However, last spring we were blessed with a period of beautiful sunshine which coincided pleasingly with the Easter weekend. We sat in the garden on a picnic rug, eating lunch and drinking lemonade and basking in the glorious weather. Predictions of a barbecue summer were rife in the media, which frankly we deserved after a particularly cold winter and a lengthy spell during which everything was buried under unyielding heaps of snow, and we enjoyed the unseasonably warm spring weather in much the same way as I used to enjoy a plate of dough balls in Pizza Express back in the days when Ben and I used to go out to dinner every so often: lovely as a starter, but most definitely meant to be followed immediately by a scrumptious Margherita (my unadventurous favourite) and a delectable chocolate tartufo. So we lay on the lawn and made optimistic plans to inflate the paddling pool and the bouncy castle as soon as the proper summer arrived, which were sure to be even warmer and sunnier than the gorgeous days we were currently enjoying, and dreamed about strolling down the local beach with sand trickling between our toes as Joshua splashed at the water's edge and the new baby slumbered in the sling. Regrettably, this wasn't quite how it turned out, and apart from a stickily hot spell when I was almost two weeks overdue with Daniel and closely resembled the aforementioned bouncy castle, the summer just never happened. Every time the sun bravely pushed its way through the perpetual mist that lay heavily across the sky for weeks and weeks we would get a little bit excited and wonder if this was finally it, but no. The clouds stubbornly refused to disperse, the temperature remained low, and I remembered back to the halcyon days of April and kicked myself mentally for not dragging the paddling pool out of the garage and filling it with water whilst the weather was warm and sunny enough for Joshua to derive pleasure from splashing around in it. As it was, the only thing he would have gained during July and August was a midsummer bout of pneumonia, so we stayed inside and built a lot of Duplo towers instead. Satisfying in its way, to be sure, but not quite the fresh-air fest we had envisaged.
So this year, when again we woke up one morning in late March and glimpsed some promising sunshine peeking through the bedroom windows, we leapt into action, having well and truly learned our lesson. The bouncy castle came out of hibernation and Joshua spent several afternoons bouncing energetically with his little friend from next door whilst I loafed around on the picnic rug and bounced the baby on my knee. Isn't it a Thing of Beauty? If it didn't have an upper limit of slightly fewer kilos than I currently weigh (ahem!), I'd be jumping up and down on it regularly myself. I do love a bouncy castle.
Less than a fortnight later, right on cue, we had another flurry of snow. It lasted only one night, but nevertheless put us in the amusing and bizarre position of having a snow-covered bouncy castle in our back garden. But it's staying up, and even if we only get a handful of warm and sunny days between now and the autumn, we're going to make the most of them. And to return to the proverb with which this post opened, last year's non-starter of a summer made me determined to make the most of every possible opportunity for outdoor time - to bounce on the bouncy castle while the sun shone, in case it wasn't shining the following day. And isn't this a great principle to apply to life in general? Taking opportunities whilst they are there, and not lingering or procrastinating or dithering or putting things off, is so important. One of my very favourite films, Dead Poets Society, is famous for a motto held dear by the central characters: carpe diem, or Seize the Day.
A friend of mine used to be a great admirer of the actor Christopher Reeve. When he died in 2004, my friend regretted not having written to Reeve to tell him how much his various performances had been valued and enjoyed, and how much of an inspiration he had been in his later years as a quadriplegic and activist. I've always remembered this, and my friend's sense of regret has on occasion spurred me on to get up and do something or contact someone or change something, just in case I shouldn't have the chance again. And though it may seem odd to juxtapose a post about juggling too many tasks with one suggesting that we should grab all the opportunities that life hurls in our direction, I'm starting to realise that it's the type of opportunities we grasp with both hands that is of real and genuine importance, rather than the number of them that we choose to embrace. And, daft though it sounds, the urge I experienced earlier this spring to get the garden toys out whilst the weather was still nice reminded me that some people or possibilities just might not be there tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or at whatever point I can finally work up the energy or inclination to enjoy and appreciate them. It encouraged me to contact people I'd neglected, to immerse myself in activities or music or projects which I'd been putting off, and to spend more time simply enjoying today and all that today brings. And the enormous bouncy castle in my back garden serves as a constant reminder to keep doing so, each and every day, as far as I possibly can.