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.