Little chef!

Joe cooking sausages

This evening I set up the George Foreman grill to cook some sausages for dinner. JJ had been playing with his trains since coming home from pre-school but came out into the kitchen when he heard the sound of utensils clattering and food appearing from the fridge. I went into the drawer for my new silicone tongs – bought especially for using with the grill – I’ve ruined enough non-stick surfaces in my time! JJ was with me when I bought them and took a great liking to them for some reason so when he saw them this evening he immediately wanted to get involved in turning the sausages. Obviously I didn’t want him hanging around hot surfaces and spitting sausages so I had a brainwave: out came his own portable kitchen (last year’s Christmas pressie from his maternal grandparents!) and there we have it – a mini-me!

Joe with sausages

I’m linking up with Charly at for her What’s the Story? for the first time in ages!

The meaning of life… ages and states of mind

How old

Too Young To Care?

Lately I’m finding the nature of service (particularly in cafes and restaurants) is more important to me than it used to be and therefore, I do not like being served by trendy youths who seem so wrapped up in themselves and their image that all they can see when they look at you is ‘old’ and therefore, not worthy of their interest beyond taking your order and moving on. I find it rude. I find it dismissive.

The fact is that, whilst I would never have described myself as ‘trendy’ as a youth, when I was younger I was more timid than I am now. I shied away from random conversations with strangers and never felt confident enough to engage with people I didn’t know in the day to day course of my life. My mum always used to say that she had evolved from someone who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, into a much more outspoken person in middle age – not afraid to complain or question bad service and less concerned about being ‘liked’ or judged so not scared to initiate a conversation with someone who might reject the attention.

Perhaps this is just the nature of youth but I wish that employers taking on very young people in the service industry would provide a little bit of training which involved demonstrating how to effectively engage with people. It does make a difference and have a knock-on effect because I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I would be much more likely to become a repeat visitor somewhere where I know the staff are friendly and take an interest (however minimal) in my life. It is also a fantastic skill for life, putting people on side in any number of situations and just generally spreading a bit of good karma in the world.

42 Not Out

Continuing on the theme of age and ageing, I’ve been pondering for a while on the benefits of being 42. (Level 42: the meaning of life!) The fact of the matter is that I don’t feel like a ‘middle-aged’ woman. And I don’t think I look like a middle aged woman either (although admittedly no-ones going to come running to check my id next time I roll up at the checkout with a nice bottle of Merlot). At the same time I’m not trying to be ‘down with the kids’ – I won’t be purchasing a 1D track any time soon although equally I’m not obsessed with the 80s classics. On the other hand I’m not averse to a bit of charting music – Avicii, Biffy – I’d rather be listening to Radio 1 than Radio 2 although still feel like admitting this attaches a kind of shame akin to, for example, being seen trawling the aisles of Miss Selfridge… It’s a bit like being caught between two worlds. Even more so with two little children to care for. Whilst people I went to school with are talking about their children’s secondary school admissions, I’m just getting my head round Reception class infants. Talk about late starter! But at the same time this also gives me the perception of someone ten years younger.

Just the other day I was reading another parent blog by a young woman in her twenties who has a baby under the age of one. She was describing a somewhat harried night out with her partner – their first since the baby was born. She gave some detail of the experience and in the process mentioned looking around at other couples in the restaurant they were in and noticing a couple who looked ten years older than them accompanied by a child of about 7. She described them as ‘trying to act our age’. This is a nonsense to me. The only difference between 28 and 38 can be measured in terms of knowledge and experience gained. What you like to watch, eat, listen to, do with your spare time – none of these things are defined by age although sometimes people let themselves be moulded by these stereotypes, playing out society’s expectations for fear of being labelled.  Well I say stuff labelling! Lets just start being true to ourselves!

Old friends, new connections

So today I met up with some old friends I used to work with a decade ago. My friend John and his wife Caroline have two boys age 4 and 6 and invited me to bring along JJ and EJ. Our mutual friend Louise came along too. We sat in their back garden with tea and biccies and had a great chat about old times, new times, mutual friends and acquaintances and although it wasn’t the same as going down the pub the way we would have done in the past pre-kids, that didn’t seem to matter.

In fact it occurred to me that, apart from one occasion when JJ was about 6 weeks old, and once when he was two and we stayed the weekend with my childfree friend Laura and her husband, this was actually the first time I have got together with old (pre-kid) friends with the kids in tow and I really liked it! It was pretty cool for JJ to have other kids a similar age to run around with (even though he was shy when we first arrived he soon got into the swing of it!) and EJ is just happy to dot about in the background, practicing his future white van man driving skills by reversing a Little Tykes car into a large hedge.

It seems that I have fallen straight into the trap of losing touch with old friends because of the kids, although to be fair these early years of their lives (before the age of 4, I’m thinking) it is difficult to get your head round social meet ups (knowing that you would probably have to have some sort of court stenographer along to keep reminding you of the first half of the sentence you were just so rudely interrupted from) and you do fear to stray too far from home and from the people who have been with you on the same parenting ride from the beginning.

But there is a whole world out there of re-connections. And maybe some of the re-connections will be with childfree friends who, when you think about it, you would love your kids to get to know – because it seems weird that people who are special to me and who I’ve shared amazing and intimate times with in my life are complete strangers to them.


On new age spirituality (and why its not for me)


On writing about living styles yesterday I did a little bit of research in an attempt to discover if the way we tend to live in nuclear family units in the UK is the norm throughout the world or whether there are first world countries out there where there is less emphasis on small families or singletons living in isolation. Obviously extended families are not uncommon (and it occurs to me now that I did actually live in an extended family growing up as my maternal grandparents lived with us from the time I was 7 years old). Other than extended family units though, the only other significantly different lifestyle I stumbled across was living in a ‘commune’ – essentially a large building or group of dwellings where groups of like-minded people, (of no particular family make up), come together, sharing communal spaces like kitchens and bathrooms, dining and living areas, and following a reciprocal programme of shared jobs around the place. At first glance this seems like a great idea but the places I came across in my search seemed to have been set up by those with, for want of a better word, a ‘spiritual’ bent: a modern day ‘hippy’ feel with communal yoga sessions; a place where you might find yourself in a room full of people gathered around a guitar, singing Kum byar whilst heating up a pan of organically grown mung beans on a solar panel.

Listen – I’m not dissing this way of life by any means – in fact, I love the idea of being able to find peace in meditation and achieving some kind of personal nirvana through aligning my body with the planets (I could be getting mixed up here…) but in my experience, not only are my arms not strong enough to maintain the ‘Downward Dog’, nor my balance good enough to keep the tree pose up for more than a few wobbly seconds, but my cynical old 21st century brain seems to experience the same kind of metaphorical wobble when faced with the prospect of abandoning the here and now, hustle and bustle and constant movement of daily life in order to drop into a nice calm trance state. Maybe I should submit myself to a hypnotist.

How we live now…

home share

It occurred to me recently that a lot of mums who are my friends or acquaintances have similar gripes regarding the division of labour within their household. It seems to be completely commonplace for the woman to take on the lion’s share of household chores, cooking (although I know this is one area where some men prefer to be in charge – not in my house unfortunately!) and childcare. We are the ones who automatically find ourselves trying to figure out whether to go back to work after maternity, full time, part time or not at all. It seems more the exception than the rule for the man to earn less than the woman which generally means that it’s a no-brainer who drops out to pick up the childcare slack.

When the man returns home from work at the end of the day there is often an assumption, if we’ve been with the children (or at work and then with the children), we have somehow had an ‘easier’ day and therefore they are entitled to leave us to it with regards the childrens dinner time, etc.

This is nothing new and even though I’m sure there are plenty of smuggies out there who would be quick to point out that they have bagged the perfect man, cooking, cleaning and mucking in left, right and centre, I can’t help feeling that this is where we are at, moaning to each other about our partners as the children wheel and squeal around our feet at softplay before returning to our separate mini-madhouses.

The thought crossed my mind the other day that life would be so much nicer (for us women at least!) if we could abandon the traditional family unit and live together as groups of friends/families instead. It seems to stand to reason that men and women are more likely to have more in common with others of the same sex (for example, I don’t really want to listen to the football commentary on Five Live and the hubster would be in happier place without Strictly in his life).

But the main reason why this is such a great idea is the chance to be there to help each other out on a day to day basis – whether it be cooking the kids dinners, either together in a lovely sociable way, or taking turns to leave the other parent/s some quality time with the children (and stop the children from stressing out the one doing the cooking!) – or sharing out the chores, providing reciprocal babysitting and offering support when it comes to discipline.

I think it would take the pressure off everyone and probably lead to less ill feeling between couples.

If everyone pooled resources it would also lead to being able to afford a much bigger, nicer home too. It just seems like we have fallen into this society where personal property is so important to us all, and owning our own home is the ultimate goal. It would take quite a big attitude adjustment I think, especially for the men.

On a quick google search it seems like the reality of this idea is actually appealing to and working out more for single parents and I can understand why. If I became a single parent I would be totally interested in looking for a house share. For couples, its a bit more of a minefield. I think you’d have to feel 100 per cent sure that everyone likes and respects each other and be prepared to stick to some basic rules.

Right, now I’ve just got to think of a way of persuading my best friend to let me build a small house in her back garden!

Time to blog…

time to write

I’m not sure if I’m on my on my own here but my mind seems to have been leaping from thought to thought like a demented leprechaun lately. This is not particularly useful when you are trying to compose a blog post. Maybe this is the nature of work/life when you work part time and have a one year old baby and a four year old (both boys so no real downtime there!). It feels like I’m either thinking one thought on one subject at work or completely bamboozled at home by a s**tstorm of demands, requests and random four-year-old type queries (“where do crocodiles sleep, mummy?”). If its not that then I’m trying to figure out why I’ve got that uncomfortable niggling in the back of my mind (eg, “oh! My car insurance was due to be updated today!”, “whoops – just found a cervical smear reminder from 6 months ago”, etc.).

Then there’s the post-bedtime lull during which I’m supposed to let the dust settle and make sense of it all. This is the time when I start reading other people’s blogs searching for reading matter which I can identify with, or examine the various linky blog hops and try to figure out how to crowbar part of my life into one of them. Only last night I finally got to grips with #PoCoLo (“Post, Comment, Love”) at only to post my own link five minutes after the darned thing closed down. I don’t think I’ll ever be organised enough to make that one (just the 48 hour window Vicky?? ;))

The trouble is I was trained as a writer – both academically and journalistically – and, whilst I would in no way ever be able to justify referring to myself as a perfectionist, I do find myself needing to have conceived a post with a beginning, middle and end, some merit as a comment on the news/nature of life/experience as a parent etc, before I put pen to paper (or the online equivalent). I also feel the need to at least attempt to say something that hasn’t been said a million times before (or at least put a slightly different spin on it). This has become nigh on impossible in recent times, hence the great swathes of time that seem to go by between one posting and the next. Maybe this is why I’m so rubbish on Twitter – I can’t summarise a rounded thought in 140-characters – kudos to those who can!

Currently I have several half-conceived ideas on the back burner including: a ponder on the nature of ‘normal’ or acceptable living arrangements in modern day society (ie – the 2.4 kid nuclear family unit/ lone singleton/ lone parent/ lone couple etc. All a bit lonely really!); a different ponder on the joys and woes of anonymity as a writer; and a celebration of the great benefits of ‘being a bit old’.

Getting religion?

Here’s the thing: I kind of wish I was religious. I’m not. I was christened as a child but my dad is an atheist, my mum a lapsed Catholic (the nuns at her convent school put her off) and the only times I have been to church were as a Brownie, Venture Scout (mostly with a hangover for that phase – post 18!), weddings, christenings, funerals and Christmas services. I also went to a C of E school as a child and happily chirped along to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, “Lord of the Dance” etc. during Assembly. I enjoyed the Christmas Carol concerts and the magic of visiting church with the school at Christmas time and for Harvest Festival.

I was also in the (award winning!) school choir at junior school and we often put on extravaganzas based on biblical stories – Jonah and the Whale, Noah and the Flood, etc. Happy memories.

But as an adult? I find it hard to relate. I feel that I live by Christian tenets, good will to others (most of the time unless they are BMW drivers!), kindness, generosity and doing to others as I would have them do to me (or something). But the times I have been at church for non-celebratory reasons I have found myself getting a little bored and restless. I don’t really like being preached at however much goodwill there is behind it.

My maternal grandmother was brought up staunchly catholic and, although lapsed from being a regular churchgoer later in life it became clear to me how much those beliefs had stayed with her when I was in my early 20s and she told me one day that she was sorry that I wouldn’t get into heaven when I died (or something along those lines) – purely because I wasn’t a Catholic, not because of anything I’d done. It was quite hurtful at the time, because despite not believing in those imagined places of a life beyond, it felt like a massive criticism from her. And I don’t believe that its really possible to convert from no religion to any religion (it might be doable to go from one to the other?). If you are not brought up as a true believer then you are brought up as a cynic and a sceptic and realist and a “scientist”. I tend to pride myself on living my life without the mumbo jumbo.

However since having children I have really noticed the  benefits of being a church-goer: being part of a supportive community (a Christian friend told me that the members of her church would be bringing her and her husband home cooked meals for the first two weeks after their baby was born!); the choice of having your children christened which would give them the benefit of being considered a part of the Christian community in their own right (we could still do this but I feel it would be hypocritical); and the one that’s really on my mind right now – being able to get your children into a great school when the time comes.

I have recently found out that the best junior school in our area, winning an “Outstanding” OFSTED report is the Catholic one. Unfortunately I fear that our children won’t have a hope of getting in there due to our lack of religion (of any sort!). My sister actually converted to Catholicism – because her husband was brought up Catholic and she really did have an interest, but it also meant that her girls have been able to access great schools in South London.

It makes me want to sigh. I took Sociology at A Level and I remember studying the theories of Karl Marx – that religion is “the opiate of the people”. I remember having a lightbulb moment “!” – yes! Religion was designed to keep the proles from rebelling – religion was their comfort in hard times – it was a way of imparting the message to them that, no matter how bad things got in this world, they would be rewarded in the next. As far as my dad is concerned that is a complete nonsense because there is no “next world”. Personally I don’t ever think about this – I don’t want to believe there is nothing and I do believe that there is magic in the world in the form of electrical impulses and things about how our brains work that we will never truly understand – life is miraculous when you think about it. But that doesn’t mean my kids will get into a great school…

JJ’s birthday, creeping technology and pre-school learning – some thoughts

JJ’s 4th Birthday

I am 4

Last Saturday was JJ’s 4th birthday. As I have mentioned previously he was invited to a friend’s party on the day so I didn’t book a party for him. I had intended to but I procrastinated, left it too late and everything was booked up. As a celebratory event I decided we should take him to a theme park instead and we were all set to go but cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather. We had planned to raincheck to this week but the weather forecast is, once again, bad and now it looks like we won’t get around to it at all.

Having said this, JJ was excited with his presents, we went out for a birthday lunch with his paternal Grandma on the day and he enjoyed the party he went to where we all sang Happy Birthday to him as well as his friend. He also had cake and an afternoon out with my family on the Sunday so he didn’t do too badly!

Creeping technology


One of JJ’s birthday presents this year (from my mum and dad) was a Leapster GS – a handheld electronic device on which he can play some basic games, practice writing letters (of the alphabet, not epistles!) and take photos and videos. So far he has managed to write a j, a y and a t, has taken about 200 photos of knees, elbows, scenery rushing past the car window and various ceiling and floor shots, and fed a small cat some apples and a steak (or in his opinion, some tomatoes and toast) (as far as I’m aware, none of this is the staple diet of a domestic cat…).

He’s never had anything like this before and never even sat still to watch much on TV either so I wonder whether this is the start of a lifelong submersion into computer games and gadgets… At this point I’d say no, its just a novelty to him right now. Its not even a solitary activity as I’m called upon to take him back to the home screen every five seconds!

Things you need to know when you start school


This leads me on to another subject I’ve been pondering lately which is the question of what your children should know or be capable of when they start school. The recent reports in the news about children starting Reception year at school and still being in nappies, unable to speak properly or recognise their own name were a little bit surprising but nothing I’m worried about with JJ. I have even finally (fingers crossed) got him to ditch the dummy (during the day at any rate) – turning four seems to have been a turning point for him mentally in realising that he is now a big boy and not a baby or toddler anymore.

The one thing we haven’t cracked is any kind of achievement with regards reading/writing/drawing recognisable things. He can count to ten and sometimes a bit beyond but it strikes me that, if not for a week in September, he would be starting school now and seems a little bit behind some of his friends in these respects (particularly the girls). I know that they all learn and pick things up at different times and they will all be in the mix soon enough but I do feel like I should try and use the next year to get him up to speed, at least a little bit, with the letters of the alphabet for starters.

Birds of Prey

Just re-blogging this poem I wrote as a teenager for the Verily Victoria Vocalises linky Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought
Bird of prey

Birds of Prey

We drop from the sky and we come in for the kill
we never lose that feeling
the adrenaline, the thrill
the sound of the echoing death cry,
the mixture of the mortal
and immortal so appealing

Our meaning in life,  our purpose, our love,

is not for one another but for our prey
we have the power
and we never need suffer

we haunt by night and we shimmer by day

There isn’t a moment
we don’t feel the wind,
the rain and the moon,
rarely seen through the clouds,
is our brother, unearthly, immortal kin
shining through at last
like a final shroud.

Perhaps this is how it feels to be falling, slowly, deliciously, towards the rocks,
chilling, the speed at which everything changes,
a feeling closer to madness than shock,
omitting the thought that this should be appalling,
like a book omitting its final pages.

Yet we have the power of self preservation, gliding and stalling in frantic turns,
swooping and spiralling with such grace

and we have so little left to learn that our movements will seem like a practiced formation

our fatal blow, a majestic embrace.

Bit of a rant on marketing to parents

milton mini steriliser

JJ doesn’t really watch very much TV – he’s an active boy and has never had the attention span for much other than a bit of Mr Tumble and some Postman Pat every now and again. However this morning he requested Peppa Pig on Channel 5 after breakfast and before us leaving the house for the day. I was in the room finishing off my tea when the adverts came on – obviously all geared towards children and parents. Most of it washed over me but one ad made me sit up and take notice. It was for a Milton Soother Steriliser. It has probably been on the market for about a year but this was the first I’d heard of it. My first reaction was “what a brilliant idea! I wish this had been available four years ago”. Then I started thinking about it.

Firstly JJ used a dummy very soon after birth. He was a colicky baby and a dummy was pretty much the only thing that soothed him a lot of the time. When they’re very little the sterilisation issue isn’t really relevant because they are only going to be dropping it out of their mouths into cots/prams etc. However once he reached the sitting up in a pushchair/ chucking things around stage those dummies were flying all over the place, dropping out onto pavements, the floor of the supermarket, the grass at the park, etc. At that point I’m sure I began worrying about cleanliness and may have still been sterilising bottles and popped a dummy or two in with them on occasion, but on the whole, a quick swipe with a baby wipe has always sufficed.

Needless to say JJ at four and EJ at one are in the best of health, they haven’t succumbed to “bacteria, viruses, funguses and spores” (the things which Milton claim to eradicate with their little device). Maybe they’ve just got lucky? But I think not. I believe that this is just another attempt to squeeze money out of us vulnerable mums with emotive language and seemingly genuine concern for our children’s health and safety. This product sets you back £6.99 and then you have to factor in repeat purchases of the sterilisation tablets. Its really rather devious and clever when you think about it.

Only the other day I was commenting on Cleopatra’s blog post talking of all the ways in which we become neurotic when we give birth. The subject of her current neuroses is car seats and the debate over whether or not to fork out a small fortune for a rear-facing car seat. Yes the statistics show that they are the safest for your child but no, that doesn’t mean good quality forward facing seats are death traps either – a fact that most people seem to conveniently forget when criticising you for your penny pinching.

My children have done without: baby monitors; any kind of cot motion sensor; stairgates; and child safety locks on cupboards to name a few items generally considered to be parenting “must-haves” and neither has suffered. It may mean that we have needed to be more vigilant but what’s wrong with that? Engaging more with your children and teaching them to be careful and safe isn’t such a bad thing!

Anyway, if this post can dissuade just one person to let go of their anxieties, resist the brainwash and back away from the dummy steriliser then my work here is done!!