Monday, 2 December 2013

Hands off my phone!

Dolly's Instagram photo
Recently I have been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster due to family members borrowing my phone. My beloved phone.

First off was Tom who, while eating apple cake and custard the other night, inexplicably asked to look at it.

He never looks at my phone, even when I want him to, so I can only assume that he purposefully borrowed it in order to drop it into his custard (though he claimed later that it was an accident). 

I scooped my terrified phone out of the custard and ran into the bathroom, where I sucked the custard out of the charging sockets and speaker holes – basically performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Fortunately my emergency response was effective and my phone still worked. 

Then the other night it got borrowed again. When I checked my Instagram account the next morning, I noticed a very arty picture of the bedroom that I didn’t remember taking. Intrigued, I scrolled down and there was another picture, this time a nicely-framed shot of Dolly’s rabbit comforter, and I realised who the mystery photographer was. 

Somehow, my four-year-old daughter had taken two photos with my phone and uploaded them to my Instagram account. She’d even added a frame and an effect to one of the photos (above).

The pictures proved to be popular and they gained several likes, and Dolly even netted me a few extra followers too.  No disrespect to Dolly, but it does make one wonder about the judgement of some of my followers...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

No to the Cream Horn (poem)

Cream horn, cream horn, why are you so bleak?
You think your cream's fantastic, and your cone is really neat
With your faux-French style you believe that you're the best
But every time I see you I start to get depressed.

You make me sigh so much, you're not even a proper cake:
Your pastry's made from cardboard and your cream is clearly fake.
Everything about you is either dismal or synthetic -
What you need to understand is that, to me, you are pathetic.

Some might mourn the disappearance of this old-school confection;
Though you can be found in market towns too destitute to mention,
It was so long since I'd seen you that I thought that you were dead;
But one awful day I noticed you on 2 for 1 in Greggs.

From now on when I see you I'll be sure to cross the road,
And warn the shoppers round me to beware your creamy load.
You think you're like an ice cream, a sweet treat for the thrifty
You should go back to where you came from, back to 1950.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Letter to Grandma

This is an open letter to my grandmother, who sadly passed away three weeks ago today.

Dear Grandma

My amazing grandmother
Your great granddaughters, Betty and Dolly, are missing you so much. I am too. Dolly has cried a lot and keeps asking to see photos - there are many with you two gazing adoringly at each other. You both had a very special bond, and I know that the fact you always called her a 'little bugger' was a term of great affection.

Betty is showing her grief in a different way and is trying to be brave. She is concentrating on comforting her little sister. But just before bed the other night, I saw her thoughtfully looking at the candle we have had burning for you, and close to tears, she quietly said 'goodbye grandma.' It broke my heart. You two were also very close - you and granddad were her first visitors at the hospital when she was born, after all. And you both admirably braved the snow and ice to attend her first birthday.

Both girls always loved coming to visit you. And when we'd arrive you would always have a duster in your hand and the ironing board out, and needless to say, your house was spotless. This made me feel very nervous with two small children in tow. And while I was almost blowing a gasket, I was always amazed at how calm you appeared when the girls dropped cake crumbs throughout your house and then trod them into the carpet, and smeared chocolate into the cushions, and left jam fingerprints on the wall. But you always put me at my ease and refused to let me get the vacuum cleaner out. And then off we'd go, laden with Dolly Mixtures and Turkish Delight in the pink boxes, and you'd tell me off for having a filthy car. I would love to know what you did after we left - I am guessing you were up til midnight straightening things out. As granddad always said: 'If I had a brass button on my bottom she'd polish it.'

Grandma, you were truly brilliant... when I think of you...

I think of the lady who made the most perfect Victoria sandwich, and the best roast dinners. I had my first taste of sherry at your house, while you and mum were having a tipple before our roast lamb one day. And after lunch you and I would sit down and excitedly swap our Mills and Boon books with each other. We would talk about our favourite bits, and you would tell me about Rock Hudson. I think I was about eight at the time, and thought you were so cool. And my Sindys were the most well kitted out dolls in the history of mankind, thanks to you.

The speed at which you would knit while watching the telly was incredible, and you'd stay up all night knitting yourself a cardigan because you wanted to wear it the next day. You once knitted me a school jumper which wasn't quite the regulation shade of bottle green - at first I was mortified about having to wear it, but grew to love it in the end.

You had a wicked sense of humour, and we would heartily cackle together about the same things. You always looked immaculate, and were Marks and Spencer's best customer. You were fiercely independent, still cleaning your windows and weeding between your paving stones at 93.

You loved sunbathing, and your figurines, and yellow primroses, and Princess Diana, and Corrie, and you pretended to love cBeebies (for the sake of my children). You got me hooked on Viennetta and mint jelly. You made truly magnificent trifles and mince pies, and regularly force fed me angel cake, but you were a painfully fussy eater, often taking your own cheese sandwiches if we went out for lunch.

You often remarked on how much Tom looks like Elvis and how I'd got myself a real catch. And you completely adored and doted on Betty and Dolly. And you always asked after my mum who I know you were very close to. When you last saw her your smile lit up the room.

You were an amazing, funny, kind, loving lady and you touched us all. We all love you so much, and I am so glad that you and I held each other tightly not so long ago and told each other so.

You were such a big and important part of our lives, and you will be sorely missed. We send love, light and happiness to you always.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Things I hate about Christmas

a depressing Christmas scene
I am listing below my grievances related to the ever-expanding festive period:
  • Mince pies being sold in September, with a best before date of 25th October (two whole months before the big day itself).
  • People who buy mince pies in September, eat them, and remark on how festive they are feeling.
  • Shop-bought nativity costumes - tea towels, old sheets, tinsel, and dressing gowns are what nativities are all about, not spending a small fortune on an elaborate sheep costume in Sainsbury's.
  • Fake Santas - I have never seen a convincing Santa in a grotto. So when your child meets a skinny man (sometimes woman) dressed in red and wearing trainers, with no charisma, a blonde ponytail sticking out from under a cheap synthetic wig, who then hands them a crap present (which you've paid £5 for), it makes them ask a lot of questions, and completely shatters the magic.
  • Christmas cards - writing and sending cards is both time consuming and expensive. If you want to write a heartfelt festive letter (or email) to dear friends and family telling them of your news, then that's lovely. But merely scrawling your name on a tasteless M&S card and sending it to someone that you see every day, or haven't seen for thirty years come to that, just for the sake of it, is totally pointless. I realise I now won't receive any Christmas cards this year and I'll have to buy a load to send to myself from imaginary people otherwise my house will look bare and people will ask awkward questions.
  • Unwanted presents - my house is already filled to the brim with crap that I don't know what to do with, so I would really prefer not to add to it. So please think before you buy me that mini food processor (intended for a family of one) - will I actually find a use for it? Or will it kick around in the back of the cupboard, taking up valuable space while housing a few mice, before I feel an acceptable period of time has passed when I can cart it off to the charity shop?
  • The giant inflatable Father Christmas that pops up outside the garden centre on the way into Hereford, in mid October. Every time we drive past it, it has either deflated and lies in an ugly, muddy, depressing heap on the ground, or the looming monstrosity gets the children really excited because they think Christmas is just around the corner.
  • Christmas trees that start appearing in the windows of houses in November - I genuinely don't understand how the owners don't get sick of the sight of them - all those baubles, and gaudy tinsel.
  • And even worse, Christmas trees that are still up in February.
  • Receiving emails that are signed off with 'Wishing you a very happy Christmas' from the beginning of November.
  • Christmas shoppers in the January sales.
  • The question 'What are you doing for Christmas?' asked in July.
  • Feeling obliged to put on two stone.

I might sound like a miserable old cow, but these things really get me down. I absolutely LOVE Christmas. I love taking the kids to the nativity service in Hereford cathedral on Christmas Eve, marvelling at the Christmas lights on Regent Street, buying them little stocking fillers that I know will make them chortle, making the Christmas pudding and sipping on mulled wine, seeing the kids with tea towels strapped to their heads, watching their little faces as they discover the presents under the tree, making decorations, eating pigs in blankets, singing carols around the piano, lighting the advent candle, leaving Father Christmas a glass of sherry and a satsuma, and playing with new toys and games. But for us, none of this takes place until we are well and truly into December.

So I really resent the fact that all around us, Christmas now seems to take up 25% of the entire year. Apart from anything else it gets in the way of my Easter preparations, which I like to begin in August.

Photo source: flickr/Po'Jay

Monday, 18 November 2013

Birthday/rugby mania, and Betty's big day

After a six month countdown, and a weekend of birthday treats and celebrations, Betty finally turned seven today! 

She was gutted that she had to go to school on her birthday. But as I packed her off this morning with the 24 cupcakes for her class, I was secretly relieved to be having a few hours' respite from birthday mania.

On Saturday we took the girls ice-skating at the Winter Wonderland in Cardiff. We thought it would be fun to take the train, until we realised that there was a major rugby match taking place at the Millennium Stadium later that day. The train was jam-packed, and we were told that unless we got the 3.55pm train back again, we would have little chance of getting home.

So Betty's birthday day out took place at very high speed. We had lunch on the go, while jogging to the ice-skating rink from Cardiff Central, pushing our way through the pissed Wales supporters, and dissuading the girls from wanting a Welsh dragon tattooed on their cheek.

After an hour on the ice, being bashed in the ankles and sent flying by Dolly and her penguin support, and trying to protect Betty from a fast but out-of-control woman who seemed to be tailing us for the entire session, we hung up our skates.

Betty and I then had a quick go on a fair ride, which spun us over the rooftops of Cardiff. It was exhilarating but terrifying, and I am always amazed at Betty, who freaks out over a pimple on her knee, but is totally unfazed by being shot 60 metes into the sky on a plastic swing with her mum screaming in her ear.

We then had to race back to the station before the rugby match finished. We made it just in time, and saw just one confused rugby fan wandering up and down the platform.

Having recovered from our day trip, my next task was to start thinking about the 'amazing' Disney Princess birthday cake that Betty had requested. I enlisted Dolly's help, and yesterday we pored over photos on the internet for inspiration. Thank goodness for Pinterest, is all I can say. Three tiers (and tears), 14 eggs, and a few minor disagreements with Dolly over the design later, we were done.

Betty, I do hope you like the cake and that it meets your expectations, and is better than the cake you said you wanted from Sainsbury's just an hour after I had spent an entire day making you one at home.

Happy birthday my darling, beautiful, clever, funny girl. Your love of Disney Princesses, and astronomy, and the workings of the human body, and rainbows, and gel pens, and joined up writing, makes you very unique and brilliant indeed, and we love you very very much.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Getting lost down memory lane (in London)

Betty on the escalator 
We went on a fleeting trip to London last weekend, just for one night. I liked the idea of casually jumping in the car on a Saturday morning with our toothbrushes, and making our way there, as though it were just twenty minutes down the road. Pretending it is that easy really comforts me and helps expand my mental horizons beyond sheep and mud. 

In reality though, the journey takes four hours, the kids get bored, fight over the iPad, and punch each other, while I bark at them, Tom sighs and we eventually turn the radio up loud enough to drown them out. However, as soon as we hit the A40 traffic on the outskirts of London, and started seeing signs for the North Circular, as always, my stress levels begin to lift. 

The thick smell of car fumes, the rows of short flickering street lights near Heathrow, the old Hoover building, and picking up Magic FM on the radio... All reminders for me that we were entering one of the best cities in the world, and returning to the scene of some of my happiest memories. 

As we wove our way through the narrow streets of West London, Tom and I excitedly pointed out familiar landmarks; the house I lived in when I was 23, Tom's favourite sausage roll shop, our favourite Thai takeway, and a big tree that is still causing the pavement to erupt next to the launderette. In part the conversation was designed to demonstrate to the girls just how well their parents knew this great city, but in the back of the car Dolly had found a plastic spoon and Betty wanted it. 

These days, as soon as we get into London, I am always itching to get straight on the tube. The familiar worn blue velvety seats, the yellow sticky poles, the adverts for holidays in the countryside and perfume, and most importantly, the people. I try to imagine who they are, what exciting things they might have done that morning, and where they are going. In Hereford this game of people watching is far harder, because pretty much everywhere you go, you know everyone and where they are going. 

As an adult, traveling by tube means either staring at your book, or your nails, or trying not to get caught staring at the person sitting opposite you. Heaven forbid if you make eye contact with someone, or raise a slight smile.

With children on a tube however, it becomes a totally different experience.  People were happily offering up their seats for my girls, and chatting to them. One guy gave Dolly a hanky to wipe her nose, while someone else stopped Betty going flying as the train screeched to a halt in a station. 

And this friendliness towards children isn't just restricted to the tube. People were still friendly on the escalators, on the streets, in the shops, everywhere. 

It was also so blissful and urban, and such a contrast to the routine out here in the sticks, that I confidently strode off in completely the wrong direction when we came out of the tube station and we quickly got lost. For quite a long time I pretended to know where I was going because it was too much for my pride to look like a tourist, and I would rather have ended up in Epping Forest or Dorking than get out an A to Z, or ask for directions.

Eventually, however, Dolly started to grow suspicious (it was growing dark by then, and we could almost see fields) so Tom asked a friendly man in a hat where exactly we were. It turned out that he didn’t know either, but luckily we managed to find another tube station before too long and we piled back onto another train. 

It wasn’t quite so friendly this time and the novelty was starting to wear off a bit for Betty and Dolly. Pretty soon we were all getting upset and shouty and people were giving us looks. I wanted to turn around and say, hey, we’re not a bunch of chav hicks, I used to live next door to George Martin, but by then the bubble had burst. 

It was a lovely weekend though. Such a great place to visit, and I still sort of consider myself a Londoner even though I live miles from the smoke. London is still mine, all mine, even if I look like a clueless tourist sometimes...

Monday, 11 November 2013

Urgent Appeal: Philippines Typhoon

Save the Children have put out an urgent appeal to help families who have been affected by the devastating typhoon in the Philippines, who need urgent, life-saving supplies.

195mph winds have struck populated areas, forcing families to flee their homes, and putting lives at risk.

Please help by donating to their Philippines Typhoon Appeal.  A donation of £50 could provide four families with clean and safe water and soap for a month.

Please give what you can to help children through this terrifying time.

Competition! Fabulous Snow Play theatre tickets

Betty and Dolly building a snowman
Where we live, when we get snow it can mean being marooned for several days at a time, and I don't like it!  Pretend snow is far more civilised, which is why I am very excited about taking the girls to see Snow Play at Bloomsbury Theatre in London this December (that's if we're not snowed in).

And I have a family ticket to give away as a competition prize!

This critically acclaimed show (which first premiered at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2011) features snowball fights, snowman-building and a stage full of snowy-white fluff, as children and families are invited to take part in the action in what promises to be a uniquely interactive and engaging production.

Winter, in the form of Mr White refuses to leave when Mr Green, representing Spring, arrives back home from his holidays. Worse still, Mr White loves covering Mr Green’s house and garden with snow! As the weather gets warmer the two embark on a series of adventures, in a fun-filled snowy-showdown between the seasons. 

The show runs from 10th December to 11th January, it lasts one hour, and is suitable for 3-8 year olds.  The winner will be able to choose the date they wish to go.

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a family ticket is leave a comment at the end of this post telling us when you think we will get our first flurry of real snow this winter.

For an extra entry you can tweet:
Win a fabulous 'Snow Play' family theatre ticket with @elsiebutton at: http://bit.ly/17ZirtZ

The competition will close on Monday 25th November at 6pm when all entries will be placed into a draw and a winner picked out at random. Please remember to leave your contact details so that we are able to get in touch with you if you win. The tickets will be sent out direct from the organisers.

Good luck!
UK residents only

Friday, 8 November 2013

A seven-year-old's birthday wish list

It's Betty's seventh birthday in just over a week, and boy don't we know it.  She has been doing a countdown since May, and every single day informs us of how many days there are to go.  I just hope that when the big day arrives it's not going to be a massive anti-climax - I am seriously feeling the pressure right now.

While browsing the aisles in Sainsbury's yesterday, I had a little moment of nostalgia.  Those days of her being over the moon at receiving a sticker book, or a pot of glitter from a supermarket are long gone.  Having said this, I do take heart in the fact that she has requested a couple of surprisingly simple (cheap!) items this year.

Here is Betty's birthday wish list (at the time of going to press, anyway):
  • Ruby Ducks printed dress - as readers of this blog know, Betty loves her duck, probably even more than she loves us - so for her this dress is PERFECT.
  • Pink 'grown-up' camera - for the last few months she has been using an old camera of mine, which has a big crack across the screen - but she has demonstrated her love of picture taking, and is actually quite good.
  • Gel Pens - the girl is obsessed with gel pens.

Thanks to Joules for sponsoring this post! 

Monday, 4 November 2013

I broke Gove's rule, and my children benefited


We recently went on holiday to Mallorca, and to save ourselves a heck of a lot of money, we went three days before the girls broke up for half-term.

The delightful Michael Gove says that by taking your kids out of school for a few days during term-time for a family holiday will harm their education.  And so he has imposed a ridiculous new rule on us. Bollocks!

For the sake of missing a few days from school, my children were exposed to a whole wealth of new experiences - which they would never be able to get at school.

It was the first time we've been abroad as a family, and everything was new.  My girls experienced an airport for the very first time.  They learnt about aviation, and had the thrill of taking off into the sky and being above the clouds. They saw a bizarre circular rainbow. They got to go into the cockpit, and meet a real life (extremely handsome) pilot. They got to see almost the entire length of England and France from above - the millions of green fields and 'toy houses', and the Pyrenees, and the boats on the English Channel. And then they had the thrill of sucking lots of sweets, popping their ears, and landing in a different country. They marvelled at the hot weather, seeing real palm trees and giant cacti, swimming in a warm sea, and having massive grasshoppers crawl up their arms. They learnt how to expertly peel a prawn, and they got to speak proper Spanish, and drink Fanta (and watch mummy drinking Piña Coladas). They saw magnificent cathedrals, quaint Spanish villages, donkeys, beautiful pink flowers, incredible street entertainment, and Dolly got to meet Mickey Mouse. They got to splash around in an outdoor pool without getting frostbite, play on lilos, and greatly improve their swimming and ball skills. They got excited about the hotel lift and took it in turns to press the buttons. They experienced a crazy electric storm and flooding on the streets, and a terrifying drive along a windy and steep mountain road. They learnt about a different culture, the people, the food, the language, the plant and animal life, the time difference, and driving on the wrong side of the road. 

And as a family we had a very important and happy and relaxed time together.

So, Mr Gove, if you think there's a more educational and wholesome way to spend a few days, I'd like to hear it... 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

An Autumnal Scavenger Hunt

This fun scavenger hunt was supplied by Center Parcs - happy hunting!

With winter approaching faster than any of us would like, it is important that we get out and enjoy the autumnal weather. Autumn is a magical season of tonal changes and brusque walks. Admit it, there are few greater pleasures than wading knee deep in a pile of leaves, and I don’t care how old you are. It’s a season of great diversity and colour and lends itself to scavenger hunts set up for children. Be it in your garden, local park or as you set out on an autumn break, Center Parcs have designed a scavenger hunt for your child to enjoy with their friends. 

The Rules
  • Write down a list of things likely to be found in your garden/park. (We’ve started you off with a few examples below)
  • Give one to each child, along with a bag to carry their autumnal treasures
  • Explain that they need to find these items in an allotted amount of time 
  • Call them back 5 minutes before you stop the clock so you can see what they have found and give them a score
  • More points are awarded for rarity/difficulty to find. The winner is the one who found the rarest items.
An Example List of Scavenger’s autumn treasure
  • 1 point (least rare) – A yellow leaf
  • 2 points – An orange leaf
  • 3 points – A red leaf
  • 4 points – A twig with moss on it
  • 5 points – A squirrel
  • 6 points – An evergreen leaf
  • 7 points – A pigeon feather
  • 8 points – A pine cone
  • 9 points – A conker
  • 10 points (most rare) – An acorn
  • 50 points (extremely rare) – A hedgehog (remember to leave the hedgehog where he is, he doesn’t like being woken up!)

This is a great way to get the children out the house and into the great outdoors. With winter fast approaching it’s important to get them out in nature, break the rule of television and teach them about our indigenous wildlife. This game will entertain and exercise your children and their friends as they are challenged to find the most items. What inventive ways have you thought of getting your children outside and, most importantly, enjoying it? 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Holidaying abroad - will it be worth it in the end?

With two days left of our Welsh holiday this summer, I was cooped up in Merlin's soft play centre just off the Haverfordwest bypass, with rain lashing down outside, children sweaty and hyperactive, and I took advantage of the free wifi to look at holidays in the sun for next summer.

Five minutes later, quite unexpectedly, I had actually booked a holiday, and not for next summer, but for the next half-term holiday.

For admirable but annoying environmental reasons, Tom hasn't allowed us to leave the country (by aeroplane at least) for seven years.  So these were the hasty actions of a woman on the edge - an environmental rebel.  And in just two months' time we would be leaving on a jet plane!

I then had to break the news to Tom, who was at that moment squeezing through a tunnel  full of dirty coloured balls, five metres above my head, being jeered at by a bunch of eight year olds, while in pursuit of Dolly.

Once he was safely back down on ground level and drinking a Fruit Shoot, I nervously told him that I had just booked us all a holiday to Mallorca.

He took it surprisingly well, after all, I had spent a few rainy summers regularly pointing out the unfairness of inflicting his self-denying principle on the rest of us - plus I think the Fruit Shoot had gone to his head, and he would have agreed to anything.

So we leave this Wednesday, and now I feel like my head is going to explode with all the things that I've got to do, coupled with the worry that Gove might fine us for daring to take our kids out of school for a couple of days.

International travel - and school rules, come to that - and the passport application process, thinking about it - have all changed a lot in seven years, particularly when you opt to fly with a budget airline. Gone are the days when you would simply book your holiday and get sent a ticket in the post, and pack whatever the heck sized bag you wanted with virtually anything in it.

You now have to do EVERYTHING yourself.  They don't even check you in at the airport any more - you have to do it online and print your own boarding passes, insurance documents, flight confirmation, car hire vouchers, accommodation vouchers, car parking vouchers, toilet vouchers... I'm half expecting that we're going to have to fly the bloody plane as well.

You seriously need to have your wits about you, particularly if you are taking hand luggage only.  In hindsight we should have paid the extra £60 to have a much larger suitcase in the hold, but I couldn't get over the fact that it would have cost more for my suitcase to travel than for me - so we're stuck with these miniature bags.

I've spent most of the day worrying about things like making sure all finger and toe nails are cut (no scissors allowed on flight), finding a lightweight hand bag that I can squash into my mini suitcase, buying zipped 20cm x 20cm freezer bags (heaven forbid if the bag doesn't have a zip) and tiny shampoo and toothpaste, and powdered Calpol. The whole experience is an uncomfortable mixture of irritating and surreal.

We're going to look like a family of fat giants, wearing dozens of layers of clothes at the airport (in order to keep below the 10kg weight restrictions on the bags) and carrying our tiny bags.

And there's a good chance we are going to have a really smelly week with one towel and a tiny bottle of shampoo for the whole family, plus Tom and I have no choice but to share a deodorant.  Honestly, anyone would think that they don't want us to leave the country.

Still, the excitement of digging out sun hats and flip flops, and the smell of the sun cream as I squeeze it into several 100ml plastic bottles from Primark, on this dark and wet October afternoon in Blighty, is almost too much for me.

As long as the sun shines, it will be worth it. I just hope we don't spend the week hankering after our old and trusted (and logistically straightforward) friend, Wales.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

My musical career hangs in the balance...

Tom is on guitar
My husband Tom is a very talented musician, and he plays guitar and keyboard (sometimes simultaneously) in a band. 

The band is mainly made up of other dads from Betty and Dolly's school, who are also very talented. And I am their self-appointed manager, because it makes me sound important and musical.

However, I know absolutely nothing about music, apart from that I like anything produced in the eighties/early nineties ... and James Blunt (although Tom has told me that I should never admit to this). 

Despite not having a musical bone in my body, I did write them a song once.  But this came about because I told them that all their songs were quite depressing and dark, and so they told me to go off and write them a happy song. 

I very quickly realised that writing about turmoil and tragedy is much easier, and my song turned out to be the most depressing of all. They were kind enough to put some music to it and they even performed it a couple of times in the early days, once in my sitting room, and once at the school fete. 

Being their manager involves listening to them rehearse in my sitting room every Tuesday night, drinking beer, throwing the odd wasabi pea their way, updating their Facebook and Twitter pages, and animatedly mouthing along to the songs, while fantasising that I am actually the lead singer. 

I once told them that I love singing, but that I am totally tone deaf. At that time they were desperate for a female singer, and so told me that anyone can sing with a bit of practice, and persuaded me to give it a shot. So after half a bottle of wine, I had a go at singing along.  I was never invited to sing with them again. 

But recently they set me the task of getting them a gig.  And after an awkward conversation with a pub landlord about what sort of band they were (I didn't know), I managed to get them a gig in a tapas bar.

And it turned out to be a great success, and I of course tried to take all the credit.  Now feeling like I had earned my title of manager, at the end of the night while they were packing up, I went and sat with them, and said: 

'So guys, how do you think it went?' And 'What do you think you could have done better?'

I then congratulated them, and gave them each a high five. Tom later said I sounded like a football manager doing a post-match debrief in the changing rooms.

Anyway since that night, the band seem to be taking me a little more seriously. And I am now even getting copied in on their email conversations about recording dates, and future gigs, and needing a new drummer.... so, if you know of anyone...

What will tomorrow look like?

This year h.Energy linked up with the Big Draw 2013, and invited passers-by to 'draw tomorrow' ... what will our homes look like, our clothes, our communities .. what sort of food will we eat, how will we travel. 

These are the drawings that children made, and animated there and then, in the h.Energy Marketplace in Hereford High Town - with the expert help of prize-winning eco-film maker Anita Sancha

Please take a look - it's brilliant!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: help save lives

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, and every month 1000 women die from the disease.  I know quite a few ladies who have been diagnosed, and undergone treatment, and mastectomies, and reconstructive surgery, and one amazing lady who died.

I am terrified of getting breast cancer, so terrified that I very rarely check myself for the signs, for fear of finding something.  And on the odd occasion that I have checked, it has been a very quick and approximate prod around while in the shower.

My approach is completely wrong and irresponsible, but I know that I am not alone.  Which is why Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the campaigns that Breakthrough Breast Cancer are currently running are so important.

They want to remind women that knowing their own bodies could save their lives. We just need to follow TLC: Touch, Look, Check. The earlier breast cancer is found the better the chances of beating it – which is why it is vital that women make regular checks.

You can also get involved this month by joining in with their first-ever Great Pink Bake Off (which is this Friday 18th October), or by purchasing one of the fantastic exclusive pink products from leading brands that include AVON, M&S, ghd and many more.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer's work has never been more important. They are leading the way in discovering new treatments, improving diagnosis and identifying ways to prevent breast cancer from developing at all.

Please take a look at their website, to see how you can raise awareness, raise money for vital research, and help save lives.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Coming out!

The view from here
A friend recently asked me why exactly I keep my location a secret on this blog, and at the very least I could perhaps mention which county I live in.

And I guess she is right.  Herefordshire is quite big, and so I don't think any potential stalker would be able to track me down with that still quite vague bit of information.

So there you have it, I live in Herefordshire - with the cattle, the lovely cider, and the rolling hills.

Tom and I moved here from London exactly ten years ago, and although we have never regretted it, I do sometimes miss city living.

But, it is all go here this week - because we have h.Energy - Sustainable Herefordshire Week - something which I am very proud to be working for.  

There are over 120 events all around the county: open eco homes, community food projects, loads of events for kids, renewable energy advice, pub quizzes, nature walks, a giant water-powered cuckoo clock and lots more!

A friend of mine wrote a great piece about h.Energy for the Guardian this week.

So if you live nearby, do check out some of the events - this week Herefordshire is the place to be!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The modern couple, working in the countryside...

Yesterday, with the kids safely installed in school and our rural internet on the blink again, Tom and I decided to be very modern, and do a bit of work from our favourite cafe in town.

Amazingly (for it was market day and so very busy) there was a space between two cars right outside the cafe. Tom confidently pulled up alongside the car he was going to park behind, and told me that if there was one thing he could do in this world, it was reverse park.

I was quick to tell him that he was not close enough to the parked car, to be able to reverse in tight next to the kerb.  He laughed at me and told me I was deliberately trying to put him off, and again told me of his reverse parking expertise.

So he dramatically, and a little bit cockily, began backing into the space.  He got half way in and suddenly stopped, announcing that the space was too small.  I told him it wasn't.  He asked me to get out and watch he didn't bash the car behind.

Meanwhile the 17 year old boy-racer who works in the butchers shop opposite was standing outside having a fag, and staring.

Tom finally got into the space without hitting any cars, and as proud as punch, he turned the engine off.  But he was a good metre from the kerb.  And he was genuinely surprised when I pointed this out to him.

So he turned the engine back on, and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, and holding up lorries and farm vehicles, he once again turned the engine off, convinced he had executed the perfect reverse park manoeuvre.  He was exactly parallel with the kerb, but was now a metre and a half away from it.

The boy-racer was still standing there, but now he had his boss next to him, both smirking.

Feeling that our family honour was at stake, I shouted through the window for Tom to get out and that I would park the bloody car myself.

I jumped in, revved the engine in a boy-racer-esque manner (to show the butchers that I knew what I was doing) and hastily accelerated out of the space.

As I was doing so, I loudly scraped the side of our car against a nearby post. And as if I hadn't noticed, Tom called through the window, telling me I'd just scraped the car, a little too breezily for my liking.

By then, queues of cars had gathered in both directions. I yelled at Tom to get in - he uselessly called out: 'What? Into the car?'   A farmer then approached, carrying a sheepdog under his arm, and asked if we needed help.

We were both crippled with embarrassment at this point.  In his haste to get in quickly, Tom sat on my iPad.

I (accidentally) did a little wheel spin as I drove off far away from that space, and the post I had just scraped, and the gawping butchers.  We went to the big empty car park instead (where we parked with ease) to assess the damage.  Then we decided to drive home.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Sushi birthday cake envy, and mummy failure

When this photo of a sushi birthday cake popped up on my Facebook timeline, I was completely blown away, but also a bit gutted.

My friend made this cake, at her son's request, for his seventh birthday - a seven year old even knowing what sushi is, let alone 'loving it' is an extraordinary thing in itself.

I thought my kids had sophisticated palettes for liking olives and pesto.

Anyway, Lizzie, my sushi caking-making friend, told me it took her six months to think about but, amazingly, only about two hours to make - which included skinning turkish delight bars for tuna, chopping the tops off macaroons for the rice, and cutting a kinder egg in half with a warm knife and filling it with melted chocolate for the soy sauce.  Who would have thought?

Unsurprisingly, birthday boy was very happy, and insisted on eating the cake with the chopsticks!

But for me, seeing this creation has made me feel particularly inferior, because although I have always enjoyed a bit of a cake challenge, for Dolly's last birthday I was feeling a bit lazy, and really let things slip.

Despite Dolly asking for a rabbit cake, I took decisions into my own hands and ordered a personalised ricepaper cake topper of Ben and Holly from eBay.  I convinced myself that she would marvel at seeing her name and age printed above Gaston's head, and the rabbit idea would be forgotten.

But the night before her birthday, I opened up the envelope containing the topper, and was horrified to discover that they had printed the wrong age.  And not only that, but also it was way too big for the cake that I had just got out of the oven.

Despite my best efforts with scissors and icing pens to rectify the situation, the cake looked a mess.  But I clung to the hope that a four-year-old wouldn't notice the cock-ups, or the fact that it wasn't a rabbit, and be thrilled with it.

When Dolly saw the cake, she was literally speechless, and not in a good way.  And I have lived with the guilt ever since.  Every so often she quietly says to me: 'But I just wanted a rabbit cake for my birthday.'

So when I see creations such as this masterpiece, it makes me inch ever closer to feeling like a bit of a failure.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Big Feastival 2013

Last weekend we went to Jamie Oliver's Big Feastival, which was held on Alex James' farm in the Cotswolds.

We take Betty and Dolly to Jamie's Italian quite a lot, and so they knew all about Jamie and his fabulous food (particularly the polenta chips), and were very excited about going to his 'festibal.'

There was a field dedicated to families/kids called Little Dudes Den, and they had craft activities, trampolines, drama workshops, food-making, story-telling, painting, singing, and most importantly, the vintage funfair!

Thanks to my girls, I became very familiar with the Swing Seats and the Big Wheel - and although terrified as we swung around right at the top waiting for people to get on at the bottom, my children giggling at my pathetic-ness, I secretly really enjoyed it.

But my absolute favourite thing had to be the old London Taxi which had been converted into a photo booth.   You had to make yourself look really silly using the big box of dressing up clothes, silly glasses, wigs, masks etc, then jump into the cab, pull some poses while the camera snapped you three times, and then you were presented with the photos immediately!  I might even consider having a 40th party just so that I can hire this taxi!

Jools Oliver had her fabulous Little Bird collection on sale, and in the afternoon they put on a very cute show, where lots of little people modeled the latest collection. And Jools' two eldest daughters Poppy and Daisy presented her with a cake to mark Little Bird's first birthday.

During the day we ate lots of yummy food, including truly delicious meatballs from street food truck The Bowler, and Alex's cheese, we drank Doom Bar, and we listened to music.

The sun shone, we escorted the girls around in a trolley, and we all had a really great time!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Starting school: the end of an era

We dropped off our youngest daughter Dolly for her first day at primary school this morning.

She was really excited to be going, as was her sister, who is about to start in Year 2.  And yesterday I was also pretty thrilled about the prospect of not having to listen to them wind each other up, squabble, and yell at each other.  Today though, I am an emotional wreck. The mixture of freedom and empty nest syndrome is really disorienting.

Until now I have been able to distract myself by concentrating on practical matters. I tried so hard to make Dolly look presentable for her first day.  Last night, I even had fleeting thoughts about getting the ironing board out.  

Off she proudly tottered, toothpaste splattered all over her sweatshirt, a dress that was far too short (she must have suddenly grown without me noticing) and looking a bit creased.

Laden down with her book bag, PE kit and lunch box, which she insisted on carrying herself, she went and sat herself down on a classroom mat with her name on it.  She was looking at the interactive whiteboard as if to say, well come on then, let’s get on with it.

Tom and I were feeling teary and strange, so we went and treated ourselves to a big fry-up and cappuccino.

On the way home Tom wanted to go to the school to see if Dolly was ok, but I managed to stop him – the teachers would think he was nuts, and Dolly wouldn’t thank him for it.

I have spent the last seven years, since my eldest was born, looking after my babies: cooking, crafting, tidying, laughing, crying, lunching, and dragging them round Sainsburys.

So this really does feel like the end of an era, and if there was ever a time that I felt broody, it is right now…

This post was written for BabyCentre.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The world’s worst game of hide and seek

Hunting for Dolly’s comforter has become an almost daily nightmare. There is a particular tone of voice that gets used for ‘I can’t find Rabbit' ('Ducky' in Betty's case), which chills both Tom and I to the bone. There is something absolutely excruciating about looking for what is effectively a rag, but also so precious to my children that they can’t bear to be without it, though not quite precious enough for them to keep safe.

Last night’s search for Rabbit was particularly fraught since it was the second time it had happened.  Betty’s school play had been due to start (she was supposed to be a medieval villager but looked more like a Turkish fortune teller) at the precise moment when the first rabbit loss had taken place. We managed to find it in time, but all I could think about, while sitting there trying to make sense of Betty’s headgear, and conceal my sweat patches, was a cool glass of cider.

When we got home from the school, Tom waltzed off to Tai Chi and I was confronted with yet another loss of the rabbit - and it was well past the girls' bedtime.  Desperate for some peace, I frantically searched the house and garden.   I still hadn’t had my cider, I was hot and tired, and it all became too much for me, so I decided to burst into tears. Soon Dolly joined in.

For a while Betty tried to keep the peace. She offered to draw some pictures of the rabbit and make some posters to stick on trees to see if anyone had seen it, offering a reward.  I momentarily stopped crying to give her a hug, and tell her gently that I didn’t think that this would help, then I started crying again, which made Betty cry.

I was about to phone Tom and tell him to haul himself away from his yin yang fish sequence and get home and help me, when I suddenly unearthed the rabbit from under a red cushion, where Dolly had left it for safekeeping after the first rabbit hunt. We laughed through our tears, so it was a nice moment, but my god was it hard-won.

Later that evening Tom was about to get into bed when he started yelling about cramp so bad that it ‘felt like a torn muscle’. As I watched him hopping around the room, grimacing like a fatally wounded frog, I heard a little voice through the monitor saying: ‘I can’t find Ducky.’

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Dolly takes on Emeli Sande

I have been listening to Emeli Sande's album a lot in the car recently, and Dolly never fails to give me a running commentary on what she thinks of her, from the back seat.

Here are a few examples:

Emeli:   How you ever gonna find the sea?
Dolly:    That's easy - I have found the sea lots of times!

Emeli:   I'll move the mountains for you
Dolly:    That's very naughty of her to move mountains, isn't it Mummy. She shouldn't be doing that.

Emeli:   I'll be your river
Dolly:    She can't be a river, she's a lady. Why does she think she is a river? Silly lady!

Emeli:   I'll be your clown
Dolly:    I don't like clowns

Emeli:   I wanna sing, I wanna shout, I wanna scream til the words dry out
Dolly:   But she is singing. And she's shouting too. Why does she think she's not?

Emeli:   At night we're waking up the neighbours...
Dolly:    That's not very nice - poor neighbours - they must be tired

Emeli:   Then we're breaking all the rules
Dolly:    It's very naughty that she's breaking all the rules - I don't break the rules, I am good

I fear for Emeli Sande if she were ever to meet Dolly...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Rapunzel turns four

Rapunzel on the stepping stones
Dolly celebrated her fourth birthday on Monday.

The day before she matter-of-factly told me: 'Mum, you didn't hide my shiny balloons in a very sensible place did you?'  And then casually sauntered off, singing Emeli Sande's latest song.

She was absolutely right.  In a fluster, I had absent-mindedly hid her birthday balloons in the toy cupboard.

She spent the day itself in a Rapunzel dress and long plait, a present from Grandpa, which she proudly wore all day.

Her outfit was very in keeping with the castle that we visited to celebrate her birthday.  And when we came across a Rapunzel-type tower that you could actually climb, it was just the best thing in the world.  She dangled her plait through the bars of the window and yelled to her prince (me) below.

After a very action-packed day, that night, while I was putting her to bed, I went through all the things we had done; a smoked salmon breakfast, a picnic lunch in the grounds of a 'fairytale' castle, a visit to granny, party games, a birthday tea, and lots of presents.

I asked her what her favourite part of the day was, and she replied: 'Seeing my chickens.'  (Tom told me later that watching Rapunzel carefully carrying a chicken around the garden 'made him redefine cute'.)

And the fabulous personalised book I had got made for her: 'Dolly The Pirate Princess' lay unwanted and cast aside in the corner of her bedroom: 'I hate pirates Mum, why did you get me this?'

Living with Dolly, one has to develop a hard shell and have nerves of steel.

Our wonderful daughter Dolly, is a strong-willed, hilarious, generous, sometimes very naughty, and gorgeous, four-year-old.

Dolly, you continue to rock our world, and we love you so very very much.  Happy fourth birthday!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

'You will never be as good as me'

Betty playing
This morning I was in the shower, happily contemplating what I was going to have for breakfast, when Betty came bounding in and said: 'Come on Mummy, hurry up, I've GOT to give you your piano lesson before school.'

'But what about breakfast?' I pleaded.  'No time,' she replied with total seriousness.

Last night Betty was appalled to learn that unlike her very talented Dad, I didn't know a single note on the piano, and apart from Chopsticks (which I distinctly remember Betty being pretty impressed with when she was two, although she will not admit to it now) I am clueless.

So she sat me down after dinner, and told me that she was going to teach me.  'Can't you just play to me while I like stuff on Instagram?' I asked.  She looked appalled.

She then whipped out a piano lesson book and told me that because of my lack of knowledge, we would have to start right from the beginning.  'I finished this book AGES ago,' she informed me.

In her teacher voice, she explained a bit of the theory, and bamboozled me with talk of minims, fermatas and mordents. I nodded in agreement at it all, but didn't have a clue what she was talking about.  I felt pretty unnerved when she told me that she would test my theory in a couple of weeks time.

Then we got started with the actual playing.  Betty told me to sit with my back straight and find Middle C.  'Middle what?'

After a slightly shaky start, and a lot of encouragement from my very determined six-year-old, we soon got going.  And within half an hour she had me proudly belting out tunes with my right hand, using C, D, E, F, and G.   I can now play Jelly On A Plate, and Mary Had A Little lamb.

She told me that even though I got stuck on some of the notes, I had been 'fantastic' and 'brilliant' in my first lesson and that soon I might be good enough to hold a little concert for Daddy and Dolly.   But she also told me that no amount of lessons or practice would ever make me as good as her.  And I don't doubt her for a second.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Viva Spanish singing!

Last summer was a complete wash-out, but it didn't stop us from doing a heck of a lot of camping in Wales, in our newly acquired bell tent.

Looking back, I think we must have been completely mad.  But I clearly remember a conversation Tom and I had right at the end of the summer holidays.  It was 3 o'clock in the morning, the wind was beating our tent like a sail, the rain thrashed down and we had soggy duvets.  We decided that the next year we would definitely go further afield and find some sun.  

With Betty learning Spanish at school, and loving it, she was adamant that we must go to Spain.  And who were we to argue?  So this year we are taking our beloved bell tent and getting the overnight ferry to Santander.  This will be Dolly's first time abroad (if you don't count Wales) and Betty's second time.  There will be much excitement when our ship sets sail.

In addition to Betty learning Spanish at school, we are also lucky enough to have a friend, Caroline Nelson, who is a completely inspirational teacher specialising in teaching children Spanish between the ages of 3 and 8 - perfect for Dolly and Betty.

She has given us two books with CDs that she has written and produced - Viva, Sing Spanish!  And my girls absolutely LOVE them.  Most mornings we have Caroline and her beautiful singing voice blasting out of the stereo and my girls wholeheartedly singing along.

They have so far learnt greetings, common questions, counting, colours, animals, days of the week, months and the weather. I have found it quite astounding how much they have both picked up.  And I, someone who can't speak a word of any language (apart from counting to five in Welsh), have also become rather good.

Caroline says: 'Singing in a foreign language is a fantastic way of learning single words and whole phrases in context. The combination of custom written songs and catchy tunes means that your child will learn quickly and easily.'  And I can certainly vouch for that. Please do check out Caroline's website - she comes with a huge recommendation from us. 

http://www.espanaviva.biz/books.html

I am really excited about trying out my newly acquired Spanish skills in Spain this summer.  It will be so nice to actually have some basic conversation, rather than doing my usual ignorant Brit act and getting annoyed when foreigners don't speak English...

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Were you in intensive care with your baby?

My friend (who is a writer and poet) had a deeply emotional experience in an intensive care unit with her grandson Josh, and is asking other parents and grandparents to share their own experiences. She intends to publish a book so any ideas for contributions are very welcome.

Here's her story:

In September last year my son and his wife had twin boys who were born prematurely.  Both were doing fine for the first week. Then, quite suddenly, Josh - the first born - choked on his milk and arrested.  He was revived and taken into intensive care.  We took turns sitting with him – he seemed to be hanging on to life by a thread.  No fight in him.

The nurses said, “talk to him”. They said the same to the other parents and grandparents who were sitting by their incubators – but none of us knew what to say. We were all demented with worry – and the dimly lit, high-tech IC environment with its incessant ‘beeps’ and alarms, seemed to render us speechless.  When our own words dried up, we tried reading children’s books to Josh - but they seemed inappropriate. 

We practically lived in this “no-comfort” zone for several spirit-sapping weeks until, at last, Josh was well enough to be taken home.

When we’d all recovered a bit my daughter suggested that we - me and my three daughters - produce a book of stories and poems to provide comfort to parents and grandparents who have to spend time on IC wards. That’s what we are doing - and we intend to publish.  

If you have spent time with a baby in intensive care, please send us your story. Tell us what kept you sane; how you kept hope alive; what you said or read to your babies or wished you had read or said to your babies; how you managed to celebrate a life that might, slip away at any moment. 

We really want to hear from you.

Please send to - Shirley Garner : shir1951@aol.com

Friday, 1 March 2013

Betty's first ever sleepover

Items needed for a sleepover
Betty has been talking about going on a sleepover for as long as I can remember, and I have always nervously laughed it off, telling her that she had to wait until she was six (an age that seemed so old, when she was two).

She was six in November, and so a few weeks ago she went on her first ever sleepover. There was quite a lot of preparation involved, and Tom reckons he overheard Betty and her friend conferring about a giant midnight lollipop.

On the morning of the sleepover, Betty and I packed her little overnight bag together. I (uncharacteristically) ironed her best pyjamas, gave her flannel a good wash, and supplied her with a new toothbrush. I gave her a pep talk about manners, and reminded her to wipe her bottom properly (at which she was appalled), wash her hands with soap, and put her pyjamas on the right way round.

Betty asked if she could take some sweets for a midnight feast, and I had to give this considerable thought. Would her friend’s mum think me a bad mother, knowingly allowing my child to eat sweets in bed? Or would she think that I was fun and cool and exciting? I decided to let Betty take the sweets.

We were all set. And then Betty suddenly got a little teary and said: “I am just not sure how many kisses I should give you when we say goodbye, because I won’t be able to kiss you at bedtime.”

I welled up and swallowed hard, telling Betty that I had suddenly got something stuck in my eye and my throat. I then told her that if she wanted to come home at any point she could just ring me and I would come straight over.

Betty quickly perked up when she saw her friend, and cheerily waved me goodbye, almost forgetting to give me a kiss at all.

The house felt very strange and quiet that night. I phoned Betty at bedtime, but she was too busy watching a film to speak to me.

However, although she had a wonderful time, I learned that she had had a bit of a cry before she went to sleep. It broke my heart to think of her feeling sad and me not being there, but I was also reassured to think that she might actually have missed us.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The new Button birds

As I sit here with my glass of wine, I have a warm fuzzy feeling at the thought of our new young sprightly hens all tucked up in their coup.

Scrubbed floors and perch, fresh wood shavings, cosy nesting boxes and the most nutritious hen food that money can buy awaited our four new additions to the Button family today.

I must admit, I didn't get on well with our last lot of chickens. They had an evil glint in their eyes, and seemed to have it in for me from day one. And I couldn't bear to be within ten metres of them. 

Now suddenly our new batch can do no wrong in my eyes. And I see myself as the 'mother hen', or perhaps 'broody hen'. 

We each have our own hen, which we chose from the 'chicken shop'. We told the girls they could choose whichever hen they liked. But interestingly they both opted for the bog standard, considerably cheaper, Warrens. I think they felt a huge sense of loyalty to our last lot of chickens who were also Warrens, and whom they loved very much. 

However Tom and I were like kids in a sweet shop, and there was no way we were going for boring Warrens. 

I chose a beautiful silver Suffolk whom I have named Snowdrop. A pretty name for a fine bird. And Tom has named his hen, also a Suffolk, Ethel (a name we considered for Dolly). 

Betty has named her chicken 'Pecky Becky', and Dolly has named hers 'Super Chicken to the Rescue', or 'Super Chicken' for short. 

And while the Warrens were pretty cheap, the Suffolks were bloody expensive. Our proper country friends would be appalled if they ever found out how much we had spent. They are more for getting their poultry for 25p a piece, and bidding in incomprehensible loud animated speak at the local farmers market - an experience that absolutely terrified me the one and only time I went along to try and buy a duck. 

Anyway I do hope that the four little ladies are getting on well, during their first night together, and that they aren't too cold or frightened in their new surroundings...

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Princess Sodor Island and the royal family

Dolly casting a spell
On Fridays, Tom looks after Dolly and I get to work uninterrupted.  At lunchtime we always go to the 'slidey bench cafe' which is a cafe at a renovated mill (which has slidey benches).

Yesterday we were all on our way to the cafe and Dolly had decided that we were all members of a royal family. I was 'Queen', Tom was 'Prince' and Dolly was 'Princess Sodor Island'.

We walked along the pavement to the cafe with Princess Sodor Island sporting her pink fairy princess dress, her woolly tights, her clip-cloppy sparkly shoes, and her battery powered talking wand.  But despite icy winds, she refused to put her coat on, informing me: "Princesses definitely don't ever wear coats, Queen."  I charged on ahead while Prince and Princess clopped along slowly in the cold drizzle.

At the cafe, it turned out that Dolly's mission was to turn everyone into frogs.  She started with a lady sitting alone and quietly reading her book.  She waved the electronic wand in the lady's face and shouted "Ha ha, I have turned you into a frog, Mrs Frog!"  Mrs Frog studiously ignored Princess Sodor Island.  She then turned her attention, and her wand, to the mill's tour guide, who offered an embarrassed 'ribbit' while Dolly stared at him.

I tried to get Dolly to sit next to us and behave herself while Tom and I had a conversation about our weekend plans. After about three seconds of this, Princess Sodor Island butted in angrily: "Queens do not talk. They are just supposed to sit there and eat chocolate," before zapping me with her wand.

This kind of thing continued throughout lunch, with the princess haranguing the waitresses and customers as well as me and Tom, but looking far too cute for anyone to muster any cross words (although I suspect Mrs Frog was close to storming out).

At home she casually changed back to her usual clothes and told me off for calling her Princess Sodor Island - the game was evidently over.   I left Tom attempting to follow Dolly's incredibly complicated-sounding instructions to a game of shopkeepers and returned to the office, where I saw the pink fairy princess dress and clip-cloppy shoes in a little heap on the floor next to my chair.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Tom's homemade soups: the bane of my life

Before I go into a rant, I should point out that Tom is an amazing cook, and creates all sorts of wonderful, mainly mince-based, delights.

But unfortunately, he does have a bit of a soup-making fetish. And when I hear the words: “I think I’ll just go and make a nice soup” my heart sinks. 

These are the reasons why: 
  • His concoctions usually involve using anything and EVERYTHING he finds in the fridge – normally vital ingredients I have ear-marked for other meals. Nothing is safe.
  • He somehow manages to leave splat soup-matter (from where he has used the hand-held blender) over every single wall, surface, and floor, but is adamant that the splats don’t exist, and that it’s all in my head. 
  • Large vessels of soups then take up all the space in the fridge, leaving no room for anything else. (Although at this point there isn’t anything else because it is now all in the soups). 
  • Our children don’t even like soup, so this means I make daily trips to the shops to replenish stocks so that I am able to make them a non-soup meal. 
  • I am often not able to stomach his ‘creative’ combinations. 
  • Tom and I disagree on what the consistency of a soup should be. He likes very watery, and I like a consistency not that dissimilar to that of baby purees. 
  • So sadly, I don’t like his soups either. 
  • Even he admits that sometimes his soups taste pretty foul. 
  • Still doesn’t stop him though. 
Having said all this, he does make a pretty mean mushroom soup (I had to add this in, to save his feelings).

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Selfish mum act: that'll teach me

Betty's school was closed again today, due to the snow.  And so with another article about Dexter to write, and a serious case of cabin fever, I told her we were going to have a day of work together.

After two hours of sitting in Caffe Nero, with me doing some colouring-in and Betty playing games on my iPad, talk turned to our lunch options.

Betty told me she wanted Jaffa Cakes for lunch.

"I think because you have been so good all morning,  I will take you for a very special Thai lunch to mine and daddy's favourite restaurant," I told her.

I sat there battling with my conscience.  Betty had never had Thai food before, and it was pretty unlikely that she would like it.  But I was really really in the mood for it, and decided nothing else would do.

So we entered the restaurant, and the waiter raised an eyebrow at my little companion.  "My daughter has a very sophisticated palate," I told him defiantly.  "In fact, she loves Thai food, she has it all the time". Well she loves olives and pickled onions, I reasoned to myself.

In a moment of dizzy excitement at being in my favourite restaurant, I ordered my two favourite main dishes, plus rice and prawn crackers. If all else failed Betty would definitely eat the rice and crackers.

The waiter raised another eyebrow at the volume of food I had, in effect, ordered for myself. The food arrived and I optimistically dished out Betty's share of noodles and curry. This still left an awful lot for me - six year olds don't eat huge portions.

Betty took one mouthful of noodles and told me they were disgusting. She then plumped for a prawn cracker which she told me tasted of fish and made her feel sick. And the rice was too sticky, and the curry too spicy.

"Ow, my mouth is really really stinging," she cried just as the smirking waiter walked past. "Well drink some orange juice then," I loud-whispered through gritted teeth.

"The orange juice tastes of lemons," she told me.

So feeling really stupid, and not wanting to get another raised eyebrow from the waiter, I ploughed my way through two meals, very very slowly.

The one saving grace was the decorative carrot carved into a rose shape, which thankfully kept Betty amused while I force fed myself. She took photos from various angles, nibbled it, took more photos, and then carefully wrapped it up in a napkin so that she could take it home and show Tom.

Without the distraction of the carrot, Betty then politely asked me why my face was so red, and when we were leaving.

And when we eventually walked out of the restaurant, me barely able to move and feeling like I was going to hurl, a hungry Betty said: "Can we go for lunch at Pizza Express now?"

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

SOS: snowed in with a sick child

Dolly in the snow
Before having children, I loved the snow. Not only did it mean days off school/college and even work, it also meant a lot of fun.

However my love of snow quickly evaporated the moment my first daughter was born. She arrived in late November, in a winter with freezing temperatures and lots of snow. I felt really vulnerable with a newborn baby, and worried about not being able to get out in an emergency.

This year, I tried to put to one side my fears of getting snowed in. Against my better judgment I found myself joining my girls in calling for a load of the white stuff to be dumped on us. What fun it would be with my girls – we had our sledges at the ready.

And sure enough, last Friday we woke up to thick blankets of snow everywhere, and that all-important school closure announcement.

All wrapped up we set about making snowmen, eating snow, and sledging. However, after lobbing a few snowballs around, Dolly quickly became tearful and whingey.

This was her first proper experience of snow and I wondered whether she just didn’t like it. On closer inspection, however, I discovered that she had a very high fever and was doubled up with tummy cramps.

At that point, I decided to start panicking. What if it was something REALLY serious, and I couldn’t get her to hospital? What if an ambulance wouldn’t make it through the snowy lanes in time? What if the air ambulance was too busy rescuing people from the mountains to help us?

Breaking my no-updates resolution, I put out an SOS message on Facebook: ‘Snowed in with a very sick child – help!’  continue reading...

Friday, 18 January 2013

Dexter Mayhew: the crush, and the unbearable tragedy

While dumping off a load of old toys and clothes at our local charity shop early last December, I stumbled upon a tattered looking DVD, with a man and woman kissing on the front cover.

I hastily bought it, figuring it might save me from having to watch Apocalypse Now later that night – something Tom had threatened earlier.  But realistically I imagined that even if I did manage to persuade my husband to watch a rom-com, we would get about 15 minutes in and end up falling asleep.

Just over a month later I have now watched this film eleven times, and even Tom has watched it four times (although probably not through choice, and he has started to give me odd looks at my continued persistence with it). 

Almost every scene is either heart-stopping, tear-jerking, or goose-bump-inducing. But it was the Paris scene, where Dexter and Emma finally fall into each others' arms, which was probably one of the best moments of my life (bar marrying my husband and the birth of my children, of course). And then the almost unbearable tragedy happens, for which I will never forgive the writer.  Why couldn't Em and Dex just have a baby or three and live happily ever after?  Why?

This film has taken over my life.  This is mainly down to it being an amazing love story which leaves you alternately weeping, drooling, and screaming at the screen.  But also because I have a bit of a crush on the main character, Dexter Mayhew.  The other main character, Emma (Anne Hathaway) isn't bad either.

I haven't had a crush like this since my Nick Berry fixation when I was 14 years old. I am now 38 and have an obsession with a fictional character from a film. At least Nick Berry was a real person.

A friend of mine pointed out that Dexter and Tom are pretty similar in looks and sound - that melt-your-heart public schoolboy hair and accent. I also think perhaps this love story reminds me of mine and Tom's journey, before we had our  'Paris moment' - which for us happened in Pizza Express in Paddington. Before this, Tom and I spent years being best friends, with lots of missed opportunities, just like Emma and Dexter. How on earth Tom and I didn't realise our love for each other, way back when, as he fed me chicken McNuggets dipped in barbecue sauce, sitting in Budgens car park in West London, I will never know.

During a typical day, it's not unusual for me to watch the film (sometimes on loop if it's the night of Tom's Tai Chi class), listen to the soundtrack and the unabridged audio book, and gaze at photos of Dexter on Google images.

I play the soundtrack while cooking the kids' dinner or hanging out the washing. This way I can replay the film in my head while gazing tearfully through wet clothes and steaming carrots. I am often met with shouts of "TURN IT DOWN!" from my exasperated family, while they try to eat their breakfast.

Towards the end of the film Dexter opens up a café/deli between Archway and Highgate - this is an area I know particularly well, and I was positively thrilled that Dex and I have probably pounded the same pavements. I thought about going off to find this deli in the hope that Dexter might be there.  I could tell him how sorry I am for his loss and give him a big hug.  And with his knee-weakening handsome grin and that voice, he might serve me a latte and a chocolate brownie. But then I have to remind myself that neither the deli nor the characters are real.

It is the character and not the actor that I am in love with (sorry Jim Sturgess). Having said this, I have undertaken a bit of Jim Sturgess Twitter-stalking, and I have just ordered another film where he is the lead role - just in case there's another film out there which I might be able to obsess over. 

But I fear I am setting myself up for disappointment. There will never be another One Day - and it is without doubt the best fifty pence I have ever spent.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

When Tom hosted a play-date...

I found myself in a rather strange situation the other day - my girlfriends were all working and I hooked up with a couple of their enlightened Dads-at-home partners.

I can't call it a play-date, because that phrase was banned. I can call it a playfest, because my 3-year-old has never been so entertained within the auspices of a friend's house, for free.

"Was he trying to win some prize for most amazing 'gathering' ever?" I enquired (innocently) as we ricocheted between dough making, cookie cutting, fancy dress and fire building...

The quizzical look I received said it all - "what is it that mum's do when they meet up?" Good bloody question. Natter mainly, obviously. I was itching to share with them the details of my rather bizarre lesbian dream (they possibly would have enjoyed that) but the opportunity just didn't arise.

It was jobs allocation from the outset, of the "you build the fire while I reduce the pizza topping" variety...  It left me feeling a bit spare partish - I'm not used to feeling so useless! (one even brought home-made soup to share)

As one 21st Dad managed the culinary side of things, his comrade in arms fielded potty training accidents (unruffledly) between dressing up WITH the children (I've never actually even thought of doing that) and making wolf noises outside their Wendy house (to squeals of laughter and enjoyment).

I took rather too many pictures.

Thankfully I did get a bit of natter in when Elsie popped home for a light lunch (provided by super-hero/husband, Tom), although not time enough to get down to the nitty gritty of the dream... she was off back to her desk before I knew it and I was left trying to contribute to a conversation about bicycle tyre punctures (seriously).

"Would you be talking about us girls if I wasn't around?" I postured, jokingly. "No, that really is the domain of sad women," came the riposte. "Oh"

Next week it's my turn to host and I've been googling mad ideas for what exactly 3 three-year-olds can do in three hours...I even thought about hiring a circus act in.  I then considered bribing my other half to swap days with me so he could enjoy these heady days of creativity and cavalier fun.

But I've decided to jump in with both feet and grasp this opportunity to learn from the Mars inhabiters, they've got hanging out covered.

This is a guest post from my friend Jules.  

[Jules - after you all left Tom had a large whisky and then went to bed!]