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 walking frame, 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 – once attempting a bid for freedom on the Overground and careening into a sleeping commuter - clocked up countless rounds of the park and nearly fell in the River Thames. It was a sweet and useful 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 and toys. One of our local playgrounds boasts what could be 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. 

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 re-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 and rediscovering all the skills I used to take such pride in whilst adding to them. It is a very busy place, very demanding, and at times I feel pushed to my limits. It feels good to be tested professionally. 

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 an 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 work replaced by a very different kind of challenge; raising my son. Tights and dresses 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 a hot air balloon, 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 financial ice, he has not suffered or been deprived and is exceedingly joyful. 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 ands yanks his tail.

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 and 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! 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,
because Christmas with a young child is Christmas reborn. You can - you must - once again believe in Father Christmas. 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 as whirling white flakes fall from the sky, watch his nose wrinkle as one melts on the very tip, to hear the crunch and squeak of fresh snow under foot. To experience afresh the wonder of winter, suspend all disbelief and believe wholeheartedly in the magic of Christmas once again.

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.  
Roy L. Smith