Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Anniversary weekend

Our anniversary weekend began on Thursday night with a sumptuous meal at Veeraswamy - an Indian restaurant overlooking Regent Street. It was touch and go whether either of us would make our reservation as work had kept us steaming and stressing until the very last minute. But once inside the elegant interior and settled into our cosy booth with rose petals strewn across the dark wood table, we began to unwind. We toasted our year of marriage with wine and lychee juice (guess who drank which) and M presented me with some exquisite diamond earrings handmade by the same jeweller on Fleet Street who had made my engagement ring and our wedding rings. We devoured a variety of dishes whose names I've forgotten but everything was perfectly spiced and immaculately presented and the service was very discreet. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to a cab home.

We took Friday off and our extended anniversary weekend unfurled at a wonderfully active pace. We began the day with runny poached eggs on granary toast and slathered with tomato ketchup. We took a bus to the Thames, caught the Juan Muñoz and Duchamp, Man Ray & Picabia shows at the Tate Modern (who knew that Duchamp had been an accomplished competitive chess champion!), then walked along the South Bank - as we used to do often when we were dating - to a packed Canteen in the bowels of the Royal Festival Hall. Canteen is well known for its fresh British cooking and for the ethically sourced produce they use. There, M ate fried pollock and chips and I ate chicken and mushroom pie with greens, mash and gravy. We followed our mains with hearty desserts of treacle tart and Jersey cream (M) and apple crumble with vanilla custard.

In between bites, we were captivated by a huggable, cuddable three week old baby who had a full head of thick black hair and was very, very sleepy in her mother's arms. Now that I am pregnant, I am broody like never before (which I suppose is a good thing) and I couldn't take my eyes off her. By dessert, though, we had become distracted by a mixed Anglo-Indian couple dining with their three young children. We looked at the little girl with her dark eyes and long, light brown hair and rosy pink cheeks and wondered - as we do often now - how Anglo-Indian Little Planet will look like when she arrives in this world. My manager is English and married to an Indian woman and he admitted that when his wife was pregnant with their son they too could not help looking at other half-Indian babies and wonder. So glad we're not the only ones!

We took a cab to Soho and I bought M a vintage bottle of Suntory Hibiki whiskey from Gerry's on Old Compton Street for his anniversary gift. We bought pancetta from Camisa & Son then walked to the Odeon Covent Garden. The film we wanted to see was an hour later than we had thought, so we bought tickets anyway then strolled over to the Aveda Institute on High Holborn for tea.

It's disappointing that the Aveda Cafe is now a Le Pain Quotidien because they no longer serve the delicious and frightfully healthy range of herb teas, freshly squeezed juices and sprouted salads they were famed for. But the atmosphere is still as good as it used to be, with the high ceilings, wooden tables, kilim rugs, constant whir of hairdryers, the all-pervading aroma of herbal hair products and beautiful stylists and beauticians dressed all in black. This is where I always get my hair done and I took the opportunity to make an appointment for tonight.

The film we saw was Wong Kar-Wai's My Blueberry Nights. One of the reasons M and I fell in love was over a mutual fondness for Wong Kar-Wai films and we were intrigued to see the Hong Kong director's first movie in English and with English-speaking actors. The reviews for this film have been lacklustre at best and I wasn't sure I would enjoy a film featuring Jude Law, Norah Jones and Natalie Portman. But we were both entranced by this beautifully shot, sweet and sentimental tale of love and loss.

Back home, we were too full to eat a dinner, so we snacked on toasted peanut butter sandwiches and some delicate yuzu and cherry sweets from Minamoto Kitchoan on Piccadilly instead.

Saturday began with a stroll across the park to pick up bagels and buttery croissants then back towards home to drop off and pick up laundry, buy meat from our local butcher and the FT and International Herald Tribute from our local newsagent. After a leisurely breakfast at home with the papers, we headed into town to watch the heartwarming and heartwrenching (and extremely funny) movie Juno at the Curzon Soho. The music (and perhaps also the sugar from the pack of jelly babies I was devouring!) sent Little Planet into a kicking frenzy throughout.

At the Annely Juda Gallery on Dering Street, we were blinded by the retina-burning canvasses of Sigrid Holmwood, who paints luminous Swedish pastoral landscapes in a combination of traditional pigments and bright contemporary fluorescents. Her work reminded me of Karen Kilimnik, only a touch more gimmicky and a shade less complex, but enjoyable and absorbing nonetheless.

We stocked up on provisions at the John Lewis Food Hall and then bought an anodized skillet from the kitchenwares section. I also bought M the second part of my anniversary gift to him - a pair of heavy crystal whiskey tumblers.

We took another cab back home and dined on fillet steaks, pomme frites, sweet fresh tomatoes and peppery watercress, followed by cherries for dessert. Then spent the rest of the evening listening to Bach's cello suites (Pablo Casals), which again had the baby kicking away, and reading.

Sunday - our actual wedding anniversary day - was a much quieter affair. I needed to rest after so much activity, so while M dropped in on his cousin who was celebrating his 9th birthday, I spent the morning snuggled into the sofa with Indian Vogue, Monocle and Ian McEwan's graceful and immersive Chesil Beach. Then I dozed in bed for a few hours. M returned home with his mum, who stayed for an hour's chat. For our proper anniversary dinner, M roasted a chicken and served it with a pomegranate and parsley tabbouleh and homemade red chilli harissa sauce. Then we settled into a quiet evening together, reading (M read the whole of the new J.G. Ballard autobiography in just a few hours - he was so rivetted), listening to music and simply being.

What a wonderful weekend; what a wonderful year; what a wonderful man I married.

Friday, February 22, 2008

One February...

One February in 2005, a handsome young man leaned over and kissed me for the first time as the closing bell rang in the Soho bar we were in. Later, on Regent Street, we couldn't stop kissing as I waited for the bus to arrive to take me home, alone.

One February in 2006, in a hotel room on the 57th floor by a picture window overlooking the glittering Thai city of Bangkok, the handsome young man began covering my neck with tiny kisses before whispering, "Will you marry me?" into my ear.

One February in 2007, I looked into the eyes of this handsome young man and began crying as I pledged my life to him in front of our nearest and dearest.

And this last weekend of February in 2008, my handsome young man will celebrate one year of marriage with me.

February is now one of my favourite months of the year.

I love you, M. What a blessing you are in my life. My lover, my best friend, my co-adventurer through life. Happy one year anniversary xxx

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

25 weeks

  • The other morning, M spooned up behind me in bed and I fell back to sleep in his arms as his hand cupped my belly. I must have dozed for a good half hour and when I came through again his hand was still there. He told me that he and Little Planet had been playing "call and response" through my tummy. Incredible - father and daughter playing together and yet I didn't feel a thing - I was simply the conduit!

  • This afternoon, I had a routine midwife check up at the hospital. Unless a woman is under- or over-weight, my antenatal unit never bothers with weighing sessions, but I requested to be weighed because I was convinced I'd put on a stone, at least. So I was shocked to discover I've put on just 5 pounds of weight. My midwife told me it is fine because the baby is the correct size for her age. But I feel like an elephant.

  • It was lovely hearing her heartbeat again - unlike the last time, the midwife found it easily as Little Planet wasn't racing around inside of me.

  • Though I am due on 3rd June, I'll officially leave work on 16 April - my 33rd week because I am also taking a chunk of annual leave. It's early I know, but we'll be in the new house by then and I want to nest and kick back and read childcare books and watch chick flicks and buy nice things online for the house and generally potter and prepare for the biggest adventure of my life. Because after the birth, I will get little if any time to myself (ever again?!?).

  • This is the adventure that dwarfs all the other big adventures in my life, from living on an American Indian reservation with a medicine man to struggling through cancer.

  • I'm also considering a number of baby books now that my pregnancy is two-thirds along. I'm going to buy and read a handful of classics though fully mindful that at the end of the day I will respond to my baby in a way that suits her (and me) best. Anyway, let me know your thoughts on these (and perhaps suggest others): The Happiest Baby On The Block by Harvey Karp; Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg; The New Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford; What To Expect The First Year by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi E. Murkoff, Sandee E. Hathaway.

  • The one thing I haven't been able to bring myself to think about in too much detail is the birth itself - ouch! I have to look away if I see birth scenes on TV. I need to start thinking whether I want to give birth in the midwife-led birthing unit attached to my hospital or on the consultant-run labour ward. Though I have no problems with drugs and conventional birthing techniques, I have bought a set of natal hypnotherapy CDs and my NCT antenatal classes start in a month. Will have to start preparing myself for it all soon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Taking it easy

We spent much of Saturday morning at Tate Britain in Pimlico, viewing the Peter Doig and The Camden Town Group exhibitions. The latter was interesting more for the subject matter (everyday life in bustling London) than the rather derivative painting methods (aside from the brilliant Sickert); but the former blew me away. I only became aware of Peter Doig a couple of years ago at The Triumph Of Painting show at the Saatchi Gallery and my excitement over his haunting, large-scale natural and built-up landscapes has not waned.

We lunched at the bustling Japan Centre and then bought groceries from Lina Store, Arigato, the Algerian Coffee Shop, Nicolas, Yauatcha and Fresh & Wild all in Soho. We rushed home - partly to catch the disappointing (for us) Arsenal v. Manchester United game on TV and partly because I was feeling quite weary: as my pregnancy progesses, my pelvic area is getting more achy, due to the hormone relaxin that's released during pregnancy to soften the joints in preparation for the birth of the baby.

Afterwards, we made homemade pizzas with artichokes, olives, sunblush tomatoes and mozzarella and desserted on blue tea, matcha lime and kumquat macarons from Yauatcha.

We've taken Sunday easy, spending most of it reading and now we're chilling out with M's mother and sister who will stay for a dinner, cooked by M, of roast lamb with rosemary and garlic. Tomorrow, we meet up with Oxford friends for dinner in a local Turkish restaurant - K who's completing her PhD and couple D and J, who have three children under 5 and will no doubt be sharing with us many birth and baby tips. And this is a four-day working week for us as we're coming up to our 1 year wedding anniversary and have taken a long weekend to celebrate together in London.

Hope you are having a good weekend - it's still not over!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Candlelit Valentine's

Happy belated Valentine's one and all. We spent the evening eating assorted goodies - antipasti, fresh pasta, amaretti biscuits and rich chocolate cake courtesy of Carluccio's near my work - by candlelight at home.

Last year, I forgot all about Valentine's Day until my soon-to-be husband presented me with a card. Careless of me as a soon-to-be wife!

This year though, a blissful, chilled night away from it all, just the two (well, three) of us.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mr and Mrs Planethalder

M on the left and me on the right - just a few months old, yet look at all our hair! Inspired by Broom.

I tag 30in2005, Southways, SilentOne, Prema, Mallika, Tommy, Jean, Olivia, Leslee, Sprink, Hypatia (if you're still there, Hyp) and Choxbox - in fact anyone who reads me. Photos of you as a baby or you and your partner as babies please and leave a comment so we can check you out!


Most of my weekend activity took place on Friday night and Saturday, when I felt relatively fine - well, better than my sick day on Thursday. I was back at work on Friday and out and about on Friday evening, all day Saturday and on Sunday morning. Then by Sunday evening I was coughing and retching and feeling wretched again.

I spent all of today at home in bed, alternating between sleeping and watching Buffy, only dragging myself out of the bedroom to heat up milk or Heinz tomato soup. I couldn't even switch on the computer until now, thus feeling especially guilty for not being able to compensate for not being at work by checking work emails.

I have enormous amounts of energy and rarely get colds and when I get even the hint of one I beat it down with paracetamol and megadoses of vitamin C. With a baby inside to think about, I'm now even afraid to take a decongestant. I know there are things I can take while pregnant, but it's simply too much effort to seek them out.

Apparently colds last longer during pregnancy, perhaps because the immune system slows down to protect the baby - a foreign object - from immunological rejection. So, for the sake of my baby, I have to suffer. Something tells me that, as a mother, it will always be like this from now on (suffering for the sake of the children).

Some good news today though - it looks like the guy whose house we are buying has finally sorted out the complications around the flat he wants to buy and the chain we're in can finally move again. His solicitors tell us we should exchange before the month is out. I'm holding my breath and crossing all fingers and toes.

Monday, February 11, 2008

This weekend

This weekend, we've watched Robert Altman's sprawling and superlative Shortcuts on DVD, set against the backdrop of middle class Los Angeles and inspired by short stories by Raymond Carver.

This weekend, we've eaten gyoza salad, ohitashi, chicken katsu don and miso soup at Toku in the Japan Centre on Piccadilly; tarte aux fraises and cheesecake at Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street; organic sausages and mash with onion gravy at The Honest Sausage in Regent's Park; dark chocolate and caramel millionaires slice and Portuguese nata at Fernandez & Wells on Lexington; Indian snacks from Ambala; homemade macaroni cheese and spinach; and homemade Persian mixed vegetable stew.

This weekend, we've strolled through Regent's, Finsbury and Priory parks in North London in the glorious, bright yellow sunshine.

This weekend, we've bought candles from Muji on Carnaby Street; chocolates and fruit fondants from Liberty; organic cherries and milk from Fresh & Wild on Brewer Street; lotus root, tofu and a brown rice mix with aduki beans and millet from Arigato on Brewer Street; wine from The Vintage House on Old Compton Street.

This weekend, we've browsed gymwear in Uni Qlo and Niketown; and prams and pushchairs in Mothercare at Marble Arch, finally deciding to go with the Bugaboo Chameleon (though we still may change our minds as I'm also toying with the Bugaboo Bee).

This weekend, we've viewed Modern Chinese Art - The Khoan And Michael Sullivan Collection, Part 1 at Asia House; and Catherine Yass' mesmeric but too short film installation of the Three Gorges Dam in China's Yangtze River at the Alison Jacques Gallery on Berners Street.

And we've played "call and response" with Little Planethalder in the womb - she'll kick and then we'll tap or call back in response and she'll kick back again. It'll be wonderful when we can encourage her to kick at any spot on my belly we touch.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

23 weeks

The picture above shows how much the internal organs are already being pushed upwards at 20 weeks. I'm now 23 weeks and 3 days and I can really feel my uterus pushing against my skin and above my belly button. The lifting upwards of the uterus has certainly relieved pressure on my bladder and lower pelvic cavity so I feel relatively more comfortable than I've felt before. But I am more breathless and have heartburn. It's extraordinary how hard my belly is - like a round football, but larger, thrusting outwards from my body like an alien growth. M and I keep marvelling at it.

Apparently, Little Planethalder now weighs about one pound and is approximately 11.5 inches head to heel - the weight of a large mango and the length of a banana. Her facial features are beginning to develop and she's likely to be able to open and close her eyes now, hear things on the outside and suck her thumb. She's certainly enjoying herself inside of me - kicking and punching and twisting and turning. M can now feel her kick from the outside which has made the whole experience something we can finally and concretely share.

Yet, like adults, she has her active days when she enjoys her acrobatics and her inactive days when she prefers to chill out and take it easy - either that or she's kicking towards my back, which I can't feel, or against my colon which feels like internal popping wind. On Tuesday, I had a routine checkup in the hospital and asked them to check for her heartbeat with a Doppler. Only that morning both M and I had felt her kick but the anxiety over her well-being never diminishes. My heart leapt into my throat when the obstetrician couldn't find a heartbeat and yet she could hear the swishing of the amniotic fluid inside suggesting the baby was moving around. So they did an ultrasound and there she was, heart beating strongly away, kicking her legs and punching out her fists and squirming every which way. The relief was immeasurable.

Today, I am at home sick with a sore throat and a mild fever - sleeping, reading magazines, watching property programmes on daytime TV, periodically checking and responding to work emails, sleeping again. The time at home has afforded me this luxury of writing a rare weekday blog post, which is a lovely change as this was beginning to read like a weekend activity blog only.

And I'm beginning to think about my newborn baby shopping list. I'll post it here soon and seek the advice of any interested readers (mummies or not) on what to buy and not to buy for the first few weeks.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Eastward bound

After a long working day, we met up on Friday for a simple, light and aromatic dinner at the Thai Garden Cafe in Bloomsbury. We started with crab cakes and spring rolls before moving on to whole sea bass roasted with lemongrass (M) and beef red curry (me). We bought desserts of creme brule (M) and sticky toffee pudding (me) from Waitrose in the Brunswick and then ate them back at home in front of last week's laugh-out-loud Curb Your Enthusiasm. Really, the 6th season is shaping up to be as hilarious as ever.

On Saturday we ventured eastwards. Under a crisp blue sky and pale yellow sunshine, we strolled along the canal, periodically dodging earnest cyclists eager to claim the path as solely their own. At the Parasol Unit we viewed Darren Almond's black and white photographs of crystalline, snow-covered Siberian forests (above). Though the ravaged, stripped trees on show were testimony to the brutal effects of nickel mining, there was an eerie beauty about the photos and their composition that made for a magical if conflicting viewing.

Also on show was Almond's fourteen-minute, three-screen film shot on the Qinghai-Tibet railway - the world's highest train route. The barren landscape viewed at a hurried pace through the train's window contrasted sharply against the meditative chanting of Tibetan Buddhist monks filmed in the Samyey monastery in Lhasa. For Almond, the train is supposed to symbolise the penetrating force of China upon Tibet, but again I was conflicted - this time by my sense of excitement watching the train speed through the wondrously undulating and stark landscape, and by the inevitable if fraught coexistence of the industrial and the spiritual in the modern world.

We continued towards Old Street. I find the Old Street area of London a curious mixture of derelict dead zones and colourful quirkiness with just the right amount of interest to draw me back again and again. What I dislike about Old Street is the endless waiting at traffic lights as the ceaseless traffic drones by. But luckily the galleries draw me back, as do the places to eat and the small boutiques. In Hoxton's White Cube, we saw more of Darren Almond's photographs - this time of the British landscape where the exquisite subject matter (left) was rendered flat and dull by highly conventional photographic techniques that wouldn't look out of place in a tourist guide.

We returned to my favourite burger joint, The Diner on Curtain Road, for lunch where this time I was only just able to fit inside their leather and formica booth. This is definitely the last time I will be able to gorge myself on their deliciously fat-laden bacon cheeseburgers, fat fries and coleslaw as my pregnant belly had just half an inch of breathing space before it pressed uncomfortably against the edge of the table. I kid you not! I savoured my food while skimming the Saturday newspapers and chatting with M, while eavesdropping on a dull young man who would not stop yapping away as his girlfriend tried to stave off her boredom by eating without stopping to breathe, while stealing glances at a couple eating their burgers while their adorable little baby contented herself with her milk and toys and gurgled gleefully at her parents. I can't wait to bring Little Planethalder to places like this!

After lunch, we popped over the road to browse the furniture and interior knick knacks at SCP before cabbing it over to the Barbican for the superlative tale of murder, revenge and meat pies to die for that is Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. Murder, mayhem, mouth-watering meat pies and a tortured Johnny Depp who channels David Bowie through his singing voice - what more could a girl like me want. I enjoyed every second of this musical and can't wait to see it again. Though perhaps not at the Barbican's Cinema 2 which, unlike its Cinema 1, is cramped and uncomfortable.

Afterwards, we walked to the Bloomberg Space on Finsbury Square to see Sarah Beddington's Places Of Laughter And Of Crying film installation featuring near-still footage of interior shadows, drifting jellyfish, a Lebanese skyline, fluttering plastic sheeting, raindrops on concrete and more. Plus her 29-minute, four-screen footage of modern Shanghai. We had just a quarter of an hour to immerse ourselves in the installation before the gallery closed, so I'll do another review when we return.

And then to dinner at the Vietnamese Song Que Cafe on the Kingsland Road, where we enjoyed sugar cane prawns, beef wrapped in betel leaves, beef and tofu soup and beef stir-fried with lemongrass and rice vermicelli. We were also entertained by two of the staff's children who were excitedly engrossed in a computer chess game on the new Samsung laptop they had just been bought. M doesn't play chess and I can't wait to teach Little Planethalder the game so she can play with me - after all, like marriage, isn't having children all about having a permanent playmate to have fun with?!

In a Johnny Depp mood, we returned home and watched the first Pirates Of The Caribbean on DVD while eating Green & Blacks cherry chocolate. This time Depp was channeling Keith Richards to hilariously ultra-camp effect.

Today, Sunday, we didn't drift too far from home. We lay in late, drank coffee and read in bed, shopped for groceries and laundered clothes. M went to the gym. I stayed at home and finished off reading the last few pages of a number of books. If I have just a few pages left of a novel I tend to put it aside to start reading a new one. I do this because I know I will finish the book on my commute into work, leaving nothing to read on the commute back home. Rather than carrying two books with me, I bring a fresh new one and leave the unfinished one behind.

M can't understand why I don't carry the two books with me, or finish the other one later at night back at home. I can seldom read two books at once and if a book doesn't grip me in its fictitious vice then I tend to forget about finishing it once I am immersed in another story. As a result the unfinished novels pile up until I get round to finishing them off in one reading session. Curious habit I know, with little reason or logic behind it.

Anyway, this Sunday was my day to finish all those books: Douglas Coupland's Eleanor Rigby, Anne Tyler's Digging To America, Amulya Malladi's The Mango Season and Manju Kapur's Home.

On his way back from the gym, M picked up some samosas and kachori from Ambala. We don't have a famed Gupta near us but these satisfied us perfectly. M came back from the store with tales of little children with their dads choosing what they wanted to eat. He said we should make such trips our own Sunday morning ritual when we have our own little family. But I cherish my own childhood memory of my mother batch-frying homemade samosas on the weekends - filling the air with exciting smells and aromas - and I would love to establish this as one of our weekend rituals with our daughter when she's old enough to enjoy the experience.

There is so much to dream about... this new future of ours... this whole new life...

Now M is cooking our dinner of poule-au-Bouillon - whole chicken boiled with leeks, carrots, turnips, celery, bay leaves, thyme and other aromatic seasonings. He may serve it with fried or mashed potatoes. Perfect comfort food to ease us back into the busy working week.