The Reluctant Gardener

The joy of gardening has always been a total mystery to me.  It is hard work, never ending, and to see results of your labours you have to play the long game.

I am more of an instant gratification girl.  I used to like that TV programme with Alan Titchmarsh and the woman who had no need of a bra.  They used to sweep into someone’s garden and completely transform it from a barren wasteland to a decking clad, fully flowering paradise in about 72 hours. That is my kind of gardening.

Even having a mother who is literally OBSESSED with growing, digging, cutting back and planting, and a best friend who has made a career out of the soil (she has even opened her own nursery, well worth a visit if you find yourself on the Isle of Wight), I have still never been able to bring myself to have lively chats about hardy annuals.

Until now.

There is a chink in my horticultural armour.  I have grown something!  Actually, a few things.

In between Christmas and New Year I spent a grumbly 90 minutes in the freezing rain and howling wind stuffing onions (I think ‘bulbs’ might be the technical term) into pots of earth (compost?).

My fingers went numb, my hair went frizzy, and my pink Converse got muddy.  The whole experience confirmed that all my feelings towards gardens were truly justified.  I retreated to the kitchen and sat glowering at the earth buckets as I defrosted with a cup of coffee.

But then, something happened.  The onions stared to grow.   Against my better judgement, and even though it went against all my principals, I started to take an interest.  I made a good fist of pretending not to care.  I channelled my inner 14 year old and treated the tiny shoots like they were a boy I really fancied. i.e. strolled nonchalantly into the garden pretending to be just putting the bins out whilst furtively casting desperate glances at the object of my desire.

Week by week they grew, and week by week I felt more excited until one sunny day I was greeted by the most lovely, brassy, uncoordinated mish mash of flowers (it was a sale bag of bulbs, a lucky dip of colours and varieties) all standing tall and proud, chests puffed out doing the tulip equivalent of jazz hands.


I am not saying that I am a convert.  I will not be weeding, digging over or mulching anytime soon.  But I did, just a tiny little bit, get it.  My next project is a mini lavender farm to attract bumble bees – my contribution to protecting the ecosystem.  I know they don’t look much at the moment but I’ve got high hopes.  I’ll keep you posted.


Does Thin Equal Happy?

When I was about 12 years old my mum came home with a new recipe book called “Cooking to Make Kids Slim”.  The front cover was a photograph of an unhappy looking plump-ish child dressed in tight shorts and a straining t shirt, standing on a set of scales.  As the podgy girl who always got picked last in PE I completely identified with this picture, it sowed the seed that fat=sad and thin=happy and marked the beginning of my dieting journey.**

Thirty four years later and I am still trying to reach the thin=happy part of the equation.  I have been on some sort of diet for most of my adult life; from mad ones that precluded all foods apart from tomatoes and edam cheese, too good to be true ones that allowed cream, chocolate and wine, to highly expensive ones that involved weekly visits to a suspicious looking ‘clinic’ somewhere off Great Portland Street.

I have been a size 8, a size 18 and spent my entire adult life madly yo-yoing between the two.

The problem is twofold.  Firstly, I love food.  Not just because it is food – I am not gratuitously mainlining Dominos pizza and Krispy Kremes. I also love all the happy associations that come with the stuff on my plate.  Family mealtimes, great nights out with friends, new tastes in another country, or simply the comfort of a bar of Dairy Milk in front of a good film.  Definitely what you would call an emotional eater.

I am fully informed.  I know that to lose weight I have to put less in and expend more, there is no magic solution to shedding the pounds.  The only real value that the bonkers diet plans hold for me are the change in routine and break in habits and, with something like Weight Watchers, the weekly weigh in of shame – nothing like the disappointed sigh from your WW leader to focus the mind.

I know I am not alone, I don’t think I have a female friend who is not on perma-weight-alert, so why do we do it?  I don’t have a burning desire to look like a particular celebrity, I am not medically obese and in a ‘diet or die’ scenario.

Do I think that if I was my perfect weight then everything else in life would fall into place and be perfect?  To be honest?  Yes, probably a little bit.  Because the self-esteem demon that has a cosy home in my brain’s frontal lobe keeps telling me so.  If I was thinner I would be happier, more successful, more liked and loved.

I will never actually find out if this is true because I will never feel that I am thin enough.  I have a postcard that someone sent me once that says “I wish I was as fat as I was the first time I thought I was fat”.  This about sums it up.  If we took a straw poll of 100 women I wonder how many would answer yes to the question ‘are you at your ideal weight?’.  And of those who answered yes, would they also answer yes to ‘has it changed your life and made you happy?’.

So as I embark on a six week pre-summer diet jaunt (giving Slimming World another go, haven’t tried them for a few years) wish me luck and, if you have the answer to the thin=happy conundrum I would love to hear it.

**Disclaimer – this is not an exercise in maternal guilt, I’m pretty sure I nagged her to buy the book…


Good Riddance World Book Day

Today has been a momentous day.  A joyous day.  A milestone day.

After 13 years and 26 costumes today was my last EVER World Book Day.

Time for a happy dance.

As I slapped pink paint onto egg boxes at 11.30pm last night I was smiling.

As I punched holes in the egg boxes and threaded elastic at 7.00am this morning I was almost giddy with excitement because I never, ever, ever, have to do it again.

The tyranny of the World Book Day Costume is over for me.


I wasn’t always this curmudgeonly.   My early WBD years were earnest affairs of heavily researched and lovingly assembled costumes.  I think we probably even actually sat down and read the books together which is, after all, what it is all about.

We travelled from the pre-school days of the Cinderella dress through Pippi Longstocking to Harry/Hermione and Catniss.  Alice in Wonderland, Tracy Beaker, Where’s Wally (I know, but it is still a book although, admittedly, one without any words) they have all appeared in our fancy dress lexicon.

This year was slightly more problematic.  Teen 2, being in the final year of middle school, has kind of outgrown the book day thing so her list of requirements for a costume included minimal dressing up, a character that can be linked with other characters so that she and her friends could all be sort of the same, and something that meant they could all wear their Topshop skinny jeans.  A tall order I think you will agree.

So we settled on The Three Little Pigs – aforementioned jeans, checked shirts and pig snouts made from the late night egg box painting session.

When interrogated in the car on the way home from school Teen 2 revealed that my porcine creations had only been worn for the first five minutes of the day before being binned, so I’m quite glad that I didn’t embark on a huge sentimental last hurrah of a costume.

Good riddance World Book Day.  Next year as I walk to work passing Just William, Cruella de Vil and Fantastic Mr Fox I will smile nostalgically and think back fondly to all our own WBD costumes of the past.  I will go home and lecture Teen 1 and Teen 2 about the joys of reading and the magic of the printed word.

But I will NOT make a costume.

Definitely time for a happy dance.






Feeling Overwhelmed

The past couple of weeks I have mostly been feeling overwhelmed.  Not overwhelmed in a good way (A surprise party!  You guys are amazing!  I don’t know what to say!) but in a suffocating, life-can-be-quite-hard-work-and-also-a-bit-shitty-sometimes sort of a way.

It feels like all the points on my many and various to do lists have merged together and risen up in one giant wave threatening to totally engulf me in a metaphorical wipe out.  This isn’t just a single parent rant, I am well aware that there are many happy couples out there who are feeling the stress just as keenly, but having to shoulder the responsibility of everything on my own is almost certainly a contributing factor.

The worst part about it is that, no matter how much I achieve there is always more to be done waiting around the corner; work, house, children, blog, self, there is never the opportunity to sit and reflect on tasks completed or problems conquered before gearing up to fight the next battle.

Teen 1 gets frequently exasperated and points out that I am, in fact, my own worst enemy.  There are many things that I struggle to fit in to a day that she views as unnecessary and, while our benchmarks of necessity are vastly different (when you are 16 years old cleaning the bathroom and running the hoover round do not feature highly on a priority list), I do know that I tend to fill every minute with activity in a slightly manic way.  Any self-help junkie worth her salt knows that occupation is the enemy of depression, time spent re-organising a kitchen cupboard is time that could otherwise be lost to dark thoughts and naval gazing.

The trick to getting a better balance whilst still keeping busy would be to master the art of filling vacant time pockets with things that benefit your mental state.  Swap weeding the garden for a yoga session, replace cleaning the oven with a twenty minute coffee break and a couple of chapters of a good book.  All very good in theory, and some people I know manage this very well – I am nothing but envious.  I have tried to emulate the method but the hairy guilt monster lurks so fiercely over me for the duration of the yoga/coffee/reading whatever session that any benefit is outweighed by the thoughts of all the other things I really should be doing.

So, in an effort to try and release some of the pressure I think the answer for someone like me is to try and ‘re-brand’ a few of the things that are on life’s to-do list.  Scrubbing the loo is always going to be a rotten chore so no point trying to alter those kind of duties, but there are other activities that have become a burden that need not to be.  Walking the dog always feels like a pain in the neck that eats into every day when, in fact, it is a fantastic opportunity to breathe fresh air, stretch muscles, and chew over thoughts and ideas uninterrupted.  Writing this blog should not be a task that hangs over me demanding attention but a brilliant hobby to be savoured and enjoyed.

I put this theory to the test this weekend.  Teens 1 and 2 are away and the prospect of two whole days with no meals to make or taxi duties to perform made me concoct a massive list of tasks that I wanted to get done.  Everything was on there from tidy and re-organise the garage to cleaning all the windows to spring cleaning the goldfish bowl.  I screwed my courage to the sticking post and chose one thing – shorten the pair of curtains I got on Ebay so that they actually fit the window.  I fired up the Iplayer and found a couple of engrossing plays on Radio 4 and got to work.  The job took longer than expected (don’t they always) and actually took all day but, do you know what?  It didn’t matter.  I had a happy and relaxing time pinning and sewing, lost myself in some radio drama and at the end of the day had completed a task that has been bugging me for months.

The re-branding experiment was a success.  It remains to be seen whether I can roll out the pilot scheme into everyday life, I suspect it might be a work in progress, but for now at least I have built a temporary dam in the fast flowing river of pressure that was threatening to sweep me away.

Feeling Overwhelmed

What (Not) To Wear

One of the pluses of your children getting older is that you have a little more opportunity to think about yourself.  Life is no less busy but in a different way – mother and toddler group replaced by late night pick-ups from parties or cinema, pre-primary ballet superseded by GSCE revision.  However, the days of staggering out of the house, bleary eyed from sleep deprivation, with baby sick and toddler Weetabix encrusted onto your sweatpants, are in the past.  The only downside is that when your children are three and six they still like you and greet every outfit with “Mummy, you look like a Princess!”.  Ten years on and my sartorial decisions are generally met with an eye roll, a sneer and the teenage equivalent of “you’re not going out dressed like that are you?”.

So, in the spirit of all self respecting magazine articles aimed at woman in their mid forties, I decided it was time to implement a bit of an image audit and try to regain some of the polish I think I must have had back the heady days before children.

This is obviously not going to be an overnight process.  In fact, it is a mission for 2016, so no pressure to be transformed in record time.  I don’t really want to be completely transformed, I would settle for marginally improved – set the bar quite low and anything else is a bonus is my theory.

Step one took place last week when I spent the morning having a ‘Colour Me Beautiful’ consultation.  Twenty years ago this system of colour analysis was all the rage.  People were flinging scarves on you at every opportunity and labelling you as Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter depending on your palette.  To be honest, I was always a bit sceptical and never took any of the opportunities to have my colours done – it all seemed a bit New Age and bonkers.  Then, a few years ago, I was out with a friend and we were idly browsing the rails in a clothes shop.  As we flicked through the hangers the friend dived into her bag and pulled out a little wallet filled with coloured bits of fabric which she proceeded to hold up against the clothes in the shop.  It turned out that she was a colour analysis devotee and would not entertain the thought of buying something that did not feature in her range of given colours.  As we were discussing this I realised that yes, she did always look lovely and always ‘right’.  Not because of the latest fashions or massively expensive purchases but because whatever she wears is entirely appropriate to her skin tone, hair colour, body shape and style.

I was prepared to be talked around and booked myself an appointment with the wonderfully monikered Fennella Flor (yes, it is her real name, I asked!  I love it, it makes her sound like a 1950s movie studio starlet), a Bournemouth based consultant for Colour Me Beautiful.  I had booked in for the full works, colour, make up and style – an approximately four hour session with a light lunch included.

Fennella sat me in front of a mirror in the window (natural light is key to the process) and created a blank canvas by covering my clothes in an off-white gown.  She then proceeded to drape different coloured squares over me holding them to my face to see what worked.  The funny thing was, it actually did make a difference.  Colours that I thought suited me such as dark navy and shocking pink actually sucked the life out of my skin whilst some shades of green and teal (yes, teal) made my skin tone glow and eyes shine.  I was instantly converted and we spent a happy couple of hours drilling down the exact colours that are right for me and loading them into my own personal wallet so that I too can be the person in the shop furtively comparing clothes to fabric swatches.  Interestingly Colour Me Beautiful no longer use the seasons to categorize clients, as a global company it did not make sense when the seasons invoke different colours depending where in the world you live.  Instead they use groupings of light, deep, warm, cool, clear and soft in varying combinations.  Turns out I am warm and soft with lots of tones of green, camel and lighter blues in my wallet.

Colours sorted it was onto style and make up.  The style section of the consultation is where you try and work out what style of clothes suit your body shape and lifestyle, it is a good opportunity to have a hard think about making some changes and stepping out of your comfort zone.  I finished the session with some homework – going home to my wardrobe and weeding out the wrong colours and shapes as well as items that are more the ‘old’ you than the ‘new’.  This posed a bit of a problem for me as one of the things that emerged from the session as that I should stop wearing stripes.  What, no stripes?  That is 85% of my wardrobe obliterated in one hit.  I’m not sure I’m ready to bin all the Bretons in one go, that will have to be a gradual withdrawl.

I came away from Fennella’s studio feeling fired up and ready to shed my mummy chrysalis.  I have my wallet of colour swatches and tons of great advice on ways to update and improve my look.  What I really need now is a Fennella Flor clone to be with me whenever I go shopping and every time I look in the wardrobe to choose what to wear.  I’m definitely converted to colour analysis and the whole experience was not only really good fun but a perfect springboard to my 2016 improvement mission.


I think I need to join SA – Stripes Anonymous…



Why I Hate January

January2How is it possible that it is only the 12th January?  It feels like every January day lasts the equivalent of three days of any other month of the year.  It labours on, dragging its schoolbag and scuffing its toes, rolling its eyes and scowling.

It is not helped by the new beginnings and health kicks that millions of us embark upon as soon as the sun comes up on New Years Day.  If we were cavemen (woman/people/whatevs), we would be using January to keep warm, conserve fat and generally hunker down until life becomes a bit more bearable.  January in the modern age  is the exact opposite, and there are many reasons for it to be the most hated bully in the calendar playground.

  • Dry January. Seriously, who invented this? Of all the days that little glass of red is needed to take the edge off, the gloomy 31 at the start of each year are the most obvious. I have embarked on this for the past three years and only achieved it once so far. This year ended after a record one week! All power to those of you who stick it out but I am happy with my edited version of ‘not on a school night’. *
  • Spiralizers. Let it be known that I have not eaten, and never will eat, spaghetti made out of a courgette. No matter how much you preach at me with evangelical zeal, waving a Lakeland catalogue in my face as you list the virtues of the versatility of vegetabletini. I want carbs.
  • Nutribullets. Several times over the past couple of months I have found myself browsing the shopping pages for a Nutribullet. Why? Because of peer pressure from the juicing brigade. It is January, I feel that it is my duty to carry a cup of kaley green sludge to the office with me. It will make my hair shiny and my skin glow. I will become thin and fit. OR, I will be £100 odd pounds poorer and after two weeks will have to find space in the cupboard for yet another redundant gadget. This one could go either way, my finger is still hovering over the ‘add to cart’ button…
  • Resolutions. The list to end all lists. The list that contains 95% recycled points from every year that has gone before. The list that can only lead to self-flagellation, despair, reproach and depression. The warm glow generated by writing down all the changes you plan to make is soon cancelled out by the realization that you haven’t actually achieved any of them.
  • Money. Or lack of it. Since January often starts with a deficit (even my most carefully budgeted Christmases go awry at the last minute when the panic sets in) it can only go downhill. There really is nothing but bad news on the bank statement and, when you think it must be nearly payday, a glance at the calendar tells you there are still two weeks to go. There is a silver lining though, a proper cast iron excuse not to buy that nutribullet.

As I’m writing I realise that I could go on and on – celebrity fitness DVDs, grey and drying skin, rubbish weather and days where the sun never seems to rise before it sinks.  So I think I’ll make like a Neanderthal.  Snuggle down, carb up, put my fingers in my ears and sing loudly until February knocks on the door of my cave.

*for the trivia hounds among you the actual answer to that question is the charity Alcohol Concern as they trademarked the phrase in 2014, although the Finnish government spearheaded a similar campaign called ‘Sober January’ in 1942 as part of its war effort.

The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor

The Winter Children“Nothing seems to have any point if she can’t have Dan…”

Unrequited love, broken hearts, the pain of infertility, the pain of childbirth – both longed for and not wanted. The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor draws up all these topics into a neat and compelling bundle that had me engrossed from the first chapter.

Francesca and Dan have been friends for twenty years, since their shared time at Cambridge University. In that time Olivia has joined them as Dan’s wife and the three of them enjoy a seemingly happy and easy friendship. Such is the friendship that when Dan and Olivia are almost torn apart by their infertility Francesca steps up with a selfless offer that is their salvation.

A beautiful, happy family follows and, when Olivia and Dan find themselves in need of a new home Francesca is quick to offer them rent free luxury in a cottage in the grounds of her grand renovation project – the majestic but adandoned Renniston Hall.

As the story unfolds we are drawn in to the complex connections between characters past and present and it soon becomes clear that Francesca’s motives are not altruistic.

This book is a thriller and a tale of love, both contemporary and historical. It is a really enjoyable  story which twists and turns without being contrived, and the characters leap from the page to stay with you long after you have put the book down.

Fans of an ambiguous ending may be disappointed as the book has a fairly clear resolution but, for me, it worked well to finish the story this way.

The Winter Children is a book that you will want to read in one sitting, it sweeps you along and the story and characters were so vivid in my mind that I almost feel I have watched it as a TV drama in HD. I would highly recommend it and, in fact, have already done so to my mum who loved it and Teen 1 who has it in her holding pattern of books to be read. Tri-generational appeal and perfect if you are lucky enough to have a few more days of Christmas holidays left to play with.

My copy of The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor was given to me free of charge for the purposes of this review for Mumsnet Bloggers Network (thank you!). Opinions are all my own.

Duran Duran Paper Gods Tour

Duran Duran Paper Gods

On the afternoon of 5th March 1983 I took my 13 year old self to meet my best friend, Gemma, on our favourite bench in Littlehampton.  We liked it because it was situated on the corner of three roads – plenty (of boys)  to look at as we sat and chatted about life and Cola flavoured lip gloss.

This day was a bit different though.  This day I was approaching the bench with a confession, a secret, something I had to unburden in the interest of friendship even though I didn’t know what the reaction would be.

I took a deep breath and went for it

“I think I am a Duranie!”

There was a beat of no response and so I ploughed on

“They were on Saturday Superstore this morning and they were so funny and the songs are really good and Simon Le Bon is HANDSOME…!”

I studied Gemma anxiously waiting to see if that was going to be the end of our teen bench assignations

“Oh my God, I watched that too – they were amazing, I really love them now!”

Phew, we were on the same page.  Having spent the months prior to this date priding ourselves on our scorn of Duran Duran and anyone who liked them, we had both been fully converted in the space of a morning.  All it took was Mike Read and Sarah Greene to bring us round.

Having come out and proud with my new Duranie status I embraced it with gusto.  Frilly shirts, funny hair, little hearts painstakingly painted on my cheekbone.  Posters went up, day dreams were crafted and lyrics were learnt.  My affections moved from Simon Le Bon to John Talyor with a  short lived stop at Roger.

As I got older and tried to be cooler my exuberance died down a bit, but I remained a fan over the years.  How exciting that last night I was at the Bournemouth International Centre to see Duran Duran on their Paper Gods tour.

The venue was sold out with a mixed bag of an audience, fans from all eras of the bands history plus the obligatory gangs of girls on a night out – everyone in high spirits.  We gave the support act  (The Bloom Twins) a polite go but after two songs retreated back to the bar.  It was like watching French and Saunders doing some sort of parody of a 1980s synth combo but without the funny bits.

No matter, we weren’t there for the support, we were there for the band, and when they burst onto the stage opening with Paper Gods we were not disappointed. They powered through the set mixing new material with old favourites, maintaining an energy that was pretty impressive given that they are all happily rocking their way to the big 60.  It can’t be denied that they all look older, but so do the rest of us, to be fair.  Simon Le Bon has cultivated a fine line in Dad Dancing which was quite endearing as pretty much everyone  in the audience could identify with it.  After a fantastic performance of ‘Planet Earth’ he brought us all right back down to earth by saying that they wrote that song 35 years ago.  35 years! There are people on the Jeremy Kyle Show who have been born, had children and grandchildren in that time.  For God’s sake man, why remind us of that, don’t you know that while we were lost in that song we were all young again, if only in our own imaginations?!

We bounced from ‘Come Undone’ to ‘Pressure Off’ to ‘Notorious’, the band sounded as fresh and current as anyone with a fraction of their musical mileage.  A crowd pleasing encore of ‘Save a Prayer’ and ‘Rio’ sent us into the night feeling, quite rightly, that we had spent the evening in the company of Pop Royalty.  Brilliant.

As we shuffled out to the car park I had to laugh when a lady in the queue behind me turned to her friend and said “how is it that I can’t remember what I did yesterday but I can happily belt out all the words to a song that I first heard 35 years ago?” That probably summed up the audience demographic but it also highlighted the exact reason why were all still there 35 years on, because great bands make great music that has staying power, year after year.

Oh, and for the record, John Taylor has still totally got it.  Just saying.





My Day With Woman And Home Magazine

A couple of months ago I received an email via my Contact Me page from a features writer at Woman and Home.  They were researching a piece on ‘new beginnings’ and had seen my blog – would I be interested in chatting to them?  A few emails and phone calls later and I had agreed to be interviewed and photographed for the January edition of the magazine.

Eeek!  I was not too worried about the interview part of the equation but the photograph…that was another matter.  I am well known amongst family and friends for being fantastically un-photogenic.  Many have accepted the challenge of capturing a decent photo of me but few (very few, OK, none) have succeeded.  The chicken and egg result of this scenario is that when faced with any kind of lens I undergo some sort of gurning/rigor mortis transformation.  Not a good look.

So, whilst this was a fantastic opportunity to promote the blog, it also gave me the chance to stop being such a wuss and face my photographic demons head on.  YOLO, as Teens 1 and 2 would say.

The day for the photoshoot was duly scheduled for three weeks later.  An emergency pre-photo list was required.

  1. Lose a stone
  2. Have Botox
  3. Grow four inches
  4. Discover art of looking like a relaxed human being in front of a camera

This was clearly on of my more ambitious lists and when it became obvious that it may not be possible to achieve all (or any) of the points I decided to adopt a faux casual laissez faire attitude to the day; an altogether much more relaxing approach if not quite as constructive.

The day of reckoning arrived and I headed to London on the early train.  I was met at Waterloo by a taxi and had a lovely journey across to Fulham where the shoot was taking place.  It was a crisp, bright autumn day and London was at its most beautiful – every shade of golden brown on the trees, sun glinting off the river. Why did I never notice any of that stuff when I lived there?!  Maybe because my journeys were conducted underground not over ground in black cab luxury I guess.   It was like driving through a Richard Curtis movie, if the cab driver had turned out to be Hugh Grant I wouldn’t have been surprised.

We reached our destination and I stood at the door.  Deep breath, shoulders back, best foot forward.  I needn’t have worried though, the Woman and Home team couldn’t have been more friendly. There was a small army in situ from photographer to stylist to hair and make up and everything in between.  There were also three others like me, there to be photographed for the January issue of the magazine.  I was the last to arrive and the others were in various stages of readiness –  full make up here, rollered hair there.  As the photographer went to work on her first subject I was taken downstairs to find an outfit.

Woman and Home Collage 1

Transformation ingredients – Make up, hair, clothes, shoes, jewellery…


Down in the basement the Stylist reigned supreme and her two assistants darted around nervously plucking hangers from the rails, grabbing shoes from the rack.  The Stylist eyed me up and down and thrust trousers, tops, jackets and shoes at me in varying combinations – occasionally calling the Picture Director down to get her opinion. It was like playing at dressing up in someone else’s wardrobe, great fun.   An outfit was decided on, plenty of sequins and the most amazing gold glittery shoes.  There were no mirrors so I had no idea how I looked but I knew I was in safe hands and that the team were working to a master plan.  Make up was next, wonderful smoky eyes and false eyelashes, followed by hair which was styled and sprayed into a big and beautiful ‘do’.  A bite of lunch and it was my turn to face the camera.  The photographer and her assistant were friendly and laid back, obviously well used to getting the best out of clueless twits like me.  That said – they definitely had their work cut out!  I spent a lot of time swaying and flicking, smiling and laughing.  I was the last subject of the day so the whole team were there giving words of encouragement and cheering me on, and not once did I feel like a total wally.  For someone with such severe photograph-a-phobia (yes, I did just make that up), this was a huge achievement.  As the session came to an end I realised that – shock horror – I had actually enjoyed it.  I had no idea if they had managed to get a halfway decent photo of me but it didn’t matter – I was Cindy Crawford, I was Helen Mirren, my inner A-lister had been unleashed and it felt fantastic.

Woman and Home Collage 2.png

The Super Sparkly Result


When the finished article landed on my doormat it was confirmed, the friendly and helpful gang from the photoshoot were not actually mere mortals, but miracle workers put on this earth to transform the drab and dreary into sparkly glamour pusses for the day.  I was like the human version of a black and white film that had been colourised and re-released.  If only I had the full team in my house to get me ready every morning…



Why I Am Not Like Kate Winslet

Kate WinsletOK, I am obviously not a peachy skinned, hour glass shaped, Oscar winning household name but that is not what this post is about. It is about parenting and why I am not, and never will be, the parent that Kate Winslet is.

On BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ on Friday, Jenni Murray interviewed Kate Winslet about her two current movies, The Dressmaker and Steve Jobs. It was very easy listening and made me want to go and see at least one of the films so ticks in the boxes for both the publicity department and for Kate who delivered a faultless series of answers to Murray’s questions. Her combination of thespian luvviness and ‘I’m really a normal woman just like you’ is polished to perfection, and she sounded fresh and perky, not like she was on her four hundredth press junket and sick to the back teeth of talking about both films.

So far so good. Then Murray moved on to more general topics (her womanly figure, her work life balance etc. etc.) and she touched upon the recently reported fact that Winslet does not allow her children to use any form of social media. When pressed on the reasons why, Winslet embarked on a fairly lengthy homily about children being children, precious years and old fashioned values. She wants her kids to be out climbing trees and dancing in the rain not sat with their thumbs moving at lightning speed over a small but all powerful screen.

Well – duh – that is, of course, what we all want for our children. Few people embark on parenthood with a manifesto that states every actioned shall be selfied, every thought be broadcast. We all have visions of Pooh sticks and camp fires, picnics and tree houses but as your children get older it quickly becomes apparent that the Enid Blyton regime is just not practical.

Obviously KW is perfectly entitled to her own opinions and parenting style and I fully respect both. BUT, I do have two issues with the sermon that was delivered on Woman’s Hour. Firstly, few children like to be different to their peers. Do you remember the kid at school who didn’t have a TV? How weird! For teenagers especially it is vital to be perceived as the same as your friends, not stick out like a sore thumb. If, however, you are the children of a world famous movie star then you are already different. Your life is, by default, nothing like the life of the person you sit next to in Maths so to be the teen without social media just adds to your mystique rather than make you a laughing stock. My point being that yes, dancing in the rain sounds lovely but for those of us operating in the real world how practical is it to enforce on our children?

My second gripe is that although we all hate the tyranny of Instagram and the like it is, unfortunately, part of modern life. What feels like a digital tsunami to our generation is the norm for our children and whilst we can do our best to limit exposure is it the right thing to try and ignore it all together? Rather than modelling ourselves and our parenting on a 1950s cereal commercial, surely it is our role to teach and guide our children in the safe and correct usage of the social media that surrounds them every day? I’m all for climbing trees but, in terms of life skills, it’s got to be on a list that includes being internet savvy or my role as a 21st century parent is incomplete.

A Spare Half An Hour

Yesterday I had a spare half an hour. Well not, strictly speaking, spare – it was the half hour between scoffing my ham sandwich and getting my head back down to work. Thirty minutes of procrastination time, a sort of lunch-to-work decompression chamber if you like.

There are many useful things that I could have done with this little window of time. I could have:

  • Telephoned the dentist and made check-up appointments for the three of us
  • Emptied my bulging purse of receipts and updated my accounts
  • Taken the dog for a scamper around the field
  • Made menu plans for the week ahead like a proper grown up parent
  • Called a far away friend for an overdue catch up
  • Got my head back down to work half an hour ahead of schedule

What I did NOT need to do was:

  • Scan the Mail Online showbiz pages to find out that Keira Knightly went for a walk wearing a leather jacket
  • Buy a £2.00 scratch card on the National Lottery website and not win anything
  • Order an enormous bag of polystyrene beads from Amazon
  • Worry that my sometimes inappropriate sense of humour means I am destined for early onset dementia (what’s not to like about Mr Bean?)

And what I really, REALLY did not need to do was to indulge in gratuitous Google stalking of people I am no longer in touch with. Don’t ask me what sparked the urge to try and find info on friends of old, it is like a drug or porn addiction (I imagine…), once you have typed that name into the search box you can’t step away from the screen until you have dug down through pages and pages of results like an archaeologist on speed.

There are endless sources of potential stalker gold – Facebook, LinkedIn, You Tube, Instagram, company websites, personal websites, blogs, businesses and databases, all offering titbits of info on people you used to know.

But do you actually want to know? Is anybody genuinely delighted to find out that the person they used to work with years ago is now at the top of their career game, enjoying a blissful marriage, raising perfect kids, having a novel published whilst launching a million pound start up business from their kitchen table? Oh, and to cap it all, in that photo they look like they have not put on a pound or gained a wrinkle in fifteen years.

I’m so pleased for them!

No, really

I.  Am. Really. Really. DELIGHTED.

Of course the flip side would be to find out that said person/people have suffered sadness and misfortune. I would like to think that I not a sufficiently bad person to be pleased if this was the case. It has never happened so we’ll never know. Generally the fruits of Google stalking are like the Christmas round robin letter – good news and boasting only, the everyday irritations of life left unmentioned.

The moral of the tale is that Google stalking never pays. There is a reason that you are no longer in touch with that person who you suddenly need to know about, best remind yourself of that reason and leave it at that. The next time half an hour falls into your hands get on the phone to the dentist, sort your accounts or walk the dog.  You’ll thank me in the long run, I promise.

Social Media

Fancy A Game Of Teen Bingo?

I no longer have a tween in my family.  Last month’s birthday celebrations (and I do not advise having children born only three days apart, it makes for a very hectic week every year) meant that not only has the teen turned sweet sixteen, but the tween is no more!  We now have a household of three females, 13 years, 16 years and 45 years – you can smell the hormones from four streets away.  Seriously, you do NOT want to be anywhere near our place when there is a full moon.

The tween-that-was is a slightly reluctant teenager.  She has always enjoyed the role of being the youngest and is quite vocal about not wanting to grow up.  Mainly, I suspect, because with growing up comes more responsibility, more chores, less opportunity to lie around the place saying ‘but I’m only…(insert age here)’ when asked to do something.

So, where turning 13 is usually much anticipated and celebrated, in our house it has been the elephant in the room, no mention to made, strictly verboten. We have also been issued with rules.  We are not allowed to:-

  • Tell her she is a stroppy teenager every time she gets in a bad mood.
  • Look exasperated and say ‘for goodness sake you are nearly 14 years old’ whenever she forgets her lunch box /PE kit/ own name.  This much hated tradition of rounding up to the next age usually begins the day after the last birthday.
  • Remind her repeatedly of the things that her older sister did or didn’t do when she was a new teenager.
  • Get cross and tell her to wash up/tidy her room/put her shoes away because she is ‘not a little girl any more’.

I am doing my best to follow these instructions but the plain truth is that I am now fighting a solo battle against two teens who have me surrounded in a pincer movement of angst, frustration and growing up-ness.  So, to pass the time and lighten the atmos I am indulging in regular games of Teen Bingo.  A game for 1-100 players but only fully appreciated by parents who are currently navigating the post-child, pre-adult minefield.  If that is you then stay strong, I feel your pain.  Keep your bingo card in the cutlery draw or the bottom of your bag (or, for some real fun, on the fridge door where the teens can see it – that will really make them mad!), I guarantee you will be shouting ‘House!’ before you know it.

Teen Bingo Card2

A Parallel Life

Have you seen the film Sliding Doors? It follows a character in parallel lives, the stories decided by one moment in time when Gwyneth Paltrow either does or doesn’t jump on a tube train.

Last weekend I had my own Sliding Doors moment. It was the teen’s birthday (sweet sixteen, more of that to follow) and she had chosen to have ten friends over for a birthday dinner party. I was head chef, the tween was maître d and the role of waiter was to be played by teen and tweens father. This was quite a big deal. Due to the geographical distance between us, a sighting of the lesser spotted ex-husband on our patch is quite rare, however, on this occasion the stars aligned and the teen was able to have her wish of having her father at the party – albeit in a waiter-ish sort of way.

We adopted our Upstairs Downstairs/Downton Abbey roles with alacrity. The party guests munched on smoked salmon blinis, roast chicken with dauphinoise potatoes, salted caramel profiteroles and birthday cake. They laughed, danced, sang and played games around the table. Meanwhile, on the other side of the green baize door the three of us chopped, stirred, sweated, washed up and grazed on leftovers whilst keeping an eye on the rugby on the kitchen TV.

It was amicable and comfortable and fun. It felt as if no time had passed and the years since the separation did not exist. It was how it should be, a complete family having a celebration of a special birthday. Somewhere between making the gravy and lighting the birthday candles I realized that for that one evening I was having a parallel life moment. This is how it would have been if divorce had not got in our way. This would have been our life had infidelity and poor communication kept their noses out and left us alone to navigate our marriage.

In the cold light of day I do realise that nothing is that clear cut. Our lives could have gone any number of ways, had we not failed at the hurdle we did it may have been another further down the line. But for that one evening I felt happy that we could genuinely re-create a happy family tableau for the teen. I felt cheated of the family life that I always assumed I would have. And, most of all, I felt furious for letting the whole situation make me feel so sad.

Even when you have completely moved on there are still little blips waiting in the wings to trip you up, especially where the children are involved. I guess that the life skill here is to recognise the blips for what they are, acknowledge them and float forwards. It’s not living in the past, it’s just a passing thought of ‘what if’.  A personal Sliding Doors moment, nothing more.

Millie Bday 16

The Birthday Girl

Dorset County Show 2015

One of my most favourite things since coming to live in Dorset is the Dorset County Show. We have been every year of the four that we have lived here – the first two just as spectators and the most recent two as spectators and competitors. I get stupidly excited as soon as the tents start going up on the showground on the outskirts of Dorchester, a canvas metropolis rising from the fields. The early bird ticket office appears on the high street and there is a definite feel of the circus coming to town.

To give you the back story, the Dorset County Show began in August 1840 when a group of local farmers formed the Dorchester Agricultural Society and staged the 1st Annual Exhibition. 175 years later and the show still largely run by farming families and still a key date in the Dorset and South West Calendar. It is a huge event with livestock classes, horse and pony shows, elegant carriages and bonkers scurry racing. There are dogs galore, birds and ferrets, oodles of shopping opportunities and mouth-watering food stalls at every turn.

The show is a two day event and it is hard work to fit it all in a one day visit. I generally drive the teen and the tween to distraction, marching them round on a schedule fretting that I will miss the Dog and Duck Man/Hounds Demo/Pig Judging/Grand Parade.

Of all the tents (and there are many) to look at my top favourite is Homecraft and this is where we have made our entries for the past two years. There are a myriad of classes you can enter and competition is stiff, especially in the jam and marmalade classes – we’re talking hardcore WI preserves here, no room for lightweights.

Jam and Marmalade2

Last year was our first year of entering. I chose the picnic hamper and lemon drizzle cake classes and had a happy time channelling my inner Kirstie Allsopp as I worked on my entries. The morning of the show dawned and we were up and out at 7am to drop the entries at the tent before the show opened. It is a brilliant feeling driving onto the showground at this time. The autumn mist hangs low around the fields and all around you the show is waking up – exhibitors are munching bacon sarnies, cows are being hosed down, ponies hooves are being polished. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation as the minutes tick down to the gates opening. We parked up at the tent and, full of first time enthusiasm, carried our entries inside. The atmosphere was quiet and tense. It suddenly dawned on me that this was not like ‘show and tell’ or the cake stall at the school fête. This was serious! All around me people were placing, tweaking, polishing and appraising their creations whilst casting furtive glances to the other competitors and their entries.

I placed my picnic basket in its allotted space and began arranging my foodie mis-en-scène as best I could. I tried to engage my neighbour in jolly banter about her entry – this was a  school girl error – a chummy exchange of picnic preparation angst was not going to happen, she slammed her wicker lid firmly shut as I tried to peer in.

Entries set, we returned home to have breakfast and get ready for our big day out. By now what has started out as a simple bit of fun ‘Yey! Let’s enter some stuff to the county show! Such fun!’ had become a nail biting, nerve racking, full on worry. I had gone in like a lamb to the slaughter, no idea that the volume and quality of entries would be so high. I had gone in not really thinking about the competition element but now I wanted to win something!

Happily, with a bit of luck and a following wind, I did win something. First prize for my picnic hamper – hurrah for me and two fingers to the lady who was so secretive about her entry at the start of the day. (I know, it is not attractive to gloat, but sometimes needs must).

Picnic Hamper

So now we had the taste for competing we resolved to build on our success in the 2015 show. This year we chose different categories – rainbow cake and marmalade for me, Victoria sponge for the tween and a scarecrow as a family effort with the teen leading the way. The scarecrow was the most fun – we laughed ourselves stupid trying to stuff tights with newspaper and feed them into old jeans from the charity shop. The theme for the scarecrow category was ‘Thomas Hardye’ but rather than go trad with our costume we styled our chap as a member of the film crew from the most recent adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd.

Scarecrow 3

It was a gamble but it paid off and we came away with second prize. The tween triumphed with a second prize for her victoria sponge but my cake and marmalade remained lurking in the depths of the un-placed; definite room for improvement there I think.


We enjoyed a great day; marvelled at enormous bulls, cheered on spaniels and labradors as they raced in and out of the lake, ate hog roast and fudge and indulged in some fantasy chicken purchasing -I like the ones wearing big feathery trousers, the girls prefer the fat and fluffy ones.

Animals Collage

We returned to the homecraft tent as the sun was sinking and the crowds were drifting home. We folded and squeezed our make-do man into the boot of the car and retrieved the tweens winning sponge. Stopping only at the bin of shame to dispose of my un-placed rainbow cake we headed home already discussing, in true reality TV style, how we could ‘up our game’ and really ‘nail it’ with our entries for the Dorset County Show 2016.   Watch this space.

Oh Dear What Can The Matter Be?

Door LockYesterday started like a perfectly normal school holiday day. Woke at 7.00am, emptied the dishwasher while the kettle boiled for a cup of tea. Drank my tea in the peace of the morning and contemplated the day ahead – morning in the office, and afternoon taking assorted children to the overpriced and overheated fungal hell that is Splashdown Water Park.

Time for a quick shower before seizing the day. So far so good? Yes. Until I tried to exit the shower room. The door handle went up and down as normal but the door stayed shut. OK, no problem, it always was a bit sticky. I gave it a little wiggle. Still stuck. I added some wellie and wrenched it up and down. Not budging. A thin film of nervous sweat broke out all over me as I realised that there was every possibility that I was really and properly locked in. OK, keep calm. How hard can it be to get out? How about flinging myself at the door with all my might in the style of Cagney and Lacey (or Scott and Bailey for younger readers).


Is it me or is it really hot in here? And am I finding it hard to breathe? Opens window and leans out gulping fresh air like a mad woman. A good opportunity to be reminded that this was too far to jump and the spiked railings below might cause a problem.

I returned to the door and rattled it some more in case it had undergone a change of heart and taken pity on me. Nope. Banged and rattled it really, really hard in a very cross way.

“I was fast asleep! You woke me up! It’s 7.30am in the school holidays for gods sake”

My banging had flushed the teen from her lair.

“Oh darling, I’m so sorry to wake you”

I said


Small silence.

The teen rattles the door from the other side. “It’s stuck” she says.


The next twenty minutes were spent trying a variety of useless doors opening activities – sliding a credit card in, locating hinges, synchronised rattling from both sides of the door.


“I’m going to call the fire brigade” she says.


I would rather have lived out the rest of my days in that bathroom, like some sort of modern day Rapunzel, than suffer the embarrassment of being rescued by a local firefighter.

The horror of possible rescue by a stranger spurred me on. The teen followed instructions and fetched a screw driver from the cupboard under the stairs. She unscrewed the outer plate and handle of the door before feeding a piece of string, well actually a hair wrap – it was all she had to hand – under the door to me. She then stood on the pavement outside the front door while I tied a hair brush to the string to weight it down and flung it out of the window. Hair brush was swapped for screwdriver and I hoisted it back up to my ceramic cell. I unscrewed my side of the door and gave a triumphant push.

Nothing happened.

Aarghh! Now I was stuck in a room with a closed door that was (a) stuck and (b) had no handles.  I was literally turning into one of these lateral thinking puzzles about locked rooms, ice blocks and Kirkby grips or some such.

By now the tween and her sleepover pal had emerged to see what the noise was and they were occupying themselves by feeding our neurotic spaniel calming dog treats to stop him whimpering and scratching at the (still firmly shut) door.

In a last surge of fury, I grabbed the screw driver and rammed the hole where the handle should have been, wiggling, poking and pushing until, finally, the door flung open and I was propelled out into the bedroom to be greeted by three pale and worried faces and one black furry one.

Thank God.

I was a free woman. No need to try and preserve my dignity whilst clambering down a ladder in nothing but a moth eaten Frankie Goes To Hollywood T-shirt. No need to make a guilty call to the landlord to explain a splintered door hanging off it’s hinges.

“At last! Can you make us breakfast now you are out?” asked the tween.

Order was restored. On with the day.

Is This Really Suitable For A Fifteen Year Old?

15This week I met up with a friend (regular readers will remember her mega lists and, no, she still hasn’t painted the front door) to have a drink and go to the cinema. It was a chick-flick sort of an evening so we decided to see ‘Trainwreck’.

Trainwreck’ was directed by Judd Appatow, the guy who gave us ‘Bridesmaids’, and ‘This is 40’ (amongst many others) so you know you are in fairly safe hands in terms of a contemporary comedy. It actually was a fun film, it made us laugh and we left the cinema smiling – happy days.

It didn’t prompt me to write a film review but it has made me really think about film censorship and certification. ‘Trainwreck’ was a certificate 15. My teenager would be perfectly within her legal rights to buy a ticket to watch it, and she probably will on a wet afternoon at the fag end of the summer holidays. The thought of her watching it horrifies me as, as far as I am concerned, the adult content of the film is way more suited to an 18 certificate. The language and explicit sexual references come thick and fast (a very apt description), sometimes beyond what is funny and into overkill territory.  Maybe I am being taken over by the aliens of middle age, that could account for a small percent of my opinion, but I think that the relaxation of censorship also has something to do with it.

I was 15 in 1985/86 (* gulp *) and the most popular movies released at that time included ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, and ‘Top Gun’. All rated 15. I’m guessing that if we indulged in a Netflix 1980’s sesh we would find all three of those pretty tame by today’s standards. Some bad language and a bit of sex maybe but nothing along the lines of the no holds barred content in today’s 15 rated films.

Of course times change and every generation believes those who come after them to be more precocious, street wise, knowledgeable. I am not suggesting that we return to the early days of film classification when, in 1941, the merest hint of Jayne Mansfield’s boobs resulted in director Howard Hughes having to take 37 specific re-shoots before a scene in ‘The Outlaws’ was deemed to be decent. But is there not a happy medium between then and now?

If I was not the parent of relevant aged children I probably wouldn’t give a flying flamingo about the whole issue. Although maybe I would from a rite of passage point of view? Surely most people my age have memories of trying to look old enough to get into AA or X rated films? And what about that delicious sense of triumph when you were actually officially old enough to go and watch films with content previously denied? It was nothing that we didn’t know about already but seeing it on the big screen after the long years of childhood was what it was all about.

I am not some rampant Mary Whitehouse type figure but it seems to be that the ‘Porkys’ and ‘Nine ½ Weeks’ of yesterday today are the ‘Trainwreck’ and ‘The Inbetweeners Movie’ of today.

Is it just a generational thing? Am I stuck in the past? What do you think?

When Something Good Comes Out Of Something Bad

Every Cloud2I am not one of life’s Pollyannas. I do try to be positive, especially as a parent of growing girls who need nourishing and protecting from the critical onslaught of modern grown up life. But, that said, I do sometimes struggle with the ‘everything happens for a reason’ view on the more shitty experiences of life.

This week something happened that swung the needle in favour of glass half full – my car was broken into.

I know, it doesn’t seem an obvious catalyst for positive mindfulness but stick with me.

We had been away for a few days and got home at about 8pm. The next morning the tween and I went out to the car and she commented that the passenger door was not properley closed. I thought it was a bit odd and peered inside. My car is basically a skip masquerading as a hatchback and it took some time for me to realise that the mess I was looking at was a different mess to the one I had left the night before. Glove box open, contents wrenched out, glasses cases shaken open and discarded, travel sick pills, CDs, maps and manuals all opened and tossed aside.  Closer inspection revealed that the sat nav and all it’s accessories had been taken.

I know what you are thinking.  What kind of wally leaves the sat nav in the car overnight?  The exact same kind of wally who thought she had locked the car and forgot to double check, that’s who.

So, back into the house we go as I mutter and curse about my own idiocy, and the total crap-ness of people who think stealing is OK, in equal measure.  Well, not quite equal – my rage at the mindless cretin who robbed me was a bit greater than my own self loathing.

At this point my faith in the good of mankind was rock bottom but on dialling 101 to report the incident (I’ve got all the lingo now) things took a turn for the Pollyanna better.

  1. 101 was very busy and an automated message asked me for my number and a time when I could be called back.  I was called back at the exact time I have stated.
  2. A very lovely lady from Dorset police took all the details and was even gracious enough to to try and make me feel better about my twittery with the whole unlocked door/valuables left in the car thing.  She promised to send an officer round when they were less busy dealing with all the proper crimes in Dorchester.
  3. A few hours later a policeman turned up for a chat, looked at the car and said that there may be the chance of getting some fingerprints so he would see if CSI were available.  He warned me that they too were very busy and reminded us not to touch anything.
  4. Lo and behold at 8.30pm a van drove up and out popped a chap with ‘Forensics’ written on his sleeve.  He proceeded to dust for prints (more lingo) while we watched from the window beside ourselves with excitement at the Inspector Morse-ness of it all.
  5. Excitement reached fever pitch when the nice CSI chap came in to take all our fingerprints to eliminate us from his findings (I reckon I’ve got enough vocab to write a crime drama by now).

I was already wide eyed and stunned at the speed and efficiency with which the situation had been handled when the teen piped up to Mr Nice CSI that she was interested in his profession.  By the time he had taken our prints and packed away his kit he had given her a full run down of the best career route, inside tips and info on how to succeed and left his number should she want some work experience once she is in the sixth form.

To say that we were left feeling warm and fuzzy would be an understatement.  I went from being a hissing distrustful wreck to a serene ‘every cloud-er’ in the space of 12 hours.

I would still like to find the person who robbed me, sit on their head and fart, but, had the sat nav not been taken I would not have had a life affirming experience that restored my faith in humanity, and the teen may well have missed out on a glittering career as Forensic Scientist.  Scotland Yard here we come.

The Good Girl by Fiona Neill

The Good Girl by Fiona NeillI love reading, it offers total escapism and is a godsend to those of us who battle with mild insomnia and have many long night hours to fill.

When a copy of Fiona Neills new book “The Good Girl” popped through my letterbox, courtesy of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network, I was doubly excited – a new book to read and a blog post to write – result.

“The Good Girl” is Neill’s fourth novel. I have read two of the others (The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy and What the Nanny Saw) so I was already a fan but I still approached it afresh. The jacket design is a departure from previous books so I wasn’t sure if she may have taken a new path in her writing. I dived in with an open mind.

The premise of the story is a family that finds itself at the heart of an internet based scandal. Head teacher Ailsa is horrified when Romy, her daughter, a straight A student and a pupil at her own school, is exposed in a viral scandal of horrific proportions. But should she be so quick to judge when she has secrets of her own lurking in the background?

As the parent of a teen and a nearly teen this book is VERY scary. Internet bullying, sexting, marital infidelity and the long reaching effect on family life. It is everything you know is going on but try to pretend isn’t.

The writing is pacey yet sensitive and, with apologies for the cliché, I really couldn’t put it down. The story unfolds with colour and depth and I found my view of the characters shifting with each chapter.

Based on the three of Neill’s novels that I have read I would say that she excels in character driven stories with a climactic finish. Real enough to resonate but imaginative enough to be gripping and entertaining. The Good Girl tackled so many issues with honesty and sensitivity, I was particularly struck by the descriptions of bereavement as Ailsa grieves for her recently passed mother.

Reading this book will make you hyper aware of your digital footprint and, if you have teenagers in the house, you will watch them closely nad hold them more tightly.. I was going to haul out another cliché and say it is great holiday read but I think that would be a disservice. This book is a great read anytime, holidays or not.

A Very British Picnic


Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Knoll Beach at Studland Bay, Dorset.  Whether braving the bitter wind for a wintry walk or fighting for a patch of sand in the height of summer, it is always a lovely day out.

Last week we had some friends to stay and, to celebrate the start of the school holidays, I booked a National Trust beach hut at Knoll Beach for the day.

Our own patch

You can rent huts at Studland on a daily, weekly, annual or three season basis, but there is a lengthy waiting list for the longer rentals.  A day hire suited us perfectly and for £24 we had our own hut complete with two deck chairs and a wind break – what more could we want?!

I made the booking several weeks ago and, sure enough, as the day drew near it seemed I had put a hex on the weather.  The forecast swung between rain and wind to cloud and drizzle.  We ummed and ahhed but the night before the Met Office promised us a dry, if cool and cloudy, day.  That was all the encouragement we needed, we’re British goddamnit, freezing temperatures and low visibility were not going to stand in the way of our picnic.

Grey Skies at Studland

Clouds? What clouds?

We loaded the car with teens, tween, dog, picnic, scarves, blankets, flasks of hot chocolate and buckets of gung-ho spirit.

Cut to our arrival at the beach to find us staggering, sweating, to the beach shop to buy emergency sun cream and cold drinks.  Good old Blighty weather – always a surprise around the corner.

We collected the key to our home for the day and went in search of No.34.  When I made the booking I was told that the hut was not right on the beach but tucked behind a dune, so it was not a surprise to find that we were hidden away.  Initially I was disappointed not have an open view of the sea but, actually, it was perfect as the huts around us were not in use that day so we were able to set up camp in secluded bliss.  The beach was 30 seconds through the dunes so no hardship there.

No34     Path to the hut

We had a fabulous day.  Stuffed our picnic as soon as we arrived (sandwiches,  sausage rolls, jam tarts, fruit cake, strawberries), walked the dog on the beach, read our books.  The teens and tween ventured into the sea and hired a pedalo before returning to the hut to flop around languidly tattooing each other with henna.

Picnic at the hut2

Of course we had to eat all of the picnic within minutes of arrival

Jam Tarts

Jam tarts

Fruit cake and brownies

Fruit cake and brownies

Harry at the hut

Dogs are allowed on the beach all year round. Happy spaniel!

My lovely friend

My lovely friend


A pedalo adventure


Henna tattoos as the heat went out of the sun

When you take a day hire you can stay well into the evening and just post the key through the National Trust letterbox on your way out.  Had the weather stayed warm and sultry we would have done this but the clouds drew un and we packed up at six-ish to head home.  Next time I’ll stick a portable BBQ in the car and the day can roll into night over hot dogs and smores.

We arrived home both sunburnt and shivering which summed up our Very British Picnic perfectly.

Ice Cream

Textiquette – The Maze of Modern Manners


I wish I had invented the word ‘Textiquette’. For about 30 seconds I actually thought I had until a quick Google proved that, of course, it is a well-used noun that has been around since the dawn of, well, of texts.

It hasn’t quite made it into the grown up dictionaries yet but there are many definitions floating around, all basically describing it as the manners that should be employed when texting.

I love texting. It is succinct, to the point, avoids tedious conversations, provides an olive branch if needed and is the perfect opportunity for safe and gentle flirting. However, as the parent of a teen and a nearly teen, I am under constant ridicule for my texting style.

Firstly, I am incapable of the two thumb text method. I have tried and tried but my thumbs are just not right, ergonomically speaking.  Even with auto correct switched on I still end up with a typed message that bears no resemblance to what I actually want to say. So I use my forefinger to type. Just one forefinger which apparently makes me look like a mad, blind old women. Great.

Secondly, I mostly use WHOLE WORDS, and, I usually start the message with Hi…(insert name), even though I am sending a message to their own personal phone so the name bit is really not necessary.  It just seems more polite somehow.

I don’t really hold with all the abbreviations, I love words too much and I generally find that once you reach a certain age you get the text lingo wrong anyway. We all know people who insist on signing off LOL thinking they are sending fond love not laughing in your face.

Despite these text faux pas, I do use the medium a lot and quite often have a Textiquette quandary that has my forefinger hovering over the keys before I press send.

E.G. – when do you put a kiss at the end of a message? My general rule is that for friends and family a X is standard. Sometimes a special friend might get XX after a particularly warm exchange of messages. But texting an arrangement to a parent you don’t know well or have never met – no kiss. Then they send you a kiss on their message and you feel like an ice bitch but it goes against the grain to send one back so you are stuck in a total Textiquette nightmare.

The kiss question is amplified when exchanging messages with members of the opposite sex. Unless you both use a X from the off, in some sort of unspoken ‘I always put kisses to be friendly, it doesn’t mean anything’ type agreement, then you are basically in a kiss off minefield. If there are usually no Xs then the sudden appearance of one becomes laden with meaning, even if it not! And then you have whole ‘how do I reply’ quandary all over again.

I’ve got a male friend who is totally guilty of this. We have a happy text friendship and from the outset the unwritten no kiss rule was agreed. BUT, whenever he texts me late in the evening after a few drinks a rogue X appears at the end of the text. So I reply in kind because it seems polite and then in the cold light of next day a plain no X message appears leaving me hot necked and flustered thinking I’ve sent the wrong message – in every sort of way. Aarrgghh!!

Occasionally, if I am driving or cooking or just lazy I will dictate a text to the tween who will be my cyber secretary and type it in for me. This is generally a cunning plan but last week I realized that I must always check her work before she hits send. This is what was despatched to the mother of her friend as a message from me

Hi Karen, could Bella come back with us after school on Wednesday so they can get their stool together for the summer fair? Thanks Clare xxxx”

Not only have I implied that they will be undertaking some sort of faeces related activity rather than bag sweets for the candy stall, there are also FOUR kisses on the text!

OMG dat wiL teach me 2 delegate LOL…