Friday, 10 February 2012

The Game of the Name

Ok, so I am eating my words after last month’s celebration of the ‘mild winter’ we’d been having, right up to the end of January. Hopefully, though, by the time you read this, everything (including my feet) will have begun to thaw. But I’m not making any predictions this time. I remember distinctly the spring of 2007 when Jem and I did an Easter egg hunt – in the snow. Scrabbling though the slush with his little numb fingers for frozen crème eggs. Brrr.

While Jem has been oblivious to the weather, with a packed schedule of swimming, Beaver Cubs, ‘multi-skills’ (like football but allowing for the fact that most Hanover boys appear not to recognise a goal nor understand that you can’t pick the ball up), and other indoor pursuits, La and I have been frequenting a shrinking number of locales: the laundrette (or ‘spin-spin shop’ as La knows it), the Tarner and Hanover centres, the library (wish they had a door or a gate on the kids’ section though, and I don’t buy any of their ‘health and safety’ reasons why not – what could be less healthy or safe than a place full of toddlers with unguarded access right onto the road – never mind all the other dangers IN the library – lifts and stairs and people who have to be arrested after threatening to ‘hurt you’, as happened to J the other day. The gentleman also called J’s jumper ‘gay’, which was what really offended him).

It’s interesting to see people’s reactions to Larkin’s name. Most people assume it’s after the poet or The Darling Buds of May, and a couple have suggested we named him after the Irish republican, Jim Larkin. The truth is we just liked the sound of it. And I’ve been noticing how names (at least in the bubble which is Brighton, or perhaps the south-east) with particular sounds seem to become popular trends. This is just anecdotal, of course, but amongst my children’s peers we have, overwhelmingly, names like Ella, Isla, Orla, Laila, Bella, Lola, Maya. Similarly I’ve noticed a local trend for short boys’ names beginning with or containing O: Louis, Otto, Arlo, Oscar, Oliver, Milo, Leo, Orin. Then there’s the wider trend for old-fashioned boys’ names – there will be a whole crop of dads called Stanley, Wilfred, Arthur, George etc in thirty odd years. At the moment the predominant dads’ names amongst my acquaintances seem to be Steve, Chris. Andrew, Matt, Kevin and John but the winner (by my totally subjective observations) is Simon. These will be the fuddy-duddy names of tomorrow. And Kate/Katy – one of the commoner names of my peer group, alongside Emma, Sophie, Jo, Lucy and Claire, will be too, sadly. I fear I may have lost some of you – I’ll leave it there. Til next time, happy nearly spring-time!

January Jottings

I’m sitting here writing this with Late Junction on Iplayer, Larkin napping, and strangest of all, and the sun shining and the clothes outside drying. It has been an unexpected January – mild and not terribly grim at all. Of course by the time you read this I might be eating my words, but thus far we’ve been able to be out and about plenty. We went wassailing in Stanmer Park (serenading the apple trees by lantern-light and wetting their roots with cider to ensure a good crop), and attended the opening of the camera obscura in Tarner Park. This is to be a permanent fixture – Friends of Tarner will hold a key – and it’s a marvel. It made me feel quite child-like with delight, to see delicate trees waving, people walking and birds flying across the inside walls of the tower as we sat in the dark. If you get a chance to go you must.

For those of you who are wondering – J did survive my absence just fine; and – bonus! – so did the children. And it was lovely to come back in time for Christmas (though it was lovely to have had two weeks in the sun too, of course). I was a bit shell-shocked and found myself wishing to get back into normal routines again after a few days of trying to ration the Quality Streets and watching Narnia movies. We chopped up and burnt the tree on Boxing Day, which I think tells you something.

My New Year resolution has been to buy a desk and regain the physical and mental space required for creativity. I used to draw, write, paint, make things…now my house is full of boxes of materials and half-finished projects buried beneath layers of child-paraphernalia. Motherhood is wonderful – and I am in no way devaluing its enormous importance as a job or role – but it’s so easy for your identity to become subsumed, and all those things you wished for, to become focused on the child(ren). We tend to feel guilty about pursuing our own hobbies, interests, even careers, at the expense of ‘quality time’ with our children. But I’d argue it’s important for them to see you as a dynamic, rounded individual with interests outside of them. And one-on-one focused play is great, but let’s face it, it’s also pretty dull. You can’t possibly do it all the time, or even most of the time – a child need to learn to amuse herself, while you get on with your stuff, too. That’s what I think, anyway!

Finally – went to see a great band last night – Dr Bluegrass and the Illbilly 8. Fast, foot-stomping bluegrass, with a few tunes you’d recognise, too. They’re locals and play often in Hanover pubs so check them out if you get the chance.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Launderette Love

Another year begins! A happy 2012 to you all. I can't believe how fast the milestones – birthdays, Christmas, Wimbledon, I'm a Celebrity... – seem to come round. There's a paper snowflake in my window that I put there two Christmases ago – about once a year I notice it and think vaguely, that shouldn't still be there – but by then it's usually nearly Christmas again anyway. I might as well not take down the decorations at all this year, since I'll only be putting them up again in all of five minutes time. It wasn't like this when I was young. A year took a whole year to go by.

Larkin is walking and squawking now (really loudly. We caused people to walk out of Moksha during one recent shouting session). He loves to climb – onto stools, up ladders, anything. Parks suck at this time of the year, and softplay centres, even if they weren't all situated in the industrial back-of-beyond, are basically the seventh realm of hell, so I find myself really wishing someone with a bit more money and business nous than me would open a properly child-centred cafe. It's not a lot to ask and there's a gap in the market the size of the channel tunnel. I can't see how it could possibly fail, when people are prepared to spend £5 or even £10 just to be able to sit and have a coffee and a chat and know their toddler is safe and amused. I take Larkin to Baby Jam primarily because I think he likes the songs, but also, frankly, because it's a big indoor space with nothing dangerous in it, and it's worth the money for that alone.

Speaking of things being worth the money – my friend Kath passed on a genius tip – launderettes! Our local one, Soapbox, is lovely, warm, open late and, most importantly – it has tumble driers. No more house full of washing that never dries. So worth it.

I am off to visit family in South Africa for two weeks this month (watch this space for How It Went and whether J survived lone-parenting, or indeed discovered the secret I've always kept hidden, that in some ways it's actually easier.) I had planned on taking Larkin as my family would love to meet him. But twelve hours in a tin can with a child whose only real sources of entertainment are food, stairs, and shouting, would be hell for me and my fellow passengers. So I'll be holidaying solo. Am I looking forward to it? Yes of course! Will I know what to do with myself? Not even slightly. Will I be able to hold a cogent conversation and not mention my children? What do you think??

Friday, 11 November 2011

weddings and wonderings...

Consistency's a funny thing. It's something I feel I've always lacked - and though I tend to love the idea of it (and sort of believe it could be the answer to all my woes), the reality is another matter. I seem to actively resist it. It struck me a couple of days ago when I came to class (I'm doing Yet Another Course, lest my brain atrophy completely) and sat down in a new seat. I looked around and realised that every one of my classmates was sitting in the same place they'd taken in the first session, three weeks before. But why? Were they worried about offending the people next to them? Why, for that matter, do people sleep on the same side of the bed? Surely it's nice to have a change every now and then, see the cracks in the ceiling from a different angle? Anyway, maybe the fact that I'm even asking these questions explains a lot about me and my life.

On a cheerier note, I have been doing some wedding-planning! The date is set, the invites have been lino-cut and letter-pressed (By J) and sent. It's just the venue we're having a wobble over. We want outdoors, a bonfire and a marquee and a samba band and a weekend of fun and games and music. We found a beautiful woodland, complete with glamping accommodation - yurts, cabins, cottages..the problem is all the rules! No noise, no amplified music, no ceilidh, no samba band, no fire except in one designated spot...and even the threat of being asked to turn down what little music we ARE allowed. Humph. Anyone would think we were using the site as a favour as opposed to paying £*%"*^*&??!! for it. Watch this space.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Dadda and dadda and pineapple swoon

I've been out and about a fair bit this month; I have two voluntary jobs (though if your definition of voluntary job is 'work you don't get paid for' I have about seventeen), and have started two courses, each an evening a week. J has taken over more of the childcare. Already the baby calls us both 'dadda!' - or perhaps, as J has it, he has no word for me because I'm never there. More likely (I think) that despite recent absences he has no need to call for mama because I'm still more or less ubiquitous; I'm part of his very psyche so he scarcely misses me. Ahem. Time will tell.

I think the sudden rush of Doing Things which don't involve the children has been brought on my the end-of-summer back-to-school panic of everyone else having jobs or studying to go back to, an I still have no money and essentially no real idea what I'm going to do, career-wise. I'm torn between my head which tells me to appreciate this precious time when the children are still so small, and my heart which is screaming “stop talking about babies!” (pace Kate Beaton)

J managed to get out and enjoy the Beer Fest – he went with a beer-barrel-sponsor, and liking the VIP exclusivity of the tasting is planning to sponsor one himself next year. They tried to drink through the counties but only got as far as Wiltshire, which ale apparently tasted of white wine. He has taken up running since then, and cuts rather an odd figure. Firstly because he runs the opposite way around Queen's Park to everyone else; second, he actually runs, rather than jogs; and finally, he has vowed not to shave his beard until he finishes his pHd. The effect is a cross between Mujahideen and Seventies folk singer on a mission.

We had Larkin's naming ceremony in Stanmer Park on Apple Day. We asked people to bring him a poem or piece of advice and got some beautiful offerings (including two surprisingly optimistic Philip Larkin poems) and the following advice: 'Always remain alert! The world needs more lerts'). We had the last of the amazing weather and have been stuck indoors since. On the upside, we have discovered a great website – for babies! is for people who think there's nothing wrong with encouraging your one year old to play computer games, if it gives you five minutes' bloody peace.

Finally – I have been lucky enough to start learning clowning with the Hanover-legendary (and some would say rather alluring) Mr Pineapple Head. That's all. I just wanted to boast. Read it and swoon.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

zoca-low down

School's back, and thank the lord for that. I saw a survey suggesting parents spend an average of £341 per term on each child. Really? On what?? I mean, obviously mine are too young to be clamouring for French horn lessons or tennis coaching (neither looking terribly likely at this point, unless it's lessons in how to build a French horn out of lego), and we don't have the expense of uniforms; but still – are these parents buying gold-plated compasses? Filling lunchboxes with fugu sashimi and foie-gras sarnies? Or is it that parents feel obliged to bow to the legendary power of peer pressure and buy the latest thing - scooter, DS game, designer satchel – lest their offspring be (horror of horrors) deemed uncool? Meh. Kids would be a great deal more resistant to peer pressure (which is over-egged anyway) if their parents were less worried by it and taught them that coolness isn't something you can buy. It's just stuff and it won't make you happy.

Our school has a lovely new garden, playground and pond (with a below-surface safety grill, natch) which looks great. All paid for by Amex, so there are some advantages to being educated next to a building site. That, and an in-depth knowledge of crane structure. Jem has always had an eye of such engineering matters. He was asked in an audition for an crayon advert recently to draw a rocket – an ad exec's idea of a rocket, multi-coloured and zooming through stars and planets - until Jem put him right by drawing a technically accurate space shuttle, in grey, before coldly explaining that it was not zooming, it was still on the landing pad (which he had also drawn).

Here in Hanover – and this year for the first time, all across Brighton – we have a thing called Zocalo. It's an event where at a set date and time you turn off the telly and come out to meet your neighbours. People put out chairs, bake cakes, share food. It'll be running next year, and you can join in too. Go here for more info. If you took part last month, I hope you enjoyed Zocalo as much as we did – despite a chilly start to the afternoon, by 5pm we had about 10 people crowding the pavement by ours, (plus a load of kids upstairs), and we had home-made lemonade and cake. It was lovely. Next time all we need is not to have to share the pavement with cars. That would make all the difference.

Oh, while I remember! Don't forget to light a lantern for Halloween and encourage your little local trick-or-treaters – it's an ancient British tradition dating back to pagan times (not a new-fangled American idea, as some believe) and another chance to meet your neighbours. And eat Haribo. Hurrah!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Clap Clap

Our next door neighbours are selling their house, and my partner J has been fantasising about buying it – not to knock both houses into one, but actually having two houses, one for each of us. Possibly with a child-sized tunnel between them as a concession to ‘family-life’. Which need not imply any problems in our relationship, just a deep-seated need not to have to have to deal with Someone Else’s stuff and Someone Else’s décor, not to mention Someone Else’s piles of bloody books. The idea does have appeal. Anyway, on a far more practical note, we are planning to build a wood-fired sauna in our back shed (which used the be the outside loo). No, really. I can’t wait.

I’ve been feeling a little snowed-under lately; my to-do list has to-do lists, and I can’t make any headway because every time I try, a child seems to need feeding or cleaning or I fall asleep. What better solution, then, that going away (to France) and then going away again (to a festival) and then – guess what?! – going away again, camping. Foolish? Perhaps. But fun. The festival in question was Playgroup festival, aka known as everyone-you-know-from-Brighton-and-beyond-in-a-field-wearing-antlers. The bands were all locally-sourced, the setting was beautiful, and there was lots to do. It was basically a big party with all your mates’ mates. I was running games of manhunt and sardines (for grown-ups, obviously – the kids were busy watching Mr Pineapple Head). Jem’s favourite thing was the tent showing continuous re-runs of Felix the Cat. My least favourite things were the toilets, which were disgraceful, the lack of bins, and the complete failure of ‘Family Camping’ provision which meant exhausted parents and grumpy kids on day two and three. Still I trust these are teething problems for an otherwise very enjoyable event.

Larkin will be a year old soon, and this week said his first words – a sort of mangled ‘clap-clap’ (or perhaps, J suggests, ‘crap crap'), and ‘um um’ for food. So if this proves portentous, he’s either going to be a chef, or a performing seal.