Journal Entries

Sol: NaJoPoMo 17th: Interlude

The Comet is ill - just a cold really - so she is taking a few days off her busy writing schedule to recover.

In the meantime there is me.

We made Christmas puddings today. Via the h2g2 recipe. I usually use Mrs Beaton's but I thought I would branch out.


The Comet had a lot of fun trying to transfer all the dry ingredients back out of the mixing bowl and onto the scales while I was hunting for the stout. Which I never found, so we had to use orange juice instead. The mess, however, was nothing to when she later fell of the chair while we were making banana bread (lots and lots of banana bread, but that's another post in another place), pulling half the flour/ sugar mixture on top of her. Do not cook with children if you are not willing to have the kitchen covered in flour is my, expert, advice.

Anyway, I microwaved the puddings.

I am sorry, I have spent years of my life watching Christmas puddings boil for the seven hours they need to boil for and microwaving them takes ten minutes and produces a fine tasting moist dessert. I should know - Dad has always zapped his in this way, but I still probably wouldn't have broken down and gone for it if I hadn't already had to admit defeat and go for the modern technology option last year after seven hours of boiling had not actually produced a firm-looking pudding.

There is such a thing as too much brandy.

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Latest reply: Nov 17, 2012

Today you went to your uncle’s funeral.

No, it’s all right. He was old – a good 80 years. And he had cancer, and it hadn’t been pleasant these last few months so, all in all, something of a blessed relief.

Plus, you won’t pretend you knew him that well. He was considerably older than your Dad and they didn’t grow up together. And for years your family and Uncle’s did tag team Granny visiting so as not to overwhelm her, the point of which was, you didn’t meet.

You’d only seen him a few times since you moved back to the UK. He sent money and cards for your birthday, and your kids birthdays. The money was always more than you really thought was necessary. The cards were always funny, bawdy, crude or all three and always made you snigger. You rarely said thank you properly. Your main way of showing your appreciation was to put rather more effort into his Christmas presents than those for most of your other relatives. You doubt he realised this. Last year you found mugs which definitely beat Uncle at his own game. You were touched to be served tea in them when you went to see him for what turned out to be the last time. It’s a shame Christmas is coming up because Uncle tended to send Dad small, gloriously odd gadgetty presents, which were one of those little highlights of the season that you look forward to.

But those scant memories are not why you are feeling a bit depressed this evening.

Uncle was the sort of man who you were happy to think existed in the world. You didn’t know he has been expelled from public school for writing satirical verses about his teachers, but it didn’t surprise you. You didn’t know he was thrown out of the army on the grounds of mental instability for, among other things, painting his uniform in the white leather polish reserved for the belt. That surprised you. You didn’t know he wrote poetry, but you read some of it at the wake. It wasn’t boring. It wasn’t banal. That didn’t surprise you. Neither did some of the contributions to his running club’s newspaper. The one about working out some world record holder’s feat in units of tortoise, based on his observation of his own tortoise was your personal favourite. You knew how involved he was in various clubs in his home town, but it didn’t surprise you how warmly regarded he was by the members.

He was a lovely man, he made an impression on the world, so much so that even your son remembers him and he only met him, what, three times.

So actually, it's not alright, not alright at all really.

Place won't be the same without him.

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Latest reply: Nov 17, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 15th: a toddler's Guide to... using the London Underground


No, really don't.

Mama is still scarred after what was probably her only attempt to take my Superlative Big Brother on the tube. Dragging the pushchair up and down five million steps. Entrusting it to the escalators. Walking round and round the tunnels following the signs for the lift to the next level and then round and round the tunnels following the signs for the level after that. Coping with the insane British habit of standing right in front of the doors inside and out, refusing to budge for anyone getting on or off. The delays. The other delays. The cost.

So don't.

Take the bus.

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Latest reply: Nov 15, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 14th: a toddler's Guide to... Hyde Park

Hyde Park is big. It’s not as big as Richmond Park or, y’know, space, but it is nevertheless big and particularly big for the purposes of this Guide as Mama says I should include Kensington Gardens. She says no-one really knows where one stops and the other begins anyway, certainly not her. I concur.

Mostly our walks in Hyde Park begin in the middle of the sourthern side, hoping for a sight of horses as we cross the dedicated horse track. Sometimes we get to see the horseguards exercising their nags or, on really exciting days, practising for some big ceremonial outing. There were a lot of these this last Jubilee year, so there were a lot of opportunities for this to happen. Fabulous stuff.

We then either go left, towards the Albert Memorial, straight on towards the Diana Memorial Fountain and the Serpentine lake, or left and up a bit towards the Sepentine Art Gallery and thence on to the Round Pond.

The Albert Memorial route is the one we do if we are in a hurry. Straight along the bottom edge of the park and out via the ice cream kiosk to the bus home at the end. It is an excellent route for toddlers, having broad, well-paved pathways and a total lack of water features. I like climbing the steps to the Albert Memorial, and even Papa likes hanging out here. Built by Queen Victoria to honour her late husband, it displays all the taste and subtlety of which the Victorian age is known for, which is to say none at all, and the fact that Albert is covered from head to foot on gold leaf and very gaudy makes Papa feel right at home. It is really the only bit of public art in London he approves of.

The Diana Memorial Fountain option is something we have only really started doing this summer. Mama freely admits to being wrong about the Fountain, which she came across in its early stages, back when she didn’t have kids and it spent six months cordoned off for not working properly. At that time she considered it insufficiently fountain-like and totally unimpressive. It is, after all, more of a low lying circular cannalette than anything else, and there is very little spurting water involved at all.

Clearly she hadn’t been there on a nice summer day. The thing is, now they have fixed whatever problems it had, it has become a bit of a hangout. People sit on the edge of the channel, wade round and round the waters, picnic on the surrounding grass. There are a lot of kids, most of them having fun, but it’s not all families, which is rather nice. And while noting shoots up in the air, up close, as you wander round, it is interestingly textured, with different flow patterns and, in places, very loud and oddly musical. Mama says we can build her one of these when she goes any day. Not sure where, but I’m sure we will figure it out.

The Serpentine is pretty tedious to walk all the way round (Mama thinks) and best avoided altogether with two water obsessed children. Mama is particularly adamant about this after she had to fish my Incredible Big Brother’s scooter out of the water not once but twice on one trip. So we depart after hanging over a decently fenced section admiring the ducklings and goslings and signets as soon as possible for the playground back up near the Horseguard barracks. It has a coffee dispensing kiosk right outside, so everyone is happy.
But the way we most often go is to Round Pond via the Serpentine Gallery. Even through the Gallery sometimes, an occurrence which happens more if we are with my Incredible Big Brother’s friend and his artist father. Mama enjoys being in an art gallery with someone who knows what they are seeing, but since her default positions on art, especially rooms with large screens showing rather incomprehensible films about a music box, involve being polite and describing it as ‘nice’ or indulging her snark and being funny about it, she does find that rather stressful too.

Anyway, from the gallery it is but a short gallop to the Round Pond, which is indeed very round, completely open and much beloved of my Incredible Big Brother because there are many geese and swans and ducks here. Until recently, when Mama decided he is becoming rather too large and intimidating, my Incredible Big Brother would herd any water birds which had the temerity to set webbed foot on land back into what he considers to be their only natural habitat. But I have been taking notes and soon it will be my turn to harass the birdlife of London parks unmercifully. Also, squirrels.

It’s a good thing both of us are photogenic because the tourists who have got lost on their way from Kensington Palace to the Diana Fountain love this kind of behaviour and take lots of pictures of a line of grown swans waddling in front of a determined small boy (or girl).

Anyway, if we have made really good time, we sometimes bear right and go to the Diana Memorial Playground, although Mama is not a huge fan. It is, in fact, in many ways an excellent playground, with a huge sand pit, some really good slides, swings and climbing frames, and all divided up into different ‘rooms’ separated by grassy banks or really big bushes. It’s this that is the problem really. Thing is, Mama likes to be able to keep half an eye on my Incredible Big Brother whilst following me around wherever my whimsy takes me. Or at least, she likes to be able to keep an eye on the exit, particularly when my Incredible Big Brother was smaller and didn’t understand instructions like ‘stay in this playground at all times’. This is pretty much impossible with the Diana Playground, and so Mama is forced to chose between being the ultimate helicopter Mama or the momentarily panic of not being able to find one of her children when she makes sporadic checks to ensure he hasn’t recruited the other under fives in a plot to take over the world or something.

Which is why she is almost always forced to fortify herself at the refreshments booth outside. I recommend the ice cream. Mama likes the coffee.

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Latest reply: Nov 14, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 13th: a toddler's Guide to... Battersea Park

Battersea Park is a riverside park in the South West of London, just across a bridge from such attractions as Chelsea, Kings Road, the Royal Hospital and the National Army Museum.

It is an excellent place to while away time with a toddler, or a toddler and her Tremendous Big Brother because there are so many different sections to explore – it’s not a large heath-like affair full of grass like many of the other open spaces in the area. Not that I mind that. One footpath is much like another to me, and as long as there are blades of grass to examine, dog poo to pick up, leaves to throw around, sticks to collect, ducks to feed and dogs to greet I am really not that bothered. But the sense of exploration Battersea Park provides seems to make Mama happy, so that’s good enough for me.

One of Mama’s favourite areas is the Tea Garden, where there is a small kiosk that serves coffee. Mama often tries to arrange it so that should we be alone, I am asleep when we get here and she can relax in whatever sunshine is available in peace. Or at least as much peace is afforded by the dog walkers, who also like to restore their nerves with refreshment here, meaning that there is actually quite a lot of bouncy animals snuffling, barking and occasionally fighting. I usually only wake up, however, if they come and investigate what we have brought as our picnic lunch, which is unfortunately rather more often than Mama would like. The problem is that Battersea Park is near Battersea Dogs (and Cats) home, and so in addition to the quite startling numbers of dog owners and professional dog sitters who use the park, there are also hordes of former strays being exercised.

Not that this bothers me or my Tremendous Big Brother one little bit. He is animal obsessed at the best of times, but dogs are his absolute favourite and generally it is absolutely impossible for him to walk past a pooch without saying hello. I am much the same, although less prone to running madly towards them with my arms out shrieking my happiness as my Tremendous Big Brother was at my age, for which Mama is duly thankful. Still, she is torn between being grateful that Battersea Park provides us with an opportunity to indulge our passion and irritation at the sheer inconvenience of having to stop every five yards to stroke some mutt. Not to mention that she suspects that every encounter increases the likelihood that she will have to let us get a dog at some point in the future.

[Hey!! Tremendous Big Brother!!! Mama said we can get a dog!!!! Yes!!!!!]

Anyway, the Tea Garden. The reason why Mama likes this bit of the park so much is that it reminds her powerfully of parks in Moscow. Lots of sculptures made of metal strips painted in bright colours, including the gazebos over the tea garden tables. The whole section is overlooked by the Peace Pagoda, which is a Buddhist temple inexplicably plumped in the middle of the riverside walk. There are also fountains, quite spectacular ones, with timed and ever changing displays of water fireworks. Mama is less keen on this bit, particularly after my Tremendous Big Brother fell in once. This is the reason why she tends to go here only when I am sleeping these days.

Another bit she likes is the walled English garden, which has been overhauled recently by what appears to be a community gardening project. Mama has a secret yen for a walked garden, and this is a lovely secluded spot to take a sleeping baby if you are not as coffee obsessed as Mama. It is a bit overrun by pigeons, because people eat their lunch here and someone has hung bird feeders in the trees, but I don’t mind that on little bit. I like chasing pigeons. In fact, the only reason why we don’t spend more time here is that there is a sunken pond in the middle, which Mama doesn’t really fancy fishing me out of.

So when I wake up, we mostly head out for a walk around the big lake, which sounds even more fraught with peril, except that most of it is decently fenced off. There is a café at one end which Mama rather likes, run by genuine Italians. The prices are a bit silly, but the coffee is excellent and they also do pistachio ice cream as well as rather more reasonably priced children’s food, which doesn’t just consist of chips with more chips. You can take it outside to sit by the lake, although beware of the pigeons, who will swoop on your food the moment you leave it alone for a second. Mama knows from bitter experience. I, of course, like the pigeons. Chasing them, at least.

At the other end of the lake, Mama has fond memories of spending very happy summer afternoons in the tropical plants enclosure with my Tremendous Big Brother (before he could walk). There’s nothing quite like picnicking under a palm tree. Especially when the man who plays the saxophone all afternoon for, apparently, the sheer hell of it is in residence. Nowadays we mostly go there to feed the ducks, who are gratifyingly excited to see us, as are the swans, the coots, the moorhens, the parrots and, on occasion, the herons and the rats.

There is also a playground nearby which has different zones for different age groups, something which Mama is coming to appreciate more and more, and next door is the only one o’clock club Mama has ever got round to going to. It’s pretty cool as long as you go with friends and don’t mind your children getting covered in other people’s snot and coming down with a cold the following week. The adventure playground at the back also looks interesting, but Mama has already been chased out of there once on the grounds that my Tremendous Big Brother is too small.

Too small? He’s huge! And tremendous.

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Latest reply: Nov 13, 2012

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