Dot writes: Hugh had just been jumped on by Frank and was cast into deep woe. Weeping, he spoke in full-throated tones:

“My brother is a man without a heart, a man without a soul. He hurt my neck… I am nothing in this family. I am just sand in the fireplace. I’m a thing left to be burnt.”

I’ve left a few bits out that I don’t remember properly, but he genuinely said all this. He’s seven.

In which Dot finds she has a future as Norman Bates’s mum

Dot writes: Hugh likes to become sad and tell me how much he loves me. He is melancholy about my absence from his school sports day (I had to meet the Vice-President of Memorial University, Newfoundland, but I still feel guilty). He wants to be assured that I will continue to live with him after he gets married. (I tell him I will if he wants me to. That seems safe.) Also, he talks quite a lot about my death. I rather wish he wouldn’t.

A couple of nights ago he told me that, if I died early, he would put my grave in his bedroom and sleep next to it. He would go out to earn money and use that money to buy me breakfast, dinner and lunch. “And maybe God will help you eat them.”


Hugh (singing): The crocodile was chasing the boy, de doo bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp, he chased the boy across a bridge, de doo bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp, he was snapping the bridge and breaking it in half [and more in this vein]
Dot: Are you making this up?
Hugh: Yes. But write it down.

Grandma wins

Dot writes: when I was a girl my mother made amazing cakes for my birthday parties. I remember a marvellous one that was constructed to look like a swamp with hippos in it with grass stems made of angelica, and an even more marvellous one in the shape of Blickling Hall. When my boy, then boys, started to have birthday cakes I made it a point of principle always to make the cake myself. The cooking I can manage, more-or-less. (I struggle with tin sizes. You can’t buy a new tin for every cake, but why are cake recipes apparently never designed for the tins I happen to have?) The decorating, however, is a headache.

My sons have wonderful faith in my ability to produce cakes in the shape of the Gup-X or a spinosaurus or Batman or whatever. I rarely attempt anything quite that fancy. However, for Hugh’s party tomorrow I thought I would have a go at a castle. Three separate cakes (one of them – shh – a Betty Crocker instant mix) and a bit of a disaster with the buttercream later we now have this:


It is, I think, recognisably a castle. Inside it has alternating layers of chocolate and madeira cake, partly to make it tall enough and partly to satisfy Hugh’s friend Douglas, who, I was told by Hugh, requires something with “chocolate and lots of sugar”. But Blickling Hall it ain’t. Sigh.

Meanwhile, here is Hugh modelling the fabulous cardigan that my mother made him. That’s a triceratops on the right and a diplodocus on the left.

P.S. Since my mother is my mother I don’t feel I have to compete with her and I certainly don’t resent her talents. It’s only in the slightly competitive atmosphere of party-giving that I wish I had inherited a few more of them. I do have talents of my own, of course; but I have to work quite hard to engineer opportunities to show off to the other mums how well I translate from Old English…

Hugh is six

Dot writes:
From this…

to this:

And here he is with a complicated lego thingy that we gave him and that he constructed himself, entirely without parental help:

I wish the second picture wasn’t blurry, because I prefer it.

What to say about Hugh at six? He delights me and drives me bonkers in equal measure. He can be staggeringly unco-operative – we’ve just given up on his after-school music class because he refused to join in and spent each session with a book in the corner – and tremendously sweet. He is moved by the lives of cartoon animals. He loves books but hasn’t really learnt to read yet, though he’s getting there. He climbed Great Sugarloaf with enthusiasm. He asks me to tell him stories but always takes over and ends up telling them himself. He loves monsters, knights and dragons, but the monsters are always the heroes and the knights are the villains. He is less interested in dinosaurs than he was though still quite knowledgeable. At Boys’ Brigade – the activity he chose himself, and in which he does join in – he did a show-and-tell about dinosaurs and impressed the leader by his ability to talk about the Compsognathus. He seems to have a reasonably settled group of friends at school now, after an initial period when one week’s best pal seemed to be the following week’s worst enemy. He remembers our last trip to New Zealand and wants to go there to see his Uncle Mat.

I asked him whether he was going to do anything new now he was six. “Always flush the toilet,” he replied, which seems like a pretty achievable ambition. I also asked him if there were anything he’d like me to put in this post. “To all the other people who have birthdays,” he said, “wishing them a good life.”

Happy birthday darling Hugh.

An unexpected triumph for the team

Dot writes: today was the day of the annual Halloween Fancy Dress Sponsored Walk at Hugh’s school. I took the boys last year and quickly realised that a couple of masks coloured in with felt-tips really didn’t cut it (even though Julie drew the outlines and did a beautiful job). There were some astonishing costumes, including a boy dressed as a truly gruesome hunchback, a child disguised as the Empire State Building, and another as a washing machine with her head sticking up through the clothes basket on top. This year we needed something a bit more high concept. Hugh proposed the idea himself: “Why don’t I,” he said, “why don’t I have a box in the shape of a plane, and I can have it on straps over my shoulders and wear a swimming hat and goggles?” I’m still not sure whether he had this idea spontaneously or had seen it somewhere, but, either way, it seemed like a jolly good one.

Everyone contributed to making the plane. I found a large stout box in the attic and stared at it for half an hour trying to work out what to do. Eventually I drew some pencil lines on it and, with Ken’s help, began to shape it into the plane. Ken did the majority of the construction work during the week, making the wings and tail and covering everything in brown paper. Then Julie came round last night to babysit while Ken and I went to The Irish Pub (film, not place: though it was at the Lighthouse Cinema which allows one to take beer into the screening), and she and the boys decorated the plane with stickers, glitter glue, streaky paint and a rather delicate pink and purple propellor made out of paper. Oh, and I bought a hat with ear-flaps and made some goggles out of cardboard and insulation tape.

We almost didn’t go, though. Half an hour before the walk it was raining quite hard and Hugh wasn’t feeling well.


But he was determined to show off his plane. And with his blue jacket and a scarf the whole ensemble really worked, I think.


Again, there were some fabulous costumes. There was a child with trousers on his/her arms, boots on the hands, cardigan on the bottom and false head dangling below, pretending to be someone walking on their hands. There was an amazing gargoyle costume: the wings actually spread out when the wearer raised his arms. There was a robot in silver paper with LED lights. There was even an accompanying Dad in a huge box disguised as a milk-carton. The rain eased off briefly and we all went for a token walk of about four hundred yards just round the road directly outside the school.

Afterwards about eight prizes were given. The junior infant dressed as a carrot got one, as did a boy in Hugh’s year who had come as the old man from Up. Two particularly deserving prize-winners, to my mind, were a girl dressed as Marie Antoinette with her own guillotine (complete with a head in a basket and an artistically-placed rat) and another as Barbie, in the box. We had pretty much got to the end when the judge announced “The child dressed as a plane”.

Hugh was awfully pleased.

Now, I don’t actually think it was one of the best eight costumes there. The gargoyle was definitely robbed. But it was Hugh’s own idea, and he carried it like a Trojan,* even though he wasn’t feeling that good and it was quite heavy. And we all worked hard on it, especially Ken. So well done us, and hurrah for the sponsored walk.

*or maybe more like a Greek, given that it was a hollow model of a contemporary mode of transport and he was inside it.