The self-portraits, however, tell a different story. As do the endless shots of Sylvanians. Time to get Matilda a camera, I think. But where to start? Can anyone recommend a basic digital camera for a thirteen-year-old?
One morning last week, as the end of term chaos reached its peak, I tilted my head back all the better to yell something along the lines of “please do hurry up my darlings, we are really rather late”, and my neck went ping!
And that was that.
I’ve been in bed or at the osteopath ever since.
But this morning, all the pulling, pushing, twisting and prodding, not to mention pill-popping, of the past five days has finally worked, and I woke feeling bruised and stiff, but able, at last, to move my head without pain.
Hurrah! The girls and I celebrated with homemade lemonade*.
Interestingly, although I was completely incapacitated, the world continued to turn, and the house appeared to run itself rather efficiently without me. Not sure how I feel about that.
*Home made lemonade – recipes for this abound. We took the peel from four lemons and steeped it in around 1ltr of boiling water along with 100g of caster sugar, for three hours. I then squeezed the juice of the lemons into the pan before straining it all into a jug. The colour you see is entirely natural, the flavour is delicious: not too sweet or sour, but properly lemony. The recipe comes from the River Cottage Family Cook Book.
This time of year always catches me out. For some reason I imagine the last few weeks of the summer term as a gentle stroll towards the holidays. In my dream version of June into July, it is comfortably sunny, meals can be eaten outside, everyone is in a permanently good mood, the house is miraculously tidy and children skip happily to school. There is no homework, there are no lost shoes or jumpers, packed lunches are not found squashed at the bottom of school bags. Nits have been eradicated from the planet.
The reality is of course quite different. Over the last month one child has been to camp and back, returning with a sack of muddy clothing, a headful of nits and totally knackered, but happy; another child has been to Germany and back, returning with broken walking boots, muddy trainers and clothes which look as though they haven’t been worn at all (v. strange and concerning), she too is knackered, but happy. Admits that she got lost for an hour in a vast theme park and didn’t speak a word of German all week - apart from mumbling something as she fumbled for the card she’d been given by her teachers on which was printed “the bearer of this card is a foolish english school child, who is no doubt scared and lost, please can you guide them to the nearest phone and dial this number….” or some such, but I can’t be sure as it’s all in German.
The youngest has been in a swimming gala, “it was rubbish mum, I came last in everything, I’m glad you weren’t there. Why weren’t you there?”, not so happy. The middle one, who was in the same gala, thought it was all hilarious, as woggle races tend to be, and had to borrow swimming things from a friend because her older sister had taken her swimming costume to Germany. Yup, that’s right they share a swimming costume.
Tomorrow the youngest has a big school trip requiring spending money, “remember, mum, £3. You promised you wouldn’t forget like last time”. And the eldest has a big exam, which we all thought was today, but mercifully wasn’t as she hadn’t really prepared – she went to bed last night saying, “just wake me up really early dad, I promise I’ll do some more in the morning.” She was found up and dressed at 6am today, back in bed and unconscious at 6.15. To my every enquiry as to her progress with revision this evening she has answered, “yeah, yeah muuuum,” which I guess translates as “whatever, shut up”.
And as for me, I am meant to be chasing some feature ideas, and finishing off the DIY projects that I so unwisely decided to tackle in the middle of all this mayhem. The DIY stuff is now officially on hold, which actually means that three paint brushes have dried solid in their pots. But I will continue to chase the work, even though I know that a deadline in August is the last thing I really need. Hey ho.
On the upside, the garden is looking good in spite of evil slugs and my total neglect. And James, my other half work-wise, and I have a nice feature in this month’s Homes & Antiques – a crazy Georgian town house stuffed with dolls.
And I will finish by apologising for the rather random and unrelated photographs – the cable which connects my camera to my lap top has vanished, the vaguely relevant photographs which I was hoping to use are currently trapped on my camera. I should add, the first photograph, a road sign in Wales, pretty much sums up my current state of mind.
Last weekend, at Bea’s insistence, we had a go at blowing eggs. As with my pudding post, I don’t ever remember doing this as a child, though I can imagine that it’s the sort of thing I might have done when I was briefly a member of the Brownies.
Luckily Joe had done this before. So whilst I would certainly have created a dreadful mess of broken shells and yolks, he and the girls made a delicious frittata as well as completing the first stage of the egg decorating. Stage two (more painting and lots of glitter, apparently) is planned for next weekend.
For my part, I cut some hazel twigs and put them in a jug. Bea plans to hang the eggs from this twiggy arrangement when they are finished, and wants to set it up in the sitting room a bit like a Christmas Tree. I think it will look better on the kitchen window sill.
I don’t remember pudding ever being a regular part of meals when I was a child. In fact I can still recall the excitement I felt when I was offered a pot of Ski yoghurt (black cherry, I believe) at a friend’s house, which suggests that, apart from the occasional apple crumble after Sunday lunch and lumpy custard at school, pudding was something of a treat. And as such, it was never more delicious than when it came in the form of leftovers, which my sisters and I would eat for breakfast, the morning after my parents had given a dinner party: brown bread ice cream and pears poached in red wine were particular favourites. All very 70s. My parents had friends over quite regularly, so we were not exactly deprived on the pudding-front, but it meant that, for me, pudding has never established itself as an essential part of weekday meals – unless we have friends over.
But for some reason the girls regard pudding as the natural full stop at the end of both lunch and supper. I don’t know how this has come about. Halfway through every meal, and sometimes at the start if they are particularly unhappy with what I have made, they will enquire about pudding. It is a means of assessing whether or not it’s worth their while struggling on.
Matilda is thirteen in June, and you would have thought that in all that time one of us might have accepted defeat on the pudding issue. But my children are eternal optimists, ever hopeful that a week’s supply of ice cream or moussey-spongy-custardy things will work their way onto the regular shopping list. I, for my part, am clearly a slow learner: I fail to factor pudding into any of my meal plans for the week ahead – that’s if I manage to plan at all. Pudding proper does happen from time to time, but more by accident than design – a slice of cake, say, that I’ve made as a tea time treat.
Fortunately, all three girls have an elastic understanding of pudding. Last week’s pudding selection included Shreddies and Rich Tea biscuits with a glass of milk. But they are all clear about one thing: fruit is not pudding. I find this strange, and frustrating, as all three love fruit. But apparently fruit is a snack not a pudding, and for one of them to eat a clementine at the end of a meal is a display of real, and rare, hunger.
Anyway, a couple of nights ago I was totally stuck. We were all out of cereal, we had no yoghurt, the freezer was almost empty, and the fruit bowl contained only blackened bananas and dried up clementines. I wasn’t too troubled – they’d just had a delicious roast chicken and had mopped up gravy with slabs of bread.
I was about to remind them of this, when I spotted a couple of pomegranates lurking, half-hidden, on the kitchen worktop. Now pomegranates are only occasional visitors to the kitchen, and certainly not part of the gently rotting still life that constitutes our fruit bowl, so, although undeniably fruit, pomegranates have novelty on their side, added to which they look beautiful and taste delicious. They passed the test.
I love reading the random notes and messages that people leave around the city. I photograph some because they make me laugh, like the one above and the ones in this post here; others, like the one below, because they look rather lovely. This little group is all quite self-explanatory, apart, perhaps from the last one, which I found under the sofa. Martha wrote it, and left it for a doll she fervently hoped would spring to life in the night.
The girls are being a little trying at the moment. Although it’s only been a week or so since they went back to school, the fact is they’re still tired. Christmas is never really much of a holiday is it? Not in the rest sense anyway. So they are grey-faced, grumpy, and would rather be hibernating. Feet stamp, eyes roll, doors slam and voices are raised. But I’ve discovered something quite remarkable: they’ll do virtually anything for a gold coin.
Not a shiny, golden one pound coin, but a cheap as chips chocolate coin in a foil wrapper. The kind that cost £1 for twenty, and taste like chocolate flavoured wax crayons. I found several net bags of these hidden in a drawer, obviously left over from Christmas. I am eeking out the stash as I’m not sure if they are still in the shops – maybe they’re available all year round, I don’t know. Anyway, they are offered in exchange for various things: getting out of bed quickly, eating the vile poison that I’ve served up in place of supper, taking abandoned coats and shoes to their rightful homes and so on.
Whilst photographing Mary’s lovely felt decorations I spotted a couple of lame horses amongst the biscuits on the tree – a hoof missing here, a leg there. It was bound to happen to one or two of them I reasoned, but then, as I looked closer, I saw that almost all the biscuits had been picked at – all stars were at least one point short. Grrr.
Of course the girls tried to blame Sybil. It was the dog, they chorused, faces solemn. But I’m not that stupid. And anyway, Sybil has been banned from the sitting room since the biscuits appeared on the tree – one whiff of them sent her trotting around the room like a demented show dog, nose in the air as if held up by an invisible thread, hungrily drinking in their scent. I knew the biscuits wouldn’t last long, and they are meant to be eaten, but I had hoped the girls might share them with their cousins on Boxing day. Fat chance.