Thursday 6 December 2012

Dolly on tour

When I gaily accepted an invitation for Dolly and I to visit the Nickelodeon studios in Camden, I didn't consider for a second the implications of taking a three-year-old to London and back in one day.  A ten hour round trip, door to door.

It wasn't until the night before that mild panic began to set in.  Dolly, the girl I have been too scared to take to the supermarket at times, can be a stroppy and wayward little madam.  And taking her on four different trains, six different tubes, and a lot of standing around on cold platforms suddenly seemed like a recipe for disaster.

I downloaded a load of child-friendly apps onto my phone, removing most of my own apps in order to make room.  I even considered taking along my beloved iPad.  But having the responsibility of a child and an iPad at once on a long journey was too much for me to bear.

So at 7.30am yesterday morning, having had several drops of Rescue Remedy, and armed with snacks, sweets, chocolate, stickers, colouring books, stories, and my phone, Dolly and I headed for the train station.

Five hours and an oddly painless train ride later, we made it to the studios.  Dolly was in her element chatting with worm puppets, Arnie and Barnie, on their Bedtime Story TV set, and eating chocolate cupcakes, taking it all in her stride.  And I had the pleasure of meeting the gorgeous Konnie Huq (former Blue Peter presenter) who was reading the story for that particular episode.

Dolly didn't complain once for the entire day, and at times she had  serious reason to.  She was dragged along crowded platforms, thrown through closing tube doors, bashed in the face with handbags,  and had to sit next to a very drunk and angry man who was on the wrong train.

But the thing that really touched me, was the amount of people she made laugh or smile on our travels, with her honest and very loud opinions on everyone around us.  And while strangers chatted and laughed with her, I sat there terrified about what might come out of her mouth next. Luckily she only mentioned my 'boobies' three times between London and Reading.

She kept the entire platform at Newport entertained, while we waited for our connecting train, in the icy snow - singing Christmas carols in her new outlandish rabbit hat that she had chosen from a stall in Camden (for which she had managed to negotiate a huge discount  for being 'cute').

Dolly was a delightful travelling companion, and I was blown away by her stamina and joyous spirit.  I could perhaps have done with a sleep during the train journey back, but Dolly was too busy telling me 'jokes' and covering my boobs with stickers.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Happy 6th birthday my rainbow fairy

Decorated by Betty
Six years ago I started writing this blog - a blog that was inspired by my brand new baby Betty.

And baby Betty wore nothing but blues and greens, and was always in a pair of dungarees, bashing her toy tractors and train sets around.

Betty has just celebrated her sixth birthday - a birthday full of rainbows, fairies, princesses, glitter and pink fluff.

When anyone asked her what she wanted for her birthday her stock reply was: "Anything girly and princessy."

I bought her a beautiful new dress for her to wear on her birthday, but because it was mainly blue, she rejected it in favour of her old, sightly grubby, torn princess dress, telling me: "Don't worry Mummy, I will wear the dress you bought me after school on Monday."

I spent weeks in the run-up to the big day researching rainbow cakes on the internet - the pressure was on, and I felt a bit scared that it might not be up to scratch.  However, I think that Betty may have sensed my fear, and just two days before, she informed me that she would be making her own cake this year and all I had to do was be on hand to do a bit of mixing and oven duties.

I was impressed with her very definite ideas on how she was going to decorate it, and this was the result - and she is right, it is far better than anything I could have done.

Betty also requested that I decorate the house like a rainbow, which again put the fear into  me.  But on the morning of her birthday she squealed with delight at the rainbow coloured strips cut from crepe paper hanging from every single doorway, while the rest of us got annoyed at getting a mouthful of rainbowness every time we walked through a door.  She later said: "You are going to keep these up til Christmas aren't you?"

Happy birthday my gorgeous, delightful (most of the time), funny and bright little fairy rainbow pink princess - your mummy, daddy and little sister all ADORE you! XXXX

Tuesday 6 November 2012

An open letter to Uncle Bob

Dear Uncle Bob

What the hell have you gone and done now?

The last time you were in the UK you were my rock. You listened, you offered your words of wisdom, and you helped me move heavy furniture around. And, as always, you made me laugh out loud - sometimes laughing with you, and sometimes at you!

We lunched together on your birthday (although at the time I didn't realise it was your birthday). And we fiercely argued about something. But we quickly cleared the air, and tucked into our pie and chips, in that dodgy pub in Leominster, the rain belting down outside.

You had just turned sixty-seven, and I thought you were looking really sprightly.  I loved your enthusiasm for your new 'expensive-looking' pumps, that you found for £10.

I still wear the fake red Crocs you sent me almost six years ago (in fact I am wearing them right now) - they are two sizes too big, but I have always been loyal to them, but only in the house, where no-one else can see me.

I feel so sad that recently I let the little wooden bird cage (with mechanical flashing, chirping bird) go to a charity shop - I would love to have that cage and bird back right now. It always brought a smile to my face, and made me think of you and your slightly eccentric and whacky ways.

But, we still have all sorts of reminders here: the dodgy orange outfits for my girls (which reside in their dressing up box and are brought out at Halloween), the plastic bunny rabbit that changes colour, the beautiful wooden hair pieces,  the dominoes, and the incredible personalised money box that you made out of a coconut shell for Betty when she was a baby - and you changed the spelling of her name because you thought it looked prettier your way!

Your voice is like a foghorn - for this reason I once remember leaving you in the car while I went into the supermarket - because I didn't like the attention you drew. 

You are brutally honest and you have no filter whatsoever - hence the argument we had on your birthday.  Although looking back you were probably absolutely right.

You don't like the way I cook sausages, and you tell me when I am looking fat.

You often speak a lot of sense, but also a lot of  nonsense.  You have a big heart, and you will work your butt off to help out.  You are a very loveable character - although you would scoff if I told you that to your face - I now desperately wish that I had the chance to.  

I loved receiving your incomprehensible one-line emails - but you told me off for being crap with my responses, and I was, and for that I will never forgive myself.

I wish with all my heart that I could email you right now, but it's too late.  

It seems incomprehensible that I will never see you again.  I (like the rest of the family) am in total shock about your untimely and sudden death.

Rest in peace Uncle Bob - I will miss you dearly, and our banter, and your foghorn voice, and your eccentricities, and your kindness.

Friday 5 October 2012

My children substituted for trees

Picture taken on my bike ride to buy wine
Last weekend Tom took Betty and Dolly to see the in-laws.

This meant that for the first time ever, I was on my own, at home, all weekend long (you can read more here).

I was positively thrilled at the prospect of having a bit of peace and quiet and not having to wipe floors, pick things up, cook,  and wash-up (I only used one plate all weekend).

But it turns out, that after watching a few too many repeats of Will and Grace, and drinking copious amounts of tea, by 10am I really missed my family, and was thoroughly bored.

To alleviate the boredom, I decided to go on a virtuous bike ride, on Tom's electric bike, to buy a bottle of wine (for later) from the shop three miles away.

I have never dared go on this electric bike before - it has always scared the hell out of me.  But it was incredible, and I was particularly pleased that I was able to escape at lightning speed from a dog who normally bites my ankles as I ride past on my ordinary bike.  This made me feel extremely smug.

And without my children around to photograph,  I had to stop many times on the bike to take photos of trees instead.

Thursday 20 September 2012

The secret mission

As soon as a massively grinning Betty got off the school bus yesterday, she told me that she had a big, big secret, involving her and her friend Sam, and that I would never know what it was.

Within seconds she had offered up all the details of 'a secret mission,' though I have been sworn to secrecy, and am not at liberty to divulge the details here. I can however reveal some of the preparations. 

Last night Betty packed three rucksacks full of provisions. I witnessed ice blocks being removed from the freezer. Biscuits, chocolate mousse, waterproofs, a sleeping bag, slippers, a toothbrush, a towel, a head torch, toilet roll, sunglasses, four pairs of socks, and an umbrella were all packed. And a couple of her teddies. 

At one point she asked me for Sam’s phone number - she wanted to remind him to bring his head torch.

While I was putting her to bed, she casually asked me if I thought she would be able to unlock the front door by herself in the middle of the night. Noting my worried look, she kept saying to me: ‘Don't worry mummy, it’s fine, it's all planned.’ But not taking any chances, when I locked the door later that night, I hid the key.

It took quite a long time to persuade Betty that I really didn't think Sam would be waiting for her at the school gate at midnight, and that they had to come up with an alternative. I’m wondering what Betty and Sam’s plan will be when she gets home from school today. 

The whole episode has reminded me of the time when, aged about eight years old, I got cross with my mum and set off for London, Dick Whittington style, with some provisions tied up in a spotty handkerchief on a stick. I made it to the end of the garden - my mum took a photo of me sitting on the wall, eating a biscuit, and looking sulky.

Update: when Betty returned home from school that afternoon, she told me defiantly that her and Sam were sticking to the original plan, and that it was 'really really in real life' this time.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Extreme camping on a hilltop in Wales

A wet camping trip
At 3.30am this morning, Tom and I lay wide awake on top of a very stormy hill overlooking the sea. Dolly and Betty slept on, oblivious to the driving rain and gale force winds whipping our tent around like a sail.

There was a tense discussion between Tom and I about what would happen if the tent got struck by lightning. I pointed out that we were exposed on top of a hill in a pointy bell tent with a metal pole in the middle.

We decided to de-camp as quickly as we could, there and then. I gently shook Betty awake and told her she had to get up.  "It's the middle of the night, and I am only five, let me sleep," she mumbled. I knew that Dolly would be furious at being woken up, so I gave that job to Tom.

Once both girls were safely inside the car and happily eating crisps, Tom and I, both in pyjamas, head torches and serious expressions, embarked on our dangerous and extreme mission of dismantling the tent.

In this high state of emergency, I had to let go of my obsession of categorising everything and packing it all away neatly in its rightful home.  Sweating cheese and sausages were thrown into the wash bag, and unwashed cutlery and pans were shoved into Dolly's suitcase.

The normally straightforward job of folding up the tent became quite an ordeal as the wind got underneath it and threatened to blow the whole thing into the sky. Tom was in full action hero mode, and managed to hold it in place long enough to be able to gather it up, and cram it, soaking wet into the boot of the car.

Having successfully piled everything into the car in an impressive 20 minutes flat, we headed for home.  I sat uneasy in my seat, updating my Facebook friends of our ordeal, and not quite coping with the fact that things were not packed in an orderly fashion.  In the back of the car, Betty and Dolly had fallen asleep.  And it was all Tom could do to stop himself from saying 'I told you so', having strongly suggested that we de-camp a day earlier, after hearing severe weather warnings.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Duckie lives on... (just)

Betty serenading Duckie
As some of you may remember, Duckie is the soft toy that Betty has had since she was born.

And at five years old (almost six) she is STILL besotted with her duck.

Duckie, at one point, did go into semi-retirement, where he was put to sleep in a lovely little cradle in her bedroom.   He was left there untouched, and although a little sad, we all breathed a massive sigh of relief.

But just a few days later, Betty buckled, and Duckie sprang back onto the scene with a vengeance.

She has now transformed her wardrobe into 'his bedroom'.  And although she doesn't seem to mind her own bedroom becoming an absolute tip, if you dare move anything out of place in Duckie's bedroom she goes crazy - and he has a heck a lot of accessories, pictures, toys, and food in there.

But poor Duckie is threadbare, smelly, grey, and his worn wings and legs have all fallen off at least once.  I have been renamed 'the vet' by Betty because I have to keep fixing him.  And I am no great seamstress, so you can imagine the state he is in.

I have no doubt Betty would cut off her own arm for Duckie.  In fact she would probably happily cut off my arm (and Tom's and Dolly's for that matter)  if it meant Duckie being happy.

I fear the day when Duckie disintegrates into nothing...

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Wilderness Festival 2012: a superb weekend!

Here we come!
We have just got back from yet another truly fabulous weekend at the Wilderness Festival, which is held in the stunning grounds of Cornbury Estate in Oxfordshire.

We arrived on Friday afternoon, in sweltering heat, and having unloaded all our stuff, made several trips to and from the car, pitched up, and decorated the tent, we were all very hot and sweaty and irritable.

But what better way to cool down than a delightful swim in the lake on the grounds of the festival?  And not only that but the lake had a most incredible waterfall: cold, bracing, refreshing and JUST what we all needed.  It was Betty who coaxed (pushed) me under, and I am so glad she did.  I can't imagine that this lake has ever been so busy!  It was such fun, and felt just like something from a film (and there were not any leeches or snakes under the water, despite Dolly's claims that there were).

And from then on, the weekend continued to be great.

Betty throwing a pot
There was an incredible amount of fabulous activities for kids, and THEY WERE ALL FREE!: pot-throwing, tutu and fairy wing making, tile painting, story telling, circus acts, plays, dancing, bubble-making to name but a few.

In fact, we were so worn out from partaking in all the kids' activities during the day, that by the time the evening came, we were completely done-in, and so didn't actually get to see that much music. There were many adult things we didn't get to do/see, in particular the Secret Cinema and Spiritualised.

But for Tom and me (and maybe we are getting old),  just meandering around the site, and marveling at the huge and diverse array of shows, food stalls, people, yoga positions, structures, bunting, music, crafts, and outfits, was more than enough.

My dancing Dolly
There was such a great vibe throughout the festival.  The staff were helpful and smily, and all festival-goers were unbelievably friendly and they all seemed to like kids.  Betty and Dolly made many new (adult) friends on the eve of the Masked Ball - while Tom and I shovelled (very posh) lamb kebab down our necks.

And the absolute icing on the cake - they had powerful, warm showers on site, and without queues.  I have never managed a shower at a festival before - what a treat to do all these wonderful things, and be clean while doing them.

Having spent three days in such a fabulous atmosphere, I came home feeling really inspired, and creative, and chilled out.

Thank you so much for inviting us to what was the 'best weekend ever' to quote my five year old.  The sun beamed ALL weekend, I got to use my new bell tent (bunting and fairy lights galore) and we all had an absolute ball.

To find out more about this festival visit:

Tuesday 14 August 2012

The computer generation: toddler versus granny

Photo: Parentdish
I often watch on in amazement at Dolly (aged 3) confidently swiping her way round my smart phone, like she's been doing it for years.  I swear she knows more about my phone than I do.

But what perhaps amazes me even more, is my own mum (aged 66).

About a year ago she bought herself an iPad, having always been terrified of anything that remotely resembles a computer.

And just 12 months on, she is now a dab hand at browsing the web - you name a website, she's been on it.  She is up-to-date with all the latest apps, and is a bit of a superstar on Draw Something.

She also has an email account (that she actually uses), she uses Facebook and Instagram, and follows about 50,000 blogs, including mine.  Hello mum!

Friday 10 August 2012

Adele is left with stranger's child in coffee shop

I was a little shocked when I read a recent report that, in Caffe Nero, a nanny had asked singer Adele to look after her charge, while she went to the loo.

There are several reasons why I believe that this was wrong of the nanny, and I am not at all surprised that the boy's parents were unhappy about their celebrity encounter.  You can read more about it here...

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Olympics 2012: through the eyes of a five-year-old

Betty's Olympic foot

Betty came into our bed at around 5am this morning because she had had a bad dream about a talking sofa.

The next thing I knew I was woken up by the Olympics blarring out of the tv at 7am, and Betty glued to the screen.  'Please watch it with me Mummy, it's really really exciting.'

This was Betty's commentary, during a hurdles race, some pole vaulting, and the handing out of medals for the men's 100 Metre:

  • Have Olympians got babies in their tummies?
  • Why has she got sticking out lines on her tummy?
  • Are her muscles sticking into her?
  • Is she the best?
  • This lady isn't very good, she keeps knocking the stick over
  • Is she the best?
  • What's the matter with that lady? Why is she crying?
  • Why do they make that silly noise?
  • Has it been raining?
  • Those jumps are very high
  • Why have they been given flowers?
  • Is gold for the fastest?
  • Is he singing loud, or is he not actually singing the anthem?
  • Why do we need bronzed?
  • Are men better than ladies?
  • Why are they hitting their tummies?
  • Why has he got his sunglasses on?
  • Why is he screaming?
  • When is it my birthday?  Is it on a school day?
  • How many sleeps is it til my birthday?
  • When I am going to get another wobbly tooth?
  • I like the bendy stick one
  • Why has she  got such a long stick?
  • That lady really was not very good
  • People keep knocking the sticks down
  • Why does that man always say  'champion, champion, champion, champion...' ?
  • Is that water they are running in cold?
  • Why is he ringing the bell?
  • Is she from Holland?
  • I think that is the Holland flag
  • I wish I was the Olympic champion
  • I really want to win 50 gold medals
  • I would be so happy
  • I would like to win medals on all of them, even cycling

I am ashamed to say that up until this point I have avoided anything to do with the Olympics, but Betty's incredible enthusiasm has finally rubbed off on me.  And I thoroughly enjoyed my Olympic, if slightly exhausting, start to the day...

Friday 27 July 2012

New BabyCentre blog!

I am very excited to be part of a team of writers contributing to the brand new BabyCentre blog, which launched yesterday!

My post today is: How do you get your kids out in the rain?

(I know there is currently a heatwave, but it ain't going to last!)

Friday 20 July 2012

End-of-year emotion

By Betty, aged 5
There was end-of-term merriment and happiness at the school gate this morning.  The sun was shining and there was a definite buzz in the air.  But there was also a little bit of sadness.

As I walked Betty up to her classroom, it dawned on me that this would be very last time we would be making this walk together.  The walk up to her little Reception classroom, a little haven, tucked away at the back of the school.

Betty has been at school one whole year, and today we are saying goodbye to Reception, and Betty's amazing teacher.  A teacher I credit with single-handedly teaching Betty how to read and write, and making her feel completely secure and happy in her first year at school.

In the last year, Betty has flourished, and grown and changed as a person.

She now says 'awesome' in response to everything; she has set her sights on the boy she is going to marry; she comes home singing a new song she has learnt almost daily; she is obsessed with the Olympics; she has made many good friends; she has learnt to skip with a rope; her favourite game is 'horses'; she draws around twenty identical pictures of a rainbow each day; and she has two new 'grown-up' teeth.

Betty is very much looking forward to the summer holidays, but also to starting Year 1 in September...

Drawing bugs with children

One of the members of our camping party last weekend, was the very talented Lizzie Harper, who draws the most incredible bugs, animals and flowers for a living (a few of them are pictured below).

On Saturday morning she whisked Betty and some of the other children away on a jaunt down to a little cove. Two hours later they returned, all buzzed up about their finds, and plonked a dead mole and shrew (carefully wrapped up in a leaf) down on the picnic table.

Lizzie encouraged all the children to stroke the soft velvety fur of the mole, and I was completely struck by her enthusiasm and passion for these dead creatures. I was also surprised at the usually squeamish Betty, delighting in the whole thing. Lizzie went on to tell me that her freezer at home is packed full of road-kill, for drawing purposes.

While on the school run this morning I saw a dead hedgehog and a blackbird on the road and wondered if I should have scooped them up for her.

Lizzie has kindly written a piece below about drawing bugs with your children - it will hopefully inspire and enthuse you, as it did me - it may even change my attitude towards the mice we are currently co-habiting with...

Drawing bugs with kids (at school)

I’m a natural history illustrator with two children, and have recently been doing a few sessions in local schools; trying to share my passion for all insects, and getting them
to draw from some specimens I have hanging around.

Chrysochroa beetle
First I talk to them about my work; I show them pencil roughs and then some finished paintings (asking them if they can name the insect drawn. Gratifyingly, they mostly can). I also show them my watercolour paint-box which excites and alarms them in equal measure as it is VERY MESSY. The tips of my brushes are teeny, so the children tend to be amazed by these, too. 

The show stopper, however, is my very old and battered collection of dead insects. Some are butterflies, begged from a butterfly house; one is a big box of stuff found in a friend’s greenhouse; and then I have a few posh beetle specimens bought as a teenager. They are all really excited by these, the appeal of “bugs” seems to be fail-safe and universal.

Then we get onto drawing.

Peacock butterfly
To be honest, there’s very little one has to do to get kids to draw insects, except to procure a dead beetle or bee and put it in front of them; then provide them with a pencil, paper, and magnifying glass. They take time to look, and their powers of observation are acute. With only a few pointers; asking them to count the wings, if they know what symmetrical means, to look for hairs on legs or vein patterns on wings; they’re away. 

The best bit is looking at their pictures. Those children that get lost in looking produce the best – worked and strained over til the pencil lines are matted, or cut into the page, often out of scale and askew. But these pictures have real power for me, and I find the effort and enthusiasm that’s gone into their creation inspirational. 

Drawing bugs with kids (at home)

Thus far, I have almost completely failed to get my own progeny to draw much, let alone insects. So, for now, I’m concentrating on getting them to love invertebrates of all sorts with a passion. Nothing breaks my heart so much as a little child, overcoming their natural curiosity, squealing “ugh!” at a spider, worm, or bee. 

Dung beetle
Put these things on their hands (well, maybe not the bee). Get them to look for woodlice under stones, for bees sipping up nectar from flowers through their straw-like tongues, to describe what a worm wriggling between their fingers feels like. Take time to observe a spider spinning a web, or even better, feed a hapless fly to a spider and watch. It’s far more brutal and deadly than any movie. 

Bugs are very cool indeed. And I hope that someday my poor oppressed children will not only talk to them and carry dead ones about with them like talismans (which they do now), but may even pick up a pencil and try to draw one. 

And once you’ve got them to like bugs, get them to look closely at dead creatures like baby birds who’ve fallen from their nests; a rabbit on the edge of a path; or even (and ask Ms Buttons about this one) a dead mole and shrew, neatly swathed in a leaf. We love it, and I bet you and your children will too.

Lizzie Harper  

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Bell tents and Buckfast

After a lot of 'shall we, shan't we' we finally got to try out our new tent last weekend.

I spent the journey whingeing about not wanting the new tent to get wet and muddy, the kids moaned about there not being a constant supply of Hula Hoops, and Tom said he was feeling ill.

We drove deep into Wales through dismal greyness, hit a horrendous rain storm, and spirits were very low indeed.

But, on arrival at our campsite, the rain seemed to miraculously stop, the clouds moved away, and our friends were there to greet us with Buckfast and chilli.

And what followed was a truly wonderful weekend.  The sun shone, the kids played out of our way, the company was fantastic, the food delicious, and all was happy.  We even managed a swim in the sea.

However, unfortunately by Sunday morning Tom had kindly passed his illness onto me, and I felt awful.  And while everyone else went off to the beach, I stayed behind on my own and got progressively worse.  

Tom arrived back at the tent that afternoon looking truly awful.  The girls were asleep in the back of the car still in their wet swimming costumes, and covered in sand and snot.  And I felt so weak and dizzy and sick that I just wanted to curl up under a gorse bush.

Now raining, we hastily got our stuff together, and haphazardly shoved it into the car any which way, with half my beloved tent hanging out of the roof pod and caked in mud - I didn't care.

We looked a real state as we left the campsite that afternoon, and it was a long and torturous journey home, with bunting and guy ropes flapping in the wind as we went.  

Although Tom momentarily felt happy when he stopped briefly in Llandeilo to eat a kebab.

A fantastic weekend, with an unfortunate ending.

Monday 2 July 2012

Domestic violence: Don't Cover It Up - I did

In my early twenties I met a boy at a party in London. He was good looking, clever, and very charming. We quickly got into a relationship, which went on to last for three years.

My friends would tell me how wonderful they thought he was, how lucky I was, and that I had bagged myself a real catch.

I spent three years being thrown against walls, having cutlery hurled at me, being punched in the stomach, bitten, and spat at. One time he threw me out of the car at a service station miles from home and drove away, another time he threw me out of the car and left me on the hard shoulder of the M1 motorway. He continually humiliated me, told me I wasn't good enough, and knocked every last bit of confidence out of me.

I became insecure, paranoid, and unsociable, but weirdly felt I needed him in order to survive - he had some sort of hold on me. I never told anyone about what was going on.

I remember going to give blood and when I rolled up my sleeve there was a huge purple bruise with teeth marks on my arm where he had bitten me. I told the nurse that I had whacked it against a door knob. She gave me an odd look, and part of me wanted her to probe, but she didn't. 

He finished the relationship in the end. And after two weeks of devastation, I felt overwhelming feelings of relief and freedom, and vowed never to speak or see him again, which I haven't. I also vowed to never ever let myself get into a similar situation again, which I haven't.

Before that relationship I was confident, outgoing and certainly no pushover. I have never really understood how he took a hold of me like that, but he did.

It took many years for me to start getting my confidence and self esteem back and to let myself trust anyone or get close to them. It wasn't until I met my truly wonderful husband Tom, that I learnt to trust again and feel secure. Tom completely believes in me, and makes me feel like I can do ANYTHING. He is the most amazing person I have ever met! 

Twelve years later and I am talking about it publicly for the first time. Domestic violence charity Refuge and make-up artist Lauren Luke are launching a powerful online campaign telling victims of domestic violence, and wider society, ‘Don’t cover it up’ (65% of women who experience domestic violence keep it hidden).

Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, says: 'For too long, domestic violence has been allowed to fester in the shadows of our society. Women who are abused often feel too afraid or ashamed to speak out. People frequently turn a blind eye when they know or suspect abuse is taking place, even when the victim is a loved one. This must end.'

Further support and information about domestic violence can be found here:

Who will look after my baby?

Betty, at five years old, is consumed with worry about who she is going to marry, and who is going to look after her baby, if and when she has one.

She regularly questions me about where she is going to live, who is going to drive her and her baby to the shops, and whether or not she can still have her princess night light when she is married. She even asked me: 'Will you sort out my baby's milk for me?'

She looks slightly horrified when I tell her that she will have to look after and feed her own baby, and maybe even drive herself to the shops.

Almost every afternoon, when she gets home from school, the only information that she will offer up, is which boy in her class has proposed to her that day.

With a very serious, slightly worried look on her little face, she will say: 'Dan says he is going to marry me.'

'Oh right' I say, with slight intrigue.

'What? Did you think I was going to marry Robert?' she says. 'Robert told me today that he HATES you because you are always buying hoovers.'

'Probably a good job that you aren't going to marry Robert then,' I tell her.

The names have been changed to protect the innocent

Monday 18 June 2012

Betty's wrath

We found this note stuck to the bathroom door when we woke up this morning :)

Friday 15 June 2012

Wilderness Festival - Family Ticket Giveaway!

Last year we were invited to attend, and then review the award winning and fabulous Wilderness Festival.

Being keen festival goers and campers, we of course jumped at the chance.  The festival was absolutely fantastic last year - and all four of us thoroughly enjoyed it, from swimming in the trout lake, to throwing pots, Chi Gung, The Flying Seagulls, gong baths, stone balancing, fairy crown- making, some amazing bands, and the Boutique baby-sitting service

We have been lucky enough to be invited back again this year, which we are really really excited about! Not only that, but also the organisers are offering a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) as a competition prize to one of my readers.

This year, the festival is taking place on
10-12th August at Cornbury Park Estate in Oxfordshire - the festival brings together music, food, theatre, talks and debates, cinematic happenings, late night parties, wellbeing and the great outdoors.

This years line-up includes the likes of; Rodrigo y Gabriela, Wilco, Spiritualized, Lianne La Havas Yotam Ottolenghi, Fergus Henderson & St John, Valentine Warner, Moro restaurant, The Old Vic Tunnels, Cinematic spectaculars from Future Cinema, Workshops with the Idler Academy and School of Life, Lakeside Spa, boutique camping plus loads and loads of amazing stuff for kids!

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a family ticket is to leave a comment at the end of this post saying why you would like to win these tickets.

For an extra entry you can tweet:
Win Wilderness Festival tickets with @elsiebutton at:

The competition will close on Friday 29th June 2012 at 9pm, 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 at Wilderness HQ.

Good luck! 

UK residents only

Visit for further information about the festival.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Brighter moments

Betty at Hay
Through all the stress and worry of the last few weeks (my mum has been in hospital), one of the brighter moments was taking Betty to a 'Rainbow Magic Fairy Party' at the Hay Festival.  'They are my four favourite words all together' she said excitedly.  She was completely in her element at the party and couldn't stop beaming.

I also got a ticket for Dolly, but she told me: 'I don't want to go to that, I just want to play with mud and grass'.

Another great moment, was going along to watch Tom and his band doing their first and fabulous live gig together.

And last night I randomly stumbled across this: Blogs we love...  - thank you BabyPing!

Tuesday 29 May 2012

The Diamond generation

Tom is clattering around in the kitchen, whipping up some red, white and blue muffins for Dolly's Diamond Jubilee garden party at pre-school tomorrow. And I think about sitting at my mum's hospital bed earlier today, and listening to her recounting memories of the Queen visiting our local town during the coronation year.

This is the town where she was born, the town where she is now being looking after, and the town where both my children were born.

My mum was six years old, and remembers having a prime view through the lounge window on the first floor of her father's watchmakers shop at 24 High Town (now a mobile phone shop).

She speaks about the lounge in impressive detail. It was very Victorian, she says, with a lovely three-piece suite, a wind-up gramophone, and a big gold ornate clock under a glass dome. There was also a beautiful piano that my grandpa would practice 'Fur Elise' on.

My mum and her brother sat on the window ledge in their dad’s shop, in 1952, legs dangling out, and felt very excited as they saw their young, new Queen, walk past.

Sixty years on, and the same Queen is visiting our town for a 'Diamond Day'. I plan to take Betty and Dolly along to share in the celebrations. We may even position ourselves outside 24 High Town, and have a look up at that window…

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Torquay, before and after kids

In 2003, just before Tom and I moved away from London, I attended an Indian Head Massage workshop in Torquay.

I drove out of London after work on the Friday evening, picked Tom up from Heathrow (he had been in Geneva for work) and we headed down to Devon.

We spent that night staying up very late, getting drunk on the marina, eating delicious food, holding hands, and playing the 'guess the line from the film' game; stopping every so often to watch the next stag or hen party spectacle enter the bar.  

I spent the following day massaging people's heads with a hangover, and Tom explored Torquay, read his book, and lunched while gazing peacefully at the sea.

That was the last time we had both been to that part of the country, until this weekend.  It was Tom who was on a course this time, learning how to grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds, and build a profitable enterprise from it.

The main difference this time was that we had two little ladies in tow. So while Tom was on some farm in Totnes getting perhaps a little too excited about fungi, I was keeping the kids entertained.  

We went on a wildlife boat trip around the coast, but while attempting to buy tickets, Dolly shouted crossly 'I AM NOT TWO, I AM THREE!'  There was no charge for two year olds, but Dolly wasn't playing ball and successfully exposed me as a fraud and a liar.  

While on board, and still trying to get over the embarrassment, we had a 'naughty lunch' as Betty called it (she has since told EVERYONE that I only fed them crackers and chocolate biscuits all day).  

After the boat trip, I wrestled Betty and Dolly into their fabulous new wetsuits (very kindly supplied by MandMDirect), and they took to the icy cold waters of Teignmouth beach.  This photo doesn't show the Siberian chill that was blowing that day. But it does show that absolutely no one else was in the sea. 

Teignmouth beach
We then went onto the pier where they spotted rock for sale in the sweet shop.  We have been reading 'Lost at the fair' a lot, where the little mice eat rock, so I reluctantly let them choose a stick each and allowed them one little nibble (the rest is still knocking around in the bottom of my bag).  

Next on the relaxing itinerary: Betty and I had a massive argument about the lethal-looking, mile-high inflatable slide that I wouldn't let her go on.  She stroppily had a bounce on the 'baby' bouncy castle with Dolly, but soon cracked a smile when I opened up the world of Penny Fall machines to them in the arcade.  I'm not sure Tom would have approved, but he wasn't there was he.  

We were all absolutely knackered by the time Tom finished his course at 4pm.  So when Dolly informed me that she was not intending to leave the hotel room that evening, I was more than happy to stay with her.  

At 6.30pm, I was in my pyjamas, tending to a vomiting child, and watching reality TV, while Tom and Betty were out eating tapas and having a ball on that lethal-looking inflatable slide thingy. 

Sunday 6 May 2012

Chrysanthemum wallpaper and marrowfat peas

During my teens I had many arguments with my mum. I was fiery and stroppy and felt misunderstood.

When I was 16 and at sixth form college, I used to camp out in my granny's spare bedroom. Having left school, I really did think of myself as grown up, someone who knew everything. Staying with my granny a couple of nights a week sort of felt like I had left home and was independent.

My granny's spare room was fascinating to me. The 70s style garish yellow, orange and brown chrysanthemum wallpaper wasn't like anything I had seen before. My mum's walls at home were all white, my granny's were psychedelic.

She would give me an electric blanket, an ancient heavy feather eiderdown and a hot water bottle in a stripy pillowcase. She was quite tight with her Economy 7 heating, so wanted to make sure I didn't freeze.

I remember trying to write an essay about the Cold War sitting on this bed, staring blankly at the wallpaper, and counting all the petals on the chrysanthemums. I became distracted by all of my dad's old rock climbing and photography books, and the little pots he had made in his youth, which all sat on a shelf at the end of the bed. My essay was due in the next day, and it was a poor effort. I don't think I even finished it.

My granny would make me a corned beef and tomato sandwich on white sliced bread for my tea. This was all such a novelty to me. I wasn't allowed white sliced bread at home, my mum said it was like eating cotton wool. And as for corned beef, I hadn't even known it existed until my little visits to her house. Sometimes she would feed me marrowfat processed peas.

There was a very distinct smell in my granny's house, similar to how marrowfat peas smell before they have been heated up.

I loved the fact that when my granny caught me hanging out of the bedroom window smoking an Embassy No 1, she calmly handed me a mug of cocoa and said: 'If you're going to do that, just come down to the kitchen and do it in comfort'. I didn't ever do it again. It no longer felt rebellious.

Although I loved my little escapades to my granny's house, I would never stay for more than two consecutive nights. This was mainly because she wouldn't let me use her phone to ring my friends, and in the days without mobile phones and the internet, this was a big deal.

So I would go back home, give my mum a hard time about not having any 'cotton wool' bread or Frey Bentos pies in the house, slam a few doors, and run up a huge phone bill.

Saturday 28 April 2012

The missing tooth

We are having a bit of a tooth drama in this house at the moment. After weeks of Betty excitedly showing us her wobbly tooth and talking about it non-stop, it finally fell out yesterday. But unfortunately she didn't notice where and when it fell out. Betty was reciting Chopsticks on the piano, to Tom's horror, and he happened to notice the gap in her teeth.

After a moment's reflection, Betty was very cool about the fact that the tooth was lost. 'Don't worry mummy,' she said. 'The tooth fairy will find it.'

I thought that Betty was being a little too complacent and so set off on a frantic search. This included emptying out the bins and the compost and going through it with a fine toothcomb; delicately inspecting all manner of discarded rotting food stuffs, and scrabbling around in the chicken coop looking in amongst the food scraps that had been thrown to them just moments before we realised the tooth was missing.

I checked back through Betty's baby record book (kept in the days when I was energetic and organised), and realised that the missing tooth was in fact the very first tooth to cut through on 1st August 2007 when Betty was eight months old; the tooth that caused much excitment, the tooth that marked the beginning of her teeth-owning days, and the tooth that made my nipples bleed.

The situation had acquired a new urgency. I decided that Betty must have swallowed the tooth while eating her supper, so I asked her if she could do all poos on Dolly's potty. In her excitement she promptly produced one almost straight away. I sat at the top of the stairs and carefully dissected it using a couple of craft lollipop sticks. Tom walked past me at this point, gagged, and told me that I was one heck of a dedicated mother.

This morning I have abandoned plans to go out for the day, so that we are near a potty at all times, and I will continue to inspect Betty's excrement. I have even considered inspecting the chickens' shit - they are such greedy scavengers they could well have eaten it.

Tom, Betty and the tooth fairy may not care, but I will be gutted if I don't find that tooth.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Happy 3rd Birthday Dolly!

Dolly is three today.  She hasn't really said much about her impending birthday, and seems pretty nonplussed by the whole thing.  And so we are having pass the parcel and jelly solely for Betty's benefit.

I tried to spark her enthusiasm by telling her of the lovely presents she will be receiving, and the party food and balloons, and the trip to Pizza Express, but she just told me that I could have her birthday instead.

Despite her nonchalance, she did specify that she would like a Peppa Pig cake and that it had to be made by me.  I am not sure whether this request was to stress me out and make me work, or whether she genuinely did care about what sort of cake she had.

After my one-armed, one-day, effort with Betty's cake last November, I felt I could take on anything.  Betty and I had a few arguments during construction, mainly because she kept accidentally spilling food colouring everywhere, and nicking bits of icing snout and ears, and turning them into other 'beautiful things'.  But we got there in the end.

With the cake made yesterday, Birthday Girl announced this morning that in fact she wanted to have a fairy princess cake instead.  I pretended not to hear.

Happy Birthday my darling girl - you are funny, and gorgeous, and sweet, and kind, and we all completely and utterly adore you.  XXXX

Sunday 15 April 2012

Here we are again...

We have been going to the same holiday cottage in Wales for the last three years.  Perhaps we completely lack imagination, but we have found somewhere we love, and couldn't possibly risk going anywhere else.

Just before we left to come back home this morning, after our eighth visit, I grabbed the visitor's book to make an entry.  I had a flick through and rather embarrassingly I found that most of the entries were ours.  Feeling self-conscious about leaving yet another comment about our children's latest milestones, this time I got Betty to draw a picture of a fairy.

Reading my very first entry, it brought back vivid memories of our maiden visit to this cottage, when Dolly was just a few months old, and Betty was two.  I was completely done in, and don't think I had had any time out from my kids for quite a while.  So I would get up at 6am every morning before Dolly woke to be fed, put my trainers on, and still in my pyjamas, I would go for a brisk walk to the lighthouse and back.  This little lone jaunt made me feel positively euphoric,and would set me up for the day ahead - dirty nappies, sore nipples, wipes, snacks, rattles, naps, spare clothes, baby-proofing, sterilising, and whingeing.

Now that the kids are older, I haven't felt the need to go for my early morning escapades to the headland. These days, they will mostly wake up, get themselves a cereal box from the variety pack, fight over who has the Coco Pops for half an hour, play with the pot pourri, and then go off to play with the boy they have befriended who lives next door.  Meanwhile Tom and I sit in bed reading, and pray they don't tire of the robot and alien roleplay games before we've managed to finish our cup of tea.

After our first couple of visits to this cottage, I noticed several menacing-looking foxes roaming around, and so I am now more than happy for Betty, Dolly and Tom to accompany me on my walk to the lighthouse, and at a more reasonable hour.  Those 6am starts, although seemingly vital to my sanity at the time, now seem like a ludicrous way to spend a holiday.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Magazine articles

Excitement has reached fever pitch in our house this evening.  We are escaping the mice and going on holiday in the morning.  The only thing that slightly concerns me about going is the worry about what we might find when we get back - a total mouse takeover.

Anyway, I leave you with a couple of recent articles I have written for Gurgle magazine and Herefordshire and Wye Valley Life magazine.

Now I must get back to sealing all our kitchen cupboards and drawers with brown tape...

Saturday 7 April 2012


Managing to get over my neurosis about raw egg and food poisoning, Betty and I did some egg blowing this morning. 

Needing more eggs to hang on our Easter tree, I left Betty with pretty paints, sequins, and glitter, to get on with the decorating by herself, while I read OK magazine.

About half an hour later she called me back in - I was not expecting to be presented with this little scene!

From left to right:  A horse, a superhero, a chicken, and a pirate...  And apparently it doesn't end there. She is now making a ship, a nest, a stable and a cave, for them all to live in.

The Easter tree didn't get a look in.

Happy Easter!

Friday 6 April 2012

Mice and malfunctions

Things that I have done this week:
  • put all the winter clothes away
  • picked mouse droppings out of the sugar bowl
  • saw a mouse flailing around the kitchen in a trap, half-dead
  • watched in horror as my laptop spectacularly malfunctioned
  • fell in love with the man at PC World who heroically fixed malfunction and rescued my data
  • smoked out the entire house while trying to light the woodburner, and had to evacuate
  • washed several loads of wood-smoked clothes 
  • eaten several of the kids' Easter eggs
  • felt immensely guilty, and replenished the egg stocks
  • broken up several fights between Betty and Dolly
  • been on numerous play-dates
  • noted that our windows haven't been cleaned for seven years
  • realised my new favourite chef is Hugh F-W (sorry Jamie O)
  • wondered how long it would be before I felt safe to enter my kitchen again, and cook
  • had lots of cruel thoughts towards the mice
  • thought about moving house
  • began packing, perhaps a little prematurely, for our holiday next week
  • got all the winter clothes back out again

Friday 30 March 2012

Mouse overload

Last weekend I was standing at the cooker, sweating away, and frantically stirring some white sauce, when a large mouse darted over my foot and scarpered into the far corner of the kitchen.

Because I always burn the bottoms of pans when making any kind of milk-based sauce, I chose to ignore it, and instead continued to put 100 per cent concentration into my stirring.  The sight of a mouse in my kitchen would normally make me feel physically sick, and I would do the whole standing-on-a-chair thing, screaming blue murder (despite growing up with mice in my Mum's house).

Looking back, I think it must have been a subconscious coping mechanism that kicked in: no one was going to ruin this labour intensive meal, not even a rodent.  

The next day, despite finding droppings and gnawings everywhere, I was still in total denial and I didn't think about the mouse again. But that night Tom woke me up at midnight. He looked shaken, and told me that he had walked into the kitchen and spotted a mouse poking his head out of a cereal packet.  'WHICH CEREAL PACKET?' I asked, totally panic stricken.  I was inwardly relieved that it had been the kids' Cheerios and not my muesli. Tom told me that he had heroically grabbed the box with the mouse still inside, and given it a good shake.  What he was trying to achieve with the shake I don't know, but he said the sound of a mouse thudding around amongst Cheerios was an odd sensation.  He went out into the night and bravely threw the box and its dizzy inhabitant out into the garden.

By Monday I was feeling pretty traumatised, particularly since, on Sunday night, the mice had chewed through our wooden cutlery draw and placed all the wooden shavings amongst my forks and spoons, along with their shit.  And on Monday afternoon, Tom had yet another unnerving encounter with a mouse who was hanging out next to our microwave, staring at him.

I am now refusing to cook in my kitchen.  I have thrown a lot of our food away.  And I will only eat items from the fridge.   Each time I nervously enter the kitchen, I mentally prepare myself, make sure I'm not holding anything breakable, and I shout loudly and clap to give them a chance to at least run away and hide so that I don't have to see them strolling around on my kitchen surfaces.

Much to Tom's delight, I have had to throw Baby Annabel into the bin. Her neck had been gnawed. I assume it was a mouse anyway.

I have even become terrified about them getting into bed with me while I am asleep.  'Well you mustn't eat chocolate in bed and leave crumbs everywhere then,' Betty helpfully informed me.

Pest control are coming on Tuesday.

Monday 26 March 2012

Look, my Mum polished my shoes!

On Friday Betty showed me a nasty blister on her foot, and because I bought her latest school shoes last September I naturally blamed myself for neglecting to get her feet measured sooner.

So on Saturday we hot-footed it into town full of promises of new shoes for both Betty and Dolly (whom I had also neglected in the shoe stakes).  Before we got to the shoe shop, I cunningly put both girls in their Crocs to disguise from the shop assistant the fact that their shoes were too small.

I got Betty and Dolly to choose the shoes they would like while we waited our turn to be measured.  This was a ploy to keep them in one place in a very crowded and sweaty shop - pink patent shoes don't really float my boat.

Anyway, it turned out that where Dolly had gone up a size and was promptly issued with some unshiny and unpink shoes, Betty's feet had not grown at all in seven months.  I was somewhat perplexed by this, as height-wise I swear she has almost doubled in size. 

Betty was gutted that she didn't get her new shoes, but I was secretly thrilled at not having to spend £32.00.  So to cheer her up I bought her some shoe polish, which I am ashamed to say is a first for me.  I have never polished a pair of shoes in my life, not ever.

So on Monday morning before school, I gave Betty's muddy and somewhat battered shoes a good polish.  She was positively thrilled with the result.  If I had known what joy some black shoe polish would have brougt her, I may have tried it before.  'You have made my shoes look amAzing!'  and 'You are so so clever Mummy!'  The girl has never given me so much praise for anything. 

After the journey to school where she continued to heap yet more praise on me, I walked her up the playground.  'Look at my shoes Miss T - my Mummy polished them, isn't she clever!'  she said to her teacher.

It got to the point where I wasn't sure if Betty was really genuinely impressed with me, or whether she was actually taking the piss out of me....

Thursday 22 March 2012

Turn on the Tap - World Water Day

Today, so far, I have had a shower, drunk two cups of tea and a glass of water, done the washing up, put the washing machine on, washed the kids' hands and faces and brushed their teeth, and filled up a bucket for my 2 year old to play with in the garden.

We are lucky that our water is clean and safe, but when the only water available is dirty, dangerous and difficult to reach, everyday activities like cooking, cleaning, washing, and drinking suddenly become dangerous, even life-threatening.

Can you imagine your own children having to drink dirty water full of diseases, knowing that it might kill them?  I can't.

Every day, more than 4000 children in the developing world die from preventable water-borne diseases.

Today it is World Water Day. The Turn on the Tap campaign (an initiative of the relief and development charity Samaritan’s Purse) is aiming to raise £22,000 to help thousands of children and families access clean water and escape the trap of water poverty.

£8 can save the life of a child by providing them with access to clean water through a water filter installed in the family home. I've just made this donation myself.

To give a gift of clean water or find out what else you can do on World Water Day, go to

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Why do you LOVE hoovering?

Dolly is going through that intensely annoying why, who, when, where, what phase.   As a child who is scarily astute and clued up, I thought the inane questioning might pass her by.

And where I normally want to tear my hair out at her constant questioning, I found this morning's interrogation rather telling:

Me: Come on Dolly get your top on
Dolly: I don't want to wear that one, I want to wear the red one
Me: The red one is wet because it has just been washed
Dolly: Why are you ALWAYS washing clothes
Me: Because they get dirty
Dolly: Do you LOVE washing clothes?
Me: No
Dolly: Why are you ALWAYS hoovering?
Me: Because the floor gets dirty
Dolly: Why have you got three hoovers?
Me: I have a very old hoover that doesn't work, a hoover for downstairs, and a little mini hoover for upstairs
Dolly: Why are you so greedy?
Me: I don't think I am.
Dolly: Why do you LOVE hoovering?
Me: I don't
Dolly: Why do you hoover?
Me: Because the floors get dirty
Dolly: Why doesn't Daddy ever hoover?
Me: Because he is scared of the hoover
Dolly: Is Daddy scared of the washing line too?

Monday 12 March 2012

The wedding ring mystery

A couple of months ago I stood on the bridleway next to the river with Tom and Dolly, and waited for Betty, who was some distance away, clinging to an oak tree.

I happened to look down at my wellies, and there nestling in the mud next to my foot was a gleaming silver object. I picked it up, and it looked like a man's wedding ring. 'I have found treasure!' I called to Betty, in a bid to entice her up the hill and away from her tree. 

I was a little bit flummoxed by this ring, and how it got to be just lying in the middle of a field, and I felt sad for the man who had lost it. But then I got to thinking... maybe he had thrown it into the river in a rage, after finding out his wife had been having an affair, and it got washed up? Or maybe it was vital evidence from a crime scene, and he had tried to discard of it? Or maybe it just simply fell off his finger as he threw a stick for his dog? Was he a local man? Or was he visiting from a land far away? Was he a ghost? Or was he indeed a she with very fat fingers? Was it a ring from ancient times? Was it worth a lot of money? Or had it been won in a Christmas cracker? So many questions.

Betty eventually caught up with us, pretty uninterested with the treasure, and we made our way to the church just up the hill. I found a scrap of paper and left a note with the ring, telling of where I had found it, and then left it in the hands of the Gods. 

Over the next two months I wondered what had become of the ring and its owner, and then this morning I saw the below extract in our parish magazine!

While I am delighted that the man/woman/criminal/ghost has been reunited with the ring, I am still none the wiser...

Friday 9 March 2012

My Aldi adventure

In a bid to cut back on our grocery bills, I decided to venture into Aldi, which sits right opposite the Sainsburys I have been going to for years.

I was so overcome with the ridiculously low prices, I ended up with a mountain of food that I did not need, or even want (sort of like what happens when I go to Ikea). So with my trolley laden with fifty different types of breakfast cereal, each box costing about 10p, fifty bars of chocolate, and fifty loaves of bread, I headed for the tills.

I quickly learned that at an Aldi till it is a very different experience to what you get at, say a Sainsbury's till.  You seriously have to have your wits about you. If you stop for even a millisecond, to scratch your nose, or indeed breathe, you get seriously scowled at by the cashiers, who I swear must be monitored on how fast they can scan food. And forget trying to pack your shopping into bags in any civilised manner.  Nope, if you are too slow, which I was, the cashier just hurls it into your trolley.  And not only do they scan fast, but they also talk fast too.  'Thatwillbe£12.49please'.  So despite the trauma of speedy scanning, the low bill more than made up for it.

I spent the next couple of weeks perfecting my till performance at Aldi by mentally preparing myself beforehand, bracing myself, and trying to be really really fast.  I couldn't have any distractions from kids slowing me down so on my second trip to the shop I had to leave them at home with Tom.  

I became a bit of an Aldi bore. Betty and Dolly were pretty surprised by some of the new 'treats' I was offering them but I didn't get any complaints. Also I made sure Tom was kept updated about prices. 'You see that packet of crisps you are eating? It cost 2p.' Or, 'Do you know, Aldi do the best chocolate in the whole entire world, and it only costs 4p per bar.' Tom wasn't convinced about any of it, and was not overly happy about my new found passion for Aldi.  He told me the bread was revolting, and that the mozzarella tasted weird.

Things came to a head on Tom's birthday. Normally I lay on a feast fit for a king to celebrate.  He didn't say anything because he is far too kind, but I could see his shoulders sink, and his eyes well up when I served up his birthday breakfast, lunch and supper, Aldi style. He looked like a broken man.

Sadly the Aldi honeymoon period is now over for me. While Aldi may be cheap, and certain things like their mini-magnum ice-creams, pitta bread, and salami may be perfectly ok, their fruit and veg is utterly tasteless, so much so that it is almost impossible to distinguish between their carrots, celery, green peppers and apples.

And although you can't buy a circular saw in the cake aisle at Sainsburys, at least you can get your bags packed neatly for you, and pass the time of day with a  cashier who is not on speed.  

Thursday 8 March 2012

Bed swap

'It's not right that you don't let a poor child sleep in their mother's bed,' was Betty's response, when I told her she couldn't sleep in my bed for the fourth night running. I say 'my' bed, but by rights, it is Tom's bed as well, although he often gets put in a small child's bed with just a one-legged Barbie and a Lego dog to keep him company.

Betty and Dolly generally sleep with me if they are unwell, and unlike many of my friends, I love the excuse to snuggle up to them. On this occasion however, I could sense Tom's slight annoyance at the prospect of yet another night with Barbie, particularly as there was now nothing wrong with Betty to warrant another night in the marital bed.

I challenged Betty and asked her why she didn't want to go back to her bed now that she was better. She told me that her bed was a bit 'stinky'. Initially I blamed Tom. But on further investigation, to my horror I realised that she had been sneaking all sorts of foodstuffs up to her room, eating them in her bed, and then shoving the wrappers, crumbs, half eaten biscuits, and crusts down between the bed and the wall. It was a disgusting sight. Thinking back, I do remember her muttering something about how much she had been enjoying her midnight feasts, which I ignored.

So, after I had removed and cleaned the mess, I decided to re-arrange their whole bedroom - maybe this is a ridiculous idea, but I pushed both their beds together to make one huge bed. Dolly was somewhat surprised to see her room in a different form when she emerged from the wardrobe, having bedded down in there for a nap, and Betty was positively thrilled when she got home from school: 'It's just like being in a hotel!' she squealed.

I read them the riot act at bedtime and told them no jumping, rolypolys or skydiving. 'Are we allowed to play I Spy?' Dolly asked.  So, after listening to a fraught game of I Spy through the monitor while trying to watch Eastenders, there followed blissful silence.  Tom breathed a sigh of relief.

However, at 3am, I woke up to find a sleeping Dolly next to me in my bed, and no sign of Tom... 

Monday 5 March 2012

Can you have kids and still live in a stylish home?

This is a guest post, sponsored by John Lewis

Guest blogger Tamsin McCahill from has two young boys and believes that kids don’t have to spell the end of your stylish home...

I can remember when I swore we’d be different. Sitting on our stylish (if battered) brown leather sofa, patting my humongous bump, I surveyed our living room. OK, so it would never appear in a home interiors magazine, but with its Orla Kiely accessories and the one-off pieces we’d accumulated on our travels, it had a kind of shabby charm “We’re not going to be a couple who just let their kids take over”, I said, while my husband nodded sagely. Our home wouldn’t be engulfed by a mountain of lurid plastic. Instead, our kids were going to enjoy playing with just a few wooden toys. Move our ornaments to out of reach places? No way! We’ll just leave them – it’s a good way for Junior to learn that no means no. And we weren’t going to install those ugly stairgates, either - we’d just have to keep a close eye on our kids.

Fast forward five years and how things have changed. Turns out my kids only like toys of the garish, plastic variety. The ornaments are long gone as rescuing them from sticky hands got old after, oh, about five minutes. And we are now the proud owners of not one but four sets of stairgates.  So, it seems that certain changes around the home are inevitable after you have kids. But fear not - there are ways you can hang on to some of your design ideals.

Pieces from John Lewis’ Little Home range

Living room
You spend so much time in this room, so you need a space that works for both adults and small people. During the day, push back sofas so little ones have maximum toddling space, then for cosy TV watching in the evening, move them into more social positions. There’s no need to get rid of your gorgeous cream settees and armchairs, either - machine washable throws are your friends. To keep things safe, buy non slip rubber mats to go under your rugs and get padding and edge protectors for your tables.

No matter what your design principles, stairgates are an absolute must. According to Baby Centre, falls account for a massive 44 per cent of all children’s accidents in the home. But there’s no reason to settle for the first stairgates you come across. Although choice can be limited if your stairs are very wide or narrow, if yours are of a standard width, you’ll be able to get gates in different colours (like jazzy silver or cream) or in a range of woods to help them blend in with the look of your home.

If you hate lurid colours and wacky TV characters, Cath Kidston does some great vintage-looking children’s wallpaper, themed with retro cars and cowboys. The prints are also available on bedding so their beds can look just as funky. And John Lewis’ Little Home range caters exclusively for kids, with themes including dinosaurs, robots and elephants. Bedroom furniture doesn’t have to be tacky or boring, either. Go for simple and stylish children’s beds that will grow with them and choose fun accessories to add interest. Or go all out with beds that double as dens, cars or even princess cottages. This may have the desired effect of keeping them in there until morning, too!

How has your home changed with the arrival of children?