One: Have you heard of the Story Museum in Oxford? We discovered t when we were in Oxford for the Instameet, a recommendation from the staff at my old college when we were wondering what to do next. It’s tucked away down a side street from St Aldates, if you know Oxford it’s on the little road as if you were walking from St Aldates to St Ebbes, and at the moment it’s a bit hidden away by road works, but it’s so worth hunting out. Even the outside, where low windows in the wall let you peek into scenes from your favourite children’s stories, or the old red phone box outside that has been turned into a Nonsense box and is currently filled with Alice in Wonderland. I’m told that last December that’s where Father Christmas hung his red suit for dry cleaning, and on Christmas Eve it disappeared!
It cost £17 for our visit, £7 for me, £5 for each of my ‘under 16’ girls and Pip was free and it’s an amazingly creative place. We all loved spotting the artwork from some of our favourite stories, chatting to the illustrators in the illustrator zoo, and making our own fuzzy felt picture in the make it yourself room (which also had everything you could want to draw to your heart’s content) but it was when we got to the more interactive section that it got really fun. In the throne room you take your board, slot in an adjective and a couple of nouns, dress up to match and then hold the board up so the throne can see it, and then when you sit down the throne announces you:
“The Happy Fairy of the Universe!”
Kitty liked being from the Universe, mainly I suspect because it sounded exactly how Jeremy Clarkson would say it.
And then upstairs to bed, and hands down our favourite section. Imagine a corridor hung with dressing gowns from tiny to big tall grown up, and then a room softly lit and draped in a canopy of pretty fabrics. A little room on the side to choose your story and matching teddy, a toddler bed to tuck teddy into and the biggest most completely enormous bed you’ve ever seen to curl up on the pillow bean bags and have a read. If that wasn’t enough, one side room had old fashioned telephones that told you nursery rhymes and another was decorated like a cloud and played lullabies while a mirror ball gently danced lights around the walls. We were incredibly lucky to have it all to ourselves and the only reason we left was closing time. I quite genuinely would move in if it were an option.
On 1 November they’re opening their Narnia section, apparently you enter it through a wardrobe and it snows. We will be going.
Two: Pip has had another growth spurt (what’s new) which meant time to look for some new trousers again. I’ve been a huge fan of leggings for the girls, they just seem so comfy and so very practical for letting them move freely, especially when they’re in that learning to stand and walk phase, and while the beloved Maxomorra cloud leggings first worn by Kitty are now fitting Pip (and holding up very well for being third hand), the other leggings in his size were a bit too girly even for me (and I put Pip in pink bunny vests). But thanks to the wonders of Etsy, I’ve discovered Lottie and Lysh (made in Cornwall – woohoo!) and this gorgeous little gull pair, and Maebelle & Bo whose awesome array of fabric choices made it very hard to narrow it down to Monkeys and Diggers.
Three: The ‘On Being’ podcast was recommended to me this week by Laura, especially the interview with Ellen Langer, and I’m passing the recommendation on because it is absolutely awesome and I want to go back and listen to it over and over again and take notes. Her research into the impact that our mind has on our physical bodies is extraordinary, and in an interview that covers all sort of wonderful topics she addresses something that I’ve wondered about for years, why is the placebo effect seen as such a bad thing? If a placebo works, is much cheaper than drugs and isn’t introducing anything that could have side effects, why don’t we harness it?
Four: Now that Bake Off has finished (and I caught up just in time to watch the final quasi-live, and avoided all social media for the entire of the evening so it truly was a surprise) it must be time for The Apprentice. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with it, I usually can’t bear to watch the first few episodes because everyone is just so ridiculously over the top Big Brother style and I have this horrible feeling that every squabble from the girls’ team sets women in business back ten years, but I’m usually sucked in half way through. I thought this article from the Guardian about what we should have the Apprentice candidates doing was really interesting; I’m not sure it was always right and a lot of the suggestions are impractical (like teaching them code) but I think the genus of the idea is sound; flogging fish fingers is assessing skills that are outdated, the truly new big idea is a solution to a problem we haven’t even noticed we have yet. Sadly I suspect that while creative thinking and hard core maths makes excellent business plans it might be lousy telly, so fish fingers it is – what do you think?
Five: And last but by now means least, it’s Blogcamp London on Thursday! I’ve got the day off work, H at home with the little ones and a train ticket booked. It sounds like it’s going to be a really interesting day and I’m looking forward to spending a whole day indulging myself and talking blogging. So if you’re going, come and say hi, I’m very tall so I promise you’ll be able to spot me!
Living Arrows: a little moment of the week to pause, savour and treasure
With Kitty heading off to school five days and week, and my working five and heading out the door on four of them, our weekends are becoming more and more about being at home. We have ballet class and hockey matches on Saturday and church on Sunday morning but beyond that whenever we think about going out, we think, we pause, and then the idea of just staying at home wins out. I’m pretty sure that it will stay that way while the weather stays gloriously autumnal, it fills the house with sunshine, sends the dust motes sparkling, and we just breathe out, and ignore the housework.
I know when the rain and the damp sets in we won’t be able to get out into the garden so much, we have a south facing garden on the north side of a hill in the shade of a ginormous tree, and even now we’ve reached the stage where it doesn’t get warm enough during the day to dry the grass. Over the winter it tends to get wetter and wetter and we eventually reach a point where the levels of mud reach critical point and we go to the playpark with its nice quick drying bouncy paving more than we head into the garden. So while it is still an option just to throw open the doors and play we’re going for it; muddy knees and all.
Kitty unearthed our football from the flower bed. It’s usually Pip’s favourite toy, we roll it off away from him and he chases after it at high speed, hugs it, tries to sit on it and gives a very stern look to anyone who tries to take it off him, although he’ll happily play catch with you, he just want it back.
I don’t think he was too convinced about letting her actually kick it and she had to play chase with him for a little while before he could be persuaded to let her have a go, but then, very carefully, she lined it up, took aim, let fly…
…and made contact, sending the ball flying down the garden to H! Someone has clearly been paying attention during playtime at school and she was just so happy about it.
A little moment in our week, the simplest sort of fun in the garden, but they’re the moments when I can wrap my family around me and the time we all spent apart during the week just falls away.
Before I went back to work a very wise friend told me to go through in my mind exactly what a perfect day at work would look like, right from the trains running on time, to pulling perfectly reasoned arguments out of the ether and demolishing all my opposition in record time, to coming home, my welcome, the time I spent reconnecting with the family, and the time we spent together catching up on all our days. The idea is that it creates a sort of mental muscle memory, a bit like Olympic athletes imagining themselves bringing home the gold in the build up to the event.
I thought about pulling into the drive, getting out of the car, having the girls come rushing up the front garden to meet me, and Pip trying to clamber over the doorstep, the big hugs and going inside, sitting down and holding them tight while Kitty told me about her day at school, and that’s pretty much how Friday went. Except there were whisperings, mutters of a secret and a surprise. A secret and a surprise that was a present that Elma had for me. Did I want to see it? Well yes please, absolutely.
I was told to shut my eyes, pulled forward, pushed to the side, and, still holding Pip and evading his attempts to run off with my glasses, sat down on the arm of the chair.
A voice said “Play! Open your eyes!”
And that’s how I found out that on a whim, and to make the best of a day full of glorious sunshine, H had taken Elma and Pip to Hatton Country World, a sort of mini farm park north west ish of Warwick. And so that neither Kitty nor I would feel as if we’d missed out, they made me a video of everything they’d done, from guinea pig spotting to slides and a very special chick, now named “Flying Chick”.
So for this week’s ordinary moments I’m turning you over to our special correspondents: H, Elma and Pip, and their moments from what looks like a wonderful day out.
By way of notes:
- Kitty started asking if we could go too within about the first millisecond.
- It looks awesome, I’m sure we will.
- H reckons that in the three hours they were there they only covered a fraction of the site; apparently there’s an amazing soft play but the children were so happy with tractors, sand boxes and the petting zoo that they never got any further.
- Pip thinks going down a slide like that is absolutely hilarious. H also said he’d been down on his bottom three times and then when the camera came out decided to pull out all the stops!
- This may be one of the loveliest presents that I’ve ever ever been given.
Linking up with Jodi with a portrait of each of my children once every week for 2015.
Kitty: Playing around in the garden and you came and snuggled in and put your head in my lap as I was taking pictures of your brother. I looked down and you looked up at me with such a look of love and shared joy and time stopped for a moment. And then the swing and the slide and the football called and you were off at a hundred miles a minute again.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/250, f/3.2, ISO 100)
Elma: I think I love this photo as much for the sentimental associations as for it being a technically brilliant portrait. You’re sat on the steps of my old college, a spot I sat a thousand times, and your Grandpa a thousand before me. I loved my time there and I am quite disproportionately fond of every inch of that stonework, so I’m glad you thought it was worthy of a photo, even if the photo was of your fingers.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/80, f/5 , ISO 160)
Pip: I keep posting pictures of you in the swing don’t I. I do have other pictures of you I promise but (a) swinging back and forth is when you are at your most still and (b) you just make the most hilarious expressions ranging from bafflement to jump up and down excitement. Long may you be this happy my darling boy.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/250, f/2.2, ISO 100)
I think that in my old age I am becoming less project monogamous. Emphasis on the “project”. In younger days I don’t think I ever really got how some people could have a dozen or so different projects on the needles/hook/near the sewing machine. Surely you chose your project, you sat down whenever you had time and worked on it, and then you’d have a finished whateveritwas and look around to start the next thing. How could you have projects piled up and not just finish them?
Now of course it’s blindingly obvious. My projects move slowly because I just don’t have as much time to dedicate to creating things and I once did, and that’s ok, I’m making people; nourishing and nurturing my little three and for these few brief years of their babyhoods they keep my hands full in the best possible way.
But it does mean that if, for example, I committed myself to finishing my crochet ripple blanket, which I adore, and which has grown by precisely one row since you saw it here last, I’d be doing nothing but crochet for a year at least. Now I love crochet as much as the next mildly obsessed craftaholic, but a whole year of crochet means no knitting or quilting or sewing, or random crafts picked up by way of a Mollie Makes cover kit (of which my supply appears endless). And I’d miss them.
All of which is a very convoluted way of excusing the fact that despite the gorgeous crochet ripple perched on the arm of the sofa, despite the confetti of blue and orange triangles heaped over my sewing table willing themselves into becoming a quilt, despite the loom kit that I really really want to try out, and despite the very nearly finished top secret baby knit for a baby which I believe is also very very nearly finished, this week I pulled out the kit from my Cath Kidston Patch book and started a little English Paper Piecing.
Just to keep my hand in of course.
I’m going to make the cushion version rather than the bag because (a) we have a lot of bags and (b) I owe Elma a cushion for her bed, and while I flirted with the idea of having the centre circle be pink, or possibly red polka dots, I’m sticking to the blue centre, through I might play around with the layout of the petals.
So far I’ve been diligently stitching petals to paper; I’ve used freezer paper for the templates but I think that there must be quite a lot of starch in the fabric squares, they feel very stiff and for the first time ever I’ve had real trouble in getting the paper to stick, so I’m sewing them on well so nothing can shift about.
It’s made life a little interesting when it comes to pulling in the pleats for the top of the curves too and I’m sure some of them are a bit bumpier than they should be but hopefully it will all even itself out when I sew them down onto the background.
They are lovely fabrics (as always) and this time the patterns are so familiar. The blue polka dots I had as a roll of washi tape, the red floral was the tote bag I carried papers to work in for several years.
And if I don’t get too distracted by anything else, it might just make a very cute little cushion cover!
I read an article the other day that made the brief throwaway comment that was along the lines of “even books on happiness now suggest doing a little work first thing in the morning when on holiday”.
What? Stop, wait a minute, what!
It wasn’t a spoof either. A genuine suggestion from genuine self help books on promoting happiness in the crazy maelstrom of our lives suggests doing some work while on holiday, to prevent a backlog of email building up, so you can keep in touch on your biggest projects and not spend the rest of the day worrying about them, and presumably, though it’s not explicitly stated, so you can be seen to be keeping in touch even on your holidays and thus cement your position as completely essential to the success of absolutely everything.
Surely I can’t be the only one that reads that and thinks it’s absolutely bonkers and a really really bad idea?
I’m not against using all the tech you can lay your hands on at work; on the contrary I think it’s awesome. It’s by having a laptop that connects into my work systems that I can work from home one day a week, eat breakfast, eat lunch with H and the littlest two and do Kitty’s school runs, and by doing so feel that I haven’t entirely clocked out on my children’s childhoods. It means I can take my office with me whenever I need to sit on a train for a few hours to visit a client, and having a work phone that can get my email has been handy in meetings.
The nature of my job is that I do sometimes have to put in more hours than are in a working day and again the tech means I can be at home working into the evening, after I’ve made it home for family supper, cuddled the kids and put them to bed. That’s how it ought to work. Technology and our little beeping fruity friends should be there to support our commitment to our family and our commitment to our jobs, not muscling in one at the expense of the other.
But holidays should be sacrosanct.
I’m not just longing to return to the good old days when no one was contactable ever and important letters were set by carrier pigeon, or at the very least, bicycle courier; I think there’s more to it than simply the interference with family life, though that in itself is an extremely big part of it.
I think we need holidays to rekindle our creativity, to explore new ideas, to mentally doodle. It’s a common theme when talking about our children’s education that the most important thing is to spark their curiosity and creativity, because in the future they will be doing jobs none of us have heard of and trying to solve problems we cannot conceive of. I don’t think that just applies to our children.
The idea of sleeping on a problem to let your subconscious come up with the solution is nothing new, and I think that’s what holidays can be, but on a bigger scale. But if we are forever tethered to the daily here and now, we loose that capacity for bigger thinking.
When I was training I went home one Friday having handed over my mobile number and knowing that if the deal we were working on went on into the weekend they might call me on Sunday. I’m not sure what they were expecting me to do beyond make tea and coffee (and clearly they hadn’t tasted my tea or coffee) but I know that I spent all of Sunday watching my phone like a ticking time bomb, not daring to go too far from the house in case I needed to drop everything and head into the office. It’s an extreme example, a combination of youth, a tough boss and being a trainee, and the 35 year old me would tell the 22 year old me to relax and go to the park, but it illustrates my point; for all the good that Sunday did me I might as well have been in the office.
I can’t sit here and promise that I will never ever be contactable on holiday, I will always do xyz and it will always make me brilliant. If work continues to creep across the life in work life balance then there will come a point where I can’t stand against the tide and I will be swept up in a sort of hydraulic peer pressure. But I know what I want and what I think is right and what I will try to make the norm.
I want my holidays to be for spending time with my family, for pursuing hopes and dreams, for my passions in life, and for giving my mind space and time to breathe. I might come back with nothing more than a smile and a great tan, or my subconscious might figure out a new approach on a tricky case, or a new way to market ourselves or somthing equally brilliant. I’m not making any promises, but don’t you think it might be time worth protecting?
Eleven worldwide instameet days came and went before I had any clue that such a thing could even exist, but I heard about the twelfth last Wednesday, discovered that there was a meet up in Oxford on Thursday evening and on Friday decided on a whim that we’d go. H had to travel to somewhere only slightly nearer than the far side of the moon for hockey and spending lots of time taking pictures in a city I know and love sounded like the perfect way to pass the time without him.
So after ballet class we hustled the girls into some clothes, packed the sling, my camera, Kitty’s pink camera and my old phone in a life proof case for Elma, and headed south. It was AWESOME. And yes I am shouting in a happy smiley sort of a way. We were late to the meetup point at the Museum of Modern Art cafe but everyone was still there and we sat and chatted for a while, labelled all of us (stickers = happy children) and got the girls’ cameras sorted (and watched them go and take lots of pictures of the cake counter – spot the children of an instagrammer) before heading out on our walk.
In such a beautiful city as Oxford there are a million different places for pictures and I love that rather than go around the university and look for the stereotype Oxford-y shots of dreaming spires against blue skies we went off away from the city centre to explore some of the less photographed spots.
The food festival at the Castle smelt amazing and the girls were drawn like moths to a flame to Happy Cakes. After so many pictures it seemed only fair to buy some which Elma assured me were delicious (as she sat on my shoulders and mushed the crumbs into my hair!). It was a great place for pictures, there were signs, posters, old castle and much newer vintage food trucks decked out in sparkle and bling.
From there we headed down to the canal, past ducks (20 pictures from Kitty), narrowboats of every colour of the rainbow, and over a very sweet little hump back bridge complete with narrowboats navigating a lock. Never had they had quite such a big audience and it made for a great group shot.
A little higher up the tow path we headed back over the water and into Jericho. Picturesque isn’t always the word for that part of Oxford; there’s a fair amount of 60’s architecture and student housing around, but there are walls with gorgeous peeling paint that made a great backdrop, an incredible house at the end of a terrace covered in murals of giant ladybirds, and toadstools and vines, and some houses with brickwork that looked like knitting.
Kitty and Elma were getting seriously stuck in by this point; they started by taking a picture whenever anyone else took a shot, following the grown ups’ lead, but then I think the penny dropped that anything and everything was fair game and so I have a whole host of pictures from Elma of her favourite barge’s doormat, pictures from Kitty of everyone standing around or taking their own shots, and one very sweet one of my own of Elma photographing everyone’s legs.
We were walking down the road at one point and she turned to me, asked for her camera, and happily took three pictures of a blue door in a white wall before handing it back so we could scuttle along to catch up with everyone else. I think my work is done!
For little girls with little legs they did really well, Kitty walked all the way and Elma only had an occasional lift on my shoulders until we started to head back to town, which is a tribute to how much fun we had. Pip, mostly happy, occasionally wiggly, placated with cake, was happy as long as we were walking, and once he’d got over some initial shyness at all these new people, spent the rest of the day in full on charm offensive, bestowing smiles and waves to anyone who’d wave a camera near him.
We wandered through the centre of town and ended up in Jericho Coffee Traders (on King Edward Street, nowhere near Jericho) which not only sells pink sparkly cupcakes (full marks from two small, and by this point, rather hungry, girls) but has awesome arrow lights, and a wall of post it notes.
Apart from the lovely Kat (who my girls adore – Elma thinks she looks like Cinderella and Kitty wore her name badge for the rest of the day!) I hadn’t met anyone else before and I’ve discovered so many wonderful new Instagram accounts to follow, and met the lovely people behind them which is just the icing on the cherry on the cake.
The #oxfordinstameet hashtag on Instagram is full of all our pictures, including all the group shots (look for two little faces peering through the bridge), and is definitely worth exploring.
There were moments on the way down to Oxford when I wobbled a bit and wondered whether I was doing the right thing, or whether we’d be happier staying home, doing the washing up and going to the park, but I am so so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone; it was a brilliant meet up, the girls loved it and have been telling everyone they meet all about it, and their only question now is when is the next one?
Living Arrows: a little moment of the week to pause, savour and treasure
At the end of the Oxford Instameet (more on which another day) Kitty, Elma, Pip and I found ourselves just around the corner from H and my old stomping grounds. Our colleges almost backed onto each other, and Kitty and Pip’s godfather’s was next-door to H’s so we knew every cobble of those streets by the end of our four years and there was no way I wasn’t going to take the children to see where Mummy and Daddy first met.
Technically, the exact spot where Mummy and Daddy first met is currently a building site. I’m not sure what they’re doing to the building but no part of it was recognisable under the scaffolding and sheeting, although I was intrigued that as well as all the usual building site notices attached to the gate was one very big “no swearing” poster. Maybe the stonework doesn’t like it.
Around the corner to my college and there are so many memories; the year I had a room in the tower, the law library where I spent far too many late nights, my teeny tiny room in the first year with a cupboard that was a corridor from a previous incarnation of the house.
Walking through college and pointing them out to the girls reminded me so much of visiting when I can’t have been much bigger than Kitty is now and my Dad doing the same thing with my sister and I.
But it my Living Arrows picture this week comes from H’s old home.
The college was closed so we just stopped off in the lodge for a few minutes and I told them some of the memories that we have of the quad in the snow, more really late nights, the fact that when it was first built they walked the blind founder twice around the quad so he’d think it was bigger.
Kitty was part mesmerised part shattered from a long morning’s walk stood staring out into the quad. I would love to know what she was thinking, maybe trying to imagine her very grown up pre historically ancient parents as fresh faced pre historically ancient 18 year olds!
And Elma, looking everywhere and trying to spot more things for photos spotted the pelican and whirled around to tell me all about it.
Well technically she called it a duck, but we won’t tell Daddy.
Now that I don’t spend so much of my everyday with Pip I keep finding myself surprised by him. In my mind the baby I leave at home every morning is a tiny snuggly little thing that curls up in my arms to sleep, head nestling into my neck and one arm clinging on around my shoulders.
But when I come home and look around the room for my baby, there standing up against the play kitchen, holding on with one hand and waving wildly with the other, is my Pip, every inch a little boy.
He’s rapidly cruising the furniture now and I know we’re only a few months at most away from him walking (please let those first steps be when I’m at home), and all his pulling up and climbing is opening up a whole new world. Some of it, we’d rather he stopped exploring, the climbing onto the footstool to reach up and cling to the television being our favourite, and some is wonderful to see.
Starting with what is now Pip’s racing car. I don’t think we’d had it out since before our Europe trip; Kitty and Elma have been so taken up with their bike and scooter collection that their once beloved car had been rather neglected. We pulled it out, put it on the patio and helped Pip climb in.
And oh the expressions on that little boy’s face. First bemused, then tentatively reaching out to grab at the steering wheel, then letting go when it didn’t move, and then huge smiles when he realised that the steering wheel moves just like his favourite spot at the play park.
Elma and Kitty came to have a look, because naturally even if you’ve shown no interest in something for the last month, if your brother has it then it’s something you ought to have instead, and once we’d convinced them that we really were serious when we said it was Pip’s go, and we really would take anyone inside who thought they’d just haul him out and have a go instead, they decided to show him exactly how it all works.
Elma filled the car with fuel, and showed him how to beep the horn (cue even broader smiles) and then just in case it might rain, or possibly because it was blazingly sunny, she went to get an umbrella to hold over him. Shades of the F1 grid for the world’s most stationary race car.
His feet do touch the floor and I know that any minute now he’ll figure out how to propel himself around the patio and that will be another skill learned and another milestone reached but for now I’m going to enjoy every minute of my baby joyfully playing engines and try not to blink and find him all grown up too fast.
Space for the Butterflies is…
Subscribe to Space for the Butterflies via Email