Thursday, 20 December 2012

PEGI Family Gaming Ambassador Challenge (1)

(Sponsored Post)

It's fair to say that, as a family, we love video games, and we play together on our Wii console, as well as I guess individually on PCs etc. The age at which my daughters had great mouse control is, frankly, terrifying, but I guess they are part of a generation with computers in their blood.

While I have always, however, been very conscious of making sure that I limit their screen time, and supervise what they are up to, it is probably fair to say that I'm also conscious of having to stay one step ahead of them when it comes to controlling what they do. When the lovely folks over at the Ask About Games website therefore asked me if we'd be interested in becoming Family Gaming Ambassadors for them,   I jumped at the chance to find out a bit more about how we could get the most out of gaming as a family.

The have provided us with an Xbox 360 with Kinect, and a Flip camera to document our progress over several challenges that I hope will be both fun and informative.

The first challenge was a series of questions around how well we knew the PEGI video game age ratings. I'll be honest - I thought I was pretty au fait with them, but once I got the questions I realised that there was quite a bit I didn't know! For example, I only just found out that PEGI stands for Pan European Game Information, and quite frankly, I couldn't really answer the questions without looking up the answers on Ask About Games!

The first challenge was in two parts - firstly, to answer a series of questions:

1) How many PEGI ratings are there?
A) There are five age ratings; 3, 7, 12, 16, 18

2) Which 3 PEGI age ratings are legally enforceable?
A) The 12, 16 and 18 ratings are legally enforceable for retailers - 3 and 7 are advisory only.

3) How many PEGI Content Descriptor icons are there?
A) Content Descriptors explain a little bit more about why something has been given a particular rating. There are 8 in total

4) What does the Spider icon mean?

A) It means "Fear" - i.e. it might be frighening for younger children (handy to know, as my younger daughter is quite sensitive!)

5) What does the Fist icon mean?

A) It means that the game in question will include depictions of violence.

6) Parental Controls are available on Smart Phones; True or False?
A) True.

7) Parental Control features on a video games console can be used to control the amount of time that your child plays on the device per day? True/False?
A) True. This is an absolute GODSEND for me to have found out, especially when it comes to no.1 daughter, who is notoriously difficult to wrench away from games!

The second part of the challenge was for us to set up Parental Controls on our Xbox. You can see how I got on below:



Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Other Things That Are Wasted on Other People

(Catchy title, eh?)

Following on from a comment on my previous post about maternity leave being wasted on babies, it seemed like a good opportunity to follow up with a light-hearted look at some of the other things that might also be wasted on other groups of people:

- Sex drives are wasted on teenagers. Because really - let's face it - the eager/horny little puppies don't really know what to do with themselves. By the time we've had enough practice to actually do it properly without being too hung up on our bodies, real life intervenes. Work stresses, having to pay a mortgage and - heaven forbid you've had enough sex to reproduce - children and the tiredness they cause don't do vast amounts for the libido. Sad, but true.

Honeymoons are wasted on newlyweds. Following on from the previous point (and thank you to May Day for this one) - what you need after several years of the rat race and general drudgery is a holiday of a lifetime. A two-week blow-out, just the two of you, somewhere exotic where you can rekindle the passion of the heady first few months and spend time away from being just mummy and daddy. Problem is, it's generally frowned upon to go off gallivanting for two weeks in the Caribbean when you should be taking the offspring to a Cornish campsite like everyone else. Even assuming you have babysitters willing to put up with the little darlings, you've probably spent all your money on nappies and gin and can't afford it anyway.

- Requirements for little sleep are wasted on the elderly. My parents are retired. Yet they are often up and about at the same time as me in the mornings. Through choice! No alarm rousing them for work, no kids jumping on their heads. No, apparently once you are retired, you get urges to empty dishwashers at 7am. Again, this is patently unfair. Morning sprightliness should be the reserve of those of us who have to go and earn a crust. If we can't look forward to long lie-ins in our old age, what is there to look forward to? Mind you, the link between early mornings and falling asleep on the sofa after lunch does seem to be a strong one...

- Money is wasted on footballers. I don't think I really need to say much more about this one.

- Fast cars are wasted on middle-aged men with paunches and moustaches. They look silly, but they're the only ones who can afford them. Why couldn't I have an Aston Martin when I was 25?!

- A collection of killer heels is wasted on us home workers. *Sigh*

Go on, I bet you can think of a few more examples?

Blue Sky Thinking

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Maternity Leave is Wasted on Babies

Babies, eh? Cute little, adorable, needy creatures that rely completely on you, and you alone for all their needs. Right?

Wrong.

Apart from the whole breastfeeding thing (let me state at this point that I'm a big advocate, so this is a major flaw in my entire argument, but we'll handily gloss over that for the sake of my argument), let's face it, most babies couldn't give two hoots who provides them with clothing, nappy changing, feeding, bedding, bathing etc etc. Anyone can do it. Yeah, ok, there's a certain bonding element, but you're not going to love your child any less simply by outsourcing some of these activities to someone else on occasion.

Babies are fundamentally boring in the very early days, and not even you broody types can tell me otherwise. For the first few weeks, all they really do is pooh, cry, feed and sleep-at-all-times-except-when-you-really-want-them-to.

Number 2 daughter proves the benefits of box-sleeping
I remember before I had children of my own, a colleague with two daughters who were then roughly the same age as my own two daughters are now said to me that secretly she wished she could have had her maternity leave then, instead of when they were tiny. While to some it may be sacrilegious to admit it, I can totally see her point.

Now that my children are at school, I hear a lot of mums who have stayed at home until now say to me that it might be time they also now looked for a job. My tongue-in-cheek advice to them; don't do it. Yes, you may have a couple of extra hours free in the day while your offspring are at school, but believe me, you will need this time to do all the added administration that comes with school-age children. Dentist appointments, playdates, after-school clubs and school forms don't magically arrange themselves!

Then of course, once they have finished with the school day, there are extra-curricular pick-ups and drop-offs to be negotiated. A logistical nightmare with more than one child, as you can guarantee they won't ever be in the same place at the same time. Hockey practice will clash with choir rehearsals, and Brownies will never handily be at the same time as Rainbows... Plus there's always the odd child who will insist on having a birthday party on a school day. Try telling a 5 year old that they have to go to after-school club instead of a birthday party because mummy's working!

Plus, one major (dis)advantage a school-age child has over a baby is of course the power of speech. Yeah, so maybe your baby will cry when you drop them off at nursery or with a childminder, but a nice cinnamon latte with your colleagues later, and you kind of get over any guilt you're feeling. A child, however, can look you in the eye and ask the question all working parents dread; "WHY MUMMY?". Why can't you drop them off at school every day, why do they have to go to childcare, why can't you come and help in class, why can't you come on a trip... They're manipulative little beasts that know exactly which buttons to press and which heartstrings to tug for maximum effect.

And yes, they are actually more fun - you can do so much more together! My daughters like rollercoasters, and music and riding bikes, just like I do.

Finally, working full-time is a real bummer for your social life. How are you supposed to accept invitations to blogging events, pop round to your neighbour's for a cuppa and a natter, or meet up with lovely blogging friends if you have to book a day's holiday to do it?!

So, yeah, maternity leave is wasted on babies. Who's going to sign my petition?



Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Made in the UK

Eldest daughter and I had a conversation a while ago about how lots of things these days were made in China, which must have stayed in her mind a little bit, for she came into our bedroom the other morning and declared that she had found something that wasn't made in China, namely her pillowcase, which was made in Pakistan.

This led into a lengthy conversation about what other countries manufactured, and how some countries specialised in certain goods - e.g. "all the best watches are made in Switzerland".

"Yes", came the inevitable question, "but what is made in England?". "Lots of things", I replied, quickly racking my brains. "I tell you what, I'll go through the house and show you all the things I can think of off the top of my head".

So I did. Here, therefore, is a completely, random, unscientific post of things made in the UK (yes, I'm going slightly wider than "England") that I came across on a random morning - deliberately excluding food.

First, there were the obvious handmade items, like my lovely jewellery from Natalia Lovat:


Easy.

I was also grateful to see that a few of my cosmetics were made in the UK:


as were the tissues for my snotty nose:



...and when I had my mid-morning cup of tea, at least my kettle and mug were home-grown:


This probably indicates how old my kettle is, more than the state of British manufacturing!

I'm not sure this is scientific enough to really draw any conclusions from, but it was certainly an interesting exercise for both me and my daughter, and it's made me wonder whether I need to make a more active effort to think about the heritage of something, as I already do with the food I buy.

____
(not in any way sponsored!)

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Something always gives

A strong part of the reasons why I went back to work after having children was that fundamentally I'm the kind of person that gets easily bored. I don't think anybody who has ever stayed at home with a newborn can deny that, while there can undoubtedly be extremely rewarding, there are also long periods of tedium involved. And, as we have previously established, I'm not really the kind of person that finds the whole baby group and coffee morning round an easy one to negotiate. I just thought it was nice to think about some other things for a while, and work seemed like a ready-made, easy way out.

I've also spent my entire career in a relatively fast-paced, high-tech, multi-national environment. Conference calls at odd times of the day, juggling the needs of the Egyptians vs the needs of the Austrians kind of seemed like second nature. I can therefore kid myself that children and childcare is therefore just another ball that I need to keep up in the air. I make lists for everything, and I probably couldn't function without putting absolutely everything into my Outlook calendar and relying on the little reminder windows that pop up to keep me on track. It helps that I have a reasonable memory that is forever ticking through its own mental lists too. It's not easy, but I'm masochistic enough to enjoy the variety and the challenge. 

Mostly, anyway. 

If all of that sounds too good to be true, then here comes the but. 

Doing a full day's work, making sure the kids have clean clothes, have done homework, have got Brownies uniform, making sure the bills are paid...etc etc... All of the things that are necessary purely just for us to function as a household come at a price; namely, that the house is a complete mess, and relies on other people coming to stay for it to be in a vaguely tidy/clean condition.

I've partly come to terms with the fact that my home will never be the showhome I envisage in my head. (Part of me holds on to the fact that it's a rebellion against the showhome-like qualities of my parents' home.) Dishes are destined to be sat on the side ready for the dishwasher to be emptied, clothes will be on chairs, toys not in their place. And don't get me started on the paperwork. Oh, God, the endless piles of paperwork waiting to be filed...

It doesn't have to be like this, I occasionally tell myself. It doesn't help that a good friend of mine manages to hold down a stressful job as a lawyer AND have a permanently immaculate house. (Although she only has one, apparently tidy, child. Grr.) Spurred on by her good example I occasionally go through bouts of manic tidying, or go out and buy another self-help book that promises eternal salvation:



Yeah. Guess what? Not read it yet. It's hidden under a pile of paperwork. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Review - Barbie Photo Fashion Doll

The lovely folks at Mattel were kind enough to send us a Barbie Fashion Doll for review recently. As I have two big Barbie fans in the house, I of course jumped at the chance. It's not the cheapest Barbie in the world (RRP £69.99), but has rather a neat trick up its sleeve - or should I say t-shirt? - namely the fact that as well as being a Barbie doll, it also doubles up as a fully functioning digital camera, which displays the images taken on Barbie's t-shirt. As seen on TV, and "very cool", apparently.

The box duly arrived:



and the kids spent a long time trying it out:



...and generally having a lot of fun. It's biggest plus point is definitely that it is fairly robust, and fairly intuitive for the intended age-range to use (it is recommended for 6+, although my 5 year old seemed happy taking snaps, I think some of the finer points of the effects were a little lost on her, so it's probably a reasonable recommendation).

The next morning we hooked the Barbie up to the computer to take a look at the fruits of their labours. The doll has an accompanying website/programme that makes viewing pictures and adding effects a tad easier than on the doll itself. I have to say that it wasn't necessarily obviously straightforward, as it required a download of Adobe Air, which wasn't mentioned in the instructions.

At this point, if I'm honest, the doubts started to creep in. The photos themselves are very small and not great quality. There is also no flash, so intended for daylight only, or for taking photos of the TV (!):

gratuitous Robin Windsor topless
(actual pictures taken with doll)

So, as cameras go, it's not really great. Fine for a child that doesn't know what to expect from a camera, but kids these days are pretty tech savvy, so a lot of room for improvement in my opinion.

Also, as eldest daughter remarked, "it's not really a proper Barbie either, as you can't even change her clothes". I can't help thinking that for the price of the doll, you'd be better off buying a "standard" Barbie plus a basic digital camera.

Sorry, Barbie.

____
Disclosure: we were provided with a Barbie Photo Fashion doll, all opinions our own.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Introvert's Guide to Parenting

I like solitude. I generally like my own company, even though I sometimes worry about the slightly nuttier depths of my overactive imagination. All of that is kind of fortunate really, as I spend a lot of time working from home, devoid of any sort of human contact other than that which comes as a disembodied voice on the other end of a phone. I appreciate it would probably drive seriously extroverted types completely bonkers, but being happily far along the introverted scale, it suits me down to the ground.

There's only one slight snag to this whole thing, however - you see, I went and had children.

The discomfort starts with pregnancy - all of a sudden, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers start to make small talk about intimate details of your anatomy. Doctors and health workers poke around in places normally reserved only for the most intimate moments. Your body is suddenly no longer your own, and sometimes you wonder if your mind is, either.

Maybe you start going to ante-natal classes. More complete strangers you suddenly find yourselves thrown together with. Actually though, you think, it's not too bad. At least you have something in common, so the small talk comes fairly easily. Heck, even the dads start showing an interest and doing a spot of male-bonding over their collective fertility.

The general indignity of the actual birthing process passes you by in a haze of gas and air. "Student midwives? Hell, yeah - the more the merrier! Come and look at the stitches on this!"

The first few weeks are weepy and sleep-deprived, and you wish you still had that gas and air handy. But, generally, people at least appreciate that you kind of have your hands full, and are happy to ask if you need help or appreciate company. Soon, however, there comes a point when you can no-longer use newborn chaos to delay your return into society.

Then comes the dreaded baby group.

Is there anything worse for an introvert than the prospect of a noisy room full of other people and wailing children? You don't want to seem like too much of a grump, but really all you want to do is quietly read your book in a corner while little Tarquin* plays with the building blocks. That would be "weird" though, so you reluctantly feign interest in conversations about nappies, weaning and sleep patterns.

Really though, it's not that bad. Worse is yet to come. Your children start to communicate with you in ways other than screaming red faces. And once kids start to talk they generally don't stop much. Permanent chatter fills your home from the time they get up to the time they pass out from over-stretched vocal chords. The endless questions wear you down as much as any arguing or shouting (if someone could invent a volume button for children, please?) and the endless chatter. Oh God, the endless chatter. The commentary about EVERY LITTLE THING makes you idly wonder if someone would employ them to do those audio descriptions for deaf people. Still, they're your kids, you love them, and they can be kind of amusing at times, so you kind of forgive them and put up with it, silently looking forward to the days when they toddle off to childcare or school.

Rookie mistake.

Yes, the start of school gives you more time to yourself, but it also brings with it the introverts greatest fear; OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN. Your own children will insist on inviting them round as play dates, where they will jointly cause absolute chaos in your homely sanctuary.. No longer can you ignore the infantile whys and hows as you can with your own kids - you have to show an interest in the little dears, despite the fact you patently really don't have much interest in them other than as playmates to keep your own children from bothering you.

So, one day, when your now 5 year old youngest daughter states that she doesn't "like people talking AT her", you smile, and advise her under your breath never to have children of her own...

Source
(*just stating for the record that Tarquin is not the name of either of my daughters)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Alternatives to Boden...

(Don't worry, I'm not going to make a habit of this fashion blogging lark, there are those that do it WAY better than I do, but seeing as, along with "jokes for kids", "Alternatives to Boden" seems to be something a lot of people visit my blog to find I'm totally abusing the SEO malarkey. Or something. Anyway, it's just an excuse for pretty pictures on my blog.)

I can't seem to move for autumn/winter fashion catalogues popping through my door at the moment, a lot of them from companies I confess I have not previously heard of. Testament to the fact I obviously haven't ticked the right box somewhere along the line, and I am on some sort of database with a header at the top that says "Women No Longer In The First Flush of Youth With A Reasonable Disposable Income That Are Suckers For Companies That Sell Them That Effortlessly Stylish Lifestyle". However, I have to say this is one form of junk mail I don't really object to.

I don't go out shopping much any more, and when I do it is somehow always seems to be with kids in tow, which, as anyone can tell you does not equate to a pleasurable browsing experience. Besides, my days of sweating and huffing in a Top Shop changing room are long gone. As with my grocery shopping therefore, most of my clothes shopping is done online these days.

Since I hardly go in the office any more, I don't really need to dress up (although I miss my killer heels, it's nice not to have to make an effort all the time). However, I do occasionally have to go out and can't really do the school run in pyjamas. Time for the "mumiform"? Once you get to a certain age, you start to wonder about the suitability of what you wear. I don't want to appear as mutton dressed as lamb, but I certainly don't think I'm ready for a twinset and pearls:



Eek.

The thing is, if you really want alternatives to Boden, then the names that spring to mind (according to a quick google, anyway) are brands like Joules and Toast, neither of which I have ever been a huge fan of, if I'm honest (while I don't mind the odd pattern, I find Joules too "logo-y", and Toast clothes always seem to be on anaemic wistful models that could do with a few pies and look like they are hand knitted from mountain goats. Scratchy:

Toast

Doesn't stop either of them sending me catalogues, though.).

So what is a still 30-something woman to do if she doesn't want to look like a) her kids have used her clothes as a colouring book, or b) her mother?

Well, this season I'm mainly wearing the same clothes I've been wearing for the last 10 years loving The White Company, Mint Velvet, Phase8 and Fat Face:



But after all that I have a confession...you see today I'm actually wearing Boden...(and OMG, yes, it's beige)


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

#Twatigue


I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a grumpy cow at the best of times, and until now I've always used “online” life as a bit of an escape from the stresses of real life. What happens, however, when the tables are turned and the virtual world becomes the irritant?

I’ve written before about my love of Twitter, and how it can act as a virtual watercooler for a hermit like me who hides away works at home all day. A recently study apparently declared Twitter to be more addicitive than heroin (don’t ask me to quote a source on that), and yes, for a long time now I’ve probably had to agree. And yet...around ten days or so ago, I “turned off” the timeline from my Twitter app, leaving only a column for @ mentions or direct messages open (you know, just in case anyone desperately couldn’t live without me).

I was probably spending way more time lurking than actually chatting anyway to be honest, and the list of apparent crimes of others that sent me into a rage seemed to get longer by the day, namely:

-LONG lists of #FF recommendations
-Retweets of long lists of #FF recommendations
-Nothing but bad news (ok, not necessarily a Twitter problem, but more a media problem in
general, but there came a point where it all just got a bit much and I had to hide my head in the
sand)
-The nagging feeling that I am permanently being sold something...
-THE SAME JOKES over, and over, and over
-“Fake” celebrity accounts doing the “RT this and I’ll follow you” – RTd by twenty different
people
-Twitter Parties/Hashtag games/Reality TV shows (and yes, I know I can be as guilty of the last
myself, so I do try and limit myself, and at least there is the option to mute)
-The urge some people feel to reply “publicly” to EVERY SINGLE COMMENT they have so that
everyone in their timeline sees every conversation. Especially if it’s praise of themselves.

So Twitter, we need some time apart. It’s probably not you, it’s me. I've been flirting with that google plus thing you know. It's much more peaceful over there...

(Hopefully a lovely Cypriot sojourn will help sort me out!)

Monday, 1 October 2012

Do we not trust men with the kids?

A study today for the Telegraph with the title Most Young Women 'Want to Have it All' caught my eye

Now, I can't pretend that I am one of the young women interviewed, as I sadly no longer fall into the 18 to 35 year old age bracket (ahem), and I can only assume that most women interviewed were early on in their careers and did not yet have families. I have to say though, that a number of points in the following paragraph did get my back up:


"However, the poll of over 1,000 young people reveals fewer women than men are willing to have their partner stay at home to look after the kids while they went out to work, suggesting those that do want to run their own business also want to play the role of housewife and mother - "having it all".


(Firstly, the assumption that women "play" the role of mother. Parenting in any form is not a role you can play. It is something that becomes a part of your persona, whether you like it or not, whether you stay at home, or whether you go out to work, whether you are a mother or a father. OK, we'll let that one slide...)

I am mainly interested that the conclusion drawn from the fact that women are less likely to be willing to have men stay at home and look after the children is that somehow this means all women are aiming to be superwomen - "having it all". Again, I do not have access to the details of the study, but the most interesting question in my mind that wasn't asked, is why this might be the case?

I am of course purely speculating, but for me, it comes down to the fact that we still live in a society where a man staying at home to look after the children is a rarity. Is it therefore just an assumption that women make without much thought? How much did the responses come from a place of "oh, he won't want to anyway"? Or is it the fact that the phrase "having it all" is only ever mentioned in conjunction with women making us into control freaks who feel we somehow should be doing it all, without letting men get a look in?

I remember joking with my friends before I had children that I would not necessarily want my husband to stay at home with the children, not because I thought he would not be able to take care of them, but because I was worried that he would not understand my expectation that not only should he be taking care of the kids, but also taking care of the house. (With hindsight I can only laugh about my naivety in thinking it was possible to get ANYTHING else done when small children were around!)

After I went back to work in the first few months of my eldest daughter's life, we did share some of the childcare and both worked four days a week - he had Mondays off, I had Fridays off - so I came to eat my words. Because, guess what? It turned out that our daughter didn't perish - he managed to feed her, clothe her, change her perfectly adequately. On some occasions, he even managed a load or two of ironing. (Shock!).

I do know of some women who cannot bear to leave their children with the fathers for even an afternoon, at least without worrying massively. It then becomes a vicious circle - the kids never spend time alone with their dads, therefore dad has less clue about the practicalities, therefore mum is more convinced that he "can't take care of them".

Nobody is born a good parent. We all learn as we go along, muddling through as best we can. While it's true that making mistakes where kids are concerned can have more serious consequences than with other examples, we can only really get there with experience. Parenting is hard enough without one party not trusting the other with the kids. It helps if you are on the same page.

I hope, for the sake of the young women in the study, and the future fathers of any children they might have, that they will change their minds and see that the only way to truly "have it all" is with support from both parents involved. If that means conceding that it's ok for men to stay at home to look after the kids, maybe it's time for women to accept that fact.


Source



Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Hobbies, Homework and Trying to Silence the Guilt.

A few unrelated things this week have got me mulling over this post that's been going round in my head for a while. I've never quite got around to posting it before now as I could never quite work out what exactly I was trying to articulate.

Before I go rambling on, I feel it's probably useful to post a remind of my general schedule: Mon-Wed I work 8.30 to 5pm, and the kids are in breakfast and after-school club from around 8am, until I pick them up just after 5. Thursdays and Fridays I am lucky enough to work a shorter day - 9 till 3, which allows me to take them to and fetch them from school.

Up until now, the kids have not been involved in the round of endless classes and hobbies that other children seem to participate in - no ballet, gymnastics, swimming, tae-kwon-do, piano lessons etc etc. We simply haven't had enough time, and it has seemed unfair to push them to what is effectively another childcare setting on a Thursday or Friday afternoon when I don't see them much beyond bath and bedtime the rest of the week.

The exception to this has been Rainbows, which one or both of them have doing on a Wednesday evening for just over a year now (mainly, I confess, down to the fact that a friend put their names down a couple of years ago when she did the same for her own daughter!). DD1 has now moved on to Brownies on a Thursday, and expressed a wish to do both gymnastics at some point and participate in the school choir, which takes place after school on a Tuesday, a day she would normally be picked up by the after-school club. After some soul-searching and logistical juggling involving my parents offering to fetch her from school and take her to after-school club, I have (perhaps somewhat reluctantly) agreed. I may yet come to regret it.

So far, so good. It will probably appease some of that working parent guilt that comes with "Oh my God, I am not letting my children reach their full potential", and hopefully they will get enjoyment out of it. However, with Year 3 comes the thorny subject of  more homework. (My feelings on this summed up quite nicely by Mostly Yummy Mummy in her post on how much she hates homework.) I can't help worrying that our non-planned time together will become even more scarce.

We recently visited some good friends of ours, whose eldest son is in a private school. From what I understand, it prides itself on academically high standards (he had to pass a sort of entrance exam to go from the infant to the junior school, for example), and rumours abound of children quietly "disappearing" to other schools if they don't quite make the grade.

As well as fencing (!), drama, chess club etc, they are also paying for their son (8) to have private tuition in Maths. He follows something called "Kumon", which apparently is very popular in his class, with most children doing at least one or both of Maths or English to ensure they keep up. (I can't help thinking that it is a bit of a vicious circle...) I am certainly not judging them at all - they have invested a lot in him going to that school, so it is in their interests to ensure he stays there, and I suspect I would probably do the same in their situation, despite my initial reaction of horror. We all want what's best for our children.

I can't help worrying that, whether it is school pressure, time-poor working parents, or time take up by too many hobbies, children these days don't have enough time to just be children. If all their hours are mapped out for them, when will they learn to be independent and explore on their own?



Thursday, 20 September 2012

An Ode to the Humble Tomato


Tomato, tomato, why do you tempt me so?
Tomato, tomato, I love you, don't you know
Tomato, tomato, I can't eat you any more,
Tomato, tomato, you make my hands so sore.

Your juicy ripe red goodness begs to be consumed
Yet my love for you, I fear, is doomed
No longer shall I you dismember
I shall have to stick to...er...cucumber.





Friday, 14 September 2012

In Which I Admit My Morning Shortcomings

I'm a Libran. Now, I'm putting this out there because, according to the wisdom that is Astrology, there are two traits that Librans possess that coincidentally happen to quite strongly apply to me - this first one is that I'm terribly indecisive, the second is that I'm really not a fan of conflict. We Librans are (allegedly) known for our tact and diplomacy (My mother always used to say I should have joined the Diplomatic Service, but actually I've often wondered if the Diplomatic Service really is that diplomatic? After all, strikes me as all Ambassadors seem to do is get called in to be shouted at.)

Oh, I'm also quite known to digress quite a lot.

Anyhow, in nearly three (!) years on Twitter, I've never really had a massive run-in with anyone. I'm more the type to either ignore or quietly unfollow if I see something in my timeline I don't agree with, rather than start an argument. A lot of people would probably consider that terribly cowardly, but it's just not my style. For me, Twitter as a place for a bit of fun and banter, and it makes me uncomfortable when things get too "heavy".

Now, yesterday morning, I sent the following tweet:

A pretty flippant, throwaway sort of remark that was tweeted after returning red-faced and "glowing" from the school run. It seemed to go down relatively well, with various people replying, favouriting, re-tweeting etc. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I woke up this morning to find a reply that I hadn't seen from last night, accusing me of being judgemental and "unsisterly". I thought about it, and to be honest, it is probably a fair point.

Now, don't get me wrong, I happen to like wearing make-up. I try not to look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards. I try to throw a minimal amount of eyeshadow and mascara on my face and show my hair a hairbrush, but I am genuinely in awe of those who go further than this every morning. Those that wear as much make-up on the school run as I would on a typical night out (oh, and don't get me started on those that wear foundation with lycra! To the gym?! Why?! How?!)
I confess that one of my best"mum friends" prompted the tweet yesterday. She has a five-year old, a 3 year-old and a FOUR WEEK OLD, yet still managed to wear full eye make-up, foundation, blusher and lipstick. I honestly don't know how she does it.

This morning ran roughly as follows in the Tin house:

6.30 Alarm goes off
6.35 Drag self out of bed, go downstairs, make coffee and toast for husband (yes, yes, I know, I'm a SUCKER for making his breakfast, but quite honestly I like to drink my coffee in peace for ten minutes while listening to the radio, so it suits me). Check Twitter.
6.40 DD1 (7) appears, still in pyjamas, demanding milk and toast. (Unusually early for her, she's normally the last one up, around 7)
6.55 DD1 demands that I play Mikado with her, I fob her off.
6.59 Husband leaves house.
7.00 DD2 (5) appears, thankfully dressed in school uniform, but also demanding toast. Make third lot of toast.
7.01 DD1 still demanding game of "pick-up sticks". I grudgingly agree. Play Mikado.
7.10 Try and get DD2 to read reading book. (Yes, I know, should have done this last night.).
7.20 Make self porridge. Wolf it down. Check Twitter.
7.25 Put on fourth round of toast. Leave children eating it and mutter something about getting dressed and head upstairs. Shower. Head back downstairs to find children dancing to One Direction.
7.40 Nag DD1 to get dressed. Compromise by promising to put music on upstairs.
7.50 Get self dressed, apply minimal eye make-up.
7.55 Repeatedly nag children to brush teeth. Check Twitter.
8.05 Children finally brush teeth
8.07 Tell DD2 to fetch dry tights as she has spilled water all over them
8.15 Repeatedly nag children to put shoes and coats on.
8.20 Leave house.
8.50 return to house, flustered and probably in need of another shower...

On a Monday-Wednesday, when the children go to breakfast club, this pattern is pretty similar, but on a more compressed basis, with higher-pitched nagging (seriously, can anyone tell me why I pay for my children to go to "breakfast" club if they eat one at home anyway?).

So, women who manage to put on your full face in the morning - yes, I still think you're freaks, but, let's face it, it's only because I'm jealous...

If all else fails, just add celebrity sunglasses

Monday, 10 September 2012

Random Thoughts of the Week - The Autumn Has Broken Edition

- It seems this past weekend was officially The End of Summer in the UK if the weathermen are to be believed. With the promised onset of the dreaded rain and gale-force winds, it seems like the perfect opportunity to go camping again for one last time this year next weekend - oh, and just in case there is the slightest possibility that the weekend may, against expectations, remain dry, it seems we'll be spending a day canoeing to ensure that we get wet anyway. Eek. Wish me luck.

- Back to school seems to have been less painful than perhaps I had anticipated. There's a lot to be said for being overly dramatic and fearing the worst with things; when the apocalypse doesn't happen it leaves you in a much happier state!

- I'm actually ready to start wearing jumpers and scarves and (whoop! new!) jackets! At least it feels like it's about the right time to do so (rather than just having to do so because of our rubbish summer). It's also got me thinking that I really must clear out my wardrobe...

- My mind is full of interior design ideas, and this time I have a proper, bona-fide outlet for them!

- Thoughts are turning to blackberry and apple crumble...pies...mmmm....custard...

Not long now!

Please remind me of all of these points when I start moaning about the dark evenings...

Monday, 3 September 2012

How To Holiday Like A Celebrity

For most people in the UK, today is that first Monday in September that means back to school. Even David Cameron has finally come returned from his holidays and is back to running the country.

I do love a bit of people-watching, and have always found ports and airports to be useful for chance glimpses of those perhaps considered "celebrities" by some. In the past, Heston Blumenthal has overtaken me at the top of a ski slope, and on another occasion, Robbie Coltrane has lunched in the same mountainside restaurant as our party. In my previous life as a relatively regular visitor to Heathrow airport, I've come across people as random as Ruby Wax, Vivienne Westwood and "some bloke who used to be in Eastenders". With the exception of Ms Westwood, who appeared to have luggage enough for a football team (understandable, I guess) and several members of an "entourage", most of these famous types were going about their business much the same as most other people.

The ferry on the way back from Spain also happened to be one being frequented by British comedian and TV presenter Rowland Rivron, who, according to Wikipedia is a keen caravanner together with his wife Monica (author of the "caravan cookbook"). I confess I was not previously privy to this information about Mr Rivron's holiday preferences, so I was a little surprised to see his ageing Volvo pulling a caravan as we left the ferry at Portsmouth.

Again, on the boat, on the couple of occasions that I observed him, he appeared to go about his business like - gasp - any normal person.(With the exception of when I hissed loudly at my husband "THAT'S ROWLAND RIVRON" in earshot of what I realised later was his wife. Oops.)

It made me smile, therefore, when I came back to the UK to see this tweet from British TV news presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy:
Because of course, as with anything in life there is a hierarchy to celebrity and, by default to their holiday choices. Rowland Rivron had the benefit of looking and dressing like a slightly older version of my husband - a kind of everyman, if you will. Contrast this with how somebody much more in public life like a Prime Minister, or even the Beckhams, must have to holiday, and it strikes me that there is a fine balance between fame and fortune when it comes to choosing your holiday destination.

With incredible wealth comes the choice to holiday in the most luxurious destinations in the world...and yet you also find yourself ironically unable to venture much beyond the four walls of your accommodation for most of the time without being either photographed, mobbed, or being permanently accompanied by security staff. Yes, you may be staying in five-star hotels, on luxury yachts, or in your own personal holiday villa, but you can't just take your kids to the beach, see the sights or eat at the local restaurant without a great deal of inconvenience. At least our holiday plans aren't published all over the newspapers, with handy mock-ups of what our holiday snaps might look like:


Source


I think, on balance, I'd rather be Rowland Rivron in his caravan.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Carfest



I'm strictly a "Today" programme kind of gal first thing in the morning. It's a habit that I've inherited from my parents - Radio 4 in the kitchen. I find there's nothing more likely to wake me up properly (other than a decent cup of coffee) than huffing along with John Humphries et al to the latest guff some politician is making up.

I therefore hadn't heard of Carfest, the festival thought up by Chris Evans in aid of Children In Need, until a friend mentioned it to me. The idea, apparently, was simple - a festival for families, combining his favourite things; cars, food and music. It appealed immediately - my husband is a car fan, I like food, and who doesn't like music? As it also meant giving the newly purchased tent another outing, it seemed like a good idea all round.

So, one April morning saw my friend and myself simultaneously on the phone to each other and waiting for the ticket website to go online, and we managed to garner a much-sought after weekend camping pass for the two families.

Last Friday, therefore, we ventured into deepest Hampshire, queued with several thousand others, and jostled for space to pitch our tents. It turned out to be a weekend of many firsts, not only the first festival I had been to since Glastonbury in (eek) 1995(!), but also the first festival for my children, and I think it was probably the perfect introduction for them - not too large for it to all be a bit overwhelming, but also plenty of entertainment (best bit? "The dancing diggers", apparently). Other firsts included my first experience of a "shewee" - something which impressed my daughters so much I don't think they will ever want to go to the loo sitting down again!

It was all a bit more civilised than I remembered my last festival experience to be - the atmosphere was lovely and friendly, the food was varied and extremely delicious, and you knew you were at a middle-class festival when Ocado were delivering to site. Between our party of seven, we managed to sample burgers, sausages, noodles, paella, burritos, smoothies, whitebait and pancakes, and make our own buffalo milk ice cream. It's also fair to say that the "Best of British" tent full of small food producers giving out samples also got a good going over.

We danced to "Rockaoke", this guy here, The Bootleg Beatles, Razorlight, Texas, and many more. We got soaked on Saturday and fried on Sunday, and I think my eldest daughter won prize for most authentic festival "look" with her shorts, fleece, wellies and sunglasses combo. All in all, however, I think I knew the first family festival was a success when we got in the car to go home and my youngest daughter burst into tears because she didn't want to leave...



Monday, 20 August 2012

How To Holiday Like A Spaniard

The Tin family have been off on their jollydays, and we've all come back rested, refreshed, and raring to go again with life. We took the ferry to Santander in Northern Spain, and hired a little cottage around forty-five minutes up the coast near the resort of San Vicente de la Barquera and had a lovely time. Definitely highly recommended! Two weeks on the Spanish "green coast" relatively little frequented by foreign tourists  (a sprinkling of French, some fellow Brits, and the ubiquitous Dutch - seriously, how do they get everywhere in Europe by car?!) meant that I was able to observe the native Spaniards enjoying their R&R. Here, then, is my advice should you want to try and emulate them:

1) The obvious one - if you really want to holiday like a true Spaniard, stay in Spain. After all - why would you go anywhere else when you have fabulous weather, beautiful countryside, a myriad of activities, great food AND people that speak (little other than) your language? It's a no-brainer, right? If you are wise, you will flock to the Northern coasts of Asturias and Cantabria where the heatwave engulfing Spain brings the temperatures to a pleasant 30 degrees C, rather than those of the mid-40s affecting the rest of the country.

Pechon, Cantabria
"Our" beach nr Pechon, Cantabria
2) Whatever you do, take a lunch break at around 2pm. This way you leave all car parks, tourist attractions and beaches free for the crazy foreign tourists who don't know about decent lunch breaks and siestas. Instead, clog up all the terraces of local restaurants eating all manner of delicious seafood and smoking wildly to your heart's content.

3) Be ridiculously bronzed on the beach. Easy! - you're Spanish - even at your pastiest you still resemble a delicate biscuit colour that an average Northern European can only hope to emulate after slathering themselves in fake tan for the entire two weeks (No, not me, noooo - my tan is ENTIRELY natural. Ahem.) After all, Pastiest Person on the Beach(TM) is always guaranteed to be a rare foreigner anyway.

Oh, and 3a) Go topless ONLY if you are very young and very skinny, or old enough not to care what people think. (*shudder*)

4) Should you fail at 3), for whatever reason, demonstrate to everyone that this is because you are a Very Important Executive that spends a lot of their time in an office doing Very Important Things, and has no time for silly beach games, by pacing the sand non-stop with a mobile phone glued to your ear and a furrowed brow, gesticulating wildly with your spare hand.

5) Choose your tourist attractions wisely. Ignore the major internationally known hotspots of the Northern coast like the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It is full of French tourists from across the border, on whom the fantastic David Hockney paintings are somewhat lost, as demonstrated by the whispers of "bof, je connais pas, hein", accompanied by trademark Gallic shrugging.
Instead, flock to the picturesque town of Comillas, where you will throng like over-enthusiastic paparazzi to one of Antoni Gaudi's earliest works, and one of the few outside Catalonia, El Capricho.

6) If beaches are not your thing, make those unfit types listed in 4) green with envy by nonchalantly climbing the foothills of the Picos de Europa mountain range either on foot or by mountain bike without so much as breaking a sweat in 30 degree heat. Kudos.

7) Refuse to speak anything other than Spanish, thus making even vaguely linguistically-minded foreign types, one of whose seven languages does NOT happen to be Spanish, feel painfully inadequate, uncultured, and rushing for the Michel Thomas at the first opportunity. *Sigh*

8) If all of the above fail, just ignore them and have a ruddy marvellous time.



Wednesday, 25 July 2012

School Summer Holiday Thoughts

Ah, the long, lazy summer holidays...right?

Wrong.

As a working parent there's really no such thing. No lie-ins, no lazy days in the garden, no end to the "school run" and the rush to work (only this time it's the "holiday club run"). It can be hard sometimes not to feel a pang of jealousy when you are rushing to get children ready for childcare with half an eye on Twitter, when you read about others sipping coffee in a peaceful house. (This of course assumes you are lucky enough to have few childcare issues over the holidays - not necessarily always a given!)

By around day three, however, and mentions of "boredom", grumbles about the cost of activities, wailing at ruined houses start to appear, tales of kids eating into adult time by staying up late... By the middle of that blissful six-week period, when the "MY KIDS ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY, WHEN ARE THEY GOING BACK TO SCHOOL" desperation kicks in, I am reminded that it's not easy for anyone - no matter how much greener the grass sometimes looks like from the other side. 

Then there's the fact that, without fail, one of my family can be guaranteed to come down with some kind of illness during a school holiday. It's as though the lack of routine is too much for the body to cope with, so it forces a relaxation. Last weekend it was me, and at the time of writing it appears to have affected daughter number 2. There's nothing like spending a sunny day in bed to really feel like you are wasting precious "leisure" time!

All of that, however, doesn't seem to matter at the moment, for when the sun shines the mood is instantly lifted. So - whatever you're doing - I hope you have a lovely summer!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Hair Dilemmas

Hair is weird, isn't it? Women spend forever fussing over it. If it's not removing excess body hair (a whole separate subject in its own right), it's fiddling with the stuff on our heads.
My own hair has been on my mind a lot lately as I know it's time for another visit to the hairdresser. I know this, because I have started tying my hair back a lot because it just doesn't quite sit right any more. Luckily I know a trip to my trusty salon will sort me out pretty quickly. (I've perfected the art of the messy bun by now, and although I'd love to attempt a thick, luscious ponytail as modelled by Victoria Beckham et al, somehow it just looks like a scraggy 5 year old's... which does make me wonder - how old is too old for a ponytail?) 

I have a good relationship with my hairdresser - I've been going to the same salon for longer than I care to remember, and, with the exception of her two maternity leaves, the same stylist has chopped my locks for that time (including wedding hair, the lot). It's fair to say I trust her judgement and she knows the kind of thing that would work with my "lifestyle", my poker straight tresses, face shape, blah, blah.

It's been a while since my last visit, and I probably shouldn't have left it as long as I have. It's been even longer since I last had the colour tended to. Much as it might shock some of you to learn (ahem), while I would class myself as a "natural blonde" for want of any other definition, the shade I have sported for probably the last ten years is a tad lighter than what nature blessed me with. I have to look back at old pictures to remind myself that I actually quite like my natural colour. Unfortunately for it, most of the time now I merely think of it as "roots" when the blonde highlights haven't been touched up.

All those chemicals can't be good for it, however, and I think it might be time to give my hair a bit of a rest from all those poxygloxylycins. The thing that has occurred to me, however, is what happens if the colour underneath has changed after all these years? What if I'm - horror of horrors - going grey?! Of course there is really only one way to find out, and luckily for women it's more socially acceptable to go back to dying hair...


Maybe I should try a blonde afro?

Monday, 16 July 2012

Stream of Consciousness

"Right, that's it, 12 o'clock, best get ready to go the chiropractor. I suppose I'd better just check my emails quickly before I go. Oh look, another letter about headlice in reception. God, I hope it's not my child. Must remember to check when she comes home. Funny how it's always in reception though - never seem to have a letter about DD1's class at all. Who are these reception children that ALWAYS seems to have headlice? 


Right, keys, purse, bag. Wellies or no wellies? I always look like a right muppet traipsing around town in my wellies. Still, at least I'll be a muppet with dry feet. Ah, what the heck,I'll live dangerously and wear my converse. 


Hmm, should have worn wellies. Serves me right. Should have remembered the park is wet and muddy. Hate walking through here when it's raining and there's nobody about other than weirdoes and winos. What's that bloke over there doing? He looks shifty. I hope he's not a flasher. Do flashers come out in the cold and wet? I suppose if they consciously go out to flash people then maybe they don't. Fair weather flashers? If they are opportunistic flashers maybe they might risk it. Still, probably won't see much if he does flash. Stupid hood, can hardly see where the hell I'm going. Must remember to laugh and be relaxed if I do get flashed. "Ha ha, is that all you've got?" 
Oh no, wait, that bloke's on the phone, and he's got a dog with him. Do flashers have dogs? I guess maybe not if they are planning to flash anyone. Might hinder their getaway if they have to round up their mutt first. Mind you, dogs are supposed to be on leads in this park. 


I'm sure it can't be normal to think all of these things all the time. I think I spend too much time on my own. What does it say about me that I appear to have an obsessions with mens' knobs in the park? Does that make me as much of a pervert as them? No, no, I'm merely undertaking a sensible risk assessment. Always watching out for danger, that's me. Not worrying or over-thinking at all, no sirree.


Right, out of the park, past school. Why on earth did I not have something to eat before I came out? I can smell the school dinners. They smell soooooo goooooood. Dammit I'm hungry. Must remember to use some of that lettuce when I get home. Would hate for it to go to waste. What was on the school menu today? Oh yes, pasta bake. Could murder a pasta bake now. Beats wilted lettuce anyway. 


Phew, nearly there. Oh look, it's cheerful receptionist lady. I hope the chiropractor is not running late, I'm not in the mood for small talk today. Just want to get in, read some crappy magazines and get back to my lettuce. 


Arse. Left my phone at home - can't even tweet while I'm waiting. Maybe I'll just mull over a blog post in my head instead..."


Stream of Consciousness by Chicago Art Department on Flickr

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

I would do anything for love...

Two totally unrelated things last week had me mulling over the sacrifices some people will make for those they love.
Firstly, the lovely Amy at and 1 more means four...and 1 more blogged about giving up her bedroom to make space for her children. Secondly I heard of a former colleague who had left her husband and kids and was moving to New Zealand to be with "the love of her life".

Two slightly different scenarios, I think you'll agree, but it did get me wondering what sort of lengths I personally would be prepared to go to if push came to shove. I occasionally idly throw out the "I would do anything for my children" line without thinking about it too much, and in a lot of ways I mean that - but let's face it, even that has some limits. I won't tattoo their names on my face, for example, no matter how much they begged me....


In all seriousness and at the risk of sounding horribly smug and privileged, the only thing could think of having done was changing my holiday preferences. I've blogged before about how I grit my teeth and go skiing for sake of my husband's love of the sport, and since the last year I guess I can add camping to the mix too. Whenever I tell anyone that knows me well, but that maybe I have not seen in a while, that we have recently bought a tent and I have (semi-)willingly spent several nights under canvas, their reaction is always the same dubious expression and a "I can't see you as a camper". It seems my love of the little luxuries in life is well documented. The thing is though, the kids LOVE camping, and, similar to skiing, we've always been with other people, making it a very sociable holiday. The expressions on their muddy little faces makes up for the lack of en-suite facilities...just.


(That, however, is a piece of cake in comparison to what some people do for their children - let's face it, even camping isn't the cheap holiday it's often sold as if you have to invest in some of the equipment, and I'm well aware there are those that can't afford a holiday of any description.)

Putting up with a couple of nights in a tent is nothing compared to deciding to give up your bedroom and permanently move into your living room, as Amy and her husband decided to do. That is probably also a drop in the ocean in comparison to the decision to leave your children and not only move to a different country, but to the other side of the world. I'm not going to judge this person at all - I don't know too much about the circumstances. However, much as I sometimes curse my own little blighters, I don't think any romance could ever make up for the fact of only seeing my daughters twice a year.

I don't think I could do that.


(Anyway, I'll leave you with this. Because THAT'S how much I love you all, and I know you're already humming it anyway...)

Monday, 2 July 2012

The One In Which I Remember The Point I Forgot to Add To My Last Post

(.....also known as The One In Which The Sun Shines Out Of My Head.)

My previous post about the signs of my mid-life crisis already included the vaguely fashion-related point, but as we old people are allowed to be scatty and generally fickle, I'm going to blather on about a vaguely clothing-related subject for a bit longer.

I've never really classed myself as a major fashionista. In fact, since working from home, I ashamed to say that my "style" is more slobby than smart. It may therefore come as a bit of a shock to most people to discover that I do actually have a vague interest in fashion and clothing - almost as a "spectator sport", or as one would appreciate art - I wouldn't necessarily hang all of it on my walls, but I can certainly appreciate the design that has gone into it. I think it's fair to say that my personal aim, however, has always been to be "stylish", rather than "fashionable" (a vague dalliance with high fashion in the 80s has left me with enough photographic evidence to prove that slavishly following trends is not always a Good Idea).

My head tells me about the importance of the capsule wardrobe and regularly warns against the dangers of the impulse purchase that does not follow my self-imposed rules. Having said this, there are generally one or two items in my wardrobe that probably go against this general principle. The interesting thing is that some of these items are much loved by myself, and yet appear to create great consternation amongst both my husband and my children when I wear them.

Exhibit one - this fabulous Pringle kimono cardigan that I bought a few years ago at the height of my "I'm never buying anything black ever again" phase. (Note the colour). Some things are bargains you just fall in love with and simply blow any rules out of the window.


Needless to say, the photo above does not do it justice in the slightest. The reason I love it is its versatility  - it can be light and airy for a cooler summer day when worn with a vest top underneath, and yet also fabulously warm when I hide my arms in the vast billowing sleeves.

And yet whenever I wear this much-loved item, I can guarantee that at least one of my children will ask why I am wearing it, or comment about me "looking funny". The adult me should respond in a perfectly rational, grown-up way, maybe explaining why this item is so beloved....and yet what seems to happen instead is that I suddenly turn into my teenage self and have flashbacks to the sulky reactions I had whenever my mother used to gently criticise my fashion choices.(It is at this point I should probably grudgingly agree that she may have had a point about the stripey purple cropped dungarees).

In conclusion - if middle age is about finding the things that make you happy and not caring what other people think, I'm definitely all in favour.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The One In Which I Wonder If I'm Having A Mid-Life Crisis

I had to google what the average life expectancy for the UK was this week, in a quest to prove to myself that my current woes were all down to the great Mid-life Crisis. I'm all for absolving myself of any kind of responsibility for anything and giving in to fatalism, after all.

Bad news, however, as it seems life expectancy has risen to around 87 (as opposed to the 82ish I had firmly fixed in my head). This means I won't hit the halfway stage in life for around another five years.Still, as the big FOUR-OH looms in the distant future (it goes without saying that the end of next year is of course MILES away, and there's no way I look a day over 29) so I guess I'm allowed a little wobble every now and then.

Here, then, is proof that I am officially middle-aged:

1) I've started wearing a lot of beige. Oh, it's dressed up with fancy names like "taupe", or "camel", or "ecru", but we all know it's just shades of beige.I made a conscious effort to banish black from my wardrobe as much as humanly possible a couple of years ago, and my standard "base" colour is now navy. When I'm feeling colourful, I team it with a jaunty red, but when I'm aiming for a "effortlessly elegant" a lot of khaki seems to be creeping in. It can only be a matter of time before I slip into some nice comfortable farah trousers...

"Pantyline 300", no less
2) Remember those sitcoms involving middle-aged people like Terry and June sitting in their beds with a book each, her in a little bed jacket? Well, that's me on most nights. Occasionally my husband joins me and then we really rock the whole Morecambe and Wise vibe. Of course, now he has bought himself one of those new-fangled tablet devices he is more likely to be surfing the web, but I can still be found tucked up at 9.30 with my library paperback. None of that kindle nonsense for me, no sirree, I like the smell of musty paper that has been thumbed by hundreds of middle-aged women before me.
(As an aside, my library has recently started loaning e-books - it's a slippery slope. Also - what's with the tiredness? I thought humans are supposed to need less sleep as they get older? Why then, do I find myself craving 12 hours and still waking up exhausted? I'm supposed to be the morning person in this relationship.)

3) Despite my previous protestations to the contrary, I recently found myself lusting after a certain Zac Efron. (I know, the shame). There I was, minding my own business when I saw this trailer:



Now, I like to think that the two years since my previous post featuring Mr Efron have made all the difference in terms of his maturity - I mean, he's all of 24 now! -but I also have a sneaking suspicion that a sudden interest in younger men must be a sign of the mid-life crisis sneaking up on me. It's not just Mr Efron you see....I find myself humming along to tunes by boy bands half my age and can only assume that I am somehow regressing to a teenager in an attempt to staving off the ageing process.

4) Aches and Pains. I have a permanent crick in my neck, a pain in my ankle, and am on enough allergy medication for asthma, hayfever and eczema to open my own pharmacy. Next step - HRT!

5) Forgetfulness. I've been mentally making notes for this post for at least two weeks now. I even got as far as scribbling several bullet points down on a piece of paper, which I last remember seeing in the pocket of my terry towelling dressing gown silky negligĂ©e, from whence it appears to have totally disappeared. As I can't for the life of me remember what points five and six were supposed to be, you'll just have to trust me that they were REALLY GOOD.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Conflict Management, or Do Men Do Housework?

There's not much I hate more than argument or conflict. You might say it's my Libran love of balance and harmony, or an introvert's dislike of offloading, but either way I'm not one of these people that can put forward my gripes in an apparently neutral and constructive manner. I try, oh dear me yes, I try. I'll run through little speeches in my head that sound reasoned and calm - yet when it comes to the crunch, 9 times out of 10 I am likely to burst into tears after I have sounded nagging and depressing (even to my own ears). Therefore, I'm likely to let things stew until they eventually explode in a weird irrational sulk (or tears, viz above). 

I'm explaining all this because essentially this blog post is an argument with my husband...Before you are all horrified that I'm washing my dirty linen behind his back, I have to state that my husband reads my blog, and I figured getting things down in a carefully thought-out manner might help get my current gripes off my chest. He often says that reading my blog is the best way for him to know what I'm thinking anyway. 

I think I've stated before that my husband works,  relatively long hours, exacerbated by an hour's commute every morning and every evening, often not returning until after the children are in bed. It is physically impossible for him to do housework, sort the children, cook meals, do shopping, laundry etc etc during this time. My rational mind understands this. Yet if I am completely honest, my irrational mind has recently become resentful that I not only have to do all these things but also hold down a full-time job, that, to be honest is currently looking quite unstable and therefore pretty stressful. The thing is, Mr Tin is very good if I ask him...it's the fact that I have to ask him in the first place that is getting me down.

There was a survey in the news around a year ago, undertaken by esure that stated that couples argue almost two and a half thousand times a year. I looked at this list of things and instantly felt better by how petty and insignificant they actually were (77 arguments a year about parking the car? 90 arguments about walking past stuff that is at the bottom of the stairs to be taken upstairs? Not closing cupboard doors, etc etc), and instantly felt better that "it's not just me". I'm sure my husband has plenty of little things that annoy him about me. (Leaving stuff ON TOP of the dishwasher instead of putting it straight in - yes, I've been known to do that, but he does it more... ;-p)

Does there come a point where we need to realise we are never going to change our partners? How long do we need to spend "educating" them in the things we want them to do (or stop doing)? At which point do we give them up as a lost cause and come to terms with the fact that some things just aren't going to change? Can you train men, or should I just get a dog; or would we then just argue about whose turn it is to walk it...?


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Review - Team Barbie

I'll be the first to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with Barbie. The feminist in me blames her for the pinkification of girls' toys that seems to have taken place over the last twenty years - a subject I could rant on about for hours, but which might have to wait for another post. The problem is, however, that there is an eight-year old girl inside me that comes out to play and gets very nostalgic about certain toys that I remember fondly from my childhood, of which Barbie is one (Lego and Playmobil being the other two).

Does every girl remember her first Barbie? My first - and only (they were expensive in those days!) - Barbie was "Superstar Barbie" complete with feather boa, long evening gown, necklace and earring, and star-shaped stand. My daughters are spoilt in that even at their young age, thanks to friends and relatives they own several dolls each. When the guys at Mattel therefore offered me a full set of the new Team Barbie dolls in exchange for a review, I hesitated slightly as to whether they would actually be appreciated or not!

It cannot have escaped anybody's notice that there is a large sporting event taking place in London over the summer, and just in time four new Barbie dolls with a sporting theme have been released (although not official O.l.y.m.p.i.c.s merchandise) - a swimmer,


a hurdler,

 a gymnast


and a tennis player.

The last three are similar in terms of construction , all having jointed limbs that bend at the arms and the legs for added movement (a vast improvement on the rubbery bendy legs that some Barbies have, I must say).

The swimmer doll differs slightly from the rest of the collection in that it not only comes with its own dog, but in that both dog and doll possess a clockwork windup mechanism that means they both actually swim. I have to say this was definitely a big hit - not only with my daughters at bathtime, but also for my husband, who took great delight in setting both figures up and racing them around the bath, exclaiming that they swam so much better than a lot of the wind-up toys we used to have at bath time. Whilst more expensive than the other three dolls, this little gimmick definitely made swimming Barbie the favourite of the four.

Even if she does have a pink swimming costume.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

In Cyberspace, No-one Can See You Pout

(or - "My God, is she actually still blogging?")


TMI Alert (and no, this post doesn't really go anywhere, sorry)

The past month has seemed more hectic than usual - work is picking up again (new boss, all change etc etc), weekends seem to have been filled with a strange social whirlwind that shows little sign of abating at the moment - there are literally only two weekends between now and back to school in September where our diaries are completely free - but to top it all off, I have been laid low twice with a horrendous stomach bug that, without putting too fine a point on it, involved torrents of Biblical proportions of things that should not be torrential.

The second bout took me completely by surprise, after I assumed I had fully recovered from the first bout, and I can only describe as "miffed" my mood when it turned out I would be spending a couple of extra bank holidays in bed . NOT EVEN BECAUSE OF A HANGOVER. How unfair. Anyway, much as I am happy to moan on here, I decided to keep my moaning away from other social media platforms, using the principle of if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it.

The problem with platforms like Twitter etc, however, is that people come and go all the time. This week has been half term, so lots of people have been away anyway, including a lot of the people that I converse with the most, so it seems fair that nobody would really have noticed that I hadn't tweeted in a couple of days. (By day three I have got a bit miffed though...I COULD HAVE BEEN ON MY DEATHBED, PEOPLE!).

Also this week, I had an email from the lovely folks at google with an annual renewal for my domain, and it got me wondering what it would really be like to withdraw from the online world altogether. I know other people have done it, and a couple of relatively high-profile parent bloggers have deleted their blogs recently and considering the infrequency with which I actually post anything here I am hesitating as to whether I really want to fork out the vast sum of $10...

The bad news for anyone reading this, however, is that my list of ideas for posts appears to be growing.

To misquote another famous film - I think I'll be back.
(Assuming it ever stops raining)




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