Monday, 30 June 2008

Birthday colours

On the one hand I feel a little grey because I am a whole year older, and not that much wiser.

On the other hand, I feel sprightly and bright after a great birthday weekend full of colour and madness and lots of fantastic presents.


Friday, 27 June 2008

Packing books

I don’t pack lightly but I do pack compactly. I like packing. It usually starts with a list – maybe written down but often in my head. I enjoy starting with an empty bag and filling every spare corner with things, working out how to fold, pile and nest things so that they fit into the bag like rocks in a dry stone wall.

And sometimes my bags feel as if they have rocks in them. If something fits in the bag, then I’m unlikely to leave it out. Books are my main problem. When I travel I need books to read. It’s as simple as that. The worst thing would be if I were sat on a train, with a cup of coffee by my side, my iPod playing Radio 4 podcasts, pretty landscape rushing by but no book to read. What a horror!

So for an overnight trip to Oxford this week to have a day out with Anna and spend some time with my parents, I packed three fat paperbacks:

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson
Constance by Rosie Thomas
Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym

Yes – three books for a trip lasting twenty six hours. But even though I was visiting the city with the best bookshop in the world and spending time with some one as book–obsessed as me, I still worried that I might finish my books and somehow not be able to find any more.

I needn’t have worried. I went with three books and came back with nine. I couldn’t go to a bookshop and not buy any could I?


Sunday, 22 June 2008

How to feel better

What to do with your weekend when one member of the family is hungover and the other three have streaming colds?

Here's what we did:
  • Pottered over to We Make London and got a free goodie bag for being one of the first 10 people through the door - thank you! Got to gaze at many beautiful things and spend some money.
  • Popped in to the British Museum, admired the wonderful roof and then found some Ancient Greek wall friezes with chickens on them.

  • Had a restorative lunch of noodles, green tea and gyoza at Wagamama's

  • Came home, ate strawberries and took paracetamol before crawling off for naps, exhausted but happy.

Oh, and just in case there was any doubt, I was one of the streaming colds posse, not the hungover one.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Books for boys

Finally, here is the follow up to my earlier post on favourite books for 5 year old girls: my best books for 8 year old boys.

I do think children’s books are marketed in a much more gender segregated way these days to how they were when I was a child. Girls are now meant to read books sprinkled with sparkly bits and inhabited by fairies, pop stars and princesses. Boys are meant to read cartoon books about spying, danger, monsters and football.

Up to a point, C and O do read these sorts of books, and some of them I like very much. But I want them to read far wider than this and it’s so dispiriting to hear C dismiss a book solely on the basis that ‘it’s a girl's book’ – which usually means there someone in a skirt, or something pink, on the cover.

The books I read and loved when I was 8, which are now on his bookshelves too, include:

  • Asterix by Gosciny and Uderzo
  • Tintin by Herge
  • Just William by Richmal Crompton
  • Stig of the Dump by Clive King
  • Jeremy James by David Henry Wilson
  • a great deal of Enid Blyton
  • the pre-teen Judy Blume books (especially Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and other ones with the same characters).

Books I loved at this age but which I’ve had no success convincing him to try include:

  • Pippi Longstocking (girls’ book!) by Astrid Lundgren
  • Mrs Pepperpot (girls’ book!) by Alf Proysen
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (too old fashioned!) and
  • The Silver Sword (too scary!) by Ian Serraillier.
  • Swallows and Amazons – one of the series of children’s books that influenced me the most – is a work in progress.

I try not to dwell too much on books of my youth, for fear of putting C off books completely with my excessive nostalgia. Besides, there are some fantastic books that have been published in the past 30 years that it would be churlish to ignore!

C’s modern favourites, that I never read when I was small, include:

  • The Jiggy McCue books by Michael Lawrence
  • Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
  • anything by Cornelia Funke
  • How to Speak Dragonese by Cressida Cowell
  • the children’s books of Alexander McCall Smith
  • the Charlie Small stories

And then there’s Harry Potter. When I read these books in my 20s, as the hype around them grew, I was mostly so sad that I could never read them as a child. I loved them as an adult, but knew that had I been able to read them as a child they would have been even more amazing. About six months ago, C did a piece of literacy work at school based on a small extract from Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. He rushed home from school full of excitement about the extract he’d read. He was delighted to find all seven Harry Potter books on our shelves, and started reading before he’d even taken his coat off. He didn’t really pause for breath until he’d read to the end of book 4. He loved them just as much as I would have done had I read them at his age.

Which is all I could ask for really.


Monday, 16 June 2008


Yesterday I raked up the remains of our cherry crop from the lawn.

Our garden is dominated by a huge, ancient cherry tree that I suspect may be older than the house. Our house was built in around 1894, and we know that the part of East London where we live used to be an area full of fruit nurseries before the railway came and it was filled with housing. An old map I have from 1888 shows lots of little glass frame shapes – indicating garden nurseries.

The map above is taken from this website which is where I bought my own paper copy of the 1888 East London map.

Each year the tree treats us to an overwhelmingly romantic display of cherry blossom in April.

And then at the start of June come the cherries.

The local starlings and pigeons eat most of them, because the tree is too high for us to be able to pick them easily. This year, C managed to climb scarily near the top and do some fruit picking for me, before my nervousness about old boughs snapping and broken necks made me beg him to climb down.

Strangely, however many we pick, there only ever seem to be enough for one cherry-themed dish.

In previous years I have made a clafoutis, but having tried blackcurrant clafoutis for the first time last year I think I now much prefer that to the more traditional cherry one. So yesterday I made apple and cherry crumbles instead – in individual ramekins so that I could freeze some for a treat long after the cherries have gone. They were delicious. I wonder what the cherries used to be made into back in 1888?


Friday, 13 June 2008

Distraction and progress

I have made a good start on the second quilt this week.

I've sewn some bibs for new babies and a dress for O's Clothkitty doll:

I've used my zipper foot for the first time, and made a zipped pouch from Bend The Rules Sewing.


I've read lots of Kaffe books:


I've played around with ricrac, ribbon and buttons:



Inspired by U-Handblog, I've booked a course at The Make Lounge next week.


I've even contemplated sewing on name tapes:



Piecing a fence rail quilt is SO DULL! No wonder it has been lying abandoned and part pieced at the bottom of my sewing box for 15 years. The only way I can do it without losing my sanity is to piece a few blocks each time I sew something else.



Its getting there - I've got 76 blocks pieced, and there are 120 in total. By the time its done there will be a great many well dressed babies and dolls!


Saturday, 7 June 2008

Quilt (dis)harmony - and a tag

You can see the problem can't you?
The quilt I made just isn't big enough. G and I are sharing it - one night on his side of the bed and one night on my side of the bed. We both claim to sleep better under the quilt than without it. The non-quilt person has to make do with a £5 fleece throw from Ikea, which is no compensation at all frankly.

And neither of us would even consider letting the children join in with our quilt rota. Sleeping under it every other night is bad enough, but every fourth night? You have to be joking.

So to avoid family discord, I have started the next quilt.

It is a king sized fence rail quilt that will be big enough to cover our entire bed. The children can then start their own quilt-on-bed rota with the first one (so in fact I am under no illusions - I will be making a third and probably fourth quilt soon after finishing the giant fence rail one).




Anna at All Things Lovely has bribed me with chicken photos to do this tag questionnaire:


What were you doing 10 years ago?


Ten years ago I was in the brief period between starting my relationship with G, and C being born. We had about a year of loved-up hedonism before the shock of parenthood hit (and with hindsight perhaps the shock of parenthood was partly due to the glamourous activities of the previous year suddenly being curtailed!).


G and I had just moved in together. We lived in a flat about a mile from where we live now that had huge windows, a tiny kitchen, hideous furniture and a spare room that housed G's drum kit.


I was working for the same company I work for now (and moaning about it, much like I do now!) and studying for my accountancy qualification in the evenings. G was working as a sound mixer at a studio in Soho and would come home and casually say things like:

"I worked with that bloke all the girls fancy today,"

"What bloke?"

"You know the one - goes out with that girl in Friends"

"Brad Pitt??"

"Yeah - him. He was doing a voice over for his film trailer. Nice bloke"


A friend had just started importing absinthe after the EU relaxed some law or other about its manufacture. There were a lot of parties, festivals, clubs, weekends camping and nights out. It was a good time.


Five things on my to do list today

There is a list - obviously.

  • Post a copy of Hello magazine to my Mum in France
  • Take O to her ballet lesson
  • Get the children's sleeping bags out of the loft, because we are going round to my brother-in-laws for dinner tonight and the children are coming too but will probably want to go to sleep before we are ready to come home. Sleeping in sleeping bags on your uncle's bed is a lot of fun when you are small!
  • Find and wrap a present for O to take to her friend's party this afternoon.
  • Wash all the week's school uniform.

Snacks I enjoy

  • Green & Blacks espresso chocolate
  • leftovers from the fridge
  • dried apricots
  • a glass of cold milk
  • peanuts

Things I would do if I were a billionaire

  • Say to everyone "See - playing the lottery on a regular basis is NOT a daft waste of money!"
  • Move closer to C & O's school
  • Share my good fortune with my brother, sister, brothers in law and sisters in law.
  • Get a second eglu and more chickens
  • Not fly everywhere and pollute the atmosphere, but travel first class on the trains instead.

Places I have lived

  • Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire
  • Norwich
  • Cambridge
  • Brisbane, Australia
  • Roanoke, VA in the US
  • London - and this is where I'm staying now.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

France - and a better way to get there

Our week in South West France was so lovely.

We've been here a few times before and usually the journey there and back casts a long shadow over the holiday. One option has been a flight to Toulouse with all the check-in, long-term car parking, baggage traumas and car hire that flying entails. Its about a two hour flight, but from door to door it takes closer to six hours.

The alternative to flying was to take the car on either the Eurotunnel or ferry, and then drive down the length of France. A journey involving over twelve hours on the motorway. The last time I did this I was six months pregnant and our car was a tiny Mini Metro with no air-con or CD player. I admit I'm scarred.

So this time - our first visit in six years - we decided to try the train instead. It was a joy from start to finish and I can't imagine ever driving or flying there now.

We researched and booked it on the marvellous Man In Seat 61 site. The Eurostar was pretty cramped on a Bank Holiday weekend, but so quick - just two and a quarter hours from London to Paris now that the high speed line in the UK has opened. Once we had crossed Paris and had some lunch, the TGV whisked us to Montauban, near Toulouse in just under five hours. Five hours in which we could play cards, read, chat and listen to iPods.

After driving across France you are drained, aching and spent; after taking the train you arrive positively refreshed and relaxed.

Once in France we played by the pool, read books in the sunshine, visited a castle, ate many buttery croissants, played on the swings and generally admired the scenery.

I also came home with over 30 photos of poppies! This is my favourite.

Monday, 2 June 2008

There was a meal

It was a celebratory meal. The local restaurants were all hosting a local food night with one-off fixed price menus showcasing the best in local produce. G and I sweet talked the baby sitters and booked ourselves a table for two at the restaurant in the next village.

For €40 each, we ate the best meal of our lives.

It started with saffron liqueur - safronille - that tasted like honey and came in magical, weeble-bottomed glasses.

While we sipped our safronille we nibbled on duck and lobster amouse-bouches and began to realise what we had let ourselves in for.

There was duck fois gras with walnut brioche and fig and apple chutney.

There was asparagus with salmon and a tomato sorbet.

There was confit of duck with a spicy duck parcel on the side and potato and mushroom gratin.

There was mild goats cheese, lightly fried in the crispiest, most fragrant parcels imaginable with a honey and walnut dressing.

There was strawberry and white chocolate mille-feuille.

And there was a different glass of local wine with every course.

Oh, and don't forget the blue mountain coffee.

And the handmade raspberry and chestnut petit fours to go with our coffee.

Someone had even found time to make exquisite, beaded napkin rings.

But the best thing?

The great company.