Friday, 17 October 2014

It's not quite Howard's Way is it ?

I've been a bit off radar this week, but I do have a very good reason. I was on a cruise ship. In case you're wondering how I got home so quickly I'll clarify that. I was invited onto the ship, but we didn't make it to the Caribbean (sad face). I did, however, get fed to within an inch of my life - I didn't need to eat until after 1pm the next day I was still so full !

The view from the lifts is amazing !
It would have been great to actually visit the Caribbean, but it was still pretty great to be invited by Royal Caribbean to have a nosey around the biggest cruise ship in the world. The Oasis of the Seas was in Southampton this week, so while they boarded actual passengers a few of us were invited on board to sample some of the delights of a cruise. I have never been on one before and haven't seriously considered booking to go on one as a family as the only people I know who have been on and enjoyed a cruise are my in-laws and my elderly neighbours. In my mind it's a pastime for the retired and not for families with children. That's exactly why they wanted people like me to come aboard and change our minds about what cruising is like.

Not a shopping mall but the main promenade
So first up the ship is absolutely massive - the main promenade is twice the size of any other cruise ship and it's like being inside a shopping mall rather than at sea. It took us a while to board, but that was only because so many passengers were checking in super early so they could peruse the ship and take it all in. We were assured that it's actually a process that would take no more than 15 minutes in real life conditions. Security is like at an airport so you do have to walk through arches and provide photo ID before boarding.

King Julian serving at lunch 
Luscious lunch 

It's Alex the lion !
Once on board we were given lunch at Giovanni's. There are a lot of food outlets included in the price, but Giovannie's is one of the restaurants that requires an additional cover charge.  The charge is actually very reasonable, the food was delicious and the service just wonderful. It's not somewhere I'd eat often, but would be great for a special meal. While we were eating our starters we spotted these characters who joined us for photos and even came to see us at the table. I have to admit I was more than a little star struck !
Touch screen guide


This is a wall mounted guide that has a touch screen so you can see where on the ship you are, where you want to go and what activities are on that day. I've mentioned the enormity of the ship and it is a concern that you might get lost or - horror of horrors lose your child. You are never more than a few feet away from a member of staff and they are very helpful and friendly. If you lose a child you notify one of them and the entire staff on the ship stop what they are doing and search their area. Apparently it takes no more than 3 minutes to locate a lost child on board.


Trevor the fresh juice man
One of the things that I love about going on holiday is the relaxation, the fresh fruit and the opportunity to unwind. On board there is a very well equipped gym where you can do spin classes and you can work out from early morning to 1am !! We also had a mini treatment in the Elemis Spa and that would be one of my favourite places to visit I can tell you. After a workout and a relaxing treatment I always look forward to a refreshing drink of some kind. Trevor is the man who can help make magic happen. I asked for a drink based on pineapple and he created something of beauty out of pineapple, banana, orange and (as he told me conspiratorially and with a twinkle in his eye) "a little bit of peach." It was heavenly !!

Lilting music 
There is a lot for adult passengers with on board entertainment including live shows and we were serenaded by a band that included steel pans to get us into the Caribbean feel. I was interested to see what was available for children though as my son is aged 4 and I couldn't imagine what would keep him occupied and enable me to relax while on a cruise. The kids' club is a series of rooms that have age appropriate activities including science experiments, sports, arts and crafts. It's clean, well set out and staff are trained and first aid qualified. You can leave your children safely and know they are being cared for.

Outdoor pool fun 
Kids' club playroom 

My major concern was that as I have a very active child I wasn't sure there would be enough for my son to do that would stop him going stir crazy. Then we went outside and I saw the amazing sports deck with a number of fun pools, hot tubs for grown ups, crazy golf and the zipline that is included in the activities package (as is the flow rider) and you can go on it as many times as you like. In good weather it would be amazing to spend the day outside having fun swimming, playing and being active and might go some way towards counteracting the overeating that can happen on a cruise. I did a zipline along the top of the ship - I wasn't sure why I agreed to it, but as I zipped along over the carousel I was not at all scared and actually enjoyed it :)

Enormous starter
Decadent dessert 











When you talk to anyone about cruises the topic of food is never far away. There is a lot of it and it is pretty much inevitable that you will eat more than you intend to as there is so much on offer. Our food was amazing and I genuinely didn't need to eat the next day as it was so filling. There is a wide variety of food outlets to try and some are included and others require an additional charge. I did wonder what my son would make of the food, but there is so much choice I'm sure we'd find something that he would enjoy on board. Also with a cruise that makes frequent stops we could go ashore and try different cuisines in the ports.

The zipline was great fun
Overall I did rethink my preconceptions about the kind of people who go on a cruise. I mean who on earth would have predicted that with my propensity for seasickness and fear of heights I would willingly clamber onto a zipline and career along the 15th floor of the ship way above the decks ? It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we would consider booking a cruise as a family. I'm not sure I'd like to be at sea for days at a time, but a Mediterranean cruise with stops at different destinations every day might appeal. Having seen it in real life I can see what an amazing experience it could be for children to enjoy.

Disclosure: Royal Caribbean kindly invited me and some other Mumsnetters on board to experience what a cruise has to offer for families. I was not paid for this review.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Happiness is...

Neo's idea of bliss

I watched my boy come into the room where we had his surprise party on Sunday and he stopped and stood just taking it in. Then he spotted me and ran over and gave me the biggest hug and his face broke into an enormous smile as all his little classmates ran over to hug him and wish him a happy birthday.

We've been planning this party for weeks now and it was like a military operation. I woke up on Sunday morning with an aching back and a long list of things still to do. All of that faded away as I saw him running wildly around with his friends playing games and enjoying himself.

It reminded me that I have to stop and take time to look around sometimes and remember the tiny things that make me smile and feel warm inside. Things like:

  • Climbing into the 'marshmallow bed' - the winter duvet newly unpacked and fluffed and the thick mattress topper that makes lying in the bed feel like being enveloped by a massive marshmallow.
  • Wearing one of Hubbie's jumpers or sweatshirts that's way too big for me - tucking my feet under and make a cocoon to get cosy in.
  • Showing my boy photos or videos of when he was a baby and his asking what he was like 'back then,' like it was donkeys years ago.
  • Catching the cat and the boy asleep on the sofa together, or watching TV or in the kitchen nabbing treats while they think I'm not looking.
  • Waking up to find my son asleep next to me and wandering downstairs looking for Hubbie only to discover him watching baseball with the cat sitting next to him.
  • Making a cup of tea and settling down to drink it while the boy is at school and Hubbie is at work - more than that, actually managing to finish the whole cup while it's still hot (ok, warm then).
  • Sitting inside in the warm listening to the rain outside pattering onto the windows and knowing there is nowhere I have to be other than where I am.  
and of course my personal favourite 
  • Going for a swim and having the whole pool to myself - bliss !  
So the next time the cat is sick in the house (like he was this morning) or Hubbie annoys me (like he did yesterday) or my boy is driving me spare (well, just don't ask !!) I'll remind myself of these lovely things and pop the kettle on. 



Saturday, 11 October 2014

Up with the birds and eating magic biscuits: my morning win

Fruit for breakfast
I think it's fair to say I'm not a morning person. I used to work in an office where - unknown to me - it was widely acknowledged that it was best not to talk to me before I'd had at least one cup of tea. Unlike other 'super' Mums who are up with the birds and making lunches and preparing for the day I am lying in bed pretending not to hear my son asking if he can come in and watch the TV.

It wasn't always like this. There was a time when I would get up and go swimming at first light and go into work refreshed and invigorated for the day ahead. Now I'm lucky if I'm able to function before the cat - and that's saying something for an animal that sleeps for 20 hours of every day !

Toast for my boy 
One thing I've never skimped on though is breakfast. I was raised to eat breakfast every day and my mother was zero tolerance about this one issue. She would ensure we had porridge or boiled eggs or cereal and would supervise to make sure it was eaten and not hidden under a rug or the middle leaf of the expanding table (totally not looking at my sister there - *cough*) When I was a teenager I would gulp a black coffee and run out of the house and she'd call out to me holding a piece of buttered toast, but I'd just shrug it off insisting I wasn't hungry.

Now I'm a grown up I am the same with my boy and make sure he has something to eat before he leaves the house, but I'm not as good at making sure I'm fed too. I can go until 11am (or later) without having anything to eat and it's not the best really. I try to remember to carry healthy snacks with me to make sure I don't fade away, a banana or an apple usually, but sometimes I just forget.

Magic breakfast biscuits 

I wasn't convinced by the idea of a 'breakfast biscuit' - I mean surely a biscuit is a snack food and one that I avoid at the best of times. However, the Belvita range of biscuits has been created to be eaten as part of a healthy breakfast to slow release energy all morning rather than an immediate spike in sugar with the comedown afterwards. I popped a pack of them into my bag as an emergency and on one of my inevitable busy days I found them to be invaluable and quite tasty too ! I picked up my free cuppa from Waitrose and chomped an apricot biccie (or 3) with my brew on the bus on the way into town for a job interview. Now I'm not saying they are magic or anything, but I did get offered the job so you draw your own conclusions :)

I have to say that making a good start to the day does make a big difference whether it's...

Daily toast dilemma
Waking up to find that Hubbie has not only changed the toilet roll, but proven to me that he can actually do it and isn't relying on the toilet roll fairy

or

Being able to get out of the house without a row about brushing teeth, putting on shoes, finding socks, or breakfast, "I said Marmite on toast not jam Mummy."

or

Power walking alongside my boy's scooter to school without him swerving into the path of a car or into that pile of horses**t that's been at the top of the hill for 2 weeks now !

or

Dropping my boy at school then going for a swim so I've managed a power walk (uphill) and a swim all before 9am :)

or

Drinking a cup of tea before it goes cold - this is my favourite by far. Add a pack of breakfast biscuits and we're talking an Olympic standard #morningwin

The new Belvita flavours - yummy ! 


This post is an entry for #MorningWin Linky Challenge sponsored by belVitaBreakfast. Learn more at http://bit.ly/belVitaUK

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Say Hello (to work) and Wave Goodbye (to being a SAHM)

I'm going to miss nonsense like this
I'm going back to work next month after being at home with my boy for almost all of his first four years of life. Since I found out that I'll be working full time I've worried about a lot of things.

  • whether my boy will be able to manage a longer day once he's going to breakfast club before school and creche after school 
  • not being there to drop him off - Hubbie will be doing the morning school run
  • how I'll cope with having to get up and commute again. I really hate commuting 
  • whether or not I'll be able to get myself organised so that I have breakfast and lunch with me to stop me spending money on food 
  • getting back from work in time to pick up my boy at the mercy of London Transport 
  • having enough time to make a meal for us in the evening instead of just putting stuff in the microwave
  • reducing the frequency that I swim from daily to whenever I can when I no longer have the whole day to fit it in
  • will the house ever get cleaned when I'm working full time ? 
  • how my boy will adapt to my working again instead of being 'his Mummy' for a living. 

I've been talking to the boy about my return to work for a while now - since before I was offered a job in fact. I told him Mummy would be going to work and he asked me why. I said it was because he is a big boy now and I can go to work in the day while he is at school. He was ok with that. In fact he seems to be excited about the prospect of going to breakfast club and creche and I have to accept that he might be looking forward to some 'mummy-free' time. Ouch !

 My boy's preferred job right now

It would appear that the only thing I haven't worried about is doing the actual job. Not because I'm so blasé that I think I will be fine, but I just haven't given it any thought yet. My lovely friend Soraya not only sent me the job advert, but helped me prepare for the interview and was pretty much holding my hand the whole day I was there (metaphorically speaking of course). She's been amazingly supportive and told me not to worry about childcare - these things work out she said - and today she asked me how I felt about the job. She knows the person who is doing the role at the moment and they are pretty impressive shoes to fill. I honestly don't know, but it's an area of work that I feel strongly about and that I believe I can make a contribution to. It's going to be challenging and interesting and terrifying all at the same time.

So for now I'm going to just worry about letting go of my current role as stay-at-home parent, because that's what this is. I'm reluctant to share the load with anyone - even Hubbie - because I've become so used to doing it myself. The dropping off, the picking up, the school meetings, the swimming lessons, the meal planning and preparation, the in-between shops for items that run out midweek and the weekday appointments for pet immunisations. The meticulous planning of every hour of every day to ensure nothing is missed and that I wring out as much as I can from the meagre 24 hours I've got.

I'll start thinking about my new role as a working parent later. When I've chosen what to wear for my first day. Worked out the best route to and from work. When I've packed my bag and managed to include everything I need for the whole day. When I've remembered what it feels like to wake up so early that it's still dark while I walk to the tram stop in the morning. When I look out of the window of the train or the office and see the world that I've been away from. When I have more conversations with adults in a day than with a 4 year old and when I make and finish a brew while it's still hot enough to call tea.

In short, when it feels real.

I can only hope it's this light when I leave the house

Monday, 6 October 2014

To cut a long story short I'm not a fan (but I did love Steve Norman)

In the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that I was never a fan of Spandau Ballet in the eighties and I'm still not really. They alway occupied a space that was reserved for fashionable, nice to look at, but ultimately more interesting in real life than on stage. Like the celebrity marriages (one Kemp to Shirley from Wham and the other one to Sadie Frost from... well Dracula I guess), the infamous court case where they fought for a portion of the royalties and the supposed rivalry with Duran Duran. I wasn't a fan of them either.
  
Red carpet - obvs ! 

So, when I was invited to watch a documentary movie about them and to attend the red carpet screening at the Royal Albert Hall I put aside the concern that it was on my son's birthday - he's been a pain lately and he'll be in bed before the movie starts anyway - and said yes. After all, it was because of Steve Norman that I took up playing saxophone at school and the opening bars of True immediately transport me back to the summer I was in the garden revising for my 'O' levels with a transistor radio playing only that song (or so it seemed). I've since found out that Gary wrote it about Claire Grogan - now her I was a fan of back in the eighties. 

My unsubtle bid to be the new Joan Rivers

I was at a discreet end of the press pen when the 'talent' arrived and have to say that the band were so lovely - they went to talk to and sign autographs for fans who had waited in the queue to meet them and spent a long time posing for photos - even these blurry selfies that I took. They were friendly and Steve talked to me about how his kids had never heard any of the band's music and would be "in the green room getting drunk." Oh well, if your dad is in the band I guess that's the perk you get isn't it ? 

Martin Kemp - no really it is
Steve Norman - I proper loved him

We got to talk to George Hencken - the director - who admitted she wasn't a fan either, but that had helped her make the movie with complete honesty - more of which later. Once we had negotiated the red carpet I had a heart in mouth moment when there was no ticket for me to get into the movie and live gig to follow. I had left my son on his 4th birthday to stand in the cold and I wasn't even going to get to watch the movie I was there to review. Tears were inevitable until a wonderful person said there was spare ticket that I could use (this was with seconds to spare) and I settled into a seat next to a photographer called Ian - thanks for having an unused plus one Ian.

Director: George Hencken

The movie is called "Soul Boys of the Western World" and is made up of original footage from childhood cine film to performances and behind the scenes clips that tell the story of a group of friends from North London. It is a creative version of reality that paints Spandau as the architects of the New Romantic movement when in actual fact they were opportunists who moved whichever way the mood was going and records were selling. Having said that they did work hard and the friendship they shared is evident in the early stages. They were still living at home when not touring with the band and the joy at being able to buy their own cars and earning more than their dads ever did was clear. The version of the eighties in which they were the icons and Boy George and Steve Strange were bit players isn't one I recognise, but this history is told by the ones who filmed it so that's how it looks. There were moments where a (very) young Danny Baker and an insanely youthful Robert Elms appear on screen and the audience cheered. Yes, I realise how sad that sounds and I even tweeted Danny during the movie in case he didn't know he was in the movie.

George has not been shy in dealing with the hostility that led to the band splitting up with the Kemps move into acting and the others being left high and dry. By the time of their eventual appearance at the high court its clear there is no love lost and it's played with a heavy hand. The role of pantomime villain is squarely laid at the feet of Gary Kemp and there were even boos in the Royal Albert Hall when his photo was on screen with the damning statement that it was his ego that broke the band. Let that sink in for a moment - boos - in the Royal Albert Hall - for a pop star. This made it all the more awkward when they came on stage after the movie to do a Q and A with Lauren Laverne. We were, however, treated to some bon mots such as:

"It's the heartbeat of humanity - it's all about the groove" John Keeble on music

"We're responsible for the ozone depletion - sorry." Tony Hadley on the band's use of hairspray 

Middle-aged men playing pop music 

The live performance that followed began with just Tony and Gary picked out by a spotlight as if to hammer home how they are mates now and the whole messy business of money is behind them. I never saw them live back in the day so I have no comparison, but I love pretty much all live music. The anthemic nature of their set meant there was a lot of air punching (Hadley) pally microphone sharing (Kemp jnr and Steve when not on bongos, sax or other percussion) and plenty of audience participation. My heart really did stop for a moment when they played through the barricades, but then I am easily led when it comes to emotional manipulation. 

The movie was a trip down memory lane for me in terms of fashion and music and it was lovely in places and painful in places - a bit like a soap opera really.

Well, Martin was in Eastenders after all :) 

Disclosure: I was invited to review this movie by Mumsnet Bloggers Network

Friday, 3 October 2014

Total recall: my week in pictures :)

Saturday: Hubbie and I went to a party on a boat - of course we had to do our 'Titanic' pose - very convincing don't you think ?



Sunday: For unknown reasons got up and took part in a 3 hour aerobathon for the Royal Marsden Hospital. I was so incredibly hungover that I swear I was sweating prosecco !!



Monday: Hubbie pointed out what a gorgeous sky there was in the morning. It was like an inspirational poster and all that was missing was a cheesy message running across it.



Tuesday: Our boy celebrated his 4th birthday. As it was a school day we had a small celebration in the morning then when he got home from school he opened his presents and cut his cake - I'm sure you will recognise the theme immediately




Wednesday: In the early hours I found this image on Daily Mail online. Take a close look at the woman in the pink jacket to the left of Spandau Ballet - yes it's me !! 


Thursday: Went for a job interview - it was very difficult and I was so convinced I wasn't going to get it that I went for lunch with my lovely friend to commiserate. Then at 5.30 I got a call to offer me the job !! It's a policy advisor on race so this image seems entirely apt.


Friday: It's my lovely Mum's birthday, so we've spent it with my family celebrating, eating cake and enjoying the sunshine. Happy Days. 


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

After school eating: a play in three acts


My boy is always ravenous when he gets home from school - it doesn't matter how much he's had during the day he is ready to eat for England as soon as gets through the door. As a result after school food planning starts early.

I present, for your delectation a three act play about after school eating in our house.

The curtain goes up: 

Act one: 

The school run - My Boy on his scooter and me running / power walking alongside  

My boy: Mummy are you going to pick me up from school today ?
Me: Yes honey, I do every day.
MB: Can you bring me an apple / banana please ? 
Me: Yes of course. I'll bring it to the classroom with me. 

Act two: 

In the car on the way home - the boy is eating his banana / apple :

MB: Mummy I'm really hungry
Me: I know sweetie. What did you have for lunch today ?
MB: I don't know Mummy 
Me: Really ? Did you eat pudding ?
MB: Yes, I had chocolate sponge with custard
Me: That sounds lovely (it doesn't - I hate custard, it makes me retch)
MB: I had potatoes and carrots and broccoli
Me: Wow that's great. Lots of lovely vegetables

When we get home it's all about getting him out of his uniform so that he can wolf down a massive plate of fruit - on average it's strawberries, grapes, mango and sometimes a smoothie too. This is enough to see him through until dinner. 

Not far off how much fruit my boy eats

Act three: 

In the kitchen - the boy is dropping off, but just about keeping it together.

Me: do you want some bolognaise ?
MB: No thanks
Me: How about veggie moussaka ?
MB: No thank you 
Me: (getting irritated now) How about waffles
MB: Yes please
Me: and fish fingers 
MB: Yes please 
Me: (relieved) anything else ? 
MB: yes please - some beans 
Me: (rifling in the freezer) ok you set the table and I'll get the food ready. 

A few minutes later. 

He is sitting at the table and I'm on the sofa with a cuppa.

MB: I love you Mummy. This is so nice. 
Me: You're welcome baby boy. 

Peace and harmony at teatime thanks to Birds Eye :)


Birds Eye is this Mum's best friend :) 

This post is an entry for #Afterschoolchefs Challenge, sponsored by Birds Eye. Learn more on the Birds Eye Facebook page