Wednesday, 11 March 2015


At long last the seasons are on the turn, winters spell is loosening and the green shoots and sap of spring are rising. The sun is high and proud in the sky by 7am, an immense relief for every parent with young children. The cruel midwinter days of dark mornings and early sunsets are behind us, and each day seems to stretch and lengthen like one who has been long asleep. As the sun comes out of its winter hibernation so the dozing bulbs nestled in the damp earth respond in kind, poking green shoots curiously above ground. Already snowdrops have appeared, white skirts fluttering in the February gusts, harbingers of the coming spring. Each year when I see those clusters of white bells, delicate petals defiant of winter’s still steady influence, I feel myself on the verge of happy tears, wanting to kiss the sacred earth and all that lives within her. They are the messengers, the outriders, the ones to test the waters, and once spotted it is not long before others come to join the party. All of a sudden crocuses gleam like purple velvet amongst the greening grass whilst the sunny faces of daffodils wave a cheerful salute, all the colours of sunshine in their open smiles. It won't be long before the glory of bluebells spreads through woodland glade and shady copse like blue fire and the branches of cherry and apple explode in a cloud of blossom.

In our home too spring is making its presence felt. After a long season of neglect I have finally seized a naptime in order to plant out the window
boxes, and each time we leave the house we are waved off by a host of cheerful tete a tetes, whilst blue and white hyacinths crouch within their deep green sleeves, poised to emerge and bless anyone that passes with their divine scent. I love that hyacinths are actually cultivated bluebells, and as I peer into the tightly furled center of the flower I feel their connection to the woodland that spawned them, a hint of bark and the unmistakable scent of leaf mould, that fertile and self replenishing compost that is the envy of every gardener. Perhaps we really are creatures of spring, for in the past week or so Felix has morphed from angry bear to delightful faun, his face alive once again with smiles and laughs, the horrors of sickness and tooth pain and tantrums past, for the time being at least. He wakes as the morning sun floods our bedroom with its welcome rays; no longer must we turn on lights just to combat the darkness of night.

Donald Winnicots child development classic ‘The Child, the Family and the Outside World’ suggests that babies are like bulbs, complete with all the information and materials they need to grow and develop. Originally published in 1964 his words still ring true, and thanks to the gigantic strides since in genetics and unraveling the mystery of the genetic code, we now know that in fact each human is pre-programmed to develop in their own unique way, that even pre birth mother nature is busy putting the finishing touches on the tiny person that will emerge, red and wrinkled and screaming into the world. Winnicott makes the comparison to a spring bulb in order to highlight both the incredible sophistication of the embryo but also the importance of nurture in order to facilitate and encourage its proper development. No flower - however hardy - can survive without some amount of water and light. Even a cactus in the driest desert must receive a tiny amount of rainfall, which it collects and stores in its perfectly adapted body. So too is the infant child a bulb of infinite potential, all it’s future contained neatly in the velveteen shell of baby skin. We as parents must ensure that it receives all it needs as it grows steadily upwards from a prone pupae to a plump and crawling infant, and up again to sitting then standing then walking toddler, child and adult.

Even on the coldest, darkest, meanest days of winter, Felix and I headed out into the weak grey light like worms crawling up through the earth. One blustery, miserable day when any excuse would have sufficed to stay safely indoors we emerged defiant and wrapped in waterproofs from head to toe, and damned if we didn’t have the time of our lives. Felix bellowed with laughter as the wind snatched the hood from my head, wrapping strands of wet hair over my face like thin blonde snakes, and watched wide eyed as the wind swirled leaves and litter high into the air and whipped the river into an angry grey soup. It was the kind of day that would blow even the sturdiest umbrella inside out; with a sly and viscous rain that crept into sleeves and down collars. As we struggled home along the river path, wellies gleaming with water, I felt I must be mad. Why take a child out into such weather? And then he looked at me with eyes shining, plump cheeks reddened with cold and nose streaming, and I knew he understood. That night he slept as soundly as a mouse in its winter nest, warm and dry and snug. Dreams scudding with petrol blue storm clouds, thrilling with whipping winds, and racing with swollen rivers of beaten grey water. Now that spring stands poised like a ballerina in the wings, tracing green onto the brown, sprinkling tiny buds on stark winter branches, and dusting off her palette of pastels and jewel shades ready to sweep them over the battered landscape, we vibrate with the memory of harsh winter days and welcome her arrival with fervour borne of knowledge.

Friday, 20 February 2015


This may have been the most difficult entry I have yet written. Not because I’m particularly struggling to express myself but because things are changing so fast I feel I’m sprinting just to stand still.

With the new year came a new working pattern. I now work Mondays at a gallery in Chelsea and Fridays and Saturdays at another in Marylebone, thus for the middle days of the week I am with Felix. On gallery days I flick gleefully through the wardrobe and construct an outfit that falls into my own invented category of ‘art smart’. Oh the joy of skirts, of dresses, of bright silk scarves and actual jewellery, none of which get a look in on mummy days. Flitting between two beautiful galleries makes me feel like a butterfly, rejoicing in my brilliant colours and lightness of being. I have learnt to apply makeup whilst feeding Felix his breakfast, performing a kind of reverse striptease of getting dressed item by item whilst checking Felix is not causing irreparable damage, but it a small price to pay for my flights into the delirious world of fine art. It's a wonderful ratio; three days at work, four at home, but it does come at a cost. Despite my newfound earnings the London market is such that we are still cooped up in a flat that seems smaller by the day, and at times the weight of the four walls seems to press in on me, crushing the delicate wings and bringing me roughly down to earth. Less a butterfly, more a hermit crab in desperate need of a more commodious shell.

The other tectonic shift is with Felix, whose mercurial spirit makes him impossible to predict and tricky to manage. His development is as swift and his about turns as agile as a hares; going from purring delight to wailing banshee in the blink of an eye. An illicit item wrestled from his ardent grip results in screams of fury, whilst removal from the playground means a sit down protest. Forget the scorned woman; hell hath no fury like a toddler denied, and some days it seems like every word is a negative entreaty; no, stop, let it go, come back. He has entered a phase that is as complex as it is confusing, and I would be lying if I did not admit that it can be a struggle to stay in control. There are extenuating circumstances, for example the appearance of several new teeth, many of them molars. For anyone blissfully unaware of tooth pain, google an image of a teething toddlers skull. Combined with this has been a nasty bout of gastric virus that spread like wildfire. Looking after a sickly child whilst feeling like death yourself demands the kind of selflessness I associate with nurses in war zones, and the Florence Nightingale act does not come naturally to me.

That aside, Felix is doing what is very natural and normal for a child of almost 17 months, testing boundaries. If you consider that for the first year of life you do absolutely everything for your baby; feed them, clothe them, carry them around, choose their toys, put them to bed. Suddenly they are learning to do things for themselves and the fascination of trying new things, of exploring a wider world, blinds them to all the dangers around them. Left to their own devices a toddler wouldn’t last a day; stairs, roads, knives, even more innocuous things like heavy books, doors, harmless small objects to put in your mouth and choke on…sometimes it seems like death is but a whisker away. The battles come when their natural curiosity meets your protective instincts, resulting in a fierce and sometimes frightening reaction called a tantrum. It seems the so called ‘terrible twos’ can rear their gargoyle head a lot sooner than the name suggests, leaving you speechless as your cherubic (looking) boy leaves a trail of destruction in his wake; picking up every stick and piece of litter, refusing to get into the buggy, pulling books from shelves and hurling his previously favoured food all over the kitchen. Someone once said that owning a horse is like digging a pit and throwing all your money inside; if so then owning a toddler is like throwing everything you own into a pit and having to excavate it from the mud, several times a day.

In many ways this is probably the most challenging time with Felix to date, yet I feel we are poised on the brink of a breakthrough. A comet poised to streak through the sky, dulling everything around with its brightness. His vocabulary is developing and bona fide communication is around the corner. He is like a fabulous and untamed wild beast, eating placidly from your hand one day, trying to bite it off the next. And yet there is a gleam in his eye that speaks of real understanding, and a wicked sense of humour is making its presence increasingly felt. He has started to invent his own games and jokes in which he takes immense and contagious pleasure, including a kind of prototype hide and seek that we call ‘Where’s Felix?’ He is what people call a spirited child, and with that comes both pleasure and pain. At times I have wished for a quieter, more patient child, one who could sit and play with a toy for more than two minutes without wanting to zoom off in pursuit of the cat or to steal a boot from the hall or start trying to swing the door back and forth on its hinges. But then as I watch him jigging frantically to Buddy Holly, his current obsession, taking sneaky sips of water from the bathtub, or crying out with heartfelt love ‘baaaa’ as a big red bus whizzes by, I realize that he is already a person of fervent passions. No meek and mild child for us, I’ll take the tiger any day.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


I used to think of the period between Christmas and New Years Eve as a kind of no mans land, a barren valley between two soaring mountains. Surely it was pointless; why all that time off in midwinter when it would be better spent in summer, lolling in meadows and lazing over picnics? Oftentimes I would have to work in the intervening period, as the gallery would open the day after Boxing Day. Secretly I didn't mind, finding work a tonic from all the so called relaxing. 

People would drift in drowsily, distended Christmas bellies ponderous before them, ears ringing with jollity, nose chafing with three day old Brussels sprouts. Their relief at getting away from their nearest and dearest was so obvious as to be laughable, and as our eyes met a flash of understanding would pass between us. 'Shame you having to work at this time of year' they would exclaim, meaning instead 'you lucky sod, you've managed to get away from the madding crowd under this thin veneer of work'. 'Oh yes indeed' I would reply, arranging my features into an appropriately mournful expression, 'No rest for the wicked'. Thus having satisfied social convention we could resume our respective reveries. Eventually an exasperated spouse or familial troop would arrive, exclaiming in maddened tones 'We didn't know where on earth you had gotten to!' Thus the recaptured prisoner would follow their clan back out into the cold, casting a wistful glance back at me propped behind the desk, resplendent and solitary.

Felix has changed all that, bringing the barren valley to life with a swathe of glorious vitality. We were lucky enough to have two full weeks off work, and thus an almost unbelievable period of time stretched before us. We met up with old friends, taking a leisurely walk in a wintery Hyde Park, babies in tow. We made long overdue social calls, staying later than intended and luxuriating in the knowledge that there was nothing to rush back for. During Felix's naps we lazed about, drinking tea and watching TV. For a while it seemed like the sand in the hourglass had slowed to a trickle, and life occurred at a more manageable, natural pace, more suited to the care and nurture of a toddler. Felix reveled in having us both around, playing with his Christmas gifts and toddling about the house in search of mischief. As baby proofing our flat is impossible, we have instead had to teach him what he can and cannot touch and which areas are no go. This leads to endless tantrums, for what a toddler wants to do most is open and close the doors of the heavy wooden sideboard, playing Russian finger roulette. Products left around the bathtub are another bone of contention, all those colourful bottles, surely all toys?  

The only time I felt the weight of listlessness and ennui I associate with the Christmas holidays was on the final weekend of the fortnight. After a rollicking time over New Year, spent with great friends in a sleepy Essex village, eating, drinking, and making merry, we returned to a cold and sad flat, feeling deflated. No more fun plans left to fulfill, no more escapism, just piles of washing that had been left undone and work to prepare for. It was classic Sunday night apathy but spread over a whole weekend. Somehow we made it through the tedium and on Monday morning it was Hi Ho off to work we go, Felix safe in the care of Baba Lila. Cycling along the river, sky as heavy and leaden as only January can muster, I nevertheless felt the weight of lethargy slip away, as free and light as a helium balloon even as the damp cold tried to slip into my bones and steal my nose right off my face. This sudden change in mood set me to reflecting on the nature of energy flow, and the role that this plays in achieving equilibrium and harmony. Perhaps what we need as humans is a change of pace every now and then, a slowing down in order to focus on family, on friends, and most importantly on ourselves. Time to stop and stare; time to share with loved ones, to break bread and stay up late and take wandering walks and sit gossiping in cafes. Perhaps this is why, when I really think about it, the Christmas holidays are in fact perfectly timed, coming - in the Northern Hemisphere anyway - during the very coldest, darkest time of year, just a few days after the Winter Solstice. If they came in mid summer, all we would want to do is lie about in the sunshine or take ourselves off to the coast, all the better to enjoy some carefree lolling and lazing. And that is all well and good, but what Christmas does is the very opposite. It is a time of hibernation, a time to reflect on the past year and the coming one, a time to rub along with family in whatever shape or form it comes and pay homage to the ties of blood and marriage. In years past I have found this a struggle, resenting the intrusion of familial duty on my largely carefree, self structured lifestyle, but Felix gives the whole thing a new focus, and I have been overjoyed by how much more meaningful and memorable Christmas has been with him by our sides. 

Yes, there has been a sad lack of lie ins, and in fact a distinct lack of the kind of wonderful self-indulgent laziness you can only have pre-children, but I wouldn’t swap all the lie ins in the world for the bright eyed boy that woke us on Christmas day just just like any other. I have come to appreciate that Christmas really is all about children. To behold Christmas through their eyes, to see them intent on the little train set that goes round the bottom of the tree, hypnotized by the Christmas lights, to guide their little hands while they fumble to open their presents, as likely as not more interested in the wrappings as what’s inside, truly it is magic. And then, when it’s all over and it’s time to get back to normal, to the ordinary everyday routine of work, or childcare, or whatever it is we do between Monday and Friday, that too is a relief, for no one can sustain Christmas cheer all year round. Lo and behold, just when the traditional holiday apathy reared its ugly grey head, the sand in the hourglass started to speed up once more; going from a trickle to a flow, and the time came for normal life to resume. 

"Christmas is a togethery sort of holiday" said Pooh
"That's my favourite kind" said Piglet, "Togethery and Remembery"

A.A Milne


Sunday, 28 December 2014


On Wednesday 3rd December 2014, Felix walked for the first time. In the drained paddling pool at Ravenscourt Park, codenamed Big Blue, he dropped the helping hand and took off. Freedom at last!
One small step for Felix, one giant leap into toddlerhood. Although I was not there to see it – oh perils of working motherhood – I was sent a video of him galloping across Big Blue chasing dried leaves, glancing up at a passing train with all the insouciance of one who had been walking for years. Sat in a cafĂ© in Chelsea, clutching my phone like a talisman, I wept sudden hot tears of happiness and pride. The robust and kindly Italian proprietor brought me my lunch and a few tissues to mop up my tears. ‘You OK?’ she inquired sympathetically. ‘‘My baby just walked for the first time!’ I replied, voice tremulous with emotion ‘Is beautiful!’ she exclaimed, bosom heaving with empathy, and promptly went to the kitchen, returning with a hunk of bread to dip in my soup. ‘Eat’ she instructed, watching as I replayed the video endlessly, ‘He still walk when you come home’. 

In reality Felix has been walking for weeks, since before his first birthday, but only with the aid of a walker. The purchase of Barker, his beloved black and white dog walker, was a pivotal moment. From the first instant Felix saw him they were inseparable. In their weeks together Barker visited an ancient stone circle in Avebury, became a veteran of TFL – attempting a bid for freedom on the Overground and careening into a sleeping commuter - clocked up countless rounds of the park and once almost fell in the River Thames. It was a very touching friendship
but after weeks of Felix refusing to walk a single step unaided we began to worry that the dog was impeding his development. Thus, the major step of confiscating Barker was taken, but Felix just replaced the handle of his walker with the hand of parent or grandparent. This went on for several more weeks, becoming an exercise in frustration for all parties. After attempting to limbo under playground equipment and being dragged under low hanging branches I started to lose patience. ‘Walk, damn you!’ I would shout, letting go of his hand, whereupon he would stand as rooted to the spot as a child playing musical statues, howling with indignation. 

I would love to know what finally gave him the confidence to simply walk off, but it is and will remain a mystery. Since that afternoon however, we have not looked back. Far from making things more difficult I have found the ambulant Felix an utter delight. His glee at his own motion is contagious. His ardent, occasionally wobbly steps are as beautiful to me as the most graceful ballet, but it is the look in his eye that melts my heart. A mix of concentration, pride and joy lights up his little face as he adds new moves to his repertoire; 180 degree turns, ascending and descending the curb, overcoming obstacles such as cushions, toys and the cat, all these are currently underway. One of our favourite haunts boasts what could be very loosely described as a tiny maze, basically just an area of box hedge that has been cut into. Into to this disappears Felix, giggling uncontrollably, and I follow suit, creeping up on him and shouting BOO at the top of my voice, eliciting bellows of helpless laughter. Is there any sound sweeter than the burbling giggles of a toddler? All the angels in Heaven could never match its clarity...I could write an entire blog just about the sound. 

A new chapter has begun, and reading back older entries I realise I have been waiting for this moment with bated breath. We are poised on the brink of great adventures. On a brilliant day in early December Felix and I took the bus to Richmond Park, a mission that involves a steep slog up Richmond Hill. As we arrived at the park gates I was somewhat out of sorts, Felix demanding release from the buggy, me sweating heavily despite the cold. 'Why am I doing this?' I thought to myself, yanking the buggy over grassy hummocks that seemed determined to impede our progress. The afternoon sun slanted low over the parklands, golden rays glowing against the vivid blue of the winter sky, and as I pulled Felix from the buggy a lone stag stood silhouetted against the lowering orb. The morning's frost lay undisturbed in secluded corners, and we found ourselves crunching over a carpet of crisply frozen leaves. 'Oh' said Felix, lifting his boots higher in surprise at the unexpected texture. I picked up a frosted leaf and held it in the sun, where it glittered icily like a cluster of diamonds. We explored paths and wooded glades where the frost lay blue and treacherous underfoot, stopping at a bench that stood aglow in the saffron rays of the setting sun. Side by side we sat, crunching on breadsticks and crackers, watching as the molten gold bled into the horizon. Almost immediately the chill of night descended, the fragile warmth of a winter's day ebbing with amazing speed, and we hurried back to the buggy. Birds were settling in their roosts, calling out in twilight song, and as we approached the gate an owl hooted nearby. A strange light waxed in the distance and then, as if on cue, a gigantic orange moon rose solemnly in the west. 'Moon' I said to Felix. 'Look!' 'Oooooh' he said in reverential tones, eyes fixed on the yellow cheese that climbed steadily over the trees. 

Don't tell me the sky is the limit, there are footprints on the moon! Dorothy Parker

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store.

I have recently been reading Tom Hodginson's 'How to be Free'. This little book is essentially a manifesto on how to combat the evils of modern life and to live a freer, simpler, more authentic life with much less money and much less work. It is probably the perfect book for me to read right now, seeing as we are living on less money than ever before and I am working fewer hours than at any point in my adult life. And yet, I am on route to being happier than I have ever been, albeit in a different kind of way to years past. I am glimpsing the beginning of a new dawn, a way of life that involves less work but work of a higher caliber. I am rejoicing in my gallery Mondays, rediscovering all the skills I used to take such pride in and adding to them. It is a very busy place, very demanding, and at times I feel pushed to my limits. It has been a long time since I have felt so stretched and though it is tough it is wonderful. 

What gives the day its clarity, its extra dimension, is rushing back to put Felix to bed. My route takes me right along the river path from work to home, and as I race alongside the jet black Thames, the cold winter air bringing roses to my cheeks and tears to my eyes, my legs pump the pedals with determination knowing that each push brings me closer to home. There is no feeling like racing back to your baby, fulfilled by a good and honest day’s work, arms aching to hold the solid warmth of your child, to cradle them and bathe them and read to them, to lay them in the cot and sing the bedtime song, to stroke their hair while they surrender to sleep. I love knowing that the next day I am just mummy again; all the glamour and excitement of the gallery replaced by a very different kind of challenge; raising my son. Tights and dresses and leather boots are replaced by grubby mummy jeans and wellies and waterproofs, and honestly I would rather be in the damp wintery playground than anywhere else. I would give it all up if I had to but to have both feels very close to Heaven. Truly my cup of contentment runneth over.

We have endured hard times; the road has not only been rocky but at times nearly fallen away. We have clung tenaciously to our dreams, to our love, to what we value, tightening our belts repeatedly and to the point of pain, all for the love of Felix, and at last I feel a shift in the flow of energies. Things are becoming easier; the weight of worry that has dogged me since pregnancy is starting to lift. I'm like a hot air ballonn, as ballast is cast off I feel myself floating ever higher, soaring into the clearness of the cerulean sky where I know I belong. Felix is absolutely full of love, his wish to hug and kiss everything around him, the cat, his books, his favourite tree, even a strangers dog, proves that a lack of cash means nothing. He has no inkling that we have skated over some very thin ice money wise, he has not suffered or been deprived and is an exceedingly joyful child. Of course you need enough money to buy food, to provide shelter and toys and warmth, I am not proposing that genuine poverty is anything other than dehumanising, but all the other stuff is just window dressing, baubles that glitter enticingly but deliver little added value. We are all three of us still in one small bedroom, but now that he sleeps solidly through the night those tortures are over. Yes, I miss reading in bed. In fact, I miss doing anything in bed other than sleeping. We creep into the bedroom at night and in the morning are greeting by a hybrid of the Cheshire Cat and Tigger, an ecstatic, bouncing grin. There is no escape, we are as tightly penned as the Three Men in a Boat, but there is a special intimacy to still sharing a bedchamber, a closeness I have learnt to treasure.

The living room has become just that; our space for living. It is Felix's playroom and our lounge, it is where we read, where I write, where we play music, watch films, talk and entertain friends. Thank goodness we inherited two massive sofas from friends moving abroad. These double as daybeds and guest beds, the cat uses one to sprawl on after a night on the tiles while Felix commandeers the other as a platform from which to observe the outside world. The cross-species love affair between Teddy and Felix continues apace; Teddy placidly accepting Felix's rapturous hugs and drool-heavy kisses. He has surrendered his space and dignity to the force of the baby, showing incredible restraint as Felix bashes him playfully with a toy hammer. 

With less than a month to go before Christmas I am more excited, more joyful, and more content than I have been for a long time. I have started squirreling gifts in drawers and behind furniture, clearing the decks in preparation for the purchase of a small but fragrant Christmas tree. I am in thrall to the alchemy of Christmas, to the twinkling fairy lights and glowing candles, the warm reds and golds, the cool blues and silvers, the feeling of anticipation, of coming together. With Felix's passion for colours and lights I know that this Christmas will be an explosion of sensory delight like no other, and the best part is I can indulge myself in creating a festive wonderland all the while claiming it is for him. Haha! Finally, the infamous Toy Nativity will have a properly adoring audience. But even if all that were to be stripped away, if there was not a single gift under the tree, even if there was no tree, this would be a magical Christmas. Christmas with a young child is
Christmas reborn. You can, you must, once again believe in Father Christmas, and leave him something to eat on his grueling rounds. Oh the joy of Christmas morning, Felix awakening with no idea what awaits him, eyes widening as he opens his gifts. If I could ask for one wish to be granted this Christmas there is no doubt what it would be...Oh Yea Gods of Weather the sledge awaits! Truly we are dreaming of a white Christmas! Bring on the blizzard, or even a dusting of frosty flakes with which to make a snowball. I want to see Felix's face when whirling white flakes fall from the sky, watch his nose wrinkle as one melts, to hear the crunch and squeak of fresh snow under foot. To experience afresh the wonder of winter. To suspend all disbelief and believe wholehearedly in the magic of Christmas once again. To be a child with him.

Thursday, 20 November 2014


This morning we pulled on our wellies and went for a walk in the sparkling dew laden grass. Autumn has finally arrived; though it is still mild there is a sharpness in the air that feels fresh and vital. The trees, confused by the unseasonable warmth that has stretched from summer right into November, have finally received the clear signal to turn and treated us to a belated shower of gold. As we trudged through sodden leaves Felix suddenly pointed and made his exclamation of pleasure. ‘Oooh’ he cried, pointing at the shimmering grass. A sole summer daisy raised its white and yellow head to the morning sun, petals trembling with the weight of water. As we went over to examine it he carefully got down on one knee and picked it very gently, kissed it and held it out for me. I couldn’t help but wipe a tear from my eye as I held the daisy safely in one hand and his little hand in the other. It is moments like these that make motherhood what it is, a patchwork of wonder and struggle and elation and frustration, and it is for this that I am prepared to sacrifice almost anything, even a dream job….

The return to work is a huge fork in the road for a mother. When to return and for how many days, perhaps whether to return at all. For me the decision was rather different as there was no job to return to after the birth of Felix. My career in art was impaled by an unexpected arrow in the same week as discovering my pregnancy, bringing my professional life to a distressing halt. Post birth I found myself on an indefinite maternity leave, leaving me free to absorb the asteroid impact that is new motherhood. I quickly learned two things; firstly that no job, apart except from perhaps rebuilding the pyramids with your bare hands, is as relentless and exhausting as being a new mum, and secondly that after a while you start to crave a return to work. The professional part of your brain, the one that has gone walkabout while you cope with night feeds, colic and god knows what else, suddenly pipes up. 'Hey, remember me? I'm your work brain. You might have forgotten me but I've not forgotten you. One of these day, sunshine, we're gonna have to have a chat'. As you stumble from sore nipples to shitty nappies it grins at you inanely, a distant reminder of who you once were. And then all of a sudden months have passed and for many it is abruptly, shockingly, time to go back to work. 
Motherhood is transformative; it takes a woman and changes her permanently and in ways that may be unexpected. From what I have seen it generally makes people better; softer, kinder, more resilient, less selfish, which is all well when it comes to baby but perhaps not so good when it comes time to return to the hard edged world of work. I have seen stoical and determined women brought to their knees by the process of settling their baby into nursery, unprepared for the crying and the heartache and the guilt. Is this OK, should I be doing this, is this the right thing for me/my family/my baby? All questions to keep even the most resolute mother awake at night. Happily the babies in question have settled in beautifully to their new routines in time, but it has brought up a lot of questions in my own mind about childcare. We are very lucky in that my mother and doting grandmother of Felix lives a stones throw away, providing endless hours of grandmotherly care from day one. This however does not negate the wish in me to return to work, to immerse myself in the cloistered, idiosyncratic world of art. Not to mention the urgent need to get some extra income into our cash strapped household. Early on I had a kind of false start, an opportunity so perfect it was like a wish being granted. In the event in turned out to be more of a soap bubble, an iridescent mirage that burst as soon as soon as I grasped it, leaving me with a sticky residue and not much else. 

And then an offer came along that made me question exactly what I value and forced me into a decision. A very fine gallery that I had been temping for had an opening, was I interested? My heart leapt with joy but as the proposition was outlined a blot smudged my ardour. The role was full time, five days a week, no weekend days in lieu possible. The gallery is a dream, centrally but discretely located, well established and successful, the kind of place I would love to work. But how could I even consider accepting, what would happen to Felix? Full time nursery was out of the question financially and my dear mother was already hard pressed to manage two full days while worked part time at a dull showroom. I arranged to go in for an interview, formulating my proposition with fervent hope. A job share, three days a week, flexible working….but in my heart of hearts I already knew. As I left the gallery I was crestfallen, knowing that the job would go to someone who could commit to the role in a way I couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t. I was like a sailboat steaming along on full sail suddenly finding every breath of wind had dropped, and now found myself drifting helplessly on a dead calm sea.

But I had realised something in the process, something beautiful and vital. No job would ever be worth giving up Felix for. A week has only seven days; would I really want to be apart from him for four of those, let alone five? The answer, for me, is no. The soul searching had defined my own thoughts as clearly as the sun striking a sun dial, had made me appreciate my time with him in a way that only sacrifice can. In the week or so between being offered the job and realising I would have to turn it down I realised just how much I value the everyday interaction with Felix. I want to be there on his daily journey, to help him make the tricky leap from walking aided to running free, to teach him the colours of the rainbow and the words for happy and sad and cat and dog. I want to be the hand that steadies his as he learns to draw, tie his shoelace, to eat his own lunch with a spoon. Every day a tiny piece of the mosaic that is his forming personality is forged, and I have realised I care more about the emerging picture than about my career. However much the money would improve our lives and give us means we simply do not have now it was still not a fair trade off. You only have one chance to raise your child and my job, the most important I will ever have, is to be his mother, whatever material sacrifices that may mean in the short term. Any work would have to fit around that, not the other way around. Three days a week maximum or bust.

And so I found myself back at square one, hammering the phone while Felix had his morning nap, sending CV’s and speculative emails aplenty. For a while I was convinced I had turned down the ideal opportunity but I continued nevertheless, as dogged as a gambler ploughing coins into a fruit machine. And then one afternoon a perfect conversation happened and I allowed myself to dream again, buoyed by hope and renewed determination. Weeks passed and nothing materialized but I dug in, biding my time and issuing gentle but persistent reminders. In the meantime I made the most of every day with Felix and strove to appreciate the work I was doing, trying to find within myself the higher qualities of patience, faith and gratitude. Just when I thought the soil was in fact barren, that the seed I had planted had rotted under an overenthusiastic torrent of water, a green shoot burst through the brown mud. A day a week at a wonderful gallery, an opportunity to prove myself and make myself indispensible. I am over the moon and simultaneously cautious, fortified with the knowledge that resilience and tenaciousness have triumphed over despondence. More so than this I am armed with the understanding that the deepest river that flows through my life is motherhood and that I would sacrifice almost anything for my baby. He may only be fourteen months old but already he has changed me for the better, and I couldn’t be happier.

Friday, 7 November 2014


On the South East coast of Cornwall, where the River Fowey meets the sea, lies the tiny and unspoilt village of Polruan. Artfully spilling over the steep hills that stand sentinel over the river, Polruan faces its more famous cousin Fowey over the sparkling silver estuary. 

Cornwall is a long way from London, both geographically and in spirit. Crossing the bridge at Plymouth you enter another world - the mysterious, piratical land of Kernow. I love coming into Cornwall this way, over the river Tamar that forms a natural barrier between Devon to the East and Cornwall to the West, the bobbing boats and tiny houses so far beneath they look like a toy town. Cornwall is the jutting foot of Britain, poking out precariously into the wide blue Atlantic, with only the Isles of Scilly between it and America. They say you can’t escape your troubles and you can’t outrun your feelings, but a change of scene and break from routine is just the tonic that the soul needs every now and then. I had been craving the wide open spaces and bracing air, the wild and rambunctious sea. I needed to let all the juggling balls drop and roll away and just be me for one weekend, not the many women I am and have to be. And thus it was that I found myself on the five hour drive to the land of Kernow, accompanied by my fellow adventuress and lover of nature. 

Our place of refuge was a converted loft, a beautiful, minimal space that was the very embodiment of the simplicity we were seeking. Stargazer, as it was called, quite rightly let the views do the talking. To one side only a single house stood between us and the open sea, to the other the panorama of Polruan tumbling down to the river with the lights of Fowey sparkling on the other side. We arrived in darkness and rain, tired from the drive and a busy week. We awoke to a brilliant morning with the clear Cornish light streaming through our windows. The vista was breathtaking in the morning sun; the river as blue as the arching sky above, boats already hard at work on the water and in the distance the car ferry making its repeat journey back and forth. Our mission that day was a long walk along the South West coastal path, our destination the beautiful Lantic Bay. After a hearty cooked breakfast we headed out, armed with doorstop sandwiches and the fervent desire to see absolutely no people for a few hours. The rugged coastline provided the perfect backdrop to our solitude, and we stopped every now and then to let the vigorous wind buffet our cheeks. We reached Lantic Bay in record time and decided to continue onwards, making our way down to a tiny rocky beach to eat our lunch and watch an intrepid boy of about ten risk his life on some rocks while his parents looked on, seemingly unconcerned by his impending death. He was armed with a long stick which he used to beat the waves from his vantage point on a rocky outcrop, and as we watched he was soaked by the crashing surf. ‘Hiyaaaa’ he screamed lustily as he battered each oncoming wave and suddenly I was seized by a fit of uncontrollable laughter. His mother, clad eccentrically in shorts and a jaunty bobble hat, made her way over to her errant son. ‘Now he’s for it!’ we exclaimed but not a bit of it. After scrambling over the jagged and slippery rocks to where her small son sat prone, still locked in his fierce and futile battle with the ocean, she took a seat beside him. I was seized by a fresh wave of laughter as I watched them doused with briny spray, and as they huddled in together felt the tenderness and understanding between them. ‘That will be Felix in a few years time’ I remarked, wiping the tears from my cheeks ‘Jumping around trying to kill himself’. ‘Yeah’ said my companion, ‘and you’ll be right there with him risking life and limb’. My heart soared with the vision of my baby grown into a strong ruddy cheeked boy, limbs covered with the bumps and bruises of adventure, and I knew that the magic of Cornwall had seeped into my tired soul and revived what had been flagging, restoring colour where it had faded. 

Fancy a cream tea?’ my mate enquired as we neared Polruan, legs quivering with tiredness. ‘God yes!’ I replied with the hearty hunger of the walker. We had concocted a plan to hop over to Fowey and find ourselves a tea shop and have a wander over on the other side, but as we boarded the small boat that served as ferry the ferryman had other ideas. ‘You wont get a cream tea over there at this time’ he said mournfully ‘Everything be closed down now’. We glanced at each other in dismay. ‘But it’s only four thirty’ we protested. He shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of defeat, then added ‘Best you can hope for is a pint of Rattler in the pub’. We exchanged glances, ‘We’ll take the chance anyway’. ‘Your lookout’ he muttered curtly and set off for Fowey.
Twilight was gathering and the brightness of the day was ebbing, dark clouds roiled and gathered in the sky above, promising rain and maybe a storm later. He glanced up at the sky and over at us. ‘Might be the last one today at this rate’. ‘What do you mean?’ we exclaimed with horror. ‘Storm coming in’ he said briefly as if that were all the explanation required. ‘But we’re staying the night in Polruan, we have to get back!’ I said, anxiety starting to wind its net around my heart, ‘The ferry is supposed to run till seven’ ‘Times it do, times it don’t’ was his only answer and we finished the crossing in silence. Suffice to say his pronouncements of doom were unfounded and we found ourselves a very charming tea shop where we devoured a delicious homemade cream tea and a thick slice of carrot cake, washed down with a gallon of fine Cornish tea. Racing back to the harbour we feared the worst; peering out into the dark water it seemed certain the ferry would never come and we would be stranded, but after a mercifully brief time its lights came into view. It was a crossing I will never forget, the small boat cutting through the silky black water like an eel, the ferryman guiding it amongst the moored boats with the casual precision of experience. As the twinkling fairy lights of Polruan harbour came into view I sighed with contentment, and as we struggled up the steep hill home, legs aching with exertion, the first drops of rain struck our faces. ‘Storm coming in’ I muttered and we collapsed with laughter.

Is there anything more relaxing that soaking in a hot bath while a storm rages all around you? That evening as the weather turned and the promised storm arrived we found ourselves cosy and tucked up in our loft, the wind screaming past the windows in full surround sound, rain lashing at the toughened glass. We drank wine and ate roast chicken and baked potatoes with the gusto that only a day spent outside in the elements can provide, luxuriating in the simple pleasures of being clean and dry and safe indoors. Later, as we lay in our beds listening to the wind I was reminded of being on a boat, rocked to sleep by the rhythmic rise and fall of the waves. ‘Stargazer would make a great name for a boat’ I thought sleepily, the satisfying tiredness of hard exercise making the bed seem the most comfortable I had ever slept in. The prospect of a
drive over to the other side of the Cornish peninsula in the morning for a surf in Watergate Bay seemed almost too good to be true, and I smiled to myself in the darkness. There were no stars that night; the storm completely occluded the majesty of the heavens, but when I awoke during the night and looked out I saw a cornucopia of stars piercing the velvet blackness of the sky. Stargazer had live up to its name, delivering everything we needed and more, and as I gazed at the distant planets I gave thanks for all the good in my life. Sometimes all that is needed is the perspective to see that in fact all is well, that life is wonderful and that there is so much to look forward to. The spirit needs to be restored, the batteries recharged, the heart gladdened. There are no short cuts to healing, but at that moment I felt certain that eventually time, and at some point down the line another child, would wipe the pain from my memory. All in good time.