Fourthborn and Secondborn having a break from arseing about on the mud mound where our new kitchen will go. I took this on Friday afternoon. Today, the lad is settling into his room in his new home - the University of Manchester. Good luck from us all.
This was the view straight down from my office window earlier today. Mick and Jaime are digging the trench on the right because, Jaime says, they've decided they don't like the one on left which they dug yesterday. The real reason is that we're having our kitchen extended. And we are not alone. According to the Halifax, one in four British homeowners are having improvements done, an increase of seven percent on last year. Enlarging kitchens is a big favourite, but our reasons for doing so are atypical.
We are having ours done so it's easier to fit all the kids in at mealtimes. Other folk, especially first time buyers, are doing it purely because they think it will add in instant £5,000 to the value of their property. But how much are they borrowing to have the work done in the first place? And has the property market made us insane?
Me and Fifthborn took the late plane home from Venice Treviso airport in order to save a few quid on flights. We had no hold luggage, so if all had gone to plan we'd have been home before 1.00 - late for a nine year-old who goes back to school tomorrow, but not insane. When our Ryanair flight landed at 11.30 - just ten minutes late - I thought we'd been vindicated. But then we had to disembark using a shuttle bus, which meant we were stuck on board for 20 minutes. Then there was huge bottleneck at passport control, with passengers only being let into the queue in batches of a few dozen at a time.
Having at last passed beneath the sexy new, post-car bomb attack "UK Border" sign we learned that the Pink Elephant buses to the long stay car parks were going from a different stop from usual now that midnight had passed. Naturally, the park our car was in was the last to be called on by the Pink Elephant we eventually found. Then, to complete an imperfect end to a lovely three days away, the M11 turn-off into east London was closed and the signs for diverted traffic petered out somewhere east of Stratford. Still, at least I ended up seeing the outer edge of the future 2012 Olympic Park. Perhaps I'll feel better if I think of it as research. Yawn.
By the time you read this me and Fifthborn will be at Stansted having our toenails minutely inspected for traces of explosives by a small army of airport security officers. After that, presuming we are not placed under arrest, we will be flying to Venice to visit Firstborn - as she dislikes being called - for a few days, there to feast on pasta, art, gondolas, art, gondolas, pasta, gondolas, pasta, art and - as John Cleese once put it in a classic spoof travelogue film - "more fucking gondolas." Light blogging here till Tuesday, then. See you.
One week ago we interred my father's ashes. He'd asked this to be done beside Chew Valley Lake in a commemorative forest being planted by a company called Life For A Life. Basically, you buy a sapling of your choice and pour the ashes into a hole dug near its roots. A small plaque is installed nearby. The idea is that you're combining doing something for the environment with raising money for a charity of the deceased's choice - in Dad's case a local children's hospice. There was brief, informal, non-religious ceremony led with unfussy sensitivity by the gardener who tends the plots, whose blissfully fitting name was Mr Forrester. My three youngest kids were there. Sweetly and reverentially intrigued, they made me very proud. Sixthborn in particular was intensely yet quietly fascinated by Grandpa's remains, so neatly packaged in their box and the elegant carrier provided by the undertaker. Me, I'm not sentimental about dead bodies. The ritual, though, served its purpose well for all concerned, not least the dear departed.
I dropped Sheila and my three youngest at Stansted earlier today: they're off to County Westmeath in Ireland to spend half term with Sheila's mum (who was up all last night watching the election results, apparently, the briiliant, bonkers lady). On my return to Hackney I switched on News 24 to find the BBC once again leading with the search for Madeleine McCann.
The latest development is a personal plea by her parents for anyone else who saw the man who might have been carrying a child on the night of Madeleine's disappearance to come forward - that, and the revelation that Gordon Brown has been on the phone offering his "full support". After waving goodbye to my wife and our kids I'm always extra-susceptible to stories of family anguish. Like millions of others, I've bleakly imagined how I would cope with the situation the McCanns are in and try not to torment myself imagining what has become of their little girl.
More coldly, I ponder how I'd feel about the contributions of those other than the police to the search for a child who may - as few acknowledge in public - already be dead. Much has been written about the media's coverage: the rights and wrongs of giving the events such prominence; the outrageous speculation; the consensual marketing decision to depict the McCanns as suitable cases for sympathy rather than for crucifiction on grounds of irresponsibility, as might have been the case for different social types. Some have condemned politicians and others for joining in.
Would I choose to go with the grain of all this frantic attention as the McCanns seem to have decided to do in the hope that it will help or would it sicken me too much, as it often has in my role as complicit consumer of this spectacle of parental agony? And how will the McCanns look back on all that if Madeleine is never found and gradually, inexorably, the family's value as news just fades away?
My sixthborn is five years old today. Apparently, she'll be five years old tomorrow too, or so she assured me first thing this morning. Then she cleaned her teeth - but only after I'd promised to give her a Fox's Party Ring straight after. Clear boundaries, that's what children need.