Tuesday, 15 August 2017

My life on TV

I'm a big fan of TV and watch far too much of it - ever since childhood. I used to watch the show that told you to 'switch off your TV and do something less boring instead' and stayed put until something genuinely less interesting was on. I sat through a lot of rubbish TV. As a result I know a lot of theme songs from shows and it's a handy skill to have for pub quizzes. The other thing I have learned from watching a lot of TV is that it's not often that art imitates life. I don't watch reality TV a a rule because I live reality and when I'm relaxing I want escapism. Not for me the banality of the partially true lives of inhabitants of Essex or Chelsea. However, there have been a few TV shows that have accurately depicted situations that have happened to me in real life. It's a bit freaky when that happens.

Eastenders: Now it's not a happy chapter of my life so I don't really go back there much. As I was having lunch with friends a while back I spoke about not remembering much of it in detail and one of my friends said, "Well PTSD will do that," and she has a point. The only really awful bit I ever really elaborate on is the one that I saw enacted dramatically by Little Mo when she stood up to her abusive husband Trevor. No I didn't attack my ex with an iron, but I did take it with me when I left - which was vindictive because I absolutely don't iron. It was pure spite on my part. I'm not proud of it, but to be honest it wasn't the worst thing I could have done. So we argued about petty things like the dish drainer and a plug stack and the friend who had come with me told me to just leave them. As I went to leave she went outside to wait by the van we had borrowed for the day and as I went to leave my ex decided to have his say about me leaving. This 6'4" man towered over me and threatened me. And I stood there - all 5' nothing of me - and said, "If you're going to hit me just get on with it. I've got things to do." He visibly shrank at my lack of fear - he just didn't know what to do. I told him he was a coward and a bully and I wasn't scared of him any more. He called the police and they sent two female officers who checked I was ok and ignored him completely. I left. No drama, no-one was hit by a household implement and there was no doof doof music. Still I did feel a moment of triumph when I saw Little Mo having an almost identical confrontation with her husband. It was then I felt proud of myself for standing up to him and leaving.

Monica and Chandler: There is very little about Friends that resembles reality. The ridiculous way that Rachel goes from unemployable spoilt, rich girl to successful fashionista in a very short space of time. Phoebe surviving on the money she makes as a masseur and terrible busker is just not believable on any level. And never forget that the whole Ross and Rachel relationship would just not occur in real life. He's a selfish, boring, petty man who offers absolutely nothing and she's already rich and doesn't struggle to meet good looking (straight) men, despite working in fashion - I know that's entirely realistic isn't it ? Anyway, the area in which I do see a similarity to my life is when Monica and Chandler have difficulty conceiving. It's one of the rare serious moments when Chandler tells Monica the bad news and they are heartbroken. On they day that Hubbie came home from his appointment he referenced this scene to soften the blow a bit. It kind of did. It also ensured I went into Monica mode and chose not to accept that there was nothing we could do. The rest is pretty well documented on this blog so I won't repeat myself.

Gavin and Stacey: There is a lot to love about this show. The fact that the families are named after serial killers is a stroke of genius. We watched an episode the other day where Pete shows off a hat that his wife Dawn bought him that bears the legend, "Pete Sutcliff loves golf." Stacey's mum even comments on how unfortunate it is that she goes from being a West to being a Shipman. Honestly if you don't find this stuff funny why are you even here ? So the point is pretty similar to the last one in that Gavin and Stacey are told they won't be able to have children. In one exchange they agree they will keep trying for a while and if nothing happens they will stop and think about other options. Stacey says, "It's sad isn't it ?" and every time I watch that scene it makes me cry. Yes it is very sad. When we were told that we were 'unlikley' to conceive we both sat in the reception of the fertility clinic and cried. I don't know how long we stayed there for, but it felt like a long time. On a much happier note, when we did find out that I was pregnant Hubbie exclaimed, "My balls work !" Just like Gavin does when they find out that Stacey is pregnant. I only did one test though - I didn't pee on a shoebox full of them.

Outnumbered: I never understood why people liked this show until I became a parent. Even then it wasn't until we had two of them. Ok, we're not strictly outnumbered as there are two of them and two of us, but as is pretty clear the cat is on their side - or he has recruited them to be honorary cats which is far more likely. So the main reason this show resonates with me is because Brown Bear is the spitting image of Ben. It has been evident since his curly hair kicked in and my sister even pointed it out. I suspect that Blue Bear is like Karen in that he is more considered and serious. Now I watch it and sympathise with Pete and Sue and their incessant attempts to keep ahead of their brood.

Miss Rabbit: Well this one is a joke that occured to Hubbie when it became clear that the character of Miss Rabbit from Peppa Pig does every job. It came about after I spoke about all the different jobs that I've done and he started to call me Miss Rabbit. It's a good call actually even though I'm not a helicopter pilot or a volunteer fire officer, but I have worked in a library. Anyway, Miss Rabbit has a pretty good work ethic and that's no bad thing is it ?

Curb Your Enthusiasm: We've been rewatching this show in preparation for the new series in October. It pains me to admit it, but I am really much more sympathetic towards Larry than I should be. Despite his selfish tendencies I honestly think he's more misunderstood than anything. I know he can appear to be a sociopath, but there is definitely an element of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time and not thinking before he speaks. I can identify with that.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Summer time and the living is easy (really ? for who ?)

We're past the midway point of the summer holidays and I'm seriously in need of some 'me time.' It's not like I spend every minute of the day with my boys, far from it, but keeping them busy and tiring them out enough to get them to sleep at night is a full time job. This week I've had them both in sports camps so that I could get the house in order. It's been my mission since I read the Marie Kondo book in January (an excellent gift from Hubbie) and I'm making great progress with baby things that were taking up loft space being sold and I'm sorting and donating clothes, shoes and various other items are going on ebay. I'm also taking the opportunity to get in some swimming and running and am taking part in a 5k this Sunday so I'm hoping my overall fitness has improved. The next few weeks are the ones where I've had to use more creativity to keep them occupied - at the cost of my liberty and possibly my sanity. So I've timetabled plenty of activities for them both.

Next week Blue Bear is at sports camp every day so I'll be spending time with Brown Bear one to one.

Monday we're taking it easy. A morning swim followed by breakfast. Maybe a lazy afternoon in front of the TV.

Tuesday he has a movie date with his 'girlfriend.' I know he's only 6 (nearly 7), but he and R have been an item since nursery. I think it's cute how they send each other little voice messages on whatsapp (on mine and her mum's phones of course) saying how much they are looking forward to it.

Wednesday he's going to take the car to the garage with Daddy and do 'boy stuff.' I think he's going to find it quite informative.

Thursday we're going to visit my lovely friend who works for an MP and I hope to take Brown Bear for a tour of the Palace of Westminster. He has loved Big Ben for years so I think he's going to  be excited being up close.

Friday is the first day of a music festival that me and Hubbie are going to so we're taking Brown Bear to my parents for the weekend and then dropping Blue Bear off at the in-laws.

Then we get a day off - yep me and Hubbie get to spend an entire day child free on Saturday !! And how are we spending it ? Well we're running a 5k together first thing. Don't even ask me why - it's his idea. Then we're going back for the second day of the music festival.

To be honest I think going back to work in September is going to be less logistically demanding than the holidays. All I need to do now is work out how to add all these skills to my CV.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Song and dance and not a Womble in sight.

Going to the theatre is one of my favourite pastimes. I'm so lucky to live close to London so I used to go the West End theatres all the time. I still do sometimes and only the other week went to watch Hamlet with the amazing Andrew Scott (Moriarty). More often, though, I go to local theatres and last week I was delighted to be invited to the season preview for the New Wimbledon Theatre. As part of the ATG group of theatres they have some great shows coming up and I am looking forward to seeing some well known productions as well as some brand new ones such as the UK premiere of Tenderly The Rosemary Clooney musical. Of course the question that always gets asked is will George be there, but I guess with new baby twins he might just have his hands full. We were treated to a song from the show sung live by the leads and it was beautiful.

There was also an introduction to the upcoming production of Flashdance with Joanne Clifton - who I last saw in Thoroughly Modern Millie - and apparently the iconic water drop scene from the film is in the show for purists. We saw a preview of the rehearsals which looked pretty full on. I'm looking forward to seeing Cabaret starring Will Young and Louise Redknapp. It's been a while since I saw this show and I love the choregraphy and songs so much. It'll be interesting to see a fresh revival of a show that is so well known and loved. Another show that is well loved and very popular, while completely different, is Spamalot. I've seen it many times already and with a lot of different King Arthurs including the divine Tim Curry. This is a new production with a touring cast and as it's been a while since I last saw the show I'd like to see what they've done with it.

The other big show that is brand new is Cilla, based on the life of the Liverpudlian singer and TV presenter. We met the Lily Hayworth who was chosen to play Cilla in a nationwide search. I really enjoyed the TV show that this production is based on so it'll be good to see how this translates to the stage. It's a cracking season coming up and I haven't even mentioned the pantomime which features Al Murray as Jack and Clive Rowe as the dame in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Vintage posters from New Wimbledon Theatre: 

Before the launch event we were given a tour of theatre and the lovely Sherry showed us round and we learned so much about the beautiful theatre and the history of how it came to be built. We even learned that there was a turkish bath under the theatre for staff. I am so going to bore people with that tidbit in future ! A word of warning though, there are 104 steps to the very top of the theatre and no lift so be prepared for a bit of a hike. The views from the top are stunning and the ceiling is really worth a look. Not least as you will see the bit that used to open to let in air and let out smells back in the old days, but don't let me spoil the fun of hearing Sherry's stories. I can highly recommend a tour if you get a chance to go on one. They are held once a month - and you prebook here.

Stunning views of the theatre: 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the tiger

There are a few films that I will always watch when they're on TV - even though I've seen them many times already. The Wedding Singer is one of those rarities - a film that both me and Hubbie enjoy watching - and when I found out it was going to be a live show I wasn't sure if it would be a patch on the movie which is silly and funny and pretty much driven by star names. So it was a treat to see the show this week and find that the stage show is a great interpretation of a film I love.

Unfortunately a lack of babysitting meant we weren't able to see the show together, but I didn't let that stop me from going along. The show captures the '80s really well from costumes to music and the adverts running along the screen at the top of the stage are spot on. As an eighties kid I can vouch for the authenticity.

The leads are Jon Robyns from Avenue Q, Ray Quinn and Cassie Compton from X Factor ( I don't watch it so I had no idea who they were) and a guest appearance by Ruth Madoc as Grandma that will have you in stitches. The story is pretty much identical to the film so if you're a fan you will recognise it. There are a few small changes to accommodate the already extensive set with some super fast scene changes and clever touches like Glen's car and Robbie's revolving bed - which doesn't revolve.

Often when movies are staged as shows there is an unfair comparison between them, but this show is a fair approximation of the film that preceded it. The leads are likeable and the comic characters play well together. The only bum note for me was Linda. She is suitably evil, but the singing is so over the top that her volume pretty much drowns out any lyrics. The romance between Robbie and Julia is sweet and the wink wink nature of George's interactions with his bandmates are funny, but also a little sad.

If you want to see the show click here: The Wedding Singer

As you already know I am a huge fan of Kids Week - which takes place every August and has done since 1998. It has graduated to being a whole month hosted by the Society of London Theatre where children can go to the theatre for free or greatly reduced ticket prices. When you buy an adult ticket one child gets a free ticket and subsequent children go half price. A lot of shows take part in the scheme and some also do additional activities including puppetry workshops and author talks as well as behind the scenes tours. I promote Kids Week every year as it's such a great way to introduce children to the theatre, but also an affordable option to see some fantastic shows in the West End that you might not otherwise go to.

I've taken Brown Bear for years and he is an experienced theatre goer at the age of six. He can happily sit through a two hour show without fuss and I'm sure that taking him to see shows during Kids Week helped with this early on. One of the first shows I ever took him to see in the West End was The Tiger Who Came to Tea at the Lyric Theatre. He loved it very much and I'm delighted to be taking Blue Bear to see the same production at the Churchill next week. It's based on the much loved classic children's book about a little girl and her mother who are visited by a tiger who proceeds to eat everything in the kitchen. It is a simple story with a lovely singalong tone that captivates the attention of young children from the beginning. The tiger is brilliantly done and it's wonderful to hear the children's reactions when it appears on stage. I remember a 3 year old Brown Bear believing it was a tiger and I hope that Blue Bear will have the same willing suspension of disbelief when he sees the show too.

If you want to book tickets click here: The Tiger Who Came to Tea 

Disclosure: The lovely folks at the Churchill Theatre gave us comps for both shows in return for an honest review / preview. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Inter-generational japes and trips to Ikea

A programme last night has sparked animated conversations about the mutual benefits of older people and small children spending time together. In the TV documentary nursery children visited people in a care home. It's a social model that has been adopted in other countries where in some places nurseries have been located inside nursing homes so that the older residents spend time with the children every day. The thing about this that fascinates me is why anyone should be surprised by the outcomes of such an experiment.

I've had conversations recently with a number of people who are caring for elderly relatives / parents. The overriding issue they worry about is leaving an older person alone for fear they might fall or the cost of the care they need. The question I always ask is, "Is s/he happy ?" Older people experience all the emotions they always have, but for some reason they are treated as errant children for being angry or upset or for not wanting to 'join in.' You see loneliness is the one thing we feel so uncomfortable both talking about and dealing with. Equally when I suggested that my friend's parent might be feeling depressed (in as kind a way as possible I'm not a monster) I hoped it was helpful rather than another thing to feel guilty about not knowing. It's difficult to see our own parents changed or weakened by age. Taking responsibility for their happiness is even scarier.

When we first moved into this house Brown Bear was one year old and our retired neighbours P and J loved seeing him and watching him grow. They would invite us to play in their garden and enjoyed his company and P often commented with great surprise at the new developments in my boy's language or abilites. As P's cancer progressed and he spent more time in hospital we saw less of him, but he still looked forward to seeing Brown Bear and J would pass on that he'd raised a smile when he heard our boy chattering away. My greatest worry when P passed away was that J would be lonely. As it happened all of her friends and family rallied round and kept her busy with holidays, invitations to dinner and weekends away. This is still the case 5 years later.

We have a wonderful relationship with J and she is a self-styled, 'spare granny' to the boys and they fight over who will go to her house for a 'playdate.' Blue Bear goes in, takes off his shoes and plonks himself down on her armchair - he loves keeping her company. Brown Bear will usually take something to do, either a game or a book so he can read to her. For a time I worried that this was too much to ask of her, but then I noticed that she really enjoyed being with the boys. Some days we invite her to join us for a visit to the park or for lunch or even just a trip to Ikea. One thing I did notice was she wasn't hearing so well and she joked with me about it. I decided to mention it quietly to her daughter-in-law as I was getting worried and didn't want to cause concern, but thought it best they knew.

The thing about intergenerational socialising is how unforced it is. I have seen how the most curmudgeonly of old men (thinking of no ones father-in-law in particular *cough*) answer a toy phone when handed it by a small child. My boys regularly charm older people as they help me with the shopping and I will strike up a conversation with someone because they are talking to the boys. To be honest my friend's idea of opening up nurseries so that women can go in and hold babies to reduce stress starts to sound really sensible. That is if it wasn't so unethical and, you know, mad. Don't challenge me on why only women, it's not my idea I'm just sharing.

Being around young children has given a boost to my parents and in-laws. As grandparents they have found a joy in being around these small noisy people who demand and bicker and fight and generally bring disorder into their lives. I've seen my father play football in the garden with this 3 grandsons when he's usually stuck to his armchair pretty much all day. I've watched my father-in-law sit and patiently build a toy aeroplane because of the plaintive cry of, "help me Grandpa," from Brown Bear. The boys go and visit their grandparents and stay over without us which is something I never did as my grandmother was in India so I saw her rarely. I was very close to her though and loved her company when I did visit. Hubbie stayed with his grandparents when he was a child so he was very close to them and I'm so glad our boys get to do the same.

My boys have a great relationship and respect for people borne of their contact with family and friends who are older. I hope this stays with them as they grow up.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

I miss the velvet seats most of all.

I took Brown Bear to the cinema last week for the first time in ages. We were invited to see Captain Underpants by a friend who gets tickets to preview screenings and I wasn't able to go so he went with Hubbie and Blue Bear. So with the holidays well underway I thought I'd take him out - just us - as a special treat. We went to see Despicable Me 3 and he had popcorn and a soft drink I don't let him have often and we went for pizza afterwards. It was a lovely thing to do and I hope we get to do it again soon.

I used to go the cinema very regularly and now it's such a rarity that I only get to see recent films if they are on Sky movies and I get to watch them when we visit the in-laws. You see films have always been a big deal for me. The other night Dirty Dancing was on and I was telling Hubbie how I'd been to watch it when it first came out - I was 16 - and I was obsessed with it. I convinced myself I wanted to be a dancer. Just like I decided after watching Desperately Seeking Susan that I would wear those ridiculous bangles and ribbons in my hair and shop in second hand shops. I spent a lot of time in Flip on Long Acre in Covent Garden after watching that film and even spent time in Camden while also thinking, "this is a ridiculous place full of tourists why is it so popular ?"

Whenever a film comes on TV I will tell Hubbie the story that comes with it. More often that not he's not seen it anyway, but I like to add a bit of a personal touch to enhance the experience. Here are a few of my favourites:

Back to the future - Me and my brother went to watch this in the eighties and were probably wearing bodywarmers (before the were renamed gilets) which Mum had bought us in Southall market. The lads sitting behind us were talking and at a crucial point in the plot one lad - who had clearly seen it already - told the other one, "It's ok he's wearing a bullet proof vest." Suspense ruined.

Toy Story - I went to see this with all my siblings. My sisters sat behind us and I sat next to my brother. At the bit when Buzz finds out he's a toy and not a real astronaut I heard my brother quietly say, "Oh no," with genuine sadness. He was 21 !

Star Trek into Darkness - This was one of the few films I've seen with Hubbie. We upgraded to the posh seats as a treat and settled in for the cinematic experience and it was fantastic. At one point Benedict Cumberbatch's character has been captured and he's asked his name. The dramatic music lifts and he booms, "I am Khan." and at that moment someone in the audience exclaimed, "Oh Fuck !" Everyone collapsed with laughter.

Sliding Doors - I watched this with my long term cinema buddie Sandra and I had been looking forward to it for ages. We went to a daytime screening and two older ladies were sitting in front of us. They seemed to be enjoying it until one of them said, "she looks like her sister or something." and it became evident that they had no idea that it was two separate strands of the same story. We decided not to interfere to correct them.

Broken Arrow - when I used to work away from home sometimes I'd have a quiet afternoon so I went to watch this film in chinatown in Birmingham. About twenty minutes after the designated start time nothing was happening so I went to ask what happened and the manager admitted that he hadn't realised anyone was in the cinema so the projectionist hadn't put it on. I sheepishly went back to my seat to watch John Travolta smoke and over-act like a good 'un.

Titanic - I went to watch this in the much-missed ABC cinema in Streatham. It was a lovely old art deco building and the screens were old and the seats a bit tatty, but it had its own charms. During the film I noticed the screen seemed to be juddering, but no one else was bothered by it. After an hour of this I had a bit of a headache so I went to ask the manager to check if I was imagining it. He looked at the screen and said, "Oh that's not right is it ?" and went to fix it. I don't know if anyone else noticed.

Boxing Helena - I am taking a guess at the film because it was truly terrible, but I did go and see it. I was in a cinema in central London during the day and decided to sit to the left side out of the way so I could spread out and enjoy my snacks in peace. Then a woman and her daughter walked in looked around at the completely unoccupied seats and decided to sit right in front of me. In an empty cinema.

Vantage Point - Me and Hubbie decided to go to the cinema when we were in India. We went to a shopping mall in Delhi, my grandmother went to a coffee shop to watch the cricket - yes I being serious - and we went to watch a film. We paid to upgrade our seats and were offered a menu as we sat down. The waitress served me tea on a tray in our seats and offered a list of snacks. It was a bit odd but so very indian. I loved it.

Oh I miss the old days of visiting fleapit cinemas - actually no not really. I do miss going to the cinema though. I should do it more often.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Summer cocktail classics with a twist by Hayman's

It won't come as any suprise to you that gin is really big right now. Everywhere you look there is artisan gin and I recently found out there is a London bus tour featuring an afternoon tea with specially selected gins which I am thinking of taking mother in law on for her birthday. It's possible to try a different gin every week and not run out so when I was asked if I wanted to try Hayman's gin I thought, "hang on, you'd like me to try gin you say ?" It didn't exactly require a hard sell.

I'm by no means a gin connoisseur, but I do like a G and T with a splash of fever tree tonic, ice and a slice of lime. However, with the gorgeous weather we've been having, Hayman’s have added a dash of Englishness to classic cocktails and created three refreshing drinks using seasonal fruits, mixers and gin. English Ruby Fizz, Lavender Lady and Victorian Mojito are classic summer cocktails with a delicious twist. Why not give them a try ?

Hayman’s English Ruby Fizz

Semi-sweet, refreshing and with an eye-catching pink tint, the English Ruby Fizz is the ideal al fresco cocktail.  The sweet taste of the raspberries partners perfectly with the spicy ginger notes.


  • 50ml Hayman’s London Dry Gin
  • 20ml lime juice
  • 10ml sugar syrup or Grenadine
  • 4-8 fresh raspberries or raspberry syrup
  • Ginger Ale to top with
  • Lime wheel and fresh raspberries to garnish


1.      Fill a highball glass with plenty of large cubes of ice
2.      Set aside the ginger ale and garnish, and combine all remaining ingredients in a shaker with ice
3.      Shake well for approximately 12 seconds
4.      Double strain into the highball allowing the liquid to run over the ice
5.      Top with ginger ale
6.      Garnish with a lime wheel and raspberries
Hayman’s Lavender Lady

The Lavender Lady is the Hayman’s take on the traditional sour White Lady cocktail.   The egg white creates a silky mixture, which perfectly accompanies the honey and Cointreau.  Top the cocktail with a sprig of Lavender, and sit back in the garden and relax.


  • 50ml Hayman’s London Dry Gin
  • 20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 10ml of locally sourced honey or 20ml of honey water
  • 10ml Cointreau
  • 1 medium egg white
  • Dash of orange bitters
  • Sprig of lavender to garnish

Honey water:

1.      Combine equal parts of honey and hot water
2.      Stir until mixed


1.      Add cubed ice to a cocktail shaker
2.      Pour the Hayman’s London Dry Gin over the ice
3.      Add all the remaining ingredients, except the garnish
4.      Give all the ingredients a very hard shake and strain into cocktail glass
5.      Garnish with a sprig of lavender

Hayman’s Victorian Mojito

Nothing says summer like a sun lounger, a good book and a refreshing minty mojito in the back garden.   The Victorian Mojito combines Hayman’s London Dry Gin with fresh mint and lime juice balanced with sugar syrup to create an ideal English classic.


  • 50ml Hayman’s London Dry Gin
  • 25ml freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 20ml sugar syrup
  • Premium tonic water or soda water
  • Freshly picked mint leaves


1.      Fill a highball glass with cracked or crushed ice and a few fresh mint leaves
2.      Pour in the Hayman’s London Dry Gin and let it run down over the ice
3.      Add the lime juice and sugar syrup
4.      Churn vigorously ensuring the ingredients are well mixed
5.      Top with the tonic water or soda water
6.      Garnish with a mint sprig

Disclosure: The nice folks at Hayman's sent me some samples of gin to try. 

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Kindness is not optional

I'm very annoyed. Not in the usual, oh the kids are playing up, Hubbie is getting on my nerves, why is there no milk left for tea way. No, this is a serious, deep-rooted and heartfelt anger at something that I cannot fathom the reason for. Why are some people weird about autism ? What is it that makes these people act in a way that under any other circumstances would be considered unacceptable ? I have specific examples of this that have happened in the last 48 hours.

Yesterday I spent the whole day with fellow bloggers visiting Winchester - there was a lot of walking involved. I know my blogger pal fairly well and have met some of her children. I didn't, however, how that one of her boys is autistic. I have met him - albeit briefly - and it wasn't something that was obvious to me or that would have been an issue even if it was. So when she told me he's been excluded from a friend's party and that other children don't come to his birthday parties I was so angry. I just don't understand why other people's discomfort is paramount in treating a child this way. Ok so he might not eat the same food as the others so he will bring his own. He might prefer not to take part in all the activities, but that's ok isn't it ? Why choose not to invite him rather than try to meet his needs so that he can participate ?

We have friends whose son has sensory issues and they are currently looking at whether or not he is on the autistic spectrum. We have known them and him for many years. While Brown Bear would dearly love to invite this boy to his birthday party we have spoken to his parents and they have told us he wouldn't enjoy it and it would be a struggle so we arrange to have smaller one to one play dates instead. My boy and theirs play side by side and if he needs space he goes and Brown Bear leaves him to it. We respect their advice on how to best be around their son and we talk to our sons about what we have planned so they know what to expect. I don't consider this to be difficult to do, but clearly other people struggle with it.

Then today when I went swimming at lunchtime one of the women who I see there all the time was in a grumpy mood. I asked if she was ok and she said, "No, I'm not actually." and proceeded to explain why. It was a petty minor thing so I sympathised and then got on with my swim. An hour later in the changing room she was still in a mood about it and was carrying on about how this young man in the pool had really upset her by jumping in and it had upset her so much. I nodded and said, "I'm sure he didn't mean to upset you." She was determined to be upset about this and carried on. Then she made a comment about him along the lines of, "Well he has autism doesn't he ?" That did it. I was not taking that and said, "What does that have to do with it ?" She went on to say he should not be working there if he had, 'health issues," and I told her that was inappropriate and not to continue down that line. I know this young man and his parents, I teach his mum yoga. When she told me her son with autism worked at the pool I had no idea who she meant for ages. I wasn't looking specifically for him, but I can honestly say he doesn't have any obvious mannerisms or behaviours that would mark him as different at all. It surprised me that this woman would mention it at all as it was irrelevant to her complaint.

When I spoke to his mum later she told me he had apologised to the woman - even though he had done nothing wrong at all - and she still made a big deal about it. I am beyond annoyed at the woman for thinking she had a right to suggest he shouldn't work and that he had behaved incorrectly because of his autism. I know that he is fully qualified to do his job and that he has all the support he needs to ensure he can manage that job and from seeing him at work most days I also know he has a great rapport with people. Her having a bad day is no excuse for this sort of scapegoating. However, the use of mental health to justify downright ignorance is rife. I often hear people use terms such as, "a bit OCD," when what they mean is fussy. Or they will refer to someone as, "on the spectrum" when what they mean is they are socially awkward or just not their cup of tea.

Being considerate and thoughtful is one of the qualities I really want to instil in my children. That means to all people, not just those who look or act like them. If I meet someone who makes me feel uncomfortable do I just choose not to have anything to do with them to make it easier for me ? Well if I feel threatened by them in any way I might do that, but my preferred mode is to see what we have in common. I was leaving Waitrose with a big cup of tea the other evening and I saw a woman sitting on the ground with a thin blanket, but no jacket or jumper on. I thought about it for a few seconds then went over and said, "do you want a cup of tea ?" She smiled and thanked me. I apologised that I hadn't got any sugar and she said it didn't matter and wished me a lovely evening. I don't know her. I don't know anything about her. In that moment she looked like she needed a hot drink more than I did.

Isn't being kind the right choice every time ?

Friday, 21 July 2017

Postcards from Cornwall

I'm not big on sending postcards really. I find that they often arrive long after we've come home and I'm not convinced that anyone really wants them these days. Facebook has enabled us to all share our own images of places we've been to so those revolving racks outside souvenir shops appear to gather dust as people bypass them. We once received a postcard about 2 years after it was posted during my sister's honeymoon. I remember being very surprised that it made it at all after so long.

The other reason I don't always buy postcards it because they don't necessarily capture what I want to share about the place. I bore most people with how much I love Cornwall and the specific things that I love don't always feature on the souvenir items. Here are some highlights from our most recent visit.

On our first night we went for dinner in Looe to a place called Cornerstone. It's an american style diner - which appeals to Hubbie - and the milkshakes alone are worth a visit. I can also - however - recommend the veggie burger.

amazing milkshakes 
Excellent veggie burger 
In the morning I went for a run. We were staying near woodlands and the Deerpark area is stunning - as is so much of the area.

beautiful deerpark lake 
We took a drive to Polperro to explore and it reminded me a little of Portmerion in Wales. The scenery is just breathtaking. Brown Bear asked if he could touch the water so I let him carefully walk down the steps to the waterside and Blue Bear warned, "Be careful, it's dangerous."

Polperro fishing village

Polperro is stunning 

On the walk back to the car park we spotted the model village with signs of train lines - a favourite of the boys. They were really keen to take the Polperro Tram - it's nothing like the ones where we live.

Lovely model village 
Polperro tram 

The weather predictions weren't too promising one day so we decided on a nature day and visited Golitha Falls. I have no idea why I thought Fitflops would be the ideal footwear for a walk in the woods, but we did enjoy it very much. Blue Bear wasn't keen to go too far so he stayed with Hubbie and played pooh sticks while me and Brown Bear followed the falls until it became a bit too treacherous underfoot.

Arty self portrait 

Golitha Falls 
I've mentioned many times how much I love the Eden Project at Bodelva. I visited when it first opened and have been a regular visitor for the last 5 years watching it develop and change with each visit. Last year we went to see Manic Street Preachers perform at the Eden Sessions and it was fantastic. I never tire of this place and on this visit Blue Bear seemed to really enjoy himself. He loved the plants, the activities and even spent time in the rainforest biome admiring the waterfall.

Eden Project 

Learning about climate

Our last full day was spent at Lappa Valley. The clear winner of best family day out for us. To get there you take a steam train - we travelled with an engine called Ruby - and once you arrive there is a boating lake, a diesel train, electric cars, a huge playground and crazy golf. My boy love it here - yes that includes Hubbie. He even suggested we take a later train back to make time for an ice cream !

Ruby the steam engine at Lappa Valley 

lunch at Lappa Valley 
Massive castle play area 
On the way back from Lappa we had time for one last stop so we decided to visit Fowey (pronounced "foy"). It's a steep walk down to the sea, but it's worth it for the views. Also we went to the best fish and chip shop ever. It's attached to the brewery so they sell alcohol and the chips are delicious ! Definitely recommended.

Fowey - pronounced "foy"

I'm so pleased we decided to visit some new and different places this holiday. The boys are taking more of an interest and it's fun to take them exploring. We even had good enough weather for an afternoon on the beach and they both paddled in the sea. I hope that's what they remember when they look back on their childhoods.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Wish you were here ? I bet you don't !

I grew up in a family that didn't take holidays. If my mum was able to save up she would book a caravan for a few days in North Wales or Devon. We'd be driving all day with nothing to do in the car and would always arrive late (usually in the dark) and would pretty much all complain the whole time. I consider holidays with my kids now to be my karmic reward for this. When we go away I pack the car, arrange for someone to feed Neo and Hubbie charges up the kids' devices so they are busy during the journey. We always leave early to get to our destination during the day and try to get the boys settled as quickly as possible. Once we've located the nearest play area I can unpack and put on the kettle.

The last time we went way was at Christmas and the boys were a nightmare. They argued and fussed all day every day and it was just horrible. At one point I told Hubbie to just get the train back home as his complaining was almost as bad as they boys' behaviour. He stuck it out and we had a miserable time. So what possessed me to book to go away again ?

Well, I noticed that all the families at my son's school have plans for the summer and they pretty much all involve going abroad. We don't take the kids abroad yet, but we do try and get away for at least a week over the summer. In the last few years we've been going to Cornwall because it's so beautiful and there is so much to see and do. There are places we all love to visit like Lappa Valley and then the Eden Project which I am a massive fan of and I bribe the boys to go to with the promise of a pasty for Hubbie and big slabs of homemade cake for the boys.

We're staying a lovely cottage in a part of Cornwall we've not been to before. Yesterday we went to a beautiful fishing village then spent the scorching afternoon on a beach with they boys paddling in the sea and then playing in the sand. It was pretty much what I had hoped for. There are young children living here who knock on the door to play with the boys and yesterday when we got back from the beach they had a paddling pool out so our boys jumped in with them and had a great time before dinner.

They woke up this morning and were playing and mucking about together - which is great, ast least we don't have to supervise them every moment. I got them to sit for breakfast and put some bacon under the grill for Hubbie. I had managed to cut the bread using the bluntest knife since those kids' knives you get in Ikea and made myself a tea. Hubbie took the bread I'd hacked for my breakfast and I eventually sat down to a stone cold cup of tea, mostly burnt toast and a not quite cooked egg - yummy !

We used to have holidays that involved drinking on the plane and staying in bed until we wanted to get up. Breakfast made by someone else. Lunch with cocktails or wine. Dressing up to go out in the evening. Tours and walks in the local area and not a play park in sight. I rarely visited a supermarket for cereal, plasters or colouring pencils. Everyone keeps telling me, "they're not young for long," or, "enjoy it," and my personal favourite, "It gets worse when they are older." Oh joy.

Well. I've got to pack a coolbag with drinks and snacks so they don't have to go any length of time without consuming something. They will still insist on buying something to eat anyway. Probably ice cream. Oh well we are on holiday I suppose.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Beautiful Brighton beach huts 
I was lucky enough to get some 'me-time' this weekend. Now I know that previous generations scoff at the idea, but with the long holiday coming up I realised I hadn't had a break away from the children since October last year. I love my boys - of course I do - but being with them every single day is wearing and tiring and frankly you can have too much of a good thing. Assuming your idea of a good thing is bickering, random shouting, screams and boisterousness.

Masts and skyline
Often me and Hubbie struggle to find babysitting so we can't always go to shows together. On the last 4 occasions that I've had tickets for Stewart Lee we've gone together twice and I've been once on my own and Hubbie went without me when Brown Bear was unwell and insisted on me staying home with me. I held out until the last possible opportunity then a kindly friend stepped in. I was gutted to miss it though. So now if we see a gig we want to go to we try and arrange to go together, but sometimes it just isn't possible. This is how I came to be at an Eddie Izzard gig in Brighton and decided to stay over and make a weekend of it by myself.

Me and my Mum on the West Pier
Like a lot of fellow Londoners I love Brighton. I've been visiting since I was a tiny baby when my parents would drive down - usually on the weekend of a vintage car rally so we'd end up stuck in traffic behind a Genevieve style motor. I went to the Grand for afternoon tea on my 40th birthday and my first husband proposed to me on a weekend staying in a boutique hotel in Regent Square. Me and Hubbie go to a two day festival at the Concorde 2 every August and one of our favourite places to eat is tucked away amongst the trippy hippie shops and chi chi coffee bars.

Sitting down to take in the sea on the prom
I have history with Brighton and any chance I get to go there I take it. My mini-break didn't start so well with me missing the train I was aiming for and then the one I was on sat outside Hayward's Heath due to animals on the track at Wivelsfield - no I am not making this up. So when I finally arrived in Brighton I went to check into my hotel - I booked to stay at the Grand, which is wonderful and luxurious as you'd expect. It is also covered in scaffolding and polythene at the moment so the room rate was heavily discounted to reflect this absence of a view from the windows. It didn't matter though as I had this gorgeous tea making set and movies on the TV !

Such a classy way to take tea 
It was a late night with a very noisy wedding reception downstairs until 1pm. At least I was able to watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show until the music finished and I was able to settle down to sleep. When I was checking in the receptionist had asked if I wanted a wake up call and I smiled at him and said, "No thank you I'll wake up naturally." Which is an odd expectation to have when I haven't woken up in a fashion I'd call 'natural for nearly 7 years. It was with what I can only describe as poetic irony that I found myself wide awake at 6am with no idea what the weather was like outside. I decided to go for a run and it was just beautiful - and already quite warm. Such a lovely start to my day.

Stunning Brighton Beach in the early light 
After a leisurely breakfast I went back to my room (sorry, I mean suite) to listen to the Archers omnibus. I usually listen while cleaning the kitchen or bathroom and I rarely give my full attention to the radio. On this occasion, however, I was able to relax and settled down with a cup of tea that I drank before it went cold. Oh the bliss. I'm not the best at seeing when I need to take a break and will often keep going long after I've run out of energy. This weekend was a chance to recharge and to spend time in a place that I really love. I won't leave it so long in future. 

West Pier - sadly a mere skeleton now 

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Top cat - he's the boss cat.

You know how you don't notice people close to you getting older ? One day the kids are tiny and then seemingly in the blink of an eye all their trousers are too short and their shoes are too tight. I remember going to the funeral of an elderly aunt and as I parked up at the crematoriam I spotted my Mum with an old man sitting in her car. I asked my sister who the old guy was and she said, "That's Dad." I hadn't seen him for a few months since he'd stopped dying his beard hair and with his turban covering his hair I just didn't recognise him. It was a bit of a shock.

Up on the roof

Recently a few people have remarked on Neo's advancing years and have asked what we have planned for when he's no longer with us. Now I know there is no intention to be unkind, but I just don't think of him as an old cat. In my mind he's practically kitten-like in his leaping onto the neighbour's wall to sunbathe all day and his plaintive miaowing for food hits decibels previously only heard at a Metallica gig.

I know people make comments about pets being part of the family, but Neo really is. He sleeps on Brown Bear's bed and is an excellent childminder, giving the boy hard stares if he doesn't settle down to sleep without fuss. He always used to check on the boys when they were small and gave them a wide berth when they were at tail-pulling age. He's no fool that feline.

Relaxing on my beanbag
Then I noticed he's not grooming himself as fastidiously as he used to. His claws are longer and he gets them caught in the carpet sometimes. His fur is looking distinctly yellower and while he was always a champion sleeper he's really snoozy now. The vet told me the other day that he's the cat equivalent of a human 75 year old and considering how inactive my father and father-in-law are at the same age I think he's doing pretty well in comparison.

He helps Brown Bear with homework:

He's still able to supervise train track building:

And his skills at hide and seek are legendary:

So, yes my cat is a senior now. He is showing signs of old age and does need some help to keep him comfortable. He is still, however, my first boy. I have never lost a pet by conventional means. My first dog - Tiger - was given away with the shop when my parents sold it. Yes it was a corner shop - let's not dwell on that for too long shall we ? We were assured the new owners were animal lovers, but I would have rather he came with us. My first cat Tibby was run over on the main road and my Mum told me when I got home from school. My parents aren't emotional about pets so they just don't get why I am so attached to Neo. I don't want to consider a life without him in it. I hope I don't have to for a while yet.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Urban gardening with Honest Tea

When the weather is hot and sunny my favourite way to spend time is being outdoors. We are so lucky that we have a great garden with space for the boys to enjoy and lots of room to grow plants and fruit. In fact I have rarely lived anywhere without an outdoor space so when I was invited to the mobile garden city in Stratford East I was really keen to go. The eyewatering early start was mitigated by the sunshine and some refreshing organic drinks to try.

The drinks company Honest has partnered with Groundwork to champion green spaces and urban gardening and to encourage everyone to connect with nature. I've lived in London for most of my life and I can see why new research has revealed that Londoners believe their daily life would be improved if they had easier access to green space, could spend more time outdoors and were able to grow their own herbs, fruit and vegetables.

We heard from Groundwork volunteers and staff about local school groups and families who come to the site to garden and grow food and local restuarants are also using produce grown here - we even harvested some rhubarb that was to be included in a menu later. TV presenter Julia Bradbury talked to us about the benefits of outdoor spaces and growing food and has created a new 'must have' item for my wish list - an outdoor shower. Who knew it was so easy to bring my favourite holiday feature to a suburban garden ?

Having taken a break for some fresh fruit and to try the organic fruit tea drinks we took part in a craft activity to upcycle the empty honest bottles into hanging planters. I'm not the best crafter, but even I managed to follow the instructions for this and I'm quite pleased with the finished item. With help I think my boys could make these and it is an excellent way to reuse a bottle.

I've heard about urban gardens, but to see a project for real was a wonderful insight into how invaluable green spaces are. This garden will be moving to Hackney Wick so the families who use it currently can still get there. I am delighted that HONEST® has partnered with Groundwork to champion green spaces and urban gardening and to encourage everyone to connect with nature.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in conjunction with HONEST®