Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Boy

The other day when I looked at him I saw a boy instead of a babe and a part of me was crushed because I never kissed my baby goodbye.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Snowfall At Dusk

At the end of a long and lonely week in which my heart hung heavily in my chest and refused to be fooled by my smiles, the snow began to fall.

It started with a white mist in the dimness of the late afternoon and developed into soft, dropping flakes just as daylight faded into dusk.

We stood by the window watching it settle on tree and canoe, grass and cement mixer, and slowly transform builders rubble with its beauty. Then we wrapped ourselves up warmly and wandered out into the wonderland to feel our souls settle under its hush and our eyes widen at its beauty.

The snow shower had finished by nightfall leaving a dusting of beauty in its wake, but its soft flakes had worked their magic and everything was transformed.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Durham Days

When long shadows stretch from the trunks of trees and a golden sun shines warmly on a world as cold as glass, I'm always transported back to Durham.

I'm taken to a city in which it always seems to be autumn and the trees that line the river are always tipped in gold and bronze, where low sunbeams shine off ancient stones and students wear black cashmere coats, wound at the neck by scarves.

I feel the cobbles dimple my feet as I hurry over Old Elvet bridge with a bag of books on my back, I see rowers flash by on the shadowy water below, I feel the cold air pinching my skinny waist as I walk and I hear the cathedral bells ring out across the river, making my heart peal with pleasure as they chime.

And as I dart through the winding and well-trodden streets of the city, trudge up the endless expanse of Church Street to the library and wind my solitary way back to college along the silent tow-path I feel the old emotions crowd my heart; the adrenaline of discovery, the awesomeness of tradition, the elation of self-sufficiency, the stress of high expectations, the hopefulness of infinite possibilities, and the intense loneliness of life.

It's always startling to return to this place so suddenly as the autumn sun starts to shine, and my visits to this dreamscape always leave me adrift, because my memories are as clear as yesterday but I have no idea how the person that I was then and the person that I am today can possibly both be me.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Half Done

A half-made mosaic on a half-cleared table in a half-painted room in a half-built house.

A half-hearted list of the fragments in my (hopefully) only half-finished life.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Moving On

I had expected pincers of jealousy to pluck at my heart as I met the newest member of the family.

I remembered the awesome thrill of welcoming new life into the world and I recalled the wondrous pleasure of holding a miracle in my arms. I was aware of the astonishing power of a newborn babe and I remembered how it swept all else aside in its frenzy of joy.

And so, as we travelled through the fog to meet our brand new niece I prepared myself for a feeling of flatness in the face of others' elation. I readied myself for melancholy at the relentless passing of time and I steeled myself for nostalgia over my tiny babe that has grown.

But holding this tiny, perfect girl in my arms and feeling her weightlessness on my knee, I was simply overcome with awe: Awe at the miracle of birth; awe at the fragility of life; awe at the privilege of parenting and awe at how far we'd come.

No, my baby is no longer a newborn. He doesn't squeak like a baby bird or fit easily in the crook of my arm and he doesn't sleep with his knees tucked up to his chest or flail astonishingly small fingers in the air.

But instead he's a little person, with chubby legs, a ready smile, a sociable spirit and an unquenchable passion for life.

And so rather than railing against change and mourning that which we've lost, meeting little Bethany made me look back to where we started and appreciate the tremendous amount that we've gained.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Witching Hour

When the moon is high, the skies are black and witches are said to roam abroad, reality can warp into insanity and strange and surreal things can occur.

Beautiful babies can morph into vampires and sink their teeth into the breast; exhausted mothers can scream at biting babies and then weep with regret and remorse; sleep can escape from the grips of little ones leaving them sobbing for hours in frustration; sleep-talking daddies can lunge out of bed to save phantom babies from falling; confused and crying babies can stage feeding strikes that leave both mother and baby in tears; desperate daddies can resort to singing in a bid to get babies to sleep; cot-bound infants can tire of crying and start throwing themselves at the bars and all resolutions can fly out of the window as the minutes drag into hours.

But once in a while, when the moon is full, magic can happen after midnight. A tired, tear-stained babe can stand at his cot, look at his parents and smile. A weary Mummy and Daddy can raise their heads from their pillows and feel their own smiles swell.

A giggle can sound from the cot, an echo can return from the bed and soon laughter can float from an upstairs window and drift out into the moonlight beyond.

Of course such magic is fleeting and laughter soon turns back to tears. But when the witching hour falls on subsequent nights the memory can help guide you through until dawn.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Booties for Bethany

I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not have time to make a gift for my brand new niece, and I'd restrained myself from beginning ambitious projects that I couldn't possibly finish.

But when the news of her safe arrival reached us last week, somehow this pleasure became a priority.

So in the short evenings when I should have been decorating or at the very least cleaning, I sat with needle and thread and stitched booties for baby Bethany.

They are an adaptation of Heather Bailey's Bitty Booties pattern they're unbelievably cute.

Soft felt slippers and tiny baby toes - there can be few things in the world more wonderful than these.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


We walked around the Mere on the most beautiful day of the Autumn and John stopped strangers with his smile. 

Walkers who were busy watching the sunlight scatter gold across the water and dogs gambol happily in the leaves suddenly stopped short and gazed instead at my boy. They smiled with surprise at his grin and greeted him as he giggled. They commented on his rosy cheeks and complimented him on his smile.

I know that it's simply good manners to fuss over the beauty of other people's babies and I myself have been guilty of calling a baby 'adorable' when in fact it looked like a potato.

But when strangers marvel at the beauty of my boy I still feel hot pride interrupt my heartbeat and when one girl pronounced John 'the cutest baby she'd ever seen' I had to grip the buggy tightly because I honestly thought I would melt.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Into The Light

For two long weeks, darkness has held its heavy hand on my head. The sun has shown a sluggish reluctance to shine and our days have been spent in the daze of a perpetual dusk. We've cowered in rooms devoid of daylight whilst a dismal grayness has sat over the un-boarded windows and night has pushed its way ever earlier into the day.

But today, miraculously, light has banished the darkness. The boards that blocked up our windows have come down and brilliant light is streaming across the dust-strewn floors. It's twinkling through the mesh in the playpen, casting startling shadows on the walls and illuminating downy baby locks so that John plays in a halo of light.

I had no idea how much I had missed the everyday miracle of light until it splashed its glory across my floor.

Friday, 12 November 2010


I imagine their report cards may have read: "Clive and Phil are able students who can produce work of a high standard but are easily led astray by distractions. Their work would show much improvement if they were to concentrate on the task at hand and reserve their games for the playground."

Thursday, 11 November 2010

He Smiles

"Does he ever stop smiling?" the health visitor asks me after three hours in his sunny, smiley presence.

"When he bangs his head..." I reply flippantly, wondering whether I'm imagining the testy scepticism on the other mothers' faces.

"I don't think I've ever met such a smiley baby," she says as dribble splatters her shoe from John's wide, open grin.

I smile at my beautiful baby and watch my happiness bounce back to me with instantaneous interest. His eyes gleam, his lips stretch wide and a sound of pure glee gurgles in his throat.

It's a response that I've seen so many times before that it's greyed into normality and I'm suddenly startled afresh by the sheer brilliance of his joy.

Of course there are times when he does stop smiling, and there are even times when he cries, but his happiness is effortless and his smiles illuminate our days.

I'm often awed by his optimism and I'm always cheered by his smiles but such joyfulness is a gift, and I hope never to forget it.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Three Hours

For three hours on a Saturday morning, I escape.

I leave the house alone and I drive into town without feeling any compulsion to talk aloud or sing. I park the car without worrying whether there's space to disentangle a baby from a car seat, and I run quickly down the street just because I can.

I walk into the little room behind the gallery feeling lighter than I ever have done in my life and I greet the group assembled there without anyone calling me 'John's mummy' or greeting me in an unusually high-pitched voice.

Then for three blissful hours I concentrate solely on tiles. I cut them and shape them, I arrange them and stick them. I smother them with grout and then I polish them with a cloth. I work carefully and slowly, assembling my mosaic methodically, and smiling as each new piece slots neatly into my design.

I don't once think about anyone's bodily fluids or worry that they might be horribly injured. I don't watch the clock to see how much of the day I've passed and if I need to use the bathroom I simply get up and go.

As we work, the absorbed silence is peppered only with the satisfying clip of tiles being cut and the occasional shards of conversation, and when we've finished the tile table is slightly lighter and our boards are ever so much prettier.

It's just three hours in a week but I leave feeling refreshed and fulfilled, calm and contented and I rush home as fast as I can because it's been three hours since I held my baby, and suddenly I miss him terribly.

Monday, 8 November 2010


Somehow, just two weeks after its emergence, John's tiny front tooth has been chipped.

There is no way to tell how he chipped it and there's no way to mend it now that it's done.

I've laddered my brain trying to determine the date of its denting, but his falls are too numerous to remember and his teeth are too tiny to see.

And so despite the fact that there's a jagged chip at the edge of my heart I simply have to accept that my brand new boy's brand new smile is destined to be marked by a dint.

I know that it's a small chip and that it doesn't bother him one bit, but I feel like a child who's broken their favourite present on Christmas afternoon; I ache with regret that something so perfect has been blemished and I shudder with horror at the thought that life is already chipping away at his smile.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Coming Home

Whilst we were away a gang of men attacked our home. They ripped up windowsills and boarded out the light; they smeared rough plaster across our paintwork and dripped it down the stairs; they scratched lines in our worktops and spread dust across the floors.

When we came home the house was still reeling from the assault. Scars marked the walls in every room and wounds gaped openly, letting cold draughts whip through the house.

I know that this is the way of progress, and I can see that the new windows look great but I still cannot help but feel that my refuge has been ambushed, and I cannot help but wonder how on earth we will find the time to restore it into something resembling a home.

Monday, 1 November 2010

John's Treat

We left the station whilst the world was still frozen and travelled through embankments glittering with early-morning brilliance. We sat quietly in our creaking carriage, slightly stiff from too many layers of clothing, slightly breathless from the dash to the platform and slightly awed by the rolling romance of the rails.

Before our faces breath condensed on the windows and outside the train steam floated eerily through crystallised branches and melted into fields still crisp with a late October frost.

At first we gasped at each blast of the whistle and gaped at each billow of steam, but as low, hazy sunbeams started to swing across our faces we relaxed into the rhythm of the railway and let the tracks take us slowly but surely through the golden moorland towards the sea.

Of course, John won't remember the sudden hisses of steam that shot violently from the engine, the scent of soot that pervaded everything that day, the Thomas The Tank Engine flag that he waved once and then chewed on determinedly, the rattle and roll of the carriage as we rocked our way to Whitby, the icy blasts of air that shot through the open carriage windows, the feel of soot in his face and hair and eyes or the flat orange light that turned the whole world golden as we wound our way home.

But one day, when he's older we'll tell him about his first ever train trip and remind him of his wide, wondering smiles. We'll explain to him that it was his lucky win on a raffle that allowed us to travel by steam train through the North Yorkshire Moors and we'll thank him for taking his mum and dad along for the ride and treating us to such a magical and memorable day.