Mock Duck (mockduck) wrote,
Mock Duck

12 May 2013

This is my entry for today's Mass Observation project. I am slightly concerned that it comes across like a pastiche of the ultimate unknowing middle class parent, and that this is the impression that will echo down the centuries. :/


I am a 44-year-old woman and I live in Brighton with my husband and my daughter Tabitha, aged 8. I currently work from home as Communications and Marketing Manager for a small eDemocracy charity called mySociety.

The 12th of May was a fairly typical day for a weekend during Brighton Festival: it revolved around housekeeping/family tasks, and taking the opportunity that the festival affords to entertain the family. The only atypical thing about the day is that we are in the process of trying to sell our flat.

I woke at about 5:00 am, after a dream which featured two frequently recurring themes: that I was returning to university in Birmingham, and that my pet cats had escaped in a public place.

Tabitha was fast asleep between my husband and I: it is months and months since she last slept all the night through in her own bed. She creeps into ours in the small hours; I barely wake any more when she does. These past few weeks, I've been waking at 5:00 or 6:00. I wish I could use the time more productively, but I've yet to find myself leaping out of bed to create artwork or clean the house.

I managed to go back to sleep until about 6:30am, then I got up alone. I put Radio 6 on - I normally listen to R4 but the religious programming on a Sunday morning isn't at all my sort of thing. I made stove-top coffee and wholewheat toast with peanut butter, fed the 3 cats, and brought my breakfast back to bed. While eating, I checked email, Facebook, Twitter and Live Journal on my iPhone, and banged on the window to frighten away a seagull who had got the lid of our wheely bin open and was about to peck through the bin bag and distribute the contents everywhere in a quest for something edible.

When Tabs awoke, which must have been around 7:00, I got dressed (skinny black jeans, long striped black and white t-shirt, long navy blue cardi and a long grey scarf) and made her cheese on toast. She had requested a pitta bread with melted cheese in it, but the two remaining pittas in the bread bin had gone mouldy. She had a glass of water with her breakfast, which she later managed to spill on the table, the book she was reading, and my iPad. This made me a little grumpy.

She got herself dressed in a brown skirt with a ribbon pattern at the hem, which her best friend had passed on to her last week; and a green striped Boden top with an appliqued cat on it, which we bought a couple of years ago second hand at a boot sale.

Tabs has some homework that has to be in by the end of next week: they are supposed to become an expert on the habitat of their choice, and then present everything they know in whatever form they see fit. This could be a book, a video, or anything, I suppose, but I think most people will probably do what we decided on - make a model. We've been talking about it for a week or two, so it was a relief to actually get some work done towards it.

This is a typical piece of homework at the moment - the deadline spans several weeks, and the final product is fairly open-ended. I can't imagine Tabs taking enough responsibility to do it on her own, so one of us, usually me, has to guide her quite a bit. Having said that, in the case of this homework, I have to admit it plays to my own strengths and idea of fun, so I may have been steering it more than I really needed to.

We got a cardboard box out of the recycling crate, and divided it about a third of the way up to make a floor, as Tabs wanted to also show the creatures that live underground. We looked up a handy BBC schools website on my iPad, then cut out trees from cardboard and coloured them with felt pens, and glued down moss and sticks and leaves. We worked for about an hour before we decided that was enough to be going along with (and we'd run out of PVA glue). I Instagrammed our work so far.

Joe, who tends to go to bed later than me in the evenings, because he's not stuck in the same early-waking cycle that I am, got up at about 9:00 and had a bath. He dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a dark blue linen shirt over the top.

The estate agents had asked us to conduct a viewing for 11:00. They keep saying that they work 7 days a week, but this does actually seem to be an untruth. We made sure both beds were made, the kitchen surfaces and the bathroom were clean and the little bits of washing up done. It's been quite a surprise to us how we're actually capable of keeping the flat to a higher level of order since it went on the market - clothes put away every night, etc - although it's not exactly showroom standard. I strimmed the lawn: I waited until 10:00 so as not to be too anti-social on a Sunday morning, hopefully - and weeded the front garden a little. It didn't seem to make much of a dent on the overall slightly unkempt impression of our gardens.

At 10:50, Joe took Tabs to the park down the road and I waited in to show the potential buyer round.

He didn't turn up. I texted Joe to ask how long I should wait - I had a cup of tea and waited 30 mins (while live-tweeting my annoyance) and rang our estate agents only to get their answerphone saying it was Saturday evening and that someone would be in the office first thing on Monday. Seven days a week? I don't think so!

I was rather annoyed with the putative flat-viewer - after all, we could have been getting on with our day. Obviously, it's useful to have cleaned and tidied the place, but it does seem inconsiderate. There again, if something had arisen, they didn't have any way to get in touch, either with us or the estate agents. I'm not sure how you get around that, without giving our personal phone numbers.

I went to the park to meet Joe and Tabs, who were by the sandpit, playing with a tennis ball she'd found, and a big stick. It was warm and sunny.

After about 20 minutes, we decided to get a pub lunch and walked to the Setting Sun, about five minutes away. On the way, I asked Tabs to stop reciting Horrible Histories sketches and facts at me - it must be 90% of what she's thinking about at any one time, and she does this kind of stream of consciousness at times. Horrible Histories has been a theme for about three weeks (and it's the second bout of it). Like any 8 year-old, I'm sure, everything she says seems to be centred around her own preferences rather than the listener's.

My teachers told me to stop studying History pre-O'level (even though I quite enjoyed it, but apparently I bunked one crucial test) so my knowledge of many key periods is a complete blank. At the same time, I've seen all the Horrible Histories sketches enough times to make her recitations of them a bit boring. Tabs was not very pleased by my request, though.

Unfortunately after we'd sat down at the pub and ordered our drinks, I tried to order food and found out that the kitchen wouldn't be opening until 1:00 pm (normally it's 12:00). They said we didn't have to pay for our drinks. Hanover is full of pubs; we walked to the Dover Castle, which has previously been one of our favourites. But in a further stroke of bad luck, we found that they'd become an 'exotic meats' pub with zebra and kangaroo, etc on the menu. We're all vegetarians, so that was no good! There may have been a veggie dish on the menu, but frankly, we're not very trustful of vegetarian dishes from a place with such an obviously carnivorous agenda. Not that we think they'd slip us meat in our meals - it's more that the veggie dish always seems to be a second thought, and often is poorly conceived and cooked.

We ended up walking into town, with Tabs complaining that she "hadn't even had a drink". We went past the Level, which is currently a building site while they make a new playground. What's there already - though still fenced off - looks amazing. It's landscaped with little Teletubby-style hills and beach huts and exciting looking, brand new shiny equipment. We didn't complain about the previous playground, but we obviously didn't know what we were missing.

We ended up eating at the George, a vegetarian pub that we calculated we must have been going to for more than 15 years. We ordered roast dinners; they do child size portions too. Tabs had a nut roast and we ate roast vegetable Wellington, with butternut squash, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, spring greens and gravy. Tabs was a bit miffed to be told she wasn't allowed in the bar area, but she did like that on the back of the kids' menu you could draw a picture and get a prize - a lollipop.

After eating, walked through North Laine and said goodbye to Joe outside Small Batch coffee on Jubilee street. I went in and got a latte, a slice of banana bread for Tabs and a small chocolate tart for me. While we were waiting, Tabitha said, "Why does it say 'Guy with a black eye' on that bit of paper?". She'd seen all the orders on a spike on the counter. I told her it was probably how they remembered which orders went to which customers, and the woman behind the counter said, "That's one of the nicer ones; don't look at the others". So when we walked on, Tabs was making herself laugh by imagining all the rude things they might have mentioned about other customers.

We went to the Sallis Benny theatre at Brighton University on Grand Parade. Lauren Child - the illustrator and author who created Charlie and Lola and several other characters - was speaking, as part of the festival. I booked tickets a few weeks ago. Charlie and Lola was a big part of Tabitha's early childhood; we parents have always liked them too, and I have an interest in kids' book illustration, so I was keen to go. I didn't know whether Tabs would find it interesting, though: it was supposed to be for age 9 and over, but I figured Tabs could cope as she's eight and a half, and fairly bright.

When we arrived, the queue to get in was moving forward. It was almost all composed of girls and their mums. The theatre was full of raked rows of chairs; we saw two spare seats only three rows back, so we took them.

Lauren Child took the stage in a nice green cardi and an elegant small-check dress with artful folding around the neckline; she has a good haircut, good bone structure and is very pretty. She spoke for 45 minutes about her inspirations, and her tone was just right. She was dry and sardonic, but in a way that kids could appreciate too. Her latest book is a Ruby Redfort one, but she talked about everything from Charlie and Lola to Clarice Bean to some of the one-off books she's done, and nodded to diverse influences such as Starsky and Hutch, Hart to Hart, James Bond, Frank Lloyd Wright's "Falling Water", and her own family.

They let kids ask questions afterwards. One of the first children, having just sat through 45 minutes which had begun, "I always get asked where I get my ideas from, so I'm going to talk about my inspirations", asked 'What are your inspirations?'. Under the circumstances, Lauren Child answered very graciously. There were many other questions, and near the end Tabs got to ask hers. She asked, if Lauren Child could be one of her characters for a day, which would she choose? (A: she IS like Clarice Bean, but would very much LIKE to be Ruby Redfort).

I thought that if we slipped out quickly, we could get to the front of the line for signatures, but by the time we got there, the queue was already really long. We'd meant to bring our Lauren Child-illustrated edition of Pippi Longstocking, but I'd realised in the park that I'd forgotten. It didn't seem *quite* worth going back for it at that moment, though we felt sorry about it now. I said to Tabs, oh well, let's not bother to queue up. She was a bit sad about that, so I said, "Let's look at the recycled wood project across the road, and then come back and see if the queue has gone down".

The wood store project is great. It's always been useful, but recently it seems to have leapt forward with a focus on art and design, too. It has really desirable furniture: big tables, scaffold shelf units, and a gallery. Joe and I had been talking about what kind of table we'd like if we end up in a new house that has room for a big one in the kitchen - we looked at some ones in the flea market that I found a bit 'meh', so I was really glad to see these ones made out of weathered floorboards - they really have character and they're not too expensive, either. I'd also love to have the scaffolding shelving. I took photos of furniture with my phone, to show Joe later. Then we went back to the Sallis Benny, and while we'd been gone the theatre had emptied and the queue was three times longer.

Oh well. We went to Tiger Stores to buy more supplies for the homework project: we bought PVA glue, and while we were there, picked up soap, and chocolate rice cakes. We were hoping for a cheap sponge - or to find some polystrene packaging somewhere - so we could mke the underground part of Tabs' box with carved-out burrows, but they didn't seem to have any. We mooched around Cargo (with me madly starting thinking we could melt brown candles into a mould) and Purple Heart and the just-closing stationers, Clarks (where we thought maybe clay or playdoh), but found nothing suitable.

So then we went to Infinity Foods, Brighton's longstanding wholefood shop, and bought various things for Tabs' packed lunches this week - kids' yoghurts and kids' crisps, organic veg and fruit, plus some spices and ingredients for a veggie paella I've seen in one of my cookbooks. I had one 'bag for life' with me but it wasn't enough to carry everything, so I had to pay 10p for a cornstarch biodegradable one. The cashier said she'd give me the 'pokey' stuff to go in my canvas bag as the cornstarch ones are rather fragile; we smiled as we agreed that the cucumber counted as 'pokey'.

It started to rain and Tabs' (cheap imitation) Crocs broke. We were going to go home, but Tabs started getting very miserable about not having got Lauren Child's autograph. It was a difficult parenting moment: I knew that if we went back and Lauren Child had gone, Tabs would be twice as upset, and besides, we were on our way home. On the other hand, I remembered feeling similarly strongly about similar situations in my own childhood, so I said we could go back and look, on the understanding that she had probably gone home. After all, it was more than an hour later.

Tabs is SO lucky. We entered the theatre to find just 3 or 4 people left in the queue, and a very game Lauren Child still signing each book beautifully and posing for a photo. I bought a Clarice Bean book from the stall; unfortunately, although I tried to remember which one we already had, I bought the same one. Lauren Child was lovely to my grubby, wet, broken-shoed, runny nosed child. Unfortunately, I was so busy trying to let her go quickly that, although I took a photo of them together, it came out blurred. Tabs was happy, at least.

We walked to the bottom of St James' Street to get the bus home. The 81 doesn't run as frequently on Sundays, and the real-time display at the bus stop was showing 16 minutes' wait. We popped into Morrisson's, and found those flat rectangular sponge wipes you clean surfaces with, at just over a pound for a packet of four. I also bought a bunch of flowers (reduced carnations, £2) to refresh the ones we've had on the table for 3 weeks. This is not a normal habit for us: it's part of making the flat look nice for sale. We also got passion fruits because Tabs loves them (69p each), and a carton of strawberries for £1.

After that it was purportedly 6 minutes' wait in the rain for the bus; it was probably more like 10 in the end, because the display kept jumping from 1 minute back to 3. I Instagrammed a picture of Lauren Child, also copying it into Facebook and Twitter.

At home, Joe heated up some vegetable soup he made a couple of days ago for Tabs; a little later he and I had some vegetable stew (tofu, tomatoes, chickpeas etc) with rice. Joe told me that our friend had passed away. We'd been expecting it for the past couple of weeks, since he had broken the news that he had inoperable, agressive pancreatic cancer.

I think this is the first 'Facebook age' death for me: Joe had been told the news by his best friend over the phone, but if I hadn't heard it from him, I would have soon seen it on Facebook, where friends were mourning and eulogising publicly. It shows that social media can be used in a way that's sincere and touching, but as an acquaintance said on Twitter, one needs to be able to show a reaction other than 'like' on a death announcement (the answer is a well-worded message of sympathy, I suppose).

Joe made me a cup of tea. We got out Tabs' project again, and made the sponge underground portion. We glued together three layers of sponge and in the top two, we cut out the shapes of burrows, and painted it all with brown poster paint. The sponge holes make it look quite good; far more realistic than any of the other ideas we had. Tabs drew a badger, a mole and a fox.

We left it to dry, and Tabs went to bath while I rang my parents. I do this every Sunday evening. This time I just spoke to my mum, as my dad was asleep. I told her everything we'd been up to this week; she was interested to hear about Lauren Child. I also told her it was Mass Observation day; she agreed that it is just her sort of thing, but when I told her that she had to go online to find out more, she said she probably wouldn't bother. She doesn't use a computer at all, though my dad would probably do it for her if she really wanted.

I made Tabs' packed lunch for tomorrow - egg and cucumber sandwiches, yoghurt, strawberries, a carrot, Goodies tomato noughts and crosses crisps, a banana, and 3 mini chocolate rice cakes. Probably more than she'll actually eat. Meanwhile Joe supervised her having a bath, and cutting her nails, which she's needed to do for days.

While I typed this, I had a small bottle of lager and Joe read Tabs her 'new' Clarice Bean book. After that, she was supposed to be reading quietly alone, but she's almost always incapable of doing so. She came and crept onto our bed, saying that our room is better for watching people out of the window. This was a Lauren Child tip for getting ideas for characterisation. Tabs is creating characters for her latest book, but very few people walk past our house in the evenings. And Tabs is supposed to be lying in bed and getting ready for sleep.

Another nice - and highly relevant to both of us - Lauren Child tip was to keep writing and drawing even if you think it's rubbish, because it's all practice.

After half an hour, I went in to put the light off, and, as almost always these days, we had a slightly bad-tempered tussle. She never wants to give up her book and argues and argues; I often snap. And yet, if I insist that she closes her eyes and stops talking for a while, she's always in a deep sleep five minutes later. It's a shame and I wish bedtimes were nicer; it's something we need to talk about one day, once we're not tired and cross.

Once I'd typed up this diary entry on my blog, it was later than I normally go to bed - about 11.00pm - and Joe had already put his pyjamas on and was in bed with his laptop. I went through to take out my contact lenses and brush my teeth, and saw two of our three cats cuddled together on the sofa. I went to bed, quickly flicked through Facebook and Twitter a bit more on my phone, and quickly dropped off to sleep.


I donate my 12th May diary to the Mass Observation Archive. I consent to it being made publicly available as part of the Archive and assign my copyright in the diary to the Mass Observation Archive Trustees so that it can be reproduced in full or in part on websites, in publications and in broadcasts as approved by the Trustees.
Tags: baby, brighton, buses, children's books, food, house-hunting, mass observation, pals, school, shopping, sleep, the boy

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