Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Freewheeling


We are big on bikes in this family. When we lived in the city we hardly ever used the car. I would load the boys into the bike trailer and ride or run the 3km into Fremantle to do the grocery shopping or swim at the beach. It is the same distance into town from our home in the forest here, and so three mornings a week I run and push the little ones up the hill while Lewis cycles ahead of me to school. Riding home together in the afternoon we all whoop with joy as we freewheel down the hill past the horse paddocks, racing to see who will be first to cross the creek.

Pushing our bikes up the hill this afternoon one of Lewis' school friends asked me why Darcy and Quinn were wearing helmets. "Because it is the law if you are riding a bike," I replied. "They aren't riding a bike," she pointed out. "If a car hit them, their heads would need to be protected, otherwise they could die," I replied. 

Helmets were not compulsory when I was a kid, but I had to wear one just the same; a big white Stackhat. I used to have seizures and my parents were worried that I might have one while I was riding home from school. My sister had to wear one in solidarity, so we were both called mushroom head. Twenty years later a helmet saved my husband's life when a car drove through a stop sign as he cycled home from work. But it actually saved two lives that day - because Quinn was conceived not long after Grant came out of his wheelchair.

I remember stopping a man who was cycling down the street one block from where the car had hit Grant the day after his accident. He had his helmet dangling casually from the handlebars. "Can I just tell you something?" I said, half crazed. "My husband was hit by a car up there and if he hadn't been wearing his helmet he would be dead." He smiled and nodded politely and cycled off, helmet still hanging a good metre away from his head.

I wrote this story not long after the accident and am still often asked by friends to share it. So here it is. All you freewheeling hippies out there - put your helmet on. And while you are at it, do up the chin strap. It won't work without it.



Originally published in the West Australian, Health + Medicine, January 27 2010

I was sitting in the garden with my children waiting for their Dad to get home from work when we heard the crash. The crunch of metal on metal followed by the squeal of brakes.
My four-year-old wanted to go and look at the cars and I told him we did not do such things. But then I looked up to see two women at the gate and they told me it was my husband who had been hit and before I knew what I was doing I had hoisted a child onto each hip and was running around the corner to where he lay bleeding by the roadside.
Grant had been commuting on his bike between our home near Fremantle and his job teaching at Applecross Senior High School three times a week for over a year. Every week he had stories of near-misses with motorists overtaking him through roundabouts and chicanes and he had taken to wearing a fluorescent orange t-shirt to lessen the likelihood of becoming another road casualty.
It hadn’t helped. The driver of the car which hit him did not even see the stop-sign, let alone the vulnerable cyclist traveling just the other side of the white line.
Witnesses and police estimate the car was traveling at about 50km/h when it hit Grant, throwing him up onto the windscreen and then flinging him across the width of the entire road. He wound up with his head on the kerb and his shoulder twisted under him at a grotesque angle. Blood ran across his face from where his head had hit the windscreen. His helmet had thankfully absorbed most of the impact and saved him from more serious head-injuries.
By the time I reached him the colour had drained from his lips and face and he was starting to shake. He told me he was fine as the wail of the ambulance and police sirens came nearer but the sound of his groans as he was lifted onto the stretcher told me how much pain he was in.
It was not a long trip to Fremantle Hospital but Grant tells me he felt every bump in the road. I managed to reach the hospital not long after him after finding a babysitter and pulling on a pair of shoes and a jumper. I was still shaking with shock when the policeman called me through into the emergency ward.
Grant was away having his shoulder and pelvis x-rayed. His arm had snapped just below the shoulder - the bone had rotated in the socket and was almost poking through the skin. He would remain waiting for surgery for the next two days, an intravenous drip feeding morphine and antibiotics into his arm.
A CT scan of his pelvis the next day would reveal multiple fractures - enough to keep him in a wheelchair for the next month and using a walking stick to get around until he went back to work three months later. And then there was the broken elbow and the smaller breaks in his wrist which were missed until after the first round of surgery.
When we did get him home from hospital I found myself caring for three - two young children and an invalid. With his one good arm Grant was able to wheel himself slowly and awkwardly around our tiny house but the wheelchair would not fit into our pocket-sized bathroom so I became the puller of the commode chair and supervisor of showers.
The day after surgery a blood clot had lodged in Grant’s lower left lung. He spent the next three months on blood thinning medication and twice a week I would pile our brood onto Dad’s lap and push the family to the doctors surgery for his blood-test.
At his final appointment Grant’s surgeon called his recovery extraordinary. His humerus is now held together by metal plates and nails but he has an almost normal range of movement in his upper arm. His elbow will probably never straighten but that hasn’t stopped him from painting the house and rehanging a few sash windows. He is even back on his bike.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do and Grant says he was sweating and his heart racing when he had to face his first ride home from work. He no longer trusts intersections of any kind and will slow down until he is sure a car is braking.
But he refuses to ride down the suburban street in Hilton where he was hit and I don’t blame him. I was sitting in the park next to the intersection watching my children play on the weekend when another car sailed through the stop-sign without so much as slowing down. A cyclist who had not been wearing a helmet had ridden past just minutes before. Sometimes you get lucky.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Day break

The shadows were still long on the beach and the dunes shrouded in sea mist as first light slanted across the bay to our campsite. Grant had slept stretched out in the back of the station wagon, remembering the narrow dimensions of our two-man tent from the months we had spent living in it while backpacking through Canada and central Europe. So it was Quinn and I who this time slept locked in a lovers' embrace - a milky breast muffling his sounds of midnight protest from the backpackers who had circled our tent with their camper vans in the night. And it was Quinn and I who woke with the birds as the first rays of dawn lit up our blue tunnel. I rolled open the door to watch the wrens flitting through the peppermint trees and we sat bundled in our sleeping bag eating banana bread and flicking the crumbs out onto the carpet of dried leaves.


The waves which had lulled us to sleep were still crashing on the shore and the sand was cool underfoot when we emerged from the tunnel of peppermints onto the beach. I watched Quinn throw sea sponges and cuttlefish carapaces and shreds of seaweed into the creek which pooled, brown and stagnant, into the base of the dunes. Shrugging off my thermal top and woolen shawl, I ran into the waves. Sand and seaweed churned around my legs as I kicked out through the dumpers. Alone on the waves, I gazed out to the lonely islands and back to where my baby ran circles around his father on the sand. The ocean cradled me in its cool and slippery clasp -  the place where I have always felt most at peace.

After a gig in Albany we had collected Quinn, bundling his warm and sleepy body into the backseat while his big brothers stayed sleeping at Grandma's. We  drove through the night back to where I had pitched our tent at the beach. It was the simplest of camping trips - no chairs, nor tables, not a kettle nor a stove to be seen. After an early morning swim and walk along the beach all we had to do was roll up the mats and tent and drive back down the limestone track to the cafe for pancakes and poached eggs and coffee. It took us back to the days when we had only one child to shower with attention. It went without saying that Quinn got both the tiny teddy biscuits nestled next to our lattes.


We rolled back into Albany for the Farmers' Market and I picked up Darcy from Grandma's and headed home. Grant worked backstage at the matinee performance of his school's play while Lewis and Grandma sat in the stalls watching on. They got home in time for homemade pizza and a crackling old Snow White cassette, snuggling together on the couch as the sun dipped over the hill.


One child, then two, then three - all content and happy as could be. Quinn soaked up his morning as an only child, but was so happy to see his brothers again. They make him who he is - our smiling, sunny, baby boy. And one day soon he too will be ready for a sleepover at Grandma's house. But I think I will hold him in my arms just a little while longer.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The spoils of summer


I have just finished a marathon week in the kitchen preserving our summer harvest. Figs were simmered in syrup, then dried in the sun. Quince paste was made, and bottles of quinces preserved in Grandma's old Fowlers Vacola. The same rusty old orange pot and sturdy glass jars that helped preserve the fruit from Grant's grandfathers' orchard for generations past. Every night through the long cold southern winters of his childhood they would open a jar of plums, peaches or apricots and spoon the taste of summer into their stomachs with custard or cream. It is a tradition I am happy to continue for our children.



I had two baskets full of quinces to play with after foraging through an old abandoned garden in town. The garden's quince tree hangs over a back alleyway and all its fruit grow high up on its spindly branches where they can reach the sun.  It took a couple of visits, dodging cars driving past to the bottle shop, to bring all the quinces home, but when we did we had enough to make the paste and bottle eight jars, with a bowl remaining to enjoy now.


My boys will not eat fresh figs - the taste and the texture do not agree with them. So rather than taking it upon myself to devour the entire crop, I tried these sticky dried figs. Simmering them in a syrup containing one and a half kilograms of sugar seemed to make them more palatable to the small ones. The figs were then left to dry in the sun on the balcony, carefully screened from flies and resident magpies and small inquisitive hands. When I brought them in away from the dew each night the boys would fall to licking the drops of syrup off the chair. Our water baths designed to foil the ants failed on day three and I caught them just as they were starting to swarm up the rack and onto the fruit. I am storing them in the fridge just in case the ants sniff them out again.



I carved up our enormous slab of molten quince past last night and have it stored between layers of baking paper in a deep old biscuit tin. Now we are just waiting for the weekend to serve our first square with a ripe, oozing, unctuous round of brie.




Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Blessings



Two of my dearest, oldest friends are soon due to give birth. It is a longed for second child for them both after raising their sons through infancy to boyhood on their own. They both struggled with infertility and would like to have natural births after emergency caesarians the first time around. They both now have wonderful, loyal, steadfast men by their side - true fathers to their sons and unborn babes. I wish for them strength and peace as they prepare to birth their babes. I wish that I could be nearer to them to drop a home cooked meal at their door and take their boys to play at the park while they nest at home with their newborns. But I know that they are surrounded by wonderful women in the far flung cities where they now live, and that they will be nourished by that same community of mothers that we find around us wherever we are.


In the final weeks of my third pregnancy, my cherished natural birth and parenting group in Fremantle gathered around me in my home to help prepare me for Quinn's birth. They brought sumptuous home cooked meals, enough for us to feast upon and still fill my fridge with leftovers that kept my family fed for a week or so. They brought a candle and a bead and open hearts. We sat around the fire and they massaged my feet, brought me cups of tea and painted my belly with henna. They told stories of birth and motherhood as we lit the candles and threaded their beads onto a necklace that I would wear as I laboured to birth Quinn by the crackling fire of our hearth. Then we blew out the candles and feasted.


My mother blessing ceremony was an evening of womanly solidarity that I still draw strength from. It was a moment for me to pause and reflect before diving back into motherhood for the third time around. My older boys, then still only two and four, spent the night with their Dad at my parents' farm. It was the only night I have ever spent alone in my own home since becoming a mother. Lying quietly in my bed, with the henna drying and cracking on my skin, my focus turned inward and I knew that I was ready to meet my child.


As I gather beads and candles to send to my dear friends in their far flung cities I recall those final weeks of pregnancy, the act of birth, the delicious warmth of those early weeks with my newborn, with crystal clarity. Twenty one years have passed since we first met but you will always be my oldest, dearest friends. And time and space and years may separate us, but when we do meet the laughter and conversation flows as if we had not spent a day apart. I love you darling girls. Bless you both, bless your beautiful bellies and bless those babes growing within. I cannot wait to meet them.


Monday, 19 March 2012

Free as a bird


Lewis had almost given up on wishes - the ones he made silently and solemnly in his head after blowing out his birthday candles, or cracking a wishbone with his little finger. "Wishes don't really come true," he confided to me sadly. Hoping I might be able to help I broke the first rule of wishing and asked him to tell me. After giving it a few days of careful thought, he whispered it in my ear, "I wish that I could fly."

I still dream of flying - great lazy breaststrokes through the sky - but I admitted that attaining that particular dream was probably beyond my area of expertise. Luckily a hang-gliding friend stepped in with the reassuring news that any boy could learn to fly, and proceeded to make a miniature parachute with him to back up his claim. And so a love of flight was born.

Countless toys attached to plastic bags and thin strips of parachute silk have been hurled off our balcony. Hundreds of paper planes have been folded and launched. Now it is kites that have taken his fancy.


A visiting kite artist showed us how to fashion a simple kite from an old plastic bag, some builders' tape and a few bamboo skewers. Michael Alvares entranced us with his tales of growing up kite fighting on the streets of Mumbai, his kite strings sharpened with ground glass. Every weekend since Lewis has produced a new kite - cutting his own bamboo poles from the garden and testing them by running quickly down our steep and gravelly driveway.


Last weekend he asked if he could walk to the park to fly his kite. And for the very first time he walked to the bottom of the garden, clambered over the fence and took himself across the road to run and play without me. It was a milestone that has been a long time coming, but which I silently rejoiced in. The start of independence. He told me on Thursday I no longer need to collect him from the bus stop - he can now walk home alone. I am so proud of him. He is free as a bird.

Salt of the sea



I have baked all our bread since I learned how to make sourdough when Darcy was a baby. Using only flour, salt, water and my hands, the chewy, crusty loaves are unsurpassed by anything I have tasted from a shop. We buy big sacks of flour from a biodynamic farm, and filter our water as we do not have access to a rainwater tank. Which leaves the salt. And while there are big salt lakes inland, their product is hard to come by here. Most of the less processed salt stocked on the supermarket shelves is shipped from overseas. Which seems crazy when we are surrounded by some of the cleanest waters on the planet.


The ocean surges over granite headlands all along this coast, leaving little shallow puddles which dry and crack in the sun. I peeled off a layer of salt and carried it home in my hat. We used it to make bread and pizza, sprinkled it in our cooking, and mixed up a quick saline solution for a tiny mollusc that came home from the beach in a small boy's pocket.



That ocean in a jar kept him entertained for days. I am not sure if it was the constant shaking, the water being too salty, or his ultimate demise being tipped onto the carpet, but the snail never made it back to the beach. Already the sea has replenished the rockpools and the salt sits drying and ready for harvest. It beats any trip to the shops that I have ever had.




Thursday, 15 March 2012

Milk day


The milkman comes on Thursday. I hear the chinking of the bottles as he stomps up the stairs and across the carpet, dreadlocks swinging and a smile on his face. Six litres of creamy, raw, organic milk, straight from a long-lashed Jersey cow grazing in the green fields to our fridge, in the hands of the farmer himself. Last weeks' rinsed bottles stand by the door, waiting to be washed, sterilised and used again. The new bottles are lined up in the fridge, full of promise. They will be poured over porridge, stirred into coffee and cake batters, and transformed into pots of thick, tangy yoghurt.

My very first job was delivering milk from the back of a rusty old truck. I would leap from the side of the vehicle as it slowed, bottles tucked under my arm, and lope to the front door of each house with their order. I used to know the suburb's deliveries by heart and could hang ten empty milk bottles from my fingers without dropping them. When we reached my grandparents' house I would run straight inside and tuck a litre into their fridge, stopping to kiss them both before I jogged back to the kerb. I would hold on tight to the metal hand rail, swinging out into the darkness as we careened around corners. Sometimes we would run short and have to duck out to the servo for an extra litre or two.  Once we were on the highway we had to climb inside the truck, so we would tuck our bottoms inside empty milk crates and slide around the tray laughing like mad things in the diesel scented city night.

You can't buy milk in glass bottles anymore. But it makes so much more sense. There is no waste, the bottle can be reused over and over again. And it tastes better. We store our leftover pancake mix in an empty bottle, ready to pour straight into the pan for an after school snack or a special weekday breakfast.

We found out this week that we will be becoming part owners of our milking cow - the paperwork is on its way. The herd share scheme will help our farmer and his family extend their milking operation and we will get our portion of each week's production. We even get visiting rights. I can't wait to meet her.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Piece of cake

We have been on a bit of a baking bonanza of late. I tried to keep the ingredients wholesome and healthy, using organic fruit and vegetables, rapadura sugar and wholemeal flour, but the therapy was as much in the making as the eating while we were quarantined at home for two weeks. Lewis helped to mix and pour the batter into the pan for a delectably moist carrot cake smothered with cream cheese icing. And our orange cake with passionfruit butter icing tasted all the sweeter after we found a paper bag filled with fragrant, wrinkled purple fruit hanging from our back door.

 

The back fence of our garden in the city was covered with passionfruit vines and we would eat them well into winter, the last big green ones clinging to the vine even as the leaves were falling around them. As a baby Lewis used to bite into them whole and suck the sticky pulp out through the holes he would puncture in their thick leathery skin. 

It is one fruit that is missing from our garden here but we had a hankering for this cake, which I baked for both Quinn and Lewis' birthdays last winter. Passing on the supermarket's overpriced purple globes, probably shipped from Queensland, I had reluctantly brought home a jar of pulp which had at least been bottled locally.


In one of the those marvelous moments of serendipity, the bag of fruit appeared on the very afternoon we had set aside for baking, courtesy of a generous friend sharing her garden's surplus. There was a tin inside the bag which we filled up with individually iced orange cakes and popped into her letterbox the next afternoon. Her boys were thrilled. "The passionfruit magically turned into cakes!" The tin may be making another visit.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Mamang

We emerged from the house of sickness just as the region's festival fever was subsiding, having missed two weeks of culture as the local arm of the Perth International Arts Festival this year coincided with the launch of Write in the Great Southern. Most of the performances, readings and writing workshops were off limits to a mother with three little ones in tow, but I did take my eldest boy to listen to some Noongar storytelling before he took to his bed for the week.


Lewis has been immersed in Noongar culture from an early age - as much as it is possible for a white, middle-class boy from the city to be. More than half the kids at his pre-school were from Aboriginal backgrounds and Lewis would slip into the playground vernacular as soon as he walked through the gate. "'Ee ma brudda," he would say to a classmate when showing him the family tree he had drawn. His speech was peppered with Noongar words - things weren't just 'cool', they were 'daardi' - and took on strange grammatical twists and turns, the odd sentence rounded of with "unna?"

He started to talk like himself again as soon as we moved, then started mimicking the speech patterns of someone else in his class. The irony was that, in this whitest of middle class towns, Lewis was now learning Noongar as a second language at school. Taught this time not by his peers, but by a white, English speaking teacher who incorporated different Noongar words into songs, stories and school activities.

 
It was incredibly moving then, to hear the language spoken and stories shared by their traditional owners as part of the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project. Dual Miles Franklin literary award winner, Noongar writer Kim Scott, who considers the project his most important work, was on hand to help project the pictures on to the screen. But he took a back seat to his countrymen and women, with whom he has worked for nine years reclaiming the stories of their elders after they were uncovered in the notes of an American linguist who visited these shores in 1931.

 Mamang, the story of a Noongar man who dives inside the blowhole of a whale, was the first of the stories to be shared, first in Noongar, then in English. Lewis sat quietly amongst the Noongar families and town literati and listened to the story through to its end before turning to me and whispering: "That was a great story!" We bought a copy to bring home and share with his brothers.


We are a house without religion, but I realised I needed to provide some balance to the Noongar rainbow serpent creation myth when Lewis asked how the first living creature had been made, reassuring me "I know how the land and the sea was made - that was the Wagarl." We brought home an illustrated edition of the Jesus Storybook Bible from the op-shop, and the children dived head first into the stories. Their favourite was Jonah and the Whale.

 

It is a great story, in any language.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Dirty laundry


My mum has this dream of seeing out her years wandering naked around the Kimberley with a herd of goats. I am not sure why goats exactly. They are cattle farmers and tried sheep once. She doesn't even like goats' cheese. The naked bit I do understand. "That's it, we're all moving to a nudist colony," has been the war cry of mothers for generations (in my family at least) as they battle a never diminishing pile of dirty laundry.

I am not particularly good at washing. Perhaps it is genetic. My mum never separated the whites from the colours and neither do I. I tend to stuff as much as I can into the front loader, chuck in a cup of biodegradable detergent and hope for the best.

We had a full house at New Years. Two extra families - five adults and nine children - running around under one roof while the rain bucketed down. The laundry was awash with children and clothes and drying space was at a premium. Our friends drove their wet clothes to the laundromat to finish it off in the industrial tumble dryer before we headed off camping on New Years Day. But I persisted, pushing more clothes through the machine and pegging out the last pair of underpants while the kids waited, buckled into their car seats, for us to leave.

When we returned home four days later there was more washing to do. It took a week for us to realise that things were missing. Five pairs of boys' shorts, my new pyjamas, the t-shirt Aunty Justine sent the baby for Christmas. We searched and searched but they had vanished, and after a month we called the police and reported the theft of two loads of washing from our clothesline.

With clinical precision we fleshed out the evolution of the crime. How holiday makers taking the short cut to the inlet past our garden had jumped the fence and made off with random objects from the line. I provided an itemised list of the clothing I knew to be missing and watched four year old legs closely to see if they happened to be wearing Darcy's favourite pair of iguana shorts. The ones with  plasticine melted through the head of a lizard (from the time I put a car-boot load of dirty washing through a caravan park tumble dryer masquerading as a washing machine, and instead of cleaning them merely baked a pocketful of plasticine and washing powder on top of a thick layer of red Kimberley dirt. They came out beautifully warm.)

The iguana shorts were gone, and so I turned to my new sewing machine and ran up a few pairs of shorts and trousers, fleshing out the boys' wardrobes with op-shop finds. Aunty Justine sent down more shorts from Darwin and Nana drove down to visit with pyjamas and shorts bought on a mercy dash to the nearest department store.

And then it rained again, and I opened our clothes dryer and two loads of slightly mildewed washing fell on top of me. Don't worry, they came up a treat in the wash. Now could somebody please call the police?


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

summer harvest

We picked the quinces yesterday. I will stew them tomorrow and puree them and then stand by the stove for an evening or two stirring, like I did last year, but with fewer breastfeeding intermissions. Watching in wonder as the fruit turns from yellow to pink to dark, rich, ruby red. It is the closest thing to alchemy I have ever witnessed in my kitchen and we treasure each glistening square  - a year's supply of quince paste to adorn our cheese platters with the memory of summer's harvest.


The quince tree was the only one in our orchard garden to bear fruit as well as last summer. Last year I had peaches piled in bowls, baskets and bubbling away in bottles inside Grandma's old Fowlers Vacola. Apricots were dried and frozen and gorged upon in volumes unheard of. This summer the trees are resting, their blossom damaged by unseasonal rains and the parrots taking their share of the crop. We had enough to eat and enjoy for a week or two, but the quince paste will be the only taste of summer we will be packing between sheets of baking paper and taking with us into winter as autumn returns to the forest.


Already there is a chill in the morning air that speaks to me of Easter and childhood holidays spent camped along the south coast. Sleeping on a hessian camp bed with my sister rolling about in the bunk above, breakfasting on Rice Krispies and long life milk and hunting for Easter eggs in the sand dunes and granite headlands. We are savouring these last days of warmth as autumn's stillness settles over the land, plucking purple figs from the kids' climbing tree and eating handfuls of cherry tomatoes while we chat to the chooks. 

Friday, 2 March 2012

A week so red

"And then, one day, the Boy was ill. His face grew very flushed, and he talked in his sleep, and his little body was so hot that it burned the Rabbit when he held him close." The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams.

 

It seemed a fever like any other my boy brought home from school with him on Monday. But after two days running a temperature, his face flushed and a faint rash creeping across his body, he stuck out his tongue and I knew something more was wrong. Too late to call a doctor, I turned instead to Google. Keywords: fever, rash, red, bumpy tongue. The diagnosis was immediate - scarlet fever - no question about it.



That night he talked in his sleep and woke his brothers. Not averse to the romance of the situation, I carried his soft, grey, pet bunny up the stairs to greet them in the grey light of dawn and Lewis managed a wan smile from his sick bed.

"And presently the fever turned, and the Boy got better. He was able to sit up in bed and look at picture-books, while the little Rabbit cuddled close at his side. And one day, they let him get up and dress." The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams.
 



The fever had turned but he was still not well. And now I knew the risk of complications, the damage which might even now be being wrought upon his heart and kidneys, I counted down the minutes until the doctors' surgery opened. I called the hospital. I called Health Direct. All expressed surprise at my diagnosis, but soon confirmed it. He must see a doctor within four hours. We took the first available appointment that morning.

"Everything was arranged, and now it only remained to carry out the doctor's orders. They talked about it all, while the little Rabbit lay under the bedclothes, with just his head peeping out, and listened. The room was to be disinfected, and all the books and toys that the Boy had played with must be burnt.
Just then Nana caught sight of him. 'How about his old Bunny?' she asked.
'That?' said the doctor. 'Why, it's a mass of scarlet fever germs! - Burn it at once.'" The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams.


Not wanting to linger in the waiting room we arrived right on time, but our appointment had been pushed back by other emergencies. I sat down to read a book to the children and a nurse came rushing into the toy room. 
"Are these yours?" she gasped, gesturing to the children. "What have they touched?"
Whisking the toy out of my baby's hands she ushered us into a sterile waiting area, and we started the story again. Two pages in she reappeared.
"You are going to hate me, but the practice manager has asked if you can wait in your car. You can keep the book."

We found a spot under a tree in the grassy car park and read Dr Seuss. There was no sign of a bonfire, so presumably they were waiting until after we left before they burned all the books and toys. The boys raced feathers dancing in the breeze and spied on the backpackers at the youth hostel behind the back fence. We waited in the autumn sunshine for an hour, growing hungry and tired, and I thanked the heavens it was not raining and my boy was not still sick with fever.

Lewis amused himself infecting things around the yard. Trees, grass, the wooden fence. Touching the trunk of an old pear tree, its leaves ravaged by pear slugs, he laughed "I can't make the pear tree sick. It already is sick!"

The doctor was sceptical, but my boy poked out his tongue like a strawberry and she agreed and sent us home with a script. Dosed up on penicillin, we climbed into bed and read The Velveteen Rabbit and slept. Darcy woke with his nose spouting blood. The white sheets sprayed with drops of crimson. His new hand-sewn clothes soaked scarlet. Our week so red.