Saturday, 22 December 2012

Thoughts on the 22nd December 2012.

Well, it turns out the world didn't end yesterday.

As it happens, I still don't understand why people thought it might end.  If I've understood it right, and I can't say I've ever given much thought to the Mayan calendar before, it was just the end of a period of time for them, like a bigger week, or month, or century.  So if they were still around, they would, I think, have been looking at people stockpiling tins of beans and thought they were rather odd, while looking forward to what the fourteenth baktun might bring.

But anyway, the world didn't end.  Which is nice, because it's my birthday today, and it'd be a shame to have missed that.

And it's three days before Christmas, the wrapping is done, the cake is iced, B has taken the children off to Sainsbury's to do the brussels sprouts and double cream shop (one of the perks of having a birthday so close to Christmas) and, to top it all, M, nineteen months on New Years' Eve, has finally taken to his feet and walked.

So I am feeling blessed.  Or lucky.  Or both.   And not unlike Lucy Mangan in today's Guardian (even down to the motor skills). 

So go and have a read, and after that have a wonderful Christmas, and a very happy New Year.


Friday, 14 December 2012

The hardest thing about Christmas

Is not, in my opinion, the cooking.

It's not the maintaining of an innocent appearance in the face of ruthless interrogation on the reality or otherwise of you know who.

It's not even dealing with the fact that my twins (see left), my mother, my brother and myself all have birthdays in the two weeks before Christmas (and admittedly that means it's worse for my sister who has to buy (and think) for all of us - so does my dad, technically, but honestly any involvement he has in the thinking of, shopping for or wrapping of presents is purely coincidental).

No. It's men's presents in general, and B's present in particular.

It needs to be thoughtful and personal: chosen with real care to reflect how much I love him and how central he is to mine and the children's everything.

I've just ordered it. It is safe to say it is none of the above.

He reads this blog so I can't be specific (think of this as management of expectations) but suffice to say it's something we need and  so because I can't think of anything else I'm buying it now, essentially to save having to spend money on it later.

How rubbish is that?

It's his fault, obviously.  I'm pretty good at presents mostly, but my effort and imagination do, I admit, tend to prioritse birthdays over Christmas.  B turned forty earlier this year, and if he hadn't selfishly done so I wouldn't have used up my store of fabulously well thought out presents already.

I did well then, with no false modesty: he got a pretty spectacular party, a weekend away with various bits to go with it, and two maps from

Now, this isn't a sponsored post (I paid for the maps ages ago), and the lovely people who made them don't even know I'm writing it but the maps are just brilliant.

The pictures on here aren't actually of our ones because B has very gently pointed out that if I stick a whole bunch of personal information (as I did briefly this afternoon) including all our names and significant places online, it might not do much for what remains of my anonymity, but these are very like ours and I hope that Tracy, whose business it is, will forgive me for lifting them off her website.  And that everyone else won't mind that I've changed this post slightly from the original version.

I designed them in conjunction with Tracy and they make me smile every time I see them. B loves maps, and we have maps dotted all round the house, but these are different: the one on the left not a map at all, it's a family tree, and the other, the one which looks, counter-intuitively like a tree (and which is what gave me the idea of the family tree above), is all of his favourite things interconnecting, from me and the children to bacon and egg muffins, from our first house to fine wine (it's more specific than that), and from sudoku to the Proclaimers.
They reflect him and us, and his family and friends and everything that is important in his life in two fabulously simple, information packed graphics and he, and I, are delighted with them.  The children love them too, of course, because they're on both of them.

If I say it myself, I did well.  Then.  For now though, I'm just going to have to hope they're good enough to compensate for the new Christmas Hoover...

Ps: As I say, I've not been asked to write this (and it wasn't really the post I intended to write when I started out) but if you're struggling for a present idea, and can't find a good place for a weekend away (we went to the Lake District, it was fab) have a look at the site. I can promise you won't regret it.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Scots, wha hae wi Wallace read...*

Great excitement at school on Friday:  the P1 bookbug bags arrived.

It was the end of Scottish Book Week, and here, where we still get free books given to every child every year from birth to five, they dished out three crackers to L and her classmates, whose front covers you can see in this post.  I honestly can't tell you which I like best. They're all awesome.  If you're looking for a book to give a five year old this Christmas, you won't go wrong with any of these.

But they also gave us Jordan's new Jaiket.

First line: Jordan wis in his bed sleepin.  He wis in the middle o a braw dream.

And I have removed it from L and told her she's not allowed to read it.

It's not a Scottish literature thing, obviously.  The three fantastic books which illustrate this post are all written by Scottish (or Scottish based) authors and I couldn't be more delighted with them. 

But it is a Scots thing. 

For a start, I don't happen to think Scots is a language.  Now, technically, there's no fixed definition of what's a language, what's an accent and what's a dialect. But if we assume that a dialect is somewhere between a language and an accent, I reckon Scots is a dialect.  Or, indeed, a vast number of different dialects which are markedly different if you live in Stornoway, Stranraer or Selkirk.  Indeed, people (or indeed folk) from Selkirk, a grand 20 miles away from where I sit, speak a completely different version of Scots from those in Hawick, or Galashiels, or Duns, each of which is less than 20 miles from the others.  

So if L reads, or has read to her (although not by me, because I'd mangle it), Jordan's new Jaiket she's not hearing anything that really resembles the words, accents and turns of phrase she hears out and about. 

The introduction to Jordan's new Jaiket, written, obviously, not in Scots, says:

Learning about Scotland helps children to develop a sense of who they are and their place in the world[...].  Exploring Scots language is an iimportant part of this learning.

Of course it is. I couldn't be more delighted for my children, and all other children wherever they are raised, to be given an real sense of the local culture: the literature, art and music, the dialects, architecture and landscape.  I want my children to appreciate the works of Robert Burns, John Buchan, James Kelman or Irvine Welsh (but not Walter Scott, because (whisper it) it's incredibly dull).

But not yet.  Not now.

L is five.  She is just on the cusp of learning to read and write, an explosion of literacy that is going to open up to her worlds of imagining and information.  She, and I, are so excited by this.  She can't get through her bedtime story at the moment without stopping me to read out words or sentences she has recognised, or to point to a punctuation mark and ask what it is and what it's doing.

So when she picks up Jordan's new Jaiket, and reads, in her voice which still has more than an echo of three formative years spent in southern England, "Jordan was in his bed sleeping",  she is undoing all the hard work her teacher has put in, teaching her to recognise that was is spelt with an a and ing makes the sound, and has the grammatical function, it does (although obviously she wouldn't express it like that), in whatever accent you choose to say it.

Wherever you stand on the importance (or indeed existence) of the Scots language, at this stage, L, and all the other P1 children who were given this book, are being taught to read and write English, and it is in English that they will go on to read the vast majority of books, textbooks, exam papers, magazines, newspapers or advertisements.  Tacitly, the writer and publisher of Jordan's new Jaiket (which is, incidentally, a rubbish story - Jordan can't find his new jacket because his sister has put it on her snowman) know this, else why write the blurb in English?

L's school has a Burns competition. Each year around Burns night, the older children are encouraged to learn a Burns poem and to recite it in front of their classmates and the school.  I dearly hope she will take part and I'd love her to be able to do so with a swagger and a swing of Scots conviction.  But by that stage she will be older.  She will be reading and writing fluently in English, and regularly hearing the local dialect of Scots. She will have the knowledge and sophistication to recognise and understand the differences and to know that what is correct in one is not in the other.

But now, at five, she's not.  And to confuse her, or her classmates, is jist wrang.  

*With apologies to the shade of Robert Burns.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Win chocolate!

Honestly, was there ever a better title for a post?

How about this one:

Win seriously nice luxury chocolate!

Yup, Hotel Chocolat chocolate, no less.  To be precise a selection of their stocking fillers.

Tragically, I can't tell you what they taste like, because they didn't send me any.  Instead they sent me their Purist Festive Wreath:  70% cocoa single estate dark arriba chocolate, with golden raisins, almonds and hazelnuts.  It's the platonic ideal of a fruit and nut bar.  Only better.

When it arrived it looked like this:

Now, a week later, it looks like this:

And yes, we did need the knife to get through it.

Thank you, Hotel Chocolat.

So, if you want to find out if the Tipsy Christmas Puddings or Piglets in Blankets (clearly too good for the children) are just as good, leave me a comment giving me a better title for a post (any post), and I'll pick a winner at random  next Friday (30th) and get someone's December off to a very chocolatey start.


ps and if anyone's wondering how this fits with my self-flagellating post about food of earlier this month, consider it whatever the opposite of aversion therapy is...

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The end of happy ever after.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Except when they didn't.  Of course.

Now, you know that and I know that.  But my children don't.  So what I'm wondering is when should they learn?  When it it time to read them the books in which they don't all live happily ever after?

Take Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid.  It's giving me goosebumps to think of it.

She doesn't get her prince, you know.  He marries someone else, and she is told that to save her life she must kill him. But she loves him too much, so instead, standing by his marriage bed with a knife in her hand, watching him sleep with another woman's head resting on his chest, she drops a kiss on his forehead and throws herself into the sea, from which she is transformed into a daughter of the air, an ethereal cloud.

It's a great story.  A story of a love that is greater than life.

So why, when  the Guardian decided to retell it, did they change the end?  Why does she have to get the Prince?   Presumably because Disney say so, but then why did Disney change it too?

Are our children really not strong enough to take it?   And if they're not now, when will they be?  When can I say to them, "Actually, the Little Mermaid doesn't really end like that..."?

So many great children's books are tragic, after all:  the Selfish Giant and the Happy Prince spring immediately to mind.   I'm looking forward to children's war literature such as I am David, the Silver Sword and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit too.  And while we're on the subject of Judith Kerr, what about Goodbye Mog?
Now I realise, with the exception of Mog, that we may be a little young yet for Anne Holm or Oscar Wilde, but I still wonder whether protecting them from the idea of a sad ending is such a good thing.   We can't protect them from sadness in real life, after all.

Maybe that's it, of course.  Maybe Disney, the Guardian and their like think that stories should be a refuge from reality, especially for the very young.

I'm still not sure I agree.


Image from Wikipedia, although, interestingly, not wikimedia commons, because apparently Danish copyright laws also protect works of art in public locations.  So if I'm breaching the artist's' family's copyright I'm sorry, and I will of course take it down if they want.   Probably also one to bear in mind if you're ever in Copenhagen...

Monday, 12 November 2012

Is it possible to have a "healthy" relationship with food?

I pondered this as I stood on the scales this morning.

Because I'm really not sure it is.  Or at least I'm really not sure I know anyone, anyone female at least, who has what I'd call a healthy relationship with food.

By which I mean someone who eats what they like, when they like, within healthy parameters, and feels no guilt, worry or obsession about it.

Are you out there? Someone? Anyone?

Because I don't.  And I always thought I did.  From the outside you'd think I did.  I'm 5'4", size 10/12 (although at around 10 stone 4lb, I'm also technially overweight if you believe in BMIs, which I don't).  I exercise regularly.  I cook from scratch, always.  I eat, mostly, my five a day.  I also have a very sweet tooth, and have never knowingly said no to a cake.  I'd rather give up alcohol than pudding.

If you met me, if you looked at me in the street, I think you'd think I was mostly unconcerned about food; that I enjoyed eating it, but otherwise didn't give it much thought.

Well, I'm afraid that's nonsense.

A secret.  I get on the scales every day.  I always used to think that was fine.  It's just a number, right?  But it's not when it puts you in a good (or bad) mood for the rest of the day.   Or when you realise that I look upon the nights when B is away as opportunities to go on a speedy crash diet in advance of cooking excessively when he's back.  Or when you factor in that the sole purpose of the exercise, for me, is to remain in control of the numbers on the scales.

That's not healthy, really, is it?

It's about body image, of course.    As I said, I'm ok, body wise.  I'm not stopping traffic, but for a mother of four, I don't think I do too badly.   When I think about it objectively, I think I'm ok.  The only person who looks at me naked (of the over six variety, anyway) thinks I'm (his words) "delicious".

Another secret.  I don't believe him.

When I look in the mirror, I see, objectively, a thirty-five year old woman of average build, who's had four children.    For B, that's perfect.   For me, that's not good enough.  And if I don't think I'm good enough, slim enough, toned enough, I don't see how he can.

I don't want to get into why that is.  I don't want to start talking about women's magazines, and the porn industry and the objectification of women and the patriarchy.  Or how I worry about what any or all of the above might do to my daughters, because I don't have the answers and I don't, honestly, think there are any.

But I do think, if I am feeling like this, is there anyone out there who isn't?  And if so, what's your secret?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Turning chutney into cheques (and dreams into dosh)

I could do it though, couldn't I?

I could bite the bullet, take the leap, make the first move towards setting up my own business, whatever that business might be.

I've sort of done it, several times.  B and I looked at premises for a soft play centre.  We registered with an estate agent.  We worked out the maths.

I set up the website for my millinery (since taken down). I worked out the maths.

We fantasised about a wine shop.

And, you guessed it, did the maths.

Because the maths doesn't add up.  My friend J summed it up in three questions when I had just started working as a consultant and was pondering a move to millinery:

How much could you sell a hat for?
And how long would it take you to make that hat?
And how much do they pay you an hour to be a lawyer?

I don't want to sound as though money's the be all and end all, but we have four children, and a house, and all the outgoings that follow those five very expensive things, and we are, at the moment, pretty well paid.  We have, at the moment, security.  We have pensions and health insurance.  We have life insurance and employee rights.  (Well,  B has all those things).  We (he) have paid holidays.  I have the ability to work when I like and as many hours as I want and still be there to pick the children up every day.

To start our own business, to say goodbye to the jobs we have, and the security (and in my case flexibility) that comes with them, is a risk too far.  At least for us.

Perhaps if we really loathed our jobs; if there were more of an impetus than a vague feeling of grass-is-greener-ness and a yearning towards creativity.  More than an unformed desire to build something that is ours.  More than an envious impulse when we watch friends go it alone, or read about this or that entrepreneur;  perhaps then we'd do it.

But for now, no.

But it doesn't stop me dreaming.  And so, when innocent, whose founder Richard Reed recently hosted BBC3's  Be your own boss, in which he searched for start up businesses in which to invest , asked me to blog about the moment that inspired me to turn my passion into pounds, I laughed.  Probably bitterly.

And I said to them (and their very nice PR who had already sent me a box of goodies):

I just wanted to (possibly) warn you in advance that I may end up writing something that's totally not what you want.  The thing is that I have lots of these entrepreneurial ideas, all of which involve me making something lovely at my kitchen table and finding there's massive demand, I get featured in Grazia and I suddenly wake up a millionairess (sp?!) but after several years of inspirational moments which lead nowhere, I'm now rather jaded and cynical about what I read somewhere were called chutney dreams. 

That's not to say that Richard Reed's story isn't inspiring, just that I don't have a passion to pounds moment at all, and I've actually been pondering writing a blog post about that very subject for a while - I've worked out, sadly that what produces the pounds is being a lawyer, even if that's far from being my passion! 

And they said, Ok, fair enough. Would you like to talk to Richard to see what he says about all this?

I told you they were lovely.

So I did.  And, rather depressingly, I was right.  Mr Be Your Own Boss, successful businessman and now telly star Richard Reed, co-owner and founder of multi-million pound company innocent and recent author of an e-book of tips and hints on setting up your own business , (who had, possibly misleadingly, been told I was an "influential blogger" (whoops!)), didn't say,
 "Oh yes, you should definitely go for it. Everyone can succeed in business, and everyone should set up their own business, it's the best thing ever Now, how would you like to spend your first million?" 

What he did say was more honest and sensible than that.  Of course it was.  He said that in creating innocent he and his co-founders had very little to lose. They were young and had no responsibilities.  They had good jobs with every confidence that they could go back to them or find another one if it didn't work out.   While it felt like a huge risk at the time, with hindsight, he said, it wasn't. 

He said business success was about finding the business idea that gave you the lowest possible risk (I looked at my outgoings) with the highest possible upside, which didn't necessarily or purely mean financial. 

The great thing about running his own business, Richard said, was that it drew on every aspect of his brain.  He said he had a creative brain but a "talentless" body: he has lots of great ideas but he's not "creative" in the way we usually think of it. Running a business, he said, was an enormously mentally creative endeavour; one that allows him to draw on every aspect of his brain, to be both ruthless and empathetic, creative and analytical and he loves that.  

That's it!  A real upside.  I could do that.  I'd love to do that.  Because I think my chutney dreams aren't necessarily dreams about macarons or t-shirts, they're dreams about creativity.  But I also think that if I were purely being creative, sitting at my kitchen table crafting, the bit of my brain that does, if I'm honest, quite like being a lawyer, the bit that relishes the wordiness of this blog and of the letters I write for clients, that secretly enjoys working out complex tax calculations, or wading through impregnable legislation, might get just as frustrated as my creative side is now.  

If a business can give me all that,  I want it.  So I thought about our various ideas, and I thought about the various upsides (autonomy, creativity, productivity, right and left brains working together), and the downsides (money, security, very (very) hard work) and I thought,  

No.  That's not for us.

Not yet, anyway.


Innocent did, as I said, send me a box of goodies.  But this post, or something like it, has, as you can probably tell, been brewing for a while.  It's also probably not what they wanted me to write, but hopefully they'll forgive me.  

I owe them huge thanks too - for the goodies, but mostly to Richard himself for being so nice as to take the time to talk to me when he really didn't have to.  We were already massive fans of innocent and consumers of vast quantities of "moothie", but it was still a huge delight to find out that their "really nice people" image isn't just good PR.  

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Chutney Dreams

I have a dream.

I have several dreams actually.

Chutney dreams.

I can't remember where I read about chutney dreams, and an intensive (five minute) google search has brought up lots of recipes of varying attractiveness, and a weird site allegedly telling you what it means if you dream about chutney (I didn't click), but nothing about the chutney dreams I remember.

But you know the ones anyway.  The dreams that sit on the shelf, gathering dust.  The ones you take out every now and then, look at and think "I should do something with that", before putting back and reaching for something more sensible and practical.

The dreams where you make vats of delicious chutney (or macarons, or fascinators) at your kitchen table, which is then, quite by chance, tasted by someone fabulously influential, and featured in the Sunday Times Style magazine (among other national media) and before you know it you're the chutney queen of the Scottish Borders, supervising a team of happy employees, making fabulous preserves from fairly traded, locally sourced ingredients in a socially meritorious way, which are shipped (obviously we wouldn't air freight anything) around the world, resulting in you becoming a household name, multi-millionairess, beacon of the community, and all round good egg.

Then you wake up.

Or, perhaps, you're awake already.

I have these dreams.  This blog is one of them, if the truth be told.   I'm still waiting for the book deal.

The millinery was a dream too.  And so were the t-shirts.

And the pudding restaurant (still think that's a genius idea). And the soft play centre (we got as far as a back of the envelope business plan on that one before realising that it wouldn't actually make us any money).  And the wine shop and cafĂ© (that one's for when we win the lottery and don't mind that it wouldn't actually make us any money.  We've identified the premises and are enjoying researching the stock).  And the macarons, which you may notice are my current fantasy of choice (still rather proud of my Hallowe'en ones). 


I think it's the creativity that appeals: the idea of crafting something, of a life spent lovingly making beautiful things rather than shoving bits of paper around in between heating up fish fingers and tidying bedrooms, and of being recognised for it.    The ability to use the bits of my brain that aren't exercised by children, husbands or the Inland Revenue.

So I dream.  As I potter, and bake, and stitch, I dream.  It's a creative outlet in itself. 

But for the moment they remain just dreams.  However real they may look in the pictures.  They're just dreams.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

And the winner is....!

Shall I tell you, or shall I leave you in suspense...?

Who has won £90 of running shoes from

Well.  There were twelve comments (I thought counting my own replies might not be in the actual spirit of the thing) so I used an actual random number generator ( this time (rather than asking my children to pick a number, which is heavily weighted towards three (three and three quarters, actually) and five, and...

Number one!

That's you Iota.

Enjoy.  I'll get in touch to sort out how you get your lovely shoes.

And if you still want my old ones you're welcome to them. 

Monday, 22 October 2012

Mysteries of Modern Life (No 3)

Whatever happened to gravy browning?

And am I the only person who misses it?  Pale beige gravy just isn't the same...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

On being careful what you wish for.

I wanted a simple way of reducing my impact on the environment....

I got this:

Like I said: you should be careful what you wish for....

But on the upside, the Gallery tomorrow is Old.   I think this fits. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Warning: holidays may be bad for your health.

I'm going to give up going on  holiday.

I am going to sit here, stay here, and not go away ever again.

It's not because I don't have a lovely time.  Quite the contrary.

B and I spent this weekend in the Lake District.  We rented a fabulous, fabulous house (where friends of ours spent the first few nights of their honeymoon many moons ago. We even rented a silver Corsa to get there, which  made us feel even more nostalgic for those same halcyon days). We walked up hills.  We sat in pubs (it was raining, ok?).  We ate and drank lovely food.  We pottered around markets. We spent lots of quality time together (ahem). I even managed to have two baths.  That's more than I think I've ever had in this house.

The children (and my parents-in-law) stayed here.  

It was utterly wonderful from start to finish.

We got back yesterday afternoon, after a detour to see our new nephew (hooray!), and since then I have been unbearable.  I know this, because B has gone out.

I have been grumpy, and impatient, and simmeringly, irritatedly cross.  The weight of the world is sitting on my shoulders. Nothing anyone can do for me is good enough and everywhere I look things are accusing me: do me says the laundry, iron me says last week's laundry. Dry me says the teetering pile on the draining rack.  Fix me says the pin board I bought in a junk shop in Cockermouth, full of crafty inspiration, and now empty of time and energy to use it. The fridge cries Fill me and the week's meals say plan us. The emails I've ignored flash read me.  Deal with us say my work files.  Everywhere I look something else cries tidy me. Play with us whine the children and talk to me, the husband.

And I think  Stop the world! Stop my life! I don't want to do any of it any more.

And it's all the holiday's fault.  Because the holiday was a break from my life: which makes my life somewhere I don't want to be.  Even though, I know, I have an incredibly blessed and lucky life all told. 

Yet a holiday, and it was true of this one, and also, astonishingly, of our last family holiday, all six of us driving two thousand miles to France and back, makes no demands on me.  I wake up in the morning with nothing on the to-do list, whether that be lovely things to do (ring an old friend) or dull ones (fill in the tax return), and that emptiness is liberating.  That freedom is soul-lifting.  And so the return to real life feels heavy, as I though am weighted down again, however enjoyable the things I have to do may actually be.

I find myself yearning for another life.  On our return from France I found myself breaking down in tears and screaming for it:  how different it would have been had we not moved/moved somewhere different/if I did another job/ if B did another job/ if we won the lottery/if I were a better parent, and yet, of course, that life would be the same, because even in the Lake District, France or Outer Mongolia, washing has to be done, meals have to be planned and talking to friends remains one of life's great pleasures.

Getting grumpy with my life for being a life, my life, gets me nowhere.  But it doesn't stop me doing it.

I am hoping that writing about it will help.  Failing that I'll just have to stop going on holiday.

Monday, 1 October 2012

WIN! Running shoes worth up to £90!!

It's what it says on the tin, really.

Apparently I can give away a pair of running shoes from to the person I like most...

What you could win...
Well, sort of. There has to be an actual competition, and I still, in a rather Angela Brazil-like way, believe in fair play, so the play will be absolutely fair.  Random, but fair.

I started running years ago, and I've done it on and off (more off than on, if the truth be told) since. I don't go very far, very fast or very often, but it's becoming (famous last words) something I actively want to be doing. 

Because I've had a revelation recently - I've realised I like running.  I don't know when or how this happened, but the last two times I've been I haven't had to convince myself to go, despite wind and rain.  And, while the main motivation for running remains, as it always has been, the pay-off in cake-consumption it allows, it's also suddenly more than just something I have to endure.

What you can't win.
If I try and analyse why it's become more than just the burning off the extra slice of white chocolate and cranberry brownie,  I think it's space for my head, without being space to worry or stress.  The thoughts just seem to slip in and out, so I can think about things without lingering over the ones I don't want to think about.  Analytical thought is impossible when you're concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, but yet I come back with a clearer head than when I left.  I enjoy the fresh air too, and the countryside.  I found two new brambling patches on Monday, although I haven't been back since, so I suspect my blackberrying chance may have gone.  I'm bonding with and smiling at all sorts of strange people as well - fellow runners, dog walkers, elderly ladies in strange tracksuits.

Whatever it is, I'm enjoying it, and I don't want it to stop.  So, for your chance to win the prize (a pair of running shoes from up to the value of £90) all you have to do is leave me a comment letting me know why you think I should keep going....  

Yes, you lot are going to be my motivation, so make it good!


The small print:

Please leave a comment by the end of the month (31st October!) giving me some motivation to keep running.
The winner will be selected randomly from everyone who leaves a comment.
The winner will be able to choose a pair of running shoes of their choice up to the value of £90 from 
The shoes will be despatched direct from them to you. 
Any questions ask me....

Thursday, 27 September 2012

My house. 8pm

It's now twenty-five minutes later.

It's 8pm. Thursday 27th October 2012.

And I did it:

Time for some telly.


If this makes no sense at all, click here, and for more like it, click here for The Gallery

My house. 7.32pm

It's 7.32 pm, Thursday 27th September 2012.

My children are in bed, B is in America (where he has been all week), the washing up and washing are being ignored, as I, in my usual way when I am on my own (in the adult company sense, obviously), have come straight down the stairs and sat in front of the computer.

If I don't think about the stuff I have to do, I won't have to do it, right? Anyway, it turns out, fortuitously, that Tara's gallery this week is 8pm...

Which gives me 25 minutes to do the washing up before I have to publish some pictures...

Monday, 24 September 2012

What can I do to stop the end of the world?

Where do polar bears live?
In the Arctic.
Is that with the penguins or Father Christmas?

I dodged that one rather neatly by saying that it wasn't the penguins, because they live in the Antarctic, but that I thought Father Christmas lived a little South of the actual Arctic Circle, so not actually near the polar bears either.

And as I was saying it I realised that there's more than a possibility that by the time I'm having to admit that Father Christmas doesn't actually exist, I'll be having to admit that nor do polar bears.  Or not any more.

And I don't know how to stop it.  I don't know how to make it better. 

Because it is happening, isn't it?  Is there anyone out there who really seriously thinks it isn't?  I've hitherto been a bit head in the sand ('cos that's all that will be left in a few years time) about it all, but the news, last week, that the Arctic ice cap shrank 18% more than the previous record this year has really hit me.   This means, says Professor Peter Wadhams (who he?) of Cambridge University (oh, right), that: "The final collapse ... is now happening and will probably be complete by 2015/16," with, to my mind, although not to the scientists', who spell it out in terrifying detail, unimaginably catastrophic results for the entire world.

But what Professor Pete doesn't tell us, what none of the scientists tell us, is what can we do?  What do they do?  I don't mean ending drilling for oil in the Arctic (although frankly that does seem a wise idea), or reducing China's carbon emissions. I can't, personally do either of those things.  What can I, we, you, do? 

Because I have this conversation in  my head.  It happens in about twenty years time, and it starts familiarly:

You know when the scientists told you you were changing the world's climate irrevocably and it was going to result in global disaster?
Why did you let it happen?

I'm selfish, you see.  I can't bear the idea that my children will look at me, at us, in years to come and think we stood by and did nothing.  That the end of the world started on our watch.  But I honestly don't know what to do.

I don't drive other than when I have to (so yes, I walked my children to school in torrential rain and gale force winds this morning - provoking a tantrum when I said no umbrellas). I switch off lights in a doubtless infuriating sanctimonious fashion, normally when there are still people in the room. (Often B in the loo. He loves that).  I take my own bags to the supermarket.  I am adamantly not going to turn on the central heating until the end of October (the other end), despite the fact I had two hot water bottles in bed with me last night.  I read the information about where food has come from and only buy in season.   I reduce. I reuse.  I recycle.

But none of it's enough, is it? So what should I do? Should I never take another flight?   Should I vote green? (I don't think we even had a green candidate here last time) Should I join Friends of the Earth? Should I change my energy supplier?  Should I take my entire family off grid? (Significantly easier said than done, obviously). Or is none of that enough either? 

And if there's nothing I can do that'll ever be enough, how am I ever going to be able to explain it?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Meningitis - Keep Watching.

This time last year, I went to a really interesting  blogger event about meningitis.  It was fascinating, terrifying and reassuring in equal parts, and I came away full of enthusiasm about making sure that everyone out there, be they parent or not, has access to a meningitis symptom app or card, and, better, knows what those symptoms are, and, should they find them, where to get help.

To my shame, though, I also, said "and if you've got any questions, put them in the comments, and I will ask an expert".  But I never did, so now I am.

Because the three main meningitis charities, The Meningitis Trust which supports people affected by Meningitis in the UK, Meningitis UK which does pure research into finding vaccines to prevent against all forms of meningitis and The Meningitis Research Foundation which funds research, supports those affected and raises awareness, have recently launched a new campaign.

It's no coincidence this is a year from the last one - this is peak time for meningitis: as with so many less serious illnesses, we are more vulnerable to it as the weather turns, so this is the time they, and I, are asking everyone just to watch, and keep watching.

I did once diagnose someone with meningitis.  I thought that's what it was, and I couldn't have been more terrified when I found out I was right.  It wasn't a child though.  It was the boy I fancied, and I was in my second week at university....  He's fine now, by the way.  I never got anywhere with him, but I'll never forget him either.

I thought, therefore, that I knew about meningitis, especially after the forum last year, but I didn't know the answers to these questions, posed last year, and now kindly answered by Dr Nellie Ninis who is a consultant paediatrician at St Mary’s Hospital, London (widely considered to be a centre of excellence for meningitis care):

Q.           What about the "stiff neck" symptom? Is that important? Mind you, whenever I've had a sick child and I've asked "does your neck hurt?" the answer is usually yes.

A.         A stiff neck will only occur in meningitis and not in septicaemia (Remember not to confuse the two. Septicaemia gives you the big purple rash and kills FAST) neck stiffness is really only seen in much older children, probably 8 years upwards and it tends to occur late. The other signs of meningitis are much more important, namely, bad headache, lots of vomiting, drowsy, not looking or communicating properly and excessive sleepiness. The younger the child the more non specific it is, which makes diagnosis a bit of a subtle clue finding mission for doctors. Most painful necks in paediatrics are caused by tonsillitis so my advice is look for the other signs.

Q.           What should you DO, while you're waiting for help to arrive? Give maximum dose of calpol and ibuprofen? Sponge down with tepid water?
A.        What should parents do while waiting? Calpol, Ibuprofen and tepid sponging are all fine but my biggest advice is don’t wait too long – just take your child straight to hospital if you are properly worried. If you are not too sure then take those measures and see if they start to look better and if in doubt consult a health professional.

I can't thank Dr Ninis enough for her very speedy (given it took me a year to ask the questions, she answered them in less than a day) response.  She's also said she's ready to answer any other questions, however silly they may seem, so please do ask in the comments below.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Parenting mistakes no. 2,538

Yesterday I took M to the emergency doctor because he had been screaming inconsolably, writhing in my arms, for no apparent reason, for over half an hour.

It was a tantrum.

She was jolly nice about it, all things considered.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

This is not the end.

It is not even the beginning of the end.

But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.


This picture was taken today, about two hours ago. It is the first day of the Scottish school year,  L's first day of proper school, and S and A's first day in the nursery at the school (sort of a half way between nursery and reception, for those of you down South).

And I have come home to a very quiet house, with this post in my head, and discovered that Tara has set Emotion as the subject for the Gallery.  And although I have been rubbish and haven't done the Gallery for months, this seems like more than coincidence.

I'm not sure what emotion it is though.  I'm not sure what I'm feeling at all.  I can't quite identify it; but I have a very odd feeling in my stomach.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What I wore

Well, Potty Mummy and others, the party of the century (or at least the last forty years) was precisely one month ago today.  And I did it....

And this is, sadly, the only photo.

Oh, and those are my sister's slippers.  Apparently they're her favourite thing.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Bleak House

That's not a witty metaphor or a clever allusion.

It's a literary reference of the purest form.

I'm sitting on an east coast train, slightly teary tissue scrumpled up on the table, and I've just finished Bleak House.

When I started blogging about my reading I was doing so, and I said I was doing so, partly in the hope of improving my literary diet. Yet when I look over my book-related posts, that's not the impression I get.

The last book I read actually isn't that shameful. It was Kate Atkinson's latest Jackson Brodie: Started early, took my dog (or something like that). It's good, it made me think about loss, and children, and the loss of children. But I don't think it can be a good sign that one day I want to read all the series in a row because they're all starting to blur into one.

So, anyway, I bought Dickens. All of them. Sixteen books sitting on my shelf. A challenge.

And I started with Bleak House, all 880 pages of it. In 8 point print.

To be fair, this isn't the first Dickens I've read, I've enjoyed, years ago, both A Tale of Two Cities (no italics, I'm on my phone) and David Copperfield, but nonetheless I approached the weightiness of Bleak House with trepidation.

Was I really strong enough?

A revelation! It's brilliant. I know I should have known that, but somehow I'd forgotten. People aren't still reading this stuff a hundred years later just because a few dreary critics and English teachers say they should. They're reading it because they are carried along by the plot, because they see those they know in the characters, because it makes them laugh (another shameful revelation there - despite English A-level and literary (though not English) degree, I had no idea that Dickens was funny) and cry, and because it makes them look at the world afresh.

And I'm not just saying that because I'm a Chancery lawyer.

My plan was to intersperse Dickens with nonsense, as light relief, but in my suitcase, along with two books the titles of which I have already forgotten (although I packed them only hours ago), is Hard Times.

And I know which one I want to read.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

What should I wear to my husband's 40th?

It seemed like such a good idea at the time:

Please wear your favourite thing (and your swimming costume).

It's B's 40th on Monday (let's skip over the oh my goodness where on earth did the last ten years go bit) and we are having a party.  It's a These are a few of my favourite things party, because that way he gets to have all the stuff he likes: champagne (on offer), hot tub (hired - hence the swimming costume), karaoke, disco, roast pork, poppadoms (the curry house is bringing 100 round at 6.30 on the evening), ice cream... All in the garden (if the rain ever stops).

So obviously, the dress code is your favourite thing.  Which seems so easy, until you think about it.  Because actually my favourite thing is the thing that makes me look most like Angelina Jolie and least like a slightly stressed, slightly flabby, slightly saggy mother of four. (Angelina has six, or seven, which must be easier, economies of scale, and all that). And I don't seem to have a magic wand handy.

I've narrowed it down to the fact that I can't buy anything new (because that feels like cheating) and I genuinely like dressing up (in the posh, not stupid, sense), so where plenty of people are planning on coming in their pjs, that's not for me. I want to look splendid, and pjs (or at least my pjs) aren't splendid.  And I'm definitely wearing these:

But what else?  Because while B might be quite happy to have me in just gold sparkly shoes, I'm not sure the Scottish Borders is ready for that.

Here's the shortlist.... leave a comment letting me know what you think. I don't promise to do what I'm told, but some independent thoughts (and not that I need my legs waxing, that's next Tuesday) would be very much appreciated.

We could go sort of smart casual-ish.  These are absurdly flattering jeans (although better with shoes), and it's a nice top, although looking at the pictures I'm not sure it doesn't make my body look long and my legs short, which they are, but still....

Or the other extreme.  Nothing casual about this. I bought it for a friend's wedding in 2003.  Still love it:

Downsides: it appears to make me fade into the background, but I'm hoping that's just the picture.  Oh, and no bra... possibly unwise in a woman who has breast-fed (and sort of appears still to be breast-feeding) four children.

Or this.  I made this dress out of fabric my brother bought back from his gap year in China. Quite proud of that, but not sure I still have the figure I made it for. 

Or what about this?  I bought this in a charity sale about two weeks ago for a fiver.  It makes me feel all flirty.

B's always been quite a fan of this dress, which I bought with a friend (the same one whose wedding it was, as it happens) in about 1999.  I'm not convinced it does that much for me, but he wants me to put it to the vote:

He's also quite keen on this one, my amazing coat, bought on a whim for my birthday about five years ago in a funny little shop by Baron's Court tube, but I haven't got anything that really works underneath it (this purple job's a bit of a poor compromise), and as I've mentioned I'm not sure the Borders is prepared for the alternative:

So what about this?  Bought for the day after our wedding, when all the people my parents like but we don't know were invited for lunch.  Got a bit of a red wine stain on the front of it from a wedding about a month ago, but you can't really see it...

Or this? It is one of my favourite things, after all....but is it really that sort of party? And am I prepared to risk it?

Answers on a postcard (or in the comments box, if that's easier...).

How to keep your children entertained for the whole* of the holidays

I had a shock on Tuesday.

It was the end of term.

Yes, readers South of the Border, you did read that right.  The END OF TERM.  On TUESDAY.  It's not even the last week in June and I have all of my children all of the time.

Until, even more weirdly to someone raised on English terms, the 12th of August.

As I said.  Weird. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but nonetheless, and I say this as someone whose children are still only in school/nursery half days, it has caught me unprepared.

Still, we have survived the first two days, unscathed, thanks mostly to the Toucan Box.

I was sent the Toucan Box about a month ago, and I foolishly started it then, but it is, genuinely, not only one of those "ideas I wish I'd had" but also one of the very few freebie/testy/bloggy things I've been sent that I will, honestly, be spending my hard earned cash on again.

It's a box which arrives at your door with no fewer than four (yes, four... if you eke them out, that's one a week, so 2/3 of the holidays done) crafty activities, a story book (Dazzle Duckling - I thought it was quite annoying, but that might just be because I have read it approximately fifty times in the last three weeks), colouring pictures, instructions, inspiration, and, and here's the impressive bit, all the stuff you need:  all the glue, the glitter, the paper, the funny little matchsticky things, the card, the sequins, even the bird seed. The whole bang lot.  All you provide is scissors.  For the distinctly craftily challenged, this is priceless.

Here's a little gallery of us making our stuff over the past four weeks.  Stupidly, as I've said, we started it pre-holidays, so now we've finished it and are going to have to get another one.  You, if you are five miles South of me, have three weeks to prepare. You have been warned....

How it arrived....

 We started with the peacock collage... (each of them had a different colour)


We did the colouring in, too

 Next up, the bird feeder.

Quite a lot of audience participation required here

In situ. Although if the truth be told, it didn't survive the combined onslaught of heavy rain and even heavier pigeons.  RIP bird feeder.

Next up, the toucan family.  This was our favourite.  I liked the very gloopy paint that didn't go everywhere when knocked over

and they liked the toucans (actually I'm quite proud of these too, although they are a little fragile for the amount of loving they've been getting):

And last but not least, we had the bird glider.

It doesn't glide:

But we enjoyed colouring it in:

The Toucan Box isn't cheap (if you sign up for one a month for a year it's £16.95 a month, and it's more expensive than that if you sign up for a shorter period of time), but it is absolutely, totally, from the bottom of my heart, worth it.   If you know me and have small children, these are your presents...


Full disclosure alert - they sent it to me for free.  But I honestly will be buying them in future.

*ish... but you could definitely call it 2/3...