Category Archives: Mum Stuff

Yule it like a Dude

wifecard22_3128762bHow are your Christmas preparations going so far this year?  I address this to female readers in particular.  Does fraught, expensive and never-ending ring any sleigh bells?  Mine certainly have been.  I have had a costume crisis for my little Shepard at 7.40 am on a Monday morning,  just as we were about to step out of the door for work.  I would like to say that I took it all in my stride, sorting it all out in a calm, efficient manner, the very model of modern motherhood, not sobbing on the shoulder of the staff in Sainsburys as I spied the very last costume behind the galaxy of golden stars hanging from the shelves,  and then on my boss when I arrived to work, guilt ridden that my child could have been the only one standing up without her tea towel on her head in front of all the other parents (and yes on the day it was being filmed for the DVD, oh potential for guilt memorialised in perpetuity makes my blood run cold still).   That crisis had come after we had been busy all weekend of putting up Christmas trees and decorations, manning a stall at the Christmas School fair, baking Christmas Tree biscuits for said Christmas School Fair, pantomimes in Harrogate (oh yes there was), baby group reunions (all of these carried out on SAME afternoon and evening) and carols on the green.  All lovely, joyful, festive things to do and that I WANT to do, but  still needing to be crow-barred into a weekend already full with all the cooking, cleaning , washing and homework jobs you need to do to get ready for another week of school and work.

Christmas was starting to become a C word to me, every time I thought about my never-ending to-do list, I felt sicker than a doctor’s surgery during an outbreak of the Noro virus, looking around I saw  women making ther lists and checking them a hundred fold.  In our modern, more secular days who is really benefiting from Christmas?  To my wandering eye it would appear it was only the retailers, no wonder they put so much  effort into those shiny baubled ads.   Could it be that Christmas is just slave labour for women?  Or an even more revolutionary thought was rising up in my mind… do we do it to ourselves?   Time and again people say the same thing, “she is off to the shops panicking she has forgotten someone, but as far as I see we all just swap presents around.”  Texts from friends would be along the lines “have just spent £300 in Sainsburys and I am not done yet.”  One lady who clearly had so many other things on her mind she had no left no time for parking, as she abandoned her car diagonally across two spaces, came out of the supermarket pushing a shopping trolley full of poinsettias muttering “I don’t know if I am an Arthur or a Martha but at Christmas I wish I was an Arthur.”

Then there is the ridiculous but inescapable pressure to make Christmas perfect.  The expectation is so intense, we want everyone to have the perfect present, original and so thoughtful (and on budget), with the perfectly coordinated paper, table settings, and lets be honest we probably even think we should be trying to make it snow on Christmas Eve. (I blame Richard Curtis for this one).   All this before reading blogs from Mumsnet berating parents for not having the vigilance of CIA Carrie from Homeland when keeping the Official Secrets Act about the Big Fellow from the North Pole.  I know the blogs were meant to be light-hearted but in all the stress of  having to decide whether it is more environmentally friendly to have a real tree or a fake one, should you pancetta your sprouts, how the hell does everyone else have a beautifully  themed new holiday decor of Nordic reds and whites, or cool Copenhagen silvers and metallics whilst our decorations are every colour known to mankind?  That is before contemplating the big questions, how and why has Christmas become this  monster of consumerism? And the final kicker, how the devil are you really meant to afford all of this anyway?  My sense of humour seems to vanished quicker than this year’s most wanted toy from the shelves of Argos.

Meanwhile my husband tells me he has had a lovely week watching all the Christmas TV in Nottingham.  Giles Coren and Alexander Armstrong have been delightfully advising on wines for the Big Day, Val Doonican’s warbling from his 1986 Christmas Eve special and Nigella seducing us with her Christmas goodies (although don’t try and put boiled sweets into her Christmas Tree biscuits as stained glass windows, they are not robust enough… yes I did learn this the hard way one hour before having to take said biscuits to the Christmas School Fair).

So I think there needs to be radical revision of Christmas, it needs to be simplified and how.  My idea is to let the boys have a go.  There would be instant changes:

1.  Profits for the Post Office would plummet, there would be no cards sent by mail.  This would also result in the drop in sales of ribbon and those tiny pegs to hang up cards in the house.  There would also be a very positive knock on effect for the environment too with less trees being felled to make the cards in the first place.  Win.

2.   There would be very little wrapping at all as all presents would be sent as electronic gift cards.  What wrapping needed to be done would be supplemented with pages of the weekend supplements.   There would be no bows or ribbons on any presents.

3.    There would be plenty of alcohol in the  house, but Baileys would not have been invented.

4.    The turkey would be cooked to perfection as per Jamie Oliver’s instructions.  There would be roasties, sprouts and carrots but there wouldn’t be any bread or cranberry sauces. Pigs in blankets would be in abundance and we would be eating pork pies and crisps until we return to work.

5.  There would be Christmas Pud, the setting alight  of with industrial quantities of brandy  would probably the highlight of everyone’s day.

6.   There would a lot more time spent in the pub.

7.   It would be a lot less expensive.

So far so very appealing.   But then my sister and her family came round yesterday for our mini Christmas Day, and it was gorgeous.  It was everything I love about Christmas, delicious food and your nearest and dearest  around a table, eating and chatting and drinking.  Balancing a slippery paper crown on your head whilst listening to your adorable 5 year old niece telling the same cracker joke over and over again because she has it memorised.  Christmas lights a-twinkling and Christmas songs crooning in the background whilst presents are handed out, unwrapped and loved.  Really, its worth all the stress isn’t it?  But can you just remind me of that if some sharp-elbowed so and so gets their hands on the last bag of sprouts in two days time!

Merry Christmas Everyone, as Shakin’ Stevens once said.  Hope you all have a good ‘un, peaceful and serene.


National Lampoon

These Penguins are not going Cheap

These Penguins are not going Cheap

What is the most traditional thing about Bonfire night in these modern times, no, it isn’t a penny for a guy is it?   The last firework has only just faded from the night sky when we have to look with wonder at the next twinkling spectacle, the premiere of all those bloody Christmas ads.

Once upon a time, the Marks & Spencers ad was the trademark of British advertising quality.   But just as their fortunes have dipped on the high street their ad men have also fallen from favour.  John Lewis has reigned supreme recently.  Proper little tear-jerkers;  not only selling the wares but selling us the wonders of the human existence.  Every year they hit the double bullseye of heart and wallet.

But not this year.  I know it is heresy for a nice middle class woman of a certain age to say this but #montythepenguin is a bit meh.  It just doesn’t it do it for me.  Yes, the payoff is wonderful, and yes it is so the-done-thing that there is scant merchandise on view, but I am a little fed up of seeing children who look like they  might have been shipped off as cute little evacuees in flannelette pjs and dressing gowns.  I know nostalgia from Cath Kidston onwards sells home furnishings everywhere but I want to acknowledge the era I live in too instead of looking misty-eyed to a time that didn’t really exist and conveniently brushes under the hand-woven rug, all the repression of those times.  Just watch Masters of Sex to remember how little control women had over their own lives in the 50s.

Nope this year the ad that has caught my eye, that makes me feel most akin to the Christmas experience is the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation parody, the Tescos ad.  I know this has come as one hell of a statement from me, a life long member of the anti-Tesco club (see here for previous musings on the corporate behemoth ).   Their multiple recent financial difficulties do smack of a huge dose of karma to me.  But flipping heck I love their ad.   We are all becoming a nation of Clark Griswalds, creating ever brighter Blackpoolesque illuminations to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus.  Perhaps we are all trying to recreate the wondrous sight of the archangel Gabriel lighting the skies proclaiming the coming of the Messiah or maybe there is a deep-seated desire to be the shiniest star on the street to compensate for being a sheep (or an ox or a third tree from the left) in our school nativity.  But whatever it is, I do love the effects of the lights lifting the gloom of winter.

I do feel guilty criticising St John of the Lewis,  but this year I am saying it.. shove off Monty back to the South Pole with your £95 price tag and hello Tescos’ light show; it’s cheesy, feel-good and doesn’t take itself seriously at all.  Just how it should be.  I shall enjoy your take on Christmas cheer but just don’t expect to see me in aisle 5 of one of your stores any time soon!


O Captain My Captain



The O Captain My Captain scene from Dead Poets Society flashed through my mind the minute I heard about the sad death of Robin Williams.  I wasn’t only one.  All over social media people were playing the above clip in tribute or even, as in the office of ITV2, recreating the scene themselves.

The film had a huge impact on me when I saw it as very unworldly 22 year old living in London.   I would like to say spurred on by John Keating’s message that life was for living, that I did seize the day,  but on reflection I think it took another 30 years.  Still don’t they say better late than never!

So I had been eager to watch the film again as my own tribute to that funniest  (and hairest) of funny men, and I did last night.

The film seems to have held up pretty well over the past 25 years (maybe a lot better than me).  I was stuck by the precision of Robin Williams’ acting as the inspirational English teacher John Keating.  His look, his manner, his voice, I was right back in the classroom.  I was amazed how many lines from the film had stayed with me and how I could remember that O Captain My Captain came from a Walt Whitman poem.  If if had come up in a Mastermind question the week before I wouldn’t have been able to answer.

Moving performances too from the then teenaged unknowns,  now household names, Robert Sean Leonard or Wilson in House, Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles (Will Gardner from The Good Wife).  The only place I thought the film had dated (except for the very obviously late 80s synth soundtrack which jarred otherwise perfect 1959 period piece)  was in our modern age of constant social media, ultra violent video games such as GTA and COD,  underage binge drinking and drug taking that a bunch of boys who went to the woods at night read the poems of dead men would be celebrated by all in education not castigated and expelled.  I tried to read Ode To Autumn, my very favourite poem by my favourite dead poet John Keats (the similarity to name to John Keating can not be an accident) and my, then young, son just sniggered at the perceived rude bits “close bosom’d friend of maturing sun”  “Bosum, mum you said bosum”.

It made me wonder what  Ofsted would make John Keating’s teaching methods.   Would they see enough planning, he certainly demonstrates outstanding knowledge of his subject and it is clear he had high expectations for his class to learn from him.   How though do you measure this ability in exams, and to do it fairly.   For the first time I could see the point in curriculums; syllabuses to be studied and regurgitated at exam time.  How else can you really do it?  Especially as there provides a safely net for parents and students.  Do this this way and you are pretty much guaranteed your result.  Exam Fodder.

The film deals with the culture clash that was to define the 1960s as tradition and conformity made way for personal freedom and emotional expression.   The Old Guard found John Keating’s teaching incendiary.  The revolutionary idea to be yourself, express yourself was, to parents who had made sacrifices to send their sons to the school and therefore felt compelled to map out for their children’s lives into adulthood, to make them accepted, intolerable.   To the Establishment this was treason.    There was no question the Headteacher’s mind.  The blood was on John Keating’s hands.

Not much so much has changed today.  How to educate our children is a debate that rages on still.   Tony Blair swept to power on the platform of “Education, Education, Education”.  You can’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about another change to way we school our offspring.   Just the day before I heard the head of Eton College speak of his desire to get rid of all exams up until A-level.  How schools are in the thrall to the University’s desire for grades.  How we fail our children if we “spoonfeed” them their education.  That we have to make them think for themselves.  How the exam system was so artificial.  That we don’t go out into the world of work and get supplied with all the information to do a good job and work individually.  No we work collaboratively and we have to teach children to be able work like this at school.  But I don’t think there is an educator in this country brave enough to free things up to that extent.  No matter how many times Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk asking is school killing creativity is  played on You Tube.

Of course school is so much more than just getting qualifications, it is about socialising and learning about to get on with your peers.  Exposure to new experiences and cultures help you take those nascent steps to building your own tastes and fashions.  It’s about falling in love for the first, and usually the most painful time.   If you are lucky it is about building self-confidence and resilience.   It’s safe environment to learn about the world and how you fit into it, school is where we realise that we might be the centre of our parents’ universe but to the rest we but one part of it, vital and essential but just a part of it like everyone else.

But back to John Keating, despite how the old guard viewed him I think most parents would like a teacher to inspire a life-long love of learning, to impart an appreciation for knowledge for knowledge sake.  Schools have changed beyond recognition from when I was at school.  I am very glad to see the growth of pastoral care and it makes me wish I was going through the education now.  But  I  had some wonderful teachers, but in particular an incredible English teacher, Mr Thurlow, and an inspirational history teacher Mr Hopkinson.   With his tweed jacket and his mischievous twinkling eyes he dropped  left of centre ideas like truth bombs into minds used to only hearing from the Right.  He was the teacher who said there will be a nugget of information taken away by every pupil and never forgotten.  Well he told me mine and only today I retold the tale of the suspicious Russians serfs feeding the revolutionaries to the pigs after mistaking them for tax inspectors.  Pigs that would eat up every trace of the Moscovites, hair, skin and nails and although I am not a teacher I like to think I am continuing on the tradition in my own little way.


Do You Want to Sell Your House?

jcxo5b6KiHow I have got to this (not that grand) age without having to sell my house before I am not sure.  Probably because like most life decisions I was too shit scared, until it was absolutely, irrefutably, backs to the walls, and then some, necessary.  Only to discover the thought was way way way worse than the deed, and in most occasions I was a whole lot better at coping/handling/dealing  with whatever the monumental milestone  came my way than I ever could have imagined.

So once we had made an offer on a house we liked, I realised  there was no way out, that saleboard had to go up outside my own house.  (Yes I know I was supposed to sell my house first but I refer you to the first paragraph as way of explanation).

This was it.  There was no backing out now,  I was on the 10 metre diving board of property selling looking down into the pool of house preparation and the stairs to said board were off limits.    There was only one way down.  I had to leap in.  I had to get the house, garden and garage  in order; do a deep clean and a massive de-clutter.  I hadn’t watched the steely voiced Californian Realtor Ann Maurice, the self styled house doctor on Channel 5 all those times without knowing if you “wanna sell your house” you need to clean  and clear surfaces, to stage  your home in a presentation style to appeal the maximum amount of viewers (ie take down any thing personal including all the family photos and that football trophy you won for best attitude 30 years ago).   The house needs to smell of bleach and other cleaning products not coffee and baking bread which are apparently old hat and make person think you are hiding something.  Plus have a mirror and a rug in the hallway to add light and lead the eye into the house invitingly.   (Yes I was one of the show’s most loyal viewers).   I am sure there was something about having some green in rooms too, if there were plants in rooms that gave off appealing vibes too but I might now be confusing her with Malcolm Gladwell or the Freakanomics boys.

I managed the mirror and a new rug in the hall.  She must know something that Ann Maurice because it is now N’s favourite room!

And so further to the golden advice of The House Doctor, I impart to you the top tips I have picked up over the past few weeks since I have been staring out the window at a saleboard that no one can see because it is stuck behind a tree.

1.  It is the closest I have come to dating 20 odd years.  You hope to catch someone’s eye.  You then wait hopefully by phone for it ring.  You  then spend a day scrubbing up and titivating and shoving any thing undesirable out of sight.    You laugh at a stranger’s jokes hoping to make them feel good, whilst making small talk and stating the obvious.  You then hang around waiting for another phone call.  All to be judged and for the most part found wanting.  It makes me madly insecure and as self conscious as a teenager during the first throws of puberty.

2.  When someone leaves your house, no matter who much they have oohed and cooed over your home, if they say with their back to you “I’ll call the Estate Agent tomorrow with some feedback” don’t put the champagne on ice.  There ain’t going to be an offer, they ain’t even going to phone the estate agent.

3.  That parts of the house that have always functioned without a murmur or a hiccup will start to malfunction half an hour for a viewing.

4.  That children can smear microscopic particles of toothpaste over the entire surface area of the bathroom sink 10 minutes before a viewing.

5.  That once you start cleaning and de-cluttering  it starts to take over and it gets very hard to stop.  That I believe Lady Macbeth’s “out damm spot” was really directed at marks on white walls.  After a while you can’t tell if the dirt is real or imaginary.  Is it smear or a shadow?  I can see this way leads to psychosis, especially when combined with the prolonged inhalation of with heavy duty cleaning product (and very possibly some Gin).

6.  That those new magic erasers of Flash are good but they crumble away to nothing very very quickly, making MORE MESS.

7.  That is possible to having viewings, pack for holidays, unpack for holidays, get holiday washing dried and away in the pouring rain and still keep your sanity. Just.

8.  That if you really really really want to sell your house that glossing a door at 6 in the morning is no sweat, in fact you can get two done.

9.  That clearing out the garage can be very cathartic and the joy of finding something your grandmother gave you on your wedding day, that you thought lost forever makes up for all the grumpy viewings.

10.  That I can come over frighteningly Daily Mail about other people’s bins not being put away on time if I have a viewing.

According to a recent survey done by a leading Estate Agent people take just  33 minutes to make up their minds to buy a property.   They take more time to choose a car or a sofa.  So all I need is the right 33 minutes with the right person.  Easy.    Just don’t get me started on stamp duty…….


Parental Advisory

Happy and Glorious for now…..

Yes I got suckered in.  Admit it you did too.  All the chat about the low expectations of the England football team perversely got my hopes up.  I blame David Beckham too.  I was quite happily ignoring all the build up to Brazil until his journey of self-discovery  up the Amazon, and  who could resist a  beautiful man bearing his soul as he exposed that H&M underwear model bod.  Well I am only human.

So I was in, I couldn’t get enough of the stories from the Favelas.  Of the mum Rosie who provided so much love and fun for her children whilst living on the rubbish dump that also the workplace.   I was very humbled by the simple easter egg hunt of hens’ eggs wrapped in  old newspaper she created that resulted in unmistakable glee from her children.   Despite living in abject poverty their smiles lit up the screen when describing the game and the full belly from the feast afterwards.  It is easy to generalise but we seem to dissatisfied so easily by our lot in the first world. Spoilt in fact.  Each of us little emperors stamping our foot when the smallest whims don’t go in our favour.

I had paid such scant attention to the World Cup this year I found myself on the wrong side of the politics too.  An expression on Facebook of my mounting excitement found me told in no uncertain terms that this World Cup was an abomination to the poor of Brazil who couldn’t eat a football to survive.  A quick lesson via very funny British comedian (but on US tv)  outlining everything that was wrong with Fifa soon put me straight.

I do wonder how Fifa can get away with it, especially the Budweiser Bill.  It does all look “a bit arrogant”  Fifa official.

But despite all of this, the night of the first England match I was football crazy again.   The previous matches had been so exciting, so full of drama and goals I was getting lured in. Brazil, Mexico, Holland, Spain, France, Ivory Coast.  Every night  a mouth-watering prospect that didn’t disappoint.  N and I had been faithfully completing the wall chart.    Already I couldn’t imagine a night without a game.  I certainly didn’t want to miss a minute of our first match even at 11.00 on a Saturday  night.  My  expectations were low but in my heart, well before that first whistle anyhow, my hopes were flying high.

Surely  Roy’s young team would rise the occasion and do us proud.

So we lost the first match.  This is England, we like to make things difficult for ourselves don’t we?  We could come back from this defeat.  We had played well, we were just lucky and it was with these thoughts I prepared to watch the match with the children.  H has been enjoying watching football more and I had been sharing with him my wealth of knowledge which was mainly watching One night in Turin the superb documentary about our glorious campaign in Italia 90.  That tournament had started uncertainly too. Everything was going to be ok.    H & N were excited.  We had put a flag up both in the car and the house.  N was flag-waving during the national anthem, which I was singing lustily.  My children had the football bug, and I had encouraged and delighted in it and we were in for a fun happy night.

Well you know how it goes.  Lost again.  My son shouting at tv… Ref Ref how can you not see that as the Uruguay player stuck his arm at Sterling’s windpipe… These Uruguay players are so dirty.   The hope of the Rooney’s equaliser, abject the despair when Suverz scored again with 5 minutes or so to the end of the match.  The desperate last minute ultimately futile English scrabbles to get another goal.  The pleading deals being offered up to an indifferent God during last minutes of injury time.  “I will not have a chocolate again this week if England scored”  The gutting blow in the heart and solar plexus when the final whistle blows.

What was I thinking?  I was used to this torture.   I was a resigned, cynical, battle hardened England (and Leeds) fan.  I knew this would be how the story would end.   But my innocent children, they knew nothing of this, they were babes in arms.  What was I thinking exposing them, nay actively encouraging them, inviting this pain into their lives.   This was a kin to letting my children watch a video nasty.  I monitor my children’s internet use.  I tried very hard to shield my children from any none-age inappropriate viewing.  Hell I have even spoken to my soon to be a teenager son about how corrosive porn would be if he was exposed to it at this tender time of his life.  As I looked at them so down beat and dismayed I felt like I had ensnared them like the most diabolical drug dealer pushing a narcotic high that lasted for the first 20 minutes then would condemn the user to a life of never ending misery.

WHAT WAS  I THINKING?   I had wept for days when my favourite tennis player had been knocked out of Wimbledon at the same age.

I tried to show them the picture of distraught Gerrard being comforted by Suarez after the match as the true message from the game.  As history will attest, Suarez and his teeth has been somewhat discredited since that gesture of good sportmanship.   But it turns out that either my children weren’t quite so involved as I thought during the game, or had already an inbuilt immune system to England losing,  or they were much more resilient that I was at their age.  And now for the first time time since England went home so anonymously  I felt happy that I hadn’t shattered my children’s innocence.    Now then, all I need to know, who is the team to support for the rest of the tournament, Brazil or Germany?


The Egg is Already Broken – Week Two Mum Solo*

Well she didn’t win the Easter Bonnet competition at the KS1 Easter Disco.  The disco  that  does its very best to recreates Hell on Earth.  Walking into the School Hall  is an assault to every sense.   Normally it is scene of assemblies and children sat neatly in rows whilst a class shows their work and speaks in gentle, slightly hesitant voices.  Now you are temporarily deafened, blinded and crashed into by a sensatory deprived, sugar overloaded  wannabe  Clark Kent doing all the actions to the Superman song.    Every time and then immediately  I always think why did I rush away from work on the dot of 5?  I could have worked late and missed all of this.  Especially when the Silly Brothers play exactly the same songs in the same order, with the same actions.  I don’t know how they stand it.  I can’t cope with it three times a year.

N is dancing away, Easter Bonnet proudly on display.  A quick scan around, there are not too many other bonnets, she might actually be in with a chance.  But after the limbo and the unclean version of Blurred Lines (is it  an appropriate song  to play at a disco aimed at the Under 8s?  Blurred Lines indeed.  Even N said mummy there are swear words in this) it was the competition.  They all lined up and would you believe it the winning hat was whipped out at the last moment and yes guess what.  Won again.  It was all too much for N,  there were tears.  Quite a lot of tears unfortunately and rather surprisingly.  Tears that only a packet of Ready Salted crisps and a 10 p chew could assuage.  I had never been so grateful to hear the opening strains of McFly’s “It’s all about you.”  The sonic cue all parents have been waiting for.  You could feel the sigh of collective relief.   The  finishing line was in sight, only the foam  to endure  and we would be out of there.  As I watched the children dancing ecstatically, arms aloft in the white bubbles I wonder what my younger Ibizan going  self would make of the scene.  That those early Foam Parties that were so symbolic of hedonism on the White Isle would have end up on suburban toddlers and tweenies jumping up up and down covered in the stuff once a term.

A lovely friend had recommended a Tour De France motif for the hat this year.  Which was genius and we tried but we hadn’t left ourselves enough time after decorating the egg.   Yes a job that normally Paul would have helped with the kids.  Last year they did Shegglock Holmes (complete with mini pipe.. how is that even possible?) and Jeggward.    I am not artistic.  My art teacher, Mr Dowell said very archly I would be no loss to the art world when I told him I was not doing Art O’level.  In fact when I reread his comments on my report a couple of years ago they were so horrible they made me cry!.    So helping Nina create an egg to take to school for the Barnardos’ challenge was making me quite nervous and making me feel very Mum Solo*.  Of course I needn’t have worried.  Nina did it all herself and it was really rather lovely



Next morning Jessie Jegg was still standing.  It was a miracle.  We just had to get her to school and displayed.   N was allowed into to office and plonked Jessie right in the middle of the table.  Instantly  I saw  the problem.  We were balancing an egg on top of a loo roll covered in glitterly card, on top of an upturned Chinese takeaway box covered in tissue.  What could possibly go wrong?  I tried to influence N into placing Jessie Jegg in another safer more protected spot.  She was having none of it.  So there Jessie Jegg stood, proud as punch in the middle, looking as vulnerable as images of the Twin Towers look to me now when I see photos of them still standing in Lower Manhattan pre 9/11.

I had to get to work, so I had to leave, full of anxiety that Jessie Jegg wouldn’t last 5 minutes.  Arrgghh.. but then I remembered watching The Middle ( a  US comedy portraying the day to day of family life.  It is very funny and unnervingly accurate, click on the link above to watch a clip).  Well Brick the youngest child suffers from anxiety and after being plagued one episode with a raft of irrational fears he find solace in the Buddhist philosophy that (in his case) the vase was already broken.  Accepting that the vase would eventually break one day  allowed him to enjoy it now, freeing  him of the obsessive worries of keeping it safe and protected from damage.   Well it made perfect sense to me too.  I just imagined that Jessie Jegg was like Humpty Dumpty (hey that could be great idea for next year!) and instantly I felt better.

When I got to the Disco, Jessie Jegg had actually made it through in one piece, hurray, but N didn’t win that competition either.  Boo!  Still it is all about the taking part that counts isn’t it? I am already getting the hang of thinking like the Dalai Lama.  Very Zen.


Smooth Radio have aired a TV commercial and I thought some of you might like to see it.     Just to give you an idea who Paul works for now.  Oh and for some of you there is the big attraction of a certain smoothie,  Mr Buble.


*Monday to Friday


There is GIN in engine – Week One of Mum Solo*

Well this has been quite a week.

On the up

Feeling strong, capable and confident.  I actually felt like a grown up this week (and I rather liked it!).  Being mum solo*  was really quite empowering.  The kids were great, we got to school on time every  day AND without forgetting anything (except Nina’s French book on Monday).    It was a little strange at first but I soon got into the swing of things.

My babysitter.  She was put to good use this week as Harry and I had tickets to see the mind -bendingly, jaw-droppingly brilliant Derren Brown at the Grand Theatre in Leeds on Tuesday.   Followed by my sister and I having tickets for Franz Ferdinand at the O2 Academy on Wednesday.  They were equally as brilliant, fast, funky, fabulous beats and infectious, sexy lyrics.  We loved it and danced all night.   My babysitter says she is happy to work as she wants shoes.. at this rate she is going the next Imelda Marcos!

Nina’s spellings.  She got 7 out of 8 this week, which I thought was a staggeringly good result when she had to learn Stephenson and Trevithick amongst others.  I can’t even pronounce Trevithick!  She thought that Brunel was funny as it had “Bru” as in brew, “Like last week mummy, there was Gin in engine”  Honestly I don’t know where she gets it from!

My friends.  Thank you so much for all the amazing words and messages of support after last week’s blog.  I was really rather overwhelmed.  Plus I had friends looking after H&N on the strike day (thank you Angie), for parents evening on Thursday (thank you Sonja) and picking up from Ukulele and gymnastics (thank you so much Ian and Sarah).  I really really couldn’t manage without you and I am very grateful!

And on the down.

Sunday evenings.  I have only got used to Paul being back in the house and he is off again.  These weekends are not long enough.  Who ever made up the 5 day work 2 day off rule needs a serious talking to.  What were they thinking?

Margaritas.   Move over tequila there is a new  party spirit in town.  Cachaca a rum made from Sugarcane juice  and is the main ingredient in Caipirinhas, the Brazilian national drink.  My neighbour makes a mean one as I discovered last night at our Baby Group 12 year reunion.  Caipirinhas roughly translated means Country Bumpkin which is a bit how I felt this morning.

Hangovers on Mothers Day. See above.  Although being woken up by the sound of  grumpy preteen boy wrapping your present and throwing it at you makes for an original start to the day!

So all in all a great week, now just to do it all again next week.  Highlights to look forward include taking the kids on a night out with (my) school raising funds for the minibus appeal (by eating curry, this is my kind of charity work!), and the end of term Key Stage 1 disco with the dreaded Easter Bonnet competition.  Nina swears the exact same hat has won every year for the past three years. So any ideas for a competition winning headgear will be gratefully received.   Oh and then there is small matter of breaking up for the holidays on Friday.  Bring it on!

*Monday to Fridays


Mum Solo

Paul has just left. For his first week in Nottingham. Of course it is fabulous that he has another job and one that segue-ways so neatly from his previous one. (Actually last week was manic as the two overlapped). Especially after my last blog finally admitted just how terrified I was about his impending redundancy.

I am going to try and chronicle the trails and tribulations of being Mum Solo during the week. Being mum and dad Monday to Friday to a son in high school and a daughter in primary school whilst holding down a full time job. I am sure there were will be some amazing benefits but right now I wasn’t expecting to feel so sad. Even Nina who is not one given to showing any sort of affection to a member of her family (if you imagine the behaviour of a very aloof cat you might get some idea) came out to wave her dad off into the night unbidden.

I am going to try and take each day as it comes. Not to allow these feelings of terror to overwhelm me. I remind myself that I really can do this and try not to think too much about how empty the house feels. For a man of few words I am surprised how silent things feel right now. I will let you know how many times I accidently make him a cup of tea this week.



We all can

We all can


It is fair to say I have been a bit in the doldrums recently, hence the lack of bloggage. Overworked, underpaid, with a husband about to lose his job. I had overspent AND overeaten at Christmas, and the lack of pounds in my purse combined with the extra pounds round my waist were weighing on me heavily.    Life had turned into an eternal, infernal Groundhog Day of getting up, making packed lunches, going to work, coming home again, making dinner, helping the kids with their homework and finally collapsing into bed exhausted to do it all again the next day.  Even a trip to the cinema to see 12 Years a Slave left me traumatised the next day such was was the brutality depicted on the screen.  Plus I had had a article published in a magazine.  This should be a moment of great joy, but I haven’t been commissioned for a second piece, so the bad feelings of rejection have greatly overtaken the ones of satisfaction of achieving a goal.  For the first time since starting my blog I really wondered if  I should ever put pen to paper again.  On top of all this my mother-in-law has been suffering from an acute attack of mental illness due to anxiety.  I have been powerless to help, and knowing she is feeling so bad doesn’t make you feel too good about yourself either.

So yes I was feeling very sorry for myself.  Worrying about the future, especially about money, the future  felt doomed.  A massive black hole with an unavoidable event horizon.  An empty bank account which would lead to a loss of home.    I have been driving my work colleagues crazy I was being such a misery, but I really couldn’t see anything to look forward to.  My sister is getting married in April and all I could think is how the hell are we going to afford the hotel room if Paul doesn’t have a job?

By Tuesday night I was at my wits end.  Paul had been given his finishing date, the end of March.  A long, laborious task at work was proving to be even longer and more laborious  than cleaning Buckingham Palace from top to bottom with a toothbrush, by yourself in a day.  With an impossible time deadline I was feeling more dispirited than the Russian responsible for the fifth snowflake misfunction at the Sochi Opening Ceremony must have felt when they looked at the media coverage for the event.  You know you have work load issues when you are worried about how little time you have left until the weekend on Tuesday don’t you!

A good night’s sleep helped, so did the team talk with myself.  Best foot forward I thought.  Little did I know I was about to walk into a life changing experience as I travelled down the corridor  to have my lunch.

I work in a school and our Year 10s were having an extra special assembly with a motivational speaker.  I was following the stragglers and just asked if I could listen during my lunchtime.  It is on these seemingly inconsequential moments our lives pivot isn’t it?

The speaker was Richard McCann.  A wiry ginger shot of adrenaline and positivity.  He held the  240 odd teenagers in his spell with his story.  Just before his 6th birthday he was the youngest child of the Yorkshire Ripper’s first victim.  It was only a twist of fate that stopped him and his sister discovering her brutally attacked body.  His life before and after that event hadn’t been a picnic either, in foster homes, on the at risk register, physically abused by his “feckless orge” of a father (Social Services description at the time).  A man who drown the family pet in bath when the dog was annoying him.  Richard, understandably grew into angry young man and his life took the familiar path of destruction including a spell in prison before he found his way.

At school an English teacher had spotted his talent for communication and got him to entry a speaking competition.  As Richard said he had never don’t this before, but he thought well why don’t I have a go.  I can do it.  He said it was that first ray of positivity in his life that a boy in second hand clothes, a boy who had to endure the comments and curiosities of the playground about who he was and who his mother had been, could stand up in front of the class, and not only speak but win the competition.

He realised that something good can come out of everything.  Because of his experiences he helps other victims’ families to overcome of the pain of losing their cherished ones in horrorific circumstances.  That even being the child whose mother was murdered by a serial killer can be a gift because you can use that experience to help others.

The cliche is that your eureka moments are like a thunderbolt hitting you.  I can confirm this to be no cliche.  It was like my whole being was cleaved in two I thought about the magnitude of that statement.  If this man can turn the most unimaginably horrendous events around in his life, I can bloody well cope with my lot.    You can do anything you want to do with the right attitude.  You overcome anything life throws at you with a positive outlook.  All at once I could feel energy rising in me, I felt the ability to deal with all my (seemingly very minor ) problems.

I went home buzzing and excitedly explained to the family  how we lived in a Can Do house.  Everything seemed so much easier, opportunities seemed to spring up waiting to be delved into.  At school the next day students were in a similar frame of mind. Inspired to achieve.   Instantly I wanted to write again because I felt I had something of value to say.

It is very hard to convey just how powerful Richard’s speech is.   I urge you to read one of his books and if you ever get the chance to hear him speak seize it with both hands.   He is  speaking again in Leeds on 6th June, I think it is too good an opportunity to anyone to miss.





As the final treat of the Christmas Holidays I took my 12 year old son and my 7 year old daughter to see the new Disney animation Frozen.

The trailer gave no clues to the story, the comical snowman and the hungry reindeer competing for the carrot over a frozen lake.  However did transpire was a sumptuous piece of animation.  The story of two sisters, Elsa and Anna, princesses living in a far away kingdom, who had to deal with the devastating side effects of  the elder girl, Elsa’s powers.  With the merely touch of her fingers she was able to conjure up snow and ice.  The trouble was she was unable control it and after a playful game getting out of hand, little Anna was nearly killed.  The parents’ way of preventing this ever happening again was to keep  the girls safe by isolating them from the world and each other

The story then evolved into a quest for one girl’s love and devotion to save her sister from a life of misunderstanding and loneliness.

It was great to watch a Disney film with two strong female main characters, and although there was much talk of the redemptive qualities of an act of true love, the denouement was not a romantic act (I will say no more in case you haven’t seen it).  I applaud Disney for continuing to debunk the damsel in distress myth.  That all a girl needs for a happy ever after is to marry her Prince.  It probably takes quite a bit of pressure off the boys too!

I knew that the film was loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Snow Queen, and as I loved his stories as a child, even though I was unfamiliar with this one, I thought it would make a great bed time story for my daughter that evening.

As we read together the story of the Kai and Gerda it was instantly apparent the film bore scant resemblance to Mr Anderson’s story.  In his, the Snow Queen was shadowy malignant figure that entranced Peter and led him away.  She was more like a wicked female Jack Frost.  I could see parallels to the spirit characters of folklore and I could see that C S Lewis’ White Witch borne many of her icy hallmarks, enticing Edmund with her glacial stare and her Turkish Delight.

The story was much less sentimental, much less feel good,  a fairy tale with a darker seam. I know this is nothing new from Cinderella to The Little Mermaid, modern versions of fairytales have been revised and sanitised .  Every edition made happy and brighter as not to alarm and frighten children.

When I first visited Amsterdam I left with two deep impressions, (apart from the beauty of the Van Gogh Museum and the horror of the Anne Frank house, and of course just how all the canals look alike in the dark.. I digress).  We walked along the red light district and I saw the girls in the windows, ordinary women, not tanned, not super fit, not beautiful and definitely not sexy in my view of sexy.  All I could think is why don’t they look like Julia Roberts in Pretty Women? I mean to my 20 something self that is what a sex worker looked like.    The tart with a heart of gold.  A long  way further down the canal I realised that it is Hollywood who is painting the false picture.  The women who are selling their bodies for sex do not have the wherewithal or the resources for even the most basic health and beauty regimes.

The next day I was in the Dutch equivalent of Habitat, it might even have been Habitat.  It was desirable interiors a-go-go and like in Habitat there was a section for those cool toys that are featured in weekend supplements, but you never see in children’s arms.  What I did notice that all the cuddly toys were bears and such like and they all had teeth and claws.  Albeit felt ones but they were still there.  That they hadn’t been airbrushed out of existence.  That children grew up knowing these animals, even in the soft toy form, were able to hunt and kill.

What is the cost to our children to all this lightening up of stories?  In a sentence that will probably make Nigel Farage spit out his pint, is the European way the right one?  Have we protected our children so much from the bad things in life we have made the world look unrealistically cosy, too friendly and perfect?   A world they will not be able to replicate in adulthood, ultimately leading to a life of disappointments as they try to live up to the fairytale.   In protecting their childhoods from any darkness have we damaged them by not realistically preparing them for how the world really is?  Mostly wonderful but inevitably  with bumps and swerves in the road that have to be endured and survived.  That no one can rescue you but yourself.  Frozen went some way to getting the message to our daughters but in these hyperpink worlds we are creating for them to live in, there is still much more work to be done.