Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Of course I enjoyed the cool thrill of cold water on warm skin, the smell of the taverna that swept over the beach evoking a thousand dreams in one seasoned scent, the excitement of racing through the turquoise sea at speed, the lazy luxury of time spent alone with a book and the bliss of swimming in a crystal-clear sea, but the real highlight of the holiday was the company we kept.

Because for one whole week, I was with my family; these people who know me all the way back to the beginning and remind me of who I was, and who I am, and who I am meant to be; who mock me mercilessly and build me up just as quickly, and love me, love me, love me.

I laughed with my brothers, who are both ridiculous and cool, silly and inspiring in equal measure, who make me laugh harder than anyone I know, and who have spent far, far too much time in foreign climes in recent years.

I  watched in awe as my mum spun a web of magic around my boy, enchanting him with her stories, engaging him in play and engulfing him in such perfect peace that he drifted effortlessly off to sleep.

And I delighted in the company of my Dad, who turns sixty later this year, who is the most selfless and generous man that I've ever known, and who chose to celebrate his birthday by giving us all that most rare and precious of treats; time together as a family.

Holiday Milestones

The first milestone happened whilst James and I were speeding through the sea on a boat, and we didn't witness it until we arrived at the top of the steep hill that led to our villa, panting and sweating, and saw my mum motion to us to hush.

"Come on John," she said, from the middle of the pool, "swim, swim, swim," and we watched as he launched himself from the safety of the step out into the open water and made his way, armbands bobbing, legs pedalling frantically, teeth clenched, eyes frightened, into the safety of his Granny's waiting arms.

For a second, nobody spoke, and then with eyes wide  and smiles flooded with surprise we rushed forward to whoop and cheer and marvel at the fact that in the few short hours that we had been away, John had learnt how to swim.

The second, was one that I'd been half-expecting for the past couple of months ever since I made a momentous decision almost on a whim.

It was an ordinary bedtime on an ordinary day; I read John stories, we gave him his bath and I carried him upstairs. But instead of settling myself in bed for John's bedtime feed just as I have done every night since his birth, I simply plopped him in his cot, kissed him goodnight and then walked away as his angry, uncomprehending screams chased me down the stairs, condemning me with every step.

I sat down in the living room and felt guilt creep across my conscience and open into a wide, gaping chasm of regret.

I listened as his cries grew weary, his sobs became stifled and his indignation slowly collapsed into the quiet slump of sleep, and in the silence that followed I felt all the loneliness of loss.

That night, I lay awake in the semi-darkness of the room, watching his chest rise and fall in the cot beside me, listening to the soft sound of his breathing and willing him to wake. I longed to pull him onto my chest and feel the heavy certainty of his presence and I longed to comfort him in my arms and remember the rigidity of our bond.

And when he finally did wake I held him gratefully on my lap, savouring his sleepy need for me and delighting in this sacred ritual that's bound our bodies since the moment he was born.

For nearly two months I savoured these sleepy night-time feeds, knowing that their days were numbered and that soon a new phase would begin.

And then, quite suddenly, in the cool of an air-conditioned room in Greece, it was over. He awoke in the blackness of night and refused to feed. He tossed and turned amongst the tangled sheets of our bed and refused to be comforted. And after a frenzy of screaming and a prolonged struggle for peace he settled himself back to sleep in the quiet of his cot.

I lay there in the cool hum of the darkness feeling that same sense of loss begin to simmer in my heart, and knowing that something wonderful had passed.

And had it not been for the brightness of the sun and the warmth of the sea and the wonderful company of my family, I should probably have mourned the loss of this ritual for many days to come.

But thankfully I had other things to think about. Like the magnificence of the view, the eloquent nostalgia of my novel, the funny story my brother told that's still making me smile, and the astounding fact that my baby has learnt how to swim.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Where We've Been

For one glorious week, we've been holidaying in Corfu - feeling the fierce force of the sun on our scalps, eating watermelon for breakfast, picking up handfuls of white pebbles and feeling the warmth of them in our palms, swimming in water so blue that its beauty hurt our eyes, soaking in a view so spectacular that it silenced us upon arrival and then kept surprising us with its majesty throughout the week, sheltering from the merciless midday sun, finding the time to rediscover the quiet joy of reading, feasting late into the night, accompanied by screaming crickets and whining mosquitoes, spending as much time in water as out, devising ever more elaborate ways to enjoy a swimming pool (synchronized swimming and water triathlon), laughing, (a  lot), and spending time with every one of my favourite people in the world.

I can't begin to describe just how wonderful it's been.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Horsey Horsey!

There are many things that I have yet to learn about my boy, but one thing I do know is that he really does love horses.

His little face lights up as he hears them approaching, he clacks his tongue against the roof of his mouth and jiggles on the spot as the sound of their hooves grows louder and then he chases them down the road waving in delight until horse and rider have rounded the corner and disappeared from sight.

And so it seemed to me that I simply had to make him a hobby horse, and when I found these (very comprehensive) instructions to help me along the way an urgent project was begun.

This horsey is an affable, handsome and curious sort of fellow who has been readily adopted into our family.

His new owner greeted him with a polite "he-wo" (hello) and  few gentle strokes before riding him click clack, click clack up and down the kitchen, and I have fallen firmly in love with him.

Welcome to our family Mr horsey, we look forward to having you grace the corner of our toy box for many years to come.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Cob Nuts

After a morning in which dust and dirt suffocated my soul making me hot and tetchy and dissatisfied, I came outside to find them silently absorbed in the business of cracking cob nuts on the pile of bricks near the back door.

James was quietly smashing the nuts with half an old quarry tile, whilst John was watching in hungry silence and saying "Peeeee!" (please) at timely intervals before crunching his reward.

When they noticed me standing on the doorstep watching them, they turned to me and smiled.

"So far this morning he's eaten apples, plums, greengages, cob nuts, mulberries and blackberries, all from our garden," said James; and at that moment I remembered that it's possible to have many things that you'd like to change about your life and to have everything you've ever wanted at the very same time.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Work In Progress

The holidays began as they always do; with hope and plans and the giddiness of possibility. We made lists over breakfast of the places we'd visit, the fun times we'd have, the people we'd see, the work we'd do, the progress we'd make and the endless days of summer that we'd fill with laughter and laziness and home-building in perfectly equal measure.

But then with a week's work here, a week's visiting there and a week away in the sun still to come, the weeks disappeared into days and the days looked in danger of slipping through our fingers.

And so in the remaining spaces of the summer holidays and with a whole house full of jobs to do, we've been busy working.

We've taped and filled the cracks in the plasterboard, slathered our hands and faces and walls in sloppy coats of Easyfill, sanded it down until my lungs felt vacuum-bags and the face that I saw in the mirror looked  eighty, painted a ceiling, painted walls, planed window boards, ordered doors and carpets and abandoned all else in the pursuit of progress.

For over a week life has been placed on hold whilst we pour our energies into the echoey spaces upstairs; the washing is backed up, the fridge is bare, the blog is neglected, the photos are few, the housework is abandoned and routine is all but forgotten.

And yet even though the chaos is mounting, and progress is painfully slow, I find that I can cope with the carnage, because for the first time in a long time we're working together to improve the state of our lives, and if vast quantities of dust are a prerequisite of progress, then that's a price that I'm willing to pay.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


It's the first thing he says when he wakes in the morning and the last thing he says before he falls asleep at night. It's what he says when he's excited or bored or fearful; when he's sitting on the living-room floor or standing at the stairgate or running crazily through Carpet Right.

It's what he says many hundred times a day.

And each and every time I hear it, and no matter how many times I've heard it before, my heart involuntarily hiccups, because he's talking to his Mummy, and it astounds me that that's me.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Making Memories

"Everything's temporary," said James as John smashed the last of his Kenyan coasters on the tiles, "including memories. That's why we've got to keep making new ones."

And with those wise words echoing in my ears, we embarked on the Summer holidays - and began making memories:

We watched John eat his first ice cream (and then changed his entire outfit)

We rowed up a river in true holiday fashion and managed to stop the boy from jumping in head-first:

We spent hours on the beach watching the concentration and determination with which three generations of Gordons can dig.

We all got a little over-excited about John's first donkey ride:

We visited a country show and listened to the little boy shout "Da-der" (tractor) approximately two hundred times.

We treated John to the very last of the season's strawberries with Grandad:

And melon standing at the kitchen counter with Grandma:

We watched the boy's love affair with the ocean grow deeper:

And we spent time soaking up all the love and attention that grandparents have to give.

All things might be temporary, but these memories are bright and real right now and if they do fade in the future? Well we'll just have to get busy making more.

Just the Two of Us

I smiled as I kissed him goodbye; I said "have fun!"  as I slammed the car door and I waved cheerily as we reversed out of the drive. And only once we were on the road and it was impossible for him to know, did I let the tears roll down my cheeks and the stupid sobs loose from the tight recesses of my throat.

Because even though I was heading off for a long-overdue day out with my hubby and my boy was safely entrusted to Grandma, and even though I knew he would be fine, and I would be fine, and everything was just fine, it still felt guilty and scared and sick for no apparent reason.

I still struggled to hold a conversation with my husband because I was too busy worrying about what John would make of being left for the very first time, I still checked the clock obsessively throughout the day to see whether he would be napping or visiting or making his way back home, I still punctuated every conversation with his name, saying 'John would have loved this' or 'we have to come back here with John', and every time I spotted horses or birdies or bees I felt a sharp pang of regret that I had no one to point them out to and delight with at their presence.

Once the separation had settled and the sun had begun to shine I did relax into the day and enjoy the luxury of time spent at a pace that was entirely our own. I enjoyed the giddy elation of swinging through the trees, I enjoyed a quiet and leisurely lunch and I enjoyed walking through bracken as high as my waist with a man who I married just four years ago.

But despite knowing that I was having a lovely day, and despite appreciating the novelty of time alone with my man, it was a stunted sort of happiness, and I couldn't help but feel that I'd left half my heart behind at home, and that there would always be an ache in my smiles unless my boy was by my side.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Wind and Waves

It was a typical British day at the beach. The sunshine that lured us to the coast hid its face the second we stepped onto the sand and the wind that whipped across the shore made me send James straight back up the cliff in search of a rainbow-striped windshield.

Sand flew in eddies around our feet, stinging our shins, and out at sea huge rolling waves frothed and foamed in their anticipation to pound their pebbles on the shore.

And so it was with fleeces over our T-shirts and eyes screwed up against the elements that we chased John down the long length of the beach towards the windswept shore.

And there we watched the delight with which he greeted the wind and waves.

We listened to him scream and giggle as torrents of icy water crashed against his chest and saw his eyes light up with delight as Daddy's strong arms swooped him up just as each wave was about to crash violently on his head.

We felt the shift of sand beneath our feet as the waves came and went, we felt the cool water chill our toes and we felt the excitement of the elements stir us deeply within.

And the exhilaration of the moment was so extreme and the joy on John's wet little face was so pure that once he had been swung back up the length of the beach, dried off, wrapped up in a thick woollen sweater and safely deposited with Grandad, James and I threw off our fleeces and ran back down the length of the beach towards the waves on our own.

We ran straight into the surf and we splashed and screamed like children. We felt the cold of the ocean shake the breath from our lungs and then we splashed out towards the horizon, feeling the huge waves lifting our toes from the sea-bed and carrying us along as though we were weightless as seaweed.

And once the cold had turned our skin numb all over and the waves had carried us far out from the shore, we splashed back through the shallows and raced each other up the beach - our bodies streaming across the wet sand, our hearts pumping faster even than our feet and our muscles stretching themselves further than we actually believed possible - and in those tingly, out-of-breath moments I felt more alive than I had done in a very, very long time.