Five on Friday

Poppy | Wolves in London

Hello! Phew! Goodness, it’s been a busy few weeks. I’ll try and sum it all up in five salient points…

  1. It’s been a fortnight of hospitals. Last week, the sproglet had his tonsils and adenoids removed, which meant a day at St Thomas’s and then a whole week of quarantine at home. He was pretty brave, for a boy not yet four, but groggy as anything after the general anaesthetic. He’s not quite back to full health, but talks fondly about his time at “Thomas hospital” — I think he thinks it belongs to a certain tank engine. I find it too adorable to correct him.
  2. The other major hospital visit was to Kings for my 22 week scan because yes, not content with an already somewhat hectic life, we’ve decided to add another sprog to the mix. All was well and, apart from being exhausted most of the time and huger than I have ever been in pregnancy before, it’s been the easiest pregnancy so far. The other two are looking forward to having a baby in the house and (mostly) remembering not to jump up and down on my tummy.
  3. Do you remember all the dilemmas about our house move? (You know, the one that has been ongoing for about five months now?) Well, our mortgage got refused on the house we were trying to buy because of suspected subsidence. After finally deciding not to leave London, it now looks a bit like we might have to leave London after all.. If we can’t manage to find another way to buy this house that we want, everything else round our area has got insanely expensive and moving locally just isn’t an option anymore. We’ve applied for a mortgage with someone else that we have some (scant) reason to suspect might be more inclined to lend on that house, so it’s just a waiting game, now, to find out if it will go through. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
  4. Today was the last day of my garden design course for the summer. We spent it walking round Canary Wharf and then the Thames Barrier Park looking at gardens. Actually, I started the day sitting on the floor of a Jubilee line tube in tears because I was so fed up that nobody had offered me a seat for the whole journey and I had just lost the will to battle with all the self-absorbed suited-bastards who rushed past me to grab the seats and stare at their Blackberrys for hours. It was deeply embarrassing, I have to say. (See above, for pregnancy hugeness and exhaustion and also a reason why I’m perhaps slightly more emotional than normal, ha ha…) I feel obliged to point out that even when I was sitting sobbing on the floor, nobody still offered up a seat. A commute into Canary Wharf is enough to make you give up on any belief in human decency.
  5. On a more relaxing note, we’re off for a long weekend in Herefordshire this weekend, staying with a whole bunch of my school friends and their families in a beautiful Georgian manor house. I am hoping for some long walks, long meals and general pottering around. Oh and for some sunshine, of course.

‘Til next week. Hope you all have wonderful weekends…

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.

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Currently reading: all the books

Reading all the books | Wolves in London

I haven’t written a ‘currently reading’ post for a few months. But what I have been doing in that time is reading. A lot. Voraciously, in fact.

When I started to make a list of everything that I’ve read since my last post (about the utterly terrifying Marie Kondo book) I was slightly shocked at the volume. Around 20 books in a couple of months.

There isn’t, of course, time to give you my full, frank review on every single one of these, so instead a brief sentence on each one. A Twitter review, if you will.

And to make things really straightforward, I’ve listed them in the order I most enjoyed them:

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

How did I miss the hype the first time round? Peters out at the end, but brilliant, compelling, sharp, intriguing and fantastically-written. If you somehow also failed to read it when it came out, then do so now…

Twenty thousand streets under the sky by Patrick Hamilton

Epitomises the London of a foggy, cold day. Fabulous, bleak, fascinating, unrelentingly “real.”

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt

A story about two contract killers in California during the Gold rush. If that doesn’t sound like something you’d ever read, ditto. Read it anyway. I adored the rather literal narrator’s voice and the prosaic catalogue of bizarre events that ensued.

The complete works of Marian Keyes (re-read)

One week I became obsessed with re-reading everything written by Marian Keyes. It’s chick lit for those who (like me) don’t usually like chick lit. Trashy, yes, but also extremely funny and very much un-put-downable.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

She’s a fantastic writer, there’s no doubt, but that couldn’t quite make me ignore the fact I never love a modern re-working of a classic. If you’ve never read Sittenfeld before, then seek out American wife instead, which remains one of my all-time favourite reads.

The stranger’s child by Alan Hollinghurst

I found The line of beauty one of the most over-hyped books I had ever read, but really very much enjoyed this book, Hollinghurst’s fifth novel. Set in five different decades, I vastly preferred the earlier (1913 and 1920s) sections to the modern day ones. But overall, definitely worth a read…

The man of my dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sparks of brilliance, but a slightly unfulfilling plot. See above…

Under the Tuscan sun by Frances Mayes

Practically porn for a property-fiend and Italophile like me. Will almost certainly make you sell your children in order to finance the purchase of a falling down house in Italy.

The versions of us by Laura Barnett

Has been compared to One Day, which seems fair to me. An enjoyable read, but not something I would remember in five years time. A good holiday book.

Oxygen by Patrick Miller

Perfectly readable holiday literature. Almost instantly forgettable.

The Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels

Page turners, undoubtedly, but I didn’t find them the great literary feat everyone else seemed to. I preferred the descriptions of Naples to the musings on friendship and relationships.

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe

Good god, I thought this was tedious. A “satire” on modern culture (which actually felt especially topical after the referendum), but though I agree with the politics, I found the writing and humour rather schoolboyish. And (*spoiler alert, look away now*) at the very end a giant spider eats all of the bad capitalist conservatives. I kid you not.

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In the garden: June

SeedheadWell, wasn’t the last week of June utterly depressing. Like so many, I was knocked for six with the results of the referendum.

I find the whole thing terrifying and bleak. The result itself, the reports of increased racism that have peppered the news this past week, the furious packpedalling of the Leave campaigners, the Leave voter regretters, but also the really unpleasant bile and accusations that have been rife on my Facebook feed ever since — predominantly from those who share my political views and also voted to remain.

Yes, I agree, it is bloody miserable that more people said leave than stay, but I don’t think that justifies branding half the population either racist or moronic. Nor do I feel much empathy for those who want to take London out of the UK (erm, doesn’t that kind of go against the whole point of staying stronger together?) or moan about how they’ll no longer be able to retire to a lovely villa in Spain.

Anyway, let’s hope that something comes up to stop us actually following through and leaving and that the unpleasant racism and Facebook fighting dies down and maybe, just maybe, we can all stand up against a political system filled with lies and nonsense pedalled merely as a desire for personal gain, irrespective of the good of the country.

In the meantime, pottering in the garden has provided me with some respite from the bleak outlook. June is often a bit of a “flower gap” in my garden, a time when the Spring blooms are over, but high Summer is yet to hit its peak. But there’s just enough of interest to keep me wandering around between all the rainstorms.

Thalictrum delavayi 'album'
Thalictrum delavayi ‘album’

white thalictrum

My complete obsession at the moment are my stunning thalictrum plants. They’re Thalictrum delavayi ‘album’ and the flower buds form perfect white circles that bob about on slender stems, before opening to reveal delicate yellow stamens. I have about nine plants dotted throughout the garden and I just adore them. They were newly planted in the Autumn, but I shall put them in every garden I ever own from now on…

Scabiosa bud
Scabiosa bud
Scabiosa flower
Scabiosa flower
Scabiosa seedhead
Scabiosa seedhead

Another favourite is this scabious; I love watching it unfold from tightly packed bud to luscious flower and then into a rather glorious seedhead. I planted it next to some salvia argentea, which is a huge fat-leaved, hairy silver plant, that looked absolutely amazing for about a week. And then the slugs devoured every last bit of it. Three plants, completely munched through, with only the leaf veins left. Grrrr.Bee on erysimumBee

Regular reads might chuckle to know that, yes, my wallflower is — as ever — in full bloom. Not only does it flower pretty much continuously for 11 months of the year, but the bees love it. It’s a garden staple, I think, if a little unglamorous.

Ladybird

I planted a beautiful pittosporum towards the back of the garden, but it has become a breeding ground for aphids. Every time I see a ladybird anywhere in the garden, I put it on the pittosporum in the hope it will munch those little pests right up. But, a few minutes later, there will be no sign of the ladybird and hundreds more of the little black dots multiplying in front of my eyes. I think I need a more effective form of control, but the hose doesn’t reach that far down the garden to blast them away, and I always feel a little queasy, I have to confess, about wiping them off between my fingers.

Echinops

There is lots on the verge of flowering at the moment too. Some poppies that have grown from seed that I asked the sproglet to chuck liberally across the flower beds are growing well. I can no longer remember what type we sowed, so I watch them every day in eager anticipation, waiting to see what colour the flowers will be. And my newly-planted echinops is getting taller and taller, the flower buds fattening. I can’t wait for them all to burst open.

London garden

Finally, a rather crappy shot of the garden as viewed from the patio looking away from the house. It’s not quite as short as it appears in the photo, but we cleared all the plastic kids crap away to put up the much more attractive fabric tent last weekend, so I thought it needed a quick snap. You can just make out the chicken house and the veg beds at the far end…

So, roll on July. Here’s to less rain, more flowers and, hopefully, a little more optimism in the whole political situation. Fingers tightly crossed.

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Eating sustainably: three new superfoods

Pullet egg
Pullet eggs: tiny but delicious

Am I alone in having good intentions that frequently outshine my actions? Surely not.

Though I’ve thought (and written) much about our intentions to live as sustainably as possible, in real life, time or cost often win out against worthy ideals.

So, yes, I grow a lot of veg and get a weekly organic veg box, but (whispers it) I also do a monthly online Tesco food shop. Even though I hate Tesco and everything they stand for, without a car we can’t do a regular big shop ourselves and Tesco is currently the only supermarket who will cheerfully deliver to us without plastic bags and carry the crates of food all the way through to the kitchen.

But with our country move delayed, and, with it, plans of a more self-sufficient lifestyle also put on hold for a few years, I am determined to try and be more conscious about the food we consume as a family.

So I’ve done a bit of research into the current trends in sustainable eating! (Because, let’s face it, this is an area of ever shifting sands and ever new heroes. Who can forget the Apprentice acai berry show?!)

And, my goodness, what a lot there was to discover…

  1. Teff

I’ve long been a fan of quinoa, so the promise of Teff, a new “supergrain” from Ethiopia creates a strong lure. The gluten-free seeds, used in place of wheat flour, have been growing in popularity in recent years, even leading the grain teff to be placed at 4 to 1 odds as the next big superfood

Though we’re not a gluten free household, I am aware that almost everything the kids like to consume is packed full of the stuff (pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits making up pretty much the entire list of foods that will be allowed past their lips) and I’m always looking for ways to vary this unending wheat onslaught.

Plus, of course, the promise of a large exporting foodstuffs market in Ethiopia, if managed effectively, would be a huge boon to a nation that is currently on the UN’s list of least-developed countries.*

Teff flour is currently available in the UK from Planet Organic and, in smaller more expensive quantities, from Sainsburys. Expect it to start appearing on the shelves of other supermarkets soon…

  1. Pullet eggs

Did you watch the Jamie Oliver expose on pullet eggs last year on Jamie and Jimmy’s Farm Feast? For anyone who missed it, the short story is that huge numbers of small eggs, known as pullet eggs, are discarded because the supermarkets don’t want to buy them. As with so many things (wonky veg and so on) there is no real rationale behind this – a pullet egg, laid by a young chicken who has only just started making eggs, tastes just as good as a normal sized one and, in fact, the yolk-white ratio is higher so it’s arguably even better! (Read more about it on Jamie Oliver’s website here: eggs and animal welfare.)

I’m quite passionate about this subject for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the farm that Jamie visited is owned by the hubby’s relations, who are just as brilliant and fun as they seemed on TV and do an amazing job of running an organic farm and spreading the message about pullet eggs.

Secondly, since owning our own chickens and watching, with astonishment, when they first started laying these adorable little tiny eggs, I can tell: you they taste bloody brilliant! How anyone could discard such an insanely tasty egg simply because it is a bit smaller than usual strikes me as pure insanity.

Anyway, it is now possible to buy pullet eggs, either direct from The Mac’s Farm in Sussex, if you happen to live close by, or via FarmDrop if you’re London based, and nationwide from Abel & Cole (where they’ve called them “petite eggs”).

  1. Baobab

Surely one of the most iconic sights of Africa, the baobab tree casts such a mythical hold that it’s unsurprising its fruit has gripped public attention. And with health benefits that are seemingly un-ending (it contains more vitamin C than an orange, just for a start) baobab powder has been popular in health food stores for some time now.

In past years, though, baobab production has really taken off, with a number of sustainable initiatives starting in a range of African countries. Many of the organisations involved with the trade of baobab to the west are conscious of the need to address issues of monoculture and deforestation that have been rife with popularity of other crops.

I’m yet to test the baobab and, I have to confess, I remain sceptical about endless health claims from any one food, but with a huge range of baobab foods available in the UK now, I’m going to search out some baobab rich snacks and see if it’s something I can incorporate into my diet. Check out Planet Organic’s range for a huge choice!

*There’s a fascinating article in the Guardian all about teff, and the growing conditions in Ethiopia, here: Move over quinoa

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Five on Friday

White allium | Wolves in London

1.

We’re a household of germs and lurgies this morning. I’ve lost my voice (and feel as if I’ve lost all muscles from my entire body, the amount of work it seems to walk up the stairs), the sproglet has a level of grouchiness that is usually associated with some form of illness, and the hubby is off work with a vomiting bug. Only the littlest has escaped, and remains cheerful, bumbling around the house singing songs to us and occasionally stopping to tell me, with a huge grin on his face, “I grumpy, Mummy, I so grumpy”…

2.

So I’m writing this, curled up on the sofa under a blanket, PJs still on and a roll of loo paper by my side for the constant nose wiping. Actually, if I’m making this all sound miserable, it’s really quite pleasant. The sprogs have just gone off to nursery and the hubby is now having a sleep upstairs and I have that rare moment of quiet and peace in the house, with the companionship of knowing someone else is in.

3.

Apart from all the bugs, work has been on my mind almost constantly this week. Work, or rather, the lack thereof. The sproglet turns four in just over month, marking four years in which I haven’t really done anything that could reasonably be called working. The lack of money, not to mention the lack of identity, has been grating on me these past months. When we applied for additional borrowing on our mortgage for our imminent house move, we were told that we could be lent more if I was taken off the mortgage, and it was in my husband’s name only. We’ve had to do so, house prices round us being so crazy that we couldn’t afford to move otherwise, but it was a real dent to my sense of being an independent, functioning, valuable member of society. And a feminist. Anyway, I could rant for hours about all this (and have done to numerous friends over the past few weeks) but the short result is that it’s made me really want to step up my plans for my own company and push ahead a little faster than I had originally thought.

4.

Luckily, two lovely family members have agreed to hire me to mastermind garden overhauls. I registered my own company last year, but have only done a few (very) small jobs since then, but now I’m ready to crack on with something a bit bigger. For my sister, I’m drawing up a planting plan to bring some colour into her garden (at the moment, she has huge swathes of grass and privet hedging, but not much flora). And my Mum has commissioned me to completely re-design her entire plot, which will be exciting, albeit a challenging task. I’m off to my Mum’s house at the weekend, to carry out a site survey and discuss initial plans with her. Garden design company is go!

5.

Though political, I really hate to discuss politics normally (I’ve spent too many evenings, pressed back against a wall in a gloomy pub with some half-inebriated uni friend aggressively shouting their beliefs at me for hours, oblivious to the fact I’ve said, six hundred times already, that I completely agree with them…) But next week, of course, is a pretty big deal, so I feel compelled to mention that I am, naturally, voting to stay in Europe, for all the reasons that everyone else has said before. The thought of leaving is pretty terrifying to me, but I remain hopeful that, on the day, a general sense of inclusiveness being better than alienation will win out. This time next week, we’ll know for sure.

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday

East Dulwich in bloom

Last Friday, I took a walk through my local streets, camera in hand, to photograph some nice examples of hard landscaping for my recent garden design assignment.

Does that sound interesting? It wasn’t hugely. I soon found myself photographing roses instead.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

White rose | Wolves in London

Rose bud | Wolves in LondonOver almost every front wall, it seemed, profusions of roses were blooming. Every colour, scent and type imaginable was adorning the streets of East Dulwich.

These are some of the finest…

pink frilly rose white dog rose dog rose

And if you ask really nicely, I might share my hard landscaping photos with you at some point in the future, but in the meantime, here is a photo of a nice bit of sandstone paving, plus cat…

cat

Five on Friday

Path to the beachTall grasses in SicilyNoto cathedralNoto street, Sicily Noto rooftops, Sicily One of my all-time favourite blogs to read is CJ’s Above the River. She’s a brilliant writer, witty and wry, and her glimpses of family conversations never fail to amuse me. I particularly enjoy the weekly Friday posts, joining in with Amy’s series Five on Friday, and thought I would join in myself with a little rambling about five things from the week just been. So here goes…

  1. I discovered a few more photos I’d taken on our Sicily hol in my hubby’s phone this morning. The path and huge grasses lead to a hidden cove, a nature reserve with the most turquoise sea and white sand.  The town of reddish stone is Noto, right down in the southeastern corner of the island, mentioned in passing in our guidebooks and one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever visited. As we arrived, there was a Vespa parade through the main (pedestrianised) street, accompanied by much horn-honking and cheering. The scooters were all adorned with signs, proclaiming which local Vespa club they belonged to, and there were so many that the whole thing too a good ten minutes to go past us. I longed, once more, to live in Italy always.
  2. The reason the pics weren’t on my own phone, is that it’s properly given up the ghost. 18 months of manhandling by the sproglets has meant my camera is so ingrained with dirt and greasy smears that every photo I take looks as if it’s been sprinkled in sand and a dollop of vaseline. My contract has finally expired and I’m due an upgrade, but am busy debating whether I can really justify adding an extra £20 a month to my phone bill in order to get the massive iPhone 6s. Any thoughts?
  3. Said lack of phone camera has led to an enforced instagram break which, rather to my surprise, I have found completely liberating. I realise that I’d got a bit negatively addicted to instagram, checking it first thing in the morning, constantly scrolling through feeds of artfully styled flowers and floral scissors and Observer guides, and feeling a perennial pressure to be taking photographs as beautiful as those that everyone else seemed capable of. A few months off has been a good breather and I have a determination not to get so sucked back in once I finally return.
  4. I was out on Wednesday night at the launch party for 91 magazine, for which my friend Laura is the deputy editor. I had a lovely time, though had that thing when you’re in a room with lots of bloggers, where you’re not sure if you recognise people’s faces from seeing them online or because you’ve met them before. I swung between wondering if I was being anti-social by not saying hello to more people, or being a bit crazed fan-stalkerish chatting to people who had no clue who I was. Perhaps both at once?!
  5. I’m rather sunburnt as I sit writing this, after spending a day at Capel Manor, Enfield, yesterday, surveying a garden for our next garden assignment. The task ahead of me today is to draw up the plan on the computer, something that hurts my head severely every time. I’m trying to teach myself Vectorworks, the CAD program of choice for garden design, but it’s a slow, complex process, that frequently ends with me shouting at my laptop or slamming it closed in a huff. There is a special sort of rage, I find, reserved for technology that is supposed to make your life easier, but that instead complicates the most basic tasks.

My love for Italy and a trip to Sicily

Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea: the backdrop to pretty much every summer holiday I’ve ever taken

I’m a long term Italophile.

I was first seduced by the charms of Rome at the age of 23, visiting on a long weekend. I was on my own – the first break I’d ever taken solo – which felt both risky, alarming and hopelessly cool at the time.

I fell head over heels for everything: the food, the language, the beauty of the city, the vespas, the fruit market on Campo dei Fiori, the shouting… …and perhaps most of all, Maurizio, the silver fox who owned the apartment in which I was renting a room.

On my last day, he took me out for an alternative tour of the city on the back of his motorbike. We visited the abattoir, set off up Monte Gianicolo and he took me out to supper at one of his favourite restaurants.

As dusk fell, we took a walk through the centro storico and wandered upon a piazza where an open air tango class was taking place. We stood and watched for a while, leaning up against an archway. I started to feel a little nervous as Maurizio leaned closer towards me, butterflies in my stomach telling me that, oh god, perhaps this outrageously hot man 20 years older than me was about to try and kiss me.

Panicked, at the last moment, I walked off, suddenly keen to explore something else on the other side of the square, and the moment passed.

But though I spent the following four months regretting my fear and wondering what might have been (an Italian wedding! Hordes of Italian children! Learning to make pasta from the hands of a master! Etc etc) my love for Italy was well and truly sparked.

A few weeks later, I quit my job in London, and moved to Rome for six months, attending Italian language school in the mornings and wandering galleries, museums, parks and piazzas in the afternoons. *

Balcony in Siracusa
Can you spot the dog on the balcony?
The island of Ortygia in Siracusa
The island of Ortygia in Siracusa
Siracusa
Locals grab even the tiniest spots for a bit of sunbathing

Ever since, I’ve taken any opportunity I can to visit Italy, the most recent trip a fortnight in Sicily, from where we’ve just returned.

Our last Italian jaunt, to Puglia on honeymoon, was rather stressful with the sproglet at a tricky age for travelling, so I’m pleased to report that this trip was – if not relaxing, for what is relaxing with two toddlers – definitely more successful.

This time round, the boys were delighted by the proliferation of pasta, pizza and ice cream, and just as happy to wander round museums, art galleries and ancient ruins as they were playing at the beach. I also dragged them to a fair few gardens, with the promise of playgrounds that rarely materialised. (Not, I hasten to add, a cunning parenting ploy on my part, just an inaccuracy in the guidebooks…)

Cactus
Taormina public gardens

Taormina public gardens

The landscape of Southern Sicily
The landscape of Southern Sicily

They were an absolute fricking nightmare at mealtimes, smashing up tables in the time it would take the food to arrive, but we soon learnt to eat only at restaurants on piazzas where they could run around or at their preferred café on the beach. (“Mum, please can we go to the place where the nice man talks Italian to us and gives us free chupa chups lollies?”)

But, overall, an enjoyable jaunt, marred only by a middle-of-the-night trip to hospital to get four stitches in the sproglet’s chin after he fell out of bed onto the tiled floor one evening.

I took my brand new, incredibly expensive camera lens with me, thinking I was going to get a selection of amazing photos. But on uploading them to my computer at home, I see that almost all are out of focus. So, perhaps luckily for you, I only have these to share with you. They are pretty representative of the whole area we were staying in: bougainvillea dripping over every wall, huge fields of bronzed grass and tall pines, every building a statuesque if crumbling beauty, and the backdrop of the turquoise sea wherever you look.

Taormina
The view from Taormina, Mount Etna in the background
Taormina greek theatre
Ancient Greek theatre in Taormina

Italy: my love for you continues…

*I met up with Maurizio once for lunch – let slip that I had since accrued an English boyfriend and never heard from him again, ha ha. A good lesson about the desires of Italian silver foxes, I suspect…

My kids killed my love of cooking

When I was growing up, as one of four children, being fussy wasn’t an option.

I don’t think it ever really occurred to any of us that we might not eat a meal – we were normally too busy fighting over the seconds. Sure, there was certain food I wasn’t as keen on as other things, but that just meant I didn’t ask for a double portion.

Friends of my parents used to comment on just how much we consumed and I think my Mum was driven slightly insane by the huge supermarket shops and endless requests, Oliver style, for “a bit more, please…”

So I always assumed that my own children would repeat this behaviour. In those pre-spawning days when you’re an absolute expert on childcare, I scoffed at the idea of fussy eating children. Clearly, clearly, it was simply the parents’ fault in one way or other. Giving them alternatives to foods, or allowing them not to eat certain things or perhaps, conversely, getting into a fight about eating certain things. In my house, mealtimes were going to run smoothly. I’d cook something. I’d put it in front of the kids. They’d devour it and ask for more.

I also used to find it amusing that though my sisters and I all love cooking – a skill we all picked up in our Uni years and onwards – my Mum never shared that passion. I didn’t really question why someone might not love cooking after, what, a solid 25 years of preparing meals for all or some of her four children, I just thought it was something in the genes. A little quirky oddity, that meant the love of cooking skipped a generation to land – fresh from Masterchef heaven – in our hearts.

In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that, pre-spawning, I actually thought cooking the evening meal for my children would be one of the highlights of my day. You know, I’d be standing, Nigella-esque, at the oven, whipping up some healthy, organic, delicious piece de resistance while the children – well, I don’t even know what I thought the children would be doing while I happily cooked in the kitchen. Cheerfully helping me, without making a mess? Getting on with some brilliant independent play all on their own? Perhaps writing a great novel, or composing an opera, or working on a cure for cancer. Probably something like that.

And, actually, in the first year of the sproglet’s life, all did go according to plan. I was one of those bloody annoying mothers who did the baby led weaning with the organic vegetables from the weekly Abel and Cole box. Snacks were apples or roasted butternut squash chunks or rice cakes. And everything – everything – for that blissful period between six months and a year, was consumed without question by the pliable sprog. He’d got the memo! I was delighted. And, perhaps, even a little smug.

Corridor to the kitchen
As close as I like to get to the kitchen these days

On his first birthday, I cooked the sproglet his first ever cake. Cupcakes. I thought that – since he hadn’t really had any sugar until that point – he might take it or leave it. I was wrong. He hoovered up three cupcakes within a minute. The next day, we had another party to go to. He refused to eat anything but cupcakes.

And, from that point on, it’s been a steady decline.

Nowadays, at mealtimes, the sproglet will eat three things only: pasta, potatoes and “red sauce.” (Do not ever make the mistake of referring to it as “tomato sauce” or it will not be consumed for some weeks…)

On a really good day, a morsel of broccoli might pass by his lips.

But a hearty, lovingly-prepared chicken stew? Home-cooked steak and kidney pie? Even (and I can never quite wrap my head round this one, since it was a favourite from my childhood) bubble and squeak? No, no, no thank you. Not eating that, thanks, Mum, I don’t like it, can I have something else instead?

And the littlest, who used to be a really excellent eater, has taken to copying his big brother, and developed extreme fussiness of his own.

So, after two years of having everything I ever cook pushed around a plate, shunned and, frequently, thrown to the floor, I somehow find that “genetic” love of cooking has vanished into the ether.

Now I’m that Mum who thinks a cheese sandwich and a bag of crisps is a perfectly acceptable lunch, who is delighted when the littlest eats handfuls of baked beans (beans! They’re vegetables you know!) and who grudgingly re-heats the leftovers from lunch and plonks it back down in front of the kids for supper later on…

So, I’m pretty certain that when they hit 20, my boys will suddenly discover a great zest for cooking and look back at their poor old Mum’s sorry efforts in their childhood with wonder and despair. In the finals of Masterchef 2033, they’ll recreate a “memory of childhood” with a pasta and red sauce vapourised air and joke with a white-haired John and heavily-wrinkled Greg that it was the only dish their Mum could ever cook. As they hold the trophy aloft – the first sibling duo to ever win joint first – they’ll smile with pride and say how they learnt everything they ever knew from the internet.

And then they’ll have kids of their own and a tin of baked beans will, once again, seem like a gourmet delight.

In the garden: May

Apple blossom in the garden | Wolves in London

Oh May! Such a fabulous month in the garden. Blossom dripping off trees, new buds emerging in the beds, bees drowsily buzzing. May is probably my favourite month, horticulturally. Summer is almost upon us, but the greens are still fresh and green and the dew glistens on the grass in the mornings.

Acer palmatum | Wolves in London

Bee in apple blossomforget-me-notEuphorbia

Erigeron karvinskianus | Wolves in London

In the last month, the back garden has really been taken over by the chickens and the kids. We bought two news chooks to add to the flock, which was brilliant but also necessitated buying a spare coop in case they all decided to peck each other to death. Luckily, they didn’t, but the empty coop now sits squeezed between the vegetable beds and the original chicken run and its orange-stained wooden frame is in direct line of sight at almost every point in the garden. At the end of April, the littlest had his second birthday and was the happy recipient of a brand new, bright blue plastic slide, that takes up almost all of our tiny lawn space. But, away from the blue plastic and orangina wood, the fruit trees are all in blossom and the flower beds are going great guns, with all our new plants growing well, if a little surrounded by weeds at the moment….

In the evening, the sinking sun sets right behind the fabulous acer and its leaves glow bright bronze. It’s one of my favourite sights at this time of year (and one of the few plants we kept from the previous owners…) And I’m delighted with my new bright lime green eupborbia, which is just as stunning as I’d hoped it might be. I had meant to plant some ruby red aquilegias around it, but instead it seems to be surrounded by weeds at the moment. Ah well.

London front garden in Spring

In our front garden, the morello cherry tree has been in spectacular bloom, the rock roses covered in white flowers and the Sicilan honey garlic (Nectaroscordum siculum) just starting to peep out above the rest. I can see the first long shoot of the perennial sweet pea starting to make its way up the obelisk, promising a profusion of bright pink blooms later in the year.

Yes, life in sweet in May – the only obstacle to my garden utopia that we’re about to go on holiday to Sicily for a couple of weeks and I’ve not got anybody lined up to do any watering in case of no rain here. Still, the weeds, at least will survive our absence, I’m sure.