Blog - Mother PukkaFor people who happen to be parents.


Sea change

We fled for half term: seven adults and seven kids escaping the city for salty Cornish air. Here, Matt and Anna give their take on a Perfect Stays trip. (In exchange for a press discount, we agreed to write an objective and independent review, with no copy approval by Perfect Stays)

Roscarrock sits next to a cliff path that runs down to the sand of Porthcothan Bay

The villa-with-mates experience can go two ways. Either it’s like an extra Christmas where you’ve removed the pressure of gift-buying and lingering family resentments, which makes everyone much nicer to each other, or the kids go to war and the parents have snarky disputes about washing up while drinking with breakfast. The place you’re in goes a long way to deciding whether it’ll be the former or the latter.

Perfect Stays do fancy pads in the southwest: mostly in Cornwall but with a few in Dorset, Devon and Somerset. We headed to Newquay, a place Matt visited on his first ever boys holiday. He literally still owns the T-Shirt (‘Sailor’s Arms, 1994’, with a treasured place in his memories box in his mum’s loft).

After speaking to friends who left London for Cornwall five years ago, they suggested a quiet spot overlooking Porthcothan Bay. We did a bit of hunting online and the best reviews came up for Roscarrock, a Scandinavian-inspired house complete with steam room, sauna and cinema room that mainly doubled up as a child receptacle with Peppa Pig singing her merry/ irksome little tune. (It’s soundproof so there’s that bonus ball). One look at the views made it an easy choice, though, as our own London living room mostly overlooks wheelie bins.

The main living room at Roscarrock

But pics can’t really do justice to the expanse and finish of the place. This is a newly done-up spot that manages to mix show-home finishes with a position so close to the wild and rugged Atlantic Ocean that with the tide up and a storm blowing you feel like you could step out and float away. Just edging onto the balcony with a fresh mug of coffee and staring at the sea for five minutes makes the world seem less confused.

The garden

When you’re used to seeing more exhaust fumes than sea spray, a view like that can wash away a half-term’s worth of stresses. We were last in, and even with a full set of seven kids (aged from one to seven years) and seven adults (older and more tired, obvs) there were enough spaces to explore without ever feeling cramped.

But there is life beyond those carefully considered walls too. A (slightly toddler-unfriendly) flight of slippery steps runs down from the cliff path to the sea in five minutes or you can walk along the road and do it in ten.

Once there you find a wild beach with caves to explore, rock pools, sand dunes and the crashing waves of the sea. The bay is an adventure in itself, and you don’t need much more than a ball or bucket and spade to while away the hours. But there’s plenty within a 30 minute drive and the Perfect Stays guide gives plenty to keep you entertained, from foodie Padstow to Newquay itself, the best surf spots and kid-friendly expeditions, plus plenty of tips for food and drink.

With kids the only two words you will need: Dairy Land. Yes, if you want to drop a bargain £3.50 on some of the best kid’s entertainment in our glorious land, get yourselves to Dairy Land. Think miniature tractors, petting farm animals, gargantuan soft play areas and teddy bear-making classes.

The main pull of this house, though, is the attention to parental detail. Everything from the plastic cups, plates and forks to the Tommy Tippee cups and the abundance of games and toys made this the sort of place that makes a holiday with a cacophonous troupe of infants something to remember not forget.

Cost-wise, initially we were looking at £250 per person (this comes in at £235 during February half-term) for a week before we were offered to review this place for a discounted rate. It isn’t cheap but there aren’t many rooms as luxurious as this – all with sea views – that come in at £33 per night per person.

More than anything, there’s so much to entertain the kids that they soon begin to fend for themselves, become a whirl of giggles and shrieks as they explore while grown ups read and stare wistfully out to sea. A winning half term for all.

Matt, Anna and friends stayed with a press discount in exchange for an honest review. Perfect Stays did not get copy approval for this post. Roscarrock sleeps 12 to 14, with prices starting at £3,300 (£235 per person) for a week.


Flex Appeal: the next stage

With funding secured for a major new piece of work, Matt wanted to get down in pixels exactly what Flex Appeal is and answer some common questions…

A little bit of background
In December 2014, Anna stepped out of journalism to accept a senior copywriter job with a large beauty brand. In January 2015, that brand announced plans to move its office. She put in a flexible working request, which was denied as it would ‘open the floodgates’. She was left with a choice – quit the job or only see our daughter asleep and at weekends. A month later, Mother Pukka was born. Since its launch in 2015, Mother Pukka has been campaigning to encourage the adoption of flexible working across the UK.
It’s seen us run flashmobs in town centres across the UK, lobby 10 Downing Street, give evidence to the Welsh Assembly, run free legal advice drop-ins with employment lawyers and be quoted in a July 2019 Ten-Minute Rule bill brought to make flex a legal default in all jobs (the bill didn’t get beyond second reading).

What’s the goal?
For flexible working to be the norm in all jobs in the UK. Our eldest daughter will be joining the workforce in 12 to 15 years. When she gets there, we don’t want her to be forced to make a choice between earning a living and having a family.  
But it’s not just about parents: it’s something for everyone – young, old, carers, those living with disabilities, those in factories or finance, or anyone who wants to work and live a little bit better.

How do you define flex?
Anything that doesn’t fix people to a 9-5, five-day week in the traditional way that excludes so many from work. It could be more creative shift patterns, flexi-time, job shares, part time, compressed hours, core hours, or as simple as allowing some employees to work different patterns. It is NOT unpaid overtime, getting four days money for five days work, or zero-hour contracts.

The overwealming evidence suggests that flex is good for everyone:

For employees to improve work-life balance, be healthier and happier, and be better able to provide for themselves and their families.

For employers to help boost productivity, talent attraction, staff retention and save on site costs.

For society to help tackle the gender pay gap, address the issue of 54,000 new mothers being forced out of work each year, and keep more taxes and skills in the economy.

What are the three strands?
As Flex Appeal has developed, we’ve come to realise that we need to work slightly differently for different groups, and Flex Appeal now has three clear strands.

For employees or those seeking work:
This is still the main bit of what we do. We shout about flex wherever we can and encourage employees to ask for it and employers to try it. The thing that has kept it going from day one has been the response – couples who have said their relationship has improved now they see more of each other, parents who have been able to work when previously they couldn’t, managers who’ve been encouraged to try it and seen great results. This part will be what we continue to do whenever we can – on social, in the media and on street corners if we have to.

Lobbying – FlexForAll:
Getting the law changed would be a major achievement, but it’s likely to take some time. So we have been working with others who know the lobbying world better than us, in a coalition called Flex For All. This includes: TUC, Fawcett Foundation, Pregnant Then Screwed, The Fatherhood Institute, Young Women’s Trust and the Fatherhood Institute.  Our goal is for a law change for ‘all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one’. Flex Appeal is politically neutral and we’ll work with any party to try and get this done.

For employers – ‘Flexmakers’:
This is the part that has been lacking, but we hope to tackle that with our Flexmakers project (more on that below).

Do you get paid for Flex Appeal?
The vast majority or our flex-related work has been pro-bono since it began. Sometimes companies ask us in to give talks or to appear on panels. This takes time and requires preparation and we don’t believe work should be given for free. In the past we have worked with McDonald’s to fund free employment-law drop-ins for anyone who needed advice. Regus helped fund some of the early flashmobs (filming, logistics, giving people a space to meet before hand).
But the vast majority of things we do for Flex Appeal are for free. There are several reasons for this, but mostly, we don’t want to be answerable to any single organisation. Our income comes from our work as authors and journalists, brand partnerships on Instagram and Anna’s role as a broadcaster. If you want a simple way to help us with Flex Appeal, buy the book, like the #ad, tell your friends about it, push for it at work, and try flex out if you’re an employer.

What is the Flexmakers project?
For years we have been asking employers to be more open to flex. We have quoted all the stats about why it’s a good thing. But resistance remains. Now, we want to make a more human case and help employers understand how they can do it themselves.
We want to create a community of people who are willing to trial flex and report back on how it works for them, so that others might be inspired to do the same. We want managers and bosses from tiny shops to massive corporates who will be involved in changing the very fabric of working life in the UK. 
The first part of this project involves finding the people who are currently doing flex well, across various sectors and organisation sizes. We’re calling these ‘Bright Spots’. We want to find those who have taken on the challenge of flexible working and done it well. It’s not just those who have paid to enter awards (though they’re welcome too): we want examples from every size and sector that we can investigate in detail and bring out the stories that will convince others to try what they have.

Flexmakers funding
This work requires money and expertise that we don’t have. So we are working with behaviour change communications agency Claremont Communications. They will work on planning, production and day-to-day management of the Flexmakers project.
The first phase – the Bright Spots project to find 10 to 20 of the best flexible employers in the UK – is being funded by the construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine. All the fees go direct from McAlpine to Claremont. We don’t get paid by either of them or any third parties on their behalf. 

Why McAlpine?
Firstly – those people we have been speaking to seem to firmly believe in Flex Appeal. Secondly – we see some strength in this being sponsored by an organisation in such a traditionally male field, when flex is often dismissed as being ‘just for mums’. Thirdly – they have the money to help us make it happen.
Often, this kind of agreement comes down to personal relationships, and the people that we have dealt with most closely are, we believe, fully committed to using flex to shake up the industry (and the company itself). They will also hope to gain some PR benefits from this and improve their ‘employer branding’. I’m comfortable with that. McAlpine have made an important financial commitment that means this work can begin. Without it, we would continue to bang our drum hopefully on Instagram. With it, we hope we can reach (and convince) more employers.
I have no doubt that, like every organisation, McAlpine doesn’t do everything right and they are open about being a long way from where they’d like to be on flex. But we’re yet to find an organisation that does it perfectly and see something strong in having an organisation from such a historically male industry do something to support a campaign in an area that is too often dismissed as being ‘a mum thing’.

How can my organisation get involved?
If you think you might be a Bright Spot, have a look at the form here.


Where’s My Happy Ending: tour dates

We’re gadding about the place to talk about our new book, Where’s My Happy Ending? Happily Ever After and how the Heck to Get There.

So if you’d like to come and say hello (and get a signed copy), we’ll be updating this page with new info as we get it.

Sat 1st February, Edinburgh
Edinburgh Wellbeing Festival
Tue 11th February, Twickenham
Thu 13th February, Norwich
Thu 5th March, Leyton
Phlox Books (link to come)
Tue 17th March, Central London
Henley Literary Festival Pop-up (link to come)
Wed 25th March, London Southbank
The Tate Modern (link to come)

Maybe you’ve just had a first date with ‘the one’, maybe you’ve been married for ten years. Either way, it’s hard to know if they’re really meant to be by your side until you both wear dentures. So in this book, we set out to discover what it takes to make it to forever, by asking our greatest questions about love.

We asked a former sex-worker and her ex-gigolo husband, celibate monks and free-loving hippies. We asked people who never wanted kids and people who have loads of them. We asked porn-makers and feminist academics, neurologists, psychologists and romance novelists. A whelk fisherman and a lollipop lady. We spoke to couples, throuples and singles; gay, straight and anywhere in-between. And, we had to have a fairly stern look at the things that were going wrong in our relationship too.


Room with some phew

This press trip was funded by Clinique La Prairie but the content is independently written without sign-off from the company.

I am child-ravaged and am still carrying about two stone of baby weight. The former influences the latter and I’d like to assure that I’m not upset with my aesthetic, I just feel like human foie gras. I feel stodgy, which may not be a medical term but it’s where I sit – with my bum splayed across a chair. I wheeze carrying a buggy up two steps and I feel like I’m in decline when everyone is hollering “40 is the new 30”. So when Clinique La Prairie got in touch they can tackle anti-ageing and weight loss, I was, well, at a loss for what to say. Other than: sign me up.

The clinic is in on the rather wrinkle-free Lake Geneva in Clarens-Montreux and is a one-stop centre offering an amalgm of medical and beauty treatments designed to make you look and feel fresher. This is the elixir of youth in many ways but with more pomp (fluffy robes in abundance) and ceremony (waiters in the restaurant wear white gloves).  You can essentially check out with new boobs, less of an eye twitch, an ironed-out face and a shot in your bum that will have you hauling a buggy up ten flights of stairs in a flash.

The grounds of Clinique La Prairie

Now I can’t stress enough that this isn’t about changing who you are. My maladies were fairly basic – like crackling, creaky knees from running a Marathon woefully unprepared and deep-rooted anxiety. It’s about feeling as good as you can and one woman I met was having reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy. It’s basically a safe house of medical-meets-aesthetic treatment overlooking snow-capped mountains.

Celebrities swarm here and even though the clinic won’t reveal the names of any current A-list clients, it is, however, happy to reel off a list of dead customers, including Frank Sinatra, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, and Pope Pius XII.

The swimming pool overlooking mountain tops

You can book in for a hip replacement, triple bypass, dental implants, sports rehab, or a comprehensive general check up to work out all the creaks. Equally, in the immaculately white spa area, you can sign up for a sleep-improvement (yes, please), weight-loss, stop-smoking or detox programme, or splash the cash on a Master Detox.

Plushly old-school, the 23 rooms mostly overlook the lake, with flattering lighting (the Hollywood actors who once packed the place presumably encouraged that), marble bathrooms and beds that at the press of a button prop up the mattress, allowing effortless enjoyment of the view. In the restaurant the white-jacketed waiters glide about as smoothly as a Michelin-starred restaurant; the nutritionist injects a down-to-earth element with an instructive display of 100-calorie snacks.

Perhaps the most incredible moment was my therapist telling me she thought I needed Craniosacral therapy instead of my Swedish massage. It’s a gentle but potent way of working with the body using a light touch and she quite literally read my mind. Despite there being limited pressure, I drifted off into another world where I found myself able to cry for the first time in a long while. It’s that level of detail that Clinique La Prairie offers. It may be about medical and aesthetic treatments but it has a truly human approach. I left feeling more human and, also, able to carry a buggy up five stairs without getting a bead-on.

Clinique La Prairie is in Clarens-Montreaux, near Lake Geneva in Switzerland (00 41 21 989 33 11).


My Life as a War Child

Vesna Gudgin shares her experience of a childhood in the former Yugoslavia as it slipped in to war

Vesna with her mother and brother

I was born in a country called Yugoslavia. It doesn’t exist anymore. It was a breath-taking country, full of natural beauty: mountains caressed by ancient forests, stunning valleys, crystal clear rivers and lakes, and all tumbling in to the Adriatic Sea.

Yugoslavia was a communist country. It consisted of six republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. A country full of life, enriched by a diverse yet suppressed culture.

My family comes from Bosnia. Out of all Yugoslavian republics, Bosnia was the most ethnically diverse. It was made up of three regions; Bosnian Serb, Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Muslim. I come from the Serbian part; it is now called Republika Srpska, within Bosnia Herzegovina.

When most western people think of Bosnia, they think of the Bosnian Civil War. When I think of Bosnia, I think of my home. My whole being floods with calm, confidence and belonging. I think of my loyal, passionately kind, loud family, who will support and love you no matter what. I think of Bosnia’s breath-taking nature, of its beautiful, kind people: the unsung heroes who often risked their lives to help others.

I think of childhood and of our family farm, nestled high up in the hills, where I was the happiest. I often close my eyes and imagine this majestic view stretching out in front of me. I see and feel our beautiful mountainous valley enveloping me, holding me tightly in its arms, making me feel protected and content. The view is always there as a reminder of natural calm and continuity, through peace or war.

My early childhood was wild, happy and free. I was brought up in a non-communist, open-minded family. I was loved, nurtured, empowered and educated by the strong-willed women and men in my family. I spent my days either dressed as a boy, climbing trees and playing soldiers. Once a week, I would polish the family’s books – the works of Ivo Andric, Sigmund Freud and Tolstoy – wearing mother’s finest dresses and her very high heels.

The view from the family farm

I started school when I was seven and quickly learnt that the wild ones were few and far between. I had to withstand the wrath of communism and the cast-iron rules of my school. However, I was fully armed with my carbon weapons of mass distraction. My voice was loud and my will unbroken. At the age of nine, I accused our school of using us, children, as free child labour, in the name of communism. My school punished me by caning my fingertips and by making me stand in the corner of our classroom, facing the wall, in front of the whole class. I stood in that bloody corner so many times the kids named it Vesna’s corner!

My life from then on changed forever. Soon, nationalistic graffiti started appearing on buildings: flags and slogans. Overnight, the nobodies became dangerously patriotic.

They were the non-achievers, the village idiots. They had never achieved anything in their lives before, but suddenly they had power: they had illegal weapons.

They used to set things alight at night and they started shooting at people’s houses at night too. They would fuel their little adventures with alcohol.

Each village had their own nobodies: in Croatian parts of Bosnia, in Muslim parts of Bosnia and in Serbian parts.

One night, an explosive device was thrown at our neighbour’s house. This family had three young children.

When mum and dad built our houses, they built them to sustain any form of weather or attack. Perhaps my dad always suspected that this war would happen. Our house was deemed the safest structurally, and because some of the nobodies feared my dad, we knew that we were as safe as we could be. However, our father knew that there were Muslim members of our community whose lives were at risk.

For a while, he went out at night and brought some of our neighbours’ children to our house, to keep them safe. He would pick them up at night and drop them back off before dawn. My brother and I loved this. We had regular sleepovers with our friends: we did not for once think that our father was putting himself in danger. We were too young, we didn’t understand the enormity of it all.

I was, and still am, immensely proud of our parents. In their mind, there was no question about it. They had to protect these innocent children. Even after my father lost his dear friends, who were killed by the same nationalities that our neighbours were, he still had enough love left in his heart for these children. He protected them from the nobodies.

But as our parents watched the news more often, their serious faces scared me. In April 1992, Yugoslavia fell apart. The war was born out of ideological suppression. A war is a complex, lucrative endeavour, a grand affair, full of political strategies, egomaniacs and their manipulative games. A profiteer’s playground.

I was in a permanent state of fear. I feared the silent but beautiful shapes the tracer bullets made at night as they bounced off our roofs, followed by explosions and gunfire. I feared for my loving dad who had to leave us all, to defend us.

Once wealthy, we were now poor, yet incredibly resourceful. We made our own soap and instead of toothpaste, we used salt to brush our teeth.

Those were very dark times. But kindness always overpowered darkness.

One day, we were at school, sitting in a freezing classroom without any heating or power. Our teacher had a special announcement: each child had received a small charity box from Canada, a perfectly wrapped shoebox. Our little faces lit up with anticipation. We kept looking at each other with silent smiles on our faces and with sparkles in our eyes. Our little fingers were numb, from our hands being firmly tucked in underneath our legs on our benches: we were so cold.

We cautiously opened our shoeboxes and squealed with joy. I loved it all, but one small, precious object I will never forget, was a small tube of toothpaste. I still remember the smell of it. I looked after this little tube so well, like it was made of gold. My family and I shared it between us for months. We barely touched it with our toothbrushes.

Once it was all gone, we were back to salt.

Pass the Mic is an occasional series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to other voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as possible and contributors are paid.

To read more from Vesna, head over to her blog.


Fjord fiesta

This feature was written through a Disney and Visit Norway press trip. The trip was funded by both brands but is not a paid advertisement and neither brand had input on the final copy.

In the same way that Russia makes you want to drink vodka with someone else’s husband and lose your voice to nicotine, and America instils the urge to drive a red convertible into the sunset listening to Johnny Cash, there’s something about Norway that makes you want to embrace an extreme programme of healthy living. Think glassy lakes, abundant pine forests and the sort of fresh air that makes you feel light-headed and, ultimately, lighter.

That’s not to mention the hearty reindeer stews, Sylvanian Family-esque towns and general cleanliness. (If you want to see an abundance of beautifully-designed Norwegian public toilets check out @toiletsgram).

But activity is of the essence and this press trip with Visit Norway and Disney delivered a dawn-till-dusk programme of hiking to glaciers, reindeer herding, Northern Lights-viewing and even moose-petting. While all that’s well and good, how is Norway for a young family who want a bit of fjord focus but with a side of Anna and Elsa?

Lighten up

If you’re going to immerse yourself in the natural world of Frozen 2, start with the forces of earth, air, fire and not the least water and ice. Norway is in the centre of the northern lights zone, so the probability of seeing it is close to 100% on any cloud-free night between October and March. If you stay in Tromsø (frequent sightings from November to the end of March), you can explore the city’s rustic, yet colourful wooden houses by day and hunt the lights at night. The best time to see the spectacle is around 10pm so bear that in mind with smaller life barnacles that might not be able to keep their peepers open for the duration. Oh and it’s cold. Like, five layers cold.

Troll hunter

Trolls are big in Norway (and offer up guidance to Elsa too). They’re so common in Norwegian folklore that they have truly left their mark – from place names like Trolltunga, Trollstigen and Trollfjorden to troll souvenirs smattered across every tourist gaff. In Frozen 2, you can also expect an abundance of other fairy-tale creatures, like the formidable Nøkk, which was inspired by the Norwegian water spirit the Nøkken. For any young kids, suggest a troll hunt as you navigate the meandering mountain roads of Norway, for welcome respite from ‘are we nearly there yet?’ hollers.

Oh deer

If you follow in the footsteps of the Frozen heroines and head north of Fjord Norway, the region that most resembles Arendelle, you end up in the land of the Sami, Norway’s reindeer herding indigenous population. One thing that was clear from this trip was that the filmmakers of Frozen 2 spent a lot of time with the Sami people to ensure the film was true to their culture. This includes the mystical Northuldra characters who Anna and Elsa meet in the enchanted forest. (Frozen 2 is also the first time in history that an international Disney movie will get a Sami language version.) Oh and one thing you have to try when there is the reindeer stew with flatbread slathered in salty butter. It’s hearty yet light and warms even the coldest of souls.

A Norwegian Sami family

Moose encounter

Getting close to a moose is a must. I even got to kiss one and got a badge to prove it. But where to pucker up? The moose park Elgtun in Bygland is a whole park dedicated to friendly encounters with moose. In Bjørneparken in Hallingdal, just a couple of hours from Oslo, you get to kiss the tame moose Eline and feed her carrots, whilst at EKT Langedrag, also in Hallingdal, you’ll meet the cow elk Ea’s adorable triplets. Other nature parks with moose are the Norwegian moose centre in Stor-Elvdal, Dyreparken Zoo and Amusement Park in Kristiansand, the wildlife park Namsskogan familiepark in Trøndelag, and Polar Park in Narvik. Essentially, you can’t leave without having a smooch with Norway’s slobbery friends.

Gone fishing

While Anna and Elsa enjoy fairly palatial surrounds, the crimson-painted fishermen’s cabins are a traditional feature of northern Norway’s wild Lofoten archipelago. Sample a stilted rorbu – timber-built and each boasting modern kitchens, lounges and nice bathrooms – in the cod-fishing town of Svolvær. Try surfing lessons and deep-sea rafting with older kids before scoffing whisky-marinated Arctic char and cloudberry cheesecake at the quayside Børsen Spiseri fish restaurant.

Rorbu for four from £140 a night,

Frozen 2 is out in cinemas now.


Shy about retiring

AD| After the gender pay gap comes the pension pay gap, with women retiring on average with £78,000 less than men. So I asked Scottish Widows what we can do about it

I hide from scary things. Spiders, dental appointments, tax returns, anything with forms: they all send me scuttling away behind a metaphorical sofa. And there are so many forms. From the moment our first-born arrived, I feel like my main role has been filling out little boxes in BLUE INK and BLOCK CAPITALS.

My attitude to pensions has been the same, and perhaps I’m not alone. According to new research from Scottish Widows, the typical young woman today could retire with £78,000 less than her male counterparts. That’s about £3,000 less a year to live on in old age.  

We’re short-changed with a gender pay gap around 20%, and then we’re short-changed when we retire too.

The likely reasons are as predictable as you might expect. Women earn less, even when in similar roles, than their male colleagues. We have ‘career breaks’, during which we often gestate and expel a human life, then lose a little bit of mind, body and soul (hair too, typically), keeping it alive for the first months.

More than a third of women end up opting out of an auto enrolled pension scheme of other financial priorities like childcare or transport or food. And the extra sting is that they lose out on pensions contributions by doing so.

Things are slowly getting better: 57% of women are now saving enough to retire, the highest figure in the 15 years that Scottish Widows has been running its Women and Retirement report. But that still means that nearly half of us aren’t, and most of those are in lower paid roles. Just 47% of women earning between £10k and £20k are saving enough, compared to 65% of those earning £40k or more.

So, yes, we should be saving for our pensions. But we kind of know that, like we know we should recycle more and consume less and probably do more exercise than occasionally running for a bus. But how do we make sure we save enough when we have a nursery to pay and small people in constant need of things. We decided to sit Scottish Widows down and get them to answer some of the big questions:

What sacrifices can really be made to save for a pension? (Especially for those 53% of women on under 20k who aren’t saving enough)

We used to have an “indulgo-meter” tool online that allowed you to pick a vice such as coffee or chocolate or buying shoes. It asked you how much you spent on that vice each month, then showed you how much you could save into a pension if you reduced your spending on that vice by a third and redirected it into your pension…so my answer would be what vices do you have? A lot of people say they can’t afford to make savings or don’t really want to make sacrifices to enable them to contribute to a pension but when auto-enrolment came along people didn’t opt-out in large numbers.  Saving into a pension was more affordable than they thought.

What’s the lowest entry point for monthly saving to make a pension worthwhile?

You can buy a stakeholder pension from as little as £20 and in terms of workplace pensions we have minimum payment so we will take as little or (subject to your annual allowance) as much as you wish to invest. There’s no amount that’s too small – no matter what size of contribution you can make, even if you are a non-earner – you will be eligible to get a government top up to your contribution, so it always makes sense. The challenge is being willing to lock the money away until age 55.

How have you calculated what is ‘enough’ and how can women work out what they need to save each month?

Scottish Widows has calculated the amount that someone earning an average wage when they retire, would need in addition to the State Pension to have a moderate standard of living.  We then calculate the size of the pension pot that would be required to purchase that level of income each year. Finally, we look at the average wages applying to people in different age groups and calculate what percentage salary would need to be invested in a pension plan to have a reasonable expectation of building up a pot of that size. If someone saves 15% of their salary for the majority of their working lives, they have a good chance of securing a moderate standard of living in retirement, including the State Pension. A lifetime contribution rate of 12% would have a good chance of securing a more basic standard of living in retirement. 

Given that women usually earn less, what can they actually do to get pension parity?

Woman sometimes earn less because of the differences in occupations that men and woman have traditionally chosen. However, women often revert to part time work later in life to bring up children or look after elderly relatives. Many of these part-time jobs pay less than the auto-enrolment threshold. Everyone should try to save as much into a pension at an early age as possible due to the power of compound investment growth over four decades.  However, it’s even more important that women save as much as possible during their 20s to compensate for lower contributions or contribution gaps later in life.  An additional 2% of salary into a pension during a woman’s 20s would go a long way to compensate for the effect that caring responsibilities can have later in life.
If you are a woman working part time and earn more than £10k, you will be auto-enrolled and your employer will contribute to your pension – in addition to your own contributions. If you earn less than £10k you don’t get auto enrolled, but if you earn more than £6.1k you can ask to be auto- enrolled and your employer must then make a contribution to your pension.

If you want to work out what might be right for you, head over to the Scottish Widows Your Future Hub: This post was a paid partnership with Scottish Widows. But whoever you use, you really should be starting to plan for your future.


Friends reunited

We snuck off to the sun in the last week of the summer holidays. There were tantrums at teatime, lollies in the pool and Aperol spritzes at sunset. Here, Matt and Anna give their takes on a James Villas stay. (In exchange for a press discount, we agreed to write an objective and independent review, with no copy approval by James Villas)

Colina Vista on the Costa del Sol


I have a friend who I’ve had about 120 unfinished conversations with over the last three years. She’s my eldest’s godmother and she’s the love of my life. But until three weeks ago I had barely got beyond the impossible-to-answer ‘how are you?’ before being distracted by a pressing Paw Patrol query or an urgent request for “TOYLETTT”.

So we wanted to unite/contain the troops for a week in the hope that nap times and bedtimes would offer up enough space for us to have a lukewarm glass of frizzante, some Lay’s salted crisps and a bosomy hug or two. The villa we landed on was part of the James Villas Group – a company my mum has used in the past and recommended after trying out Villa Plus and Oliver’s Travels, too. Mumsnet and TripAdvisor reviews are much of a muchness but whatever you do make sure you go through a reputable company – villa scams have been known to lead to losses of up to £5,000 with criminals using fake details to con wearied, hard-saving holidaymakers.

If you’re looking to be wrapped in cotton wool, though, this is holiday utopia. Everything from car hire to flights and travel insurance can be taken care of, although some reviews on said they found slightly cheaper flights themselves so definitely do your research. Equally, if you just want to land in a heap pool-side with limited hassle, the option of having someone just whisk you away is there.

With four adults and four kids ranging from two to eight, we needed somewhere that was large enough to escape each other and private enough to save ruining anyone else’s holiday. Noone needs to hear the hollers of ‘need a wee wee’ or the relentless pinballing of “she stole my [insert toy of the moment]”. Equally no one needs to hear me croaking from my inflatable crocodile, “can you chuck us a Magnum?”. 

We settled on Costa Del Sol, somewhere my Dad thought was where Del Boy from Only Fools And Horses once jetted off to for a quick mini break with Rodney. He’s not far off as we drove towards our villa past a pastel-hued compound called Hotel World that seemed to consist mainly of sunburnt bodies and adrenalin-pumping water slides with the occasional lifesize plastic elephant thrown in for good measure. On day one, I swore never to enter those gates but on day six we found ourselves at the Hotel World all-you-can-eat buffet faceplanting the bottomless paella wondering why we hadn’t succumbed sooner. Villa life is great until about day five when you need to break free of the Lay’s haze and chuck the kids down a water slide.

The villa itself was a marble-floored casa with an eclectic mix of aretfacts – heavy oaken cabinets that wouldn’t look amiss in Henry VIII’s boudoir are accompanied with shelves housing Paymobil figurines from the 70s. The views over the Mediterranean and aquamarine allure of the pool were the real winner. The overall feel is of luxury with a homely – almost too homely as the Playmobil figures stare down on you at night – vibe. 

When it comes to child-friendliness, the villa had all the necessary bedding, toys (a whole box awaiting their arrival) and IKEA plastic cups and plates in position. The marble floor had us hollering, ‘no running inside’, and the un-gated pool was managed with a strict back-doors-closed-always policy on those rare moments when their wasn’t a grown-up lolling poolside.

One thing noone could fault is the outdoor space – something many James Villas reviews mention and apparently a solid poolside is part of their criteria. It was as if someone had taken my wearied grey matter, teased out its terrace dreams and truly delivered. It was breathtaking and while we ventured out for a meal (one couple stayed to babysit while the other honed in on the local Spanish tapas), I preferred nights sitting on the villa eating padron peppers from the nearby supermarket. By day three I felt like the view alone had eased my furrowed brow and relentless eye twitch.

In terms of cost, there’s a full range; from more rustic spots where you have to bring your own towels to mansions that wouldn’t look amiss in the Hollywood Hills. For prices, see ‘The Details’, below. It’s not a cheap holiday but once you factor in self catering over restaurant meals, it starts to compare well to many package deals. It is possible to be thrifty in the day-to-day when you have a pool to contain the life appendages and palatable supermarket rose for £3 a bottle. 


There are three different kinds of parent buddies.

1/ Mates you’ve known for years, who feel comfortable giving you finely honed verbal abuse. They now have kids, though these kids don’t get on brilliantly with yours. Well, sorry kids, you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. You will, for decades, be explaining your unlikely friendship by saying: ‘we’re friends because our parents are’ and looking a bit glum about it.

2/ Mates who you’ve known for almost no time at all, but who’s kids get on really well with yours – like, ‘playing upstairs and not disturbing grown ups for hours’ well. These parents would have to be as unpleasant as a four hour ethics seminar by Boris Johnson for you to not spend time together.

3/ Mates who you have a natural click with, who have children who create scenes like the above, but who you also know will have a healthy attitude to shared washing-up responsibilities. These are the ones to go on holiday with.

So we did. Four grown ups, four kids, industrial quantities of sun cream and a pad on the Costa del Sol.

I had been to the area once before, on a 1995 trip to Benalmadena that, for £87 of my hard-earned Saturday-job money, delivered flights and a room shared with three spotty pals. There was a Scottish bar on the main strip that did shots for 25p. (No one knew what was in the shots, but they had been colour-matched with Cif Lemon Window Cleaner). I suspected this was going to be a very different kind of trip.

And, thankfully, it was. We’ve reached the stage where a good summer holiday just needs the following: sun, a pool, adult rooms out of ear-shot of kids rooms, some mates to share a bottle with, and a few local places to escape to if people start to feel boxed in.

This had all of those. As we peeled back the sliding metal door to the driveway and the kids got their first peek at where they’d be staying, all four started gasping and shouting ‘Swimming pool! Swimming pool!’

The place had white walls and terracotta roof tiles, with terraced gardens and a well-kept pool and barbecue area. Inside the decor was comfy, clean and not too worn. It was tiled and cavernous, and I would spend much of the week ambling around wondering where I’d left the suncream, my beer or my book.

The kids spent five minutes playing with the electric exterior window shutters that kept out the morning sun and meant will all had dark tranquil boxes to nap in during the day. And then, with room squabbles sorted and swimming kit donned, they raced to the pool (with the toddler waddling behind), where they would spend hours a day for the next week.

From our perch up a hill, the glistening Med spread out before us, with the beaches of Fuengirola and Torremolinos either side. On weekday mornings, with kids in tow, the beaches of these holiday towns are surprisingly quiet family-friendly spots, dotted with beachfront restaurants serving barbecued sardines.

But perched up here, with everything we need a few flip-flopped steps away, I wasn’t tempted to do much exploring.

It was a week of diving into the pool and slowly cooking meals, of impromptu ‘shows’ from the kids and carefully made drinks as the sun fizzled out in an Aperol-orange flare every evening. It was a week with time to properly speak to the kids and fling them around a swimming pool, instead of just telling them to get dressed or tidy up or do homework. And, it was a week of quietly ignoring them as they play among themselves, to take the time to look at who you’re raising them with.

These are the holidays we want now: everything you need within a few idle paces.


We stayed with a press discount at Colina Vista, a 20 minute drive from Malaga airport. It sleeps eight and is currently available for £779 (villa only) during Autumn half-term.

You can find last-minute deals on villas across southern Europe, The US, Caribbean and Egypt. Prices start at £389 per week for a family of four (villa only).

In exchange for a press discount, we agreed to write an objective and independent review, with no copy approval by James Villas.


Pupil power

With school cuts and early closures across the country, 16-year-old student Aliyah York was prompted to do something. Here, she explains why (and what you can do to help)

Aliyah (bottom centre) and schoolmates (Picture by Yannick Lalardy)

The UK prides itself on being one of the most globally advanced academic societies: a place of prosperity, innovation and social equality.

But imagine for a moment an education system where going to school could mean being squeezed into a classroom of over 40 students, where schools struggle to keep teaching staff due to cost pressures, where the quality of your education could be dependant on your parent’s income. This is the reality that I and over 10 million other pupils across the UK face.

A total of 17,723 schools have suffered funding cuts. In one of the most globalised economies, in a place viewed as one of the ‘most powerful’, education is so undervalued that over the past nine years, 91% of schools have had their per-pupil funding cut, losing an average of £2.8bn from school budgets since 2015.

The truth is, funding cuts are making it impossible for our teachers to deliver a proper education and children are at a disadvantage.

All schools are struggling; there are no exceptions. Yes, to what extent varies but the impact is the same and the recipients of this fall out are “us” the students.

Across my years at secondary school, ‘cuts’ meant a lack of basic resources. During GCSEs I remember scrambling for two textbooks that had to be shared between the entire class. Teachers would often buy resources themselves, out of their own pockets, to replace anything from glue sticks to pens and whiteboard markers.

For me, funding cuts meant having to fight to keep my music lessons. I had no other option than to write a letter to my music department to persuade them to keep my drumming lessons as I expressed the personal value and importance in learning a new skill each week.

For me, funding cuts meant GCSE Media being torn away from me as an option. The subject that supported my passion was no longer available because ‘we no longer had specialised staff to teach the curriculum.’

In total, 71 out of a total of 82 schools in Newham are suffering and mine is just one. Valuable teachers are being made redundant. 70% of school buildings are unsafe because of roof leakages, crumbling walls and damp. And even worse, over 200 schools in England are cutting short the school week because they cannot afford to educate their pupils for a full five days. This could mean losing on average 365,192 lessons in one year across the country.

Every term, leaders make difficult budget decisions as pressures rise. What do we expect them to prioritise? Making buildings safer or squeezing more children into classrooms? With an estimated figure of more than 2,000 additional pupils than primary school places by 2022 (according to the Local Government Association) we can only imagine the sacrifices that will prevent children from discovering their ambitions.

We experience these consequences, yet still, so many pupils remain oblivious. It may be our reality today but it doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s.  We deserve better. Until schools are funded properly, we will not rest!

So in June 2019, I passed through the huge doors of Westminster Hall for the NEU ‘Together for Education’ conference. Me, a 16-year-old among a room full of adults: teachers, parents, councillors, politicians and campaigners. My mouth seemed to be fixed permanently in an ‘o’ shape, aghast and utterly flabbergasted by the stories, speeches and presentations shared about the horrific state of our schools. I was prompted to take action.

Pupil Power was born: a platform where pupils can share their stories about the impact of cuts in the classroom, and hopefully, be inspired to join me on my mission to shift this nightmare into a happier ending for our schools.

Awareness, Advocacy and Action!

The campaign is providing #PupilPower ToolKits to schools to educate and engage young people on the dire situation in our classrooms. Enough is enough. We can no longer sweep issues of such gravity under the carpet, instead, we are raising them to the surface, encouraging the discussion and finally, moving forward towards making tangible changes. It is our economy and future that is at stake and nothing is more important.

How can you get involved?

It’s simple. You are part of the solution!

A driving force, using all voices to expose the plight facing our schools. All schools! (Early years, primary, secondary, SEND and post 16 schools), our campaign is calling for those of all ages to join us as we take a stance against this social injustice. Whether you request a toolkit, share your experiences or follow us to keep updated, you are joining a movement that is challenging the system and proving that the power is truly in the hands of the pupils, parents and people!

Use the hashtag #PupilPower to share your pictures, thoughts and experiences, or email for your own Pupil Power toolkit.

Twitter: @ThePupilPower @aliyahiyork

Instagram: @ThePupilPower @aliyahyork

Pass the Mic is an occasional series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to other voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as possible and contributors are paid.

mother pukka lights by tena


Totally floored

AD| It was a joke from my sister that did it. She was dressed up as her 12-year-old self – complete with Goofy peaked cap and neon cycling shorts. She was 29 at the time and seeing an accomplished woman galumphing about the lounge asking about Pogs (an early 90s keepsake) and Gameboys did me in. I laughed so hard I wet myself. I vaguely remember the laughter stopping and feeling a mixture of surprise and humiliation. I’d had a baby six months before and with leaking breasts and undulating hormones, this felt like the final straw. I went upstairs for a quiet cry while staring at a photo of my 16-year-old self on the wall and mourning that strong physiological set-up.

But I’m not alone: one in three women suffer from incontinence. And after that moment I fast realized its not something you have to live with. It’s not something you simply accept as a by-product of pregnancy. Luckily I had a few friends who had navigated these seemingly embarrassing waters and steered me towards the doctor. After that first medical visit, I was on the road to recovery with a raft of pelvic floor exercises that I found myself doing in queues at the bank, at the school gates, in meetings and sometimes just Netflix and chilling. And while I was waiting for the exercises to take full effect, I found using a Lights by TENA liner such a benefit, to keep me feeling fresh and dry.

mother pukka lights by tena

For anyone wondering what I tried along the way, below are some simple exercises that definitely helped get me back to where I began pre-baby. Before you attempt these, though, you must see a doctor. (These exercises were recommended to me by Dr Rachel Nall, a doctor who specializes in bladder and incontinence issues).

So Kegel exercises focus on tightening and holding the muscles that control your urine flow. I’d do these anywhere and everywhere – once standing in line at my Aunty Jenny’s Christmas buffet. Firstly, sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and visualise the muscles that can stop urine flow. Tighten these muscles as much as possible. Hold this position for 3–5 seconds. It should feel as though the muscles are lifting up as a result of the squeezing. Release the muscles and rest for several seconds. Repeat up to 10 times. Within two weeks my pelvic floor felt on the road to recovery and I was able to utilise the time queuing for coronation chicken wisely.

Squeeze and release
Imagine one of those stress balls and you’ve got a sense of this exercise. It’s a rapid “squeeze and release” movement that builds the ability of the pelvic floor muscles to respond quickly. Make sure you’re sitting in a comfortable position. And picture the pelvic floor muscles. Squeeze the muscles as quickly as possible and release without attempting to sustain a contraction. Rest for 3–5 seconds. Repeat the movement 10–20 times. Repeat the exercise twice later in the day. I found work a good place for this. I remember having a big conference call with a client and managing to get my sets in while working. Win-win.

I mean you’ve got this one. Stand up, squat down and repeat 10 times. This one I found easier in the comfort of my own home. Noone wants someone manically squatting in front of them in Tesco.

Doctor’s note: People may have difficulty targeting their pelvic floor specifically to perform the exercises. Specialized physical therapists known as pelvic floor therapists can help a person identify their pelvic floor using different feedback devices. One example is a biofeedback device that involves placing sticky electrodes on key areas of a person’s body and asking them to contract their pelvic floor muscles. The electrodes send signals to a computer that can identify when they are contracting the correct muscles. Sometimes, a person may have nerve damage that prevents them from contracting their pelvic floor muscles on their own. Where this is the case, a pelvic floor therapist may offer pelvic stimulation therapy, which can help produce muscle contractions.

This blog post was written in association with Lights By TENA as part of the #TightenYourPrivateParts campaign to promote the importance of pelvic floor exercises and seeing your doctor. 


Summer Swimmers

AD| The holidays are here, and that means kids in pools, so Huggies® Little Swimmers® asked for our top tips for a warm-up dunk down your local leisure centre

The Little Swimmers: regular nappies can become an anchor in a pool, but Huggies® Little Swimmers® have stretchy side panels to stay light and still keep the bad stuff secure. Also: Finding Dory is on them, which brings me about as much joy as it does the toddler.

The Onesie: ease of access (and exit) is key here. You may have several children shivering from the cold or jumping with excitement, so the sooner you can get into or out of your swimsuit and past that pokey cubicle the better.

The Flip Flop: no laces, no stress. Just kick them off and rescue your toddler from the locker.

The Snacks: you know this already, but never leave the house without snacks. You can eat the best ones when they’re not looking. 

The Quid: I’ve done it many times before. Kids ready, me ready, pound for the locker nowhere to be found, which means running the gauntlet of the pre-dip shower area with all your dry gear under your arm. Never forget your locker money.

And now you’re ready to go.

We’ve teamed up with Huggies® Little Swimmers® so you can get a free kids’ swimming lesson before you head off on your holidays. Whether you’re going to Bali or Bognor, or if you’re just looking for a fun family day out in the summer break. Follow this link to claim your lesson with Turtle Tots near you.

mother pukka flexappeal flexible working


The thoughts we don’t talk about

Do your daydreams shock you? You are not alone, explains psychotherapist Anna Mathur…

mother pukka flexappeal flexible working

I could yank this steering wheel and cause a pileup. I’m going to chuck my phone over the balcony, pull that lady’s ponytail, strip off my clothes and streak through this wedding.

This isn’t an insight into the mind of someone awaiting a court order; this is my mind. And according to 94% of my Instagram poll respondents, it’s likely yours too.

These thoughts run unprompted through my head, playing out vivid scenarios from the humorous to the terrifying. Despite being an experienced psychotherapist, I’d long felt fearful of others knowing about these thoughts and worried that I could actually act on them: that I may throw the baby or pull the ponytail. But I now speak openly, because only by speaking about it can we shed the shame and starve intrusive thoughts of power they don’t deserve.

Why do they happen?

Our mind is creative, clever and wild. It constantly assesses risks, possibilities, needs, fears and our own power, often without us noticing.

Until we hone in on one thought. Because it’s funny, or terrifying, or so beyond our moral compass that we question who we are. Intrusive thoughts feast hungrily on attention. Attention transforms what would be monochrome thoughts into stark technicolour.

The challenge is that I’m not imagining aliens swooping down from Mars: I’m hit with potential real-life scenarios.

Intrusive thoughts are enflamed by tiredness, hormonal shifts and stress. And aren’t these all familiar states of parenthood, hey?  When our resources are limited, our ability to rationalise is compromised.

Additional challenges come when your fears are based on your own experiences, such as losing a loved one, crashing a car, rowing with your partner about ‘that thing’. Then, what you’ve experienced gives intrusive thoughts more power because you you’ve lived and felt it before.

What can you do?

So what did I do about my intrusive thoughts? I decided to change
the way I interacted with them. I began to realise that while I can’t stop them coming, I could starve them of attention.

Here are some of my go-to techniques. Practice them so that they feel familiar for when you need them.

  • Counteract an intrusive thought with a more mundane, statistically likely alternative. E.g follow a thought of crashing a car, with one where you’ve arrived safely.
  • Use a breathing exercise. I recommend the 4,7,8, which calms physical symptoms of anxiety, enabling you to rationalise the thought more easily. Breathe in for four counts, hold the breath for seven counts, and then exhale for eight counts.
  • Use a grounding technique to bring yourself back into the present. Name five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell and one thing you can taste.  
  • If you find imagery helpful, picture the intrusive thought passing through your mind like a moulding leaf being swept up by a breeze.

Like any unwanted thoughts, there’s an extent
to which they can be disempowered. However, if your intrusive thoughts are reminiscent of trauma, are traumatic in themselves or affecting your daily life, please seek further support via your doctor or a local therapist. My ‘Reframing Anxiety Course’ also offers techniques to deal with anxiety.

So, when a thought strikes you, leave it to pass and wilt. Know that you’re not mad, you’re not bad: you’re normal.

The author donated the fee for this piece to Pandas, the pre- and postnatal mental health charity.

Pass the Mic is an occasional series where we hand the Mother Pukka platform over to other voices to share their perspective. Each piece is edited as lightly as possible and pays a fee of £250. 


AD | When I get older

This is a paid partnership with Scottish Widows.

The word ‘pension’ conjures up images of Zimmer frames, blue rinses and losing dentures down the side of the sofa. There’s a vague sense of security attached to it but essentially, it’s a code word for: The End. I would say on my list of things-to-do, ‘sort pension’ has come somewhere below ‘get grease remover for oven hood’ but just above ‘go on run’. Either way, it’s not something I’ve had my head into until – and I will be straight here – Scottish Widows approached me about this brand partnership.

What do I know about planning for the future? I can’t talk about planning for the long term future when I’m not doing it. But that is the point they wanted to make. Unsurprisingly 46% of men aged 22-29 are saving enough for the future compared to 1 in 3 young women. We’re lagging well behind in looking to our futures compared to our male comrades. Much of that is down to the very reason we shout so loudly about flexible working – more than 54,000 women every year lose their jobs through discrimination and inflexibility. So the knock-on effect is we’re not working, we’re not earning and we’re not investing in our pension pots in the same way men are. Essentially, we’re not as invested in our futures because we’re so investing in our children’s futures and the working world seems set against us earning money around that.

At this point if you simply want to know more, check out the FREE information Scottish Widows provides on planning for your future. We’re talking no-nonsense guides and articles, pension calculators, films on the pension basics and a host of other supportive information to help you ease that head out of the sand and see The Future a little clearer.

But the big news is that from 6th April minimum contributions to your workplace pension have gone up from 5 to 8%, you’ll pay in 4% with the rest paid in by your employer and the taxman. What does this mean for you? Well, quite simply you might think like I did in 2005 when I’d started my first job and was focused more on the next hangover than my future. You might think, ‘nah, gonna opt out of this’. It’s easy to look at the money you’re investing in your pension and see it immediately as soft furnishings, nights out, takeaways in and more money in-hand. But the cost of that is your future. You could be the greying version of Bridget Jones in years to come but without the wine, in a shabbier flat and with no central heating. It’s your life you’re investing in and no one else is going to be there to top up the piggy bank when you’ve invested your 4% in Happy Hour, and missed out our your employer and the taxman paying in too! You can see how it works for you on the Scottish Widows website.

And this comes from someone who had ‘pensions’ at number 46 on the list of things to do. I’ve still got to sort that oven hood out but for now it’s looking a little clearer on how I can plan for my future.



Work to death

The focus of Flex Appeal – a campaign to push for flexible working for all in a bid to reduce stress-related burnout and increase productivity – has been in the UK. Here we look beyond the English Channel to Japan where 60-hour weeks are the norm and people are literally working themselves to death. *Thanks to translation support from Miro Tanuko.

Images courtesy of Jamie MacGregor

Miriki Takahashi remembers where she was when her daughter, Matsu told her she got a job at a big Japanese advertising firm. “I was stood in our garden next to the family’s favourite blossom tree, trying to get reception and I remember I was so happy she got the job,” she said. “I was a proud mother,” she continued. Matsu had always wanted to work in a creative industry and this was a great opportunity in Japan’s competitive graduate jobs market. But just one year later things started to change. “She was never available to talk to us but would text occasionally to say she was OK,” she said.

One weekend Matsu came home to her parents and wouldn’t eat and couldn’t get out of bed. “She just asked to sleep all day, even though we had a family engagement and I realized something was wrong.” She learned from Matsu’s colleagues later that she’d been working around the clock, continuing until the last train, sometimes working 48 hours straight and often sleeping in the office overnight.

On Christmas Day in 2015 Matsu took her own life. She was 24. It emerged she had barely slept after working more than 100 hours of overtime a month in the period leading up to her death. Her death was officially rule a case of ‘karoshi’ – the Japanese term to describe death attributed to overwork.

Japan has a culture of long working hours and this is not a new phenomenon but recent cases like Matsu’s have thrust karoshi back into the spotlight. In 2018, over 2,000 people died by suicide due to work-related stress according to The Japanese Statistics Portal. The death numbers peaked in 2011 with almost 2,700 suicide victims in total.

“The Japanese people count on the government but they are being betrayed,” says Koji Morioka, an academic who has studied the karoshi phenomenon for 30 years. Miriki says the country is killing the very workers it should be supporting. “Businesses just focus on immediate profit,” she says. “My daughter and other young workers want to work, they are ambitious. But these levels of stress cannot continue, the death toll and health issues of this current capitalist government cannot continue. Our family is struggling to continue.”

Early in 2018, the government introduced Premium Fridays, encouraging firms to let their employees out early, at 3pm, on the last Friday each month. They also want Japanese workers to take more holiday. Workers are entitled to 20 days leave a year but currently about 35% don’t take any of it.

In the local government offices in Toshima, a district of downtown Tokyo, they now switch off the office lights at 7pm in an attempt to turf people out of the office. “We wanted to do something strong,” said government official, Januko Hutemi. “There needs to be a huge shift in the way we work. We are currently just going through the motions like hamsters in a machine that is running too quickly. Noone can be healthy in these conditions and no one can be productive. The people lose their minds and the company loses out.”

In focusing on productivity and efficiency, he may have a point. While the country may have some of the longest working hours it is the least productive of the G7 group of developed economies.

The only solution campaigners believe will work is to put a legal limit on the overtime employees are permitted to work.

Critics say the government is prioritising business and economic interests at the expense of the welfare of workers. Even though these heartbreaking images from photographer Jamie Macgregor are very closely associated with Tokyo, they reveal more about how we’re being used on a daily basis by corporations and capitalist systems. Do we think beyond what we are doing and should, we perhaps, be asking: who are we doing it for?

All photos published with permission from Jamie Macgregor

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at


Beauty is in the eye

*First published by Soho House group*. Author of Sunday Times Bestselling book Parenting The Shit Out of Life and founder of Flex Appeal – a campaign to fight for flexible working for all – Anna Whitehouse talks about postpartum beauty and why a catseye flick is not crossing the line

The first (and last) ever beauty vlog I did was called ‘How Not To Scare People With Your Face’. The basic premise of it was cobbling together a vague look in 60 seconds with a toddler hanging off your left leg – quite the challenge if you’re attempting a catseye flick. Either way, I had come to the realization that phrases like ‘this look will take you seamlessly from day to night’ and ‘a slick of neon yellow eyeshadow’ just didn’t wash on the nursery run. So with a make-up bag that was once brimming with versatility, I ended up with three items: Benefit’s concealer for dark circles, NARS orgasm blush to make it look like I might have some life in me and – somewhat punchily – Tom Ford’s Liquid Liner.

Having never considered that feline flick because of the sheer skill it requires, the beauty director at Stylist Magazine where I was working at the time told me to give Tom Ford’s pen a go. One steady slick across my sleep-ravaged eyelid and I was sold. In 10 seconds my eyes were crow-barred open and as the tiredness got more intense, the flick heightened like some sort of exhaustion graph.

I had found my maternal arsenal – the three things that could Sellotape over the cracks and not have people repeatedly asking, “are you OK?” That’s really what make-up has come to mean to me, a shield against the raised eyebrows and concerned questions. But it wasn’t until I got a fairly feisty comment on my Instagram that I started to question why I was blending and highlighting. It read: “You speak about postnatal depression and being in a maternal fug, and, yet, here you are with a face of make-up. I don’t buy it.”

It knocked me a little because I felt she had genuine grounds for being disgruntled. Am I some made-up blushing fraudster? How can someone in a postnatal fug who is feeling unable to walk outside the front door even consider something as vain as a catseye flick? I wondered if covering up was ever a good idea? We tend to cover up bad things: lies, bank robberies and here I was slotting my face into the police line-up.

It was one of those inspirational quotes (that I often find uninspirational and dispiriting) on Instagram that read: “Make-up is art, beauty is spirit.” While the whimsical italic font was painful to navigate, there was something in it. It comes down to how you feel not how you look and what’s a little blusher among NCT friends? Whether you go bare-faced or high-browed, red-lipped or mascara-free, it doesn’t matter, really, and everyone’s armour is different – some mainline miaze snacks, others slick on some of Mac’s Lady Danger lipstick to accentuate the bloodshot eyes.

But while I was lactating all over the place and wondering where my mind, body and spirit had dispersed to, I felt momentarily comforted in the fact that I could draw a straight line on my face in under 10 seconds. It’s a small win but a win all the same.

Image: Miles Aldridge


Matt’s 8-hour pulled pork sandwich

I got sent a Ninja Foodi and asked to experiment. So I spent eight hours making a sandwich…

The Foodi landed like an alien craft. It is large and futuristic and covered in buttons. But the amateur chefs of the internet had promised great things on other reviews – unctuous stews, chips fried in the air, roasts done in 30 minutes – so I broke a lifelong habit and looked at the instructions. Then I went to work.

Eight-hour pulled-pork sandwich with chilli chips and avocado mayo
This is an adaptation of a recipe from the BBC good food website. I added the English mustard and more seasoning. I also think it might benefit from cider in place of some of the apple juice, but laid off the booze this time.

The pulled pork (prep 10 mins, cook eight hours)

The meat
1kg pork shoulder, skin off
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp flour
2 tsp oil
Salt and pepper

The slow-cook marinade
1 onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
80ml cloudy apple juice
1.5 tbsp honey (could also swap half a teaspoon for treacle)
1.5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
50g onion marmalade
Dollop of English mustard

Slice the meat into four chunks. Mix the seasoning, flour and spices together. Rub these over the meat so there’s a lovely crust. Brown the meat in the Ninja Foodi pot (lid off) with some oil for a minute or two. Mix the marinade ingredients in a jug, then pour them on top. Chuck the onions in too. Turn it to slow cooker mode, put the pressure lid on top (set to vent). Set the heat to ‘lo’ and the time to eight hours. Walk away with the smug satisfaction that you are creating something of such unctuous glory. After eight hours, scoop the meat out (you can leave it for longer, as the cooker switches to a ‘keep warm’ mode). It’ll fall apart, soft as butter – just use two forks to helps strip it into pulled pork. Then cover and keep warm as you cook your chips.

The chilli chips (prep 10 mins, cook 20 mins)

Loads of spuds, cut into whatever shape you like your chips (but keep sizes roughly consistent)
1tsp olive oil
Chilli flakes

Mix the oil and the chips in a bowl for an even coating. Sprinkle the chilli flakes over the top. Give it all a good shake and stick it in the air fryer for 20 minutes at 190c. Shake halfway through.

Avocado mayonnaise (Prep 5 mins, no cooking)

2 avocados
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Put the above through a blender until it’s a lovely green paste.

I piled the meat into a brioche burger bun with barbecue sauce and a slice of apple on top as a nod to my five a day. It may have taken eight hours to create, but it took about four minutes to eat. So then I had another one. While there’s lots this machine can do, I think the slow cooker and crisper are likely to have the biggest impact on my Sunday lunches, knowing that while I tangle with parenting, meaty juices are silently brewing away in the background.

The Kit
The Ninja Foodi is a pressure cooker and air fryer in one, but it also does lots more, depending on which lid you use. With the pressure cooker lid on you can steam veg, slow cook (great for really deep flavours like stews) or pressure cook (like cooking in a giant kettle, and typically healthier than baking or roasting). With the crisper lid on you can air fry (similar crunch and flavour to pan or deep frying, but with a tiny fraction of the fat), crisp or grill. And just leave the lid off to sauté in the super-non-stick pot.
Head to to find out more.

This post was sponsored by Ninja Kitchen. What does that mean? They sent us the kit and paid us to write a blog post (and Instagram posts), but they don’t tell us what to say. We write honest reviews and only accept jobs for products we like. If something doesn’t work for us, we say sorry and send it back.


AD | No age limit

This blog post is an advertisement in association with EDF Energy and Howz.

My mum went grey last year. For ages she’d dyed her hair and 2018 was the year she decided to stop papering over the greys and give up her blonde ambition. Whether it was her silver tresses or pride in bagging that elderly bus pass, there’s no denying my folks are entering a period in their lives where age is on the table. I’m not in any way age concerned but I am thinking about the future – a future where I’m not worried about the people who have ironically dedicated a lifetime worrying about me.

It was something my sister said that brought EDF Energy’s Howz to my mind. Howz is a system that simply exists to give you peace of mind when your elderly folks live in their own home. It’s about independence, it’s about celebrating that independence and it’s about staying in touch without calling every 5 minutes to ‘check all is OK’. This is it in a nutshell: There’s no invasive cameras, Howz uses sensors and a smart plug that you could connect to a kettle or other sockets to monitor activity so that you know if there’s any change in routine. If things are quiet, you get a notification and you can put in a call to check all is, in fact, OK.

Now my sister used to work for EDF Energy and she’s still mates with a few of her former colleagues who mentioned that this project was happening. While we’re both keen to monitor mum closely (she’s a live wire), she mentioned it would be ‘a good one for granddad’. Our parents are edging into the territory of needing Howz but my granddad is currently home alone with only his library of books and an Ocado delivery as regular companions.

He’s the most independent and equally stubborn man I know and there is no way he is venturing into a caring home for the foreseeable future. He’s also against all screens – TV, iPad, cinema – and if it’s too ‘gadgety’ it’s not coming in. But that’s where Howz comes in and breaks down those concerns because this is about helping him stay independent longer. It’s subtle, it’s not about surveillance, more gentle monitoring so both us and my granddad know there’s an extra blanket of security wrapped around him. It’s about checking in without checking up – something I wish my Mum and Dad had focused on when I was a teenager venturing into the Northampton clubbing scene.

To check out Howz and to see the full video click here.


Flex Appeal: ADHD

Flexible working is not about parents, it’s about people. People with needs that don’t fit into a 9-5 construct. Here journalist Robyn Wilder speaks about the need for a little bit of flex for someone with ADHD.

When I decided to go freelance after my maternity leave ended in 2016, I said it was because the baby was still breastfeeding, the prospect of full-time childcare was prohibitively expensive, and I’d grown too used to wearing pyjamas.

But that wasn’t the whole truth. Really, I was afraid to return to office life.

Because I’d never really got on with it. I’ve worked in nine-to-five desk jobs almost all my adult life, and they’ve always followed the same depressing trajectory. I’ve impressed my bosses, been promoted for ‘being ideasy’ – then entirely failed to deliver. My admin has gone down the toilet. My productivity has gone out of the window. I’ve missed or fidgeted through meetings, had too many sick days, spent entire work days browsing the internet instead of completing project work, and made hideous detail mistakes, like adding too many zeroes to a budget spreadsheet.

Inevitably, my manager would start disciplinary proceedings, but by then I’d have resigned and begun the cycle with a new company. I’ve never lasted more than two years in any one role – instead I’ve just got used to the notion that, despite not wanting to be, I was somehow a Bad Employee.

However, once I started freelancing, my productivity shot up, and I began to wonder if something else were at play. Last year, I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a lifelong development disorder of the brain that can cause hyperactivity, compulsive behaviour, and sometimes debilitating problems with organisation, focus, and memory.

Suddenly my work difficulties started to make sense. Meetings understimulated my fidgety brain. Being in an open office was as constantly distracting as trying to work under a strobe lamp, and my lack of executive function regularly firebombed my attempts at admin and project management. I could only really get ahead in a task if it completely absorbed my focus, and the constant overwhelm landed me in bed, sick, at least twice a month.

ADHD affects 5% of children in the UK, and around 2.5% of the adult population. However, adult figures may be underreported. In fact, a 2018 report from thinktank Demos suggests that undiagnosed ADHD in adults could be costing the UK billions of pounds a year []:

“Adults with ADHD are less likely to be in full-time, paid work than those without the condition, and that their on-the-job productivity may also be reduced. This has implications for individuals, employers and the state, as a result of reduced tax-take and increased expenditure on welfare benefits.”

I’d always assumed, not realising I had ADHD, that my “issues” weren’t compatible with the workplace. But perhaps that’s not true. The Demos report adds that “People with ADHD can be creative, energetic and dynamic.” And, without blowing my own horn, let’s not forget that it was my ideas – not the fact that my keys were in the fridge and I was probably wearing mismatched socks – that got me promoted in the first place.

So is there a way that people with ADHD can be accommodated in the, potentially, non-ADHD-friendly world of the nine-to-five? The ADHD Foundation believes so, and they’ve put together a guide for employers [] (link to PDF).

The first thing to remember is that, if your ADHD is severe enough to impact on your work and life, it may count as a protected disability under the Equality Act 2010 []. Which means your employer is legally required to make reasonable adjustments to help you work effectively.

The ADHD Foundation suggests that employers include implementing a flexible working policy for affected employees, including:

– Agreeing a 15-minute window at the beginning and end of the day, as people with ADHD have issues with lateness.

– The option to delegate non-core aspects of the job (eg, admin).

– Weekly planning meetings to break projects down into clear, manageable steps

– A system of visual prompts, charts, clocks and alarms to improve focus

  • The option to work alone in their own space, or from home, to increase focus, and/or the use of headphones or white noise to reduce distraction.

To be quite honest, if I’d been diagnosed while I was still in full-time employment, I’m not sure I’d even be sitting here in my pyjamas writing this to you. Because while this style of work gets the most out of me in terms of productivity, I am self employed, which means my boss has ADHD.

These days I’m medicated and undergoing treatment, so I am much improved. But there’s nothing like filing your tax return one minute before the deadline, or realising you haven’t invoiced someone for work you did a year ago, and you don’t have enough money for next week’s grocery shop to make you nostalgic for a corporate payroll department. Right now I would give my right arm for someone else to be in charge of all the important work admin, and I’m realising – as the boss – that this is probably something I’ll have to outsource.

My point is that the traditional workplace isn’t necessarily a toxic workplace for people with ADHD. With the right support, and a healthy dose of flexible working practices, employees can be happy, and employers can benefit from the exuberance and creativity that people with ADHD tend to bring to their jobs.

Although, if all else fails, a nice pair of pyjamas is always a decent fallback position.


Robyn Wilder is an award-nominated journalist. She has been The Pool’s parenting columnist since 2016, and writes about being mixed-race, motherhood, and mental health (only with jokes) for publications including Stylist, The Sunday Times Style Magazine, GQ, Grazia, ELLE, and Tatler.


Sleep like a baby

Whoever came up with the phrase ‘I slept like a baby’ never had a baby. That person cannot have faced the onslaught of a collicky infant that won’t be put down or a baby that will only fall asleep to a delicate combination of black out blind, white noise and shushing. Oh the shushing.

But now I’m through the newborn trenches and wrangling a toddler, I’ve had time (3 minutes or so) to look back at what helped me through the dark times. The Stuff. The Stuff that helps make things a little less of an onslaught. (And apologies to anyone reading who is yet to procreate, I hope I’m not putting you off – many have a blissful time, just wasn’t our lucky roll of the dice.)

The first thing that helped was having a dedicated snack table. A table that was abundant with all my things – water, lip balm, chocolate, Netflix, phone, book that I’ll never in a million years get round to reading because my eyes hurt with tiredness. Having a safe space for your things stops the annoying hollers to your partner (or anyone in the vicinity) of ‘can you just get the…’

The second thing is definitely the Sleepyhead. I was sceptical at first because I went through a panicked stage of buying everything with ‘miracle’ in the title and needless to say no miracles were had. But the sleepyhead truly delivers. In many ways I’d look at her kipping in that snug nest (It took only three days before I was getting 4 hour stretches of slumber) and desperately want someone to make an adult-sized one for adults that don’t know if it’s night or day and happen to be wearing two pairs of pants for reasons that remain unclear.

While I (and noone else I believe) can truly help someone with a relentlessly mewling infant, there are small things that make a big difference in the first throes of keeping the infant relatively happy. These are my two. And don’t believe in ‘miracles’ at 3.03am – they rarely deliver.


Flex Appeal: Raising Disabled Kids

Flexible working is not just for parents, it’s for people. People with mental health issues, people with caring responsibilities, people living with disabilities; people wanting to live. In our Flex Appeal – the campaign to fight for effective flexible working for all – we speak to Penny Wincer, photographer and mother raising a neurodiverse family. Here she talks about the realities of working and raising a disabled child.

It’s Tuesday morning and I have a long To Do list. I’ve been up with my son since 3am as usual and like most exhausted parents, I can’t imagine getting through the day.  After a strong coffee, I get started on some urgent deadline work, sending files to clients before I move onto my son’s admin. My son is not a newborn, he is disabled. This particular day includes chasing up a specialist dental hospital appointment (he can’t access a regular dentist), talking to the provider of his respite fund to check whether the (already approved) increase in respite hours has actually started as promised and then calling and checking in with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) on where he is on the waiting list.  I then block out the next 30 mins for crying on my bed when they tell me it will be at least another 8 months (it’s already been 8) and there is nothing they can do to help us in the meantime.

Penny Wincer with two of her children.

After I have dried my tears and washed my face, I pick up my laptop and clear my head, walking the 45 mins to my office, making sure I am out of the house before the nanny arrives. This change over is essential if I am to get any work done past 3pm as my son would be too confused if I was shut away working in the house somewhere. So I finish the day in my co-working space, retouching a job I shot the previous week, before heading home to relieve the nanny and start the long bedtime routine with the kids. (Alone, I’m also a single parent).

Not all my work days look like this.  As a photographer some days I’m on location shooting and juggling trying to get my son calmly on his school bus before dashing off across town.  Other days I’m in my office all day and squeezing in all the household errands that are typically left for weekends but that I can’t manage with my son in tow. It probably looks messy to someone who is used to their work days following set hours, commute and routine but I’m used to it and I love it. When I started freelancing in my early twenties, I knew that it would help me lead the life I wanted but I had no idea that it would be the thing that enabled me to work at all.

In 2018, only 3% of mothers with disabled children work full time and 84% do not work at all (as apposed to 39% of mothers with non-disabled children)*. The two main reasons for this is lack of flexibility from employers and lack of appropriate childcare.  My son requires one-to-one care and cannot attend a mainstream after-school club or holiday club.  He can go to the holiday club at his special school (for which we are incredibly fortunate to have) but only 2 days per week, only school hours and only 8 out of the 13 weeks of holidays per year.  For most people these restrictions mean maintaining traditional 9-5 bums-on-seats employment is completely impossible.

This of course has a huge affect on the entire family.  It is estimated that 40% of disabled children in the UK live in poverty* and lack of access to flexible work is said to be one of the contributing factors. It also costs approximately three times the amount of money to raise a disabled child than a typical child and many of us will be caring for our children’s needs indefinitely and not just during their early years.

While I’m grateful for and love my work as a freelance photographer, I largely owe the possibility of this to the fact I had my career long before I became a mother. Setting up a business or working freelance is not an option for every parent of a disabled child.  Between juggling local authority transport to special schools and NHS appointments (neither of which we have any control over) as well as our need to carry out vast amounts of medical and educational admin, it is virtually impossible for parents to be in a full time job that requires you to be in an office during set hours.

At the moment the picture is fairly dire. 1 in 4 families with disabled children go without specialist equipment and adaptations and 1 in 6 regularly go without food*. But I truly believe businesses are missing out on a vast resource in this community. Never have I met a more efficient and passionate set of people as the ones I have met through my local support group.  We are used to fighting bureaucracy, attending tribunals, writing letters of complaint, running on little sleep, learning to be a therapist/advocate/legal expert and finding alternatives when everyone tells us what we want is impossible. Who wouldn’t want someone like that on their team? And with increases access to flexible working, a whole generation of disabled children and their families could be raised above the poverty line. Surely it’s about considering the human nature of business? Not all humans work the same way – or, in my world, can work the same way.

*Papworth Trust Disibility Facts and Figures 2018 h


TEDx Talk: Flex Appeal

A little while ago we did a TEDx talk in Lausanne, Switzerland. And because the folk at TED are a refreshingly fastidious bunch who fact-check everything (a rare treat on today’s Internet), the video has taken a while to go up. But here it is, in full – How to be a Happy Chicken…


Flex Appeal: Shift Work

On 17 October last year, I chaired a table on flexible working and zero hour contracts at The Equality & Human Rights Commission. Invited to that table was Lourdes Walsh, a mother and shift worker in the retail sector. Lourdes brought to life the reality and human cost of shift work and drove home the fact that flexible working is not simply about breaking down the 9-5. This is her story. Please feel free to share and amplify her voice in your own organisation.

My name is Lourdes Walsh and I have been shift working in the retail sector for the last three years. Before my current job I worked multiple zero-hour contracts in the Arts whilst raising my son and maintaining our home.
When we refer to shift work, we tend to mean work hours scheduled outside the usual working day. Often shift work starts early in the morning or late at night.
The night buses and tube services are often worked by parents. Doctors and nurses, many of those parents. Those working in adult social care, hospitality, in late night restaurants and dawn opening supermarkets.
These parents often work through the night, parent through the day, through nursery drop off and school pick up, through spelling tests and spaghetti dinners, and back to work. Through the night. Most may grab a few hours sleep, some won’t. Some will go to work, exhaustion overhanging from the previous nights, behind a wheel, measuring medicine, caring for the sick and vulnerable.
I’m quite fortunate in that my current shift pattern allows me to bring my child to school – but it never allows me to collect him. My working day finishes at 7pm meaning that childcare is the single, most stressful bane of my life. The expensive, over subscribed childcare options available for a school age child finish at 6pm. I am regularly beholden to the kindness of others, reliant on the stretched patience of other late arriving parents, those not quite as late as me. My conversations with my child’s teacher do not consist of praise worthy anecdotes, but logistics of pick-up passwords and familiar faces at the gate. Shift work is often minimum wage, my job is. I have been priced out of the nanny, childminder market.
The anxiety this induces in my child, quite honestly, is something I don’t, I cannot afford to, think about.
I’ve previously worked zero-hour contracts. It was the worst period of employment in my working life. I was engulfed in debt. Staying permanently contracted is my number one priority. I’ve been known to come in early, leave late, work extra days. I worked weekends for two years for fear that saying no, even to spend that time with my child, would lead to losing my job. This fear has left me completely iced out of any conversations on or around flexible working.
I have spoken to my manager about needing to leave early, change days, the need for allowances for summer holidays and sickness. I end up retreating at the detriment of my family, our life and its quality. We are overdue dental check-ups and eye tests; his swimming instructor spends more quality time with my son than I. It’s difficult to get any time together in which I’m not planning my next move, an infinitely stressful game of chess, always trying to remain two steps ahead. Just two days ahead.
This Summer I asked my manager if I could work more flexibly. Less weekends, a 5pm finish. It would mean that I could collect my child from Summer camp. It was refused. They don’t do split shifts. I work alone, I don’t have a lunch break, I don’t sit down. I am tired and irritable, stressed and resentful. Anxiety is rising. Morale is down.
This refusal, this lack of understanding, has meant that sometimes, I’ve had to bring my child into work. Hidden him in a back office, barely bigger than a cupboard.
It was the last thing I wanted to do. If he could have been anywhere else, he would have been. If it could have worked any other way I would have made sure it did. I don’t want my child at work with me. No-one wants their child at work with them. But all mothers, all parents, want what’s best for their child and that means providing financially. That means working.
I was reported for bringing my kid to work. I wasn’t asked what could be done so it didn’t ever need to happen, I wasn’t called in to discuss why or find resolutions. The response was *shrug* don’t bring your kid to work.
Just to reiterate, it was the last thing I wanted to do. If he could have been anywhere else, he would have been. If it could have worked any other way I would have made sure it did. No-one wants their child at work with them. Being listened to, being included, having me in the room, would have made it so the situation never would have arisen. I felt humiliated, weak. I feel vulnerable and embarrassed. I feel like less of a parent.
In all honesty, without flexible working I have to seriously consider on a weekly basis, whether work, the impact it is having on my mental health, my quality of life, and increasingly on my child, is worth it.
Working flexibly in retail, working flexibly in a shift work environment, can be as easy as listening to your employees, your team, those on the front line of business and being open to a conversation. ‘How can we make it so that you work best for us’ is the question employers should be asking. Job security, job positivity is great for business, for productivity, for profit.
Flexible working cultivates a productive, loyal workforce, employee retention and development is good for business. It is this adaption of skills and inclusivity that creates an active economy.
The demographics of the workforce are changing, we now work until we are older than ever before and it is not just the children we care for that we must think about. With working later, comes living longer. Raising children gives way to caring for elderly parents and relatives.
I am entering this conversation as a single parent of one, but I look at society and can recognise flexible working is not just important to me and my family, but that flexibility at work is vitally important for all workers, at whatever age and at all levels of income.
What began as just a grumbling at ground level has led to a conversation in this room. It’s important it doesn’t stop here. Flexible working that works for parents, parents like me and like you, works for everyone.


Going Dutch

Amsterdam daily Het Parool recently ran a feature on flex appeal, and how we’re trying to bring a little Dutch touch to working lives in the UK. Here’s the translation (thanks, Google Translate)…

Oh, those lazy Dutch: they really don’t care about their work. Anna Whitehouse (37) often thought this when she saw her colleagues in Amsterdam go home to eat with their families at five o’clock.
“Why don’t they sit at their desk until nine in the evening, like good employees?” But after returning to work in England, she thought: well, why do we do that? “It is not that we produce more. You can’t work hard 12 hours a day”, she says.
Anna Whitehouse has a Dutch mother and an English father. It is mid December, and she’s visiting family in the Netherlands. Her sister lives in Amsterdam, her cousins in Eindhoven. We meet in the De Balie cafe, and her daughter Eve (1) plays with the wires of her mother’s iPhone and a leaking cup of apple juice on the floor.
Whitehouse worked in Amsterdam for six years, as a journalist for Time Out and a copywriter for the magazine of Supertrash, the now closed fashion brand of Olcay Gulsen. Her husband was at that time editor Holland Herald, the in-flight magazine of KLM. When their eldest daughter Mae was born, they decided to move back to London, to be closer to their family, where Whitehouse got a job at the l’Oreal Group. When her office was moved half-an-hour further away, she asked if she could start and finish her day 15 minutes earlier to be able to collect her daughter from the crèche. But the answer was no: they felt that would open the doors for anyone who wanted to work flexibly.
It came to a crunch one afternoon when Whitehouse was on the way from work to the crèche. A man got his briefcase stuck between the Tube door, which stopped the train. Whitehouse was 12 minutes late to the crèche.
“My daughter looked at me with those big Bambi eyes: why am I the last one?” The crèche charged a pound for every minute a child was picked up after 6 pm. And Whitehouse received a sermon from the manager: that this should never happen again.
“I didn’t have such stress here. I cycled everywhere in Amsterdam. I knew it would take five minutes to get from a to b. In London it can take hours. You do not just jump on the bike there: the traffic is always fixed and the metro system is outdated. ”
She decided to quit her job and start working for herself. She now runs Mother Pukka, a platform for people who happen to be parents. She also wrote a book, Parenting the Shit Out of Life, and presents a radio program about the struggles of family life – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Via her own site and Instagram, she runs the Flex Appeal campaign for more flexible working in the United Kingdom. What makes her an expert? “I am not an expert! I am just a very, very angry woman who has been forced out of a regular job, simply because I had a child.
Originally she wanted to call her brand Motherfucker, she was so angry. She turned it into the more friendly Mother Pukka because she wanted people to see more than just her anger. And, let’s face it, Whitehouse does not look like an angry woman. She drinks her cold oatmeal cappuccino in a good mood while she wipes the apple juice from the floor with her other hand. And at the same time she tells the story with which she has become the face of the struggle for more flexible working in the United Kingdom. “54,000 women a year lose their jobs in the UK because they have children. Most of them stop because their work has become too inflexible, or simply because of discrimination.” She rolls with her eyes: “Oh god, we have a mother here! In England women take off their wedding ring when they go to interviews, to prevent an employer from thinking that they will want to start having children soon.”
It was her time in Amsterdam that showed her things could be done differently, she says: that you do not have to be ashamed work part-time, and that it is not ridiculously sentimental to want to take care of your child when it is sick.
Maternity leave in England can last up to 12 months, but when you come back you often have to start working full-time again.
“While you have experienced something very big. You have been biologically altered, your world is turned upside down, you have scars, you may have had a postnatal depression, you still have leaking breasts. But in England they refuse to see the person behind the employee. In the Netherlands you have shorter leave, but then there is a papadag, a mamadag concept to give people one day off a fortnight to be with their child,” she says.
“The whole view on family life here is different. We eat a sandwich behind our desk ¬– in the Netherlands you have lunch in the cafeteria and you talk about your private life.”
But there are British companies that are doing well. Take Pursuit Marketing, in Glasgow. They decided a few years ago to go to a four-day work week with their employees on the same salary.
“Their productivity has increased by 30 percent, their turnover has doubled! Because their staff are happier and healthier, see their family and work harder in four days because they get that fifth day. They feel that they are trusted.” Because that’s what it’s all about: trust.
“Employers say: but they will all be sitting at home in their underwear watching The Kardashians! But the person who would do that, if she were in the office, might waste her time stalking her ex on Facebook. Then it’s not flexibility that’s a problem, but with your recruitment. Employers say: what if I can not see my people. We say: do not look at where they are, see what they do!”
It is not a bonus to manage your own time, but a profitable principle. Employers are starting to see that very slowly now, she says: that it is good for your company to give people space.
“Ask your employee what he wants, what’s bothering him: is it your child, do you have a sick mother? And ask him how you can help him so he can perform better for the company. It’s about money. ”
The irony is her campaign for a better division between work and life eats up at least 55 hours per week.
“It is seven days a week. Everything is digital and continues throughout the day. Mae is in school, Eve three or four days at the crèche. If she is ill, one of us can pick her up, everything is much more natural, but my fight for flexibility totally exhausts me. That is the ridiculous thing: giving people independence the risk is not that they do too little, but that they do not stop working!”
Whitehouse finds the Swedish approach inspiring. “The costs for childcare are limited at a maximum €135 a week. I paid £1,350 pounds a month for three days nursery: that meant that I earned £50 pounds a week after taxes and childcare. That is almost paying to go to work: you’re saying hey, give me £50 so that I can not see my children anymore! That’s what it comes down to.”
A while ago she was with an American colleague from The New York Post in Sweden. “She said to me: what are all these male nannies doing here everywhere? It’s so weird. The Swedish woman with us said: they are not nannies, that are fathers who take care of their children! ‘Latte dads’ they are called them. Then I realized how far the Swedes are ahead of us.”

This is a translation of an article that originally appeared in Het Parool.


Oh mother

Anywhere that leads it’s Afternoon Tea with a champagne trolley gets an immediate thumbs up. In the run-up to Mother’s Day I took my Ma to Berners Tavern, the only restaurant within Ian Schrager’s London EDITION hotel (famously under the direction of Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton). Routinely voted as the most beautiful dining room in London, we weren’t here for a 5-course-meal but to sate our sweet tooth.

And we were not disappointed. Silver tray-upon-tray of glistening fancies were delivered with savoury and sweet vying for attention over the home-made scones. Service was not simply with a smile but with a Cheshire Cat-esque grin where no request was too much and champagne flutes were always brimming. Perhaps the creme de la creme was the macaroon cake, which was pink and fanciful like something that would have made it onto a platter in Versailles. Either way there wasn’t a crumb left as we merrily – and riding a definite sugar high – ambled to our next stop: Skin Works.

There’s nothing more appreciated after scoffing for two hours straight than a cleansing detox drink and someone asking you to recline. This beauty parlour in the basement of a large beauty emporium epitomises the word ‘sanctuary’. Flumpy towels, tittering panpipes and a calming duck egg blue on the walls makes for a genuinely Zen experience. Once my Mum and I had come round (we both snoozed off) it was clear to see that an amalgam of champagne and facial had definitely left us feeling that glow. Happy Mother’s Day, indeed.

To book, check out Berner’s Tavern and Skinworks.


Mini (mini) break

The thought of bringing a weaning toddler into 5-star plush luxury realms is enough to ignite a bead-on. Sticky peanut butter-slathered fingers and Egyptian cotton do not a merry mix make. I arrived at the Four Seasons Hampshire with apple puree on my left lapel and ready to start apologising for the biscuit that had been eaten and regurgitated onto the marbled floor. (By my child, not me for the record – I’m not a savage.) I didn’t need to apologise, though, as one of the team instantly ran over, offered up a Peppa Pig toy for my daughter, swept my bags off me and asked if I’d like a drink. And breathe. This wasn’t going to be one of those hotels that has you shouting: “no, no NOT the vase.”

Set in 500 acres of parkland in Dogmersfield Park, an 18th century manor house, this place has pure ‘escape to the country’ vibes. The rooms are luxe yet homely with all the baby add-ons you could hope for: nappies, wipes and Little Prince organic shampoo and conditioner. The lipstick-penned welcome note on the mirror was a friendly touch, along with a dog-shaped chocolate biscuit for the nippers. All in all it’s a home from home with all The Stuff for kids. You could safely land here not having packed a thing for your kid and all would be well.

Perhaps the biggest parental pull at this grandiose bolthole is Sharkie’s pool. We’re talking a super posh Leisure Centre-level water fun park for the kids that includes a big red slide for the braver souls and lots of water features that kept my daughter gurning and splashing into the early afternoon. It’s kid paradise and not a rogue plaster in sight.

While I could see that happy face from dusk until dawn, there’s nothing quite like being able to slope off to the spa as one of the hotel’s babysitters (£10 an hour) gives your child undivided attention with a bit of Octonauts thrown in for good measure. We had two babysitter slots booked: one for spa time and the other for dinner time so we could have a conversation that went beyond: “Can you grab the wipes.”

The Wild Carrot restaurant offered up a melt-in-the-mouth Wellington of Salisbury venison haunch, served with beetroot and a sumptuous jus – the staff are on hand to help with the perfect accompaniment from a healthy wine list. For those with a sweet tooth but little room left, the café gourmand is a knock out way to end the night.

Whether you’re looking for some QT with the family or QT with them fully entertained, this is the ultimate spot to grab some R&R. That’s not to mention the stables on site and the petting zoo round the back. And not a breakable vase in toddler-reach.

Rooms start at £295, click here for more

Karcher cleaning


A clean sweep

karcher mat cleaningI remember the first passive aggressive muttering about my tidiness. We’d been together for three weeks and Matt stepped on a hairbrush that had been nestling under my ‘floordrobe’ – the mountain of clothes that have never quite made it into their receptacles. I say muttering and passive aggressiveness but it’s was a clear message: “why are the things not where the things should be?” With a subtext of: Why is my foot suffering at the hand of your slovenliness?

Fast-forward 12 years, two children, one flatulent beagle and a relentless mortgage and the floordrobe well and truly thrives. Although now it’s peppered with miniature clothes and rogue socks from the small humans. Matt is delighted with his life choices.

And that’s no word of a lie because if he squints a little and ignores the fashion eyesore in the bedroom, his attention fully lands on the cupboard of doom and it’s contents. Within that bulging cupboard of discarded – and never-to-see-the-light-of-day-again-items – lies the answer to general kitchen-based messy floor issues. We’re talking a one-year-old taking on a Petit Filou yoghurt with intense hunger and without a spoon. It’s not pretty and the collateral damage after every meal is hard to palate.

Cue the Karcher FC Hard Floor Cleaner. Yes, those are words I never imagined uttering or writing in relation to our relationship but once you’ve taken that weapon into sullied floor battle, your life will be changed. I’m not sure what delights Matt more – the fact it sucks up bits (think discarded peas and mangled baked beans) while washing the floor or the fact that it dries in 2 minutes. Perhaps the latter because no one enjoys the sensation of a sodden sock and repeatedly telling a five-year-old to “not step on the kitchen floor” wears into the marital soul.

Multitasking often gets strapped to female shoulders – “women are such good multitaskers”. But while I am a dab hand at preparing a lunch box, while breastfeeding and answering the door to the postman, Matt is a dab hand too. (Wo)man power indeed.

The deets
Here are the hard facts that make Matt excited about delving into the cupboard of doom and retrieving the Karcher FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner:

  1. It uses SmartRoller technology to vacuum light debris and wash the floor in one motion, making it easy and effortless to clean hard floors
  2. Leaves hard floors dry in just two minutes
  3. The microfibre rollers effortlessly pick up dirt to leave your hard floors sparkling, right up to the edges.
  4. Using the FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner saves up to 85% of water compared to a mop and bucket
  5. Suitable for all sealed hard floors, including laminate, stone, vinyl, waxed and sealed wood
  6. The SmartRollers are detachable and suitable for machine washing, allowing you to keep them as good as new
  7. Detergents available which remove run marks for streak-free results. With moisture protection to guard against swelling of the floors and with a lemon scent.
  8. The Karcher FC 5 Hard Floor Cleaner is available now for £199.99 at

This blog post was written in partnership with Karcher


Flex Appeal: Zero Hours

Writer Lourdes Walsh shares her initial skepticism about #flexappeal 

My first impression of Flex Appeal – a kaleidoscopic bombardment of lycra-clad women on my social media feeds – was not the most positive. A bunch of middle class, mostly white women with the privilege of career. Most, if not all, seemed to be living in their own homes, or at least with home security.

We are not of the same tribe.

They wanted to be able to collect their kids from school two afternoons a week, I wanted to be able to feed my kid two afternoons a week.

Calling for flexible working is all well and good. It’s a cause primarily benefiting women, as we are still the majority care-givers within every society. As a feminist, I’m all for that.

And yet, flexible working seemed to serve only a very small demographic of working women; the educated, those with five-year plans, life goals and a voice of agency.

I have been in employment for my child’s entire life. I was self-employed through my pregnancy and went back to work when he was six weeks old, having graduated from art school at 37 weeks pregnant. As a single parent I was never judged or berated for this. If anything, I was pressured to return. Single parents are demonised and I felt the constant need to prove my worth. That meant paying my way.

As a single parent, self-employment was not working. I needed stability and financial guarantees. I needed to pay London rent amid a housing crisis. As a single parent you are often pigeon-holed a ‘scrounger’. We are to work in anything, accept everything, no matter the detriment. I was a roach sifting through the scraps of job listings.

I said yes to whatever I could. I worked shifts in a pub, my colleagues taking turns to build Lego with my son at a corner table hidden from the boozer’s patrons. I was fortunate enough to have a manager who listened when I said I HAVE to work a certain number of hours. Inevitably though, I couldn’t have all the day shifts. Others had responsibilities too: relationships, auditions, degrees and second jobs.

I created a WhatsApp group among friends to farm my kid out when I worked late shifts. With one friend, I would drop my son off to at 5pm, then collect him after midnight, pulling him from the warm nest he shared with her own son, carrying him over my shoulder home in his pyjamas and out through the cold.

It leaves a constant pit in your stomach, a piercing headache of logistics. There’s hair loss and acne, there’s weight fluctuations and bouts of insomnia. Stress. Anxiety. Fatigue.

It’s relentless.

I did find another job, though. A job I was over-qualified for and passionate about. It was a rung on the ‘career ladder’. I felt inspired and hopeful and for the first time in too long I could let my shoulders drop and take a breath. I was working for London’s leading children’s theatre and from the very beginning I was honest about my ‘situation’ – that I have sole physical, emotional and financial responsibility for a child.

My working pattern was flexible, a few 9am starts and 4pm finishes. I hesitate to call it the dream – a working life that works with the needs of, you know, life – but initially it worked. Before long this was stretched: 4pm finishes became later, then a Saturday afternoon, then every Sunday morning. And then, suddenly, a change: everyone who had started within the last six months was put on a zero-hour contract.

Zero-hour contracts are the Wild West of the job market. Your boss is under no obligation to give you any work. People are ‘in work’, but no shifts means no money. Often people are only informed days before their shift, sometimes the morning of it. The number of single parents having to take on zero-hours has increased exponentially in the last decade. A recent study confirmed an increase of 58% in which single parents entered zero hour contracts and precarious self-employment status.

For women like me, this means paying for childcare you may not use. That’s bad business in anyone’s eyes and bad business leads to debt, sped along by the complexities of claiming tax credits or housing benefits, and the spiral into poverty is swift and devastating.

My ‘employment’ meant I was no longer entitled to housing benefit. But my contract meant I had no guarantee of work. I had no money coming in and I was still haemorrhaging cash for childcare and heat and food.

Within a month I was in arrears that it has taken me years to clear.

Working life doesn’t always work. And when it does, it doesn’t work well enough.

My current employment status is marginally better. I am forced into any entry-level job, a minimum wage, no progression. I work long hours, alone, without a break. I have too much to lose if I speak up, never mind suggest flexible working. Never was my lack of autonomy more evident than this summer.

I had spoken to my manager about needing to leave early, change days, make allowances for summer holidays, always aware of my desperate need to stay contracted. I end up retreating, appeasing the boss to the detriment of my family.

When you work into the evening and all the childcare clubs finish at 6pm, there have been more days than I should admit to that my child has sat cramped and confined in a back office with nothing but Horrible Histories for company.

This summer I was reported for bringing my kid to work. By another woman: one with the power of flexible working and no child, working in head office. The news was ‘cascaded’ to me: “Don’t bring your kid to work.”

School starts back, with the 3.15pm finishes and the four hours of childcare to cover. After-school club is over-subscribed, childminders are already catering to those who can pay more. And so we’re back to the scrappy ‘who can?’ negotiations, payment in kind, too often indebted to the flexible workers in the playground.

Single parents are left out of every decision-making process in society, so of course they would be left out of the debate on flexible working. I wasn’t invited by a manager into an office to discuss anything. There was nowhere I could go to explain my situation in a way that dignified me as a human, as a parent, as a capable adult.

But it got me thinking. If people without children can work flexibly, then why can’t I?

I’ve said Flex Appeal – the initial conversation – wasn’t mine. I stand by that. But this Flex Appeal call is different. If all women are invited to the table, all working patterns and all salary status’, it can, it will, open the doors for everyone. We’ve said it’s not our fight, and they listened, questioned and listened again. It sounds different. If I’m being invited to the table, it’s definitely going to feel different. This feels like an evolution of the original.

I’m warming to it, this some-seen utopian dream of employers of compassion – where family life is celebrated in all its nonconventional forms. One that’s flexible enough that we can all win at this parenting malarkey. We can all be the parents we want to be without the fear of losing out, losing time, losing our homes, losing our dignity.

Lourdes Walsh is a writer and designer.


Flex Appeal: Disability

Flexible working is not solely for parents, it’s not something only for ‘mummies that want to see more of their babies’. It’s about a fundamental shift in how we work. It’s about giving humans – all humans – the flexibility to do the job they need to in a way that works for both employer and employee. Here, Sally Darby, founder of Mums Like Us talks about flexibility and disability.

According to government statistics there are over 11 million disabled people living in the UK. 16% of working age adults live with disability. There is a 30% difference between the percentages of disabled and non disabled adults in employment. Meaning that you are significantly less likely to be in gainful employment if you are disabled. It is also the case, that households containing a disabled person are substantially more likely to be living in poverty than households with no disabled member. 

It is my feeling, since becoming disabled through MS ten years ago, that disabled people are a minority group who continue to face daily persecution, prejudice and discrimination. This is happening online, on our streets, in education and in the workplace. This huge section of our society is being under represented, under heard, and under valued.  We are making a huge moral and economic mistake by not valuing disabled people and making our world work for them. 

I am a mother of two young children. I have a severe visual impairment and significant mobility difficulties. For a very long time, I felt like the only person in the world that was parenting, working and living with disability. It was extremely isolating. 

I created Mums Like Us – a network for disabled mothers. The aim of this group was to create community for other mums who were living with disability. I wanted to create a group where these women felt they could discuss the highs and lows of their unique experiences without fear of judgement. The Facebook group, exclusively for disabled mums, is a safe space for such discussion. 

Last year I created the website and the Instagram account in the hope of widening the audience beyond disabled mums and encouraging others to consider the issues we face. 

There is, as we know, enormous pressure on mums. We face a societal expectation that we should be all things to all people. We should be nurturing at home and ambitious at work. We should be vulnerable yet strong. We should practice self care whilst nurturing the needs of our children. We should be powerful and brave, a good role model, a strong leader and we should do all this while continuing to be judged on our physical appearance. 

Disabled mums are juggling all this with additional pressures. They  battle the contrasting media images of the disabled person as victim and as superhuman Paralympian. The vast majority of us of course, identify with neither. 

For those of us who are  mothers, the decision (should we be privileged enough to feel we have a choice) to work or not to work is much the same as it is for able bodied mothers. Approximately three quarters of mothers are in full or part time work.  

Juggling work and motherhood is difficult. For the majority of working mothers, expensive childcare is unavoidable, maternal guilt is  likely, judgement from others is almost inevitable. On a practical level, school runs, class assemblies, appointments etc make the demands of the nine to five difficult to manage. 

When you combine these with the challenges faced by disabled mums, the traditional working model can feel  incompatible with family life. These challenges are, for example , the need to accessible working conditions, periods of illness or pain and endless medical appointments. 

Employers  who embrace flexible working are able to accommodate the needs of a disabled mum. If her hours can be set by her schedule, she has the potential of any other person. She has already proved she has resilience, determination and courage by the bucket load. She can be a valuable employeee. 

Time and time again, however, disabled mums have had no choice but to leave employment because it is assumed that no more can be done to create an environment that meets their requirements. Mums like us members repeatedly point out that working from home would have allowed them to meet their personal needs whilst meeting those of the organisation. 

I want to make it clear that many mums like us members report supportive employers who have treated them with equality and dignity whilst making necessary adjustments to accommodate their employees. The good practice is a hundred percent out there.  

There is no doubt however, that Disabled mums have experienced prejudice at all stages of gaining employment and working life. They have been forced from the workplace and they have felt they had no choice. The changes that need to be made are, more often than not, simple but resisted. 

I would like to take this opportunity to say that I worked as a teacher. I was supported, encourage, respected consistently throughout my twelve years in the profession. All reasonable adjustments were made to keep me in work. Teaching, however, requires the teacher to be there, in the classroom, at the same time as the children.. the decision to leave was mine. I was not pressured or pushed. I felt I could no longer do my job with the integrity that I wanted to. This was a desperately difficult decision. I would love to see as few as possible disabled mothers have to make this decision. 


Specs appeal

Back in the day, when I was a youth, I would never even have considered edging into a wedding in specs. In 1999 (feeling old), glasses essentially equalled a work-like aesthetic with no room for words like: sass, fun, edgy (not sure that’s ‘cool’), playful and stylish.

Then one day I decided it was time to get a job and dress up ‘like an adult’ – I invested in a badly-tailored suit on my travels to Bangkok and went with a pair of specs. It was 2000 and I hit the new millennium with glasses planted firmly on my chops. Seeing truly was believing.

A decade passed and I didn’t feel myself without them on. Then I launched Mother Pukka and my logo shows me wearing specs with a slick of red lippy. Instead of being something I had to wear, they became something I wanted to wear – so much so they are centre stage of my working life – and yes, I wore them to weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs and any other social occasion that required sight. And some good looking frames. We were as one.

But like my wardrobe, I don’t just have one frock for all occasions and I’ve gathered a few pairs for any eventuality. I love the new Kylie Minogue range at Specsavers for taking you seamlessly from day to night. I have the ‘ombre’ pair for posh events – like my sister’s wedding where I needed clear vision for getting on a boat after a few glasses of fizz – and the dark ones for day-to-day office-based slogging.

A pair of prescription sunnies is also a good idea for summer shindigs. I’m a big fan of Karen Millen frames for giving that St Tropez, just stepped-off a yacht vibe without needing a sturdy vessel or the South of France.

This post was written in partnership with Specsavers

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A journalist, editor and mother in search of pukka things for her kid, founder Anna Whitehouse previously worked as the Vice Editor at Time Out Amsterdam before writing about shoes and handbags for fashion labels SuperTrash and Tommy Hilfiger.

Looking for a change of pace, she recently returned to London and now works as a writer at Shortlist Media. Likes: super hero cape-making classes. Dislikes: the naming of celebrity couples (TomKat, Bennifer, Brange etc.)

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