Alton Towers and a Sleepover With Santa

I still remember the first time I went to Alton Towers. I was about nine and it was shortly after the hotel first opened so I was lucky enough to stay there overnight as well as visit the theme park. I remember thinking that it seemed like a very magical kind of place. It went beyond the iconic rides set in the stunning surroundings - it was more about the attention to detail and finishing touches like the theme tune playing in the lifts and the treasure map in our pirate themed bedroom that led me to some chocolates underneath my pillow.

Now, as I visit as an adult with my own small person in tow, I still sense that same sort of magic. It's just such a cool place. So I thought I'd write a post and share some pictures of our stay there last weekend. NB: this isn't a sponsored post or anything like that (pffft, I wish!) I just wanted to write about our experience and record some precious, Christmassy memories.

We booked the Santa's Sleepover package. This is the second year that we've done this particular break and I think that it's a great deal - not only did we get an overnight stay in the Splash Landings Hotel (with access to the amazing waterpark) and our meals included, but we also got to visit CBeebies Land, meet Santa in his grotto and see a pantomime too. Jack loved it and if I'm honest, us grown ups did too!

If you've never been, Splash Landings is a kind of calypso/Caribbean themed hotel. There are beachcomber bedrooms, some sort of pirate shanty esq tune in the lifts (did I mention that I appreciate elevator music?!) and an obligatory giant deckchair. Obvs.

Best of all though, is the humongous water park at the heart of the hotel that has some amazing rides and interactive features. Jack got so emotionally attached to one particular slide that he refused to go on anything else and Carl seemed to enjoy clambering high upon the giant structures in order to pump water into buckets then dump them on some poor, unsuspecting sod below. I wasn't able to get any pictures inside the water park but I think you can see a small section here in this picture of Jack gazing wistfully at it from the hotel.

And of course no trip to Alton Towers is complete without going on some rides. The majority of the park was shut due to the time of year but all we really cared about was CBeebies Land. Jack had an amazing time in Charlie and Lola's house.

Driving Postman Pat's van.

Going on a tree-top adventure.

Going 'surprisingly fast for a kids ride' (my words, not his) on the new Octonauts rollercoaster.

And visiting some fish in the sealife centre in Mutiny Bay (genuinely never realised there was a sealife centre at Alton Towers - this place has everything!) Just before this, Carl miraculously won an Ironman soft toy in one of the grabby machines and Jack loved showing him the fish, sharks and seahorses.

We even got to meet Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy. I got a cuddle from Iggle Piggle but Jack wasn't too sure...they do say you should never meet your heroes.

Later that day we got to meet Santa in his woodland grotto. We've visited a few Santa's now but this one was as close to the real deal as I imagine it's possible to get. Of course Jack went all coy and would only reply to his questions in words of one syllable (except when asked what he'd like for Christmas to which he replied with "all of the presents") but I think he enjoyed it deep down - despite his wet weekend face on the picture. He was given some reindeer food and a beautiful teddy and it was just one of those lovely (slightly weepy) moments that I really hope he'll remember in years to come.

That night we had a carvery Christmas dinner which was yummy (even though Jack was getting tired and borderline feral by this point) and then it was time for his first ever panto - Cinderella! With singing, dancing and some naughtily named ugly sisters - Kendall and Kylie, lolz - it was everything we'd hoped for and also...mercifully short as we were all utterly zonked by this point. So, we retired to our bunk beds (via the bar) and I ended up with a double all to myself, huzzah!

I'd 100% recommend the Santa's Sleepover package. I know Alton Towers hasn't had good press this year (rightly so) but our experiences have always been positive and Jack loved every minute. When it came to check-out time and the lady asked if he'd had a nice time he replied with "wonderful!" which I think sums the weekend up well.

Have you visited Splash Landings or CBeebies Land before? What were your thoughts?

A Comprehensive Account of the Crap My Toddler Watches on Youtube

It's no secret that Youtube is where it's at these days. From Zoella to StampyLongHead (?!?!) and a plethora of lovely mummy Vloggers, loads people are making actual careers from the video-sharing website and several million more are watching them.

Back in my yoof, I relied on Youtube for all sorts of valuable life skills such as teaching myself Soulja Boi's Crank Dat routine and nearly blinding myself by trying to watch beauty tutorials and perfect that elusive cat's eye flick at the same time (OK, that might have happened last week).

These days, however, my toddler is the main Youtuber in our house and (**DISCLAIMER ALERT**) while I do monitor screen time, I still seem to hear the chiming of 'daddy finger daddy finger, where are you?' in my dreams most nights. These are some of the most soul destroying things that he likes to watch on Youtube. Which ones are you all too familiar with?

The opening of eggs
If you're a parent then you'll know. You'll just know. And if you don't know then you truly are blessed. Because whenever I try and explain to my childless friends about the Youtube phenomenon of kids watching the perfectly manicured hands of an American lady with a slightly robotic voice opening chocolate/plastic eggs to reveal a toy inside OVER AND OVER AGAIN, they look at me blankly as if to say...'really, this is what parenting is about?' Nobody gets it. I don't get it. But Jack is obsessed with it. Why?!

ChuChu TV is one of Jack's favourite channels. With its garish animations of children/animals singing well known songs and nursery rhymes in an otherworldy accent, it seemed innocent enough at first. But then one day he discovered Johny and his dead-eyed sisters. Jack adores singing along with the little sugar fiend and his freakish family. Personally I find them all terrifying. What do you think?

Spanish Peppa Pig
Turns out there is something more annoying that the original Peppa Pig blaring out of an iPad at 5am. Pass me a bacon butty, Manuel. 

Play Doh Reviews
I don't think many toddlers watch these videos and think 'Oh wow, that shade of magenta Play Doh will really compliment my existing set.' But the Play Doh experts (life goal right there) who demonstrate the toys on these videos really get into it and make some pretty awesome creations. So out of all the crap Jack watches on Youtube, this is the one that makes me want to claw out my own eyeballs least. 

Duke Pup
OK, so Duke Pup is technically an app rather than a Youtube star but I can't not mention him. The mischievous, animated dog repeats everything you say thus causing no end of arguments in our house. This is because Jack argues with Duke Pup. Which technically means he is arguing with himself. I've lost count of the times I've had to endure debates of 'you trumped first / you trumped first' or 'no she's MY mummy / no she's MY mummy' that can last several minutes. Pass me the gin.

Other children playing with toys
Have you met Ryan? No, neither have we but you'd think he was a close personal friend the way Jack bangs on about him. This three year old has over 670,000 subscriptions on Youtube just for reviewing toys! But how am I supposed to break it to Jack that the chances of Ryan 'coming to our house to share his toys' are slim to none?

What Youtube sensations do your little ones irritate you with regularly?

Upcycling Sunday #3 - Stenciling

So last time I wrote about my test project which wasn't much of a project at all but did result in a slightly prettier looking bookcase for Jack's bedroom. This time I wanted to do something a little more creative and my subject was this old bedside table which was kindly donated to me by Carl.

Not very pretty is it? 

I have Pinterest boards for upcycling and interior design. Some popular patterns that seem to keep cropping up are chevrons and harlequins which I like because they're current and cool but also seem pretty simple - surely even I couldn't mess up a few triangles or some wonky lines, right?! So I ordered myself an A4 harlequin stencil from ebay and got cracking. 

I bought another tin of Rust-oleum chalk paint in a grey shade that I thought would work well with the Balmoral blue I already have. I had the intention of painting the whole thing grey but about half way through I thought it might look quite cool if I painted the top in blue. When it comes to cupboards and drawers, I've learnt that painting is pretty tough going. There are a lot of hard to reach nooks and crannies and I also struggled a bit with the side of the door and it's hinges. If I'm honest, I wasn't overjoyed with the paint job on this one because in places it looks splodgey and the brush strokes are too visible. But thankfully the stenciling takes some of the focus away from that.

Once it had dried I started the stenciling process, applying the stencil and sticking it down with masking tape to secure it. This is really important - even the slightest wobble can cause the stencil to lift up and then your lines are uneven (so to answer my earlier question, yes it seems I can mess up a few triangles!) I also had to take care when lining the stencil back up to make the diamond shape. It wasn't perfect but afterwards I used a tiny paintbrush to neaten up any discrepancies and overall I'm pretty pleased with it for a first attempt.

After waxing the whole thing down there was one last thing to do - replace the handle. I ordered a really nice quality handle from ebay for 99p which was an absolute bargain. The downside was that it came all the way from Guangdong - I have no idea where abouts in the world that is but it must be pretty far away as it took nearly a month to arrive! By this point I was so eager to finish it that I got a bit impatient when screwing the knob in. The screw was slightly too big for the hole and got stuck half way through...gahhhh! It wouldn't budge either way and I was convinced I'd buggered the whole thing up but luckily my granddad with his guns of steel was on hand to remove it. I drilled a slightly bigger hole and was finally able add the finishing touch. Amazing the trouble a little knob can cause...ahem.

So here it is.

This was another piece of furniture for Jack's bedroom so hopefully he'll like it. I'm thinking his room is probably due a bit of an update as it's not changed much since he was a baby. I've got some other projects in the pipeline and have ordered some cute soft furnishings so ideally it will all come together in time for Christmas. But I'll save that for another post.

As ever, I'd love to hear from anyone else who has any experience or thoughts on upcycling. 

Save Our Steel

If you've been following the news over the last week or so you might have heard about the crisis within the steel industry and the consequent job losses at some major UK sites. One of these sites is Tata Steel in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire - my hometown.

News stories like this seem all too common these days. There have been many times where I've switched on the news to hear words like administration, redundancies and mothballing (actually I've never heard that word before today, I had to ask Carl what it meant) being thrown around. You kind of become desensitised to it. You only hear the statistics. You don't picture the people behind the redundancies or the families in turmoil or the worry and pain and frustration. Then one day it happens on your doorstep and you can't help but see it. And feel it.

With the exception of the three years that I moved away for university, I've always lived in Scunthorpe. It's a small, working class town like many others in the UK. It has a rapidly declining High Street with a few too many Poundshops, several out-of town retail areas (the newest of which includes a hotly debated M&S for the more seasoned shopper) and of course the picturesque Central Park where, on a hot day, you can see kids and dogs frolicking in the fountain no matter how many health and safety warnings the council dish out. It's the sort of place where everyone you meet will know someone else that you know. The night life scene reminds me of that episode of The Office where David Brent gets wrecked in Chasers. In 2013 it was voted the most unromantic place in the UK. It was the town in which the first series of the controversial channel 4 documentary Skint was filmed. I can even remember watching an episode of Celebrity Family Fortunes where Johnny Vegas won a holiday to Las Vegas and Vernon Kay quipped 'I bet you're glad your last name's not Scunthorpe.'

So at times it has seemed like my hometown is a bit of a national joke. But despite the jibes, the changes, the good and not so good developments over the years, one thing that has always remained constant here is the steelworks. It has changed and declined a lot over the years but it's still there. Perhaps not the prettiest skyline but one that demands respect because an entire town was built on it's foundations. Steel has been at the heart of Scunthorpe for well over 100 years.

But with the rumours of 900 job losses at Tata Steel confirmed yesterday (that's almost a quarter of a workforce that has already dropped dramatically over the past 40 years) things could change. Just about everyone in Scunthorpe will know someone who has links to the steelworks. Aside from the public sector, it is the biggest employer in the town. Make no mistake, this will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on other businesses and on the community in general. Already people are talking about Scunthorpe becoming a ghost town and it scares me. It scares me because this is my son's home and right now the future feels uncertain for us all.

I won't profess to being the most politically minded person but I have to question why the government aren't doing more to support this industry. Why can't they cut business rates, lower energy costs, challenge EU regulations and use our steel rather than importing cheap, Chinese steel for British infrastructure. I don't understand the economy really, maybe it's not that simple. But surely David Cameron - who claims to be all for 'the working man' - could do more? It baffles me. But mostly it saddens me because the steelworks is an integral part of the town's history and to see it in such dire straits is pretty heartbreaking. My dad and granddad were both steelworkers at one point and while I'm lucky not to have any family currently working there, I'm not daft enough to think it won't affect me in one way or another.

So I would ask anyone who feels strongly about this to sign this petition to encourage the government to fight for this industry and save our steel.

It might not be the prettiest of skylines but it's one that I've always been rather fond of.

Life, Death and Goldfish

Last week one of our goldfish, Clive 2, died. We'd only had him for about a year so I was a bit sad, especially considering that his predecessor (the original Clive) had lived until he was nearly twenty years old. Nobody believes me when I say that. They all think that my mum must have been replacing him for years but it really was the same fish. He had distinctive markings and a funny shaped tail. He was a little fishy miracle.

But I digress.

Back to Clive 2. He'd been looking peaky for a few days so it wasn't really a shock when Carl came downstairs on Wednesday morning to find him floating. He assures me that he was disposed of respectfully (i.e. not down the toilet) and that was that. I wasn't too worried about Jack noticing or getting upset. He doesn't pay much attention to the fish - they're not things he can maul/lick/throw around. But later that same day:

'Mummy, there's only one fish. Where is orange fish?'

'Erm, well he's gone.'

'Where has he gone to?'

Shit. I could hardly tell him he's hopped on his pushbike and gone for a quick jaunt around the block but will be back in time for tea. So, this time, I chose honesty.

'Well he was very poorly so he's gone to fishy heaven.'

'Ooooooh fishy heaven. Bye bye fishy. Can I have a biscuit now?'

Gone but not forgotten

Straight over his head. Just like that. The harsh facts of life and death summed up in the mind of a three year old as something so simple as two fish in a bowl becoming one fish in a bowl. I'd got away with it this time. But it did make me wonder what I would have said had his questions been a bit more probing. Because let's face it, death is a scary thing and it's not easy to explain. Ceasing to exist while the world continues is pretty mind blowing and something most adults struggle to comprehend, so how can a three year old be expected to understand? Should they understand? Do they really need to know about things like disease, war, accidents, murder, old age, apocalypse? I'm not so sure.

And how am I supposed to explain what happens when we die when I'm not even sure myself? As much as I'd like to believe in an afterlife where we all ride unicorns in the clouds while Spirit In The Sky plays on repeat, it doesn't seem very likely? But the alternative - eternal nothingness - well that's a tough thought to come to terms with, even for me.

It was a pretty morbid week, actually. A few days before Clive 2's passing we went to the library and Jack chose a book called Badger's Parting Gifts. I didn't look at it beforehand (how offensive can a book about woodland creatures be?!) and it was only when we started reading it that night that I realised it was a story about an old, weary badger who went down 'the long tunnel' leaving his friends, moley, foxy and froggy, feeling very sad. I was tempted to stop reading half way through because, once again, I was nervous about the questions it could throw up. But it turned out to be quite a sensitive and uplifting story about Badger's acceptance of his demise and how his friends were eventually able to remember him with happiness, treasuring the memories and lessons he had given them.

I guess books like this exist to help children come to terms with the concept of death. So they don't fear it and can even take something positive away from it. And I suppose my job is to be honest about the facts of life and try and make sure that Jack is emotionally equipped to deal with them as best as he can. So while I won't be actively inviting any death related questions (or putting The Lion King on) anytime soon, I guess I've realised that it isn't a conversation I need to completely dread.

Have you had this chat with your little ones yet? How did you handle it?

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

Upcycling Sunday #2 - The Test Project

Last week I wrote an introduction about how I got into upcycling and my first haul of materials. This time I thought I'd talk about my first project - although it feels a bit generous to call that because literally all I did was paint a bookcase. The point was that I wanted to get a feel for the materials and just practice my painting technique.

Mostly I was curious about how well the chalk paint I'd bought would go onto the bookcase which was the type of cheap, shiny wood that I could envisage normal emulsion just sliding off. I can guarantee that if you Google 'upcycling' within a few clicks you will see the words 'chalk paint' and the name 'Annie Sloan'. I hadn't heard of either before and I certainly hadn't had any experience of using chalk paint but the write ups online all sounded very positive. Not only can chalk paint be applied to most surfaces without the need for sanding or priming beforehand, but it is ideal for giving a rustic style because it dries to give a matte finish that can be easily distressed. All of that felt a bit beyond me at this stage so all I really wanted to see was how well it would go on to the slippy, slidey bookcase.

I didn't use Annie Sloan paint because it's pretty expensive and only seems to be stocked in independent, specialist shops. I would like to use it in the future (if I can ever hunt it down) but this time I used B&Q's chalk paint brand, Rust-oleum, which I thought was pretty good value given the coverage and choice of colours.

As I said, no sanding or priming was required so after a quick hoover and clean down I literally began slapping some paint on the bookcase, going in the same direction as the grain of the wood. It dried really quickly and gives this grainy looking effect where you can still see the wood underneath. I'm still not sure if this is the desired effect or if I'm just really bad at painting, but I quite like it. If you wanted to distress a piece of furniture you could use two different colours for your base and top coat - that way the colour underneath would come through like this and also when you're sanding.

Afterwards I had the bright idea of lobbing some glitter paint on. I really don't know what possessed me. The two styles just don't go together well and I also found that the glitter paint acted like a varnish which made the paintwork look glossier than I wanted. Luckily I only did the bottom shelf with glitter before I realised it looked a bit pants, so all was not lost.

Most tutorials advise that you should seal and protect your paintwork using varnish or wax - especiallly if it is a piece that is going to be well used. I bought wax because it's supposed to work well with chalk paint to give a matte finish but I left it a few days just to see if it was really necessary. It was. Jack is not gentle about removing books from his shelf and within a day or two he'd caused some pretty big scratches. No matter, it all adds to the rustic effect. At this point I used an old cloth to rub Rust-oleum furniture wax over the bookcase, taking care to buff it up and not leave any sticky patches. After a few hours of drying, the books were back on and there have been no more scratches to the paintwork since.

So here is the obligatory before and after picture:
I know it's hardly groundbreaking but I felt that it gave me the opportunity to get a feel for using chalk paint and the lovely blue colour (Balmoral blue, I believe) has really brightened up Jack's bedroom. Next time I'll talk about my second project which was a bit more faffy but quite impressive upon completion!

As ever, I'd love to hear from anyone else who has experience, thoughts or ideas on upcycling.

20 Things I've Learnt In My Twenties

Today I turned 29 and as I sit here munching on caterpillar cake (never going to be too old for that) I can't help but wonder where the last decade has gone. I've always found the 20-30 age bracket pretty confusing. On one hand you're an actual, proper adult who is supposed to be laying the foundations for your future but on the other you're encouraged to be reckless and experimental and free...before you get too old?! Everyday I see people I went to school with buying houses, getting married and having babies. Some are on their third or fourth (baby not marriage). But equally there seem to be a lot who are still travelling, partying and trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up. Is it possible to fit into both of those categories? I think I might.

For me, it has been a monumentally life changing time. I started my twenties as a student living in Nottingham where my life basically revolved around daytime TV, cheap cider, obscure Indie music and dysfunctional relationships with mean boys. As much as I look back on that stage of my life with fondness (it was bloody good fun) I can acknowledge that I was a bit of a trainwreck; I made bad choices, I was pretty annoying and I wasn't always very kind to myself or others.

These days I'm a bit nicer, a bit calmer and I drink wine instead of White Storm. Oh, and I have a child. Something as monumental as motherhood kind of forces a shift in your personality and my outlook on life has also changed and evolved over the past decade. I've learnt a lot during my twenties and what better time to reflect on those lessons than today - as I go into my final year as a twenty-something.

Your mum is your best friend
At some point during my twenties I stopped seeing my mother as an authoritative figure put on earth purely to harsh my mellow and started seeing her as an equal. This may have coincided with the point at which I became a mum myself. We don't always see eye to eye but my mum is undoubtedly the best friend I'll ever have.

Be yourself
You're not in school anymore. You don't have to pretend to be something you're not just to fit in. Embrace your weirdness. Speak your mind. Wear what you like. And don't be afraid to be different.

Don't be afraid of being alone
Don't stay in bad relationships just because you're scared of being alone. That's stupid and a complete waste of life. Splitting up with my long term partner (and becoming a single mum in the process) was a daunting thing to go through in my twenties. But it was 100% the right thing to do and I actually quite enjoyed my time alone.

I visited some pretty cool places during my twenties. I drank margaritas on Hollywood Blvd and accidentally ended up at mass with the Pope in Rome. But I wish I had traveled more. I'm a firm believer in investing in experiences rather than material things but it's hard to just up and go when you have kids and commitments. So see the world while you can.

Don't compare
Success is subjective so there's no point comparing your life to others and thinking how much better than you they're doing. They could be looking at you and wanting the things that you have.

The world doesn't owe you anything
If you want something you have to work for it. Hard. As you're growing up opportunities tend to fall into your lap and life is mapped out for you through school, college and university (if you go down that route). After that it's up to you to take charge and make good things happen.

Follow your dreams (even if you need to take a diversion)
I always wanted to be a writer - more specifically a high flying, cosmopolitan columnist ala Carrie Bradshaw. When I found out I was pregnant it seemed like this dream was over. I was stuck in a dead end town with very few job prospects in the field that I was interested in. But I didn't give up. Now, as well as my 'day job' and as well as being a mum, I write on a freelance basis from home. And while I certainly don't earn megabucks from it, I do get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that, despite obstacles, I still managed to (kind of) achieve what I wanted.

Happiness comes in insignificant moments
Don't look too hard for happiness. The best moments are often found in the mundane and insignificant. Like crunching leaves in the park with a special little boy.

Nobody cares
Sounds pretty depressing at a glance but with the exception of close friends and family, nobody really cares what you're doing with your life. As youngsters we're pretty egocentric creatures but the realisation that the world didn't revolve around me hit me at some point during my twenties and it was quite a liberating feeling.

Staying in is the new going out
Turns out it's actually quite nice to stay in with Saturday night TV, a roaring fire and joggers rather than being shoulder barged in a sweaty nightclub as you queue for an overpriced Jagerbomb. Who knew?!

Look after your body
You only get one body. So look after it. That means eating well, exercising and going for those dreaded smear tests.

The same applies to your face. You only get one. So moisturize and NEVER go to bed with your eye make up still on. Oh haaaiiii pinkeye.

Bag a keeper
If you're lucky enough to find someone who doesn't just love you, but loves your son too then cling onto them for dear life. It takes a special person to do that. You, my dear, have hit the jackpot.

Fear of missing out
FOMO is dumb. I remember forcing myself to go out one Christmas Eve despite having tonsillitis just because EVERYONE WAS OUT and there was no way I was missing it. I felt dreadful and had the worst time. Why did I not just stay in bed?!

As you get older your friendship circle might drift apart or disband entirely. But the friends that stick around throughout your twenties are likely to be friends for life. Love them hard.

Eat well
I've learnt from experience that you can only abuse your body with a diet of cheese slice toasties and chicken balls for so long before it starts to rebel with intolerances and general feelings of grottiness. I've started making a conscious effort to include more fresh fruit and veg into my diet and I genuinely feel so much better.

But eat cake
You can eat well without cutting out every single little pleasure. No matter how old I am, I will always believe that life is too short not to eat cake.

Don't drink until you cry
When you're upset about something, don't go out and drink two bottles of cheap Rose. You will cry to strangers in the toilets about how shit your life is and end up humiliated as well as miserable. There are better ways to deal with your problems.

Stop crankin' dat
Heads up: the closer you get to 30, the less acceptable it becomes to 'crank dat' to Soulja Boi. You look less funky fresh and more loony Laura. Plus people have iPhones now. You will be videoed. Please stop.

Being a mum is the best
Above all else, being a mum is the best thing you will ever do. It will be hard. You will doubt yourself. Your life will change beyond recognition and some might not always think it's for the best. But never forget how utterly blessed you are. Your twenties are his baby/toddler years and you will never get them back. Embrace them and be grateful everyday.

Time for the Bake Off final! Now...where's that caterpillar cake?

Upcycling Sunday #1 - How it Began

I am not an artistic person. I have very little creative flair and whenever Jack asks to play with paints or Play Doh a small part of me dies inside. So it has come as somewhat of a suprise to me that I've developed such an interest in hunting down and renovating old furniture. Or, as the cool kids call it, 'upcycling'.

So far I have done two 'projects' - one of which was nothing more than repainting an old bookcase, the other involved a little more creativity and dicking around (you'll find I use a lot of technical phrases like that here). With a lot of help from Pinterest I've got loads more ideas for the future so I've decided to start writing a regular feature to share my creations and document any lessons and inspiration I pick up along the way. I have to stress that I am still very much in the learning stages and anyone with an ounce of DIY knowledge who reads this and thinks I'm correct. But with any luck I can learn, improve and maybe even create some pre-loved furniture/furnishings that are worthy of selling on. Or at least gifting to unsuspecting friends and family.

So to begin with I thought I'd write about how I started upcycling and the first purchases that I made.

I've always been a fan of old stuff. I love vintage/retro styles and generally speaking I find that things from the past were built to last - especially when compared with modern, mass produced furniture/clothing etc. I enjoy nothing more than mooching around charity shops, car boot sales and vintage boutiques in search of old school bargains. But I never seem to quite make it past the clothing, accessories and cute, kitsch ornaments. I wouldn't know what to do with a piece of vintage furniture. It would look completely out of place in my home and being a DIY novice it never occurred to me that I might be able to adapt it to fit in. Of course I knew that 'distressing' was a thing and shabby chic dressers are all the rage. I was familiar with the trend of renovating old (and sometimes new) furniture to intentionally make it look old and haggard. But I had no idea how to go about it and no real desire to learn.

Then one day, as part of my copywriting job an assignment came along where I had to write an article for a DIY website. Being at a bit of a loss, I took a stab in the dark and went down the upcycling route. My research was pretty suprising. Upcycling is a big thing and it sounded much simpler than I'd expected. It sparked my interest and so once again I turned to the oracle that is Pinterest and immediately started gushing over shelves made from old crates, brightly coloured bedside tables and animal print wallpaper decoupaged onto welsh dressers. I realised that shabby chic was just the tip of the iceberg; there are so many techniques and styles you can use to completely transform something that maybe looks a bit grotty but still has lots of life left in it into...well, anything you want. For me, it meant that I could replace some of the knackered furniture in my house without spending a fortune and I'd also be able to customise it how I liked. Which sounded pretty good.

And best of all, the tutorials made it sound like it wasn't beyond even my limited capabilities! I kept reading and pinning and watching Youtube videos and in the end I knew I just had to bite the bullet and have a go myself. I wasn't keen on spending too much money because a) we're poor and b) I really wasn't sure how well it would all turn out. Luckily I had an ugly old bookcase in Jack's bedroom that wasn't going to look any worse for a lick of paint so to begin with I just had to buy some materials. This is what I got:

A set of paintbrushes
A tin of chalk paint
A small tin of glitter paint 
Finishing wax
Lint free cloths (to apply wax)

Suffice to say some of the things have come in more useful than others (I'm talking about you, glitter paint) but I think I've rabbited on long enough now so I'll talk a bit more about the materials and what I did with them next time. 

If you have any experience or thoughts on upcycling furniture I'd love to hear from you. 

Mother Inferior

As cliche as it sounds, I would definitely say that motherhood is my biggest achievement in life to date. I grew an actual human! I carried him for nine months (and gave up wine during that time.) I went through a grueling 16 hours of labour and major surgery to bring him into the world. And I've been dealing with sleepless nights, poo explosions, hissy fits and soft play Saturdays ever since. I am a frickin' machine!

So why then, is the one thing I feel most proud of also the one thing that leads to so many of my insecurities?

In a way I guess it was inevitable. I am, and always have been, a fairly self deprecating person. The sort who can't accept a compliment without a 'thanks, but...' before launching into boring and unnecessary explanations about how any given achievement wasn't that great or could have been done better by someone else. That coupled with the social expectations and pressure from the media that all mums face was bound to leave me feeling a bit wobbly. And yet, it seems to be more than that sometimes.

At the very top of my list of parental failings is the fact that before he even had his first birthday my son was the product of a broken home. I don't like that phrase but that's what it was. I know that separated parents and 'blended families' are becoming increasingly common these days. I also know that it was 100% the right decision for everyone involved and we're all much happier now. But it doesn't take away my nagging worries for the future or the feelings of failure that come with being unable to provide him with a 'normal' family unit.

Then there are the lifestyle choices and the day-to-day failings. I didn't breastfeed. I chose to go back to work. I consistently forget to write important nursery dates on the calendar. I probably let him use the iPad too much. There are Chipsticks trampled into the back of the car that I still haven't hoovered up. I'm shit at crafts. I find lego boring. And on the days where he is running rings around me or I genuinely don't know how to deal with a particularly savage tantrum I find myself thinking dark thoughts like 'I'm not cut out for this' or 'he deserves better'.

Why is that as parents we constantly hate on ourselves like this? Why do we always feel inferior? Like we're not good enough? From the moment they are born the guilt is there. Am I doing this right? Am I meeting his needs? Am I a good enough mother? Even worse, am I a bad mother?

I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said 'nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent'. But most of the time it isn't others who make us feel inferior. It's ourselves. There is a constant internal battle of what we think we should be and what we actually are. For the reasons listed above I've always beat myself up as a mother and yet now Jack has started pre-school and seems to be doing quite well I'm actually surprised to find myself thinking 'well shit, maybe I'm doing OK after all.'

I think that the pressure of raising another human is so all-encompassing that I will always question myself and worry if I'm doing it right. That in itself tells me I'm not a bad parent. If I were, I simply wouldn't give a toss. So maybe it's time to drop the inferiority complex and just be the best mum I can. Even if I do have a messy car and hate lego.


By now you will have seen the image. Maybe you had to do a double take in the newsagents last week as you saw it splashed across the front page of a national newspaper. Maybe it caught you off guard, appearing in between selfies and back to school photographs on your Facebook timeline. The lifeless body of a little boy, three year old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach after his family tried to flee from Syria. His mother and older brother Galip, who was five, also drowned leaving behind a husband and father who, by his own admission, 'wants to lie in a grave next to them.'

Maybe, like me, once the initial, gut wrenching shock had sunk in you began to wonder why this image was being shown so widely. Why did you have to see it? You didn't want to see it. It's just too much to bear. And truthfully I'm still not sure which side of the fence I sit on here. But whatever you think of the ethics surrounding the publication of such a harrowing picture, you can't deny that it has brought home the reality of the appalling refugee crisis to a lot of people.

For weeks I've been hearing news bulletins about people making perilous journeys in search of safety. I'd even heard stories about boats capsising and people drowning or suffocating in lorries. And of course I thought it was awful but it wasn't until I saw the picture of Aylan - just three years old, the same age as my boy - that the realisation of what is happening in our world really struck me. People are putting themselves in mortal danger to try and flee from horrors that I can't begin to imagine. Innocent children are dying. And we have to find a way to help them.

Sadly there seems to be a minority of people who think we shouldn't help. That allowing people refuge into our country will somehow take something away from them. Unable to understand that the victims of war-torn Syria aren't coming here to 'take our benefits and steal our jobs' but to live without fear of persecution and violence; to give their families the chance of a peaceful life. Isn't that something we all deserve?

'Donate to your own' is another phrase that I'm seeing a lot. And whilst there is no denying that the UK has it's fair share of social and economic issues, I am yet to hear of any Britons loading their children onto overcrowded dinghies in the middle of the night because they are so desperate to escape their country. By all means donate to whichever charity you see fit - none is more worthy than another - but don't lament those who want to help this particular cause just because it's not in 'your country'. Because this is not a them and us situation. We are all human. Some of us are just luckier than others.

I was pleased when I saw the #savesyriaschildren campaign because I wasn't sure how or where to help. I have bags of kids clothing and shoes but don't know where to take them. It's a case of wanting to do something but not really knowing what. Which I guess is true on a higher, political level too because I don't think anyone really knows what the answer to this crisis is. But I do think with a little human compassion and generosity we can all make a difference in our own way. So I have text the word SYRIA to 70008 to donate five pounds. And I have signed this petition to ask that the UK provide more support for refugees fleeing Syria.

It's the least we can do. We are lucky to have been born in a safe country. But it so very easily could have been us. It could have been you. Worse still, it could have been him.

Book Review: Freedom's Child by Jax Miller

Last week I was sent Freedom's Child by Jax Miller to review and I raced through it in days. It's been a while since I've read something so gripping and addictive. The sort of book that you stay up way later than you should do on a work night to finish because it's 100% worth the 'book hangover' the next day. This was definitely one of those books.

The story centers around Freedom Oliver - once known as Nessa Delaney - who has been living in a dead end town in Oregon as a protected witness for the past eighteen years after framing her brother-in-law, Matthew, for her husband's murder. Freedom gave up her two young children for adoption to a religious couple, Virgil and Carol Paul, believing they'd be safer that way. But it's a decision that haunts her everyday and has led to her life spiraling into alcoholism, crime, depression and even plans to commit suicide.

She keeps tabs on her, now grown up, kids from afar and when she finds that her daughter Rebekah has gone missing she heads off to Kentucky (where her kids were raised) to try and track her down. But there are some dark and dangerous secrets surrounding the Paul family waiting for her and to make matters worse, Matthew Delaney has just been released from prison and is hell bent on getting revenge. Can Freedom find Rebekah or will Matthew get to her first?

When people asked me what I thought of this book, the best adjective I could think of was 'gritty'. It is dark, harrowing and pretty brutal in places. With themes of rape, murder, addiction, religion, prostitution and corruption running throughout, it is a crime thriller that probably isn't for the faint hearted but it does have an underlying feel of redemption which is quite uplifting too. The characters are all superbly and richly written; from the all-American 'good cop' James Mattley to the sadistic Delaney brothers and their grotesque matriarch mother, Lynn - each has depth and a back story of their own.

Freedom herself is the best female protagonist I've read about in a long time. I kind of pictured her as a Beatrix Kiddo type character from Kill Bill - flawed, feisty and willing to risk everything for her kids. With her strength, determination and humour she is the sort of character I was rooting for from the start.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time after finishing it and I honestly can't recommend it enough. If this is the standard of Jax Miller's debut novel then I can't wait to read her next one!

Thank you to Mumsnet and HarperCollins for sending me this book to review.

See what other Mumsnet Bloggers thought here


When Good Kids Go Bad

Of course, I was under no illusions. I may not have known much about motherhood but I knew that the chubby-legged, gurgling, happy baby who loved me with every fiber of his tiny being wouldn't stay that way forever. I knew there would come a time when the foundations of our house would shake under the slamming of bedroom doors and my ears would ring from bellows of 'I HATE YOU!'

I just didn't think it would be so soon.

At two there were plenty of tantrums but they were mostly whiny and cry-y. The type of sulky defiance that has an 'it's not faaaaiiiiirrrr' vibe to it but doesn't really go anywhere. At three the tantrums are apoplectic, furious and have more of an 'I WANT YOUR HEAD ON A STICK, MOTHER' vibe to them. Wild eyed, red faced, flailing, shrieking, flinging, thrashing, violent, fury that often erupts from something as simple as being told 'no, you can't put that expensive, battery operated toy in the bath' or 'please don't stand on the cat'.

Truthfully, it's an eyeopener. Sometimes I'm horrified and other times I just stand there agog, stunned by the drastic change in my usually placid, loving, well mannered son. It's like he's a different boy. Not one that has been raised by me - a (mostly) civilised human - in a rural farming village. But one that has been raised by wolves in the deepest, darkest depths of the jungle. Sent out into the wild to test his strength of character like on the film 300 and returned to me as an absolute savage.

While I joke, it's actually not that funny when you have a stocky three year old flailing his limbs in your direction, bellowing inaudible fury into your face and throwing objects at your head (lesson 1,323,434 of parenting: a plastic tractor to the eye socket hurts...bad). And if I'm honest, I still don't really know how to handle it. I'm not a believer in hitting back. If I shout at him, he shouts back and we both get angrier. Mostly I try to ignore it but it's really quite difficult to ignore those sort of decibels. I find myself wondering what Supernanny would do but I really don't feel that getting down on his level and telling him 'his behaviour is unacceptable' will cut it when he's thrashing about his bedroom floor like a rabid weasel.

Thankfully the rages don't last long. Within minutes he'll calm down and sidle up to me sheepishly, offering a half hearted apology. I'll explain that what he did was wrong and we'll go about our day. It'll be a while before the Hulk will raise his ugly, green head again and the rest of the time I'm blessed with a lovely, happy little boy. But the rages bother me. I can't help but wonder what can possibly make a three year old so angry? Why is it always directed at me? Does he really, properly hate me? I've read up on it and apparently these sort of tantrums are common in kids his age - hormones and all that. But still...

I'd love to know how you handle your children's tantrums. Especially ones that turn particularly savage. Time out? Smacking? Ignore it? Or hide under your bed until it's over?

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

The Magic of the movies: Surviving the cinema with toddlers

Last week I took Jack to the cinema for the first time which was, in my opinion, a fairly monumental milestone. As a child, going to the 'pictures' was one of my favourite treats. If you grew up in Scunthorpe pre-2003 the chances are you might have enjoyed the delights of the Majestic Cinema as well. With it's heavy velvet curtains, low ceilings and ever so slightly itchy seats I think it's fair to assume that the place probably hadn't had a refurb since it's 1930's opening and was, to all intents and purposes, a bit of a shit hole. But still, it was a place where dreams were made, hearts were broken (if you got stood up on the steps when you were 15 *sniff*) and many a happy Saturday afternoon was spent whooping along to Bring It On or sobbing at Titanic with friends.

Sadly the Majestic was demolished in the early 2000's and replaced with a shiny, new complex where there are no little old men who come in mid screening with trays and torches to sell ice cream, but there is a Ben & Jerry's counter where you can buy customised milkshakes if you're willing to take out a small bank loan beforehand. And while it may lack some of the charm of it's predecessor, I thought it was about time that Jack experienced the magic of the movies. After all, what could possibly go wrong?!

A lot, actually. I wasn't expecting him to be engulfed in sheer terror as we took our seats in screen 4. And I certainly hadn't bargained on him bolting towards the door shouting 'NOT LIKE BIG TELLY, WANT TO GO HOME NOW!' at the top of his lungs. But thankfully after some gentle persuasion he calmed down and seemed to enjoy the film. And as with most new, toddler-related experiences it was a learning curve for me too. Here's what I learnt about surviving the cinema with toddlers in tow.

Ticket price
For some reason I had this crazy idea in my head that as a grown up taking a child to watch a U-rated film, I might get some sort of concession based on the fact that not many grown adults would actually go and see Thomas and Friends: Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure out of choice. Two full price tickets later I learnt that this was a false assumption. It didn't make a difference that it was 10am on a Friday morning and that I would get no personal enjoyment whatsoever from watching Thomas dick about with his pals, there would still be no discount. However you CAN save money on...

Take your own. Seriously. Smuggle those Fruit Shoots in like your mortgage depends on it. Fluorescent slush puppies and mammoth pick 'n' mix counters are like beacons to small people but if you don't want to spend the equivalent of a week's shop on sugary snacks then you better come armed with a cheaper alternative stashed in your mum coat. Oh, and remember to tell them that popcorn is exploded sweetcorn; this isn't technically a lie and the mere mention of vegetables will put them right off, saving you a few quid in the process *evil cackle*

God bless you, Space Raiders!

Timing is everything
I learnt to my cost that arriving too early is a big mistake. Something about an empty cinema is actually quite eerie and Jack only really relaxed when other children started arriving. Not only that, but by arriving early you're wasting precious concentration time. Children's films are usually mercifully short but if they've already sat through half an hour of adverts and trailers, you might find that their attention span will run out and the fidgets will set in way before the end of the film.

Pick your seats
Don't be fooled into thinking you'll get a full hour of peace sitting in this darkened room because you know and I know that you'll probably spend most of the film traipsing to and from the toilet. So pick your seats accordingly - preferably somewhere near the bottom and at the end of an aisle to avoid disturbing the whole row, being heckled by toddlers then scrambling down several stairs in near blackness.

Enjoy it!
Even now I still think there is something magical about the cinema with it's smells and sounds and spine tingling opening credits. And taking Jack for the first time only made it more special. Seeing his eyes widen as the screen came to life was precious and as the end credits rolled to Thomas the Tank Engine singing a catchy tune, he got up and danced in the aisle with some other little boys and I knew that it had been time and money well spent.

Belly flashing good times!

The passing of time

Time is a funny thing when you have children. One minute you're wishing it away and counting down the hours until bedtime after a particularly tantrummy day. The next you're willing it to slow down. To hold onto those special moments for just a little bit longer; to freeze frame them and replay them over and over again.

During my maternity leave I lost all concept of time. There were no hours or days or weeks. Just feeding times. Days and nights that merged into one, long, consecutive haze of bottles, naps and 3pm baths. I'd determine what time of day it was by what was on TV, often surprised to find that it must be the weekend because Jeremy Kyle wasn't on. Our time passed gradually, sleepily and quietly as we got to know each other. There was no pressure to be anywhere or do anything. I remember we spent a lot of time in the house and we were nearly always together.

But when Jack was nine months old it was time for me to go back to work (part time) and he started spending Mondays with my mum and Tuesdays/Wednesday mornings at nursery. Although we had to adjust to being apart a bit more, it meant that we got some structure back in our lives and time had some meaning again. I remember picking him up from nursery on a Wednesday lunchtime and sometimes feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of four and a half full days stretching out ahead of us in which I'd be expected to find ways to occupy this rapidly growing, demanding baby who wasn't really a baby anymore. It felt like a lifetime and it wore me out. Sometimes I was actually quite relieved when Monday came back around. So despite working, we still seemed to have a lot of time together.

When he turned two and a half he started going to pre-school on a Friday morning because I wanted him to get to know the children he'd eventually be going to school with. It meant that I had three whole hours to myself! What would I do with all of this me time?! The possibilities were endless! And it was only one morning a week so we'd still get lots of time together.

Recently when I went to an open afternoon at the pre-school his key person mentioned that she thought he might benefit from going there an extra morning a week. So from September it's been arranged that he'll be going to pre-school on a Thursday morning too. Around the same time, his dad got settled in a new house and is eager to start having overnight access every other weekend. So that means Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I'll be at work. Thursday and Friday mornings he'll be at pre-school. And every other weekend he'll stay overnight with his dad. Very suddenly it feels as if my time with him has decreased a lot. And the time we do have has to fit around a regimented schedule which is a far cry from the early days of lazy togetherness where days passed by without us even noticing.

At one point I would have revelled in all of this 'me' time. I'd have been excited at the thought of the things I could do with it. But now it's actually going to happen I can't help but think of the things I won't be able to do with my son anymore. No more lazy Thursdays - the only day of the week where we have nowhere to be and nothing to do so we can (and quite often do) stay in our pjs til dinner time. No more morning Tesco trips together where he ALWAYS falls asleep in obscure positions in the trolley and passing shoppers ALWAYS coo, making comments like 'he must find shopping as dull as I do' and I chuckle politely like I haven't heard it a million times before. No more taking for granted that we can attend every single party or play date because he might be at school or with his dad. Things have to be worked around. He has engagements to keep. Engagements that don't include me.

And of course I know this is how it should be. This is just a natural part of him growing up. But suddenly all of those cliches I used to eye-roll at like 'they don't stay babies for long' and 'cherish every moment' have taken on a whole new meaning. A meaning that I expect I'll be confronted with at every stage of his life at which he moves further away from me - school, uni, moving out, marriage *sobs uncontrollably*

So I guess what I'm saying is that if you are in the midst of maternity leave or the terrible twos and feel like there's no end in sight, don't worry. It will come around quickly. And believe it or not you might actually find yourself pining for the sleepless nights and the tantrums and the time they were just there. With you.

Book Review: The Bones Of You by Debbie Howells

This is the first time I've done a review on the blog but as it concerns reading (one of my favourite things to do when Jack is in bed - other than stuff cake and wine into my face) I thought I'd give it a go. I love to read but often find myself too busy/too tired/too engrossed in rubbish TV to pick up books like I used to. I'm making a conscious effort to move away from That's Life magazine (which is, although wildly entertaining, not good for my soul) and actually start reading 'properly' again. If I manage it, book reviews might become a regular feature either here or over on Judging Covers where I used to contribute regularly in my pre-child life.

So this week I read The Bones Of You by Debbie Howells - a psychological crime thriller - and this is what I thought:

When eighteen year old Rosie Anderson goes missing and is later found murdered, her close knit, rural community is left reeling. Who would want to kill the perfect daughter of a perfect family like the Andersons? It's a question that Kate, a local mother with a daughter the same age as Rosie, finds herself asking over and over again. As Kate lends her support to the Andersons she is drawn into a web of secrets and lies surrounding the family's life. Can she find out the truth about what really happened to Rosie?

The story alternates from Kate's present perspective to flashbacks told by the now deceased Rosie as her life 'flashes before her eyes' in the same sort of other-worldly way as we saw in The Lovely Bones. Through Rosie's passages we learn a lot of history about the family, including her own upbringing and that of her mother Joanna - both abusive and equally painful to read about.

As far as psychological thrillers go, I found this one fairly slow paced. Events were presented gradually over the space of a year following Rosie's death. While this built tension well, I missed the spikes of unexpected drama that you usually associate with this genre. Similarly, the final reveal of the killer was, although disturbing, not surprising to me. Hints and context had been building up for some time in Rosie's sections of the book and although the motive behind the attack wasn't fully revealed until the end, I'd worked out who was guilty long before. And if I'm being honest, I missed that 'OMG I CAN'T BELIEVE IT WAS THEM' moment. 

Although I liked Kate (the archetypal 'earth mother' with her horses, gardening and solid sense of right and wrong...mostly) there were other characters that lacked depth for me. It seemed like her journalist friend Laura was written in purely as a mouthpiece to convey the developments in the murder investigation that the reader needed to know about. Likewise, what was Rachel for? Other than bumbling about, swearing a lot and being a cliche 'busy mummy' she didn't really do anything. Other characters were so vile that it actually made the book difficult to read in places. And did anyone miss a distinct lack of police presence in this so called high profile murder case?!

Still, it was undoubtedly a page turner and one I managed to finish in just a few days. The story was realistic, moving and chilling in equal measure - maybe because it makes you wonder just how much you can ever really know about anyone; the darkest secrets can be hiding within the most seemingly perfect families. It probably won't go down as one of my favourite books of all time but it's definitely worth a read.

Have you read The Bones Of You? What did you think?

Thanks to Mumsnet and Macmillan for sending me this book to review. 

See what other Mumsnet Bloggers thought here


If CBeebies Characters Branched Out...

So, Mr Bloom is joining Hollyoaks.

Am I the only one who feels a bit weird about this? Obviously I realise that Mr Bloom isn't really a gardener with a deep rooted (no pun intended) desire to educate small children about the beauty of nature. He is an actor called Ben Faulks who is clearly looking to further his career by taking a step away from talking vegetables. Which, to be fair, is probably a wise move.

But when you have become so accustomed to seeing a face on children's TV (particularly one as lovely as his) the prospect of them joining an actual adult show dealing with actual adult issues is a bit bewildering. Something in my brain can't quite accept it. He'll be all serious and there'll be no singing and imagine...just imagine if he gets embroiled in some sordid affair with a McQueen. Urgh,

It got me thinking...what if other CBeebies characters decide to branch out into grown up telly? The results could be quite terrifying interesting.

Mr Maker does 60 Minute Makeover
This could actually happen. He's got the credentials - crafty, imaginative and familiar with the premise of making something within an allocated time frame. He'd have to up his game a bit and stop creating such pointless tat though. Nobody would want to come home to find their soft furnishings replaced with 'rock monsters' and 'bugs in jars'.

PC Plum on Broadchurch
If Broadchurch returns for a third series I think PC Plum should be introduced as David Tenant's younger, camper brother who has finally left their Scottish hometown in search of some serious police work. I'm unsure as to how successful he'd be given how much he likes to piss about singing, dancing and bike riding though - maybe he would have been better in The Bill as Reg Hollis's sidekick.

Chris and Pui on This Morning
With their infectious cheer and on screen chemistry, I think Chris and Pui could give Phil and Holly a run for their money.

Katie does Masterchef
I could see Katie Ashcroft from I Can Cook as a judge on Masterchef but she'd have to get a bit tougher and stop telling everyone that their culinary creations looked 'super yummy' when they really, really don't. And just imagine her doing her boingy boingy spring onion dance...I reckon Gregg Wallace's face would look something like this.

Justin Fletcher on The Jeremy Kyle Show
Both of these men are loud, annoying and a little bit in love with themselves. But Justin Fletcher has the patience of a saint (the man spends his life getting custard pied for a living!) so I think he would deal with the reprobates in a slightly kinder fashion than JK. Maybe he could sack Graham and have Robert dealing with aftercare?

Dr Ranj does Embarrassing Bodies
Let's face it, the only difference between Get Well Soon and Embarrassing Bodies is that Dr Ranj would find himself examining the sweaty, boil ridden nether regions of actual humans rather than cute little puppets. Other than that, the frank discussions on all things poo and bogey related remain the same.

Topsy and Tim on Eastenders
Following in their mother's footsteps, it'd be nice to see the twintastic tots joining the cast of Eastenders. After the demise of Lucy Beale there's a gap for a new set of twins. Perhaps they could join as the secret love children of Phil Mitchell and be written into some sort of anti social youth storyline. It would make a change to see them wreaking havoc on the Square instead of being so flipping well behaved.

Can you think of any other potential career moves for CBeebies characters? How do you feel about Mr Bloom joining Hollyoaks and the distinct possibility of him being killed off by a flying car door (ala Maddie) in their 6-monthly cast cleanse disaster?

Wicked Wednesdays #6 - Modern Art

Where do I even begin with this? The hideous shade of brown he is using to create a splodgey monstrosity modern art is pretty offensive for a start. Then there's the fact that this was taken at 11:30am on Saturday morning and he's still wearing his pyjamas. There are shouty humans on Jeremy Kyle in the background. And just to top it off he is blowing a giant raspberry at me.

Domestic bliss.


Five Things That My Toddler Has In Common With Kanye West

Twitter was made for nights like last night. Unsurprisingly Kanye West's headlining set at Glastonbury divided opinions with some saying that he'd silenced his critics and others suggesting it was car crash TV. But amongst the hilarious tweets, the cherry picker, the BBC's non-offensive subtitles ('that's right ligger, motherducker') and Lee Nelson storming the stage, all I could think of was how much the self proclaimed 'greatest rock star in the world' has in common with my three year old son.

Neither like to take their coats off
In the dead of winter it's a half an hour job to persuade Jack to wear his coat and wellies, but as soon as it turns thirty degrees outside he decides its time for duffle coats and bobble hats. Kanye obviously shares the same notion for excessive clothing in sweltering temperatures. Never has his anagram of 'Sweaty Ken' been truer than under those several hundred spotlights. But would he take his jacket off? Would he heckers like. This would be understandable if it were a nice jacket, but looked like something he'd just done a large painting and decorating job in.

Both shout incoherently into a microphone
One does it on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury in front of thousands of spectators. The other does it in the conservatory on his karaoke keyboard in front of the cat. But either way, it still sounds like an assault on my ears.

Both have an excellent resting bitch face
No words necessary. 

Both are ever so slightly high maintenance
When Kanye appeared on Later...with Jools Holland he allegedly demanded that his dressing room was all white and the carpet was ironed (?!?!?!) Apparently he insists his chauffeurs wear 100% cotton clothing (no man made fibers here) and always asks for natural yoghurt and shower shoes in his riders. I can only imagine that his wrath when these demands aren't met are similar to Jack's when his dinosaurs aren't lined up in the correct order or his bean juice touches his chips.

Regardless, both are still pretty cool
No matter how ridiculous, self centered, high maintenance or hard work they are, I can't deny that both of these dudes have the #swag gene.

Ballin' so hard

Holidaying Abroad With Toddlers - The Dream vs. The Reality

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I've been on holiday to Mallorca recently with my family. Free poolside wifi meant that lots of heavily filtered photos of cocktails, sea views and hot dog legs appeared on my social media throughout that particular week - sorry/not sorry etc. The last time Jack went abroad he was 18 months old and it was hellish (he was ill, I was stressed and it rained a lot) but he's three now and I had high hopes for this trip. At three he is old enough to be excited rather than overwhelmed, old enough to be reasoned with or at least bribed into behaving himself at the dinner table but still young enough to fall asleep in his buggy for a few hours during the afternoon leaving us free to soak up the sun and enjoy a sneaky Singapore Sling. In short, everything was going to go perfectly and it would be effing awesome.

Damn you, foolish optimism. Of course I expected the odd tantrum and on the whole he actually coped quite well with the change in routine, the blazing heat and the late nights. But the holiday wasn't without its hitches and further proved to me that no matter how well prepared you think you are going on holiday doing ANYTHING AT ALL with toddlers in tow is a minefield and 100% unpredictable. For anyone travelling with toddlers this summer, here are the idyllic scenarios you'll be dreaming of and the unfortunate realities that you'll probably end up with.


Dream: You will make lists and be organised weeks in advance. Cases will be weighed, electronic devices fully charged and pre-printable boarding passes safely stored alongside passports in your special travel wallet from Paperchase. Hell, you might even have enough time to pop for a quick mani-pedi before the taxi to the airport arrives.

Reality: Forget to buy suncream. Panic in case suncream isn't sold in Spain. Make a frantic, late night dash to Tesco to buy suncream. Spend an obscene amount of money on miniature toiletries and forget suncream. On the morning of departure realise a little too late that you're going to be wearing swimwear with legs that are pricklier than Christmas trees and a bikini line that gives the illusion that a family of spiders are living in your gusset. You're still hacking clumps out of your legs when the taxi pulls up.

The Flight

Dream: Arrive at the airport in plenty of times and avoid queues thanks to checking in online #win. Congratulate self on being super organised. Drink wine. Board the plane. Child promptly falls asleep and stays that way until ten minutes before landing when he wakes up cheerful, refreshed and excited to begin his holiday.

Reality: No time for wine. Child, who has spent the past 2 months telling everyone he meets how excited he is to be going on an areoplane, is suddenly terrified at the prospect of air travel and screams 'WANT TO GET OFF!' repeatedly as you board. Flight is fractious. He wants to run around and can't seem to understand that there is NOWHERE TO RUN IN THE SKY. He finally falls asleep ten minutes before landing and is deeply unhappy when woken and dragged into the blazing Spanish sun.

The Pool

Dream: Child will don his armbands and take to the water like a duck...well, to water. He'll spend the next seven days making poolside buddies and you will supervise from the comfort of your sun lounger while sipping the cocktail of the day.

Reality: Child is scared of the water. He can't comprehend that it's actually OK to get his shorts wet. You spend the whole holiday berating yourself for never taking him to Water Babies. Just as he's gaining confidence and paddling almost up the the knee, a bigger boy splashes him in the face and you have to deal with hysterics as your cocktail of the day goes warm.


Dream: The all-you-can-eat-hotel buffet. A perfect opportunity to enjoy some authentic Spanish cuisine in a relaxed environment. Child will behave impeccably, eat his vegetables and holidaymakers will smile at him over their paella and congratulate you on having such a well behaved child.

Reality: Something akin to feral hysteria takes over child at mealtimes. Eating is not considered. Ice cream is thrown, yoghurt is spooned into glasses of juice, slices of Swiss cheese are posted down the gaps in the table. 'Frere Jacques' is sung. Loudly. You wolf down a plate of chips then remove him from the dining room before the horrified glares of onlookers make you cry. Child lives on a diet of Cheetos and Cornettos for the entire week.

Nights Out

Dream: Enjoy some 5* cabaret entertainment at the hotel before venturing out to a swanky cocktail bar. Child falls asleep in his buggy on the stroll and you spend the evening getting merry on strawberry mojitos while gazing wistfully out to sea ala Kate Winslet in Titanic.

Reality: The hotel entertainment turns out to be a surly, aging Spaniard playing electric keyboard over dinner. You venture out. Child does not fall asleep in buggy. Arrive at swanky cocktail bar. Child still does not fall asleep. Beer mats are thrown. Quickly becomes obvious that non-sleeping, beer mat throwing children are not welcome in swanky cocktail bar. Leave. Within minutes child has fallen asleep in buggy.

General vibe

Dream: Going on holiday with your family is great isn't it? What a perfect opportunity to spend some quality time together. Everyone is happy and laughing, sharing stories and telling jokes. There's a chilled out vibe aaaaaand....parents on holiday = reliable babysitters. Magaluf here we come!

Reality: Bickering begins before take off. By day 3 nobody is talking to one another. You daren't ask your mum to babysit and you're never awake past 11pm anyway. At 28 you accept that you are practically prehistoric and the bright lights of Magaluf are no longer for you.

We all hate each other

Happy Holidays!

Why I Can't Help Myself Watching Big Brother

Love it or loathe it, you may struggle to avoid Big Brother for the next few months. The Channel 5 reality TV show is back tonight for a sixteenth series and the show's decision to reveal this years housemates before the launch night for the first time ever has already got people talking. As for me, I promise myself faithfully every year that I won't get sucked in. 'I'll just watch the opening show,' I lie to myself 'just to see who's going in'. Then before I know it my summer has vanished in a blur of bitching, backstabbing, live evictions and naked jacuzzi-ness. Yeah, it's trash TV. Yeah, it's a bunch of wannabes trying to find a platform for undeserved fame. But I can't help myself. Here's why.

There are dramatic disclaimers
In recent years, channel 5 have taken to preceding episodes of Big Brother with thrill inducing viewer warnings. Things like: CAUTION, THIS PROGRAMME CONTAINS VERY STRONG LANGUAGE, ADULT THEMES, VIOLENT CONFRONTATION AND SCENES WHICH SOME VIEWERS MAY FIND DISTRESSING' - or in other words: 'SHIT HITS THE FAN TONIGHT AND YOU'RE GOING TO BE WILDLY ENTERTAINED DURING THE NEXT HOUR'. Call me a basic bitch, but as a lifelong fan of car crash TV (oh haiii Jezza) this entices me.

It's an interesting insight into human nature
This isn't a pisstake. I actually believe that. OK, Big Brother will never be classed as intelligent TV and some will argue that it's become far too contrived since its humble beginnings as a 'social experiment'. But I still think that it reveals a lot about human nature and the way in which individuals react in unusual situations. In series 3 the producers got mean with the rich/poor divide in the house and since then they have outdone themselves when it comes to dreaming up creative ways to challenge the housemates, mess with their heads and observe the fallout. For me, those twists and turns make it more interesting, credible viewing that other reality TV like TOWIE and the like.

Emma Willis *swooooooooooon*
Davina McCall, shrill and annoying as she is, was the original Big Mother and hers were always going to be hard shoes to fill. But I think Emma Willis has done a sterling job. This is the woman who managed to get an almost coherent interview out of Gary Busey fgs! She isn't afraid to ask the awkward questions that we're all thinking at home which makes for good TV. I particularly enjoyed her interview with 'Homewrecker Hazel' in 2013 after the Daley Scandal - 'You knew he had a girlfriend. Couldn't you have just, you know, left him alone?' YES EMMA!

And she's also stunningly beautiful and wears nice dresses which always makes for good viewing.

It's real
Are modern housemates a true representation of society? Probably not. Glamour models, socialites and millionaires have gradually replaced the bricklayers, hairdressers and dental nurses from the first few series. But I would argue that regardless of their job, their lifestyle and their celebrity connections outside of the house, nobody can consistently hide their true personality when they are being filmed 24/7. So in that respect it is very real. I've found this particularly interesting in the celebrity series where the likes of Liz Jones and Samantha Brick who are renowned for being outspoken and controversial have revealed themselves as being meek, mild and quite mumsy. It's definitely worth watching just to see how much the over-the-top-PICK-ME-PICK-ME characters on the launch night VT's differ from the actual personalities you eventually see in the house.

It's consistently bad
Failing all that, it's always good fun to play the Big Brother drinking game. Take a shot every time one of the following things happen and you'll probably be comatose before the first ad break:
A female is evicted first.
Someone says 'they're playing a game.'
Someone cries because they've been nominated.
The hair straighteners get confiscated.
Someone says something deliberately stupid.
Someone says something deliberately controversial.
Someone says 'I don't want to win it.'
Someone says 'It's not about the prize money.'
Someone is offered a portion of the prize money and immediately takes it.
A full blown row over the shopping list.
Secret mission.
Conspiracies about secret mission.
Someone gets too drunk and makes a show of themselves.
Surprise eviction.

I'd love to know what you think about Big Brother. Will you be watching or avoiding at all costs?