Day 109

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic Orbit.

Woke feeling lousy. Got the boys off to school. Dropped Katie at school. Hot bath. Vicks. Cosied up on sofa with a wheat sack and watched Downton Abbey. Collected Katie.

Beginning to doubt wisdom of inviting a bunch of people for coffee and cake on Wednesday.

Day 108

Level 2 Chi Kung.

The sore throat that has plagued me for the last few days has blossomed into a miserable streaming cold. Fortunately it was my turn to sleep-in so I laid low until it was time to go to the Home Building and Renovating Show. We went mostly to look at options for greening the house. Caught the tail end of a talk on PVTHP systems and got a lead on an installer. Dinner at Côte.

Day 107

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit.

Took Sherlock with us when we walked Katie to drama and then took him on the Heath afterwards. He was a happy wee Sherlock and, at various points on the way home, actually walked nicely on the lead, without trying to pull my arm off. Another borrower is coming to meet Sherlock next weekend – a lady called June who is lonely because her cocker spaniel died and she isn’t able to have another dog at the moment. I felt obliged to warn her that Sherlock is quite naughty and steals socks and chews them up, but I got quite a stern email back from her saying that stealing and chewing up socks is completely fine for a dog his age: “he has to express his personality”. When I related this exchange to Nick he agreed that he is quite happy for Sherlock to express his personality by chewing up June’s socks!

Took Dash to guitar, where his teacher, Mr Baulch, threatened him with ‘guitar prison’ for failing to practice over the summer. In a remarkable piece of clear and precise communication, Dash responded by saying: “I know you’re joking, but please be literal.’ I was so impressed with Dash’s perception and articulation of his own needs. And so bloody disappointed that Mr Baulch completely ignored it – and this in spite of me having taken him aside a couple of times last term and explained that Dash won’t understand humour or sarcasm and he needs to just say what he means. Mr Baulch is a lovely man – really nice and very patient with Dash – but sadly he just doesn’t get it. He has been teaching guitar at the Conservatoire since before I was born and I guess he has developed this jokey style of interacting with children and can’t remember how to do it any other way. I would be really reluctant to hurt his feelings but I am wondering if we should try a different teacher. We are committed until the end of term anyway, so for the moment I might try using it as a bit of a learning exercise for Dash – how to deal with styles of communication we might find a bit difficult.

Day 106

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit.

A sleepy day after a very late night. The alarm system we inherited with the house, and have never used, has suddenly started randomly going off at all hours of the day and night and, unfortunately, went off while we were at the theatre – much to the consternation of the babysitter. It was nearly 2am by the time Nick felt reasonably confident that it wouldn’t start up again the moment we went to bed. This morning I tracked down the company that installed it to ask if they have a de-installation service. They do but they warned me that it is very expensive (£150 call out fee plus £80 per hour) and suggested that we would be better just ripping it out ourselves – though this is likely to be a noisy process, as the alarm has a tamper protection system which will cause it to go off as we try to dismantle it. Oh joy. Removal appears to be the only option however as it is so old that they won’t service or upgrade it.

Walked Sherlock, weeded the feijoa bed and the rose garden, watered all the new planting. Tidied up some bits and pieces of admin.

Day 105

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit.

We are having very Christchurch-type weather at the moment: cold in the morning but sunny and warm by about 10am. Knowing that it would soon warm up I was happy for Katie to wear a dress without tights or leggings – winter is long enough without leaping into winter clothes in the first few weeks of autumn. Katie however didn’t quite see it that way and, about five minutes into the walk to school, she announced in very stern and rather pompous tones ‘I’ll have you know Mummy, that I really don’t appreciate having my skin turn to ice.’ Of course I laughed at her, which she took exception to, so I then had to explain that I wasn’t laughing at her being cold, but because she was sounding uncannily like the (recently deceased) Dowager Duchess of Devonshire!

We found Katie’s iPhone this morning, after only a fairly minor search operation and in time to charge it before we had to leave for school. As instructed, I labelled it with Katie’s name and class and dropped it off at the school office to be kept securely ready for film-making club in the afternoon. Unfortunately it turns out that children, like husbands, will happily abandon carefully made plans at the turn of a passing whim or the word of a complete stranger. Thus while Clara and Ned and Arena and various others in Katie’s class trotted off to reception to collect their phones/cameras etc, Katie listened to some boy she’d never seen before who said she didn’t need to, and pitched up at film-making club without it. Hey-ho. She was then devastated when I collected her from film club, to find out that reception was closed and she couldn’t get her phone back. It’s tough being 7.

Later in the afternoon, Katie came in from the garden and proudly announced that she had taught Sherlock that broken glass is dangerous. After the clementine incident, I was a little nervous about her methods.

J: Wow, really? How did you do that?
K: Well, I held up a piece of broken glass so that he could see it, then I pointed to this cut on my finger, so that he could see that broken glass cuts you.
J: And how did you know that he understood you?
K: Easy – when I threw a piece of broken glass for him, he didn’t chase after it.

So, to focus on the positive, I love that she tests the results of her work!

Dinner at Baltic. I wasn’t very hungry and wanted to be sure of getting to dessert, so I just had a starter of blini with smoked salmon, salmon roe, and roasted aubergine with a side of tomato and onion salad, followed by their sublime apple fritters with cinnamon ice cream and a small glass of Tokaji. Yum, yum. After dinner we saw Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra, at the Old Vic. Sitting in the second row of the stalls when the theatre is configured in the round makes for an intimate theatre experience. Thomas was convincingly half-mad with grief and desperation, which was all the more compelling because we were pretty much sitting on the set. At one point she was slumped disconsolately about 6 feet away from me and I could see that her nose was running. I watched in horrified fascination – there was no way that her character could pull out a handkerchief! – until, when the tension was almost unbearable, she casually wiped her nose on her bare forearm and then smeared the results over her grubby dress. Perfect! Diana Quick was convincingly obnoxious as Clytemnestra, Electra’s murderous mother.

When we got home, I could hear Sherlock racing around in the kitchen, playing with something that sounded like a set of keys or something metallic. I went in to check what mischief he was up to and discovered him playing with a piece of … yes, you guessed it, broken glass. I tried to pick it up but he responded defensively by getting it in his mouth and running off. Nick and I had to team up to distract him away from it so that we could get it without him hurting himself. Once we had managed that, we started to check around for what he might have broken but there appeared to be only the one piece, so I assume that he did, eventually, chase after the piece Katie threw for him and duly brought his prize indoors. Nick, who was wandering around in socks, did eventually find a second, very small piece, that must have broken off while Sherlock was playing…

Day 104

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit.

Raining this morning so we didn’t take Sherlock on the school run. In the past he has been reluctant to go out in the rain but today he whined piteously and threw his wee furry body against the gate, most aggrieved.  🙁

Brought Katie’s little Finnish friend Elias home from school for a play date. Katie has been desperate to have him over but it didn’t go quite as planned as Elias was terrified of poor Sherlock. And Sherlock of course was desperate to play with the new child.

Tried a new salad for dinner: red onion, julienned courgette, coriander and cherry tomato with a lemon and basil oil dressing, served with sea bass and new potatoes.

Tried to wake Katie a few minutes ago to find out where her iPhone is so that I can have it charged ready for film-making club tomorrow. Unfortunately, while she, like the boys, takes after me in that she sleeps with her eyes slightly open, she takes after Nick in being almost impossible to wake. It is a disconcerting combination. I will have to try to persuade them to charge the phone at school during the day – that is if we can find it in the morning!

Just received a text to say that one of the parcels I sent surface mail to NZ just over a week ago has arrived. Makes me wish I hadn’t bothered sending the urgent one airmail!

Day 103

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit.

Spent over three hours walking today (take Katie to school, walk Sherlock on the Heath, collect Katie from school, go home, take Katie to cello, return home to wait for Jack, return to school for ‘meet the teacher’…) which (unsurprisingly) was a bit much for my still-recovering knee.

Made Yotam Ottolenghi’s cauliflower cake for dinner – incredibly yummy. Recipe below – I only used 15ml of olive oil instead of 75ml. I also added 5ml of basil oil as I didn’t have any fresh basil and used black onion seeds instead of sesame and nigella seeds.

Cauliflower cake

Cauliflower cheese sounds to me like the most indulgent of dishes, but to an alumnus of the British school system, it’s a stomach-turning echo of soft florets in a puddle of cheesy water. So I need to work extra hard to convince readers that it’s something they might want to eat. Well, I’ve got a winner here. Serve as a light supper with a salad of sliced cucumber, dill and mint, dressed with a little sugar, cider vinegar and rapeseed oil. Wrapped, it will taste even better the next day. Serves four to six.

1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into 3cm florets
Salt and black pepper
1 medium red onion, peeled
75ml olive oil
½ tsp finely chopped rosemary
7 eggs
15g basil, chopped
120g plain flour, sifted
1½ tsp baking powder
⅓ tsp ground turmeric
150g coarsely grated parmesan (or another mature cheese)
Melted butter, to grease the tin
1 tbsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds

Heat the oven to 200C/390C/gas mark 4. Put the cauliflower in a saucepan and add a teaspoon of salt. Cover with water, bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft: they should break when pressed with a spoon. Strain and leave in a colander to dry.

Cut four round 0.5cm slices off one end of the onion and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion, and put in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft, then set aside to cool. Transfer the cooked onion to a large bowl, add the eggs and basil, whisk, then add the flour, baking powder, turmeric, cheese, a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Whisk until smooth, then add the cauliflower and stir gently, trying not to break up all the florets.

Line the base and sides of a 24cm springform cake tin with baking parchment, and brush the sides with melted butter. Mix together the sesame and nigella seeds and toss them around the inside of the tin, so they stick to the sides. Tip in the cauliflower mix and arrange the reserved onion rings on top.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden-brown and set: a knife inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving: it needs to be served just warm, or at room temperature, rather than hot.

Day 102

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit

Katie and I spent the day wrapping presents and preparing for Nick’s birthday dinner in the evening. I made roast chicken with roast potatoes and parsnips, steamed broccoli and carrots and sweetcorn, followed by elderflower birthday cake. My aim is to serve the same dinner in two years time and for everything on the plate (other than the chicken) to have been raised on the property. There was meant to be a first course of figs and parma ham but, as sometimes happens when I am taking multitasking a bit too far, I forgot to serve it!

Top ten plays: number 5 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Having devoured the book, I couldn’t understand how it could be made into a play, but they did and it was magic. Heartrending magic, but magic nonetheless.

For those in NZ, catch the NT Live version when you can.

20140922 Nick's birthday card
I couldn’t resist this card for Nick – though it made be glad that young Sherlock is relatively petite.


Nick's birthday card

Day 101

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit.

A quiet day. Did various bits and pieces in the garden, dead-headed the roses and cut back the cursed ivy which is invading from next door. Got the kowhai and kakabeaks planted – can only hope that they will survive the snails better now that they are in the ground.

Top ten plays: number 4 is Equus, starring a young Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths (again), seen on the 21st of March 2007 with Barbara Edmonds. I liked Richard Griffiths (in this, and in general) and felt rather disloyal laughing when one of the Radio 4 comedians, in the course of riffing on the subject of how football style chants could potentially enhance so many aspects of English life, suggested that many a National Theatre production might be improved if the audience pitched in with something like: ‘He’s big. He’s round. He bounces on the ground. Richard Griffiths, Richard Griffiths.’