The Cutester: Four and a half


OK, I confess. I had just told her that if she stuck her fingers in the cake again (the main body of cake, not the slice on her plate) I WAS GOING TO CUT THEM OFF.

I forgot how literal four-year-olds are. I know, I know, she won’t understand that recurrent nightmare about a knife-wielding digit-severing maniac resembling her mother until her late forties and only after a lengthy and expensive bout of therapy… and I did immediately reassure her that I was being silly and give her a hug… but not before this picture was taken, because it’s so tragic, and so terribly funny.

It still makes me laugh. Possibly a sort of guilt-evading laugh of denial. What sort of parent am I anyway?

In other news, we made the cake from a recipe in the back of a Fifi Flowertot book – the plot was terrible, but this was the nicest chocolate cake I’ve ever made, and baking it was probably the highlight of the Cutester’s holiday so far. I’ll never know how much its delicious moistness is owed to her current streaming cold, but who cares? Cake anyone?


Redster: Seven years and ten months
Cutester: Four and a half

The whole site to myself!

Before we get onto the subject of camping, may I draw your attention to the Cutester’s hairstyle? Yes, it’s a stylishly graduated inverted bob, the like of which I’ve been trying to get my hairdresser to perform on myself for years, without success. She has been congratulated repeatedly. I’m never sure how to react because the hairdresser was her sister.

They’d been alone for five minutes, on a Tuesday, when I’ve been doing an actual job in an office and the kids have had an actual nanny to look after them. She went to see what they were doing oh-so-quietly upstairs, and discovered that the over-sized teddy, the Redster’s fringe and the Cutester had all been dramatically modified. The Cutester’s shoulder length hair was only shoulder length on the left side – the right side was in the above style, and she was just doing the finishing vertical nicks with the scissors she’s seen the hairdresser do so many times. When I’d got over the shock, all I had to do to tidy up was make sure the left side matched the right, and voila.

It was hard to be cross with the Redster. I’ve officially stopped her pocket money for ten weeks, but to be honest I never remember to give it to her anyway; and I could save a fortune by getting the Redster to cut my own hair from now on…

I’m watching horrible images right now of an inferno in Croydon comsuming one building after another.

We live halfway between Enfield Town (scene of riots last night) and Tottenham (where it started the night before). I have friends in both places who were kept awake last night by sirens and helicopters and reading alarming tweets (probably unwisely). I was in the local park today at about 3pm when I heard the news that all the shops on our high street were closing on police advice. The park playground began emptying, and we walked home past shuttered shops, to the sound of a low-flying helicopter.

The Redster began regurgitating everything she’d learnt about the Great Fire of London, and came up with a series of impractical suggestions to stop our house burning to the ground. I am amazed she is asleep now. My own prayer life has certainly livened up. It does seem though that this area’s escaped any trouble tonight, thank God. Sleep tight all.

First I had to recover from the event itself, and then from the after-event party… but here at last are some photos…


I cannot tell you how much excitement there was in the anticipation. There was a daily countdown from about two months before. It was like Christmas. The above was the best part of the anticipation for me. Knowing we had the kit in our front garden which was going to turn our ratrun into a playground – oh, the power…


Barriers in place. Everyone welcome (except for cars of course). Now what?

A fire engine, for a start. On purpose that is.

Street Play

Facepainting was a big hit. The main facepainter had never done it in her life before and insisted she wasn’t up to much, but doggedly knocked out a choice of either butterfly or tiger from a crib sheet in front of her – very comptetently I thought. Then the Redster produced a facepainting book and insisted on this sunset. Our facepainter gritted her teeth and obliged. Look what a great job she did! Also, the friendship the Redster now has with this lady is one of the nicest things to have come out of this day.

Chalked cobbles
Richard Crutchely,

There was also a lot of chalk involved


And a fair bit of paint

Street Play

so we displayed the results properly.

Towards the end, the facepainters had other things to do, but the paints were all left out. A very nice couple of teenagers began painting all comers, and each other, then the rest of the kids took their cue from that and some intereting DIY designs emerged on faces, hands and arms. That was fine until the Redster got confused at painted her sister’s face with washable poster paints. (NOT designed for skin, really, especially when it gets into your eyes, and the ‘washable’ part only applies to clothes.)

Rope break
Richard Crutchely,

After the tug-of-war rope snapped spectacularly, 30 seconds into a whole-street contest (the ones smiling at the back haven’t realised yet and think they are winning)…

Street Play

… we decided it was easier to concentrate on the children and give them their own tug of war.

The girls mostly beat the boys. They’d give the rope a jerk, knock all the boys off their feet, then drag them across the winning line. Simple.

Richard Crutchely,

And we found another use for the snapped rope. Mainly the adults, that is. There was a lot of reliving one’s childhood going on.


Four hours after the barriers were put into place, they were reluctantly removed. People, on the other hand, were not so easily moved. Both adults and kids stood in knots on the tarmac long after the road was re-opened, and drivers just had to squeeze gingerly around them. For an hour or so it was possible to imagine a world where car is not king.

But the utterly best thing to have come from this one single afternoon is the change of atmospthere in our street ever since. I have enjoyed conversations and friendships in the last three weeks that did not exist for the previous fifteen years, both for us parents and our children.

I can’t recommend this enough. Check out Playing Out or London Play and think about shutting your street. It’s about a dozen times easier than you thought.

Redster: Seven and two thirds
Cutester: Four and a half

Playing Out from Paul Gilbert on Vimeo.

Playing Out – what started it all
Check out the five minute video on this site – two mums in Bristol reclaiming the streets for the children to ‘play out’ after school, like it used to be normal to, before streets were just for cars and all the kids had to be shut indoors.

When my sister sent me the link to this site she added, ‘but it would probably never work in your road.’ We live on a London Victorian terraced ratrun parallel to an A-road / busy high street, so she had a point.

Nonetheless – we’ve just done it!! All afternoon the street has been closed to traffic, and we’ve had the run of it, chalking all over the tarmac, riding bikes, painting faces, playing tennis, and holding ‘spud and spoon’ races and tug of war. When the road opened four hours later, adults and children carried on standing in groups on the road, chatting in the afternoon sun, and the cars just had to edge round them cautiously. I don’t think anyone really wanted to go home, never mind get back on the pavement. It was magic.

It was also rather late by the time I’d scrubbed the facepaint, and the poster paint they decided to plaster themselves with afterwards, off my children and get them into bed. So when I’m not completely cream crackered, I’ll have a lot more to say.

The Redster
Seven and a half

We have had at least three weeks to get ready for this. At the Redster’s school this week it’s been Book Week, culminating in today’s dressing-up extravaganza (this year’s theme: Kings and Queens). And just to give the rest of us a small foretaste of what’s at stake, a reminder of how easily – just one lapse in concentration, just one moment of your eyes off the road – the metaphorical car of parenthood can crash into life’s central reservation, overturn, and cause a pile-up with multiple fatalities, one child in Reception came dressed up to the nines on Friday the week before. It was awful. The tears, the frantic phonecalls, the helplessness of the bystanders…

So, we had no excuse not to be ready.

On the other hand, I was not about to repeat my performance of the Redster’s Reception Book Week two years ago (theme: Space), when I poured every spare moment for weeks into creating a giant yellow papier-mache sun outfit complete with yellow spiky headband. It was gratifying to be the only parent whose child was not dressed as an alien, but she couldn’t even sit down in it, and it was so huge we were unable to store it in the attic after its total of six hours in use.

Therefore, I briefly suggested to the Redster that she wear a white party dress, the crown that we already had, and I’d make her a red cape with a white fur trim to look regal in. I thought she agreed to this (when will I learn? If I interrupt her reading, she’s not agreeing, she’s just nodding so that I go away and let her continue with the adventures of HIccup Horrendous Haddock the Third and his dragon.) Yesterday I duly bought some red cloth, some white fur, and spent half of ballet sewing them together wonkily, feeling very pleased myself and causing the other ballet mums to consider me a domestic goddess – if only they knew – but realised as her lesson finished at 6pm that she hadn’t got any shoes she can wear with a dress. So it was in Asda, at round about the girls’ bedtime, looking at an unpromising rack of shoes, that the Redster suddenly announced that she wanted to be Queen Victoria and be dressed from head to toe in black

I know I could have said, ‘Tough, you should said that weeks ago,’ but a spirit of competiveness took over – one of her best friends had decided to be Elizabeth I and was even colouring her hair red specially. A specific queen looks a lot better than a generic one, and the fact that she had thought of it herself made me feel absurdly proud of her. So about £30 later she was kitted out with a black skirt, top, tights, hair thing, and a string of pearls, and practised ‘We are not amused’ in various tones of voice all the way home.

I thought she looked very Victorian this morning, though there was only a tiny tiara and a silk scarf headcovering to distinguish her from a waitress, and the tiny tiara was ripped off and stamped on by some wretched boy at first play anyway. She didn’t mind – she’d discovered that the string of pearls was just the right length to play cat’s cradle with.

If I can persuade babyfather, a picture will follow…

The Redster: Seven and a half
The Cutester: Four and a third

Knit one...

School holidays are for bringing grandmothers who teach you how to knit (and count the stitches)

The Redster was being nursed in the sitting room by her little sister today after complaining of a sore stomach. Her mother could perhaps have been more sympathetic but was mostly focussed on getting lunch on the table.

After a while a small person wearing a plastic stethoscope delivered this note to the kitchen:

‘Dear nurse’ [I forgot to say that I was appointed head nurse in my absence – clearly some kind of managerial, administrative role with little personal contact with patients]
‘It is a bit to quiet here. Please can I have some intotanment for example clouwns, tipe rope walkers, jugles, singers, dancers and poino ists. When it is lunchtime I am going to be carred in a weelchair. Please tell me when it is lunchtime!
from the Pashant.’

She turned out to have a remarkably good appetite given the circumstances, and after lunch she didn’t react well to being refused some of the ludicrous amounts of Easter chocolate that are swilling round our house.

I hope her health holds out. With those expectations, treatment by the NHS could be a huge anti-climax.

Babymother: 39 and a week or so

Every bathroom used by a child also has one of these, in my experience. They’re great. They don’t slip, they’re inoffensive, and they let your child reach the tap / lightswitch / Daddy’s razor with no effort whatsoever. I’ve also discovered a handy secret – when perched on the toilet feeling nauseous, no need to get up – you can simply flip it over and throw up into it. Just like a bucket. It has got holes in the sides, true, but if you don’t tip it too much, it’s fine.

As for children rattling the bathroom doorhandle and either shouting ‘MummyMummyMummy’ or asking inane questions, mid-retch, and not understanding ‘Mummy’s being SICK!’ it doesn’t help with that at all. Except you didn’t have to leave the bathroom to get a bucket, I suppose.

Not the best time for Babyfather to choose to go on a 3-day work conference.

Redster: Seven and a half
Cutester: Four and a quarter

Easter Bunny

Note the Gruffalo

There have been lots of milestones between here and the land of actually being a baby’s mother. The nappies are long gone, the teething has stopped, the potties are in the attic for camping expeditions and I never got round to buying one of those padded toddler loo seats anyway (the Cutester preferred to dangle dangerously)… there are no lids on the cups, the cupboard safety latches don’t work, and we only keep putting those safety covers back on the electrical sockets out of a kind of habitual stupidity. But the thing that made me really, finally admit to myself that life has moved on and my babies have fledged is this: the buggy, or the lack of it. I see women pushing buggies on the pavement and in the park, and the feeling of instant kinship and empathy that sight used to provoke has been replaced by a feeling of sepia–tinted separateness: I’m not in that club anymore (or if I’m in a good mood, condescension, bless her).

I couldn’t wait to get rid of the buggy. The Redster and I had just started going for longer ventures on foot without the wretched thing – I remember a lovely morning wandering in and out of trees in Trent Park, looking for mushrooms – when the Cutester was born. Then it was buggy for her and buggy board for the Redster, to and fro from nursery, or with her walking alongside it and constantly getting her foot run over, or speeding ahead on her scooter and leaving me panting behind the buggy in her dust so she could be crushed under the wheels of a lorry without my interference.

The Cutester loved the buggy. She trained me to love it, too, because if we went any distance without it she’d start begging to be carried. It didn’t matter how much I protested about poor old Mummy’s back / legs / arms / future need to be pushed by her daughter in a wheelchair happening sooner than necessary. Or we’d start off well with her on the balance bike, then she’d suddenly flake out and want to be carried, so I had to carry her and the **$* bike. Usually we settled for the buggy with the bike being carried precariously on the hood of the buggy, just in case, unused, and me trying to keep it on while going round corners in the rain and I’m also trying to hold up an umbrella. Maybe that’s why it’s called a balance bike. (A more canny buggy designer would have added some kind of bike/scooter rack.)

Then there was the stage where I felt empathy for mother kangeroos. In the buggy. Out of the buggy. Diving back into the buggy headfirst. Jumping unexpectedly out of the buggy when in motion and getting run over by it. Pushing her friends in the buggy. But always needing it at least a little, so it still got hoiked around, and if nothing else it was the mobile coat rack everyone else dumped their stuff on.

Fast forward to now – the new wheels are the Cutester’s proper, pedal-powered, no stabilisers, little black whizzy bike. I have to run to keep up, and the buggy is in the cellar, and I’m only writing this post because we got it out last week when a stomach bug left the Cutester too exhausted to walk, and then I saw a mother in the park at an earlier stage than me pushing a buggy and realised I wasn’t in her club anymore.

I suppose I will have to change the name of this blog.

My disgruntled sister is so disgruntled, no, disgusted, with me and my dusty blog, she no longer even leaves sarcastic comments when I write one of my quarterly posts.

So, if not for her sake then anyone else’s who sometimes call in (hello both!), an explanation is due…

I only have so much time for writing. All my writing time for the last six months has been poured into a course in getting one’s writing actually published for actual money, and to my astonishment, it has paid off (in fact it’s just done what it said on the tin, and paid for itself – I’ve earned back just a bit more than I spent on the fees. Blimey.)

So – for as long as these links are valid, in lieu of a blog, you can read (most of) what I wrote.

You can choose between a charming piece on why you should keep chickens in your back garden (written shortly before I admitted defeat in the face of their daily escapes, and gave them away)

Why you should take your children to school by bike

and why you should let your children play on the street

Don’t feel obliged to read all or even any of them. I just had to justify my online existence and explain that I honestly haven’t been idle.

Will that do, sister blogger senior? x