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By Kozumel

The other day I found myself near the front of a longish queue in my local Somerfield, when I realised I’d forgotten to buy teabags. Yes, my life is that exciting.  But rather than go back to get them – the logical solution – I found myself thinking, ‘Never mind,  I’ll come back tomorrow instead. It will give me something to do.’

Now, I’m not exactly saying life has reached such limitless depths that shuffling up and down the supermarket aisles is something to look forward to.  (Nor have I quite turned into a ‘Schlumpadinka’, Oprah Winfrey’s term for those given-up-on-life women who wear baggy tracksuit bottoms outside the house.) But it’s a sad fact that, when you have a toddler with boundless amounts of energy and curiosity, staying in the house for more than a couple of hours at a time is not an option. And that’s even when Loose Women is on. One must find endless ways to break up the monotony of the day. Post a letter. Queue in the Post Office. Go to the swings and slides, perhaps even a playgroup. Buy an iced bun from Gregg’s The Baker so you have something to eat while you watch Deal or No Deal. You have to be creative.

I have walked up my local high street so many times that I can probably identify the individual gobbets of chewing gum stuck to the pavement. I am the person who actually reads those scintillating legal yellow notices pinned to streetlamps about imminent planning proposals and phone masts.

Yes, I know there’s not much stopping me getting on a Tube (well, apart from extortionate fares, and lots of unbuggy-friendly flights of stairs). I could drive to another suburban high street with a different permutation of the same sorts of shops and gobbets of chewing gum. But seeing as going too far from home involves too many unknown factors – will my toddler throw a full-on, lying in the road tantrum? Will I run out of emergency boxes of raisins? – I often stay pretty local. After years of trekking here there and everywhere in London, from E1 to W11, it’s kind of nice to know you can be back on your sofa, with a cup of tea in hand, within 15 minutes, at least a couple of days a week.

As I work in an office part-time, luckily I do regularly escape this suburban Groundhog Day. And I have devised other ways of getting through the day, the obviously one being regularly meeting up with other like-minded local mums with the same predicaments. I don’t just hang out in Somerfield you know. Now that would be pretty sad.

Back when I was pregnant, whenever I expressed fears about entering the uncharted territory of motherhood, my husband always reminded me about the nice things to look forward to. The zoo trips, the cuddly toys and, crucially, the fairy stories to read. He didn’t, of course, talk about the nappy changing and sleepless nights, but that’s another story.

But the truth of the matter is that for several years now, I have guiltily lingered in the children’s department of book stores. I knew I looked kind of sad, without a baby of my own in hand to give it a purpose, but I loved it all anyway. The gorgeous picture books for the very young, the nonsensical verse for toddlers, and, for older children all the magical escapism, I remember so well from my younger years. How I wished I could really go up that Faraway Tree with Moonface and friends! How I wanted to be friends with Posy and co from Ballet Shoes! How I hoped my drawings could come to life, as in Marianna Dreams (a spooky cult classic featuring ominous Stonehenge-style stones – scarier than you’d think). And how I wanted to fly on a magic carpet, like the adventurers in Five Children and It by EC Nesbitt.

As I’ve grown older I’ve felt a strong urge to go back and rediscover these books, and also read the ones I missed out on. I’ve searched through piles of books in my father’s home to find my copy of Children of the Dust, a frightening post-nuclear vision of the future I read at school and that always stayed vividly in my mind. I’ve spent literally years trying to track down an affordable copy of The Tree That Sat Down, a book about talking forest creatures by the writer Beverly Nichols that everyone except me seems to have forgotten.

I’ve bid for old fairy story volumes on Ebay just because I wanted to look at the gorgeous colour plates, gone back and rediscovered slightly spooky Victorian verse (my obsession is Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, which is genuinely disturbing).  I’ve re-read The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, perhaps my favourite book when I was a little girl, and one, with its theme of a witches’ academy, that predates Harry Potter by about 20 years (I can’t help wondering if JK Rowling was influenced by it too?) 

I’ve devoured the adult books that take the children’s genre and give it a new spin too – Angela Carter’s brilliant The Bloody Chamber gives many of those frankly terrifying fairy tales from your deep dark past a fantastic, if gruesome, feminist twist.

When my son was born one of the first things I did was buy him a copy of Where the Wild Things Are because (let’s be honest) I wanted to look at those brilliantly crazy monster pictures. He certainly didn’t. He still had his eyes glued shut for about 14 hours a day, and wasn’t going to appreciate it for a good, ooh, 18 months or so.

 Right now I’m reading the classic Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, because somehow it passed me by when I was growing up.  And I can’t wait to introduce my little one to Winnie-the-Pooh – I still love the adventures of that silly bear and his piglet friend, and of course, EH Shepherd’s magical line drawings.

It’s not just the old stories I’m loving though. I’m intrigued by the new ones too, whether it’s Axel Scheffler’s brilliant cartoons or How I Live Now, a story aimed at teenage girls that I’ve yet to read but heard a lot about, and recently pounced on in a charity shop.

Of course, my son still being a toddler, I’m obviously getting a little ahead of myself. I’m still only at the picture book stage after all. But I’m enjoying lots of these too –  modern classics like We’re All Going On a Bear Hunt, and yes, the Gruffalo, along with just about every other parent out there.

I’m looking forward to reading some of these old stories with my son, and hopefully discovering new ones that he’ll remember when he’s older too. Because children’s stories definitely aren’t just for children, whatever the snobs say.

Illustration by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, pic by one2c900d


You’ve seen them. Spilling out of drawers, gathering dust on the night table and rolling into the fluff under the bed to be discovered on the twice-yearly under-bed hoover. There’s a rare mother without them. Because earplugs come into their own when you have babies. Whether it’s psychological or physiological, your hearing definitely becomes supercharged when becoming a mother. And earplugs are the only salvation when it comes to grabbing some shuteye, day or night.

At the start you wake like you’ve been jabbed at with a needle at what transpires is simply your newborn’s sleepy snuffle, snork and shuffle. “Ohmigodisshedying?” screams your semi-conscious. And as you view the calm, butter-wouldn’t-melt face of your baby in the cot next to your bed and your heart slowly beats back to normal, you try your best to get back to sleep (it’s 4am dammit) before the 5am wake-up call. Worse – when your partner puts the TV volume up to around 10 (40 being max) you hurriedly bring it down (to his rolled eyes and “you’re insane!”) to a barely audible 3. To your heightened sense of hearing, the television seems impossibly loud and either in danger of waking the baby or masking their cries.

But then, later, as your baby grows and that incessant sense of imminent danger (includes cot death, but also all sorts of afflictions you imagine will surely happen to your baby) subsides, you still find yourself waking every time they as much as sniff in their sleep. And, boy, do these creatures make noise at night! It was at this point I turned to my trusty earplug friends. Oh joy of joys. Smooth, interrupted sleep (relatively speaking). And now, when she wakes early and perhaps – if I’m very lucky – plays with her toys in her bedroom for half an hour or so before jumping on my head, those earplugs have bought me an extra half-hour of sleep I would only have been able to (day)dream about otherwise.

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This blog is currently dedicated to stuff new mummies like. As opposed to stuff mummies of teenagers like. That's because we don't have teenagers yet. Give us a few years though. We're told it goes pretty quickly...

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