Way on High


I… have been on a jolly.

Another one! mutters John.

It’s true: I’ve been putting myself around a little more of late. I went to see May earlier this month, I’ve been to see Ukuleles, I’ve been out with friends for a curry, I’ve been to see Crowded House, I am off to the RSC tomorrow night, and I have just spent the entire weekend in a collection of damp fields straddling the Welsh/English border, happier than a naturally well-disposed piglet in first-quality poo, at Hay on Wye literary festival.

I realise that this may not be an event with which everyone is on first-name terms, so I shall pinch some newspaper quotes, simply because I am feeling awful tired and rather reprehensibly lazy. The Los Angeles Times rather nonplussedly states that “The small market town of Hay is an unlikely setting for one of the world’s biggest book festivals… a literary extravaganza that is now firmly established as the biggest book event in Britain… In fact it is the unlikeliness of the location that makes the festival so glorious”. The Guardian thinks that “Hay hoovers up the best writers published in the world. This has over the years, created a self-reinforcing phenomenon: they get the best, and so the best want to come.”

Prominent politicians litter the turf as thickly as authors, comedians and musicians; with the exception of the odd ex-President (in particular yesterday’s interview with Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf) the security is superficially non-existent and the artists mingle freely with the crowd. Henning Mankel was supposed to be appearing, but has a current engagement – in more than one sense – that he can’t exactly excuse himself from. Ron Prosor, the Israeli Ambassador, was likewise expected and has, unsurprisingly, sent his apologies. We nearly bumped into Ed Miliband; Nick Clegg is expected later in the week.

Hay audiences are famously amongst the most intellectual in the world. Then I turned up, and the mean average IQ slumped a little.

Actual built accommodation is sold out years in advance, so Shannon – whose inspired idea this whole jaunt was – and May (these ladies, incidentally, speak more languages between them than the inhabitants of Babel) and I all converged on an enormous pre-pitched tent in this picturesque fold in the hills, toting an array of sleeping bags and widely divergent footwear. 

John has been wetting himself laughing at the thought of me in a tent; he reluctantly handed over his pristine and (supposedly) polar-suitable sleeping bag with a grumble about it really being far too good for a tent-hater like me and that I was bound to be ridiculously hot and that I should really take the ancient and cobweb-thin one instead.

I was not ridiculously hot. It was Wales. It was Spring. There was rain. We were, all three, perishingly cold, as well as managing to somehow end up lying on our respective zips after struggling womanfully into the unaccustomed straight-jackety confines of our sleeping bags (a voice in the dark from May’s corner of the tent, stoic but with a frisson of aggravation: ‘I feel like the Very Hungry Caterpillar.’) atop comparatively comfortable but comically undulating airbeds. 

You would have laughed at us. We were laughing at us. And despite the cold, and even despite the chokingly bad chemical smell in the portaloos, we had a thrillingly good festival. I kept phoning home to say hello to Harry (who would snatch the phone and utter a brief Errro! before droppping the reciever like a hot poker and rapidly beetling off) and enthusing wildly to John ‘I am having SUCH an amazing time! You would HATE it here!’

Because – it’s maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but maybe you would have liked to have been there. I watched a multiplicity of wondrous drawings climb effortlessly from Quentin Blake‘s pen, and it was Good. We all went to see Kazuo Ishiguro (ostensibly being talked with, but given that the chair was John Mullen, he was actually talked at) and his phraseology was exquisite and it was Good. I went to see David Mitchell speak about his latest book and was charmed and captivated – ironically, much beyond my words – by his passion for language, and it was Very Good. We all watched Giles Coren (a distinctly more attractive chap in the flesh) get mildly hot under the collar, and it was Good. May skipped off to see Ed Byrne whilst Shannon and I stuck it out with a discombobulated Beth Orton and it was Strange. And Good in places. 

Then there was the tent interlude.

The next morning, surrounded by a fair breeze and increasing sunshine I listened to Sir Peter Stothard talk about his new book – I bought it, he signed it – and was reminded just why it is that my classics degree was not, in fact, a big fat waste of my time. I then scurried back to ensure that a copy of Aliens Love Underpants was dutifully inscribed to Harry – a huge fan of the Underpants trilogy – by illustrator Ben Cort. 

May and I inserted ourselves carefully into the thousands-large audience for Lord Robert Winston – a personal hero of mine – in order to faciliate my rapid emergence and gallop towards the bookstore where he would be signing books afterwards. By virtue of my Olympic-standard use of the Wifey Elbow I managed to be the first adult in the queue. I greeted him in admiring and overwhelming awe (sans vowels, again. Must work on this.), had books signed for Harry and myself, and had a brief chat to him about what a lovely bloke David Attenborough was. May was then obliged to shepherd my quivering form for a coffee – we all drank helluva lot of coffee – whilst I clucked happily and patted my bag of books. 

In fact, the weight of our respective book bags was becoming tedious; I spared a thought for Shannon, out combing the 39 bookshops of Hay on Wye (population: 1400) and now, doubtless, in dire need of a sherpa.

The unremitting high-interest of the lectures couldn’t last. I went to see Janet Todd discuss the new edition of Jane Austen’s collected works; she read large passages from her juvenilia and unfinished novels with which I was already fairly familiar – so, most unusually, I nodded off. I think people noticed. My bad. Mea culpa. etc. However, May and I finished off in electrifying and enchanting style hearing the incredibly engaging David Mitchell discuss the magnificence that is Cloud Atlas, quizzed, alas, by the garrulous John Mullan who had a most unfortunate tendency to remind me strongly, on a number of levels, of Alan Partridge.

And then it was nightime on Sunday and the three little girls had played away from home for quite long enough. Boooo. I managed to capture May and bring her home with me for the night, as well as subjecting her this morning to an over-crowded Stratford Upon Avon, John’s rowing on the Avon and an ebullient toddler – who timed his ascension of the potty-throne for his shockingly smelly morning dump to mid-breakfast perfection – before waving her off on a train back to London. 

I am now absolutely tuckered out, but with a towering pile of new books perched promisingly by the side of my bed and a steely determination to return, because there was very much more indeed that I would have lovedlovedloved to see, hear and do during this festival.

I’m going back next year. With heated caravan.


I am, contrary to all online appearances, still alive. Where were we?

The Centre Parcs tropical waterworld was the crowning delight of Harry’s young heart. Never has ‘more’ been signed so enthusiastically than by a beaming toddler who has just zoomed gleefully down a long water flume that, in his mother’s AaaAAaarRGhhhH! startled opinion, was rather too scary and fast for small people. Rendered unfeasibly buoyant in his float-incorporated swimsuit and little water wings, he morphed into a confident water-baby, happily doggy-paddling several feet between crowing parents.

My two closest friends came to stay with us there for a couple of days and I cruised to great glory and triumph in the resulting Monopoly contest. I would not have bothered to mention this, were it not that the slightest reference to my victory makes my insanely competitive husband break down and cry inside.

It took me a week to tackle the holiday washing. Boo. Hiss. Etc.

I had a 1st of February laparoscopy date through, the day after I actually bestirred myself to obtain and send a copy of my New Cardiac Strangeness report to my consultant.

The aorta and IVC were noted to be transposed, so that the aorta lay to the right of the IVC. This arrangement is a congenital variant and appeared to continue throughout the abdomen, unlike the more commonly seen variation where the IVC crosses the aorta. Occasionally variations in IVC position may be related to abdominal pain, and certainly it would be necessary to make a surgeon aware of it, should the patient require abdominal surgery at any future date. A full assessment on ultrasound is limited and CT would probably be the best method of full assessment. You may also wish to consider a chest x-ray to see whether there is any cardiac anomaly present.

My consultant is on leave until the 1st, so as a direct result of my fannying about and not getting on with things, her secretary and I have been obliged to postpone my surgery until she is back. I’m pretty confident that my abdominal aorta has not managed to migrate the whole unlikely half-foot or so to the front of my uteri, so I don’t expect it’ll hold her scalpel off for long, unless she decides to bung me through a CT scanner first.

I am divided equally between nerves, avid curiosity and an impending sense of Doom. The sedation worries me not one jot, as does the thought of hosting uteri-cam, but I’m squeamish about my belly button, and the whole inflating-of-abdomen thing makes me mentally scuttle under a rock. I do not want post-operative shoulder pain, either. The prospect of abdominal pain I can deal with happily enough – I have a great number of metaphorical t-shirts formally proclaiming me a Big Girl in that respect – but I am a little nervous of making new friends. And, while I am admittedly ON FIRE to find out what my peculiar duo of uteri look like in, literally, the flesh – they’ve been hurting a fat lot more than usual lately. I am consequently darkly suspicious of quite how much adenomyosis I have managed to grow in the last couple of years, and feel even more broodingly about this deforming-uterine-walls-synechium thing I have also acquired.

In a clever bid to cheer myself up, although I was professedly supposed to be cheering her up, I hopped on the train to see May on Friday. It was a day out alloyed only by current circumstances for May, which could hardly be more miserable, and by my stupid, stuuuuuuupid attempt to leave London on a Friday afternoon, on a tight schedule, to get home for Harry’s bedtime. I should have consigned him from the outset to the sans-maternal bedtime experience he happily underwent in any case when I was inevitably delayed, and stayed stolidly and unashamedly where I was for several more hours; I was warm, comfy, nattering blissfully, oh-so-spectacularly very well-fed, having a truly lovely time – and H would have been home for dinner, had I stayed a little longer! Going early was the poorest decision I’ve made so far this year and I’ve kicked myself ever since. Bah, bollocks and bugger.

I also walked away the proud new owner of a simply beeeeoooooouuutiful scarf that May crocheted for me, for our crafty Pay It Forward. My wonky lavender sachet – which is all I have to show for the whole intervening 12 months since actually, you know, announcing it – wilted sadly in comparison to May’s fabulous and elegant woolly warmer. I will post photos tomorrow, as the camera is currently out of sight under the desk-compost. Robyn and Pam, you’re next on my construction list. Don’t hold your breath when your letter-box clatters.

I will tell you of another poor decision I have made, in the hope that you may avoid it yourself. Back in August, I asked you for your literary Top Male Totty: I had been sighing over the same well-thumbed characters for far too long. You responded joyously in spades (any more, anyone?); I purchased a number of new authors as a result and I have, so far, found your collective judgement absolutely impeccable. My mistake centred in delaying a proper tackle of QoB’s suggestion of Brust & Bull’s Freedom and Necessity for so long. I had to hastily scramble off the train back from May’s at Warwick, in comically undignified fashion, completely caught up in this beautifully written little historically-set gem. I could pick the odd hole in it if I had to, but I’m not sat in a classroom, and really, who the fuck cares because, Ladies? 

James Cobham is a guaranteed knicker-dropper.

My top five is scattered into total disarray – again. A good job I hadn’t laminated it yet, eh? This new lad’s going in somewhere high. Fnarr.

Do yourself a favour and beg, borrow or steal a copy. Sadly, there is no sequel to enjoy; it stands proudly – snigger – alone. It has also managed to largely distract me from the fact that I woke up Saturday morning with my tonsils resembling red golf balls and my chest, in addition to feeling sat-on by, say, a hefty-arsed pony, producing things I would prefer not to look at.

I am heading back to my pit of tangled duvet and throat sweets, clutching my copy protectively to my quivering bosom. I may be some time.

To Infinity and Beyond

I had the shittiest dream last night. I dreamt I was pregnant in the same uterus Harry was in – the uterus I now think of very firmly as the blood-deprived, factory-of-doom, Wrong One To Use. It has been cramping and spotting again lately in its usual will-I-won’t-I-wait-until-you-get-into-the-swimming-pool fashion, plus I have a vague viral thing that has settled joyously upon my weakened form and issued orders for Dizzyness and Mild Nausea: stat, so there was a reasonable physiological subtext for my brain to have Bad Fun with.

I remember feeling frozen cold in fear and so absolutely convinced that the pregnancy would be another oxygen-deprived how-much-brain-damage? nightmare –  that I was actually considering an early termination rather than play another months-long game of Russian Roulette: Choking the Fetus.

(When I woke up, I realised that that part was actually true. That’s how much I distrust Cameron, my right uterus. She is never to be given another child of mine to house. I awoke in an actual waking panic, having dream-connected the Nausea and Twanging Cameron and shot out of bed towards my peestick stash like a wild-eyed, snaggle-haired, ungainly cannonball.

I never thought I’d see a time where I was truly glad to get a single line. Life: you are bloody strange.)

My dreams are no more logical than anyone else’s: despite being panicked and horrified about the location, I was also aware that I had a scan and blood test tomorrow to see if the baby was still alive – and I was desperately hoping that it would all be ok. Contradictory much, yeah yeah yeah. The fear was gut-wrenching and miserably upsetting: I was trying not to cry whilst I was frantically wrenching the correct pee-stick from its bag, dancing from foot to foot because A) snow-cold, unheated bathroom and B) large mug of tea just before bedtime.  

My brain hasn’t thrown these sort of night-time bricks at me for years – they stopped right about the time they changed to NICU-horrors, oddly enough. I’d forgotten the exact nature of the torment, the excruciating uncertainty of waiting for the next appointment. I’ve remembered now, this weekend, because my darling, deserving friend May is sat squarely, again, in that Place of Fetal Uncertainty. It is a spiky, needle-strewn chair, with a ground glass cushion.

Tomorrow morning, she and H will collapse Zombryo’s wave function and see if and where there is life, death, or further zombryonicity in Schrodinger’s uterus. 

Either way: she will need much in the way of virtual cuddling and I shall be away on holiday, so I am handing y’all (What? What? I have American family. I have American friends. I read American blogs. I’m Entitled. If she won’t use proper English then neither shall I, so there.) the banners reading ‘Cautious Rejoicing & Temporary Exhaling!’ and ‘Stop All The Clocks’ for you to take over there and display as appropriate while I am gone.

 Her blog is considerably better-written than mine: you will like it.

My preparations for tomorrow’s departure consist of packing a basket full of illicit sugary consumables – partly with the intention of indulging ourselves, and partly in the hope of shamelessly bribing Harry into good behaviour –  and sorting Mount Laundry

into its respective drawers. It’s 9pm. I should now go and pack, or something.

It’s been nearly a year (caravan excepted) since we last took Harry away, and I’m hoping he’ll settle better at night than he did last February. He is (this week, at any rate. It will All Change with his next cold virus) sleeping through for 12 hours, no bother. He learnt to jettison his Grobag so has spent the last week sleeping successfully with a toddler duvet. John and I are currently chewing tensely on the issue of moving him into a toddler bed, as he is perfectly capable of vaulting out of his cotbed – greedy boards notwithstanding – now his legs are free. 

He swiftly gets bored with the books we plant in the hope of delaying him and generally briskly completely disrobes on waking. If we don’t get in there sharp-ish in the morning, there is not only a giggling na.ked tod.dler (the google searchers who necessitate my fullstops will burn a long time downstairs, I hope) bouncing gleefully up and down, but a large puddle on the mattress to boot. The potty, incidentally, is going… badly. Not ready.

There’s not a cat in hell’s chance of him staying meekly in any bed without bars yet: he’s simply not old, placid or mature enough and I have the devil of a job getting him to stay on the sofa to nap every day. There’s several weeks/months of shitty-awful sleep involved in moving a toddler of Harry’s disposition to a open bed – and once it’s attempted, we can’t go back. Harry has Views on withdrawal of privileges: if he’s had or done something new once, then case precedent has been firmly set and he will throw heaven and earth about in a rage until he is allowed to do it again. So in summary: it’s a damn shame he’s in proper danger of hurting himself by falling out, because the bugger really needs to sleep in there for the foreseeable.

Of course, we could better the odds by providing something like these


to render Staying The Fuck Put a little more alluring, but there’s a wee problem with that, to wit: I blew well over a grand – our entire baby budget – just on nursery furniture for Harry’s room.

I bludgeoned John into making this purchase of QUALITY, SOLID ELEGANT OAK  (Fer the love o’God, don’t tell him they’ve just reduced it by 10%. I keep having to reassure him about the resale value) by telling him that it would totally last until Harry is 5 and then we could have another 8 children who would all use it too and it’d be a heirloom for all of them and then I would use it as a day bed and if we have the cot bed then we really have to have the beautiful changing unit as well or it’ll look odd on its own and oh look the changer top comes off so it can be our chest of drawers afterwards and I really really love the gently flared design it’s so stylish and we’re only going to ever have one child so it needs to be absolutely perfect because I deserve it after all the shit we’ve had and OMG look the blanket box has got little teddies sat on it and there’s squeee more inside we have to have one of those as well it’s the most gorgeous thing ever and OW the baby just kicked I think he really likes it I think I’ll just sit down on this glider chair here that I really love as well and rub my bump obviously in a pleading fashion whilst you peer in foaming disbelief at the price tags and mutter.

He bought the furniture. My Nan bought the glider. My parents bought the pushchair/carseat. I am a spoilt middle-class cow. If I suggest buying another bed he’ll want to murder me… but the man does like to sleep…

It’s bloody cold in this office and I’ve had no supper yet, but I have to log that Harry has continued to do New Stuff this week, or later, I won’t have the foggiest clue when it happened, and it’s important to me that I remember the When for some reason.

He has built on last week’s Nodding triumph (it is now in hourly, useful, exciting use) and used it to facilitate Abstract Questions. Formerly, Harry has only been able indicate a Yes/No to specific ‘do you want to: do [this]/eat [this]/go to [here]’ questions. He has been utterly bemused by any other question apart from ‘where is [actual object]’ to which he will point in response. Ask Harry if he wants food: you get a yes. Ask him if he likes his food/has eaten his food/has dropped his food/his food is hot and you get a blank, uncomprehending stare. It’s a communication wall of iron.

Yesterday morning, I asked him if he had done a poo in his nappy? 

And he nodded.

Now, I knew it was there: I have a nose. I know he knew it was there – if I’d asked him (as I often do) to point to the poo, he will cheerfully point to his own rump before leading me in a Benny Hill chase around the furniture, as he hates nappy changes. He has never responded like that before, and my streaming eyes were not purely down to what he had to declare in the turd department.

Yesterday afternoon, John accidently caught Harry’s nose on the zip of his jumper: because Harry was tired and crotchety he cried. I knelt down and asked, as I have for many many fruitless months (often several times a day, too) where his hurt was? and shook my hand in the ‘hurt’ makaton sign. This time – he pointed sadly to his nose.

Yesterday evening, John and I were pratting about and chasing each other around the kitchen island – over the last bottle of Heineken lager, in fact. Harry was gurgling with laughter and joining in, when he slipped over and banged his head on the kitchen cupboard. I cuddled him, and asked him where his hurt was? He pointed to the exact bit of head I’d seen him bash. The iron wall is definitely beginning to crumble a little. Knowing which bit of your child is causing the pain is pretty key. Not having a clue where to look has hitherto caused me much grief.

I asked him later on if he had been tobogganing with Daddy, and he nodded. (He had). I asked him if he liked tobogganing, and he nodded. I’m not completely sold on how much he understood the completed action/active liking element to my words because he was giving at least 50% of his attention to Timmy Time at that exact moment, but it was certainly progress from tuning me out completely. The current professional opinion on Harry is that he has a listening and attention disorder with sensory oddities. Some noises upset him. Some noises he completely zones out. Some noises he is absurdly sensitive to. Paraphrasing his SALT report: he has difficulty following adult-led activity unless it is very high-interest or active, and prefers to follow his own play agenda. The challenge is to attract his focus for longer periods: when he pays more attention and listens to others better, then his speech should follow.

I can see him taking longer and longer steps away from his babyhood: I am pleased and pained. His babble sounds seem to me to be growing in scope and range. Shortly before Christmas he began to join in with me when I sang him carols in the car (a fine way to explore which carols you don’t actually know the second verses to, although you thought you did. I got mightily confused and started singing cut & shut hybrid carols instead; I fear the resulting lyrics gave a reasonably heretical impression.), making sounds that remarkably resembled his father’s two-note repertoire.

He won’t let anyone except John’s mother touch his hair. He has fallen deeply in love with Playdoh. He has possibly the biggest fleet of toy tractors outside of a retail environment and copies perfectly what he sees his father do with the real thing. He copies everything that he sees other children do: usually things I would prefer him not to notice. His proficiency at jigsaw puzzles is impressive and markedly in advance of his peers. He still loves feeding his toy animals, often from his own plate. He is a clambery, ants-in-his-pants, unco-operative arsehead when he is tired. He gives absolutely the best lap snuggles – with extra kisses – in Christendom. God, I love him. So, so much.

Taxi! The Cococabana!

Reasons to be happy:

  • Carry On Cleo is on TV. Infamy!
  • Harry has learnt to nod! We have actual nodding! Nodding to go alongside the shaking he learnt last (pause to peruse own archives) September. At the grand old age of 29 months he can now give a silent no AND yes – when he responds at all; his continuing speech delay, it turns out, is part of a wider listening and attention disorder. But… back to happy! Nodding! It’s a… strange nod, admittedly; it looks more like a slooooooow motion yoga move than a gesture, but it’s clear to see and he enjoys doing it.
  • Christmas has been put back in its box. It’s hard to say which experience I enjoy more: the festooning-with-holly-and-twinkly-lights festive gearing-up, or the get-back-in-your-bloody-box-coz-I-want-my-house-back-now winding down.
  • I tackled the heaps of near-sentient washing in our bedroom on Christmas Eve, so I am no longer obliged to groan and feel depressed by the morass that previously concealed 90% of the actual carpet. It was actually all clean – at least, it was, before it spent weeks on the floor – it just never made it as far as being folded and placed in the wardrobe. 50% of my share of the clothing  mountain was also too small for me; I would grab it, hold it to the light, scrutinise the label, and cast it impatiently back onto the tangled skeins of sleeves and legs. Annnnd I have sharply deviated away from subjects that please me. Clear floor! I have a clear floor! I can see my Laura Ashley rug again! The only one I own! Harry now has his brio train track all laid out on said floor – John and I spent a happy half-hour elbowing him imperiously out of the way while we re-visited our respective childhoods – and Brrrrrrmmms his trains around in the morning for 20 precious minutes or so, before remembering that he likes to bounce up and down on Mummy’s sleeping head.
  • I have booked a little holiday. On Monday 11th I am heading for Center Parcs for 4 nights, where I plan to ensconce myself with a good book on a deckchair in the 29.5 degree tropical dome, sipping something cool, while Harry & John splash about in the pool. Disconcertingly though, it seems John is planning on making me actually cycle places, and has just bought a bike carrier for the car. Sigh. But… 29 degrees! Wave machines! Flumes! Lagoon Bar!

Culture Vulture

Just like New York, Paris and Rome, London is both soaringly beautiful and nose-crucifyingly smelly, and I had forgotten both of those things. I’ve been such a tourist it’s almost embarrassing, although I should really save that word up for later on.

I used to work in London a good bit at one time and we honeymooned there for a few days before disappearing into the depths of Jordan (a destination which proved to be a choice speech topic gift to John’s best man), so I’ve trooped around the more obvious landmarks before. As this was a solo trip I felt I could indulge myself; John, while not a history lover, likes art as much as the next man (the Hairy exchequer has unbelted reasonably freely on the stuff in the time of the seven fat cows – before the breeding-related plummet into the era of seven anorexic and anaemic cows) but would squeak a bit at the thought of two days exclusively devoted to it.

I lap the stuff up. My father and his side of the family can paint, exceedingly well, dammit, and most of them – except him – have a daftly, and I use the word advisedly, artistic temperament to boot. I have the soul of an artist, the mind of a shopkeeper and actual talent of an artistically pedestrian 3 year old. It’s a proper bugger.

So: National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery it was. I took a good look at some well-known and fabulous works I had only ever previously seen reproduced and was repeatedly clobbered upside the head with unknown, stunning, luminous pieces. I was alone, and could sit and stare for 20 minutes if I pleased, and I often did.  I’d be more arse-numbingly boring than usual if I attempted even a short precis, but I did fancy this self-portraiting chap – died 1743 – like mad.

NPG 3822, Michael Dahl

Busily sketching primary school children were fairly thickly strewn underfoot, which was fine, and had remonstrating and blatantly clueless teachers in tow, which was more of a trial. One particularly irritating woman loudly bossed her group into stillness before reading – extremely haltingly – from the information panel; she announced self-importantly that Lady Jane Grey had been ‘disposed’ after only 9 days. Awesome.

Compensatingly, there was the little kid who, obviously consulting his gallery guide as opposed to his common sense, walked straight past Delacroix: Christ on the Cross


to Gericault: A Shipwreck, complete with bollocks

a shipwreck

and pronounced solemnly, in awed tones, ‘That’s JESUS, man!’

Incidentally, I can’t find a bigger photo online (updated: here’s one) as the National Gallery won’t actually acknowledge that they have it currently hanging on their wall, plus I keep getting into trouble for explicit links, so that’s your lot.

I spent a lovely number of hours in the British Museum, too, and kept the ancient historian in me stoked and happy. That’s one honours degree I’ll never see a profit from, ever.

I got back late last night, beginning to miss my chaps. When Harry clapped eyes on me this morning he point-blank refused to come close and climbed possessively into John’s arms with a worried expression. I was desperately attempting to conceal my mortal anguish. It took him a good 10 minutes to change his mind and decide that he wanted a cuddle after all; he had no sooner thrown himself into my eager arms when he spotted the contents of the Hamley’s bag and promptly fought his way out again.

He then decided that he wanted, nay, needed ice cream for breakfast and commenced a 15 minute protest in front of the the dog room freezer.

In fact, he has made my life a mild form of living hell today. I have cried 3 times in sheer despair and frustration and I am not even hormonal: this is bad. He has alternated unusually intense touchy-feely affection with screaming like an outraged and rabid gibbon whenever he was thwarted or disappointed in the Least Little Thing (eg, his satsuma had not grown enough segments for his liking, or the jigsaw puzzle box failed to obediently spring open to his questing fingers within the first pico-second of trying). I have retreated in abject maternal shame from baby group and even Tesco, grappling madly with my frothing, thrashing, shrieking, headbutting, face-clawing toddler.

I’m not sure how cognitive Just-Turned-Twos actually are about parental absence, but I might have supposed this to be punishment, were it not for the fact that he behaved in identical fashion the day before I left. Tell me this gets better soon, or I may have to run away to sea.

Talking of sea, he has pissed on the lounge carpet again today, twice. There must be more pee in that carpet than the average public urinal; I’m struggling to keep up with the soapy water. It’s my own fault: whilst not intending to potty-train him yet – anticipating that not having spoken or signed language might be a tad hindering – nevertheless, I have bought him a potty, and have spoken to him about What Happens. The latest result is that he now enthusiastically removes his nappy whenever my back is turned. He promptly piddles or shits on the carpet next to the potty, before sitting on it with a pleased expression. Sigh. Close, with a brown cigar.

When pre-emptively placed on the potty by me, he immediately and dutifully strains industriously, ignoring my frantic admonishments about The Risk Of Piles. Once this resulted in business, which made a big impression on him and me both, but he generally only emits a series of thunderous farts. He then leaps to his feet, whirls around and examines the potty closely to see if he has produced anything apart from noxious turd-gas, whilst I try not to laugh.

He plays up gleefully when I try to replace his nappy, and I end up – laughing and nonchalant at first, and then increasingly vociferous and grumpy – pursuing his twinkling little bottom all around the house; when I do eventually distract him into sitting still for a replacement, I turn my back for two minutes and off the nappy comes again.

If I could play the yakedy sax Benny Hill theme to this, I totally would.

A holiday is what you take when you can’t take what you’ve been taking any longer

They say that a change is as good as a rest.

You do hear a lot of unmitigated bollocks*. It is emphatically not a rest. It is not remotely close to a rest. It is, pardon my vulgarity, exactly the same shit in a different toilet.

(Apropos, Harry, bless his 2nd percentile soul, generally shits like a Great Dane. His progress towards potty training consists of sporadically attempting to remove his nappy concurrent with urination or shrapnelling defecation, resulting stickily in catastrophic overflow.)

Harry slept in our caravan exactly as well as I expected him to: reasonably badly. Answering, as ever, to the name of Lucky, he rapidly acquired a sleep-annihilating cough, probably due to the spectacular pea-souper that thickly wreathed the so-called English Riviera for our first 2 days. (Not unusual. During a previous trip to the Minack


 I had marked difficulty in discerning the actors, and at no point saw the sea.) Harry was also difficult about his naps – too much new stuff to look at, mainly – so this, paired with poor night-time rest, resulted in a particularly prickly young pear.

Even though it is always Harry behaving like a monumental and complete arse, John and I, without fail, manage to blame one another for whatever family crisis of overwrought nerves Harry’s relentless, single-minded pursuit of trouble has landed us in. We are clever like that. Our bitter mutual castigation harmonises nicely with Harry’s ululating screams of inarticulate rage, and the juddering blows/protesting squeaks/sickening thuds from whatever unfortunate surroundings are currently suffering the full force of his directed fury.

I’m honestly not sure how much of Harry’s behaviour is a result of our joint genetic legacy, or his individual… lets call them… issues. I waver daily between fearing his behaviour is a pint-size, highly concentrated sample of our worst character flaws – or believing him to be simply a toddler with an iron will, an iron fist, an iron skull, a steely glare and sadly limited communication.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Thwart this child at your bodily, mental and marital peril.

It is, I fear, only a matter of time before Harry breaks my nose with his furiously lunging skull; I never expected to receive my first Glasgow kiss from my son.

He still has no speech. Proto-words are emerging, sporadically, unreliably and slowly. He knows dozens of signs, but simply does not understand how to use them to communicate. I see 10 month old babies communicate more effectively than Harry, and my sadness for him – and for myself, truth be told – is profound. We will never be here again. I can’t redeem the time – too much time – that I spend exasperated, grappling, struggling, coaxing, crying, furious, swearing, persuading, embarrassed, manhandling, dejected, out of breath, really fucking annoyed… and beaten.

The beauteous Amy phrases it perfectly: ‘a meltdown at a playground is different for us, that it’s not the kind of meltdown *your kid* has, no it’s just NOT, that it’s like someone set our child on FIRE, that there’s no redirecting or soothing, there is only FLEEING.’

Come 6pm, I would rather face down a hungry bear** than cross my ferocious – fabulous – flailing little bundle of determination. I am sometimes asked if I think he might be somewhere on the autistic spectrum – to which I used to reply No. Lately, I say… I’m not sure. He is a social, smiling child (when things go well; by which I mean: his way) who seems to be growing away from some of his odder quirks (fear/anger at certain noises/frequencies, some texture aversion) but he remains, in ways, a strange child, and a challenging one. Until we break his communication log-jam, I – glumly – expect no improvement. 

He was not feeling or behaving his best this week, and we were fairly strained in consequence, but I didn’t set out to moan quite as much as I actually have here. I am, when you get right down to it – and not very far down, either – wholeheartedly and emotively thankful for every last one of my bruises. The sound of his giggles lifts me. I beam when he beams. The comical little ‘uuUMM!’ noise of interest, pleasure and surprise he makes when confronted with something new and deeply intriguing makes me radiate happiness. I would slowly disembowel myself with a spoon – a rusty one – if it saved him from pain.

Mind you, after about the 45th minute of doleful howling from the back seat in protest at his Wrongful Carseat Incarceration, muttering from the front seat, and with over 100 miles of motorway still to go – disembowelling myself sans anaesthesia began to seem like a comparatively attractive distraction.

But we did have fun, in between the squalls. Look! Smiles, and everything!

sea wall

sea wall 2 


But not at the waves, which Harry is highly nervous of, possibly due to witnessing the severity of our disgusted recoil from the filthy foam topping the waves at Weston Super Mare a few weeks ago.


John taught Harry a fascinating new game: putting large handfuls of cold, wet shingle down the ample Mummy-cleavage.

pebble cleavage pebble cleavage 2

Hubby seemed oddly vexed when we fed pebbles down into his jeans in reciprocation. Apparently they got wedged in his underwear.

Harry shot through most of Plymouth Aquarium like a bored torpedo, but he particularly liked the sharks, and is consequently now the proud owner of a foot-long cuddly specimen.



I did actually manage to get one of the five books I took read, although I had run my fingers through my hair so much (as a result of wall-to-tiny-fucking-wall Peppa sodding Pig. Now there’s a porcine family that needs sausagizing, stat.) that it began to look like an Old English Sheepdog crossed with Spinal Tap; I did well to make out the words at all.

Fiery cross

And now we are home: the laundry mountain is visible with Google Earth and Harry is sleeping beautifully again in his own cotbed.

He starts nursery on Tuesday.

We can’t actually afford to send him to nursery. Not even the two measly mornings that he is booked in for – but I can’t afford not to send him, either. He needs to be surrounded by more speech than ours, he needs to learn to share toys, he needs to learn not to hit, and he needs to become accustomed to the school site in which he will be educated until he is 11 years old. He will begin a hefty 5-half-days-a-week-all-or-nothing preschool there in a year’s time; the year after that… he will begin school proper, a whole year earlier than his conception date entitled him to expect.

And I need him to go, so, so badly. I need a kitchen that isn’t a continual heap of clutter, and a bedroom floor that isn’t a swirling morass of toppled laundry heaps interspersed with ankle-crippling lurking toys. I have a young business that I need to spend time growing – which reminds me in turn that I have a sadly neglected garden. My to-do list is, in fact, impossibly long for the 6 hours a week that I am consigning him to daycare for – but no matter.

I need to draw breath.

*often on this site

 **I have incidentally, faced down a bear, albeit a really rather titchy one. I was walking across a Lake Louise car park; I had yummy-smelling food and the bear was obviously keen to partake. But so was I: stony broke and hungry, I convulsively clutched my bag of goodies defensively and glared with all the venom I could muster. The bear, recognising a stiff fight when he saw it, obligingly buggered off. I heart food THAT MUCH.

Blazing Saddles

I am the woman who shares.

I have told you about the time I was infested with poultry mites.

I have told you – with photos – about the time I picked up Harry’s turd in my bare hands. 

I have written an entire post – with illustrations – about suppositories. (Note for American readers regarding British medical terminology: pessaries generally go in your vagina. Suppositories most definitely go up your bum.)

I have posted a photo of a spectacular geyser of baby Dire Rear.

I have told you in eye-watering detail about my gynaecologist’s exceedingly narrow escape from being plastered with the contents of my wayward bowels.

(I’m seeing a pattern here. The British obviously are obsessed with toilet humour.)

The only reason I didn’t tell you about my amnotic fluid bursting forth and hitting the midwife – and the wall 4ft behind her – like a water bomb, was that I hadn’t yet started blogging.

Consequently, I feel almost contractually obliged to provide you with a clear description of the current sad state of my undercarriage.

Imagine a small animal, with sharp teeth. A rodent, possibly, or a very small, yappy-snappy dog. Imagine those teeth sunk deeply – well, ummm… here, (and I should perhaps have warned you during my previous post that the link photo illustrating the precise anatomy – an improvement on the drawings I found, I assure you – is not entirely suitable for opening on your daily commute. John, incidentally, has just appeared over my shoulder, peered at the photo in surprise, and asked me excitedly if I was contemplating batting for the other side. I enquired: had he not read my previous post, avec link? ‘Oh yes, but I don’t go wasting my time opening links.’) and refusing to relax its jaws for any inducement whatsoever.

Yesterday, it felt as if the stitches (I think I have 4 of them, but I need binoculars to be sure; it’s a long way down there and I have to circumnavigate my intrusive belly) were in imminent danger of bursting, despite my having consulted an ancient edition of the BNF and judiciously prescribing myself 150% of the recommended dose of post-operative voltarol. Today, it merely feels like someone has sliced my perineum in half and stitched it about a bit. Funny, that.

Most women have a newborn baby to distract themselves from the unpleasantness of this procedure. I, instead, have a toddler, the prospect of a long afternoon selling cards (courtesy of the current plethora of fetes and produce shows, I am working every Saturday for the next… ever. But at least I don’t have to sit down, which, emphatically, is not my favourite stance this week.) and the necessity of readying our caravan for travel to Devon on Sunday or Monday.

This week is the only window we have to escape before winter; naturally, the weather forecast has satisfied my predictions by changing from warmly optimistic to wetly foreboding. I said I would never caravan in the rain again, but it’s a choice between biting the meterological bullet or going nowhere, as the budget will not stretch to anything more exotic this year. We are, at least, leaving the dogs behind – but we are swopping them for a 2 year old. I’ll get back to you on whether it was an improvement or not.

John is currently attaching an old cot-side to the end bunk to form a baby-cage


 but I’m still pessimistic about the chances of us, or the surrounding campsite, getting much any sleep.

I am going armed with a large pile of unread books (bliss!), an oil-filled radiator, and a steely determination to walk short distances only. John is likely taking his bike.

I will not be taking mine.

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