Monday, 24 April 2017

One banana, two banana, three banana - tour !!

The excitement began building last night when a facebook friend gave the heads up that it looked like a reunion was imminent and then the photo appeared showing the original line up of Keren, Sara and Siobhan. Ok so no one recognised Siobhan as it's been so long since we last saw her and let's face it Keren and Sara haven't changed a bit. Then this morning it was announced that the rumours were true and yes Bananarama are back. I've been humming this all day:


Bananarama were the girl band from my youth. Ok there were the Belle Stars and later the Bangles, but it was all about the Bananas for me. They looked like they'd walked into the BBC straight off a bus and hadn't changed into stage outfits either. No one was styling them back then and it showed. It was an aesthetic I could get right behind as it was a cross between "I made it myself" and "I found it in a skip." Completely achievable and you didn't need to look like you starved yourself to carry it off either. Early Madonna was pretty similar. I would travel into Covent Garden to scour Flip to find a long baggy duster coat or flappy trousers like theirs. Then there were the dungarees. It is entirely thanks to Bananarama that I currently own no less than 6 pairs of dungarees. I can finally admit this without a shred of shame.


Then there were the hook ups. Back in the day pop stars married other pop stars (or models, but this is the story I'm telling right now) So Martin Kemp of Spandau married Shirley off of Pepsi and Shirley, Dee Cee Lee married Paul Weller, him off of Human League married her off of Human League. Siobhan Fahey married Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics and finally Keren Woodward got together with Andrew Ridgeley off of Wham. Keren is still with Andrew and years ago I met Albert Ridgeley at a Rotary fundraising dinner in Cornwall where I was the speaker. He was a lovely man and a keen photographer who shared stories about his lovely family and spoke with great pride about Surfers Against Sewage which was his son Andrew's passion. Then he offered to show me a photo of his lovely daugher-in-law. "Erm, Albert I know what Keren Woodward of Bananarama looks like mate," was what I wanted to say. I mean she was the one all the boys fancied and as the only one with dark hair she was the only one whose look I could in any way emulate.

Even when they went all polished and professional with Stock, Aitken and Waterman they had a sense of humour about it. Half naked men in the music videos and a hilarious charity single with French and Saunders proved they really didn't take themselves too seriously. Well Siobhan did when she left to form Shakespeare's Sister (named after the Smiths song I believe), but they didn't have pretentions that they were creating high art.


They were the original british girl group long before the stage school girls and reality show wannabes. There was no whiff of singing training or performance skills with these girls, but you know it made not an ounce of difference. Whether they were with the Fun Boy Three TOTP trying not to laugh or meeting Robert De Niro and pinching themselves because they didn't know what to say to him they were real. They were normal.

And now they are back. Ok, so the cynical might suggest that a reunion is for purely financial reasons, but let's face it any band who have considered calling their reunion tour 'mood swings' "because that's our time of life" are a much needed tonic in these miserable times. I'll be practising my lame dance moves and rag rolling my hair in preparation.

Who's coming with me ?


Friday, 21 April 2017

Sometimes it snows in April

A year ago today Prince died. It followed months of celebrity deaths which went on to become the overiding theme of 2016 (well that and disastrous election results all round, but less said less tears shed about those).

I loved Prince. If you didn't know that about me, well you do now. I first saw him live when I was working as a steward at Wembley Arena and he performed a number of gigs. I was scheduled to work two of them and I even agreed to work two Cliff Richards so I'd get to work another Prince. Honestly crowd control at a Cliff gig is no mean feat. Those older women will go to great lengths to get up close to the Peter Pan of pop and some had travelled from Sweden just for the gig. Anyway, I digress.



My first Prince gig was an eye opener and from the moment I saw him on stage on I was completely hooked on his music and him. Bear in mind I was an old hand at gig going by this stage and was pretty much a metal head and indie chick so my love for his smooth stylings and insane guitar skills came as a bit of a shock. Carmen Electra was the support act on that tour - Prince named all his early muses from Appollonia to Carmen and later Vanity. They were all incredibly beautiful and he would nurture their talent (such as it was) and then let them go on to do their own thing. He surrounded himself with fantastically talented musicians, there was The Revolution, the New Power Generation and most recently 3rd Eye Girl. He launched the careers of Sheila E, Wendy and Lisa, Jill Jones and brought Mavis Staples to an audience that hadn't heard of her - for shame.


One of the rumours that circulated about Prince during his lifetime was the legendary vault of unreleased music he kept at Paisley Park in Minneapolis. He was a prolific writer and often gifted his songs to others. The Bangles, Sinead O'Conner and Chaka Khan all benefited from songs he'd written that gave them huge success. His perfectionist tendencies meant he played every instrument and had high expectations of his fellow musicians. What it meant for a fan was a mindblowing show every time. From him sitting at the piano playing a haunting rendition of a ballad to the brain melting opening of When Doves Cry he held the entire O2 in this palm every one of the 21 nights he played in 2007. I was there for three of the nights and he played a different set each time - I wish I could have gone to all 21 nights. Unlike the drunk woman I met in the ladies who wailed that she'd missed her favourite song I didn't leave the arena once he was on stage - why would you ? Prince was a mesmeric performer and a party animal. He'd come off stage having played for 2 hours and go on to hold an after party where he'd play for even longer.


The night I went to watch Prince with Hubbie we were the closest I've ever been to the man himself (Prince, not Hubbie) and while my beloved stood with his arms folded watching the performance I was enthralled and entranced and plotting a way to get even closer without getting dragged away by security. I managed to resist the temptation to get into trouble and Hubbie grudgingly admitted he could see how much of a showman Prince was. He did also acknowledge that his skills as a guitarist are underrated by non fans. I have no idea if it's true, but as the apocryphal story has it Eric Clapton was once asked how it felt to be the greatest guitarist in the world and he - apparently - said, "I don't know, ask Prince."

So it's been a year since he died and I still feel the ache of realisation when I hear his voice. Of course I didn't know him, but does it matter ? I am so lucky I got to see Prince as many times as I did. I'll be playing his music today and remembering that.








Wednesday, 19 April 2017

I'm a walking


Today I calculated that I've walked 158 training miles so far in preparation for the Moonwalk and I have at least 77 miles to go before the big walk.

On the evening of Sat 13th - Sun 14th May I'll be walking 26.2 miles through London wearing a decorated bra to raise money for breast cancer treatment and support services. I'm doing it because both Hubbie and I have lost loved ones to cancer - as have so many people.


I've taken part in the Moonwalk twice before. The first time was 8 years ago before Brown Bear was born and I had all the time in the world to train and walking was a jolly jape rather than a military operation fitted in between school and nursery drop off and pick ups. It was the most challenging thing I've done (and I'm including taking the boys to Ikea during the school holidays - seriously what was I thinking ?) which is why it's taken me so long to do it again.

The last time I did the moonwalk was with my wonderful friend Soraya and we walked the half moon to celebrate her surviving breast cancer. It was an emotional night and one I'm so proud to have shared with her as it meant so much to me that she made it and is here now to cheer me along.

Walking is a meditative thing for me and I find that whatever mood I'm in when I start by the time I've been walking for an hour or so I've already written a novel in my head and solved at least one world issue. I smile at people walking their dogs and appreciate the trees, plants and flowers all around me. When I've been walking through London I notice how many places I know from having worked there and others from disastrous first dates.


I have at least 77 more training miles to go before the big night. As the weather improves I'm enjoying the walks a lot more than when I started them in the wintry climes of February.

I've got a sponsorship page here - if you are able to sponsor me I'd be so grateful: https://moonwalklondon2017.everydayhero.com/uk/swazi

For now though think of me and my poor sore feet.


Saturday, 15 April 2017

My secret life as the Easter Bunny

We don't celebrate Easter as such, we're not Christians so it isn't a religous thing for us at all. However, it does often coincide with the Sikh celebration of Vasaikhi which marks the formation of the Sikh faith. So in that sense we do make a big deal of it.

On the last day of term I organised an Easter egg hunt for all the children in Brown Bear's class with all the mums kindly donating chocolate for the goody bags and controlled chaos while the kids searched for the plastic eggs that were hidden all over the pub garden. It was great fun and they all enjoyed it very much.

Last week I took the bears to Bromley and we went for a nice lunch, played in a fantastic playground in the sunshine and took part in an Easter hunt to find the bunnies hidden in shop windows. It was quite a walk to find them all, but the boys loved it and at the end they got a chocolate egg for their trouble. "Can we eat it now ?" asked Brown Bear, and I said they could as they'd been so good.

Finding a bunny in a shop window 

The next day I took them to Ikea for yet another egg hunt which again was a bit of a trek, with Brown Bear writing down all the answers on his sheet and at the end the boys both got an ice cream cone.

Tonight I've been sorting all the eggs and gifts the boys have been given into separate bags and am astonished at how much they have been given. Our lovely generous families and neighbours have all given them Easter gifts in addition to our own presents for them. Every year we have an egg hunt at home and I hide lots of small eggs around the garden with a big egg at the end. This year they will already have got so much chocolate I'm not sure they can handle any more.

Tomorrow we're surprising the boys and going to a steam railway with another Easter egg hunt. It's the perfect combination of steam trains and chocolate, I can't imagine anything my boys would love more.

Ok, so none of these are especially traditional activities, but they all involve an element of searching for clues, writing things down and a treat at the end. I mention this because rather than just handing them a chocolate or an ice cream - which of course I could do - they are doing something to 'earn' it, working something out or finding things. They get a sense of achievement from taking part and are rewarded with a treat at the end.

A few sweeties for Easter 

Do I spoil my children ? Yes of course I do. It makes up for all the times that I feel incompetent, useless or think I've been overly hard on them.  It's my job to raise my children to be kind, thoughtful, helpful people. It's also my pleasure to make them smile and laugh. To give them the pure joy of having a chocolate or a sweet just because and for them to enjoy it guilt free. I write them notes from the Tooth Fairy, leave them little traces to indicate that Father Christmas has been and pop little secret notes where they can find them from me just to tell them I love them.

Now I have to hide chocolate in the garden and leave clues from the Easter Bunny - shh don't tell anyone. 


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Happy Anniversary Neo


The other night Brown Bear came into our bedroom in the early hours crying because he'd had a bad dream. In the morning when he woke up next to me he explained that in his dream Neo had run away and we couldn't find him and it was the worst thing that had ever happened because he loves Neo so much. They do have a special bond my boy and my cat. 


When we were childless and desperate Neo was our much loved boy and we lavished him with the attention and fuss that we wanted to give to children. Then when I was pregnant Neo was so protective of me and the bump. I'd come home from work and put up my swollen feet and he'd lie on my bump and protect the baby. I'm sure that the purring must have been heard inside and one day the baby gave a big kick and Neo looked horrified. 


Once the baby was here Neo was careful not to get too close, but also used to check on him before going to bed. He'd go into the room to look into the cot and see if he was asleep before settling down himself. As Neo negotiated the difficult toddler years with tail pulling, shouting, running around and generally being loud and annoying he then enjoyed a calmer period when he could lie on Brown Bear's bed with him and they would go to sleep together. He also trained the boys to give him biscuits so his motives aren't entirely altruistic. 


Blue Bear was a whole other proposition as he came to us older so Neo didn't get to see him grow from a baby. He's getting the boy into his ways now, but he's still a bit unpredicable, noisy and doesn't sit still as much as Brown Bear. It is a cause of great consternation to Blue Bear that after school Neo will head for Brown Bear's lap and not his. His older brother is teaching him how to be kind and careful with our old man cat, but he's often too excited to listen. 


It was 9 years ago today that Neo came to live with us. We brought him home from Battersea cats and dogs home in a basket I'd bought from the PDSA and he got so many compliments on the train ride home from passengers cooing about how beautiful he is. He still get lots of attention for his good looks.

                                     
Since Neo joined our family we've had a baby, moved house, adopted a toddler and he's taken it all in his stride. I can completely understand why Brown Bear was so upset about his dream. As Neo gets older he isn't quite as nimble getting up the stairs or seems reluctant to jump without a long think about whether he can make the height. He still loves the sun and on a sunny day you will find him in the sunniest spot in the garden.

Neo is the best. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

The day my boys went to Battle.


Sunshine and days out are the magic combination that keeps us sane during the school holidays. It means the boys hope for ice cream (and there's always ice cream) and there's usually a treat or two while we're out. On Saturday we visited Battle Abbey in glorious sunshine and as Brown Bear has just finished a topic at school about castles he was very excited about being our 'expert' on all things to do with castles.


I reminded Hubbie that we've been to Battle before - we went for a spa weekend at a local hotel when I was pregnant and had dinner in the town - but he has no recollection of it at all. Visiting again we got to appreciate how much nicer it is than we could tell in the dark evening. The view as you arrive is spectacular and the boys were really excited when they saw where we were going.


English Heritage invited us to visit and try out the family activities so our first stop was the shop to pick up audio guides for adults and children. Brown Bear loved his handset with a Horrible Histories style commentary and took great care with his kit. He was able to tell Blue Bear all about what they were looking at and it gave him an independence that I think he really enjoyed.
Beautiful cafe 

















We stopped for lunch at the beautiful cafe and sat outside in the sunshine. The boys had a lunch box (£4.50) with plenty to eat in it and the promise of a visit to the children's playground was enough to ensure they ate pretty quickly. They loved the wooden rides and in particular a 'hamster wheel' that kept Brown Bear busy for ages.

Wooden playground

We took a walk around the battlefield site and in such great weather it was lovely to explore and follow the signs explaining the historical significance. Brown Bear in particular was fascinated by the story of the battle of 1066. 



The Abbey itself is really impressive and we took a walk through all the rooms and saw an ice room, a crypt and took a walk along the precinct wall. Luckily the boys didn't mind all the walking and we got to see so much while we were there.

       


The visitors' centre was a real highlight with interactive exhibits and plenty to see and do for the boys. There is a film you can sit and watch, games and lots to see and read about.

The visitor's centre
Brown Bear was surprised at how heavy the chain mail was and we talked about how hard it would have been to walk wearing armour.

The interactive exhibits are great fun and as it wasn't too busy when we were in there the boys were able to spend time playing and learning. 


Our last stop was to explore the new rooftop views. It's a steep staircase so be prepared if you aren't he best with heights. We left Hubbie on the ground floor while me and the boys went to see what we could see. On the first floor there was an activity for children to design their own coat of arms. As a child my favourite book was the ladybird book of heraldry so I loved this. 

Designing our own coat of arms 
Another innovation at Battle is these tablets with an abbot guiding you through the exhibits and explaining what they were for. It's fun and lighthearted as well as being a different way to get children to engage with history.

Brother William as our guide
On the day we visited there was a wedding taking place in the grounds and I can see why it would be a wonderful choice for a special day.


There is so much to see and do at 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield (to give its full title) and during the easter holidays they will be hosting an easter adventure quest from Friday 14th - Monday 17th April. You can meet a Saxon outlaw and characters from the past with stories of times gone by. Rise to their challenge and win a reward.

It’s time to get hands-on with history!


I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity. I have received a voucher in return for writing this post. 



Saturday, 8 April 2017

My boys got to be royalty for the day at Kenwood


Weekends can be such a big deal and when they are combined with school holidays the pressure is on to make each one meaningful. Well we had a helping hand last weekend when English Heritage offered to host us for a visit to Kenwood House in Hampstead. While I am without question a Londoner I have little affinity with North London so I've never been there before, but I can see I've clearly been missing out. When we arrived it was already really busy with families enjoying the sunny weather and sitting outside enjoying picnics, playing games and generally making the most of a nice day in spring.

Brew House Cafe in the sunshine 
My boys exploring Kenwood House gardens 
First things first we had to get some lunch so we went to the Brew House Cafe for a lovely meal courtesy of Searcys - the same people behind the champagne bar at St Pancras. The boys had a packed lunch box (£7) and me and Hubbie had a delicious Sunday roast each (£15). As you can see it was a massive meal ! The boys were treated to an ice cream cone afterwards and we really needed to walk it off as we were so full, but happy. I can heartily recommend the food here, but maybe pace yourself so you can also have a cream tea - I wish I had left some room for that. 


As entry to the house is free you can instead spend the money on a nice lunch and make a day of it. We were lucky with the weather, but on a colder or rainier day I can imagine that a Sunday lunch here would be a real draw.



We found Kenwood to be really child friendly with plenty to keep them occupied. My boys loved the dressing up clothes and indoor play area. On the day we went there was also a craft activity with a minimal charge (£1). You can also pick up an explorer backpack to help guide smaller visitors round the house and gardens.

Dressing up time 
My little king 

The house itself is really impressive and the volunteers are well informed and friendly. We heard some amazing facts and stories about the paintings in the rooms and were given some really helpful pointers to help keep the boys interested. 

The beautiful library
Bear on the stairs 
The grounds at Kenwood are really beautiful and there is also a lake. I spoke to a friend who told me she's been to see concerts here and with such lovely surroundings it must be so atmospheric. While we took in the scenery we spotted a fantastic tree for climbing and Brown Bear decided to brave it to the top branches. I was impressed with his deft footwork, but equally pleased when Blue Bear made the decision not to scale the branches as I didn't fancy climbing up to rescue him if he lost his nerve.





We'd love to thank English Heritage for inviting us to visit and I'll give them the last word: "whether you prefer visiting ancient castles, grand houses or spooky abbeys you and your family will find plenty to explore and get involved with. We give all our visitors the chance to try stuff on, investigate things, climb the ramparts or simply enjoy the atmosphere and stand where history happened. During Easter we will be running a series of Easter Adventure Quests across the country, where families can meet a costumed character, solve clues and win chocolate rewards."


We were invited to visit Kenwood House by English Heritage and would like to thank the site team for making us so welcome. Thanks also to Tudor and Robert at Searcys for a wonderful lunch. 



I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity. I have received a voucher in return for writing this post.