Friday, 19 December 2014

This is what a fundraiser looks like: where's my t-shirt eh ?

This time of year seems to be one where we become acutely aware of good causes and giving to others. I get plenty of charity appeals through the post and having written a lot of them in my previous life as a fundraiser I usually cast a professional eye over them and donate to the ones that I particularly feel an affinity with.

At Christmas I have a few causes I always give to including donations of clothes and blankets to homeless shelters. This year we have given to food banks all year round and I've recently been popping in mince pies and fruit cake and the odd bag of chocolate coins too. Everyone deserves special treats at Christmas don't they ?

We also found out about a toy drive to give toys to looked after children at Christmas which has been organised by the Met Police. I shared this with a few people and was amazed when some reacted really negatively to 'supporting the police.' That level of cynicism really disappoints me and it made me think about some of the campaigns that have captured the imagination in the last year and whether it's really about being 'charitable' or something else.

Fairly early on in the year we saw the phenomenon of the no make-up selfie which was not charitable in intent at first, but became about breast cancer. Plenty of women I know (and some men) posted selfies for this cause and I'm sure lots of them donated to breast cancer charities too. It really was a bit baffling to me.

More recently we saw the internet taken over by the ice bucket challenge. Celebrities, family members and pretty much everyone (and some pets) did this one. It was one of those, 'well they've done it so I will too' things, but I did admire Matt Damon's approach. He used toilet water to undertake the challenge and used the massive international interest in it to raise the issue of wasting water. As patron of a charity he highlighted how so much of the world does not have access to clean water to drink and wash never mind to tip over their heads for fun.

You probably already know how I feel about Movember, ie. men not shaving for a month to raise awareness of male cancers. Does looking like a hipster or a porn star (depending on what facial hair does for you) really improve the provision of health services for men ? Do more men check themselves or seek medical help as a result of this month long abstinence from shaving ? I genuinely don't know the answer, but if it's doing some good then why not ?

There was a moment earlier this year when a t-shirt caused a bit of stir. Not since 'Frankie Say Relax' did a slogan get so many hot so under the collar. I don't know if the t-shirt in question was manufactured in sweatshop conditions and I would hope that the decision to wear it would be left the individual. My question, however, is this: does wearing a T-shirt declaring you're a feminist deal with the gender pay gap ? Or online trolling of women ? Or Gamergate ? 

Way back when that designer bag declared ' I am not a plastic bag' it didn't have any discernible impact on climate change or - if my observations while shopping are anything to go by - on the behaviour of shoppers. The mad scramble to buy them made a mockery of the concept of 'reducing, reusing and recycling' as they changed hands for many times their real value online. 

I guess my point is that my politics don't fit on a t shirt. Charity is a political concept. The fact that it took a teenager with a life threatening disease to raise awareness and funds for cancer charities is shocking. That people were so willing to support the cause because Stephen Sutton asked them to is not.

Charity is a personal choice and how you do it is entirely up to you. If it's this time of year that tweaks a reaction - whether it's guilt or sympathy or generosity - then so be it. I give all year round and do what I can if I don't have much money. I've baked cakes for Macmillan, walked all night in the cold for breast cancer charities and rode a scooter around London wearing a onesie for Comic Relief.

I'll be honest, if I was doing any of these alone it would have been pretty grim, but there are always plenty of folks willing to join in with silly escapades. There will be a new one in March 2015 that I will tell you all about very soon.

For now I'm getting my legwarmers on and doing some warm ups - between bites of mince pie and handfuls of chocolates that is.

Ho ho ho !!

I appear alone, I'm really not :)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Air guitar, stage diving and visible pants: the Nativity uncut.

I'm not the first parent to watch their beloved offspring in a Nativity play and I'll by no means be the last. It was with some joy and expectation that I went to his school ready to see if he was a sheep or a cloud - we hadn't been given any hints you see - and sharpened my elbows to get to a seat at the front.

Once I'd assessed the room and placed myself where I could see the teeny tiny nursery children I waited with bated breath. Then the lights went down and the main cast arrived. Mary, Joseph, the wise men, the donkeys, the angels and assorted villagers. Dicky Attenborough would have been proud of the crowd scenes. Last, but cutest of all, the little stars arrived holding (pretend) candles and went to sit on the sides of the stage. My boy spotted me as he wended his way to the front and his face lit up and he waved - discreetly - at me. Remaining in character was so important to him that once he was on stage he went all method and ignored me.

Now, I've done my fair share of reviews having been an arts reviewer for various publications and also on my radio show, but this one was personal. So, taking into account that I have a family link to the show here are the highlights of my first nativity play as a parent.
  • The nose-picking child sitting at the front of the stage having a good old dig around and then noshing on the bogies. Not mine, I hasten to add.
  • One of the donkeys falling off the stage. I know this sounds cruel, but the padding prevented any serious injury - honest. 
  • A wise man crying at the side of the stage. Clearly the weight of responsibility took its toll on the poor little fella. 
  • One of the twinkling stars showing their pants - this isn't that unusual I know, but the boys getting so bored that they were lifting their t-shirts was just too funny. 
  • An air guitar section during the song 'glittering stars' which was the chance to shine for the nursery kids. My boy was a the back for the second performance of this so he held his air guitar high up so we could see it over the heads of the others. So proud :) 
All in all I have to say that it was a stunning debut and I'm keen to see what else this young whippersnapper will do in his potentially amazing career on stage. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Glitter and sparkle and it's not even on the tree !!

I'm not a big fan of bling, but even I succumb at Christmas and seeing all the glamour and sequins around inspires me. I've been running around so much with constant updating of to do lists that I don't know which way is up, but I still found time to get some sparkle into life this week.

Shiny shiny red and glittery :) 
Firstly, I got my nails done. I went for a festive red with some glitzy glitter tips - let's see how long they last shall we ? 

Any tips on how to wrap the ears ? 

Then I spent an evening wrapping all the presents - adding bows and bling to make them look pretty.  Neo offered to help me, but it was all a bit too much for him so he decided to rest and almost got wrapped up himself ! 

My boys putting money into the wishing well
Finally tonight we did what has become a tradition for us at Christmas and went to look at the Christmas lights. There is one road near where we live that is known for having the most amazing displays outside the homes. Every year they run up what must be eye-watering power bills to provide spectacular themed light shows for the public.

Some stunning lights here
There is an element of competition among the houses and they do try and outdo each other every year. Our boy especially loves the ones with moving characters and tonight we saw a snowman tipping his hat, reindeer bowing their heads to 'feed' and Santa Claus waving his legs out of the chimney where he was stuck.

Can you imagine paying to run these lights ? 
Of course, they don't just do this to entertain, but also to raise funds for charity and we always take money with us to donate. As our boy said this afternoon, "let's put some money in and take a chocolate." You see, the lovely folks at number 7 leave out chocolates to thank people for donations, so for a special Sunday afternoon treat we took him to see the lights clutching some money to donate to Starlight and Great Ormond Street Hospital. What a lovely and inventive way to raise spirits and money at the same time.

Who says Croydon isn't beautiful ? 
Now, it's back to crazy planning and my work Christmas party this week - wish me luck !!

This post is being shared on the #countrykids linky hosted by the lovely Fiona of Coombe Mill

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Christmas post featuring a cat - what more do you want from me ?

Two weeks today it will be Christmas Day. So are you ready for it ?

This time last year I was feeling pretty smug as I'd done my shopping, knew what everyone was getting, had cards ready to post and the house was looking pretty festive. Of course I wasn't working full time then so there was a lot more of me to go around.

So, how far have I got this year ? Well, there is a tree, there are some presents, cards are written, but not posted and don't even ask me what I'm packing for our first Christmas holiday. I - mistakenly - thought that going away at this time of year would make life simpler. It turns out that I still have to do  everything I'd normally do - just earlier. Not that much simpler then.

Do I feel I've got my head round this Christmas ?

I'll refer you to my friend for the truthful answer:

Monday, 8 December 2014

Countdown to Christmas: Ice Skating with my boy

In the countdown to Christmas there is always the speculation about whether or not it will snow and if we will have a 'white Christmas.' I'm a big fan of snow and love skiing, even though I'm not that good at it. I also love ice skating, although I'm pretty ropey at that too. I really want my son to try all the things I love to do, so I booked for us to go together for a special Mummy and Boy day out. 

When me and Hubbie were first dating we went ice skating at the Natural History Museum one evening and we had a great time. It was Christmassy, it was romantic and atmospheric. We bought the photo and it was one of our early memories of Christmas together. I decided to take my boy to the Natural History Museum for his inaugural skate as they do a specific session for parents and toddlers and it's a place we love to go to anyway so I figured that even if he didn't enjoy the skating we'd be able to go and see the dinosaurs to cheer him up.

Boy and penguin in perfect harmony
Actually he did really well and didn't fall over once, but for some reason when he was telling Daddy later he said I fell over and he "brushed snow off Mummy's bottom" which is so not true, but I admire his ability to tell a story ! He had the assistance of a penguin helper and it was really great to see how quickly he gained confidence on his skates. Especially as there was a school party there at the same time and they were tumbling onto the ice all around us.

Yum, hot chocolate
Ooh snow !
The session we booked also included a hot chocolate for both of us, but I changed mine for a cup of tea in the lovely cafe upstairs. It really resembles a ski lodge, complete with cuckoo clocks that my boy loved. He insisted I take his photo with the clocks to show Daddy (who is obsessed with clocks).

Cuckoo !
Holiday season
We had such a lovely time and did have a look around the museum afterwards with a few trips up the long escalator that takes you into the centre of the Earth to look at volcanoes and earthquakes. Then on the bus on our way home we saw some Christmas lights. It really is starting to feel like Christmas isn't it ? 

Admiring Christmas lights

This post is being shared on the #countrykids linky hosted by lovely Fiona of Coombe Mill

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Get a good book for Christmas

We love books in my family and our boy has a lot of them but always likes to get more. Christmas is a great time to top up on new books and here is a small selection that you might consider popping on your wish list.

Harina and the doctor bird by Joy Hartley

Earlier this year I met and interviewed Joy for my radio show. Like me, Joy was baffled by the lack of diversity of characters in children's books so she wrote her own about a little girl called Harina who lives in Africa.

Harina's adventures are told with lovely illustrations and a story that promotes values like caring and kindness. This is the second book featuring Harina and her bird Hanga and a new character, the doctor bird helping her care for her unwell mother.

This isn't strictly a picture book, rather a story with pictures (if you get my drift) and it would be good for a confident reader. The story is really lovely and there are some ideas for follow up activities at the end with some blank pages for children to make their own notes.

You can buy the book here as well as related merchandise and find out more about Joy and her characters.

The First Hippo on the Moon by David Walliams

A more traditional picture book is this one which is illustrated by Tony Ross whose style you will recognise immediately as he is an old hand at this (he illustrates The Little Princess series). This is David Walliams second picture book and his storytelling style is chaotic and reminiscent of Roald Dahl in that it's irreverent and appeals to the silliness that children like so much. There are jokey little asides on the page from minor characters and references to farts that my mother certainly wouldn't approve of in a children's story book.

This tale of a hippo's ambition to be the first to land on the moon is energetic and fun with plenty of very big writing to help new readers to practise. The illustrations work well and I like that it's a bit cheeky in places. I don't want to spoil the story for you, but it involves hippos called Sheila and Hercules - you will have to read it to find out who the first one on the moon is.

You can order this book online here and as it says on the back you will receive a free hippo* with every book. That might prove a bit difficult to wrap to put under the tree though.

*picture only

Dog on Stilts by James Thorp and Angus McKinnon

Medium Dog thinks he is nothing special, but he wants to be known for something. So, he comes up with a plan to get noticed - the title does sort of give the game away on this ! The illustrations are great in this story book, they are bold and unusual with a 'homely' feel to them. Again this is a second book for these authors - their first was The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race which is possibly the greatest title for a book ever.

This might look like a bit of fun, but there is also a nice message about acceptance and friendship that is delivered well and in an engaging way. As you know I love anything to do with music so it made me squeal with delight when I heard that this is also available as a musical online:

The book is however available on Amazon and if you want to find out more about the 'superhairies' behind this book you can go here: or follow on Twitter here: or on Facebook here:

Disclosure: All books were sent to us free of charge in order to provide an honest review.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Rolling my eyes: Everyday sexism / racism / homophobia

There are few things that raise my hackles more than isms - you know sexism, racism, ageism, etc. It's been a weird week as there have been cases of quite a few of them in the news. I'm singling out these headlines* because they've really made me shake my head and feel quite sad.

(*these were made up by me - they aren't actual headlines - well I don't think they are)

All Egyptians are white aren't they ? 

Rupert Murdoch, a man known mostly for being old, white and rich remarked on Twitter that he couldn't fathom why there was hostility at the casting of white actors in a film about Moses. No, not Gwyneth and Chris Martin's son, the other one, you know possibly the most famous Egyptian ever.  His disbelief at claims of racism in the white only casting was based on his assertion that all the Egyptians he knows are white. It is entirely coincidental that the movie is being distributed by a company he owns of course. Twitter exploded amidst challenges to his understanding of racism - missing the point that he probably doesn't really tweet himself and doesn't he use the standard disclaimer 'all views my own.' Not that anyone who want to own his views other than him of course. Clearly he is so untouchable that he honestly believes he can just say anything because being so old and rich and white there are no consequences.

Samantha is a goer and she loves it

Radio 4 comedy show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue has been running for years and with mostly the same all male cast. There is a running series of jokes about the fictional 'Samantha' that essentially are about her sexual veracity and this caused one listener to complain to the BBC trust. The trust found that the show had no case to answer. So ISIHAC rules that sexist jokes will stay, but they will endeavour to have more women on having argued with Stella Duffy that one of the existing panel would have to die before there was room for a woman. Yes, this did happen. A few months ago Stella was guest presenting Pick of the Week and we were discussing how few women are on panel shows on Radio 4. Stella challenged the ISIHAC team to respond to the claim that they don't welcome women guest panellists and they were quite aggressive on Twitter arguing that it was tradition and which of the living esteemed original players did she want them to sack to make way for a woman ? Woah there with that passive aggressive defence of the male panellist there Radio 4. 

Woman takes off top and the world doesn't end.

I always loved Madonna. I admired her tenacity, her capacity for hard work and her amazing body. How she came from very little to being rich, powerful and didn't care about what anyone thought of her. I wore armfuls of rubber bracelets and lace rags in my hair during the Susan days and her single handed revolution in making yoga the class of choice for urban women was amazing to witness. She is now 56 and surely everyone who wants to - and most who don't - have seen Madonna naked by now. It is hardly a shock to anyone and frankly if she wants to take her top off and be photographed you can choose not to buy the magazine. It's like those people who announce on Facebook that they are 'taking a break' and then hang around to see who cares enough to ask them to stay. Honestly, if you are going to be offended, just don't look. Sheesh !! 

Teenagers look sullen and wear short skirts.

A communications aide to a Republican senator saw fit to trash 'The First Family' and lost her job as a result. Elizabeth Lauten took offence at photos of President Obama's teenage daughters looking fed up while watching him pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving. It wasn't just their sullen looks and folded arms, but the fact that they were wearing short skirts that was considered disrespectful - it was unclear whether this was to the turkey or the nation as a whole. She also tore into the parents as bad role models for the girls. It's not often we witness ageism of young people, but this was pretty appalling behaviour towards young women who have no choice, but to be photographed and commented on. Making it about their clothes and appearance is just crass. 

 Jack and Sarah

During a plenary session at the recent Mumsnet Blogfest journalist Sarah Vine impressed friends I was sitting with as she seemed pretty reasonable and canny. Prejudiced by the knowledge of who she is married to, I wanted to disagree, but I did concede that she came across well. She's hardly a Liz Jones or Toby Jones Young type who will openly court hostility from the crowd so it was hardly surprising really. It was very disappointing then to read about the spat she got into with Jack Monroe that descended into homophobic rhetoric. You can look up the entire story so I won't go into it here, but I will say that I don't think Jack was kind in her initial comments about the late son of the PM. In response Sarah came across as homophobic when she suggested that being a gay parent was a selfish and irresponsible choice. It's so very medieval and neither of them comes out of this covered in glory.

My head hurts this evening and it's hardly surprising is it ?

I'm hoping that the next week is better.