Ben and I had to go away at the start of the half term holiday, to help an elderly relative in Sussex. Fliss came to wave us off at the tram stop, early on a frosty morning, before the little ones were even awake. I knew they would be fine, without me. John is more than capable, and Mother and Mrs P were already planning casseroles and invitations to high tea.
It seems they had a lovely time while I was away, full of fun and family. John took the children out for a winter scramble, and to cafes for luncheon on more than one occasion. I missed a tea party for his grandmother, who is now 98 years old. By all accounts my mother in law laid on a real feast, and I was sorry to miss seeing that side of the family. I sent a handmade present in my place: a letter case sewn from pink corduroy, with pockets and edging made from scraps left over from my peonies dress. I put wadding between its layers, to give it body, and a mother of pearl button with a self-fabric loop to hold it closed. Inside were cards, and stamps, a little address book and a pen. Because letters matter, especially when you live alone.
Mother and Father had everyone over for a big meal, and one of her family-famous puddings. My children rave about her puddings, and helping her make one is one of their favourite things to do when they are there. They are building quite a repertoire: Eve’s pudding, crumbles, trifle and steamed suet delights. All served with plenty of custard, of course.
By the time Ben and I were home again, everyone had found their half term rhythm. John had taken a couple of days off work, and the children were filling their time with books, dens, and, more than anything else, making. The last time my mother in law had come to visit, Seb had told her how much he wanted to make a little teddy bear for himself, out of felt, to live in a matchbox. So it was that he came home from Great Grannie’s tea party with a parcel of felt, a head full of plans, and a little sister eager to join in. I came in the door to requests to raid my knitting basket for woollen scraps to stuff their bears, who have accompanied them on their half term adventures ever since.
She had also sent a stack of old gardening pamphlets for me, and as I read them I passed them on to the children. Fliss mixed a flour paste for Ilse and the girls have spent two or three happy afternoons making collages of dream gardens, complete with gnomes, sheds stuffed with books, and blooms improbably out of season. They have abandoned the laws of nature, and turned their backs on the rules. Their gardens are a happy mix of whatever they fancy and nothing more.
Which is what this half term has been, one way and another. Time away, which makes me greet being at home with fresh enthusiasm. And then, once home, a collage of all good things. Time with each child, on their own, catching up. Perhaps it was only a walk to the shops or a ten-minute whisper before the lights went out, but it was precious time alone together nonetheless. Catching up on laundry, and ironing, which is not fun in itself but comes with the satisfaction of seeing everything fresh and ready for another day. A little bit of work on my fair isle cardigan, of which the body is complete and the first sleeve begun. Sewing – lots of sewing: a toilet bag before my journey, and a sweet reversible handbag almost as soon as I came in through the door. It has birds on one side, and velvet on the other, and little round handles. Quick and pleasing, and intended as a gift. Starting and finishing a shirt for Seb in one surprising afternoon, and then some new night things for myself. Looking at all the scraps I am creating and planning a new quilt for Fliss’ bed.
There have been some startlingly bright days since my return, tempered by lots of rain and wind. I am surprised by the swiftness of this week. Half terms fly by so quickly, and are always more of a change than a rest. We know the drill; we all know what to reach for in these February holidays at home. A hodgepodge, a medley, a collage of pleasant things to fill the hours.