My London

I’m a Northerner born and bred, and yet last September I was able to say that I’d lived in London for as long as I lived up North. 18 years, to be exact. I used to hear the clichés from friends and family a lot. “I like London, but I couldn’t live there”, or “I’ve been to London. Never liked it. Everyone’s so rude, nobody talks to you.”

Well, having lived here for so long (I think now I can actually call myself a Londoner) I can tell you that the second thing is nonsense. Most people visiting London only actually go into the centre of town, shops and shows. You’re usually only going to meet other tourists there; so really, you’re not meeting that many Londoners. They’re all at work, you see. The other thing worth mentioning is that Londoners will absolutely talk to you. IF YOU ACTUALLY BOTHER TO TALK TO THEM. And despite popular belief they won’t edge away, or look at you like you’re mad etc etc. They’ll smile and pass the time of day just as they would anywhere else. Our next-door neighbours gave us presents when we got married and when Arthur was born. The lady a few doors down brought us a load of toys hers have grown out of. Since having Arthur I’m on nodding acquaintance with many more neighbours and have made friends in the flats opposite. It’s a community like any other.

If there is more of a reticence in a big city you can’t really blame us. We live a different way, with different worries and concerns. Over the past few years we’ve watched as our beloved cities have been targeted by extremists and our people killed on the same streets we walk every day. It’s difficult to keep being friendly to everyone you meet under that strain. After the London Bridge attack I really struggled to go back into the centre of town. Having a baby with me was probably the main reason. I have to wave my husband off to Soho every day for work, and if he can do it, so can I. This is my city, and it always will be; my Borough Market, my Strand, my Camden Town, my South Bank, my Angel. These are the streets where I became an adult, staggering out of pubs and clubs with my friends at university, catching the Number 12 night bus (highly recommended if you like watching a drunken bust-up), living at seven different addresses in Southwark, Islington, Hornsey and back to Southwark again. This is where I fell in love with my husband and married him, this is our son’s first home. I’ve conducted choirs and orchestras here, taken kids on endless trips, written and chatted in cafes all over the city. Private members bars, pubs, museums, galleries, opera houses, concert halls, parks, trains, tubes and buses.

I love this place. The view from Waterloo Bridge will always make me catch my breath in wonder, and my husband and I still argue about which side is best as we try to look at the view and the road at the same time while we drive across the river to visit our families. Ah, the river, Old Father Thames (or Mama Thames if you believe Ben Aaranovitch’s excellent Rivers of London series). It divides us into two halves, causing jocular debates about which is best, North or South. I’ve lived South more than North, but I’ve got a secret space in my heart for the trendier North, especially Camden where I had my first proper teaching job.

Despite all of this our house is on the market. It’s time to move on.

I always knew that if we finally did manage to have a child I’d want him to have a similar childhood to mine. It’s a personal thing; there are plenty of awesome kids I know being raised in this amazing city, and we could stay and do the same. It would be easier in many ways; moving is awful, and our home is lovely. It’s just that after my pregnancy when I went back to the North something shifted. There’s a longing for open sky, for walking boots and woods, and hills to explore in the fresh air. I never expected to feel that way. I thought I’d want to live here forever, but my pregnancy and becoming a mother has changed me. I can’t deny that. I’ve been rearranged somehow.

We visited friends outside of London last weekend. It was lovely, and although we didn’t do much exploring while we were there we did have time to exhale. Driving back into town through Wimbledon as the streets got narrower and the buildings taller, I felt the sky get smaller and suddenly I knew. I’m ready.

But you’ll always be my first love, London.

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Hot Chocolate Stories

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this thing for hot chocolate. It’s not so much a drink as a state of mind; soothing, nourishing, decadent and delicious. I don’t drink it that often; it’s as if I forget it exists for a while and then have a sudden wild enthusiasm for it and have it every night for a week.

At the moment I can’t have dairy because of my son’s allergies. Perhaps because of that I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. I remember them in a way I’d never remember a cup of tea or coffee (although my Dad definitely does the same thing with coffee and has spent his life trying to recreate one he had in Crete in 1978).

A Spanish Stroll

I was seven and we were staying on the Balearic island of Menorca. We’d just been out for tea, me, my parents and my little brothers, and we were strolling through some sand dunes near a lighthouse when we came upon one of those lovely bar/cafes you get on the continent. I don’t remember much about it except for the cool parasols and the fact that it was twilight, and I was wearing my new shawl, because lace shawls were all the rage just then; and that mum and I had hot chocolate. I can still see the thick glass, the sediment in the bottom, and taste the rich sweetness of it. God, it was good. I’d never tasted anything like it before. I’ve never found anything like it since.

A French Breakfast

We used to go camping to France every year from when I was nine. One year we arrived on French soil very early in the morning, and we all had the kind of appetite you get after a long journey. We started the drive and had to “keep our eyes peeled” for somewhere to eat breakfast.

Passing through a small town we found a café. Well, I say café but it was actually someone’s front room. We were excited about the fresh, crunchy bread with little pats of butter, the croissants and the steaming coffee, but ten-year-old me asked for hot chocolate. Perhaps I was thinking back to Menorca.

Do you remember those battered metal jugs for water at primary school? The ones that beaded with condensation when the water was cold on a hot day?

The friendly woman (waitress? chef?) brought out one of those. It was steaming, and she set it in front of me. It was full to the brim of creamy, foamy, delicious hot chocolate. “Is this all for me?” I asked, stunned. The woman didn’t speak English but she understood the sentiment of what I said and nodded. Mum (who seems to be ever-present in my hot chocolate stories) peered over delightedly. I hope I offered her some, because I know that jug of delight defeated me and we had to go when I was barely halfway down it.

Hot chocolate served in a jug. Perfect.

When your baby gets a little bit older you’re sort of expected to go back “to normal”. People stop offering help, and start expecting you to be back to the way you used to be. As if you had some kind of lengthy convalescence and are now back to full health.

The thing is, though, you’re not.

Your joints still ache from breastfeeding. Your back hurts. You get barely enough sleep to survive. Your body feels like it’s been rearranged somehow; it’s still not entirely yours. And that’s not even thinking about the psychological effects of having a baby; the lasting effects of PND or PNA, constantly worrying about the little person you brought into the world and love so much you’re bewildered and frightened by it. After a year has passed you’re probably trying to juggle work with parenting, and, if you’re a stay at home parent, you might be bored out of your brain. Whichever path you’ve chosen (or been forced into due to circumstances) you more than likely feel guilty. It probably gnaws at you.

Whatever you’re doing right now, at this moment, your little person is there, in the background on a loop in your mind as you worry about whether you packed enough snacks for tomorrow and whether that rash us just post-viral and whether it would be selfish to get your partner to take over for a couple of hours so you can meet up with your friend who’s going through tough times.

I don’t have any answers for you, I’m so sorry. I won’t trot out the cliché “you got this” because if you’re anything like me a) you find it annoying and b) you feel very much as though you don’t got this.

All I will say is that I’m pretty sure most women feel like this after having a baby, and that it takes a lot longer than twelve months to get over pregnancy and birth, especially if you’ve endured trauma in either or both. All I will say is it’s OK. You’re OK, or, if you aren’t, you probably will be soon. Try as much as you can to reclaim something you used to love; even if it’s just relaxing in the bath with a paperback. Cling to your mum friends, because they know. They really do. And this:

Well done.

New Year’s Eve. It’s been tricky for me for a while. You see, I lost someone very close to me just over nine years ago, and a great many of the brilliant New Year parties (and the not so brilliant) had her in a starring role. Since then I’ve tried to play along but my heart’s just not been in it. People talk about Christmas being tough for the same reason, but for me this particular night is when I feel the need to honour my friend, when I think about her even more than usual. Over the years it has lost its sting, but I remember that first year, watching the fireworks at a bustling party and thinking “She can’t kiss me, text me or phone me this year. It’ll never be the same again.”

All this might sound gloomy, but honestly it really isn’t any more. Last year, the first with my son, we made the decision to stay in, watch a film, drink fizz and laugh at the Hootenanny. You can just about see the fireworks in London from my doorstep, but I was warm in bed instead. It was the first time I’d felt 100% positive about the night in a long time.

The Christmas holidays are bloody hard work when you’ve got two loving families living 200 miles apart and you want to fit everyone in. Not that hard compared to a lot of people, I know; but we seem to spend a lot of time in the car. We have a blast, and this year Christmas was fantastic, but we tend to be pretty tired when we finally make it home. I decided that if we were always going to have to be away for Christmas Day, perhaps we could reclaim New Year. Have it as a little celebration, just the three of us. I can’t think of a better way to ring in 2018.

Thanks to you all for taking the time to read the little bit of writing I’ve managed in this first full year of being a mum. It’s been wonderful, challenging and exciting, as all the best years are. Sure, the 31st December is just another day; but you can’t deny there’s a lot of magic in all that joyful hope and expectation. I’ll raise my glass to my little family, my beloved friend, and to all of you.

Happy New Year ❤

One Year

It’s a little bit late, but I wanted to mark Arthur’s first birthday by writing him a letter.

Dear Arthur,

12 months. One whole trip around the sun. A year has come and gone since you burst into our lives, and it’s been tough, and wonderful, and awe-inspiring and hilarious.

Now you’re one there’s a lot happening with you. You started walking at 11.5 months, which was so exciting. I love watching you tearing around, investigating everything and pulling everything apart. You’re saying some words now, too. For a long while your favourite word was “Daddy”, even to the point of chanting it round Sainsbury’s. Your first proper word was “duck” but we haven’t heard it since. You say “Arthur!” tenderly as you recognise yourself in the mirror and give yourself a kiss. You’re also pretty good at “Wow!” and “Oh!” but my favourite word so far has to be “bauble” which has replaced all other words as you’re so pleased with it. No Mama, not yet. Why would you need it? I’m always here, after all. And I’m beginning to be concerned that you think my name is Boob anyway.

So, what else are you up to? Books. You love love love them. You’re never happier than when sat in a big pile of your books, turning pages upside down happily to yourself. You prefer to do this whilst listening to music in your bedroom. I didn’t get to that stage until I was at least 12, so well done there.

You’re funny. So, so funny, and you know it, too. Thankfully you still do your Roland Rat laugh, only now it’s accompanied by the cheekiest of grins, with plenty teeth. You love it when we chase you, especially if you notice the gate to the stairs has been left open and there’s an opportunity for some climbing.

You have so many amazing toys, but right now you’re not that interested. What’s more important to you is practising your walking, up and down, up and down the hall. You’re often carrying something as you go; a toy car, dolly, perhaps even the coaster I got from a wedding in Nice years ago. That’s a particular favourite. You’re sociable and loving and you adore other children, but Daddy and I are still your favourites.

Hopefully, as you enter your second year, I’ll be a bit more with it. It’s a tough gear to get into, parenthood, and I wasn’t always sure I was doing the right thing. I did my best, and that seems to be enough for you. As long as we get our sticky cuddles and kisses every time you toddle over to me, only to race off again, I think we’ll be OK. There’s a lot of fun stuff waiting for us this year. More talking, more playing, more holidays, more tearing about. Crayons, sticker books, play-doh and glitter. Trips to the zoo, trips to the seaside, chips and chocolate and apples and carrots. All of that and more.

I’m so glad you came along. I’m so glad we get to be your parents. I’m so proud of you. Keep being you, Little Droid. You’re the best person we’ve ever met.

Love,

Boob.

I’ve had time to think this year. I’ve had a little time to think more about what I want out of life, and, more precisely, what I don’t. At the age of 36 I think I finally know myself well enough to know which battles are worth fighting and which ones I really don’t have time for. So here’s the list of things I’m dumping as we turn the final corner of 2017. 
Heels
Oh, how I love them. Feet jewels. They’re so pretty. And I so can’t wear them.
I’ve been trying since I was a teenager, but every time I wore them to a party or out clubbing they’d end up swinging from my hands while a mate gave me a piggy back, or kicked to the side of the room while I risked my feet on a sticky club carpet. A friend of mine used to say “You know it’s a party when Vicki takes her shoes off”. My lifelong search for the perfect comfortable and beautiful pair of heels is now over. I’m loving my brogues and Converse, and contemplating a pair of DMs like the ones I had when I was 15. I’m short and I don’t wear heels. The end.
Saying yes when I mean no
I’m a terrible people-pleaser. I want the whole world to like me, and in order to achieve this nonsensical goal I’ve always had a habit of saying yes to absolutely everything, then having to let people down at the last minute because I can’t possibly manage it. I even say yes to things I have no interest in doing at all.
No longer.
Having Arthur has changed me in many ways. This is one. When I know something isn’t going to work for us for whatever reason; travel, bedtime, nap time, more than one activity per day and so on, I just say no. I did think it might just be a family thing, but I seem to be doing it in other areas of life too. It’s far better than saying yes and then no and being known as Flaky McFlake Face. I’m also getting better at not giving a protracted, apologetic reason for my refusal. Which brings me nicely to…
Apologising for myself
Apparently this is very common for women. We often write emails at work that beg forgiveness for taking someone’s time, or asking a question about something we couldn’t possibly have known about. I’m terrible for this kind of thing. If someone bumps into me there’s a good chance I’ll say sorry.
I recently got a new job. It’s my dream job, really; freelance, working around Arthur and in an area of my field I’ve been wanting to get into for ages. I really had to talk myself into applying for it. “Oh,” I thought, “That looks great but I’m really not qualified.” 
Why not? My inner Confidence Beast asked. Isn’t your Masters degree as good as anyone else’s? Doesn’t your 16 years of experience count for anything? Haven’t you wanted to get back into work in a way that fits around family? WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Reader, I got the job.
Dieting
This is a big one. Perhaps the big one. It’s been brewing for a long while, but having an HG pregnancy has really put my relationship with food and my body into perspective. I had to slowly starve myself over the nine months of my pregnancy and when I told people I had lost a stone in weight whilst pregnant I would get “Well, every dark cloud has a silver lining!” which tells you everything you need to know about what we think of larger-bodied people.
Since then I’ve decided to get off this particular merry-go-round. It’s never worked for me. I can’t be the person who has the ‘will power’ to make my body smaller. All diets have ever done is make me fatter in the long run, and since I stopped earlier this year and started to observe myself and my habits I’ve noticed that my weight has stabilised and my food moralising has stopped. After all, how can a delicious burger actually be bad? If I’m hungry the salad isn’t going to cut it.
For more information about Intuitive Eating and stepping away from diets I highly recommend Christy Harrison’s Food Psych, a brilliant podcast which looks at the flawed diet culture and examines ways to move forward. https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/
Huge crowds
Have you ever stood on the South Bank on New Year’s Eve?
Don’t.
Gigs, festivals, carnivals, Oxford Street. I hate them all. It’s partially because I’m all of 5 feet 2 inches tall, and partly because the sight of all that forced jollity makes me anxious. YOU MUST HAVE A GREAT TIME. It’s guaranteed to give me the reverse. My last attempt was the Lambeth Country Show (a misnomer if ever I heard one), at which I sat in a horrible hot park with thousands of other people, ate an overpriced pork bap then raced home as fast as I could. Then contracted food poisoning. I’m grateful to the bap for the lesson. Big crowds are not for me.
I’d love to hear your version of this list. What are you happy to leave behind from your younger years?


Arthur is nearly 11 months old. In some ways it feels as though my tiny baby disappeared in the blink of an eye, but mostly it feels as though he’s been here forever. In the blur and fog of the first year, it’s hard to remember what it was like before he showed up, perfect despite everything, and we lost ourselves to him. Now he’s almost a toddler really; pushing around the baby walker I found at a charity shop for peanuts, turning over all his toys with wheels to examine them intently like a baby mechanic, babbling as though he really wants us to understand him. 
I’m still breastfeeding. In all honesty, I thought I would have stopped by now but we’re dealing with a very specific set of circumstances. When I started to offer Arthur food five months ago (is it really that long?) he started to show signs of something called an IGE Mediated Allergic Reaction. Put simply, certain foods give him an alarming rash. Eggs, dairy, soy, citrus and banana are all off the table. I check ingredients obsessively, making sure he isn’t going to consume anything that will make him poorly. He can’t have any commercially available formulas as they all contain one or more of the things he’s allergic to.
In addition to this issue, Arthur won’t take food from a spoon. By necessity we’re doing ‘Baby-Led Weaning’ which means he hardly eats anything at all, and he also won’t take a bottle or drink water from a sippy cup yet. 
Breastfeeding is wonderful, a perfect cuddle, stillness in a busy day and a chance to check on Arthur at night. It helped us to get that elusive bond from day one, and I’ll always be so grateful that we were able to do it first time. But after such a long time of being my baby’s only real energy source, I find I’m tired. I’m starting to look forward to a time I can say yes to evening invitations, or to going out on the weekends for longer than three hours. I want to know that next year I’ll be able to organise some childcare without worrying that he’s not going to eat anything for hours. My hair and skin are suffering under the strain of my body providing nutrition for someone else for so long. My shoulders and back are always sore, as are my joints because of the relaxin that’s still being released into my system. Teeth make it very uncomfortable. I’m tired from having to get up at least once every night to feed, meaning I haven’t had an unbroken night’s sleep in nearly a year. My husband can’t really parent in the way I’d like him to (or the way he’d like to) because Arthur is still so dependent on me. It’s me he needs when he wakes up in the night, only me who can do bedtimes and first thing in the morning wake-ups. So, as a way of learning from my experiences, here’s what I’d recommend to other breastfeeding mothers in the early months based on my experience. Hope it’s helpful to someone!
Introduce a bottle and offer it consistently
At  5 months Arthur was able to take a bottle, and we’d offer it sporadically on the very rare occasions Will was parenting solo. To my regret we didn’t keep doing it, and by 7 months when we tried again he angrily rejected it. We’ve tried tonnes of different teats, all to no avail. He just won’t have it. I can’t help thinking that he might have found drinking from a cup a little easier if he’d realised he could actually suck from a bottle!
Introduce foods one by one and monitor for reactions
I had never even considered that Arthur might have food allergies. I blithely assumed he’d be just like me and be able to eat anything. If I had my time to do over again I wouldn’t crash straight in and offer everything at once the way I did this time, and I would (despite all current advice) start with the blandest foods, one at a time, which is what I eventually had to do on the helpful advice of a friend who’s been there before. It was hard to tell at first what he’d reacted to, and I didn’t even realise the rash was a problem until I raised it with my wonderful online Mum group. The only way to tell what was going on was to give those foods again, and I really think part of Arthur’s reluctance to eat is that he remembers those early reactions. I’d also (sorry, sorry BLWers) offer a spoon consistently every day. Even if I had done this there’s no guarantee, but I suspect Arthur might be a little further on with his eating and I might be able to leave him with someone else once in a while!
I know just how many women try to breastfeed and find it impossible, and I’m really glad and grateful for our success. Having said that, when the time comes to finally move on I think I’ll be glad that Arthur can be a little more independent. As we say in our group “This too shall pass”. Until then, my boob monster and I will keep plodding on.
Good luck with your feeding, however you’re doing it!

When Congratulations aren’t in order…

Oatcake Adventures

When congratulations aren’t in order…

The news is out! The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her third child, (though I had my suspicions when she was admitted to hospital last week).. another royal baby? On the face of it, this is wonderful news.. so how come the most used reaction when I saw the news on Facebook was the ‘😢’ sad face?

Having connected this year with many other HG survivors, it’s clear that ‘congratulations’ isn’t the first word that springs to mind when a fellow sufferer announces their pregnancy. Choosing to face HG for a second time is a big decision, facing it for a third time is something so many women can never bring themselves to do. Facing the worst few months of your life, whilst having two little lives to nurture is an achievement to say the least! HG is going to hit the media big time…

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River Of Slime

Peter Venkman: Hey, how many of you people out here are a national monument? Raise your hand, please? Oh, hello, Miss!

I find myself thinking about Ghostbusters II a lot these days.


Bear with me.


I’m an 80s baby, and the Ghostbusters films were truly awesome. My brothers and I loved them. What’s chiming for me at the moment is the storyline of II.

In case you’ve never seen it, the basic idea is that there’s a river of supernatural slime flowing underneath New York City and feeding off all the negative emotions of the population. Everyone’s bad temper, anger, misanthropy and hatred is creating a monster.


I’ve been thinking about it a lot because it feels very much like what we’re living through at the moment. There’s an awful lot of negativity online, in the news and in the streets. In London everything feels uneasy in a way it hasn’t in all 18 years I’ve lived there. It might just be me that’s changed because of having a baby, but I don’t think it’s just that. There’s been a shift.


In the film there turns out to be a pretty brilliant solution. The boys take the “mood slime” (turns out it reacts to positive emotions, too), use their guns to fire it all over the Statue of Liberty, put on some banging tunes and have her walk through the streets of Manhattan with everyone singing and waving. They bring some positive energy back. It strikes me that we could do with something like that, albeit a little less bonkers. Back in the day, when I was teaching, I got to create my very own positive mood slime all the time. I helped my colleagues bring kids and staff together with singing, positivity and love every time we put on a show or a concert. It was our very own Ghostbusters II finale, twice a term. On a larger scale the 2012 Olympics did the most amazing job of bringing everyone together. People from all over the country volunteered and welcomed athletes and visitors,and for three weeks we were the place to be. It was amazing.


Right now there’s a lot of head-shaking. A lot of people ask the question “What kind of world are we bringing our children into?” and I understand the concern. I sometimes find myself sinking into anxiety at the dark place the world seems to be right now. So I’ve started turning off the TV, ignoring the trolls and filling my timelines with positive people. I’m living life on much smaller scale for the time being, and it’s helping. 


Moments with Arthur are constantly amazing. Today he has clapped for the first time, kissed his cousin on the head and held her hand, reached out his arms for his grandparents, uncle and aunt and made “brum brum” noises playing with his toy steering wheel. Not bad.


Wishing you a whole river of positive mood slime.

The Humble Travel Cot And Why It Is Awesome

I’ll admit it, I never expected our cheap Red Kite travel cot to become our son’s main bed. We had this beautiful inherited sleigh cot, snowy white and gorgeous and so lovely in the nursery. It looked like the perfect picture of a baby’s room you’d see on Pinterest or Instagram.

 

When we were ready for Arthur to move into a bigger bed at 4 months (he’s incredibly tall and was starting to outgrow our side-sleeper, plus my back was killing me), I had the idea of putting him in the travel cot in our room as we’d done at my parents’ house. It worked a treat. Once I’d got over not having him right next to me, we were golden. Still in our room, still next to us, just in his own bed with a nice extra mattress we’d bought for the purpose.

 

A month or so after that we decided we’d move him into his own room. How exciting! Getting our own room back! More sleep! Finally using that gorgeous cot!

 

Nope.

 

Firstly, we hadn’t reckoned on Arthur’s thrashing around. In his travel cot with the stretchy sides it was absolutely fine for him to roll over and over in his sleep, because there was nothing to bash him. All nice and soft and fun to make silly faces against. In the wooden cot he would repeatedly wake himself up with a limb stuck out the side, crying. Enter the ‘airwrap’ cot bumper, a safe breathable mesh to stop that happening. Great, worked for a few nights, but then Arthur started crawling, practising even when he was asleep. Now he was banging his little head into the solid end of the cot. And, yes, waking himself up.

 

After agonising over it for a few days (the cot! The beautiful cot!) we were resigned. Arthur crawls in his sleep, pulls himself up to standing and is generally a night time menace. To ensure that the sleep we did get was less punctuated by anxiety dreams about him maiming himself as we slumbered, we agreed to give up, take that lovely white cot down and let him sleep in his beloved travel cot.

 

As it turns out, it was a blessing. Arthur loves his bed, and is happy in there playing as I get everything ready for bedtime. He sleeps better (OK, it’s still not great but much, much better), and we’ve even bought another one to act as a playpen for downstairs when I need a break from chasing his little bottom round the living room. When we go away we take his actual bed from home, which is great for him. But the real dream is the weekend. We obviously don’t get a lie-in any more, but now we just bring Arthur’s bed into our room and let him play and nap in there. He can’t fall off the bed that way, and we still have a lovely time all together. And naps. Did I mention we all nap at the same time?

 

I’d say that’s worth retiring the beautiful cot for now.