feeling like a fully adult person, is the premise that you're not going to try to make anything go away, that what you have is worth appreciating.  But this is hard to swallow if what you have is pain. 

In Boston there's a stress-reduction clinic run on Buddhist principles.  It was started by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Buddhist practitioner and author of Full Catastrophe Living.  He says that the basic premise of his clinic - to which many people come with a lot of pain - is to give up any hope of fruition.  Otherwise the treatment won't work.  If there's some sense of wanting to change yourself, then it comes from a place of feeling that you're not good enough.  It comes from agression toward yourself, dislike of your present mind, speech, or body; there's something about yourself that you feel is not good enough.  People come to the clinic with addictions, abuse issues or stress from work - all kinds of issues.  Yet this simple ingredient of giving up hope is the most important ingredient for developing sanity and healing.

That's the main thing.  As long as you're wanting to be thinner, smarter, more enlightened, less uptight, or whatever it might be, somehow you're always going to be approaching your problem with the very same logic that created it to begin with: you're not good enough.  That's why the habitual pattern never unwinds itself when you're trying to improve, because you go about it in exactly the same habitual style that caused all the pain to start.

There's a life-affirming teaching in Buddhism, which is that Buddha, which means "awake," is not someone you worship.  Buddha is not someone you aspire to; Buddha is not somebody that was born more than two thousand years ago and was smarter than you'll ever be.  Buddha is our inherent nature - our buddha nature - and what that means is that if you're going to grow up fully, the way that it happens is that you begin to connect with the intelligence that you already have.  It's not like some intelligence that's going to be transplanted into you.  If you're going to be fully mature, you will no longer be imprisoned in the childhood feeling that you always need to protect yourself or shield yourself because things are too harsh.  If you're going to be a grouwn-up - which I would define as being completely at home in your world no matter how difficult the situation - it's because you will allow something that's already in you to be nurtured.  You allow it to grow, you allow it to come out, instead of all the time shielding it and protecting it and keeping it buried.

Someone once told me, "When you feel afraid, that's 'fearful buddha.'"  That could be applied to whatever you feel.  Maybe anger is your thing.  You just go out of control and you see red, and the next thing you know you're yelling or throwing something or hitting someone.  At that time, begin to accept the fact that that's "enraged buddha."  If you feel jealous, that's "jealous buddha."  If you have indigestion, that's "buddha with heartburn."  If you're happy, "happy buddha"; if bored, "bored buddha."  In other words, anything that you can experience or think is worthy of compassion; anything you could think or feel is worthy of appreciation.   ... If one would enter into an unconditional relationship with oneself, one would be entering into an unconditional relationship with buddha.

This is why the slogan says, "Abandon any hope of fruition."  "Fruition" implies that at a future time you will feel good.  There is another word, which is open - to have an open heart and open mind.  This is oriented very much to the present.  If you enter into an unconditional relationship with yourself, that means sticking with the buddha right now on the spot as you find yourself. ...

Whether you get meditation instruction from the Theravada tradition or the Zen tradition or the Vajrayana tradition, the basic instruction is always about being awake in the present moment.  What they don't tell you is that the present moment can be you, this you about whom you sometimes don't feel very good.  That's what there is to wake up to.

When one of the emperors of China asked Bodhidharma (the Zen master who brought Zen from India to China) what enlightenment was, his answer was, "Lots of space, nothing holy."  Meditation is nothing holy.  Therefore there's nothing that you think or feel that somehow gets put in the category of "sin."  There's nothing that you can think or feel that gets put in the category of "wrong."  It's all good juicy stuff - the manure of waking up, the manure of achieving enlightenment, the art of living in the present moment."


So this is what I've been living with lately.  I hope it is of some help or comfort to you.  It is to me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

And today we made a giraffe

I tried to get Jake to stand next to it in the photo above, so you could have an idea of the size of it, but he wasn't interested.  It's about twice Jake's height though. 

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Why I love my boy

Not that I need to justify why I adore my little munchkin, but here are some reasons anyway!


The week before last, when we had beautiful Indian Summer weather, I was wearing a dress when I went to pick Jake up from his Dad's.  The first thing Jake said when he saw me?

"Oh!  I like your dress Mummy!  It's nice!  Is it new?  Where did you get it?  A shop?"

Three years old and ALREADY he knows how to talk to women?!


The other day, I was feeling particularly stressed.  I've been ill with a cold, tired, not sleeping that great and I'm going through the process of choosing a school for him. (Yes, SCHOOL!  When did he get so old???)  Anyway, I was trying to get dressed and got my arm caught at a funny angle in one of my sleeves.  Struggles and perhaps some cursing ensued which ended with me hurling the top onto the floor.

Jake got up from what he was doing, walked over to me and hugged my legs.  Then he gently and tactfully pulled up the waistband of my leggings which had slipped down a bit and which might have been revealing some butt crack, and said, "There you go Mummy, I just pull up your trousers for you."


On Friday, I decided to make lentil soup.  Amazingly enough, Jake not only let me make it without any fuss, but he also wandered in and casually asked me what I was making. 

"I'm making soup!" I said.

"Soup?  Oh, can I have some?"

Naturally I hid my surprise and answered non-chalantly, "Sure," thinking - he's done this before.  Said he's interested in trying something then acts like I'm speaking Martian when I offer him some.

But this time, he actually tried some.  And he liked it.  And he said he liked it.  Several times!! And he ATE HALF A BOWL!  Of LENTIL SOUP!!! 

This might not be a big deal to many parents, especially baby-led weaned ones.  But Jake has been refusing vegetables and food with "bits in it" for at least a year now.  His diet has mainly consisted of rice, various forms of potato, bread and noodles/pasta.  He does not like meat (apart from fish fingers).  He does not like cheese (apat from Philadelphia).  He does not like pizza or burgers - veggie or otherwise.  Occasionally I can get away with putting frozen chopped spinach in his noodles or pasta sauce.  My sanity has been kept largely in tact because he does like my omelettes and he will eat fruit.  But he rarely tries anything new and when he does, he usually spits it out.  Hence the soup shocker.

Later, he ate more soup at dinner and ASKED to have some more for lunch the next day!!!!

(I know I'm probably breaking some Uber-Unconditional-Parenting rule by expressing an extra sense of love for my child for eating good nutritious food cooked by my own hands, but I can't help it, I do.  However, in my defense, I just want to say that I didn't make a big deal of it to him.  I just acted like it was normal.)


Yesterday morning, Jake and I had a wonderful morning of pottering and playing together.  It was one of those mornings where we were both happy and relaxed and really in tune with each other and everything flowed easily with spontaneity and unmatchable child-like joy.  Much of it was spent cutting up playdough and "cooking" it and having a picnic with it. 

After some time spent cutting and cooking, Jake said, "Wow, that was hard work Mummy.  Shall we have a cuppa tea?"

We also used the playdough to make a robot.  Jake was sticking some playdough circles to a box and telling me what he was doing.  "These are the robot's eyes and these are the cheeks.  Robots do have cheeks you know." 

I don't think I could love him more.  But I probably will. 


Totally off-topic, I've been having trouble commenting on some people's blogs on blogger.  I write my comment and no matter how I log in to post the comment, as soon as I press "Post Comment" the whole comment just disappears and nothing happens.  I don't know if you've experienced any problems trying to comment here, but if you did, I guess I wouldn't know!  And if you are one of the bloggers I usually read and comment on and you haven't heard from me in a while, you know why!  Just thought I'd mentioned it. 

Monday, October 03, 2011


Just a reminder that 26n is still going.  If you'd like a kick-start to your writing, try one of our prompts!  A shiny new one has just been posted.

We'd also appreciate it if you could spread the word and tell any of your friends, real or imaginary, who might be interested. 


Friday, September 23, 2011

"Dear C" published at The Dirty Napkin

A fictional letter I wrote, "Dear C" is now up at The Dirty Napkin.  You can also listen to a recording of me reading it! 

You'll only be able to read or listen to it while the current issue is current.  Once it gets archived, you have to be a subscriber to read the full piece, so read / listen while you can :-)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shopping for clouds, 'tache removal for dolls & Moomin anatomy

After over a week of rain, we finally had some sunshine.  Glorious, hot September sunshine.  So Jake and I headed out to the marshes again.  Today we ended up in Springfield Park via the Caff on the river, where Jake lost the top half of his Cornetto, bawled (even though I told him I'd get him another one, he picked the fallen half up of the floor and wanted to eat it) and then proceeded to have a nosebleed. 

In the midst of all this, three Dads and their toddlers were at the Caff and the little ones decided to rearrange all the chairs.  They were obviously not familiar with the angry woman who runs the place, whose special method of anger mis-management is to take it out on children who decide to play with the chairs.  I'm not joking either.  Last time I took Jake there, he was playing with a chair and even though we were the ONLY people in the place, she kept glaring at him, then roughly pushed the chair back to its place even though he was still on it and said to him rather than to me, "You can't move the chairs, it's a health and safety hazard."

Today, the little ones had lined the chairs up for a show.  Chair-rage woman saw it and stomped into their midst without actually looking at them and then proceeded to noisily drag all the metal chairs back into place.  One of the Dads noticed and said, "Oh dear kids, this lady is not happy!" and she muttered, "I've got enough work to do as it is without messing about with chairs," then stomped off inside.

I was sure she was going to have a go at Jake for daring to have a nosebleed outside the door of her establishment (health & safety hazard obviously) but she didn't.

Later, we went to the park and were entertained by watching the Dads who'd been at the Caff.  One Dad in particular kept getting into intense conversations (from holistic health practices to the cut-throat world of publishing to teenage rebellion) and not quite keeping an eye on his wandering son.  Three times the young man got away.  The first two times he didn't quite manage to get out of the gates of the park.  But the third time, he managed not only to get out of the park but also up the nearby bridge crossing over the river.  That one took us all by surprise, me included.  The other two Dads with him were in hysterics when chatty-Dad brought his kid back.  "That wouldn't be good would it," one of them said, "not on your watch."  And the other said, "Oh yes darling, he just went for a little swim."

Watching all this, Jake said to me, "Did he go for a little swim?  That's bad isn't it Mummy?" and shook his head.

Later, when they had to go, Jake said, "Oh, they have to go now.  That means there won't be any more funny things to see here."

So we went to play in the playground, where I learned that Moomins don't have bellybuttons (a pronouncement Jake made completely out of the blue), and that Spongebob (or Sponboj as Jake still calls him) likes popcorn and watermelon icecream.  I also had a moment of wondering if he was in fact my child when he suddenly asked me, "Would you like to come jogging?"

Then we threw dried grass at each other and into the pretend swamp and ran up and down a hill.  We also played shops.  We took it in turns to be shopkeeper and pretend customers. 

When I was being shopkeeper, Jake came in as "Dolly" and asked for clouds.  I said, "Oh, I don't think I can get clouds today."  Jake paused, left the shop, pretended to go to the shop next door and completed his transaction without any problems.  Then he came back to me and said, "You just have to pretend Mummy."  That told me!  He also came in as a slide (with eyes) asking for a spanner and a tree asking for bricks.

Then, when he was being shopkeeper, I came in as "Dolly" and asked for hair removal cream for my mustache.  (Since we acquired her, Dolly has mysteriously gained a scribbled on comb over and a 'tache).  Jake perused his shelves and said he didn't have any cream but handed me something else.  "Here's a tissue," he said.  "Are you sure this will work on a mustache?" I asked.  "Yes," he said very firmly.  Then asked me for £40.

Finally, I came in as a ladybird. 
"What would you like?" Jake asked.
"I'm very lonely and I'd like a friend," I said.
"Hmmm, what kind would you like?" he asked.
"A funny one, and someone who understands me," I said.
"Stands you?"
He thought about it and then said, "Sorry, I only have one that can sit."

Perhaps it's because these little friends are so nicely designed for sitting:

South Tottenham with his new friend Gospel Oak (or Ospel Goak)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Napping Ninja

This afternoon, Jake lay on the sofa watching Iconicles.  When it finished, we were due to go to the official opening of The Mill, the reclaimed and refurbished old St James St library where I will be volunteering.  But this is how I found him. 

I believe that in Yogic Toddler this is known as Napping Ninja.  If it isn't, it should be.

Perhaps this will be the beginning of a series of Jake Sleeps photos.  I have one somewhere of him asleep standing up.  Must dig that out. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

Life with Jake

One evening last week, while lying on the floor playing with his toy truck, Jake went very still.

“Jake, are you falling asleep?” I asked.  It was .  Not the ideal time for him to be having a nap.

The back of his head nodded twice, then I heard snoring.  He was still holding his truck.  He stayed in that position for an hour.


On Friday last week we had a glorious September day – sunny, warm, HOT even.  So we went to the Marshes.  I couldn't believe how long it'd been since we were last there.  It's been such a crappy summer weather-wise.

While walking past some bramble thickets, Jake flung his sunglasses into the thorny mass, stopped and said, "Uh oh!"

I stopped and asked him why he would do such a thing.  He shrugged, looking as surprised as I was that he'd done it.  I looked but I couldn’t see a sign of them anywhere.  I then launched into a mini lecture about why that was a naughty thing to do and how it isn't easy to find sunglasses like that (they were bendy and indestructible and he liked them and actually wore them AND they were fairly cheap and from Decathlon in South London - South London for goodness sake!!). 

We walked on and a few moments later I found a pair of children's sunglasses on the path, hot pink and heart shaped, but still. 

"Well how about that!  They're pink and heart shaped but they'll probably fit you.  What do you think Jake?"   I put them on him.

"I don't like them."  He said, but didn't try to remove them. 

I took them off him but kept them anyway, tickled by the whimsical notion of a magical bramble thicket that taketh and then giveth away. 

Later, I apologised to Jake for ranting at him about throwing his sunglasses.  I'm sure he didn't mean to lose them on purpose.  I said, "And don't worry, we can get you some new ones."

"We got some new ones already," he replied. 

He hasn't worn them yet, but he's allowed me to keep them as if he might.  We shall see.


On the same sunny day, sitting by the river outside the greasy spoon caff with Jake, watching people drink tea and ride by on their bikes, he says,

“I’ve got things in my mouth.”

“Really, what have you got?”

“I have a cuppa tea!”

“Wow, a whole cup of tea!”

“Yes, and bicycles!!”

“Wow, that’s a big mouth you’ve got there.”

“Yes.  But not as big as Daddy’s.”


While reading Mog the Forgetful Cat the other night, a story we’ve been reading at bedtime for a number of months now, Jake suddenly interjected, “He needs to be shot.”

Being the morally corrupt parent that I am, I guffawed.  So naturally he kept doing it.  I could kind of understand.  The dog was chasing Mog, so yeah, maybe he needed to be shot.  And Mr & Mrs Thomas for sure, with their irritating middle-class-English pronouncements of “Bother that cat!” when Mog crushed their precious geraniums or slept on a hat that THEY'D left on a chair or her tail blocked the boxing on TV.  Honestly!  She's a CAT.  Get OVER it.  So yeah, they needed to be shot.

But when Jake said Mog should be shot I had to disagree.  He thought about it for a moment then said, “OK, just his tail needs to be shot then.” Naturally I guffawed some more.

I was convinced this had something to do with Daddy’s version of Mog, but Daddy swears it wasn’t him.  Hmmm.  I didn’t realize Jake was quite so imaginative.

Inspired by his inventiveness, I decided to rename the Thomases "Shingenshengen".  Jake found this infinitely amusing.  And it makes Mr & Mrs Thomas a teeny bit more bearable.


In the playground the other day, Jake asked for a wipe for his face.  When finished with the wipe, he held it under his chin and said, "Look I've got a beard!"

Then he pointed at various people in the playground and pronounced whether they had a beard or not.  Some of those that did were women.

Must be all those trips to Stoke Newington.


Jake: I can hear the recycling truck very far away.
Me (not hearing it): Wow, you have really good ears.
Jake: Yes I do. (Pause) WHAT? (giggles hysterically)

And apparently he’s a comedian too.


Of course it isn't all laughs and free sunglasses.  Most days he feels the need to disagree with me about everything, from where I'm allowed to touch in and out with my Oyster card or whether the sink is in fact full of washing up to telling me I am not hungry and am therefore not allowed to cook or eat. 

And I can't even begin to talk about the hell challenge of feeding him at the moment.  Some things just can't be spoken of in company.  But, since I read the other day that children generally become assholes when they turn 3, I think we're doing alright.  :-)

And finally...following the creation of South Tottenham, Jake has suggested two more characters for me to get busy with: Hackney Downs and Gospel Oak (and yes, they are train stations).

Watch this space!

(Apologies for the weird spacing in this post.  I don't know why it's happening and I don't know how to fix it.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The story of South Tottenham

This isn't a post about the riots or anything to do with London or its history.  It's really about my son's love of all things train and train station.  So much so that when I made him a sock monster (at his request), he decided to name him South Tottenham.  This is his story...

Jake picked out the socks from which to make his monster. 
Incidentally, they are the exact same pair I would have picked.
While I am sewing up his arms, Jake puts him in the doll pram.

Have you ever seen such an itty bitty limb?

Finally I get to use the buttons I bought in Italy years ago.

Not done yet but he's already got attitude.

Couldn't resist!

The genius of using socks means he gets a bum to sit on.

Ta da!  All done!
And yes, those green threads are meant to be there.
They are armpit hairs and got Jake's approval.

Taking South Tottenham and Penguin for a walk ~ or,
How to get weird looks from your neighbours

And from strangers in the playground

I think we did get a few smiles though.
Interestingly enough, the smiles were from men.
The women looked at us like we were wearing meat for clothes
and not in an appreciation for Lady Gaga sort of way.
Little girls smiled and wanted to play but their judgmental mothers
kept them from approaching us.
I still don't know if it was because I was allowing
my boy to play with a doll pram or because
of the wonderful uniqueness of South Tottenham.

Jake colours in a drawing of South Tottenham that I made for him

I know I'm biased, but I think it's fab and unwittingly
captures what South Tottenham's all about.

A story about South Tottenham being worked out in my sketchbook / journal

The "finished" story ~ or at least a draft of one,
including a few contributions from Jake.

I read something the other day about how we have a choice about what thoughts we can hold about any situation, and how that choice leads to inner freedom.  I’m sure I’ve heard this many times before but this time it stuck with me, felt real, felt good real.

Lately I’ve been living with this thought in my head – “hey, this is my reality, so why should I try to live someone else’s?”  It came out of realising that the guilt I was feeling, about only having one child and yet still struggling to cope with one child while many others I know have two or more, was a ridiculous waste of my life.  Whose reality was I trying to live out and why?  Where did that voice come from that was telling me that my struggles were unimportant compared to that of others’, that I didn’t have a right to feel what I feel unless I “qualified” for it by at least having one more child?  I’ve been living with that voice my whole life – that mean, punitive, uncaring voice.  And all this time I’ve automatically listened to it like it was the Truth, reflexively changing the ends of my own inner thoughts so that they sounded acceptable, quietly buried all troublesome feelings and covered them over with a clean and pretty cloth.
What burdens we labour under – and for what?

So yeah, this is my reality.  I have one kid and he is awesome.  Because I don't have to run around after a second, younger baby or toddler, it means we get to spend a lot of time together and we are close.  We talk all the time, and I'm either on the floor playing with him or we're deep in some project or outing together.  Yeah, he's sensitive and yeah, even though he's 3, he's still clingy so that if I try to cook or wash up he'll follow me into the kitchen, wedge himself between me and the kitchen counter and say, "Mummy I need a cuddle."  Sometimes I can't pick him up and cuddle him, sometimes I can.  When I can, his arms go around my neck and he usually says, "I like you Mummy" or "I love you."  Why on earth should I feel guilty about that??

It rained almost all day today.  Jake and I did manage a little trip out, a walk to the shop and back to buy eggs.  But the rest of the day was spent indoors, both of us feeling restless, bored, irritable - but we also had some great moments.

When I started feeling guilty that I wasn’t thinking of riveting or ultra-wonderful things to do with Jake like the perfect Mum should, I reminded myself that I’m human, that this is my reality now and that everyone has days like this – bored, restless rainy days.  And as soon as I accepted it, didn’t fight with myself about it, magic happened.  While Jake was playing with trains and eating raisins, I started drawing in my sketchbook / journal.  He got interested and wanted to join me.  We had a good hour or more of drawing together and it came about spontaneously and organically.  I even let go of the need for my sketchbook / journal to remain in "pristine" condition and let Jake scribble in it like he wanted to.  And of course his touch only added to it.  What happens when we let go of “shoulds”.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Saw this last night ~ a beautiful beautiful story set in Wales and Argentina.  Amidst all the crap out there that is scaring and upsetting me, sitting down to watch this film was like being taken to a safe and magical place.  Apart from being gorgeously filmed and filled with wonderful music, it restores my faith in life. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The one where I vomit all over the page

There has been so much that I've been wanting to say.  About the riots, and especially about how people have reacted to the riots and all the finger pointing that's going on post-riot, the assumptions people have, mostly unexamined, and how ANGRY and dismayed it's making me feel.  But that's a whole other post. 

About how worried and stressed I feel about having to claim benefits and how much I HATE being asked why I'm not working like I'm some sort of criminal.  And don't even get me started on David Cameron's farcical speeches about Broken Britain and having a go at single parents especially in the wake of the parenting tips that were released by the Govt recently, one of which was the clever idea to spend at least 20 minutes a day talking to your child with the TV off - SERIOUSLY?? I mean, I know Jake's not at school yet but surely it shouldn't be such an effort to find 20 minutes in a day in which to TALK to your child? Acccchhhhh!  A whole other post!

About how, in the middle of our housing benefit interview yesterday, Jake, after having stamped his feet, thrown his trains on the floor, thrown papers on the floor, run his trains angrily across the unsmiling woman's desk, stood on the chair and said, "I want to go NOW!" followed by, "Look Mummy, she's got no eyebrowns!" and how right he was cos when I sneaked a peek, I saw that they were drawn on.  To make it up to him for having to go to such a horrid place for such a long time, we later sat on the platform of Walthamstow Central overground station for half an hour where we shared some cake and he could watch the trains go by.

About how alone I felt while recovering from my wisdom tooth operation and how guilty I felt about feeling alone because I ought to be grateful that there is someone to help look after Jake at all so I can look after myself.  It's pointless feeling guilty about feelings but I did anyway, so guilty I even deleted a post I put on a forum that I normally find very supportive because I suddenly realised how many of the people who use the forum have 2 children or more (or are at least expecting their 2nd child) and how churlish it is of me with my mere one child to complain at all. So I kept my feelings to myself and posted cheery status updates on Facebook so I can pretend, along with the rest of the virtual world who partake in it, that I don't have any threatening or scary feelings but that I am acceptable and likeable, so as not to be ostracised and feel friendless. 

And then, the woman from the housing benefit office rang and told me my National Insurance number is invalid (even though the tax office has been using it for years) and I wanted to cry.  Then I heard on the news that six people had been stabbed to death in Jersey, including three children.  And I wanted to cry.  Then I heard that Fiona Robyn's cat died after being knocked over by a car and I wanted to cry.  Then I get hungry and Jake needs a cuddle and life goes on and all the tears get buried somewhere.  Also, I haven't written anything for over a week.  It's taking its toll.  So here I am, vomiting on the page.

Today Jake and I made an impromptu spider and three rainbows out of pipe cleaners, tried on lip gloss (Jake's idea, I have no idea where he found the lip gloss, I haven't worn any for years), drew a mini-train station complete with train tracks and level crossings and received lovely cards from a dear friend - all before 10am.  Later we stopped by Oxfam and found three fantastic children's books (Milo & The Magical Stones by Marcus Pfister which has two possible endings to choose from - a happy one and a sad one, Animal Stories by Dick King-Smith, and The Used-Up Bear by Clay Carmichael) and paid only £2.97 for the lot.  Jake didn't quite appreciate The Used-Up Bear as much as I did.  I really bought that book for me, because I identify so much with that bear, except I haven't had my red suit made for me yet.  I also took Jake to a newly opened local community centre where I am hoping to start volunteering soon. 

And yet, much of the day felt like a struggle.  There was a lot of stress and cajoling to get anything done (getting Jake changed, getting him from A to B, trying to cook) and when that didn't work, shouting and making Jake cry.  There was the moment an old woman standing outside a church with her respectably dressed fellow church go-ers said about me after we'd passed them and she thought I was out of earshot, "Oh I'd never let a child run free like that" because I didn't have Jake strapped into his buggy but was letting him walk (and run) by himself on the pavement (shock horror).  Well, I heard her and I stopped and glared and said, "Oh you wouldn't, would you?" and then walked on muttering to myself about how I KNOW my own kid and hey, how about the novel idea that I might actually TRUST Jake because I KNOW he is capable of being careful even if he is running on a pavement beside a busy road.  How about the fact that whenever I ask Jake to stop when we're out and about, he always stops?  How about cutting someone you don't even know some slack instead of judging them? 

Then there was the moment just after I dragged Jake away from looking at some flowers cos we were on our way to somewhere else and I was so god-damned DETERMINED to get there that he ran and tripped and skinned his knee and cried and cried and cried.  And there was the moment I opened the tub of taramasalata I'd just bought and had been looking forward to devouring and found a spot of mould on it.  And the moment I accidentally knocked a glass of juice all over the carpet and it spilled across part of our newly drawn train station and I totally lost it and started swearing at the stain like I was Lady Macbeth.  Worst of all was the threatening and pushing involved to get Jake into the tub to have his bath.  When I was out of it last week, I found out Jake hadn't had a bath in a week.  He can't have a bath at his Daddy's place cos there's no bathplug.  And he's due to go over there the next two nights, so it suddenly seemed IMPERATIVE that he have a bath TONIGHT.  Except Jake wanted to look out the window at his friend Vlad who was in his garden with his grandma.  So there was more shouting and Jake ended up crying, "Mummy I just need a cuddle!"

He's such a sensitive kid.  He takes shouting hard.  I ought to know this by now.  It may sometimes "work" in that it gets him to do what I want him to do but more often than not he refuses and it hurts him.  I know these things happens sometimes.  We're all human.  There's just been far too much of it in one day.  He finally did agree to get in the bath but he cried the whole time he was in it (which wasn't very long).  I felt so awful.  I asked him he if was crying because he was upset because I shouted at him and he nodded and cried even harder.  After a while I asked him what I could do.  He said he wanted to get out of the bath.  And what did I do?  I said, "I'll just give you a little wash" because he was in the bath and I thought, why not, might as well.  But of course it upset him.  And I said, "But Jake that's the whole point of being in the bath" but then I stopped myself from going any further.  He was already hurt because I'd been coercing him, he cried to show he was hurt and he also told me.  But I'd been doing something like this all day and basically not hearing him.  So I took him out and held him till he stopped crying. 

Then, while I was reading him stories at bedtime, I did it again.  Yes, he was messing around and bouncing on the bed and interrupting my reading and making silly noises and laughing by tickling himself with "Sponboj" and part of me found it cute but most of me got annoyed so I kept asking him if he really wanted me to read him a story because he wasn't listening.  He kept saying he did want a story but he carried on being silly and I carried on being annoyed.  Arrrrgggghhhh!!  I could hear myself and I hated it, but I couldn't stop!!  I kept on at him for not listening and yet, I hadn't been listening to him all day.  And even so, even while I was being a shrill cow, Jake was stroking my arm and saying, "I still love you Mummy."  Oh that child of mine sure knows how to squeeze my heart.

There was other stuff too.  Stuff I've forgotten now.  Stuff about vulnerability and poetry and shit.  But I still have a flash to write tonight.  And this is probably enough vomit for one post.  And because so much vomit should at least be accompanied by a photo, here's one of Jake from yesterday.  He'd had daisies in his hat then put the hat on and just had some daisies in his hair but he took them out just before I managed to get this snap...if you've read this far, remind me to send you a medal in the post. :-)

Sunday, August 07, 2011


still, the sound of slicing blades
the fast-fast wail of sirens

and in the night air
the smell of smoke
real or imagined


Tottenham riots

Saturday, August 06, 2011

stones in my stomach

Lately my blogging has been cryptic and not entirely honest.  There are things I haven't been saying.  Things I am still stunned to find myself living through.  I've been wanting to hang on to some semblance of normality, so I've continued to write small stones (or tried to), but I've been finding it hard to notice things, to really see them. It’s because I’ve been finding it hard to stop and be. There is upheaval, turbulence. There are stones in my stomach.

The last few stones I’ve written haven’t felt quite like small stones. They’ve felt like I’ve been viewing the world through a filter, one I’ve deliberately placed over my eyes, to keep me from the force of the way things are. Maybe it’s because it’s necessary. But it makes the writing of small stones…wrenching. Because it makes me aware of this filter, this deliberate keeping of the world at bay, and yet, I don’t want to not try.  The same could be said of my blog posts here.

If you've been reading my small stones blog, you may have noticed that I didn’t write a stone for Thursday night. I told myself it was because it had been a busy day (it had), because I’d been out all day and then in the evening (I had), because so much had happened (it had) and it was hard to put it into words (it is) and that I was still too stunned to articulate everything that had happened (perhaps I still am).

I did notice something though, after coming out of the theatre on Thursday night. After my very first Chekhov experience (The Cherry Orchard), against the night sky, a tree with vivid red-orange berries, so bright against evening green leaves they seemed to throb. And yet, I didn’t write it as a stone. I still don’t know the name of those berries, I thought. And isn't the image a little cliched?

Then, on the tube home, I watched a boy with brown skin ask a girl with brown curls who was rolling a cigarette if she’d ever used a rolling machine. She smiled, lit up, a spark in her eyes. Her fingers rolling effortlessly on the rocking train, she said, “Here’s a tip. Don’t use so much baccy.” Then licked the edge, smoothed it down and tucked it under a curl behind her ear, the boy with the brown skin smiling, shaking his head in admiration. Then they both stood and left the train through different doors. But I didn’t write it as a stone.

I had a squished California Hand Roll from Wasabi in my handbag. I was worried it was going to stain my programme of The Cherry Orchard. I was wondering whether I should eat the roll first then wash my hair when I got home. And I remembered I still had to do my embroidery. Maybe that’s why I didn’t write a stone. Then I remembered I'm going into hospital on Monday to have a wisdom tooth out and that I haven't yet checked what they mean by "nil by mouth" from Sunday night.  Can I still drink water?  Maybe that's why I didn't write a stone.  And yet, I went to bed at 1am with Chekhov’s stories. (And I can’t even begin to articulate the effect his writing is having on me.) And then, the next morning, I got up, lived another day as if stepping on tremors, then wrote that ”stone” about Abney Park Cemetary, the one that was trying to be picturesque and ”poetic” but left so much unsaid.

So I tried again, even though I can't even begin to say it all.  I've been dreading putting it into words, but life moves on regardless of how we feel. 

I've written this on my small stones blog, but I need to say it here too. ~

Last night was Jake’s first night at “Daddy’s house”. Paul picked him up, we waved goodbye through the open window, blew kisses at each other, pulled funny faces. I watched his back, astride Paul’s shoulders, in his Thomas blue t-shirt, twist round for one last wave. Then I closed the window, ate noodle soup, went to the theatre.

This morning was my first for picking my son up from his Dad’s. I woke up alone, drank half a cup of tea, didn’t check train times, but arrived, stepping over rubble, trying to find the right door. How ordinary things can be, how quiet the whirr of our failures, how invisible the rips and tears, how relentless the workings of the physical world. We still have to eat, sleep, get up in the morning, get trains on time, wait for buses, cross busy roads, knock on unfamiliar doors, deal with our bowels and walk on, occasionally remembering to unfurl the fist in our stomachs, to keep the palms soft, to breathe, stay awake, alive, open.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Conversations with my three year old

Jake: Mummy, did you just say 'fuck', like yesterday?
Me: Yes darling, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said it.
Jake: Please don't say it again, okay?
Me: I'll try darling, I'm really sorry.
Jake: Do you want a cuddle and a kiss?
Me: (tearing up) Yes please.

Jake clambers off his chair to give me the best hug and kiss in the world.


Leafing through the A - Z, Jake instructs me to sit down with him to "read the maps".
He points to a green bit which is Hyde Park and says, "We can ride horses there."
"Yes, we probably can," I say.
"And tigers too.  And cows.  And sheeps.  Are sheeps friendly?"
"Yes, I think they are."
"Yeah, sheeps.  We can ride sheeps.  I think they'd like that."

Jake, holding his toy motorbike and running it up and down the back of the sofa:
Mummy, do you remember that place we went to with Ben-Alex, there was a monkey (he mimics an animal playing a drum), two, no, three really tall mans and there was a motorbike going up and down and up and down and there were some greedy people getting on it?  Do you remember?  Were you there?

Me: Er....I think so?

Jake: Yeah, let's go there again.  Okay?

Me: Mmmmm, sure.


How long til he twigs I don't really know what I'm doing?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pussycat Dreams

I discovered this cut-out-and-make cat at The Museum of Childhood shop.
It comes in the form of a card which I'd bought for my 13 year old niece but Jake refused to let it go!

It's designed by Alice Melvin who has a whole load of other wonderful goodies in her shop.

This is the sort of thing I'd like to have a go at making one day - 3D paper shapes and "sculptures".
So many projects, so little time...sigh.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Kiss her on the cheek, tell her who you are, but be prepared to keep doing it, over and over.’

I hadn’t been ‘home’ in years. Since then, my 94 year old Grandma has been having memory lapses. Not many and not severely. But my father would visit her and she’d keep asking him, “Where are your children? How many do you have? Why don’t they live with you?” and my Dad would keep answering.

Every now and then he’d say “I don’t know, you ask me so often I forget!” Then they’d laugh and five minutes later, she’d start up again. Then one of my aunts would fetch the photo, the one where Grandma’s holding my Johnny, her great grandson, and she’d say, “Oh! Yes, I remember now. Show that picture to your sister.” And they’d laugh again.

“She’s already seen it Mum.”

Apart from that, she’s as strong as a water buffalo. Even when the freak cold front hit Bangkok recently, Dad got influenza, Mom got strange rashes and everyone was bundling up in jackets and scarves, but Grandma just wore a shawl around her shoulders.

While we’re eating lunch, Grandma starts up again. “Where are your children, why don’t they live with you?” Even as I’m sitting there.

Everyone points but Johnny and I look different now. Grandma squints, then smiles, then repeats the questions. She only asks them of my father. I look around the room at my uncles, aunts, cousins and realise why. They all live with her or within a few miles of her.

I think of my London flat, all the days I spend alone with Johnny, trips to the playground just the two of us, going to play groups to be with strangers.

I used to be relieved living so far away. I didn’t want all the noise and scrutiny, the crush of such familiarity.

I look at my Grandma as she waits for an answer.

“It’s a good question Grandma, a very good question.”

(333 words ~ prompt: "remembered" – from one of my books)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

what is there to do here?

the boys who’d asked
what is there to do here
huddle in close
pick snails off leaves
disappear with cups
to pick “blueberries” off Brambles
return with chins and fingers
stained wine red

as we walk
comfrey leaves are stuck
to arms, chests
badges peeled and reapplied

birds become more than ducks and swans
trees acquire names like Ash and Hazel
unripe apples are picked and bitten
then kicked about
pale-green pebble-hard footballs

we progress like a higgledy-piggledy train
adults orbited by
running boys and quiet, feisty Maddie
a passerby smiles
“This is a very large family!”

I stop for a moment to hold it all
a floating lotus and lily-pad island
geese climbing the banks to join us
a glimpse of red and black and white
on a chaffinch

and beyond
the sound of a gong
a Buddhist temple bell
no one else hears

Friday, July 22, 2011

The magic of now

It's Jake's birthday tomorrow. A couple of weeks ago, I started getting stressed about not having planned the quintessential fantastic child's birthday party for him, even though what we do have planned is much more authentic for the child he is now (going to Lea Valley Regional Park in Cheshunt with a group of close friends & his cousins).

But I'd seen photos of a friend's son's absolutely fantastic professionally made-to-order birthday cake and I thought - shit - I haven't even thought of the cake and I went into a panic about it which led to me buying a claydough train cake topper and having grandiose ideas about making an amazing cake with train track icing piped across it (never mind that I have never done such a thing before).

Well, life is what happens when you're busy making plans. And today, I had to surrender to working with who I am and what resources I have right now. And remind myself that Jake himself would be happy with any cake at all.

At bedtime, when Jake found out I was staying up to make his cake, he decided he wanted to stay up and help me. By that point it was already past 9 o'clock. Ordinarily I would've put my foot down and insisted he go to bed or go to bed with him then come down to make the cake later, but I thought, what the heck, why not. And help me he did, with such focus and absorption and fascination (and skill too!). I got a chair for him to stand on and he helped me sift the flour and the sugar and cocoa powder together, he helped me pour the milk and the vanilla essence into the mix, he stirred the batter, he helped me break up pieces of chocolate to be melted and added to the mix, all the time giving me a running commentary with sentences that began with, "And what we're going to do now is...." (I soooo wish someone had been filming it all!)

When I got the melted chocolate out of the microwave, he asked me what we were going to do with it. I told him we were going to pour it into the cake batter and as I did so, he watched and said, "Oh wow! That's gonna be tasty! That's brilliant!!" and then a few moments later, "Aw, thanks!"

Then we went to bed and he fell asleep with fingers smelling of chocolate and vanilla.

The cake is cooling now and we're going to decorate it in the morning. I'm going to use a star-shaped bubble wand as a stencil to sprinkle icing sugar stars on it. And then the claydough train is going on the top, along with three candles. Jake, of course, insists on decorating the cake with me in the morning.

And you know what, that beats a fancy bakery-ordered cake any day of the week.