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Last week I sang in a concert at the Royal Festival Hall with my choir. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with the wonderful Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Not to be missed, but the late nights for rehearsals in the run-up to it were punishing for someone who usually goes to bed near 9 in order to survive being awake any time from 4 am the next day. The chorus rehearses two nights a week, but this week the rehearsals were Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Friday was the concert. I felt like death warmed up on the day of the concert, but knew I would find a second wind. The piece is a quite a gruelling tour de force for the sopranos (as well as being stomach-achingly beautiful) but I was able to stay standing till the end and sing the last note without completely losing my voice, so I count my performance as a success.

Anyway, dragging my tired personage across Waterloo Bridge and thinking how this vista of London doesn’t inspire the same excitement in me as it did when I was wide-eyed and younger, I was presented with this-

On the wall of the Hayward Gallery was projected the question, ‘How are you sleeping these days?’ How apt. Another soprano in the choir who is a grandma was telling me how her son got in some sleep specialists to sort their terrible broken nights with their toddler. It cost 250 quid and it has worked. She sent me a copy of the ‘task form’ detailing all the things the parents had to do to get the boy sleeping through the night. BB isn’t as extreme a case as Stanley, but she’s still up way before the dawn. This is what we are going to try-

  • Set a small lamp up in his room, with a low wattage bulb, 10-12 watts. Make sure he can see it from his bed.
  • Connect the lamp to a timer switch and set it to 6.45am.
  • If he wakes and the lamp is on, go and get him up immediately – show Stanley the lamp and explain that he can now get up.
  • If the lamp has not come on, he must wait until it is on before you get him up

The problem may be that BB has no way of knowing when it’s morning. I have prepared our lamp and timer, only l set it for 6.00. No good aiming to high! BB has been unwell these last few weeks, but is much better now. Fighting fit, so battle must commence. Last night I had her out of the cot at 3.15. This is no good! One daunting thing is that tonight when playing before bed, she learned how to stand up in her cot. Lord help us.

BB’s birthday will always come with the arrival of the first conker, leaves beginning to turn red and gold, that sudden change in atmosphere, crisp mornings and smoky air. I wanted her to have the heat and carefree fun of a summer birthday, but I kind of like it this way. Our back garden, otherwise known as Ravenscourt Park has new features.

Sweet chestnuts! The trees full to bursting tease you for a while. Then a feast falls down for the squirrels, me and Dad and some Chinese people with carrier bags. One day we got a particularly good harvest when scores of bright green rowdy parakeets (an every-day West London sight) were squabbling and bashing through the branches.

Score them in a cross with a knife, put them in the microwave for a few minutes, sprinkle a little salt. Yummy! Can’t wait to go sweet chestnut hunting with BB.

       

An empty adventure playground. The kids have gone back to school and left a brand new wooden adventure playground entirely for me and BB. She likes the big chunky roundabout and the extra wide slide.

       

Colours!

        

spot the ladybirds.

        

It’s a crisp autumn day. Dad and I went out last night for the first time and left BB with a babysitter (my mate with five kids who has furnished our house with all the baby stuff you could possibly need. BB couldn’t be in safer hands). I got called at the last minute to play a gig with our old band. It was a long setlist with three new songs. I hadn’t played the old ones for a year and a half. This morning, though slightly groggy, I feel suddenly light on responsibility. What a wonderful feeling! I guess since I was asked last Tuesday my mind has been full of when am I going to find time to practice, how will I make the rehearsal after teaching, coping with suddenly not going to bed at 9 but still getting up at 5. How am I going to organise cover for BB and make the incredibly early soundcheck. BB is quite demanding, she’s becoming a toddler and needs fresh air and continuous entertainment! Apparently me playing an hour of accordion doesn’t count. She does let me play a bit of piano if I keep giving her cheesy grins over my shoulder.

Yesterday was quite intense. Making sure I had all my stuff ready, trying to snatch a bit of essential practice in here and there of the tunes I hadn’t yet managed to play through, taking BB to ‘baby stay and play’ at the children’s centre (what a joy – more about this later), doing the washing, the battle that lunch has become. Taking BB on the bike to buy snacks for the babysitter and a quick dinner for us, the battle that dinner has become. Dad back covered in dust, quickly jumps in the bath, handover, I run out to the car, speed outrageously along the A40, set foot on stage at KOKO, Camden for the soundcheck at 5.30 on the dot. I made it! What a beautiful venue. Looking out at the round, tiered theatre from the stage, all dark wood and red lights is enchanting.

Inbetween having dots painted on my face and doing some sneaky last-minute practice on a piano backstage I give Dad a ring. Everything’s fine! Except he has to confide that there was one point at bathtime when staring exhaustedly into space, he looked down just in time to see BB suddenly slip under. An image of her panicked little face beneath the water was burned into his memory, and she was completely freaked out for the rest of the evening. Oh dear. Poor BB, poor Dad.

It’s fair to say Gabby pulled out a few stops for this one. Apart from us Other Animals, there was a samba band, a large brass band, a troupe of dancers and two aerialists spinning around on silks above our heads. Gabby wore a dress like a little salt cellar. Halfway through she changed out of this, into a dress like a large salt cellar. I (who had said to Dad beforehand, ‘I won’t let them backcomb my hair’) had my hair backcombed into a large bun on the top of my head. The gig went really well. I wasn’t on top of my game, but managed not to completely embarrass myself!

Dad, who in the days when he was the bass player railed against the gigs ‘becoming a circus act’ enjoyed it immensely from the audience and said it was all wonderful. Driving home together on our well-trodden route back from many a midnight gig in the past, he told me about his journey to the venue on the tube and the shock of being out late. ‘The people you see at night are a completely different animal to those you see in the park at 7 a.m.’ At Kings Cross he had looked around, feeling a little vulnerable and bewildered and saw a bloke in full combat gear, limping along like he’d just stepped out of Vietnam. He was closely followed by a man in rugby shorts and two bleeding knees.

Back home to relieve my fantastic friend, who sped off towards Ruislip, leaving one sleeping child to get back to her five. What a trooper. Before she left, I enquired, ‘Did Dad tell you that he nearly drowned BB before you arrived? ‘Ha, I’ve nearly drowned all of mine in that baby bath at one point or other’.

Monday was freaky storm day. Great globules of copious water collaborated with knock-you-over ferocious gusts of wind to generally re-arrange people and things in the capital.

walking along, I was blown sideways then bombed in the face by two large water-filled bobbles from a plane tree arriving at considerable speed and force.

On my way to band practice in Bethnal Green on monday night I started to notice mangled umbrellas of all colours and creeds sticking out of every bin and skip, or forlornly lying bent and abandoned wherever they had ceased to be of use. 

On tuesday in Shepherds Bush and Fulham the wreckage from the day before was everywhere I looked.

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Think of this: each miserable carcass equals at least one completely drenched, blown and battered Londoner. How many people must have shared this experience? If you got completely soaked on monday, lost your umbrella in battle, leaving it for dead in the street or bitterly thrusting it into a bin, rainwater pouring from your sleeves, know this – you’re not alone.

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Bethnal Green Road

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Goldhawk Road

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Askew Road

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Fulham Palace Road

There are some poor bastards that have had a fate worse than skip lobing. They’ve had their molecules realigned by the continuous traffic of major arteries such as Holland Park Avenue and Fulham Palace Road and are flattened out of all recognition. Behold – umbrella road kill.

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Ugh the horror.