Thursday, 1 May 2014

Popular names = a quiet life

Sulking
I once had a run-in with a fellow mum at a play group when my eldest daughter was a baby. She was horrified that I had named my child Betty.

She asked me if I had considered the bullying that Betty would endure at school because of her 'unusual' name, and had I prepared myself for her hating me for it. 

And she genuinely felt sorry for Betty that she would never find those cheap plastic mugs, and pens, and door plaques, and toothbrushes, with her name emblazoned across them. 

I quietly seethed at her rudeness, and scoffed at the idea of a common, sorry, popular name and marched out of that playgroup and never ever returned. 

Seven years later I am happy to report that Betty hasn't endured any bullying about her name, and has only mentioned a handful of times that she wants to be called Emily instead. And I don't think she has started hating me yet. 

But... in recent weeks, Betty has become obsessed with trying to find one of those garish plastic mugs with her name on it. And despite me telling her that this is a pointless exercise, it hasn't stopped her dragging Tom from one tacky greeting cards shop to the next. 

And while we were away in Pembrokeshire last week she sulked for three days because her name could not be found on any merchandise anywhere. 

As I sat there on a beautiful beach near St David's, gazing out to sea, the wind in my hair, Betty persistently moaned in my left ear about personalised pens with gold lettering.  It made me think of that mum at the playgroup all those years ago, and I decided that perhaps she had a point.  Chantelle would have been a much easier option, if only to be able to enjoy my holiday in peace...

Friday, 11 April 2014

Contrasting views of Hereford (slideshow)

I spent yesterday afternoon taking photos in Hereford - I have put them into a slideshow, with music by Hereford Cathedral Choir.


Monday, 7 April 2014

A monastic mum on Caldey Island

The Caldey boat
As the little blue boat bobbed up and down, the sea spraying our faces, we approached Caldey - that oh so familiar golden stretch of sand, the jetty, the rising cliffs, and the little white cottages dotted around, and that same overwhelming feeling of excitement I had always felt as a child.

I was feeling apprehensive (but also excited) about my solo venture to an island I hadn't stayed on for at least thirty years. I have returned many times as a day tripper - but this occasion felt very different. I felt deeply privileged to be returning as a guest and not a common tourist.

And even though I was travelling alone, it felt as if I was accompanied by the nine-year-old version of myself, and my mum. A little troupe of us going around and having a magical, and fun time together.

One of my fellow passengers on the boat was a lovely Welsh lady from the Swansea valleys. She had been visiting Caldey for forty years and knew all the monks and islanders that I remembered as a child. In particular she remembered a monk, who I'd offended back in the eighties by hiding behind a bin when I saw him swooshing down the lane in his black robes, when I was seven. He took great offence and never spoke to me again. And I was offended too, by the fact that he'd handed out delicious ice creams to my brother and other children almost on an hourly basis and left me out.

My bedroom window
The island's guesthouse looked and felt exactly as I had remembered it. And although the wonderful hosts, Dawn and Peter, had done an incredible amount of work to it, I was delighted to discover the same seventies lino in the corridors and bedrooms. And the bedrooms still had the same very distinct smell of sand and sea, with their simple hand basins in the corner, and the bible and a crucifix.

Stepping back into the dining room, the room where as a child I would only eat bread at every meal (and chocolate when I could get away with it), prompted the memory of feeling the utmost excitement on our last day during one particular stay. The guest master, Father Joseph, had announced during breakfast that the sea was too rough for our boat to take us back to Tenby that day. The prospect of missing a day from school and eating yet more chocolate and bread was almost too much. I knew that back at home my mum would put us back on a strict lentil stew, and brown rice diet, and chocolate would be banished until Christmas.

On this trip, although I still had a bread and chocolate addiction, I happily ate delicious homemade filo parcels filled with spinach and feta, sweet and sour pork, and chorizo and pepper lasagnes. There was no bread in sight, and I was fine with that.

After each meal we all helped tidy away, wash and dry up, and set the table for the next meal, just as I remember my mum doing so three decades ago. Despite now having two children of my own, I rarely feel like a grown-up. But carrying out this activity made me feel exactly that - I was being my mum. I only wished my girls were there to witness it, and then they could hold the same memories close to them.

The round sitting room also had lots of memories for me. This time, I spent much of my time in this room, writing, and trying to give the illusion of being a fascinating and mysterious writer-type, while the other seven guests sat and read their books in silence. Breaking the silence, one guest asked me: 'Are you writing a thriller?'

Window in St David's Church
I remember sitting in this very room, aged about nine, with a massive crush on the young good looking man opposite me, who was thinking about becoming a monk, and was here to find out about monastic life. Even at such a young age I remember thinking it was a terrible waste. He was the reason I nagged my mum to let me come to Compline with her that evening, promising to be good.

The magical chanting of the cloaked monks and this young man had been almost too much for me. I was giggly and fidgety, which is probably why my exasperated mum sat us at the back of the Abbey.

During this visit, each time I went to Compline I would sit in the exact same place at the back of the Abbey. I would enter the building in darkness, apart from the faint glow of a burning candle, and sit down and wait, feeling totally at peace, and like I was in the best place in the world at that very moment. The smell of burning incense was wonderful, and the anticipation and what was about to come, overwhelming.

I would hear the stomping of the monks' sandals, and the swooshing of their white hooded robes coming down the dark corridor and into the Abbey. They each bowed low and long before taking their places in the choir stalls.

And then they began to sing, and it was spine tingling. To me they were like angels. Their heavenly sound made me shiver with happy nostalgia - it was truly magic. I felt safe and comforted being here, and it gave me such a warm glow. The words: 'As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be...' have been ringing in my ears for the last thirty years.

The Abbey
The Welsh lady pointed out Father Stephen who was now in a wheelchair and said that he was the only one left from the time I used to visit. I felt so blessed to have her here with me, and for her to be telling me these things. It brought me even closer to my memories.

As the monks' music washed over me, I hid my mobile phone in my hymn book and recorded the songs and later emailed them to my mum. I also listened to them several times before I went to sleep, in my little sandy room each night.

On the way back from Compline one evening, I was pleased to find the monastery wifi connection next to the duck pond. And so I sat on the wall in the pitch black, feeling privileged to be using the monks' wifi, but a little bit scared of the dark. The ducks noisily squabbled behind me while I uploaded some photos I had taken onto Instagram.

I could see a figure coming down the track towards me. I hoped it wasn't a hide-away convict - I had been hearing all sorts of stories about hippies, junkies, criminals and homeless people trying their luck and seeking refuge here on the island. 

Thankfully, this person turned out to be one of the other guests, who cheerily announced: 'There will be a whisky waiting for you in the library,' as he walked past me.

I quickly accepted. Before this kind offer, I had considered trying to smuggle myself into the 'Caldey Club' above the Post Office, which is only open to island residents. I could hear laughter and rowdiness as I sat there on the wall and I had been gagging for a glass of wine, so the offer of anything alcoholic was very welcome.

Post Office/Caldey Club
I also felt it would be a good opportunity to get to know the other guests. On the first night I had joined them in the round sitting room but because they were mainly talking about their African safaris, and stroking cheetahs, and their bowls clubs, and cruises, and the baby names that they hated (most of which I really liked), I'd felt out of place, so I quietly skulked off to my room, and ate a chocolate orange, and emailed my mum some photos of my bedroom.

However my whisky-fuelled library rendezvous with them that night turned out to be a lovely occasion, all of us were now relaxed and chatting freely and happily. And it appeared that even anecdotes about bowling clubs and cruises can be entertaining. I also had respect for the fact that they had smuggled a bottle of whisky into the guesthouse. And I was thrilled that one of the guests thought I was twenty-two!

On my third evening, while we ate our sweet and sour pork supper, I managed to persuade a lovely Dutch lady who I'd met on the boat (and who was the Abbot's cousin), to join me for vigils at 3.30am the following morning.

At 3am, I put my clothes on over my pyjamas and the Dutch lady and I made our way with torches in the pitch black to the Abbey church, to hear the monks chanting and praying, while the rest of the world slept. It was a special time, to be up with the monks at this unearthly hour, hearing their heavenly sounds.

I thought of my husband and my children back at home, snuggled up and fast asleep in their beds. After an hour of this, as wonderful as it was, I began to wish that I was asleep myself – in fact, I think I may have momentarily dropped off.

Observing the monks conducting this service, I couldn't help but feel sorry for them having to do this every single morning, and I wondered what was going through their minds, and whether during the winter months when no one was watching, they just stayed in bed and ate toast like normal people.

But this wasn't winter, it was still the height of summer, a time when the island would normally be awash with day trippers milling around eating ice-creams and pushing buggies. Fortunately for us ‘islanders’, the boats were cancelled because of a south-easterly wind direction. So we had the island all to ourselves, for the first three days anyway – this felt like such a massive bonus.

So I was effectively on a desert island: a magical place that the outside world couldn't get to, and indeed we couldn't get off. And it felt a real honour to be roaming this enchanted place in peace.

The lighthouse in fog
For the first couple of days I walked around the island in dense fog, and I think I pretty much covered most of it. There was a very still and misty silence all around. Not even the birds were singing. I didn't see a single living thing, apart from some chickens, ducks, pheasants, and a few monks.

At one point while I was  mooching around by the perfume shop, a monk came speeding up to me in his battered silver Ford Focus, practically screeched to a halt, wound down his window, and asked me if I was having a nice time, before speeding off again up towards the monastery. I had an urge to run after him and make him talk to me some more, but I restrained myself.

I also passed the Dutch lady and the Abbot, sitting together on a bench near the lighthouse. I was amused to see him dressed in tracksuit and trainers. And another monk, (dressed in hat, coat and gloves) was sitting at the foot of the lighthouse and gazing out to sea. I would have loved to know what he was thinking. I gave him a wave. I found all these monk sightings very exciting indeed.

During my stay, I took many strolls down memory lane - one was along a pathway, over the sand dunes and onto Priory Bay. I remembered the freedom I'd felt as child on this exact route when my mum gave me pocket money and allowed me to go to the gift shop on my own to buy myself some chocolate and a gold necklace with something holy attached to it. I made this trip many times as a child, clutching my 30 pence – the price of the monks' chocolate back then.

I walked to the end of the beach and looked at the rock that I'd once climbed and got stuck on, and had to be helped down by a tall man. Moments before getting stuck I remember seeing my mum standing in the sea, laughing (not at me, I don't think) and not realising that her bikini had shifted in the waves and was revealing all.

I visited St Illtud's Church and St David's church, and lit candles in both, for my family. I also thought about the special people in my life who have passed away.

When I tried to exit St David's church a cockerel stood menacingly in the doorway and wouldn't let me out for several minutes. After feeling very peaceful, this incident really got my heart racing. It was a bizarre foreshadowing of an incident just six months later, when our own cockerel attacked me and I slipped in the mud, breaking my leg in two places. Maybe the island was working its magic, trying to warn me. Or maybe it was just an odd coincidence.

Once I'd escaped from the cockerel, I found the gravestone of the monk I had offended all those years ago, and asked him to forgive me for hiding behind a bin. I also told him off for not giving me ice cream.

Priory Bay
Being back on the island I was overcome with happy feelings of nostalgia and emotion at every turn, and this is pretty much how I felt for my entire four-day stay. Every visit to a different corner of the island, the chapels, the beaches, the woods - every single sight and smell and feeling brought back a vivid memory for me.

On my last day the wind direction changed, the fog lifted and suddenly the island sprung back into life. The boat had made it across from Tenby and the island's crane lifted the recycling units onto the boat, and the shop workers arrived to open up the cafe, post office, perfume shop, gift shop and chocolate factory. Boxes of fresh cakes and Cornish pasties, and chocolate were loaded off the boat.

A couple of hours later the day trippers began to arrive. I sat on a table outside the now-open cafe with my latte, which admittedly after three days was a real treat, and watched the visitors slowly dribble through the village. Suddenly the island was less unique and mysterious and it felt like we were being invaded. I couldn't wait until 4.30pm when they would all have to go away again on the last boat.

And then the time came for me to say goodbye to the island. Governed by the tide, we had an early start - breakfast at 7.15am, in time for the mail boat back to the mainland at 8.20am.

Me with Brother Titus
Down at the jetty, I had my photo taken with the monk who drove the Ford Focus, who in a previous life had been a Formula 1 racing driver. Also a keen photographer, he showed me his camera, and how it can zoom in 84 times. He demonstrated this on some birds at the other end of the beach, and then gave me a big hug and a kiss goodbye.

I was then honoured to have a lovely chat with the Abbot, Father Daniel, and I felt a bit star struck. What an amazing man: insightful, humorous, clever and warm, and he loves the island so very much.

He spoke of the island's special and magical pull - the serious straight businessmen who once visited on a whim, and began play-fighting like children on the green, for example.

In answer to my earlier ponderings about the 3.30am start, the Abbot told me that vigils was his favourite part of the day, 'so new and pure.' He told me that he'd seen me there on Sunday and I was secretly thrilled that he had noticed.

We spoke of Belmont Abbey where my mum and dad got married and where my grandparents are buried; the men that arrive on Caldey but get cold feet about becoming monks and leave again; my sneaky trip down to Sandtop Bay; noisy day-trippers disrupting their services; and camping in Tenby.

The Abbot boarded the boat with us, and we sailed away from Caldey in choppy waters. I watched the island get smaller and smaller, and I felt a deep sense of fulfilment, and happiness, but also sadness that I was saying goodbye. But I knew that one day I would be back to re-live the magical memories, past and present, that this otherworldly island has given me.

And as I headed home to see my beautiful family, I felt truly blessed. Despite being on the island alone, the whole trip had somehow brought me even closer to them (as if that was even possible).

The forbidden Sandtop Bay
One memory lingered with me on the journey home. On my ramblings one foggy day, I was thrilled to see that they had re-opened part of the island that had been closed off since the times we used to come and stay. I came upon a big open track that lead to Sandtop Bay - and even though I hadn't been on this part of the island for many many years, it was so unbelievably familiar, and it made me feel very nostalgic indeed. The last time I walked this track was as a nine year old, full of excitement about the steep bank we were about to scramble down to get to Sandtop Bay, the secret beach that Father Joseph had shown us, and a beach that was now out of bounds for health and safety reasons.

Ignoring the 'No public access' sign, I scrambled over the stone wall and struck out through the long grass. I reached the edge of the cliff and peered over, and there it was, the beach that I remembered as if it were yesterday. The familiar rocks in the middle of the sand, the steep pathway down to it, and the caves off to the side.

At the bottom I felt exhilarated and triumphant. I was the only one in the world on this forbidden beach, a beach that held so many wonderful memories and was so special to me. I remembered, as a small girl, feeling happy and sandy and sunburnt while playing by the rocks and finding tiny special shells I had only ever seen on this beach. For a little while, my younger self and the presence of my mum merged with me, there was no distinction between us, just the spirit of my family moving slowly over the sand in search of treasure.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My hate of animals has made me a vegetarian

I have never been a big meat-eater, particularly meats that resemble the actual animal, like joints with bones.  A thick slice of bloody beef amongst my roast potatoes and carrots literally turns my stomach.  I would find it just as appetising to walk up to a mooing muddy cow standing on the hillside and bite a chunk out of its side.

My dislike of eating animals isn't because I have any deep affection for them. It’s actually the opposite. I would rather eat food that hasn't scratched or bitten me, or chased me, or barked loudly at me, or broken my leg.  Vegetables are much safer by comparison.

And in the wake of the whole cockerel killer-attack incident, I have now gone from avoiding animals to positively disliking them, particularly poultry - I do not want them anywhere near me (certainly not inside me), dead or alive.

This leaves a bit of a problem, because although we promptly got rid of vicious 'Cocky' (affectionately renamed by Betty when she realised 'Buttercup', her cute fluffy yellow chick, turned out to be a he) we still have four hens left, all of which the other Buttons totally adore.  In my rational head I know that they won't attack me, but they still terrify me, so much so that I tried to take one of them on with my crutch the other day when she pecked at some grass a little too close to where I was standing frozen to the spot.

I later announced that I wanted to move back to London, and my mum told me: 'Your poor children, not having a hardy countryside-loving woman for a mother.'

In light of my chicken aversion, I did wonder whether Pinterest were having a cruel laugh at my expense recently when they sent me an email entitled: 'Mouth-watering chicken recipes'.  UK pinners might be 'cluckers for chicken recipes' but this one ain't.  I am actually thrilled that I now genuinely dislike the taste of chicken - it feels like sweet revenge.

Interestingly, the leg breakage incident has also forced Betty into announcing that she too is now a vegetarian.  But for her it's on the grounds that she feels 'so so sorry for cute lovely animals who are killed and then eaten.'

She blatantly doesn't believe that her cockerel is now living happily on a farm somewhere, and she still eyes me suspiciously while saying 'I would be heartbroken if I ever found out that Cocky was dead.'

A small part of me feels bad that I got the next door neighbour to kill and eat Betty's pet, particularly when she makes me listen to tortured love songs she has written for him.  But then I remember that I am still hobbling around on crutches, I can't drive, it takes me three hours to make lunch, my house is a mess, and I have put on about three stone... and all because of him.

So Betty and I will continue to reject meat for our opposing reasons, but one thing we do agree on is that our vegetarianism sort of excludes pigs, because as Betty pointed out 'they just taste too nice.'

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

A slow but happy existence

It's been five weeks since Betty's beloved pet chicken tried to kill me. Which means I am now half way to possibly being able to ditch the crutches, drive the car, and resume some sort of normality.

But actually, the last few weeks, though very unpleasant and frustrating at times, have been far better than I could have ever imagined. 

I have had copious amounts of tea made for me by my lovely visitors, while we sit in my kitchen, eat cake, and I regale them with stories of my vicious fight with the cockerel, and my marriage proposal to the paramedic (who gave me lots of gas and air and morphine), and the fact I now have a metal rod in my leg and feel like a bit of a hero.

I have been brought homemade cookies, curries, Chocolate Oranges, wine, scones (with jam and cream) olives, ginger cake, laxatives, flowers, biscuits, magazines, Revels, pies, homeopathy remedies, soup, Fruit Pastilles, and lasagnes. 

And the kindness has even extended to friends cleaning my house from top to bottom, while I lay on my bed eating chocolate and watching a rom com on Netflix, being whisked away to Pizza Express, and to the pub.

Having a broken leg also forces you into a very slow existence, which I'm beginning to think is really rather nice. When else would you get away with taking a blissful hour to have a shower and brush your teeth? 

So although I cannot wait to be able to leave the house at will, and walk down the stairs without fear of breaking my neck, it has most certainly not been all bad...

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

All About Me

One of my fave bloggers Nappy Valley Girl has tagged me to answer some questions about myself.

Here goes:

1.  What's for dinner tonight?

Sausage stew, a la Tom Button (currently the one doing everything around here due to my broken leg).

2.  Do you read a daily newspaper?

No, not unless you count Buzzfeed.

3.  If you could take off on a no-expense spared holiday next week, where would you go?

Pretty much anywhere you don't have to wear wellies, and change out of muddy clothes every five seconds, and run away from angry chickens.

4.  What was your favourite book as a child?

The Bears' Picnic, by Jan and Stan Berenstain.

5.   who is your favourite author as an adult?

David Nicholls, because he wrote the fabulous One Day, and introduced me to the gorgeous Dexter Mayhew.

6.  Do you buy your underwear at M&S?

Yes - I have a mad splurge in M&S every five years or so.

7.  What's your dream career and do you wish you'd done it?

When a careers advisor came to our school and got us to take a questionnaire to determine our ideal career, mine came up as train driver!   However I was adamant I wanted to be a news reader on BBC1 - mainly because my drama teacher told me I had a good speaking voice, and this coupled with the fact that I wanted to be famous, seemed like the obvious choice.

8.  Do you ever google people you meet afterwards? (And not for work reasons).

Yes! I sometimes even start googling them on my phone while still in their company.  I was in hospital last week and out of sheer boredom I googled all the other patients on my ward (as their names were written above their heads), and also some of the doctors and nurses.

9.  What was the last thing you saw at the theatre?

Rapunzel, and before that Ben and Holly, and before that Jack and the Beanstalk... (jeez)

10. Do you use Pinterest, and if so, do you get the point?

I use Pinterest very occasionally, like when my kids set me impossible challenges such as making a multi-coloured, three tier, flashing Disney Princess birthday cake - for this purpose it is very useful to get ideas.  Other than that I haven't got a clue what it's for.

11. What's been your proudest moment as a parent so far?

I'm pretty proud of my girls right now - they are waiting on me hand and foot.


I am now going to think of some questions of my own and tag some bloggers...

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

My husband is Superman

Tom is pretty much having to do everything at the moment. It is very frustrating for me and totally knackering for him.

These are things I have said to him in the last 24 hours:
  • Have you checked the mouse traps?
  • Are you keeping the surfaces clean?
  • Please can I have a bowl of Weetabix?
  • It's so important to stay on top of the washing.
  • Have I got any clean pyjamas?
  • Can you switch the telly on for me please?
  • Shall we write a shopping list together?
  • Can you carry me up the stairs?
  • Do you think I've lost weight?
  • Have the girls brushed their teeth?
  • When did they last have a bath?
  • This is delicious.
  • Are you sure it's cooked properly?
  • Can you get me a clean towel?
  • Do you think it's ok to drink gin with morphine?
  • Shall I teach you how to use the steam mop?
  • Please can I have a cup of tea?
  • Can you move that pile of dirty laundry out of my path?
  • What's that smell?
  • Would you mind shaving my legs?
  • Tidy as you go - that's my motto
  • Don't forget to pick up my prescription from the surgery 
  • Have you checked the post?
  • Can you buy me some Arnica?
  • Thanks so much for hoovering
  • Are you ok?
  • Can you wrap my leg in clingfilm?
He is being absolutely amazing, and hasn't once complained.  What a guy!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Using crutches: it's not all bad

I am trying to get the hang of my crutches, but it's not coming that naturally. I clumsily topple this way and that, I accidentally forget to keep my broken leg off the ground and wince in pain, and my hands hurt.

But there are some definite advantages to being on crutches:
  • You can use them rather effectively to bat away objects left in your path, such as Lego and doll's houses.
  • Your children stop nagging you for food every five seconds, because they know you're currently pretty useless - you can barely go to the toilet on your own, let alone make them endless snacks.
  • In fact the children very quickly learn that for anything to happen around here they have to become your slave, and fetch you everything from clean socks, to chocolate, to your next morphine fix.
  • And they even bring you croissants in bed, occasionally.
  • Crutches also provide hours of entertainment for the kids who love playing with them. When I was little I always dreamed of breaking a leg so that I could have my own crutches.
  • You can make the handles look pretty with a huge array of different coloured comfy covers to choose from on eBay. 
  • You build up serious arm muscle and those bingo wings finally become a thing of the past.  No more having to half-heartedly weight-lift baked bean tins once a fortnight.
If only I'd had them on me when the cockerel decided to attack - bastard wouldn't have stood a chance.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Hospitalised by our pet cockerel

As I walked down our lane to meet my girls from the school bus the other day I was severely attacked by our cockerel. 

This is the cockerel who was lovingly hatched in the girls' playhouse last Summer, and started life as a gorgeous fluffy yellow chick who we all adored, and who has featured many times on my Instagram feed.

The attack was so crazed and vicious, I think the bird was intent on actually trying to kill me. He attacked me the entire length of our lane, while I flailed and kicked and screamed blue murder, desperately trying to protect myself.

In the struggle, I eventually slipped on some mud and fell back onto my left leg and hit the ground.  When I frantically tried to get up I realised the bottom half of my leg was swinging around, completely broken and disconnected from the top half of my leg and the cockerel was now angrily circling me as I lay helpless on the ground. 

At that very moment both my husband and my neighbour appeared on the scene, having heard my screams.  And the cockerel calmly clucked off as if nothing had happened, happily pecking at some snowdrops as he went, leaving me sitting in mud and chicken shit, in a mangled, traumatised, and excruciatingly painful mess. 

At that point the school bus arrived, Betty took in the somewhat tense scene and went over to the cockerel to make sure it was OK.

Next the ambulance arrived and the paramedics gave me reassurances, and held my hand, and cut my clothes and shoes off me. The very funny paramedic kindly pointed out that the shoes were cheap so it didn't really matter. 

I got through an entire cylinder of gas and air before they'd even got me into the ambulance. I went from wanting to be shot in the head to stop the pain, to cracking jokes about poultry and roast dinners. 

As we pulled away in the ambulance the cockerel saw us off with several chirpy cock-a-doodle-doos, and I sobbed and laughed and swore and then passed out. There was a lot of emotion in that ambulance as we whizzed through the Herefordshire countryside.

The only thing I remember when I arrived at the hospital is one of the porters making a joke about KFC, which made me laugh, and then cry. 

The next day I had a lengthy operation to straighten the leg and had metal pins inserted through my bones because it was so mashed up. 

I later asked the farmer who lives next door to us to put the cockerel through a very slow and painful death. He just texted to tell me that the deed has been done and that he tasted delicious. 

I am still in hospital and writing this post on my phone.  I'm learning how to use crutches, drinking lots of tea, and making the most of the morphine, but am missing my children terribly. 

I just hope they don't give me a hard time about ordering the execution of their beloved pet chicken...

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

When two dads try to organise a play date

Below is an email conversation between Tom and another dad at school:

Other dad: Would Dolly like to come over to play with Jacob after school on Wednesday?

Tom: Dolly would love to, thank you. What time?

Other dad: Great. We will collect her from school and feed her. Can you collect her at 5.45pm? Is there anything she doesn't eat?

Tom: Sounds perfect, thank you! In theory Dolly will eat anything, in practice she eats sausages.

Other dad: Sausages it is then.

24 hours later...

Other dad: Does she eat anything with sausages? Potatoes, carrots, peas, sweet corn etc?

Tom: Dolly should eat pretty much anything that is put in front of her.

Other dad: Ok

Tom: As long as it's sausages...

Other dad: Should I just give her a plate of sausages then?

Tom: No just kidding! Give her anything. Please don't go to any trouble though - there is a danger she might not eat it and then I would feel awful...

Other dad: What sort of sausages does she like?

And so it continues...

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Herefordshire life... and dreaming of those summer days

I have been in bed with flu for the last few days, so what better way to spend my time than hankering after summer days and being a pest on Instagram...

Betty and Dolly enjoying Herefordshire life

Friday, 10 January 2014

Back down to school with a bump

During the holidays any kind of sensible routine went completely out of the window. In fact, the girls bouncing off their bedroom walls and squealing in a Christmas-induced tinsel frenzy til ten o'clock every night seemed a small price to pay for all the blissful lie-ins we were getting.

However, when it was time to go back to school, they understandably found it hard to settle back into the routine of lights out and sleep at 7.30pm. But when they came home after their first day back and said that they had both been told by teachers that they looked shattered, I decided I needed to take action and forego the lie-ins. Heaven forbid the school thinking that we are awful neglectful parents for having knackered, dopey children, who stay up all night watching Disney films and eating crap.

So on Tuesday night, at 6pm, I hid the clocks and marched them upstairs telling them it was already practically the middle of the night. 'But we've only just had supper,' they protested. They were tucked up by 6.30pm and as I left the room I told them that if they went straight to sleep without getting out of bed or exchanging insults, they would get a treat in their lunch box the following morning.

My chocoholic, sugar-addict daughter Betty took this bribe very seriously indeed, and after about two minutes of her gently but intensively persuading Dolly that she must do as I said, they both pretty much went straight to sleep.

And not only did they sleep all night, but the following morning Betty appeared at my bedside at 7am, fully dressed, bright eyed and bushy tailed and asking: 'So, can I have two treats for being so good?'

Dolly was a bit cross that Betty had got dressed so efficiently. In response, Dolly decided to take 20 minutes to get one leg into her tights and then have a meltdown.

The following night, not long after I had given them the same treat-in-lunchbox bribe and left the room, Dolly called down to me and, proud as can be, she told me that she was already dressed in her uniform and ready for school.

I had already settled on the sofa with a glass of wine and Alan Partridge on Netflix, and so decided that it probably wouldn't do her any harm to sleep in her school uniform all night, and it would in fact save me a battle in the morning. So I let it go, and carried on with Alan.

This morning though, Betty was beside herself with annoyance that Dolly had got dressed before her - a whole 12 hours before her in fact. Who would have thought that a miniature imitation Milky Way could hold this much weight? And who knows where it will end?
 
In the meantime, my children may now be awake in class but I wonder what the school would have to say about them sleeping in their uniform and eating chocolate from Aldi for lunch every single day?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Hands off my phone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 1 December 2013

No to the Cream Horn (poem)

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

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

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

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


Friday, 22 November 2013

Letter to Grandma

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

Dear Grandma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Things I hate about Christmas

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

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

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

Photo source: flickr/Po'Jay

Monday, 18 November 2013

Birthday/rugby mania, and Betty's big day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 15 November 2013

Getting lost down memory lane (in London)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 November 2013

Urgent Appeal: Philippines Typhoon

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

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

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

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

Competition! Fabulous Snow Play theatre tickets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!
UK residents only

Friday, 8 November 2013

A seven-year-old's birthday wish list

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

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

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

Thanks to Joules for sponsoring this post! 

Monday, 4 November 2013

I broke Gove's rule, and my children benefited


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 2 November 2013

An Autumnal Scavenger Hunt

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 20 October 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 17 October 2013

My musical career hangs in the balance...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will tomorrow look like?

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

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

Please take a look - it's brilliant!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: help save lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 October 2013

Coming out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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