Can someone send a grown-up in to help us now? Many thanks

IMG_9716It’s August (observation skills 10/10) and since the last time I blogged I have:

Bought a house
Moved into said house
Been on holiday with friends, to amazing Morzine
Turned 28 (again)
Found a new nursery for Zee to start in September
Masterminded a hen-do
Finished writing a second children’s book
Been on holiday with H’s family to the sunny Alps
Continued to work full-time and commute into central London every day with Z in a sling. A seven mile journey each way. In a heat wave.

Phew. Busy times.

It started with a text from H in April, informing me our then landlady was moving back from Dubai and would like us to leave, please. By the end of June. At first we didn’t know what to do so we panicked. Then we panicked some more as we tried to puzzle it all out. Zee’s wonderful nursery was below our flat, we had the easiest nursery drop-off and pick-up ever and I had the best walk to work anyone could have if you happen to like Albert Embankment and the South Bank, which I do, a lot. It’s been a while now so the whole process has become a bit of a blur, but it was horrible stressful. Or, because we’re not in the East End, horribly stressful. We didn’t want to move into another rented place only to move out when we’d found somewhere to buy, so we decided to do the second most grown-up thing we could do after becoming parents and Buy A House. Looking back on it now we’ve been extremely lucky because it’s all happened quickly, but at the time all the uncertainty was stomach-churning and only added to the sleepless nights I was already having with Master Zee.

IMG_9215In summary, buying a house involves a LOT of work and research and info gathering (at which H excelled himself). Followed by a lot of ‘He Says She Says’ as you deal with banks and lawyers and estate agents, all juggling dates and logistics, culminating in the most stressful week I’ve had in ages when it all came down to Will The Funds Be Exchanged by Moving Date – or will we have to pitch Z’s toy tent and live in it on the South Bank for the foreseeable? Luckily, it did all work out and we are in and it is our home and it is in London and we love it. We keep walking in and out of our very own dining room and lounge and kitchen and up and down the stairs (we have stairs!?), hardly able to believe it’s ours. This is the house I burst into tears upon leaving after our viewing, so convinced was I that we’d never get it and we’d probably end up with the house we viewed with the terracotta walls, where one of the residents had left the bathwater in the bath before vacating it for the viewing. How happy I am to be wrong and to be in the place that feels like home despite the fact it currently resembles a camp site. On account of not being able to spend any time in there so far, due to the holidaying, henning and having to go to work. Life and good times sure can get in the way of painting and decorating.

And speaking of which, can someone just tell us how to do everything we need to do in the house and garden, or maybe just do it for us, so it looks exactly how I imagine it should look in my head but without me having to crack open a tin of paint? In ten years of renting I’ve never painted a wall, never needed to. Gulp. It feels like we’re playing house. During a hungover trip to Homebase last weekend we spent 10 minutes looking at curtain rails instead of bathroom shower rails before realising we needed to be in an entirely different section. This is going to be a very interesting time.

Although the more I play on Pinterest and seek advice from family and friends, the more I reckon we probably can work it all out for ourselves, in time. And time is what we have; there will be no one giving us notice on this place this time. We do keep referring to the previous owners as the owners though. But that would be us. Lucky us.

Reasons to be cheerful

Over the past couple of months I’ve noticed a certain hash tag cropping up on Facebook and Twitter, a little something called #100happydays. Friends started posting about beaches or chocolate or flowers alongside this tag, and I idly wondered what it’s all about (though it’s pretty darn obvious) but I kept forgetting to look into it properly. This is because my memory seems to be getting worse these days instead of better. I just *slightly* flooded the kitchen on account of leaving the tap running whilst also trying on a new dress and doing a lot of mirror-twirling, until suddenly shrieking ‘Arrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhh!’ and solving the problem by throwing three giant towels at it. Phew.

So I kept seeing this #100happydays popping up and feeling mildly irritated by it. Not because of my dislike of hash tags, but I couldn’t understand this desire to try and single out one daily thing to be happy about for only 100 days. I have a problem with taking everything literally and at total face value. A few summers ago we lived near Tooting Bec Lido. I went for my first swim there, and when I got home I told H I’d enjoyed it but hadn’t expected it to be so freezing; I thought it was heated and jumped straight in and had never been SO cold, I didn’t want to go again. He said ‘Next time you go to the lido why don’t you wear a wetsuit?’

And I did. When I got home I told him how much better it had been swimming in the wetsuit, but that next time I’d change into the wetsuit when I arrived, as I’d been SO hot in it on the way there.
He looked at me aghast.
‘You didn’t . . . walk to the lido WEARING the wetsuit?’
‘I did,’ I nodded. ‘You said ”Next time you go to the lido why don’t you wear a wetsuit?”. And it was really hot so I won’t do it again.’
Much teasing ensued, in fact still ensues to this day from friends who like to check I’m suitably attired if we are meeting at a pool of any description.

I digress. My issue with 100 happy days was because 2013 was something of a terrible year, aside from one truly wonderful thing; the arrival of Zee, the very best thing that has ever happened to me and H. 2013 showed us that sometimes awful things happen, which cause anguish and devastation and even though life goes on, because that is all it can do, the impact of an accident or a death is deep-rooted and perspective changing.

I couldn’t relate to a concept of only 100 happy days because these days I feel lucky and glad to simply be able to live my life. My charmed, happy, filled-with-love life. My life with my kind and gorgeous husband and beautiful and cheeky baby, whom I love so much it takes my breath away. My life with my family whom I adore and my friends whom I could not be without. This may sound corny and trite but when you see a beloved friend suffering, it makes you wish with all your heart and soul that you could fix everything for them, it makes you say ‘if only’ a thousand times a day.

But #100happydays is more than a hash tag or a fad. I finally looked it up tonight. It’s an amazing idea. It challenges you to just stop and enjoy the moment. The greatest thing I read on the site is that participants say it makes them ‘realise how lucky they are to have the life they have’, which is something I have been pretty fixated on recently.

I’m not going to do #100happydays because these days I feel grateful and happy every day. To quote a line about happiness from Charlotte in the Sex & the City film, ‘Not all day, every day, but every day.’

I would, however, like to write myself a little list of things I want to look back on and remember from the last few months, things that really have made me smile. On account of my sieve-brain, just a few things I don’t want to forget.

1 – Doing a recce for a work event and seeing Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket rehearsing in a flying great glass elevator. No, I haven’t been drinking. This happened.
2 – London in bloom – back in April walking through Embankment gardens was like being in Amsterdam. So pretty.
3 – Zee’s new trick of running at me with a giant gap-toothed smile, clattering into me and wrapping his arms tight around my neck, burying his face into my cheek. Bliss.
4 – Walking through London at night. It happens so rarely these days, but when it does, I love this city a little bit more every time.
5 – Seeing two friends get married and so clearly having the happiest day of their life – their smiles were mega-watt, the love was everywhere, it was pure joy.
6 – Sunshine, spending all day every day with Zee, being with great friends and their scrumptious girl, G&T’s overlooking a stunning beach, morning runs, evening BBQ’s, mojitos in a bar built in a cliff-face, moonlit beach walks, Pilates with the sea as a backdrop – the perfect holiday that was Menorca 2014. No, I didn’t wear my wetsuit.
7 – Sitting down on the Embankment with H and Zee, sipping smoothies and kicking a ball, Big Ben chiming six pm and signalling teatime.
8- ‘Kicking a ball, kicking a ball, that’s surely the purpose of life after all.’ No I’m not THAT excited about the World Cup, but I am a bit in love with Allan Ahlberg’s genius new book.
9- A bouncy castle and a family party for my niece’s 6th birthday party. There was magic, there was Frozen, there were the best party bags I’ve ever seen.
10 – Afternoon tea for three at The Savoy. Not the first destination you think of for an outing with a toddler, but Zee charmed everyone whilst we sipped champagne and enjoyed being in such swellegant surroundings. And on the way home we found his lost shoe, left for us by a kind person on a wall, I was overjoyed; his first pair of shoes are little feet-shaped treasures.
11 – Outdoor cinema in Vauxhall. Deckchairs, friends, popcorn, gin, Best in Show. Nothing more to say.

The Liebster award

liebster-awardThe German word ‘Liebster’ has several definitions, including kind, lovely, pleasant and valued. The Liebster Award was apparently created ‘to recognise and/or discover new bloggers and welcome them to the blogosphere.’ This certainly seems like a kind and pleasant thing to do, and thank you to the very lovely Lindsey over at the brilliant http://www.101thingstodowithkids.com for my nomination.

So it works like this:

1. Post the award on your blog.

2. Thank the blogger who presented this award and link back to their blog.

3. Write 11 random facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 5-11 bloggers who you feel deserve this award and who have less than 200 followers.

5. Answer 11 questions posted by the presenter and ask your nominees 11 questions.

Here goes – 11 Random Facts:

1. I have big hair. I mean really big. On hot days my curls are like corkscrews and it’s kind of amazing, the volume of it, but I am massively self-conscious about it. So until I learn to embrace the curl (or move to a really hot country), my GHD’s will remain my prized possession.
2. Birds indoors freak me out. The very idea of a bird flying into a room I am in makes me want to scream.
3. Barnacles. Ewwwwww. So clingy.
4. I know every single word to the ‘Heinz Builds Brits’ song.
5. I know that Dr Karl Kennedy’s full name is Dr Karl Raymond Marx Kennedy.
6. I was once in the same room as George Clooney. Sorry, sorry. George Swooney.
7. My most favourite book in the world is Roald Dahl’s The BFG.
8. I once made my brother a ham and savoy cabbage sandwich, mistaking the cabbage for lettuce.
9. My favourite joke of all time is ‘What do you call a man in a paper suit? Russell!’ *sniggers*
10. I can light a lighter using my feet.
11. My favourite quote is ‘Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does’ – Anon.

Next up – 5 bloggers who may currently have less than 200 followers:

Four under three
Common Sense Mum
Yet another blogging mummy
Glimmer of Hope
Little Reader Book Reviews & More

Now for my questions from Lindsey:

1. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
I am already lucky enough to live in my most favourite place in the world, but for somewhere new I’d choose Melbourne.

2. Do you have any pets?
Nope.

3. Facebook or twitter?
Facebook

4.What is your favourite food?
Currently risotto. Sometimes sausage rolls (the shame!)

5.Where did you last go on holiday?
Cala Galdana, Menorca

6. Best childhood memory?
Too many to choose from, which makes me very lucky

7. What’s your favourite movie?
Anchorman

8. Which celebrity would you most like to have dinner with?
Ron Burgundy

9. What was the last thing you ate?
Granola

10. If you lived in a different decade which would you choose?
This is tough – errrrm maybe the 80’s so my giant hair would be acceptable?!

11.How long have you been blogging?
Since the birth of my gorgeous Zee in 2013

And finally, my questions to the bloggers I nominated:

1. What is your favourite power ballad?
2. What book are you reading right now?
3. What is your favourite joke?
4. What are your favourite three words?
5. Which three words would you use to describe yourself?
6. Sweet or savoury?
7. Have you ever lived abroad/would you like to?
8. What is your earliest childhood memory?
9. Do you have a favourite musical?
10. Top 3 songs that make you really happy?
11. Coffee or tea?

Thank you for reading and thank you Lindsey!

The story behind the story

Vintage-typewriterimagecreditTheMapleTeaHouseA few years ago I wrote a children’s book. I had been pondering writing one for a while but I am a massive procrastinator and generally thought there was no point because what if it was rubbish and no one liked it and nobody wanted to read it so what was the point anyway? Until a stern talking to from H made me realise if you don’t try you’ll never know and what’s the point in not trying just because it might not be any good?

I remember writing the opening paragraph as if it was yesterday and not five years ago. I have no idea where it came from – well, my brain, obviously, but the opening line just popped into my head and I wrote it down and then over the next few weeks and months I kept on writing until I had told my story and had something resembling a children’s book. I’m not going to pretend it was an easy, flowing process. I read and write about children’s books day in, day out. I am constantly thinking and talking about other people’s books. So when it comes to sitting down and writing my own, I can get stuck. I have to really be in the right place to do it. But I did do it. And I was proud of it. H was my very first reader and he was nothing but encouraging from the start. He doesn’t mince his words, he is blunt and straight to the point, which is why I was so encouraged by his reaction. It was fun to share with him and he gave me some great ideas and even the name for the baddy. I then shared it with one of my very good friends, whom I knew would be honest too. Her opinion mattered to me and her feedback also encouraged me that maybe I could achieve this after all. One of the best parts of it was sharing it with my parents, who were so enthusiastic and excited by it from the very beginning, again sharing ideas and making helpful suggestions and making me believe in it. To the point I knew it was time to get serious and see if anything could actually come of it.

I have been in the publishing industry for ten years now; I wanted to do this properly. I sought no advice from colleagues from the sheer anxiety they would think it was terrible – I am a copywriter after all, the shame would be too much. I got myself a copy of the Children’s Writers and Artists Handbook, I printed many sets of the first three chapters, I posted them to children’s literary agents far and wide. I felt sick. I waited for the rejections to arrive. And so they did, some by return of post, with the standard rejection slips I’d anticipated. But then a while later, I forget how long, I received an email from an agent thanking me for my chapters, with kind words about how much they’d enjoyed it and had laughed. Unfortunately they had a similar title on their list so couldn’t take me on. But I didn’t mind, it was so nice to know they liked what they saw. So imagine how I felt a few days later when I received another email from an agent not only saying how much they’d enjoyed the first three chapters, but requesting to see the rest of my manuscript.

I very nearly fell off my chair.

And when I composed myself, I replied, grinning from ear to ear and in a delighted daze. And then, a few days later when she replied saying she really liked my book (my book!) and would like to take it to London Book Fair (LONDON BOOK FAIR!) to pitch it to all the publishers, I pinched myself (it hurt) and tried very hard to stay calm (I failed). I still look back on the phone calls to H and my family to say I Had Found Myself An Agent with very fond memories of what a hugely exciting time it was. The anticipation of it all, the excitement of what this could be. And when it transpired that approximately ten publishers wanted to see the manuscript following my agent’s LBF pitch, I probably ran around in small circles with glee.

What followed next was a blur of Will They Won’t They Will They Won’t They; a nerve-wracking waiting game. To cut a long story short (groan), I got some genuinely brilliant feedback from some of the most respected editors in publishing today. It was so encouraging, and I took their advice and did lots of editing and then one publisher was this close to saying yes and making an offer. But at the last minute they had a change of heart. It was crushingly disappointing. Despite all that, I still feel like it was an amazingly positive experience. I have an agent, for goodness sake. That is something to be proud of.

And so I put it all to the back of my mind as something that Wasn’t Meant To Be, and every now and again I’d re-read the positive feedback and feel sad I hadn’t quite made it. Then last summer as Zee was napping I came across my feedback document once again and felt upset. Disappointed that my princess and pirate and two mischievous princes and the good ship Goodship and Claude I’m Bored and Annabel Caramel were simply living in a word document on my laptop. Destined to spend their days as black and white words on a page, instead of living and breathing characters on Jamboree Island inside the imaginations of young readers. That’s when I realised it was no longer 2010 but 2013 and if I wanted to publish my book then, quite simply, I would. I did some research on self-publishing eBooks (it’s too expensive to print physical copies myself); I could do this. But first, I’d need a cover. Oh. Foiled again. But I thought some more and remembered that my wonderfully talented illustrator friend had read the book a while back as she’d wanted to practise her illustrations for young fiction. So I emailed her to see if she could design me a cover as a freelance project, and was hugely touched and grateful when she said she would love to design a cover, not as a freelancer, but for free, for me. All the original excitement came flooding back. With a little help from my friend, I could make this happen. Even if it was just going to become something I self-published so I could proudly show Zee when he’s older, it was going to happen.

TPATP_COVER DEC 13.JPGAnd when Hannah sent me her first cover roughs I cried. There they were. My Princess Sophie and Lancelot the Pirate exactly as I imagined them in my head. It was great fun seeing Hannah’s designs going from black and white into colour and again sharing with family and friends and receiving their feedback. I paid to have the manuscript professionally formatted. Then, when the words and Hannah’s stunning black and white illustrations for the insides were ready, Amazon Kindle couldn’t have made it an easier process to upload and put my book right out there, available for download on Kindle or the Amazon Kindle app for mobile phones or tablets. Such a thrill. And via targeted emails, Facebook and Twitter, my family and friends helped me spread the word; it’s highest chart position was No.25 in Books-Fiction-Humour and No.48 in the Kindle Store Children’s eBooks. By January it had nearly 1000 downloads – mostly free following a Christmas promotion – but as Jessie J once sang, it’s not about the money.

Sometimes, if I sit and think about it for a while, as I guess I’ve just done here, I do feel really glad this happened. H was right. Life is too short to not do something just in case it doesn’t work out. I didn’t get my dream publishing deal, but I did get lots of support and positive encouragement and had so much fun along the way. I have a sequel to write though I’m currently trying to finish a story of genies and wizards and jam jars. But I am well and truly stuck on the ending, which is so tedious. Every time I try and write it, my mind goes blank. But I’ll get there. The idea of having something new to send to my agent is too exciting not to achieve. My productivity rate is sooooooo slow. No excuses, no reasons, that’s just how it is. But I’m looking forward to seeing what might be . . .

And when we were up we were very high up

CUDDLE

Last Mother’s Day weekend I cried. I cried with exhaustion because Zee was only about six weeks old. I cried because H had a stag do in London that evening, so we drove from Chichester to Oxford to drop him off and I (still exhausted) then had to drive onwards to the sanctuary of my parents’. I cried because it was my first ever Mother’s Day as a mum, and it was amazing to be with my mum with my very own baby, even though I was half-mad with tiredness and probably spent a lot of time glassy-eyed and unable to finish sentences. Such sparkling form in those days. Such value I brought to the party! I was so FUN!

This Mother’s Day was a combination of sunshine and literal highs and then crashing lows. H had been very smiley and proud of himself all week, proclaiming that he had arranged a surprise I would love and think he is even more amazing than I already do . . . I am his number one fan after all. I was intrigued and excited; we had brunch with an old friend planned in the morning followed by H’s surprise in the afternoon. Until, that is, Zee awoke howling at 5.30 on the Saturday morning. He had been sick. We were half asleep and puzzled. We brought him into our bed, he was sick everywhere. He was crying his eyes out and bewildered and we were now very much awake and stripping off his clothes and bed clothes and not knowing what was going on. By 9am poor little Zee had been changed into five different sleep suits and I had been puked on several times. It got to the point that if he was feeling sick but was sitting with his daddy, he would somehow make it over to me, chubby little arms outstretched and proceed to be sick in and on my arms. I was the chosen one, it seemed. Ahh, the joys.

And when he became listless really quickly, I dialled 111 (the new NHS Direct), and they were so helpful and thorough and didn’t even snigger when at one point I described Zee as ‘just lying in his dad’s arms, frowning’, cue laughter from H. But it’s true, he was frowning and I was trying to give as much detail as I could. Frowning doesn’t appear to be a very serious symptom of illness though, because a doctor called back and said it sounded like a gastro bug, to keep sipping him water and it should pass quickly. But not quickly enough to be in time for H’s surprise . . .

Which is where our good friends Audrey and Nev stepped in (up) – it turned out H’s surprise was indeed amazing; afternoon tea on the London Eye. It was a blue-sky-and-sunshine day, so Audrey and I went off leaving the men to look after Zee for a couple of hours whilst we got to enjoy the stunning views across London with a glass of champagne in one hand and canapés and cakes galore in the other. I raised a glass to my own lovely mum from high in the sky in the general direction of the Isle of Man where they were away for a few days. Actually that’s a total lie. I have no idea where the Isle of Man is. I just raised a glass in a general direction, towards Big Ben. But the thought was there.

Weirdly, and happily, Zee was completely fine by bedtime, as if we’d totally imagined the hours of vomiting and frowning that had gone before – except we had the duvet at the dry cleaners and rows of drying sleep suits and bedding to prove it. The next day, Mother’s Day itself, we had a trip to Brighton planned to see some friends. We left early, arrived in good time, but as we searched for a car parking space I started to feel . . . sick. I told myself it was travel sickness.

Wishful thinking. To cut a lovely afternoon picnic on Brighton beach short, we had to make a very hasty departure as I realised I could no longer deny this bug that was taking me over. I was sick into a plastic bag down an empty Brighton side street, oh the shame. ‘Low point, low point!’ H exclaimed. It was about to get lower. A two and a half hour car journey and two very useful plastic bags later, I crawled into bed, shivering from head to toe, feeling woeful and sick and very, very feeble. Happy Mother’s Day to me! I cried.

Looking back on it now and feeling absolutely fine, I just feel sorry that Zee was poorly, happy about the gorgeous afternoon on the Eye, sad that H missed it and horrified re the bags. One day H is going to plan a London surprise for us all and it won’t be scuppered by sickness. Third time lucky and all.

The Tired guilts

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????To misquote my hero and the very handsome Ron Burgundy, I look tired. I mean really tired. HEY EVERYBODY, COME SEE HOW TIRED I LOOK.

There, I’ve done it, I’ve broken my own rule about broadcasting to anyone who’s looking how tired I am. I never talk about it on Facebook and wouldn’t dream of writing about it on Twitter (I struggle with Twitter because my inner English geek shudders constantly at all those hash tags, but at the same time I read lots of interesting (and inane) stuff on there so I just have to get over myself).

Anyway, it is my choice to not talk about this stuff on social media, because I personally feel that (a) being a parent = being tired. End of and (b) NOBODY CARES. Nobody on there really wants to hear about how I was up with Zee three times last night, and have been every night since Saturday, and H went to Belfast at the weekend for work and is there till Thursday and I have no other help and I’m working full-time on interrupted sleep and god it’s so dull I’m boring myself.

And THEN I get the tired guilts because I think about my amazing friends H&D, who have four children under three – four gorgeous and lovely children – but four under three nevertheless. And as I can’t possibly begin to imagine how tired they must be, because the idea of three more Zee’s right now makes my mind boggle, I try and talk myself out of how tired I really feel. The same happens when I think about my brother and sister-in-law, both working full-time with two wonderful (yes I am biased) kids or H’s sister and brother-in-law up in Suffolk with three lovely boys from 7 down to 16 months – basically any of my friends or family with more than one baby who work or look after the children full time, which is of course work in itself.

But why is this? Why do I feel so bad when I want to put my Davina 15 minute fitness DVD on, so I can feel good about myself for doing a bit of exercise, but I can’t bear the thought of picking up the remote and pressing play, let alone getting all energetic to Davina’s smiling, cheeky, encouraging face? It’s 8pm and I’m in my onesie in bed writing this and there’s no place I’d rather be. Genuinely. I’ve been worrying recently about how we live in central London but we just don’t make the most of it at night. We don’t because by the time we’ve had that incredibly precious hour after nursery with Zee and he’s in bed and the flat sort of no longer resembles a tip, the very idea of getting dolled up and waltzing back out the door and into a bar makes me want to lie down.

So because I try very hard not to talk too much about this stuff, apart from to H, the poor person who does get to hear all about it in minute detail is my mum. Though sometimes she can’t even hear it because I’m yawning so much down the phone I can’t make any sense. I get annoyed with myself when I’m like this – clearly being tired makes a person cranky – but I’m wondering if maybe I should just be a little kinder to myself about it. Being tired isn’t a crime. It can be a really upsetting thing; when you’re so tired you can’t think straight, and your bones ache and your eyes hurt. And maybe sometimes, when you’re tired, you feel the need to share how you feel, and hope for a little kindness and sympathy from your friends. Some of whom should have a bit more empathy and understanding, because they too know what it’s like to be wrenched from your bed at 4am by a wailing baby who needs you to love and soothe them back to sleep, no matter how bleary-eyed and wild of hair you may be. And by ‘some of whom’ I mean me.

Just because being a parent = tired shouldn’t mean that is the end of the conversation. I may not like to talk about it on Facebook but that’s just a personal thing. I talk about it endlessly with H and my mum and without them I’d go mad. But the one thing I always remember during spells like these is It Too Soon Shall Pass. My baby is now a little toddling person, but he’ll always be my baby. He grows ever more lovely by the day, and I adore him more than I knew I could. He is the reason I am tired, but he makes me happier than I can describe, and that’s worth a billion lie-ins or full night’s sleep. We’ll still be gratefully seizing all offers of help when we go home for Easter though – roll on that blessed bank holiday, roll on . . .

Entertaining a baby in the capital? London, we don’t have a problem . . .

69.jpgI have been trying to write this post for weeks but returning to the land of books, a certain little man turning one and a jaunty trip to Brighton last week somewhat scuppered me. During my maternity leave, Zee and I ventured far and wide in this great capital of ours, and so, because my memory is shot to pieces these days, I want to record some of our adventures by buggy, tube and foot, for posterity and in case it’s helpful to other London mums and visitors. My goodness that’s a long sentence. I can’t be bothered to break it down.

So in no particular order:

Water Babies

It’s expensive but such a lovely and fun thing to do with your baby. Getting ready for lessons in changing rooms not designed for mums and babies is stressful, being in the water takes the stress away as long as you don’t think too much about the getting dressed again part. Tip – take a bottle, toy, biscuit, anything you can to distract him/her when changing afterwards. See http://www.waterbabies.co.uk for more info.

Sing and Sign

A real highlight. Before Zee’s arrival, some friends told us about sign language for babies and how some of their friends had given it a go with great success. So I signed up and from Sept-Dec, every Wednesday morning we enjoyed an hour of Singing and Signing, made some new friends and loved it. The songs are ridiculously catchy (I hear them in my dreams) and when Zee mastered the ‘No’ sign it was just brilliant. Because he does the No sign at me with the biggest grin on his face and then carries on doing exactly as he shouldn’t. But we’ll get there. http://www.singandsign.com

Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green

There is a Game Boy in the Museum of Childhood. A Game Boy! In a museum! It’s unnerving that a toy my brother and I spent hours glued to in our childhood is now deemed a relic, but anyway, I digress. This is a great place to come and while away a Friday afternoon; wandering around the exhibits and then at 2pm there is an excellent Sing and Story time. Exuberant staff act out Rod Campbell’s classic Dear Zoo with the aid of props and puppets. Afterwards Zee was fascinated by the mirrors and lights display, spending ages grinning at His Friend In The Mirror before I whisked him off to the spacious café for snacks and coffee. My maternity leave could also be renamed ‘The Quest for the Perfect Cup of Coffee’. I’m still looking. http://www.museumofchildhood.org.uk

Baby Interactive Play, Greenwich

This is a great class in gorgeous Greenwich, so it’s annoying we only managed to make it to one class in the last four months. And not even because it’s at 10am on a Monday morning, and I am not a morning person, but because of holidays, long weekends and one attempt to get there where I managed to get to Borough tube, before realising I’d left the nappy bag at home, cue turning around and going home. The teacher, Sue, is very welcoming and has loads of ideas for baby’s playtime, plus a very fun bubble-blowing machine and a giant parachute. See http://www.babyinteractiveplay.co.uk for more info. There is also a very baby-friendly Jamie’s Italian nearby for that all important coffee afterwards, and of course the Maritime museum, which is still on our To Do list. I chose cappuccino over culture on our one and only Greenwich trip, oh yes.

Wiggly Jigglers, Shoreditch

Yes, yes, I chose this class because I liked the name but it’s a good class too. A bit far for us to go regularly but the one class we went to was full of friendly people and good ideas. This is where I learnt about using general household items for baby play; corkscrews, plugs, dishwasher tablets no – no, wait. Those are the things he wants to play with and can’t, but jam jar lids, plastic containers, wooden corks,foil trays etc are MUCH more fun than regular toys, it seems, and good distractions at High Chair in the Kitchen when I’m busy with the blender. See http://www.richmix.org.uk for more info.

48.jpgThe Horniman Museum, Forest Hill

I cannot say the name of this place out loud without sniggering, I just can’t. Which I know at the age of 28/33 is pretty shameful, but come on. Anyway, this is an excellent spot to while away a few hours. It has a large cafe, impressive gardens with urban wildlife (their term not mine. There’s a llama! A llama in Forest Hill!) an aquarium and of course exhibits, which we didn’t even manage to get round on our first visit. Lovely views over London, hence missing the exhibit. I sound like a cultural hand grenade. Must rectify this. http://www.horniman.ac.uk/

47.jpgThe Shard

Speaking of views over London, wow wow wow WOW, as Kylie once sang. Ooooooh it’s simply brilliant, I could have stayed up there for DAYS. Zee was not bothered in the slightest but that’s fine because it just means we’ll have to go up there again when he’s older. And of course it’s right next to Borough Market, which is fantastic for browsing around and I imagine even more fantastic if you wander around it with a glass of prosecco in hand. Which I didn’t when I went with Zee, because it was just the two of us and one glass these days and I’m positively tiddly. More’s the pity.

St Paul’s

If you grew up on Mary Poppins*, as I did, it is impossible to see St Paul’s, the positively majestic St Paul’s, without the refrain of Feeeeeeeeeeeeeed the birds, TUPPENCE a baaaag, going round and round like an earworm. I liked to bundle Zee up in the buggy and go walking around there, to gaze at the cathedral and wander around the shops, and who knew there was such a large Topshop and H&M very nearby? Which I discovered during my last week of maternity leave and this is A Good Thing for my bank balance.
*Of course Mary Poppins’ sister, Mary Poppouts was less popular as a nanny due to constantly leaving the kids by themselves. (Thank you @TiernanDouieb via Twitter.)

Big Scream – cinema sessions for mums and babies aka GENIUS!

One particularly rainy day I took it upon myself to venture up to Notting Hill and wander down Portobello Road (now I have another earworm, do you know which song I mean Bedknobs & Broomsticks fans? Can anyone else hear David Tomlinson – aka Mr Banks! – singing Portobellllo Road, Portobellllllo Road, lalalala can’t remember the rest . . .?). Anyway, off we went to the Big Scream showing of the veritable cheese-fest About Time at the Electric Cinema, which was such a nice way to spend a few hours, as I wrote about here. A friend took her baby to Django Unchained, and even though he was asleep she still felt compelled to cover his eyes and ears. http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/

Tate Britain

We spent a few very happy afternoons here; once or twice, after his swimming lesson, Zee was fast asleep and I was able to leisurely stroll around the exhibitions. I would admire the Turner paintings and Monet and tilt my head to one side and nod appreciatively at these magnificent canvasses as if I really appreciate Art, when in fact I don’t have a clue about it but know when something looks pretty. There I go, cultural hand grenade-ing again. One time we went and Zee was in his element crawling around the wide open floors, shrieking in delight as his godmother went after him and I pretended not to have a clue who they were.

Royal Festival Hall

The cafe here is another great place for babies who are crawling and want to roam about a bit whilst you have a coffee and take in the views. Zee enjoyed standing in front of the giant glass windows and beaming at passers-by as I beamed proudly at him. As he gets older we’ll take him to some of the brilliant events they have here, unfortunately this year he was too little for the Imagine Festival but their schedule is always packed and there’s lots of child-friendly fun.

Eat Play Love

A lovely cafe in Battersea, it’s ‘Open to all, but with a focus on being a welcoming place for families with young children.’ This is so nice because I lost count of the numbers of cafes or restaurants I’ve wandered past, simply because I couldn’t face trying to negotiate them with the buggy. Another place to while away a few hours, obviously drinking coffee with friends whilst Zee maximised the soft play. http://www.eatplaylove.org.uk

Soft Play at The (excellently named) Salmon Centre, Bermondsey

This is a free session of soft play and the range of toys and activities on offer blew Zee’s mind. At least, I think they did from the way he crawled about happily, making himself practically giddy as he tried to work out where to roam to or what to play with next. There’s a singing session for all the children at the end and if I remember rightly, he slept pretty well that night too. Result!

64.jpgSo I realise this post is very London centric, but they do say to write about what you know. And we know London, and now know it even better. But no longer just for its wonderful night life and bars and restaurants and theatres etc etc, but for where you can go to find a toy cat with its own theme song that will have your baby beside themselves with glee. Ah, how things have changed. And how we love it.

Little baby steps

So Clarks well and truly did a number on us today – in a really good way, that is. Since Zee took his first eight wobbly steps in a row last week, his confidence has grown as he totters around like a little drunkard, wobbling and tumbling over and even occasionally hiccuping. It is an adorable sight to behold and yes I had a little cry when he first properly walked towards me. Today seemed like the right time to go and get his first proper shoes, and it turns out Clarks make this into a real experience for besotted parents like us. Because for us, it is a big moment, a milestone; he can walk. Thinking back to this time last year, when he was 15 days old and I can’t remember precisely, but I guess he’d spent the day feeding, sleeping, whizzpopping and sleeping, to today, when he not only got his first pair of shoes but tried garlic dough balls for the first time too; it feels like the difference a year makes is actually quite astonishing.

I have several very good friends who are due to have their babies within the next few months, and I know how they are feeling around about now. Everything is unknown. If you stop to ponder it for too long; labour, all the stuff you need, how will the baby sleep, how will I cope with no sleep, what will the baby be like, how do I change a nappy or sterilise a bottle or pretty much how will I KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THIS TINY DEFENCELESS CREATURE etc, it becomes overwhelming. But gradually, as the fog lifts and you get to know your baby and vice versa, things do start to fall into place, and the idea of simply getting dressed no longer leaves you a wailing mess.

So in fact today was about more than just a pair of shoes. It was about feeling proud, of Zee as his little foot was measured for the first time, and he beamed away as we chose his shoes and he had his Polaroid taken for his souvenir card (nice work Clarks marketing team, very nice). And of ourselves, for having come through our very best, but also our most difficult year so far. And then later on Zee and I had a special moment at High Chair in the Kitchen. A live version of Pompeii by Bastille came on the radio, and I turned it up really loud (sorry neighbours) and sang and jumped around and danced and positively shouted each and every word as Zee looked on bemusedly. Because for me, that song will always be the song I sang loud and proud on my first drive to the beach with Zee when he was about three weeks old. I was so proud of myself for getting us out of the house and into the car and all the way to the beach in the early afternoon sunshine. The following day was a total disaster because I’d completely exhausted myself with the beach expedition, Zee wouldn’t feed and cried all day and so did I, pretty much. But I learnt from that, and kept learning, and now we are at a place where Zee is wearing shoes and every day with him Just Gets Better and Better. So thank you, Clarks, for making today’s milestone something we (I say we, I’ll always remember this date, H shall forget it by next week) will forever treasure.

One

1stbdaycards.jpg. . . of the most hilarious things about giving birth was how the epidural left me legless. Numb from the waist down and high as a kite from the gas and air (what LARKS!), I vividly remember H and my lovely midwife hauling me about on the bed as I giggled; my right leg just kept flopping over the side and there was nothing I could do about it. This was a distraction from the fact Zee was now officially 17 days late and WHY WASN’T THE BABY HERE YET etc etc. Well he finally did arrive and was the best thing we have ever seen with our own eyes ever, and on Sunday just gone, it was exactly one year to the day that Zee was born late, screaming and perfect.

Over the course of this birthday weekend, I was struck with a vivid case of the ‘This Time Last Year’s . . .’ TTLY the second attempt at induction had finally worked, and realising he was going to be in for the long haul, H announced he was getting us takeaway Pizza Express. He was horrified by the hospital food and I had to keep my strength up. Yes, that actually happened. TTLY I was getting a real taste for the gas and air having been stone cold sober for nine months, ooooh it was nice. And the higher I got the higher I bounced up and down on the ball, trying to remain in conversation with H and the midwife but everything’s starting to feel funny . . Hang on. HANG ON. They are looking at me with big grins. I no longer really know what they’re saying. Are they TEASING ME?! I’m in labour and they’re teasing me?! Yes, that actually happened. TTLY the pain was now pretty bad (it was bound to happen), Zee had gone back to back and an epidural was necessary. I was Not Going To Say No To That. The midwife promised just one more contraction and then the heavenly epidural . . . at which point a very apologetic-looking nurse stuck her head around the door and announced the anaesthetist was delayed by two hours . . . doom etc etc!

Anyway. To cut a very long night and morning short, finally a doctor arrived brandishing a pair of . . . no I can’t write it, I can’t say the F-word on here . . . and lo and behold there was our baby. I will honestly and genuinely say that giving birth was okay. Obviously it is a totally individual experience, no two births or babies are ever the same. But I kept thinking, even during the most painful times, that it was manageable, I could absolutely do it, and it was fine. And I don’t mean a woman’s version of IT’S FINE *grits teeth and means the opposite* – but actually fine.

DSCF6565Back to this weekend and my dose of the TTLY’s; it was such a life-changing experience that I guess you can’t help but relive all the memories. And on Sunday, Zee’s first ever birthday, I kept thinking how much easier this day was than TTLY. I veritably LEAPT out of bed upon hearing his early morning babbling, I was so excited to see my birthday boy. And we sung to him and had cards and presents and balloons, before preparing for his first ever birthday party and Naming Day for approximately 80 family and friends, in a big hall down the road. There was bunting and cake and flowers and prosecco, and speeches and chiddlers running around everywhere. And in amongst it all, a little boy beaming away and surrounded by everyone who loves him, with no idea what any of it was for. You my little man. It’s all for you.

So. One.

One year of interrupted sleep, days and days of not knowing what day it was. Endless tears, panic, is this right? Is he alright? Too hot? Too cold? What will I feed him, what will he wear? How will I know WHAT TO DO? You don’t. But it all works out anyway. Because when he smiles, or holds your finger, or gazes up at you with enormous wide eyes, or falls asleep in your arms or laughs or crawls for the first time, or says ‘Dada’ or ‘Mama’ (once!), or feeds himself or splashes you with bathwater or swims underwater or wipes away your tears; well. That’s what it’s all for, isn’t it?

Happy first birthday Zee. And here’s to many more.