Archive for July, 2013

Cross-Section of a Rainy Day #2

July 30, 2013


Yesterday when you said she was tall, she replied “I big”. That was validation on several levels, yet I realise now that  ‘I big’ also means a child who can reach further – that’s not validation, that’s a challenge!  She is reaching over the top of the chest of draws to the changing mat to place the dinosaurs carefully on top, in an exodus, and of her new-found mastery of height, she says “Look, Daddy!”

It rains all morning. We decide to go to the Colchester and Tiptree Toy Library, and although I find it and it’s open, it’s a one-off charity coffee morning, hence full, i.e. four families instead of the usual one or two. That’s fine, though, they seem very nice, and we agree to come back another time. So instead we go home and paint, and you can see our collaboration above, I hope.

Lunch is the usual humus and breadstick, though she also has carrot, cheese, cucumber and flatbread. Also, there’s some hip-hop on the radio, and she does a really good body-pop to it.

After lunch, she naps, but not really. After a while, I hear her playing with the cars and I think I hear her saying “Oh no! Fuck’s sake,” in what I can hear will soon be an Essex accent. I feel more than a twinge of guilt about this, but, after a while, I realise she is not saying ‘Fuck’s sake’ but “Taxi!”.

When she comes down I ask if she wants to go out for a bike ride, but she declines.  I don’t blame her – it’s pretty wet.  Instead she wants to watch some tv, so instead we watch Where the Wild Things Are, and then she wants to watch Wonder Pets, which gives me time to write this. She has pizza for tea  – and I think you know the rest…



Notes from a Doll’s House #3

July 30, 2013

(Story by Rowan Nelson, script by Tim Nelson)


The gorilla from Doll’s House #2 turns out to be both flying and amphibious. I think he sleeps at the bottom of the ocean.

I was going to name him ‘Killer Gorilla’ but decided that that was too obvious, so I’m going to call him ‘Grandfather Gorilla’.

I think he might have been given his powers by some form of celestial intervention, i.e. the goddess Rowan…

Impressions of human progress in a two-and-a-half-year-old #3

July 26, 2013


Linguistic advances:

June-July: Has taken to peppering her monologues with “Netflix”, or rather “Netficks”.

7 July. “Milk, please.” “In a cup?” “Yes please.”

8 July: She brandishes a Playdough stamper. “What’s this name?” “Spiral.” “Yeah.”

12 July: Having told R yesterday that we would see Gran and Grandpa at the beach tomorrow, Jo asked her today what we’re doing. “Going to the beach to see Gran and Grandpa” – proof, also that she is started to understanding today, yesterday and tomorrow. Also, Jo was trying to explain the concept of a weekend to her, and she said “Like Sunday”.

15 July: When she’s hungry, she’s taken to saying “Are you hungry?” rather than “I am hungry”, because that’s what we say to her.

18 July: Recognises ‘R’: “R for Rowan.” Recognises (some) numbers out of sequence.

18 July R and Jo have a thing at bedtime where they “Love you more than…”  Today, I heard “Apples” and “Octonauts.”

23 July: she has started saying “My mask” and “My painting”. And now if you correct her when she says “Are you finished?”, or “Are you hungry?” she will repeat after you “I’m finished” or “I’m hungry.”

25 July: I asked her what she wanted to do when she got down. She said “I’m thinking”. Then she said “Cars”.

26 July: She’s picking up new songs and trying to sing them in a heartbreakingly cute way as she stumbles along slightly behind the beat. But she is keen to ape some pretty sophisticated sounds, from the electronic stylings of Get Lucky to the psychedelia of Richard Hawley’s Don’t Stare at the Sun. This newfound willingness to try more challenging songs seems to be going hand in hand with an ever greater awareness of language and the world. For instance, when I ask her to put a pen back before we put on her sandals, she puts it down beside her, then thinks about it and puts it back in the draw. Under the circumstances, I don’t have the heart to tell her she forgot to put the top on.

Fears and phobias:

In late May her fear of spiders and other insects (e.g. Daddy Long Legs) started to develop from a mild bother to a major upset – refusal to go down stairs or enter rooms with ‘visitors’ in. During early July, however, there’s been a gradual improvement, from brave toleration of tiny money spiders on the high ceiling, to saying “It’s okay,”, “Not hurt you,” and “Nothing to worry about” – our phrases reflected back at us. And now I find myself scanning the corners…

That said, while on 14 July she wasn’t at all bothered by a spider on the ceiling, the next day a piece of fluff on the ceiling reduced her to tears and paralysis (another refusal to go downstairs). But the next day, the fluff bothered her not at all.

Food diary:

What does R like? As we know by now, it’s 98% milk, cheerios (I mean ‘multi-grain hoops’), humus and breadsticks. She also likes apples, bananas, carrot (sometimes), strawberries, slices of cheese, ham (sometimes), spag bol, pasta (with more cheese), yoghurts (sometimes) toast and marmite, toast and jam, pizza, chips, and surprise, surprise, chocolate and crisps in all forms.

New things: raspberries (25 July); cucumber (26 July) – oh, and annoyingly, pepperoni pizza.


From a Doll’s House #2

July 26, 2013




Frieda put down the Doll’s House News and sighed as another tremor shook the house. She and her friends Charlotte and Joey had woken up to find they had been moved to the attic.


The landloard, Chimp Charlie, had taken over the middle floor and set it up as a claimants office. There was a queue of new people coming in up the stairs and waiting to be interviewed. The monkey would say yay or nay, tick or cross, in or out, drowned or saved.



Robert Builder was back in at the ground floor. Rumours of his demise had been greatly exaggerated.  And he was none too happy to hear about the arrival of the new claimants. He said they were getting in the way. ‘I’ve got to drill down here!’  But the Chimp took him to one side and pointed out the benefits of cheap labour, at which point he relented. ‘But I need the running water. They’ll have to use the standpoint out in the street.’



(From left to right: Ed Peason, Mary Mungo O’Midge, Bertha and Ssh-I’m-Hiding with friends)

Eventually Charlie made his decisions about the new arrivals. Four would stay and the others were out. Among the new arrivals were Mike Peason, the barefoot businessman, who was very polite, always shaking hands and saying: ‘How do you do? Mike Peason, pleased to meet you.’ Then there was little Mary Mungo O’Midge, who liked to hug, Bertha, of indeterminate sex, with a voice like sandpaper, and Ssh-I’m-hiding, who quickly made friends with some animals, the wolf and the gorilla, of whom more later.

The gorilla and the wolf told Ssh-I’m hiding about the arrival of mystery mounds over on Coffee-Table Heath, and from then the new arrivals got to hear about it and eventually Charlotte, Joey and Frieda. But that was tomorrow.

In the attic, opinion was split on the new arrivals. Frieda was very excited by the new arrivals and couldn’t wait to get to know them better. She suggested they have a welcoming party where they could all talk about their different customs and learn from each other. Charlotte was dead against the idea. She didn’t see why there had to be any new arrivals. The doll’s house was crowded enough already, she said, but Frieda said that she was going to have a party whether Charlotte liked it or not, and Charlotte said she definitely didn’t like it, and flounced out to spend the evening in the Fridge.

Joey had mixed feelings. On the one hand, she wasn’t happy about being moved up to the attic. On the other, a party sounded like a good idea. She yawned and said: “Frieda? Will you tell me a bedtime story?”

“Okay,” said  Frieda. “Once there was a king called King Charlie.”

“Where was he king of?”

“He rule one of the kingdoms of Priveet Ekwitty, and you know what? He wasn’t really a proper king at all. He was more of an evil simian. He didn’t look after his people. Instead he sold out their land to an bad man called Baron Builder, who wanted to drill up all the good stuff, where the plants and flowers grew and the animals played, and sell it back to the people as Black Slime.”

“Why did they want it?”

“It was magical food. Once the people had eat it, or even touched it, it turned them into slaves. King Charlie and the Baron shared the slaves between them and turned the kingdom into a wasteland. But there was one thing they hadn’t gambled on, which was that mining for black slime turned the land into a bog, and the King and the Baron were swallowed up in when their castle disappeared down a giant sinkhole. The slaves, who lived out on the Beanbag hillside, were saved, and the kingdom restored to its former glories.”

Joey yawned. “There’s one problem with your story. In real life, the slaves would have got drowned and the nasty rulers escaped.”

“Go to sleep.”

Another tremor shook the doll’s house.


Doll’s House News #1

July 24, 2013

Doll's House News #1

Royal Birth Shock


July 23, 2013

July 22, 2013


Ben, Rowan and I go to Walton-on-the-Naze for the afternoon. High Tide is at 12:15, so we decide to have lunch at the Naze before going onto the beach. Everyone seems happy with this plan, particularly me when we turn off towards Kirby-le-Soken, because the road is real country, but there’s sea at the end of it, and that’s the perfect combination.


(The Naze Tower)

It feels as though the sky changes as I approach the coast – is it possible that the skies are different over the sea, or is it just my prior expectation? If only I’d paid more attention in geography.  Anyway, long before we see the sea, I find myself visualising that horizon line and the deep sense of calm it fills me with. Why is that? Is it something purely sensory, some relation of personal memory, or some deep ancestral memory?  In The Aquatic Ape, the anthropologist Elaine Morgan theorised that the entire human race lived at the water’s edge during a crucial stage of our evolution.

However, there are those who feel no sense of fulfilment at the sea’s edge, and are purely antsy instead; my adoptive father, Roger, for instance (unless there’s a good fossil hunt to be had). Perhaps that scuppers Morgan’s theory. I’m not sure.

Whichever, for me, a trip to the seaside is always a play on memory, and I can’t remember a time when that didn’t feel so, although thinking about that now, I’m not sure whether that is personal, some early blissful memories of play, ice-cream and buckets and spade, or more historical, imagining  some bygone age of changing machines and kinescope, the faded glamour of the end of the pier. Either way, the final approach to the sea is generally sharpened by some kind of nostalgia.

Actually, it seems unlikely that it would be a personal memory of seaside bliss, because I spent my early years digging a hole in the sand and sitting in it with my back to the sea. Or so I’m told. I can’t remember this, and every time I try to, all I can think of is an occasion when I was shown what a cow pat was on the way back to the car, a memory which I can only think must have the conclusion to some traumatic, hole-digging day at the beach.

Luckily, none of the children seem to have inherited my peculiar hydrophobia (so far). As soon as we’re changed into our swimwear, R is running down to the waves, and even going in to nearly halfway, until the waves get too much for her. Ben goes in to, and we all have a good time in the water.

I don’t quite manage to compose a poem on the subject (something along the lines of ‘You can keep Miami, you can keep Malibu’, picking up from Billy Bragg’s A13 where he sings ‘And if you ever go to Shoeburyness’ to the tune of Route 66), but I do love Walton. It may be a bit rough at at the edges, but hey, what seaside town worth its salt isn’t? (See earlier notes on faded seaside glamour, above –  I particular like the name of one arcade, right on the front, ‘Kino’, secretly evoking the early days of silent cinema.)  More importantly, there’s sand and a sheltered bay, the picturesque Naze at one end and a tacky pier at the other, everything within easy reach and all a bit homespun. I mean, if you want glitz and glamour, there’s always Clacton, down the bay.


(Daddy’s self-portrait)

So after a dip in the sea, Rowan spends a long time exploring the beach, throwing wet sand around (or ‘fish biscuits’, as she was calling it last week), splashing in the shallows and making some sculpture, or ‘lunch’ as she calls a driftwood tower decorated with wet sand and seaweed (‘cucumber’).  There’s also combing to be done – there’s always something to be found – this time we manage to find a peach pit, a Crunchie wrapper and an empty juice carton.


(A ray – actually found at Clacton, the week before)

Ben tries to nap and does some sketching, and with the tide going out I can watch Rowan from the sand as she plays in the shallows, and although I don’t really manage to read my book (a paperback of Marilynne Robertson’s Housekeeping –David Thomson’s Big Screen in hardback felt like too much) I’m happy to have brought it, all the same. R makes a friend with another little girl, whose name I think is Mia. From a distance their conversation looks positively grown up, and I have to wonder what they’re talking about. (Names? Families? Ice cream? The consistency of the sand?) When they decide to run into the sea I stage an intervention, although not without regret, since my mere presence breaks up the party.

I don’t want to moan too much about bad parenting (I only have to look in the mirror for that) but there are a couple of egregious examples – one parent just behind us castigates her little daughter at length for not going away and playing as far away along the beach as possible. How dare her daughter want to be with her, seems to be the overall tone (I’m paraphrasing here). Conversely, further down the beach, another parent is loudly and vigorously criticising her slightly older son for going away and playing independently and not immediately coming back when she calls. The boy insists, rather stoically, that a crab needs his attention, and he can’t return quite yet.

It’s confusing.

I bribe Ben to get the ice creams, an innovation I congratulate myself on, and slowly and fairly unsuccessfully, we start to extract ourselves from the sand, although the liberal use of sunblock has made this harder. Rowan is not happy to change back into actual clothes, and her cries attract a small girl’s unblinking attention at a distance of ooh, about five centimetres.

After a couple of minutes I’m moved to give this girl our names and ask hers.

“Git” she says.

“No, it’s not!” I say, wondering what kind of hellhole she must be living in. “What is it really?”

“Git,” she repeats.

“No!” I insist, but she only nods solemnly.

Now I’m wondering whether to contact social services, but then she turns and goes when she hears her mother call:

“Kit! Come and get dressed.”

Not only does the car start, but there’s not even a traffic jam as we return home on this, the hottest day of the year. It’s pretty perfect, but there are two things I’m still wishing for: one, that every day could be like this, and two, that you were here as well.


(Okay – so this was in Epping Forest a few days before – but hey, it was in High Beach)

Postscript:  28/8/13:  In Maria Semple’s Where D’You Go, Bernadette, the father suggests to his daughter that staring at the sea horizon produces an effect similar to the chemical release after running – which would explain a lot.

Marsh Farm: A Quite Good Day Out

July 15, 2013


Monday July 15

We take advantage of a cheap ticket to Marsh Farm, an open farm / ‘animal adventure park’ on the outskirts of South Woodham Ferrers. It’s a hot hot day, and not quite the summer holidays yet, which perhaps accounts for the lassitude of the staff. Still, they are at least friendly and cheerful, unlike a good portion of the mums and dads who bark angrily at their offspring, making them easily the most fierce animals on display.


And whether it’s because it’s hot, or not quite high season, or something else, there’s not really lots to do here, although to be fair, Rowan does have a good time (and possibly my failure to study the timetable properly also comes into play). We tick the important boxes. Animal feeding? Check. (Although I cannot convince R not to feed the animals with a clenched fist.) Tractor ride around the mud flats of East Essex? Check. (There’s an authentic whiff of putrefying sea air.) An inordinate amount of time in plastic Wendy houses at the edge of a field? Check. (She bonds with another girl, Rebecca, as they check the corners for spiders; Rebecca’s mum and I bond over ‘Mister Skinny Legs’ from Peppa Pig).


Thanks to two kind mums who move up, we do manage to find some shade under a shelter in the middle of the main playpark for our picnic lunch (so I can’t comment upon the farm sausages, or, indeed, the ‘soup’ proudly advertised on the flyers, although I do think Rossi ice cream is overrated), and there are an impressive array of climb-on farm vehicles (as well as ride-on tractors elsewhere), and she is most occupied by these. We also have fun wandering around and spotting the different farm animals: goats, sheep, pigs, llamas, owls, chipmunks, and, of course, best of all, a pigeon.


And, as said before, the tractor ride is fun, but quite short, and there are surprisingly few tractor rides during the day (only four). Considering the high demand for this, we are quite lucky to get on when we did. There is a bouncy castle shaped like a giant rooster (surreally huge – see below), but it’s way too hot to bounce on this, even if she had been old enough, although she does have a go on the bouncy pillows. There could be a train ride, but it’s not finished yet – similarly the crazy golf and the pedal go-karts. Luckily R’s too small to really notice (and, indeed, too small to ride some of these). But there is no sign of any pony rides (again, not so much of an issue for a two-year-old) nor anything going on in the events fields or country fayre arena. However, it’s my bad that we do miss ‘Pesky Pets’ in the barn theater, which sounds like fun. Minor kvetches, but it did all add up to a slightly desultory experience.


Actually, for me, the best part was the dairy, because here there was more of an effort to link up actually farm practices with the day’s ‘experience’, so, feeding aside, this actually felt closer to actual farm experiences / animal husbandry, even if the milking cow is plastic, its udders leaking only water. There are also milking sessions at other times in the day, which I am sorry we missed, along with the promised ‘Goat Show’ (not on the day we went).


My feeling is that there’s nothing particularly unique here – nothing you couldn’t do or see elsewhere, probably cheaper and better.There are, however, other promised unique events here later in the holidays that I’ll always feel blessed we didn’t see, namely, Zingzillas and the Justin Beiber Tribute – sadly not appearing on stage at the same time. For now, the biggest show on the farm, for me, if not for Rowan, was the spectacle of Brits in the heat. Lie them down in the shade and give them a cool drink.



Postscript: 26/8/13: At Mistley Park, she shows that she is now able to feed animals (a fat goat) with her palm open.

Creepy-Crawlies Club in Pictures, #1

July 10, 2013


Today (Wednesday, July 10), Rowan and I attended our first Creepy-Crawlies Club with the Essex Wildlife Trust at Abberton Reservoir, Colchester. The theme was Snails…



First of all, we looked for some flowers and stones to decorate a large chalk pic of a snail.



Although, she did get distracted by some soldier-beetles



and some baby toads (you might need to zoom in to this one).



Anyway, this is how the finished snail looked.



Then it was time for the snail race. And time was on their side…



Then it was time for arts and crafts –



and this was the finished result – she did have to help me a little with this, though.



Still, there was time for a little play –



and a spot of fishing!


Surprising Salvation in Soft Play

July 10, 2013

Tuesday 9 July

So after the car’s failure to start causing a planned trip to Marsh Farm to be cancelled, the road to Clacton beach being jammed solid, and Constable Country being just too toddler-unfriendly, we finally decide to brave Colchester’s Go Bananas soft-play centre. And whether it’s because the sun is merciless, or it’s mid-afternoon in term-time, the place is almost deserted – which is good for us, if not the play centre, I guess.

Rowan being under four, we are directed to Tiny Town, although the very helpful receptionist tells us that we are welcome to go in the over-fours Jungle Adventure, as it is so quiet (although I will have to go in with her). In general, the place seems unbelievably well-managed, especially compared to certain Cambs soft-play centres of yore that shall remain nameless. But it is quiet.

Anyway, there’s enough going on in Tiny Town to entirely occupy her: a central area of soft blocks and animals, many ride-on vehicles to speed around in it, and many more attractions around the outside, including an undersea area where I spot Krusty Krab, a roadmat with loads of Wow vehicles (She loves this), a knights’ castle behind glass, a vet, a bouncy castle (Won’t go in – ‘It’s empty!’ she cries – I think she is looking for spiders), ‘Kelly’s Kitchen’ (She loves this – her and a boy called Harry have a tea party), a fire engine (Ditto without the tea party), ‘Dora’s Disco’ (Won’t go in – the disco lights seem to freak her, or is it my dancing?), a ballpit with slide (Which – wonder of wonders – she actually goes down) and Willy Wonka’s Sweet Factory. I find myself wondering whether copyright is paid for the various iconic habitues.

I talk to Harry’s dad and he tells us we picked a good time to come here, as weekends and holidays, there can be a twenty-minute wait to get in, and the place is rammed. I tell him Harry played really nicely with Rowan, and he tells me that while Harry always tries, as often as not he is either ignored or abused by other, nastier kids. But that could be true of any soft play, anywhere.

Observation of Rowan’s play over the afternoon, her diffidence re: Dora’s Disco and the Bouncy Castle and her love of ‘Kelly’s Kitchen’ gives me an idea of where she would be found at parties (Clue: it’s the title of a Jonah Lewie song), although her love of riding around in a police car suggest she might prefer to poop the party altogether. And me? Well, despite my best efforts at diffidence, once again strange small children keep telling me what they’re up to, and even ask me to pick them up / ride them around / play fireman with them. So once again, I wonder if I should be applying for those nursery jobs…

As time goes on, many of the older kids infiltrate Tiny Town, so Go Bananas is not quite French in its attitude to the rules (I’m going by my observation of numerous piscine uniform ‘infractions’ here). Rowan doesn’t mind, she’s too busy trying to get into the baby walkers.

Cross-section of a Day, with Added Impressions

July 9, 2013

Monday, 8 July

When I open the door to Rowan’s room, she’s involved in a complicated adventure involving the Pig family. Of course, she goes straight out to the bedroom to check that Mummy’s there, but she’s stoical about the absence. She looks cool in her vest and pj trousers, so I don’t get her dressed straight away, thinking that if she goes in the paddling pool, I’ll do it after that.

She has her usual breakfast: dry cheerios and a cup of milk. The following conversation won’t seem exceptional to anyone else, but I’m blown away by the following exchange:

‘Milk, please.’

‘In a cup?’

‘Yes, please.’

Our little girl can hold a conversation. She’s keen to watch Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, so I get some cleaning done while she’s doing that, although I do see enough to note that the movie  works as a brilliant critique of American foreign policy, except that in real life, ‘Lumpy’ would probably have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. After the movie, she demands the Playdough and has a good old play with that, balancing the dough on the edge of a knife for some time, until it’s been stabbed too much to balance any more. We also have another impressive conversational exchange, at least in my eyes, when she shows me the Playdough stamper:

‘What’s this name?’ she asks, of the pattern on the stamper.



She’s also slowly getting over her spider / dead leaf / tiny speck fears: she’s still scanning every room for potential threats, but following her brave toleration of a tiny ceiling spider at the weekend, she’s now saying (of, it has to be said, a totally inert speck): ‘It’s okay,’ ‘Not hurt you,’ and ‘Nothing to worry about’ – in other words, our phrases, reflected back. She’s a clever girl.

However, she’s not yet brave enough to actually go in the paddling pool – the dead leaves, again, proving an insurmountable barrier, although she does throw the bath toys in and all the balls, and even, after a while, dips her hand in.

After lunch under the shady trees – humus, breadsticks and part of my cold beef sandwich,, she goes upstairs for a while, and I find her ‘sleeping’ on Lily’s bed, reading The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. ‘Look,’ she says, ‘Mummy and Daddy Owl’. Later, I persuade her to go for an actual nap, which gives me a chance to move the book library downstairs in the hope of encouraging greater usage. (Ironic that today she should show interest in the books upstairs for the first time).

When I go to wake her up, it turns out she’s fallen asleep on the ‘straw’ rug, and the imprints are all over her belly when I change her nappy. When we go downstairs, she runs straight to the newly positioned library and pulls out Jez Allborough’s Hug, which is gratifying, not least because it’s another non-Dr Seuss book – much as I love Theodore Geisel’s work, fifty reads of Green Eggs and Ham can be too many.

She did, or rather didn’t, have a chicken finger, potato smiles and sweetcorn for tea, but you knew that anyway….