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.