Blog - Page 2 of 10 - Mother PukkaFor people who happen to be parents.

12-08-2018

In the driving seat

IMG_6085It took my three go’s to pass my driving test. The first test I had to pull a U-turn back to the test centre because I was deemed ‘a concern’ – left and right has always been a struggle. And then throw Matt, my husband into the mix who, at 42, doesn’t have a driving license (“I’m urban,” he says) and you’ve got quite the line-up for an advertising campaign promoting the new Renault Scenic family set of wheels.

In my mind car advertising was all pencil skirts, dramatic mountainscapes and a deep George Clooney-esque voice penetrating mind and (presumably) wallet. So when we got the call that Renault would like to work with us – the automobile equivalent of The Flintstones but with a less daring wardrobe and more passive aggressiveness – we had a few questions.

Why us?

Followers, engagement, algorithms and all that aside, Renault wanted to exchange the suited and booted brooding couple for a pair like us who were generally hollering things like, “Matt have you got the wet wipes? We NEED the wet wipes” in yoghurt-embellished threads against a backdrop of Peppa Pig. With the campaign titled ‘Behind Car Doors’, they wanted the audience to get into the car and sit with us as we navigated the open road with the full team and all their relentless needs.

And what needs there were. The first video we shot was when I was 35 weeks pregnant. I remember driving my eldest to nursery as Braxton Hicks contractions – false contractions ahead of birth – kicked in and I edited the video to take my mind off the whole uterine palaver. The next video we shot, we had at 1-week-old baby strapped into the back as we were fielding questions from our eldest that went thus: “why can’t I dress the baby as a dinosaur and keep it in my pencil case?”

From endlessly long journeys and relentless requests for ‘iPad now’ to my eldest communicating solely in canine language, it’s, indeed, been a journey. While many find the advertising on Instagram uncomfortable at times – I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, no one wants to be a slipped a Wall’s sausage on the sly – I truly believe Renault got it right here. They were the first brand that let me tag a huge ‘AD’ at the beginning of the caption along with geo tagging to ensure it was clear this was an advert and wasn’t going to leave a bad taste in your mouth as you realised halfway through viewing.

They were also one of the first brands we’ve worked with who gave us carte blanche to create what we wanted around our lives. This meant it wasn’t uncomfortable viewing where we had to say things like, “oooh the gear stick on this Renault Scenic is divine” as we drove to school.

More than anything, the car is spot on for the family. I don’t own any pencil skirts and I haven’t tried it on a dramatic mountain road but it has wipe-clean seats, a massage function on the chairs (perfect when waiting at the school gates with an eye twitch), a huge sunroof for the kids to say things like “that cloud looks like Papa’s bottom”, USB portals for the iPad and a really great steering wheel. And according to Matt my driving throughout the campaign was not ‘a concern’. That said, he’s never had a driving lesson.

This blog post was written in association with Renault. AD

30-07-2018

School’s out

We are at the beginning of the school summer holidays. We are feeling relatively fresh and full of a few entertainment ideas. We are excited about this precious time outside of the shackles of the curriculum. Once that inevitably passes, you will need some ideas for entertaining the troops that won’t break the bank. As part of our #pukkafreestuff series, the brilliant Sally Webb, founder of Milk at the Museum  (a blog that gets you out of the house and doing fun things with the kids) shares her top London spots that will keep them schtum and won’t leave you penniless

 

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Tate Britain: Become an Artist

Let your child run free round the main gallery and get drawn into art and make believe as modern art and kings and queens surround you.  The 1840 display is my absolute favourite where you can find an easel, pen and paper for your child to get creative and let their imaginations run wild. In addition to that, go on the hunt for Anthea Hamilton’s The Squash, a solo performer dressed in a squash like costume.  This is running until 7th October and I can guarantee it will have the kids in a total trance giving you that all important 5 minutes to breathe.

Horniman: Head to the Farm

Want a bit of farm action with a stuffed walrus, child friendly exhibitions and picnic areas to boot.  Well head on over to the Horniman Museum and Gardens and check out their Animal Walk where you can catch up with Alpacas, Goats, Sheep, Guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens to name a few.

Museum of Childhood: Baby Sensory

The Museum of Childhood is basically free baby sensory with a stack load of retro toys thrown in for good measure.  You have the sensory pod with colour changing lights to mesmerize the little ones, the gated baby area with flowers that light up, rocking horses, fancy dress, games, dolls houses and a sandpit!  Not to mention the free storytelling and arts and crafts sessions on daily.  A total winner!

V&A: Splash pool

Who wants a leisure centre when you’ve got the lush V&A paddling pool with the most stunning surroundings in the courtyard garden.  I know where I would rather be.  While you’re there head on over to one of the most breathtaking cafes just past the paddling pool and nip to the ladies loos, you will feel like a Queen for at least 10 minutes.  The most pleasant child friendly toilets I have ever seen!

National Maritime Museum: Become an Explorer

There is nothing like a mahoosive Great Map to keep your little ones entertained for half an hour.  This giant atlas, located on the first floor, allows your kiddies to go exploring on seas and land.  Watch their imaginations come alive as they become pirates, sailors and mermaids.  Also very conveniently located next to the café for our tired legs!  While you’re there check out the All Hands interactive gallery.  This is aimed at 6 to 12 year olds but my toddlers loved it, and the Childrens Gallery for 0-7’s.

Check out milkatthemuseum.com for more brilliant free activity ideas.

 

 

11-06-2018

Love island

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Just before I get stuck in, I want to preface this with a dollop of transparency: we asked for a media rate for this holiday. So I don’t have to write what the brand want; we got a discount on the holiday in exchange for sharing our honest review here. 

 

Last time I went to Greece was with a boyfriend and we booked an £89 holiday that included flights and a daily Greek buffet. Oh Teletext holidays, where are you now?

 

Anyhow, I was riddled with food poisoning throughout and can never hear the words ‘taramasalata’ uttered again. So when my mate Cerys suggested Skiathos as an ideal spot to park up the fam for a week, the cod roe sweats descended. A light Google of the island – it’s part of the Sporades group in the north-west Aegean Sea – and the cynical eyebrow softened a little.

 

Thanks to hefty protection measures, Skiathos is the least built-up of the Greek islands. There are no Prince William pubs or heaving nightclubs – complete with this year’s Love Island cast offs and vats of Sex on the Beach. It’s a bona fide place of beauty with 60 golden beaches to boot. (With soft sand over pebbles; an essential tick for those herding 11-month-old crawlers with a penchant for choking hazards.)

 

In a nutshell it’s a ‘fly-and-flop’ destination. Roman remains and architectural history are exchanged for crystal clear waters and balmy sunsets. We went at the end of May and the weather was a steady – and manageable with the kids – 26 degrees Celsius throughout. Just enough sun to nail the tan (I’m eternally wedded to the old adage, ‘if you can’t tone it, tan it’), while ensuring noone is perspiring over their Greek salad.

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After deciding on the location, we approached the Skiathos Princess Hotel after TripAdvisor chucked it up as one of the best kid (and more importantly, parent)-friendly spots on the island. Just 20 minutes away from the airport, it’s got the three big wins: an immaculate, jaw-dropping beach, a kiddie pool the size of a tennis court and a knock-out kid’s club. If you’re looking to cement the ‘flop’ bit of a family holiday, those have become our essential components for dropping the cash on a destination.

 

The hotel itself eschews any pomp and ceremony for something that could be described as rustic luxury, perhaps. That’s a completely made-up concept but swirly foam on plates (the swank benchmark) is exchanged for hearty, heaving platters of fresh sea bass and coat-hanger smiles from the kind-eyed (my eldest still talks of the waiter Giorgio who made her a paper aeroplane) staff. It’s the best bits of the Dirty Dancing complex mixed in with traditional Greek architecture – think bougainvilleas enveloping white walls and red clay roof tiles. In short, it’s somewhere that doesn’t make you feel rubbish about releasing a weaning 11-month-old who gets roughly 1/3 of food offered in her cakehole. Equally, it’s a place that makes you feel tended to, without any need for cold towelette frippery and Relais Chateaux stationery.

 

The breakfast buffet is a thing of beauty. Jugs of freshly-squeezed orange juice await your bleary-eyed arrival, with a pancake station (allowing our eldest to order hers every morning was at least five minutes of peace parent-side) centre stage. It can feel a little like the world descends in the breakfast room because it’s a large hotel but everyone seems to disperse to various nooks and crannies throughout the day, ensuring it’s peaceful – even with an excitable 4-year-old and a baby desperately seeking out sharp edges and deep ends.

 

The key bit: childcare. The Little Seals Kid’s Club isn’t the biggest of centres but it packs a fair punch in the entertainment stakes. This isn’t just a colouring-in outpost; crafting is serious within these brightly-hued walls. Every day our eldest emerged from the fun house, I had another piece of plastic jewellery strapped to my person. There’s also 17 shades of plasticine – which they replenish daily – ready to go at any one time. I had forgotten how alluring and cathartic it is kneading, rolling and making a self-portrait out of soft rubber. (I stayed for the first hour but once my daughter was in the crafting zone, it was easy to slip away.)

 

 

 

For our youngest, it was the under-4 nursery, which is €10 an hour and manned by the genned-up staff who won over my youngest in a record 5 minutes. It’s a worthwhile cost when you can escape to the sun, overlooking the Aegean Sea with your life lobster. The kids were generally ensconced in their kiddie receptacles for two hours a day – to beat the midday sun. (Or that’s how we justified it.) Either way, the kids were alright and my husband, Matt and I had a conversation that went beyond, “can you pass the wet wipes.” I read two books (How To Stop Time and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), which is a holiday record.

 

When it comes to that mid-way point in the break where you’re getting slight cabin fever, it’s easy to escape to a suitably child-friendly spot. Skiathos town itself is peppered with traditional Greek trattorias where a knock-out Greek salad is yours for under €3. The main coast road is stunning and the buses that weave around the meandering roads are regular and cheap. To be honest the hotel itself offered up enough fodder and entertainment, we fully embraced the ‘flop’ side of things.

 

Perhaps one of the biggest pulls for young couples (without an entourage) is the aptly-named Banana Beach where folks sunbathe nude, while overlooking the stunning Skiathos harbour. We steered well clear for fear of any loud questioning from our eldest. Noone wants to have to answer the questions that might arise from clapping eyes on a nudist beach.

 

While this is undoubtedly the best holiday we’ve been on with the team, the hotel décor and furnishings let it down a bit. I loved a turquoise net curtain as much as the next person in the 90s but it doesn’t quite work here. Instead of looking Mediterranean chic, it just feels a tad dated. Also the beds could do with having a little more give, although that being said, I slept like a log and my back feels suitably ironed out.

 

But when it comes to the core pillars: sun, sea, sand AND childcare, the Skiathos Princess Hotel is, indeed, kid (and parent)-friendly royalty. It’s the sort of place where you know you’ll return because everything just works and you find yourself chirping at each other, “I actually feel relaxed, how is this so?”. Oh, and they do a knock-out taramaslata.

 

Things to do in Skiathos

 

Akkiton Open-Air Cinema
Skiathos’ open-air cinema can be found in Papadiamantis Street, and shows English films with Greek subtitles. There are films shown every day of the week, with normally two back-to-back showings in the late evenings.
Cost: c. £6 per ticket

Carousel Cruise
The cruise will take you past the Blue Caves, to the beaches of Lalaria and Kastro, before docking in mainland Greece for lunch in a fishing village under Mount Pelion. You can then relax on the beach, with time for a swim at the uninhabited island of Tsougria before returning back to Skiathos.
Cost: £42.50 for adults, £24.99 for children (ages 2-12)

Kastro
The Kastro is a fortification overlooking the sea at the northern tip of the island. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but the kids will be interested in the fact the Kastro was used to protect the people of Skiathos from pirate raids. The fort actually became the island’s capital for a period in the 14th Century, when the raids became so bad that Kastro became the only inhabited town on the island.
Cost: free

Make a Dog’s Day
If you’re a fan of our canine friends, this is an interesting treat for the kids and yourself. After visiting the famous dog shelter near Troulos and taking one of the dogs there for a walk with a tour guide thorough the hills, you visit a local, Maria, who will treat you to lunch and teach you some traditional Greek cooking.
Cost: £42.50 per adult, children go free

Megali Ammos Beach
At the beach, just 5 minutes away from Skiathos town by car, you can rent waterskiis, jet-skiis, pedalos and banana rides; a great way to spend time at the beach!
Cost: various

Mountain Biking
For a bit of exercise while taking in the scenery, your family can rent mountain bikes and tour one of two routes (one of 25km, the other of 14km). This might be one if you have older kids, with the harder tours being for those aged 16 and over.
Cost: various depending upon equipment rented

The Planes at Skiathos Airport
Many a traveller has found an odd pleasure in watching planes land at Skiathos Airport. The airport and runway are fairly small, and there is something strangely mesmeric about lying back and having a picnic while take-offs and landings abound in the near-distance.
Cost: free

Riding Centre in Koukounaries
For keen riders of those who want to learn, the Skiathos Riding Centre is based in Koukounaries in the south-west of the island. There are various things to do, from beginner riding lessons to being able to rent a horse for the day and tour the island by yourself on horsepack. For even younger family members, there’s a small petting zoo and donkey rides available.
Cost: various

Shop in Skiathos Town
It’s very easy to spend an afternoon ambling through Skiathos Town, particularly in the shopping street Papadiamanti. Shops stay open until 10pm, with many specialising in traditional Greek fashions, jewellery, ceramics and linens.

 

Olympic Holidays is offering 7 nights at the 5-star Skiathos Princess, Skiathos from £1,549 per person based on two adults and two children travelling. The package includes 7 nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation in a family room garden view, and return flights from Gatwick. Departures are available on 21/08/18. The package is subject to availability. For bookings call 0208 492 6868or visit www.olympicholidays.com.

 

 

 

 

27-04-2018

Private: No access

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I’ve just uploaded a photo of myself nuzzling my 10-month-old daughter to Instagram where I have 159,000 followers. In terms of cracking open a discussion on child online safety – and later, teenage online safety – I’m not coming to the digital party from a position of strength. It’s on par with The Cookie Monster analysing the negative impact of sugar in our diets.

This is certainly no self-flagellation exercise, though. It’s more an opportunity to lift the slightly sticky lid on the cookie jar; to rifle around among the crumbs lurking at the bottom and see what we are, in fact, doing here. On the Internet, online, uploading the good, bad and increasingly ugly (and not-so-ugly if you follow @symmetrybreakfast) elements of our existence. And to see how this digital drive is impacting – or might impact in the future – those we are nuzzling.

I don’t have the answers. But I’ve been digging deep for some guidance in a pixellated world that has been described as the ‘Wild West’; a world where the surface is seemingly peony-embellished and the underbelly a murky wasteland of uncertainty, confusion and muddy digital footprints.

To sharent or not to sharent?

“There are two things to be careful about,” says Victoria Nash, acting director of the Oxford Internet Institute when it comes to uploading an image of your kids. “One is the amount of information that you give away, which might include things like date of birth, place of birth, the child’s full name, or tagging of any photographs with a geographical location – anything that could be used by somebody who wanted to steal your child’s identity.

“The second issue is more around consent. What type of information would children want to see about themselves online at a later date?”

Regardless of whether you privately have 32 followers or publicly have 320,000, Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, and an expert on children and the Internet urges us to take a moment to consider the nature of what we are about to foghorn to the world. “I think we should start with the question of cost – if you post a picture of your child with the mark of the devil on their arm, or in a temper tantrum, perhaps that will have a future cost. It’s not all pictures, but certain pictures that are problematic.”

It’s the equivalent of posting something juvenile and abrasive as a teen on Twitter and then – on becoming a fan-girled member of One Direction – that childish 140-character blurb defines who you are as it’s amplified on the front page of The Sun.

One friend (we shall call her Hyacinth for suitably protective purposes) uses a pet name for her daughter online instead of her real name. This is one simple step we can all adopt to reduce our children’s digital footprint. “Unless you literally post nothing at all, there is no perfect protection. But most parents probably find a happy medium, which is posting pictures or stories about their young children either without using their real name or without tagging them in pictures,” adds Livingstone.

By using a pet name, Hyacinth has also offered up some protection against those lurking companies or individuals who might be interested in her daughter’s personal data; even if Hyacinth’s privacy settings let her down, a search for her real name would not bring up any of her posts – at least for now.

From a personal perspective, we started out using ‘The Urchin’ when I launched Mother Pukka, then moved towards ‘Squidge’ when ‘The Urchin’ seemed a little Dickensian – and, perhaps, something that she would not have looked back on fondly – and have thrown in ‘Stevie’ for good measure. But this process has not been watertight and our daughter’s names are known, so we’ve started using emojis to represent them (to eradicate any searchable terms) or, rather perfunctorily, ‘my eldest’ and ‘my youngest’. Again, this is not a ‘you should do this exercise’; more a ‘this is where we are at’ gathering of words.

“It is increasingly difficult to secure anonymity online,” says Amy Webb, a futurist and CEO of digital strategy firm Webb.

Privacy settings are simple and, yet, not watertight. Unless you don’t touch the Internet, your footprint – regardless of whether you have tapped ‘private’ or not on Instagram – will be embedded there. Even Webb (who uploaded nothing of her children and has a private account) found herself caught out; in the process of trying to integrate her many social network and digital accounts, a couple of baby photos that she had edited using Instagram’s mobile editing tool somehow became public.

She never would have known, except that after writing about digital anonymity in Slate, several readers delved deep and found those photos with a subtext of “we’ve got you”.

(So not to scaremonger but even my Aunty June who has a hint of moral superiority in her tone when speaking about THE INTERNET – because she has her privacy settings locked down – is not fully ‘safe’ here.)

I think that’s a relevant point to highlight, though: it’s one thing expressing a concern about someone’s online security (“If I was you I’d be worried that your family could be found by a loon because you’ve posted X, Y and Z”) and a whole different moral ballgame posting the address to prove a point. (“Well look, I’ve found you [published on a public forum with 12 million visitors] so others can.”) In these increasingly murky realms with little or no policing, there has to be an unwritten moral code of conduct not to endanger further – regardless of personal gripes with a person. Vindictive is never a go-to state online or offline.

Back to the cost element – that cost of calling your child a ‘twat’ for not eating their broccoli, perhaps or detailing the contents of their nappy for the world to laugh at. Or, on a less obvious level, penning something personal about miscarriage (which I write extensively on) in the hope of making people suffering feel less alone. What should we be considering? What will it mean for our relationships with those we are currently waving a Fisher Price BeatBop toy at?

“Ten years from now, almost all the next generation of teenagers will all have baby photos on social media; it’s not going to be something that stigmatises them,” says Nash.

“My guess is that it will magnify whatever relationship they already have with their parents. If they have a great relationship, they may look back on those photos and say, ‘Wow, I can appreciate what my mum went through.’ However, if they are upset with their parents they may view such posts as this infringement of their privacy, and use them as fuel to the fire.”

Whenever I’ve been asked what my steps are in protecting ‘Squidge’ and ‘Stevie’ online, I cannot say they are watertight. And that possibly makes me a bad person and open to significant judgment. But these are our current personal – and I still believe like with the majority of parenting choices it is personal – online safety measures:

  • Never using their names (this has been since November 2016)
  • Never revealing school address or uniform
  • Considering how they would feel reading the caption and seeing the image in ten years time
  • Considering what others – potential bullies – might see as ammunition in the image and caption
  • Restricting images of them to 1 in 5 (hence the many graphic-led, less engagement-worthy tiles on my feed)
  • Ensuring as much as possible their faces are not in full view
  • Ensuring no bathtime or swimming suit or naked images are used
  • Using a black and white filter where possible – according to the NSPCC, predators seek clear colour images
  • Ensuring images uploaded of them have no space behind them to superimpose anything or anyone
  • Ensuring I have a ‘content’ structure and some control over what I’m uploading day-to-day so I’m not taking photos ‘in the moment’ for fear of ‘missing the moment’. Hence why I work with the photographer Charlotte Emily Gray – so we have one day a month where we take images, meaning the rest of the month isn’t spent with my phone in their grill. From a purely brand perspective, it’s not good for engagement to not be posting ‘in the moment’ but it’s one step towards controlling this all-consuming business – and business it is. Plus I am a shambolic photographer
  • To realise the above needs constant adjustment and those discussions need to include the whole family. My eldest is now in school and so it doesn’t feel right including her in videos or on my feed any more. If she is there, it’s an arm around my neck here or an obscured photo there
  • Not to judge or scaremonger anyone else, just to inform
  • To keep up-to-date on online child safety developments on the NSPCC website

One thing that truly hit home for me, though, was when Mark Zuckerberg was recently asked by the Supreme Court this simple question: “What hotel are you staying at?” Zuckerberg laughed and replied: “I’m not telling you. I can’t see how that is relevant”. And, yet, he has built a billion dollar business on encouraging us to tell everyone else where we are, what we are doing – and, perhaps, more worryingly, where our children are and what they are doing. Even if it seems irrelevant.

Regardless of how much I love social media and see the positives of uniting on a mass scale, this ever-changing realm shouldn’t go unquestioned.

Of 159,000 people following me, how do I know who is actually out there? What proportion of people wish me well? What about the – hopefully small – segment who are hate following? Those who seek to translate the hate into something more sinister offline? Who knows? And is that vagueness a significant concern as a parent?

Food – specifically cookies – for thought, indeed.

Text, sext and what’s next?

One of the main things that sparked this blog post was the health secretary Jeremy Hunt lampooning social media companies last week for “turning a blind eye” to emotional problems and mental health damage suffered by children who have free reign of the Internet. While I am not about to give the man a bosomy hug – and certainly don’t want to align myself with his political viewpoint, the man does  regardless of his often shady intentions  raise a solid point.

My own deep-rooted fear of my daughters running this pixellated gauntlet stems from an explicit message I received from a 14-year-old boy last year. The police were involved and his parents informed – but a lurking queasiness and innate fear of the accessibility of this newfound platfrom has remained with me ever since. Speaking to safeguarding expert Victoria Leather, who has worked in safeguarding in the public sector her whole life, it became clear that I could have also been charged had I responded in any way. While I don’t want this to be a scaremongering exercise, the consequences of our/my actions – however well meaning – are there to be used against us at any given moment.

“There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things,” said Hunt last week. “For example, I ask myself the simple question as to why you can’t prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18, if that’s a lock that parents choose to put on a mobile phone contract.” He added: “There is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent [them] being transmitted.”

Hunt’s letter (to giants like Apple and Zuckerberg) continued: “I fear that you are collectively turning a blind eye to a whole generation of children being exposed to the harmful emotional side-effects of social media prematurely; this is both morally wrong and deeply unfair on parents, who are faced with the invidious choice of allowing children to use platforms they are too young to access, or excluding them from social interaction that often the majority of their peers are engaging in. It is unacceptable and irresponsible for you to put parents in this position.”

Rates of stress, anxiety and depression were rising particularly sharply among teenage girls. NHS data showed that the number of times a girl aged 17 or under has been admitted to hospital in England because of self-harm had jumped from 10,500 to more than 17,500 a year over the previous decade – a rise of 68%. The rise among boys was much lower at 26%.

He also said at the time that technology should be used to tackle cyberbullying automatically, using “word-pattern recognition”. There were many areas “where social media companies could put options in their software that could reduce the risks associated with social media”, he added.

But in the interim – an interim where we/I have not got a answers in this ever-shape-shifting world – here are a few varying thoughts from those a little more in the know:

‘Start discussing online safety at an early age’

David Emm, senior security researcher at internet security company Kaspersky Lab

“I think one of the key things is to start the process of discussing online safety with your children at an early age, when they start to do anything that involves the Internet.

They might still be using the computer with you, rather than independently and this offers an opportunity to highlight the fact that the online world parallels the real world and that there are both safe and unsafe things out there. It also enables you to discuss the things that are there to protect us, e.g. Internet security protection, passwords, etc.

As they get older and begin to do things independently, widen the circle. For example, if you let them start an account with Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters, help them create a sensible password and explain why they should use different passwords for each account and the possible consequences of not doing so.”

‘If you wouldn’t do it face to face – Don’t do it online’

Shelagh McManus, online safety advocate for security software Norton by Symantec

“The advice I give my own family and friends is encapsulated in: “If you wouldn’t do it face to face – Don’t do it online” For example, would you go up to a complete stranger and start a conversation? Would you be abusive to friends or strangers in a pub or bar?

Just because you feel protected by the apparent distance a screen gives between you and the person you’re talking to, you must remember that online is still the real world.

Mid to late teens need to remember that everything they do over the web is captured forever and could come back to haunt them. Many employers and university admissions offices look at social media profiles when researching candidates.

My husband and I actually used to ask random questions based on what the younger family members had put online just to remind them that they should lock down their profiles! If they didn’t want their dad, uncles and aunts or future employers asking about exactly what was in that fifteenth drink on Saturday night, they needed to check their privacy settings!”

‘At least I don’t feel like a spy…’

Paul Vlissidis, technical director at cyber security firm NCC Group

“My view is very non-PC I’m afraid (no pun intended). I have no filtering of any kind on my kids internet, no snooping and no time limits. I have of course spoken to each of them about the perils of the internet and they know that it’s an unsafe place unless they stay on the mainstream sites.

They do have AV [antivirus software] and I do scan their machines regularly for malware and ensure they remain fully patched but that’s it. Basically I trust them.

They have approached me several times where something odd has happened or where they had concerns (one Google search my daughter did for Barbie and Ken certainly produced some interesting results I recall). Of course they may yet turn out to be axe murderers, but only time will tell and at least I don’t feel like a spy.”

‘Teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts’

Amichai Shulman, CTO of network security firm Imperva

“Being a parent (four children), paranoid and a vendor I can shed some light on this. My basic belief is that adults have proven once and again vulnerable to cyber attacks and therefore we cannot expect children to be any better – especially given that their sense of curiosity is far more developed and their sense of caution far less mature.

I do not expect my children to behave online much different than in the real world and therefore I explain to them about hackers being a type of criminal that breaks into your house through the computer rather than through the window. It’s easy for them to understand it.

I also teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts much like they should in the physical world. For example, I don’t allow my children to open a mail package if they don’t KNOW who sent it (or got my permission to do so) – much the same way, I don’t allow them to open unsolicited email attachments.

Could they fall prey to someone who took over their friend’s account and sent out malware? Yes, but so would most adults. Could they fall prey to a targeted attack on our family? They probably will – like almost all adults.”

‘Once you’ve written something you can’t delete it’

David Robinson, chief security officer at Fujitsu UK & Ireland

“The Internet is a fantastic place, but you have to be careful what you do and say when you are there. Don’t say things which you wouldn’t talk about in conversations with your family, think about what you do and say, you may well regret what you do by hurting someone or being hurt yourself.

Remember once you’ve written something you can’t delete it, despite what Google are doing in Europe, the right to be forgotten doesn’t apply everywhere! If what you do or say is controversial it will be copied many times and will always come back and bite you, even in later life when you apply to go to college, university or even a job.

How you connect is important too, the gadgets you use, smart phones, tablets even old fashioned computers all need to be protected as well. But that’s only one part of it, those applications and services you use need to be protected, you don’t want others seeing your information. Use sensible passwords and protection, it’s a little price to pay for the security of your information and intimate details.

Don’t be frightened to ask for help either, there’s lots of places and people who can show you what to do and how to behave such as Get Safe On-line, friends and teachers.”

‘Never, under any circumstances, browse unaccompanied’

Dave King, chief executive of online reputation management company Digitalis

“The first and most fundamental principle is that my children never, under any circumstances, browse unaccompanied. They both have iPad Mini devices at which they are more adept than most adults I know. But both devices are set to forget the wifi access code so that they cannot get online without either my wife or I present.

Ditto the computers in the house and the main screen for the computers to which they have access is in our living space (not bedrooms) so that any activity is plain to see.

We talk to the children about the risks because the time will come that they have access outside the safety of our home. We make a point of being open about the concept of inappropriate content and the existence of bad people. In the same way that a generation ago we were told to shout loud when approached by a stranger, we tell the girls to tell us immediately of any approach online.

We talk about trolling as we talk about bullying and we talk about paedophiles in the virtual and real world. Ultimately we want to retain their innocence but where we used to want street-wise kids we now need web-wise children.”

‘Try and be vigilant and monitor what you can’

Chase Cunningham, lead threat intelligence agent for cloud security company Firehost – and creator of educational comic The Cynja

“For my kids I have already set them up with their own personal private clouds through the Respect Network and I have set up all the devices that they can or could access the internet with has a passcode that only I know and each device has blocks on sites that I consider risky.

I also have set up monitoring on their credit reports (yes they are only three and five but kids credit thievery happens all the time) and I am with them when they are using the internet.

I tried to explain to them about the nasty side of the internet but it kind of fell on deaf ears, but I was able to educate them about the dangers of the internet through my comic The Cynja.

They didn’t understand what I meant when I talked about malware and botnets as a tech geek dad but they understood that bad things are out there in cyberspace when they read the comic and saw the images.

For me, and quite a few other parents recently, that was a real connection point for the kids was when they had a comic character to relate to who is literally telling them about being safe online and protecting their digital selves, they understood the story and were getting the message of being safe online all at the same time.”

The Cynja is a comic that teaches children about cybersecurity.

‘Educate early and often’

Samantha Humphries-Swift, product manager at cybersecurity firm McAfee Labs

“Get involved – I speak with my daughter regularly about which sites she is using, and given her age, I personally vet all app downloads. This way, I can keep an eye on security settings and make a judgement on whether I think it’s safe and appropriate for her to use.

Educate early and often – I warned my daughter about the dangers of the internet as soon as she started browsing, and remind her of safe online behaviour regularly – don’t accept friendship requests from people you don’t know, verify requests if they look to be coming from someone you do know, never agree to a private chat with a stranger, never post your mobile phone number or home address online for all to see.

Communication is key – I like to be open, approachable and understanding about what my daughter is getting up to online. This way it makes it easier for her to come to me with any problems she’s experiencing online, and she’s happy to ask for advice.

On a more general note, talk to your kids about how they use their computers and smartphones and ask about any concerns they might have. Be prepared to field any questions they may ask – there are plenty of online resources available to help support you in answering tough and delicate questions.”

‘Not just to tell them the rules but also to spend the time’

Jesper Kråkhede, senior information security consultant at IT security company Sentor
“My first observation on keeping your kids safe online is not just to tell them the rules but also to spend the time to show them that you’re the most trustworthy when it comes to the internet. In brief, a good line of communication with your kids, where they can talk to you and you to them is THE starting point for the best online protection.

When it comes to passwords I tell them to use long sentences. Easy for them to remember and hard for others to crack. I teach them how to check that the virus protection is updated and how to answer requests. The bottom line we’ve agreed is that if they are unsure they should ask me.

My kids use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc and I have asked them to be-friend me on all their apps. The next piece of advice I’ve given them is if they are posting a picture or a comment and they think they wouldn’t want me as their Dad to see it, then it doesn’t belong in the public domain at all.”

‘Become friends and contacts in your child’s social media’

Tracy Hulver, senior identity specialist for telco firm Verizon

“Make sure your children ONLY message and accept friend and contact requests from people they know. A lot of times the number of contacts of friends you have become a “popularity contest”. People that do not have appropriate of good intentions realize that and will try and contact kids by masking as people they are not and “infiltrating” the child’s “inner circle”.

Make sure YOU as a parent, become friends and contacts within your child’s social media circles and ensure you monitor posts. Your children may resist but tell them that is one of the conditions for you to allow them access.

Ask to see their child mobile devices periodically. Some children, especially the older they get, will not want Mom and Dad looking at their messages to their friends and that’s OK if the parent doesn’t want to do that.

But if nothing else, look to see what apps are installed, take a mental inventory, and if the parent is not familiar with the app, go online and do investigation. That way you at least know the types of social media services your child is using and to the point earlier, you should at least sign up for that service to see what it’s all about.”

‘Imagine a responsible adult standing behind them’

Kevin Gourlay, head of technical assurance at Platinum Squared, and head of the (ISC)2 Safe and Secure Online cybersafety initiative

“My general rule is If they can imagine a responsible adult standing behind them, and watching what they are doing on the Internet, and they would be happy with being watched by them, then what they are doing is ok.

If they are on Twitter for example, or Facebook, commenting or replying to posts, If they think that I would be OK with them doing what they are doing, then it’s ok. They need to be helped to apply common sense, rather than told what to do, and this can be easy for children once you help them to understand the risks.

My two children are 9 and 14 years old, so I have two different sets of rules and advice for them. For my youngest, I’ll teach her about the websites that are likely to be safe online: .co.uk, .edu, .org, etc., and I have a whitelist in place to make sure she only stays on those sites.

However, as they get older, learn more and become more mature, that list grows out and it becomes more of a blacklist with just certain websites blocked. It’s about giving them more freedom as they get more mature.”

‘It’s about them understanding simple safety rules’

Lucy Woodward, director at Disney’s Club Penguin virtual world for children

“This is the crunch generation – so it’s vital that we get it right, and kids and parents learn internet safety skills for themselves. My kids are still very young so for me it’s about them understanding simple safety rules at this stage and keeping it fun – for example understanding what a password is and keeping it secret (kids love secrets!).

At school my daughter has an Internet reading program where she has an individual password and I have found this a good way in to talking about the issue. My children like many will be straight on the internet at any given opportunity so I also encourage them to tell me if they click on something that they don’t like the look of so they get in to an early routine of doing this and always knowing they can talk to us.”

 

Talk the talk

Speaking further to Victoria Leather, she recommends parents stay up-to-date on how to keep their children safe, with the help of the NSPCC website (link below). “Safe, stable and nurturing relationships between parents and children are the starting points for protecting children offline and online,” she says. “These foundations make it easier to talk about difficult topics in age appropriate ways throughout childhood. Informed parents who keep up to date with the challenges faced by their children, whatever their age, are better placed to make informed, proportionate responses to risk.” CEOP and ThinkUKnow are also great sources of information in supporting parents and children by delivering online education and raising awareness of online child sexual exploitation. They also have information for supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Here are some useful links if you would like to get fully genned up:

Stalking and Harassment Legal Guidance from Crown Prosecution Service

NSPCC

UK Safer Internet Centre

CEOP

ThinkUKnow

Internetmatters.org

 

Note: If you would like to comment on this blog post or kick-start a discussion, please use my latest Instagram post. I would be keen to see where you are at and what I might be missing. We are, after all, in this together. From one Cookie Monster to, perhaps, another.

 

22-04-2018

And breathe…

This week’s blog competition is to win a spot on an &Breathe retreat worth £2,200. To WIN this exclusive spot, comment on my Instagram post with GIVE IT TO ME and  follow @andbreathepostnatal. The competition would be for our &Breathe Flow retreat which runs from the 13th to the 19th May 2018 and see more info here: http://www.andbreathepostnatal.com/flow.  This is a brand new yoga/pilates retreat which focuses on restoring the core and building strength for functional fitness as well as deep relaxation and mindfulness.  There are baby-bonding sessions as well as the usual childcare.  Beautiful accommodation, full board, massage and baby equipment all included. While I haven’t been on one of the retreats, I have heard many good things and am already quite jealous of the winner. Here’s a little more information about the retreat:
Sometimes, or more likely, most of the time, parents forget to look after number one.  Clio, the founder of &Breathe launched her business when shit was hitting the fan after her daughter (now three) was born.  She really struggled with the transition to motherhood; the loss of identity, the pain of breastfeeding, the difficulties of getting the baby to sleep and getting enough sleep herself, pelvic floor issues, postnatal depression, and the confusion of keeping a child alive. (The usual quagmire so many of us navigate in some form or another) Never mind the desire to throw things at her husband’s head occasionally (a lot).
If you haven’t heard of &Breathe, get on over to their website right now. They run award-winning postnatal and family fitness retreats all over the place but they started their journey in France at Clio‘s family home, a rambling manoir in the Limousin region which she owns with her husband, Bryn.  When your body has been through such a lot (pregnancy and childbirth is your body’s biggest workout) it can feel like you don’t own it any more, especially when you’ve got a kid hanging off your boobs 24/7; but the lack of postnatal exercise information out there is terrifying.  Add to that the way you tend to eat three packets of biscuits in a row because it’s the only thing you can reach/munch one-handed; and your out-of-control hormones and fragile mental wellbeing, and a re-set is often in order.
Unfortunately there are few places where you can do this with baby in tow.  Which is where &Breathe steps in.
– All inclusive (tick), you don’t have to worry about any extras
– Except for travel (tick), so you’re not forced on a plane with everyone else if you don’t want to be
– Expert postnatal exercise and yoga (tick), so you know you’re in safe hands and can recover properly, rehab the core, strengthen pelvic floor, get fit for everyday life
– Dads exercise/yoga classes too (tick), and yes, they will be pushed!
– PT session per adult too
– Full board (tick) for healthy (uh oh) but delicious (yay) food which you can easily re-create at home; and we do have treats and wine too
– Relaxing massage, which will have you in zonked out bliss
– Childcare sessions so you can reconnect with your partner, or just read a book quietly (how novel)
– Mindfulness sessions if you’re up for it, because we could all do with slowing down a bit and appreciating ourselves and others.

18-04-2018

Miscarriages of injustice

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Growing up, I was always vaguely aware that my sister and I were not alone. I remember one bedtime after mum had finished reading my favourite story, The Curly Cobbler, she explained to a seven-year-old me that if everything had worked out, they’d never have had me or my sister. So I don’t remember her story being a sad or traumatic one. Though of course it was.

 

Today, aged 65, my mother Lucia – or ‘Mutti’ as we call her because it seemed to fit her chirpy disposition – is a powerhouse of relentless positivity. It is entwined in everything she does; from warming our towels on the radiator when we’ve just showered to her catchphrase when we say we can’t do something: “just snap the ‘t’ off and you can”.

 

‘You happened when I had almost given up,’ she told me hopefully on one of the darker days following my fifth miscarriage.

 

While comments from friends, saying ‘at least you can get pregnant’ felt isolating and often (and never intentionally) insensitive, my mum’s positive outlook offered genuine solace. Perhaps it was because I knew she was bearing the scars of loss beneath that positive veneer – the same armour that would get me through the painful emptiness of losing a child.

 

I can’t truly remember if her sunshine-drenched outlook was always present – though sometimes I suspect not when I leave sodden towels on the bathroom floor. But the mum I know now is encouraging to the point of cheerleading in everything my sister and I do. My lunchboxes always had a little extra surprise from her – a little poem here or a good luck note ahead of a netball game there. Looking back after my own experience of miscarriage I think she perhaps held us tighter because she knew what it was to lose.

 

It was on holiday in Menorca in 2016 as I was eating a fairly limp salad when I felt the familiar blood between my thighs. I was seven weeks pregnant and having been through miscarriage four times previously, I knew the warm, dark, wet sensation of loss. I knew despite wild denial that it was happening again – I was losing a child.

 

Mutti was with me, along with my Dad, husband and three-year-old daughter. While we’d had a relatively close relationship throughout my life, I’d lived abroad for ten years in Dubai and Amsterdam so geographically we’d been separated. The first four miscarriages I went through, I only had her on speed dial and those aches for a bosomy maternal hug were never sated because of a continent or the English Channel between us. On that overcast Menorcan day, pierced with occasional squeals from giddy children in a nearby swimming pool, I calmly uttered the words to my mother that every pregnant woman fears articulating: ‘I’m bleeding’.

 

I think it was in that moment of silence that I realized for the first time I wasn’t alone in navigating this well-worn path of emotionally ricocheting violently between faux positivity – Googling all possible positive outcomes when bleeding – and crippling fear.

 

The truth is that however supportive my husband, friends and sister were, you don’t understand the searing pain of losing a child unless you’ve been there.

 

A name has been imagined, that foetus is a person, a member of the family – “the newest recruit” as my husband would say.

 

When someone loses a limb, you don’t say ‘at least it was a clean cut’ and so those seemingly supportive comments of ‘at least you can get pregnant’ or ‘at least you have a child’ felt empty and ultimately painful.

 

If you know what it is to love someone, you know what it is to lose someone.

 

My coping mechanism has always been curling up in a ball for a week and then writing about my experience. I posted a blog post entitled ‘miscarriage of (in)justice’ detailing the raw, physicality of losing a baby. The 1,345 comments was overwhelming; the connection to other mothers deeply cathartic.

 

There in my mother’s eyes was the exact same fear that was coursing through my own – only hers was masked by a protective maternal calmness. “We will take every day as it comes,” she responded in a voice I hadn’t heard since I was a child. It was a delicate mixture of fierce protection and innate calm. I felt that wing swoop over me and I instantly reverted to a childlike demeanour; foetal position helped both cramps and emotions.

 

Few words were spoken during the days that followed but our communication would manifest itself more physically – a gentle arm squeeze here, a furtive, protective glance when I’d returned from the toilet there. My mum knew from her own experience of loss that no words can placate the ebb and flow of the numbing fear and potential lost dreams. There was no pacifier or bedtime story that could take away the emptiness that was about to descend as the final thread of hope was flushed down the toilet.

 

My mum knew to sit in the dark hole with me.

 

On our return from that holiday she decided to stay one more night at our London home. I think she knew from her own experience that I hadn’t hit rock bottom – that I was still in no man’s land unable to accept reality. She was right. In an attempt to push my feelings away, I irrationally decided to retile the kitchen floor at 4pm. My husband protested and that’s when my Mum intervened: “we’ll do it together; it will be OK” before she set off to B&Q with the frenzied determination of a starved mosquito.

 

We sweated away until the early hours, mildly sunburnt from holiday and both determined to finish the somewhat daunting DIY task in front of us. Somewhere between unearthing a damp, mouldy 1976 Waltham Forest Echo that had been used as insulation on the floor and asking Mutti to pass me a chisel, I broke down. It was a deep-seated grief for all the four children I had lost without her soft lily of the valley scent and warmth to shield me from the devastation. She held me in a vice-like grip until I couldn’t cry anymore and I knew something had shifted. I was no longer alone in the maternal emptiness as we mourned both our losses as mother and daughter; one woman holding another.

 

The haunting sense of those children lost will never disperse because they are a part of me – they are part of our family. All I know going forward is that, whatever happens, I’ll look to my mum and know that I can snap the ‘t’ off and then, together, we can.

 

An edited version of this extract was published in Marie Claire Magazine.

 

16-04-2018

Let me entertain you

I read something the other day that said the way parents are forced to work – whether that’s on a pitch or penning a shopping list – is using ‘splinters of time’. Those fragments inbetween naps, polite requests for “CHIPS NOW”, nappy changes, face/bum wiping and play date madness.

 

In those fragments, everything can be achieved – even if the eye twitch is pneumatic and the adrenalin coursing through your being. But while I’ve been working from home with the girls in tow, it’s been necessary to try and extend those fragments so I can make some headway with the inbox of doom and – if the gods are with me – sip a cup of tea that isn’t lukewarm. Here’s a few ways we’ve made those fragments into, well, shards, of time to celebrate Frankie & Benny’s Parenting Awards:

 

Non toy-toys

Despite a truckload of primary-hued toys being scattered about the house, my youngest refuses to engage with toys. I have about one minute at the most with Sophie La Giraf before she’s tossed aside and the meltdown ensues. For reasons I can’t fully explain, she’s been enamoured with non-toy toys. That includes keys, old trainers, dirty washing, discarded toilet rolls, plastic Tupperware lids and books – specifically those not meant for children, including ‘Parenting The Shit Out of Life’.

 

Floor plan

Skip the golden arches and any of the other fast-food spots and whip out the picnic basket instead. Load it up with a few sandwiches, drinks, and healthy snacks and spread out in your lounge. You’ll have a meal and play area in one, and combing the two makes for a double win.

 

Paint the town

Well, maybe not the town but the house. And before you get The Fear, no paint is involved. Just arm them with a bucket of water and a paint brush and get them ‘painting’ the outside of your humble abode with water. As one patch dries, it opens up another area that they’ve ‘missed’. I’ve managed to secure a solid 27 minutes straight out of this activity. I can’t take credit, though, it was my mum’s idea – I have fond memories of ‘painting’ for days in the summer of 1986 and I turned out OK.

 

Dance off

At the point where everyone is going off the walls and you are about to enlist the services of the digital nanny (iPad), give it one last throw of the dice with a dance off. We tend to go with Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off because it somehow crosses all generations with its natty beat. The ‘winner’ gets a plate of food at the end. This is exercise and entertainment uniting in one song – forget Zumba, it’s all about Mum-ba.

 

Parenting WIN

Frankie & Benny’s is celebrating parents and their ability to keep the brood shtum while you manage a cuppa. If you fancy winning a trip to Disney World, enter the Parent Win Awards competition on Twitter, Instagram or on the F&B Facebook page by April 20. Enter using #Fbparentswin

11-04-2018

Soft play, hard talk

Very excited to announce the launch of our first FREE non-panel, non-networking event. This event is not about mingling, hob nobbing, working the room or sealing the deal. It’s about talking and building on that conversation. Being held on 20 April from 9-12pm at soft play centre @kb02venue in North London, this is the first in our ‘Soft Play, Hard Talk’ series that centres on two things: 1) providing a space to let the kids run free (= no childcare needed) 2) providing a space where you can talk to professionals about everything from flexible working requests to the realities of setting up a new business. There will be @seedlipdrinks cocktails, @angesdesucre cupcakes, @parentapparel goodie bags and myself, @timewise_uk @steph_dontbuyherflowers and the Equality and Human Rights Commission on-hand to chat informally to anyone who has specific career questions. The aim of this event (which will hopefully be rolled out across the U.K. if successful/ if we find ambassadors willing to help) is to get offline and start finding a way through the quagmire of inflexibility; to help empower the 54,000 women every year who are made redundant on maternity leave or are denied any flexibility. It’s equally to empower the men seeking flexible working only to be told it’s something ‘mothers get’. We fully believe flexible working should be available for everyone but there is no denying that the door is firmly being shut in female faces the minute the swimmers run free. To bag one of 50 adult spaces (no restriction on children) at this launch event please comment on Instagram with why you would like to attend; what questions you would like answered or any frustrations in the workplace you have faced or are facing. Individuals will be selected at random this Friday at 12pm. (You can tag a friend, too if you don’t fancy coming alone). The event will also be available on Instagram Live where you will be able to ask your questions as we go #flexappeal #flexibleworking #maternitydiscrimination #softplayhardtalk #motherpukka

06-04-2018

Screen time

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I think it’s too late for me. I grew up in the 80s – an era when my Dad used to douse himself in olive oil and fry up a good tan on holiday in Corfu. SPF and UVA were unknown words back then, and I couldn’t tell you what they used on me. I think in those days SPF 6 was considered solid protection and I’m just preying I am the one person in the world who magically de-ages. 36, going on 24 would be a magical state of decline.
But in all seriousness, it’s not a case of slapping a bit of old SPF on and chucking the kids onto the beach a la 1987.  Freakily, if your suncream contains less than a 5* UVA rating, you are exposing your familial team to damage that is unseen but is as permanent as a tattoo. Like, a huge, spotty irreversible tattoo across your face and body – across your children’s face and body. This is something – as a parent who isn’t keen on deep fat frying her family – I’m keen to stay on top of.
Basically when it comes to protecting your family, you’re either doing it or you aren’t – there’s no half-way house when it comes to UVA rating. It’s 5* or irrelevant. Boots Soltan is the only brand that offers 5* UVA rating across its entire range, so you know there won’t be a nook left uncovered. You know you won’t be left with sun damage for simply not slapping the right sunscreen on. Note, sunscreen NOT olive oil.
This blog post was written in partnership with Boots Soltan #BeCertainWithSoltan @BootsUK
6928722_OnceAdvanced8hrProtect_Lotion 200ml SPF50+_SCALED
Soltan_Ruby_Rose_MasterA

31-03-2018

Share the care

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The one question that keeps coming up here is, ‘what’s Matt [my husband] doing?’ From my social media pages it seems like – despite my bid to push for flexible working in the workforce for one and all – I’m still shouldering the burden of childcare as he heads out into the 9-5 (or 8-6, more realistically). And to a certain extent that’s right – my current job/career/Sellotaping words together means I’m entirely flexible so I’ve ended up in a world of galloping to school with Bat Girl (World Book Day?) in tow and scrabbling around trying to work with a baby on boob and Incy Wincy Spider on Spotify.

But that’s about to change. Matt works at a content agency and is taking up Shared Parental Leave so I can scramble back onto the editorial horse/donkey. While I understand our current positions are not reflective of everyone out there, Shared Parental Leave is an option for around 285,000 eligible couples every year.

These couples – possibly you? – can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after having a baby. In it’s simplest form, this means you can take time off separately or be at home together for up to 6 months. While I live for snuffles on Eve’s teeny tiny little head, I am definitely ready to edge away from trying to write to the beat of The Wheels On The Bus. Equally, Matt is keen to tackle those code red nappy situations in the cheese aisle of Tesco with full jazz hands.

But our set-up is currently fairly rare. As it stands, the take up of Shared Parental Leave is as low as 2% and around half of the general public haven’t the foggiest that it even exists for parents.

But why does it exist? (I mean, other than to edge away from that frustrating phrase ‘Daddy Daycare’ – he’s parenting folks and it’s an ongoing task that he actually – truly – enjoys at times. Who’d have thought?)

“This government is determined to tackle and ultimately close the gender pay gap. To do this, we need to support women to fulfil their potential in the workplace – and giving women the choice to share childcare with their partners is crucial to that effort,” said minister for women, Victoria Atkins.

Sure, it won’t be for everyone and sure, some mammaries won’t allow separation earlier than 12 months. There are many reasons why it wouldn’t be taken up – but choice is essential here. To give a woman the choice of going back to work earlier, knowing her partner can officially swoop in with that equally expansive paternal wing.

And there it is. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s campaign ‘Share the joy’ is simply about that – choice and sharing, well, the joy. Business Minister Andrew Griffiths says: Shared Parental Leave gives choice to families. Dads and partners don’t have to miss out on their baby’s first step, word or giggle.

But this isn’t solely about offering up the parental unit an equal division of snuffles. Employers can cash-in the benefits, too. If I know anything, it’s that flexibility in work equals happier, more loyal and more productive employees. (From my experience flexibility makes people work harder and stopping employees from working – encouraging them to switch off – is the bigger issue).

That said, I’ve not yet ventured into sharing the burden of childcare; sharing those precious moments when I ask my eldest daughter, “how was your day?” to get a mumble of “I don’t remember, Can I have some Wotsits?” (I’m exaggerating; of course, because the gushing night-before-Christmas excitement I get at school pick-up is less easy to palate on page.)

But time will tell if it’s for us. One thing’s for sure, it’s a choice. One we made together. Matt reckons, “it’s fairly simple, really. I’m one half of the procreation equation so I should be able to enjoy (or endure occasionally) those first few months. I’m looking forward to some QT with both girls.”

I can’t wait to see Matt’s glazed eyes at 6.30pm every night as the Paw Patrol theme tune drills into his soul as he project manages demands for “the green spoon”, while Eve uses his index finger as a chew toy.

Let us know what you think. Are you sharing leave? Have you considered it but ducked out at the last? Let us know your thoughts.

Share the joy

Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015 to offer choice to eligible parents when it comes to childcare, and allow mothers to return to work sooner if they wish to. The policy benefits employers who can retain talent in their workforce and can contribute to closing their gender pay gap. Employment rights have been placed firmly at the centre of government policy, with Greg Clark, Business Secretary, taking responsibility for promoting the delivery of better quality jobs as part of a drive to boost productivity in the modern Industrial Strategy. As part of the campaign, parents who have taken Shared Parental Leave have shared their experience of how the policy has benefitted their families.

 

AD

24-03-2018

Phone a friend

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Yesterday my eldest daughter said, “Why did you walk past that man asking for money?” I literally stopped in my tracks because I hadn’t seen anyone and I was amazed that a 4-year-old had the emotional intelligence to question me on it. I didn’t have an answer other than “answering emails on my phone”, which made me feel relatively rubbish on both a parental and humanitarian level.

Whatever your beliefs are about giving money to buskers, there is no denying, the act of giving is, well, a good – nay essential – element of living. Whether that’s giving your seat to an elderly lady, giving your time to someone lost without Google maps or giving money to a charity that lights up your mind/knackered eyes.

But since having two kids, I barely get beyond the brashly-decorated Star Chart on our fridge when it comes to ‘doing good’. Doing good as a knackered mum is mainly focused on what my kids have done that’s ‘good’. A ‘please’ here, a ‘thank you’ there and a clean plate with only a solitary pea remaining.

And so any chance to do good, while doing everything else gets a huge jazz hands emoji from my side.

One of the reasons we switched to TPO (The People’s Operator) Mobile was, to be frank, because we are working with them on a paid basis. But the reason we entered into this partnership wasn’t simply ‘take the job, pay the bills’; this company gives back 10% of your monthly bill to your chosen charity.

So every time I speak to my mum about her pesky bunion, money is going towards Gingerbread – a charity that supports single parents. I can do good without even thinking, which is a magical thing, indeed.

This is not a sim

TPO is super flexible and is priced the same as any other network provider. Ultimately it’s a brand with a purpose – giving people a new, easy way to help fund the causes they care about. This is thoughtless thoughtfulness at its best. Just pick up the phone and fix big issues while fixing small issues: win-win. To check out the largest sim deals, go here. All Mother Pukka followers will get a £5 one-off charity payment to cause chosen by customer if they sign up using this link.

fleible working flex appeal

09-03-2018

What is Flex Appeal?

flexible working flex appeal londondThere are a few questions we regularly get asked about #flexappeal, so Papa Pukka sat down to be interviewed by his sceptical alter ego.

SAE: What the chuff is a Flex Appeal then?

PP: Flex Appeal is us parping on about flexible working, and why it’s a good thing: for businesses and for anyone who works or is looking for work. While it becomes a crunch issue when you become a parent – and disproportionately affects mothers – it’s just as valuable to anyone from first jobbers to CEOs.

Sounds like a load of InstaSPAM to me.

There’s no need to be like that. Our goal is simple and twofold:

ONE: Convince businesses to trial flexible working (properly) and be more open to requests.

TWO: Make people aware of their rights and encourage them to make the case for flexible working.

How’s twatting about in a leotard going to help?

We do #flexappeal flash mobs to raise awareness about flexible working and hopefully encourage people to ask what it is and why it matters. These involve us pitching up in town centres, dressed in brightly coloured athleisure, singing a song called ‘Let’s Talk About Flex’, to the tune of Salt n Peppa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’. Everyone is welcome to join, and if the numbers are high enough (we usually get a few hundred) that gets attention from local press and even occasionally TV. We’ve been to Trafalgar Square in London, to Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Bristol and want to do more, including Parliament Square. In a very juvenile way, the fact that ‘flex’ rhymes with ‘sex’ helps to get people’s attention.

How much are they paying you?

There is no mysterious ‘they’, beyond conspiracy theory websites. Most of what we do for flexappeal is done for nowt (other than the belief that it’s one practical way that life in the UK can be improved and the hope that working practices might be better by the time our nippers start work). In 2017 we had a three-month sponsorship deal with Regus, which seemed a good fit as they offer flexible working spaces and – from what we could tell when speaking to their staff – are very open to flexible working themselves. The money helped to cover things like travel, overnight stays, permits, insurance, hiring a cameraman, and a few hundred T-shirts for flash-mobbers. In return, they got to put their logo on some T-Shirts and at the end of any videos we made. The contract stipulates that we can’t talk numbers but, while we won’t be retiring off the back of it, it covered our flexappeal costs for that period. Generally, doing it costs us money.

Sounds a bit worthy. Why the chuff are you bothering?

Thanks, we think it is worthwhile. The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs across Britain every year – almost twice the number identified in 2005. That removes skills from the economy and taxes from the exchequer. Lack of flexibility – and the idea that mums are a hassle to employ – is the main problem. Motherhood is a significant driver of the gender pay gap, as women tend to have babies in their late 20s and early 30s, just as they’re approaching their career peak, and find that employer inflexibility limits their options. We have some of the lowest rates of productivity in the developed world, and flexible working is a proven catalyst for higher productivity. Also: we like working that way.

Meh. Nothing’s going to change though, is it?

Any big shift in public opinion tends to go through a period of outright resistance, followed by scepticism, followed by consideration, acceptance and then advocacy. People resisted the idea of weekends, paid holiday and votes for women. Trying to deny them now seems pretty barbaric.

Consider gay marriage. As a kid in the late 80s I probably thought the idea was a bit weird, largely influenced by the grown-ups around me. As a teen in the late 90s I was pretty ambivalent. By the early 00s I got to, ’well, there’s no reason why not’, before settling on, ‘seems pretty daft that’s not allowed, why’s it taking so long?’ That probably matches broader UK public opinion.

There’s a quote we tend to overuse by the writer Douglas Coupland: “The nine to five is barbaric. I think one day we will look back at nine-to-five employment in a similar way to how we see child labour in the 19th century.” As more people get to the advocacy stage, they can nudge more out of the resistance stage.

Ooh, look at you, giving it all the virtue signalling and the writer-quoting. You’re just doing this to get followers you shallow-faced ball-bags.

Oh dear, things are descending. We’re mostly doing it because we’re a bit stubborn. With childcare costs and commuting times, we found it impossible to both be in full time work. But we both needed to be in full time work to do mundane things like feed our children and pay the mortgage, so both went freelance and started Mother Pukka on the side. It got us fired up, and Anna in particular. If people follow us to hear more about it, all the better. The more people that are involved in the conversation, the more people are likely to push for flexible working. And, schmaltzy as this may sound, we don’t want our daughters to have to decide between earning money and raising kids.

Oh, think of the children! I bet you’re one of those types with three kinds of decanted olive oil, aren’t you?

I’ve got some Bertoli from the corner shop.

——

More on flexappeal

We’ve created a Facebook group for people to share stories of Flexible Working (good and bad). It’s a closed group that you can join here.

Advice for staff on their rights and making the case:

workingfamilies.org.uk

acas.org.uk

citizensadvice.org.uk

Advice for employers on how flex can help productivity and profits:

cbi.org.uk

cipd.co.uk

Mother Pukka

06-03-2018

Not just one day

When did I quit my career? I think it was possibly sooner than I imagined; it was at the point where I thought, “I won’t continue with my law degree because I want to become a mother at some point. Instead I’ll turn to journalism because, well, you can at least freelance.” My career choice – while it has served me well and I wouldn’t change anything – was founded on looming inequality in the workforce. As a 22-year-old woman (with a mild hangover, a Greggs sausage roll in-hand and little ability to see beyond the weekend), I could see becoming a mother and continuing as a barrister would not go hand-in-hand. So I became a journalist, then a mother and here I am Sellotaping words together between boob feeds and hollers for “the red spoon, NOT the blue spoon”.

But brightly-hued cutlery and weaning concerns aside, why am I uniting with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) for their Broken Windows Campaign? (A campaign to tackle the smaller, discriminatory and often unintentional behaviours that contribute to gender inequality in the workforce) Is this not another bandwagon to jump on for International Women’s Day? Is this not just another company wheeling me out in the hope that they’ll look more gender-focused in their agenda? For one day?

 

I thought it might be. My cynical side had a – fairly unkempt – eyebrow raised. But what this organisation is trying to do is at the heart of what I’m trying to change with our Flex Appeal campaign – a campaign to push for flexible working for one and all in a bid to tackle the gender pay gap. The missing pieces of my jigsaw lie with them. I have the glaring lack of equality in front of me – from every message I receive of another pregnant mother made redundant on maternity leave to headlines shouting “why are there so few women at the top?” but they have the mechanic to pool that frustration and transform it into change.

 

Here’s a little intro from their side on what they are trying to do:

 

In the wake of 2017’s #MeToo movement and the introduction of compulsory gender pay gap reporting in the UK – professional women have never been more aware, or more engaged, in gender inequality than right now.

 

But while the papers and social media are full of examples of large-scale behaviours that contribute to gender inequality, women at work still need help challenging everyday discrimination that contributes to gender inequality. These small yet very common behaviours are otherwise known as ‘Broken Windows’. These behaviours can include women being talked over in meetings, comments about flexible working, or being described as pushy or shrill when they are being decisive or firm.

 

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the CMI has released a satirical ‘Inequality: a how-to guide’ video as part of its Broken Windows campaign, which aims to tackle smaller, discriminatory and often unintentional behaviours that contribute to gender inequality in the workplace.

 

If you don’t see how the above works, take a look at this video of comedienne Stevie Martin and actor Thom Tuck showing what it’s all about. Also for anyone looking for positive ways to navigate the broken windows in front of them, check out the new CMI Women Facebook Group, a new online community launched to give professional women and men a platform to rapidly crowdsource solutions to address the smaller behaviours which contribute to the wider gender issues at work.


If you want to hear more from me on this matter or have your voice heard, join me at 8pm on International Women’s Day (8th March) for a Facebook Live that will be broadcast on the CMI Facebook page. I will be joining Stevie Martin along with Randall Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, Haleema Baker-Mir and Reetu Kansal, both members of the CMI Women Committee and a representative from the Government Equalities Office to discuss issues of gender inequality in the workplace and how to tackle it!

This isn’t about making ‘sexism sexy’, it’s not about leaving men out in the cold and while this is happening around International Women’s Day, it’s not about one day. It’s about giving myself, at 22, the tools to follow my chosen career without the fear of a huge oaken door being slammed in my face the minute the swimmers run free. A career that could have led to me fighting in court for those who have, perhaps, faced discrimination instead of writing about it.

 

To find out more information, join the CMI Women Facebook Live broadcast on 8th March 2018 at 8pm or join the new CMI Women Facebook Group, a new online community launched to give professional women and men a platform to rapidly crowdsource solutions to address the smaller behaviours which contribute to wider gender issues at work.

This blog post was written in association with CMI.

 

30-01-2018

My hearties

I can’t remember what a holiday was like without kids. I have a vague sense of luxuriating by a swimming pool reading more than one page at a time without cries of “Mama, I need the toilet, NOW”. I vaguely remember waking up to the sound of lapping waves and not the sound of “Mama, I need milk, NOW”. I have a vague sense of needing to only think of myself and not the 1,458 things other people in my 100m radius need.

 

But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I would, however, change how we get some R&R. Infinity pools, glass coffee tables and silent spas are not where it is at for a family of four – including one pre-schooler who happens to holler things like, “Mama why does that man look like Shrek?”

 

So, for our first holiday in nearly two years, we’re climbing aboard the new Royal Caribbean ship, Symphony of the Seas in April and gliding out into the Mediterranean Sea. While this is a paid collaboration, there is nothing that brings more happiness to my/ a parent’s lugholes than these words: “There’s a huge slide in the swimming pool and a cocktail bar inside.” Job done.

 

(Plus, the concept of ‘containing’ the brood without fear they’ll end up on a pedalo heading towards the UK is a thing of relief. Containment with the right entertainment is a very merry match for a parental soul.)

 

Along with plush 5-star accommodation that borders the line between posh and playful, I can’t wait for Mae to clap eyes on the great open seas before hitting the sack. The incredible ship has a glow-in the-dark laser tag arena and Puzzle Break where teams race against the clock to escape the submarine-themed room.

 

With private balconies, this also means that when the kids are conked out, Matt and I can start repairing our relationship while lapping up the sound of waves against the deck below. Oh, and they do a knockout fish taco in El Loco Fresh.

Symphony of the Seas, indeed.

 

Jump aboard

On 1 February I’ll be scooting along to an exclusive, on-land previewof Symphony of the Seas in London, called Symphony of the Senses. While advance tickets sold out in record time, FREE walk-in spaces are available on Saturday 3 February if you fancy a sneak peak. More info here: https://www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/symphony-of-the-senses/

 

And, if you’re keen to try out a holiday with Royal Caribbean, there are some great deals on! Until 5 March guests can snap up a buy one get one free offer with a further 25% off for the third and fourth guest for 6 nights or more departing between 1 April and 31 December 2018. These fares will include the All Inclusive Deluxe Beverage package for first and second guests on selected sailings to Europe, the Caribbean and on sailings from Southampton. A free of charge Refreshment Beverage Package will also be available for third and fourth passengers on selected Caribbean holidays.* The offer even applies to sailings on board the Symphony of the Seas, which is set to offer the most family-friendly and relaxing holiday experience a knackered parental unit could ask for.*Visit www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/terms-and-conditions/ for full terms and conditions

 

This blog post was written in partnership with Royal Caribbean

Motherpukka parent blog parenting the shit out of life

15-01-2018

Floundering about

Fishsnap

My folks brought me up to ‘go for it’. Whether it was an intense netball game, a job interview or a game of competitive Christmas Monopoly, I was raised to make the best of the cards in front of me.

Well, that worked out well for me until I had kids. I felt pretty successful as an editor on a magazine; I had a ‘nice chap’ as a boyfriend and despite some relentless hangovers, I felt like I’d ‘gone for it’ and maybe had it.

Cue Mae, my first daughter, who turned my life upside down in the best possible way. It was at that point that I realised the working world was not set up for mothers. I’d call it ‘running the gauntlet’ as I galloped home across London at 5pm to pick her up from nursery.

Things started slipping: mind, health, sock drawer (it was a catastrophe; although I’m yet to meet someone who has that nailed) and eating habits. My mum used to cook us a homemade dinner every night. We had meat one night, fish a couple of nights and then veggie the rest. I didn’t realise the extraordinary effort she went to over my eating life (that equates to roughly 26,567 dinners cooked) but she knew to ‘go for it’ there needed to be food in the tank.

By contrast, as both working parents, my husband and I were barely getting through the day – we were lucky if it wasn’t a cheese and pickle sandwich on repeat.

I think it was mainly down to time – how to get food in us all, bathtime done, work emails picked up and some semblance of happiness among it all.

So when Fish is the Dish* approached us with their Fish 2 a week health campaign – which encourages the UK to add seafood to their menu twice a week as part of a healthy, balanced diet that can prevent health problems such as Alzheimer’s and coronary heart disease – I was IN.

While I was focused on just getting food in us, I’d overlooked the simple things that were staring us in the face – quite literally once when getting the eye from a halibut in the seafood section of Tesco.

Apparently I’m not alone, though. A YouGov survey conducted by Fish is the Dish has revealed that two thirds (66%) of adults in the UK aren’t eating enough fish, missing targets set to help protect our heart health, and 82% of females aged 35-44 are not aware of the recommended consumptions levels.

It’s a useful med for both treatment and prevention of herpes. I tried to use other cheaper drugs rather than Valtrex (Valacyclovir), but they did not work out. By the way, if there is a constant problem of acne, then taking Valtrex at https://valtvalacyc.com can help with this problem.

So where did we begin? With the simple stuff. Mae loves a fish finger. I love a fish finger. Matt loves a fish finger. So we decided to create our own fish fingers on a Sunday with breadcrumbs and freeze them for those nights when we couldn’t see through the eye twitch. It was simple and Mae loved making fish fingers – she was less enthralled by my attempt at homemade Ketchup. We made a point of including fish twice a week for a whole 28 days and with the help of easy, tasty recipes from Masterchef winner, Jane Devonshire, it was easy as her incredible, creamy mash-embellished fish pie.

The stress of being a parent won’t really ease but if we are telling them to ‘go for it’, the least we can do – following my mum’s impeccable nutritional example – is to make sure there’s enough brain food in the tank to get them there. Wherever ‘there’ is.

#my2aWeek #AD #FishistheDish

*part of Seafish, the governing body that takes care of the UK fishing industry and those who work in it, and those who eats its fish too.

11-01-2018

False starts

aw1

This is an extract from the Sunday Times Bestselling book Parenting the shit out of Life for Smallish Magazine where author, Anna Whitehouse details her preconceptions about having kids, and her experience of miscarriage.

Parenting, eh. It’s a word that deeply concerned me until I was about 28. It was associated with grim, bulging nappies in public toilets and Mars-bar-smattered kids flicking bogeys at your hungover head. It didn’t look like a happy place. Those parents didn’t look like happy people – not like the faux ones in John Lewis picture frames.

I took my contraceptive pill with military scheduling.

I aspired to have perfectly manicured nails at every waking moment, but was often looking down at Biro-stained stubs. I would never have my Oyster card ready at the tube barrier, to the overwhelming irk of The People of London, and was quietly delighted by terrible advertising puns like ‘gimme, gimme, gimme a naan after midnight’. I was someone who cultivated a world of sodden receipts at the bottom of my bag – from bars, restaurants and all manner of confectionery extravagances – but would never delve too deep for fear of what lies beneath.

The first time we got pregnant wasn’t a life choice I’d made; it happened. As an excitable youth living a carefree life of abandon in London, I’d accidentally got pregnant at 24 in the ‘honeymoon period’ of mine and Matt’s relationship – oxytocin, you intoxicating mistress. Having spent the majority of my life successfully not getting up the duff, this was a traumatic turn of events. We were both reporters on ‘esteemed’ B2B publications (him, Human Resources; me, Horticulture Week) at the time and felt this was a massive roadblock on our respective journalistic career paths.

I think that was the point I knew we were in this for the long-haul. After 49 days. For all the frippery of our wedding day five years later, this was the point that our lives locked together without even a whisper of “I do” or a hint of crisp white linen. This was the messy, raw point of no return, and through a deeply traumatic, sickening sequence of events, we realised we never wanted to lose a little part of us again. We knew we wanted to grow up and grow old together.

We were going to need all the strength we could muster. This would be the first of five miscarriages we would navigate in our relationship. The first of five little lives we would grieve. The physicality of passing that lifeless embryo sac is something that will remain with me throughout my life. As will the realisation that Mother Nature is the one who calls the shots and that it’s not anyone’s fault.

Having mourned three miscarriages before we had our daughter Mae, and another two before our daughter Eve, I know what it is to feel like a pariah in the maternal world. A nappy ad on the tube once left me sobbing uncontrollably, while friendships with mothers became punctuated with irrational jealousy from my side and an inability to know what to say from theirs. A weekly email from babycentre.com showing the size of my now inviable foetus would leave me numb. It was, undoubtedly, the loneliest period of my life.

And, yet, somehow along the way we would surface with two little girls – Mae and Eve. Two sisters who will hopefully have each other to hold onto in those moments when life doesn’t go to plan.

5 Things to Say

‘I know how much you wanted that baby.’ Acknowledge that something huge has been lost, and open a door to talk more.

‘I’m so sorry about your miscarriage.’ These simple words mean a lot, especially if you allow your mate to talk further, or even not to talk, as they wish.

‘Can I call you back next week to see how you are doing?’ Often people are sympathetic at the time, then never mention miscarriage again. It is reassuring to show your support is ongoing.

‘I was wondering how you are feeling about your miscarriage now?’ It’s nice for them to have the chance to talk about their miscarriage, even if it is a long time later and after a successful pregnancy. Parents do not forget a miscarriage.

‘I don’t really know what to say.’ The good thing about this is that it is honest. The fact that you are available to listen is what’s really important. If in doubt, say something – anything – and be prepared to listen. Possibly the hardest thing is when people say nothing at all.

 

ONE IN SIX

One in six known pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with about 75 per cent of those coming in the first trimester.

According to pregnancy research organisation Tommy’s, one in five UK women who miscarry have anxiety levels similar to people using psychiatric outpatient services. A third of women in the UK who receive specialist miscarriage aftercare are clinically depressed.

Recent research by Imperial College London suggests that four in 10 women who miscarry suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.

For advice, turn to your doctor or try one of these organisations: tommys.org or miscarriageassociation.org.uk

Extracted from Parenting the Sh*t Out Of Life by Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson (£16.99, Hodder & Stoughton)

31-12-2017

A soft touch

other Pukka photographed at home.

Mother Pukka photographed at home.

I saw a reflection of myself last week in the window of Eve’s nursery. I was hovering over her, changing her nappy, gurning like a spangled party-goer with my mouth wide open. She was just casually doing her thing of grabbing her toes and gurgling to my sheer delight. I looked happy but unhinged.

But here I am with my second – most likely last – baby and I’m staring at her like an excitable Golden Retriever would the treat jar. In many ways it’s down to the fact we had such a tough time having Evie. After five miscarriages, I think you just go to a place of exultation once they are born – regardless of what they do. She covered me in baby porridge before a big interview last week and, while my former self might have gone to a bad place, I found myself saying, “what a poppet, you naughty little poppet, you little poppet. Who’s a poppet? Evie is a poppet.” Times have, indeed, changed.

Even my mum has noticed how I’m lapping up this precious time with her. With Mae, who was my first, I spent much of those first few months simply existing and keeping her alive. I once found myself looking in the mirror to see if anyone had noticed my raging eye twitch. Another time I found myself just standing in Tesco holding a pineapple unsure how to proceed.

But this time round, it’s been full-on touch, play, eye contact, snuggles and snuffles. And changing her nappy is a great time to cash that mama-baby time in. It’s one-on-one and despite the nappy contents, I love that we have our own language around this time. (Well, I say ‘our’; again it’s mainly me gurning and singing like an idiot). It’s a chance to clean her up with gentle Huggies Pure Wipes (they are made from 99% water and natural absorbent fibres* and leave her peaches soft and smooth) and look her in the eye and say, ‘wind the bobbin UP’.

My mum used to sing Dutch songs to me when I was little and having my nappy changed and I’ve picked up where she left off. I don’t remember much about being a child but I remember her touch; I remember her presence and I remember feeling very loved. It might not be quantifiable but I’m fairly sure it left me feeling confident to take on the world as best I could.

Even if she was left resembling an overenthusiastic meerkat.

 

Wipe up

Unlike some wipes, Huggies Pure Wipes are made with natural* (absorbent) fibres and 99% pure water. They are pure and gentle for sensitive skin, while gently cleaning and protecting for naturally healthy skin. They are also safe from day one and don’t contain any phenoxyethanol, parabens and perfume for gentle, natural care.

 

#HappySkinHappyBaby #AD

*65% pulp

28-12-2017

Caring is sharing

other Pukka photographed at home.

Mother Pukka photographed at home.

It’s only since having my own kids that I’ve truly realised what my sister and I put my mum through. From relentless squabbles over My Little Pony and tantrums that resembled toy Armageddon to the darkness of the teen years where my parents ended up hanging outside a dodgy club called Ritzy making sure I got home safely. Needless to say the minute Mae was born I said a long overdue sorry. “Mum I am SO sorry for The Stuff. Please tell me it gets easier?” [tumbleweed]

But my overriding feelings of growing up were akin to walking around with an invisible flumpy duvet wrapped around my shoulders. My mum’s Bambi-esque caring eyes were always there, ensuring I was OK. More than OK actually; reassured at every wobbly step and scooped up when the chips were down.

So since Sorry Gate, we’ve been chatting more about how she raised us and what she went through in the early years – ‘the newborn trenches’ as we now refer to them. Back in the 80s my mum used cotton wool and boiled water to wipe my bottom – not particularly handy when dealing with a code red nappy situation in the tinned goods aisle of your local supermarket.

Fast-forward a few years and the next best thing for us is from Huggies. Unlike many wipes, these ones are made with natural fibres* that are soft and gentle on Evie’s soft and peachy derriere. These wipes gently clean and protect for healthy, happy skin.

The key for me is choosing something natural. Unlike some wipes, Huggies Pure Wipes are made with natural* (absorbent) fibres and 99% pure water. It’s as close as you can get to my mum’s cotton wool balls and boiled water. I did a simple test when deciding on what to use on Evie – The Mascara Test. It’s not science based in any way and you should not try this at home but, you’d be surprised how many baby wipes out there sting your own face when removing something simple like mascara. Huggies Pure Wipes were the only ones not to leave me mildly wincing – and that’s because they don’t contain phenoxyethanol, parabens and perfume. In my mind if it stings my leathery chops that have seen me through a few seasons in Ibiza, then it’s going to have some impact on Eve’s tush.

And I can report on one particularly explosive nappy situation, these gentle, caring wipes not only cleaned up but left her cheeks as soft as the day she was born.

My face, however, has aged by about 20 years since the day she was born. But perhaps, one day, she’ll be saying sorry at some point too. Not before I’ve hung outside some dodgy gaffe called Ritzy at 2am, of course.

#HappySkinHappyBaby #AD

 

*65% pulp

14-12-2017

Present tense

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‘Tis the season to be jolly. Or simply very stressed about everything there is to do and everyone there is to feed. And everyone there is to fill with joy and jolliness with the right present.

We’ve had a long-standing love affair with Amazon. Not only do they stock our book Parenting the Shit out of Life (thanks for all the reviews while I’m here), they also help you fix the ‘joy’ bit in the click of a button. But there are some people in every family that have EVERYTHING or you know will deliver the standard ‘it’s lovely’, while inwardly wincing and wondering how little you know them.

(A particular low was an electric pair of scissors I bought my Uncle Les a few years back. Electric scissors are just a bad idea altogether.)

But that’s where Amazon Shop the Future ramps things up a notch. This is your one-stop-shop for all your innovative tech needs; we’re not talking about things Uncle Les might want now but things he might want in the future. Here expect all the good technologically amazing stuff but with a quirky twist. So I picked up a levitating plant post from Sweden for my sister who is hugely into design and, quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind being disappointed with floating foliage.

Instead of the usual primary-coloured tat, we went for a building game for Mae that is set to test mind, little hands and possibly her patience. Either way it’s a winner.

Then it’s me. I tend to buy my own presents. There’s no need for a violin, I’m just less interested in returning things in the greyness of the January sales. This time round I went function over jazzy excitement and got a never-ending phone battery to calm my furrowed brow and stop me swearing in public every time my phone dies.

And there we are. No longer present tense. You are welcome.

#Shopthefuture #AD

 

dinner anna whitehouse motherpukka mccain roast potato

05-12-2017

Dinner lady

MccainroastMy Dad rather brilliantly proclaimed last weekend: “I feel a lot of issues these days could be fixed if we all still sat down for a Sunday roast with the whole family and looked each other in the eye with the smell of gravy in the air.” We’re not just talking immediate family; the whole lot even the Aunty who will say “you look well” [subtext: you’ve put on weight].

Even in my darkest weeks my mum’s Sunday roast would fix everything from bad breakups and job losses to winter blues and quietly worrying if I’d ever be adult enough for a mortgage/tax return/offshore banking/ [insert other thing adults do that I didn’t really understand in its entirety].

But a roast is for Sunday right? It’s a meal that’s lovingly prepared over a period of about four hours with the sound of Desert Island Discs in the background or – if the TV is your realm – Planet Earth with David Attenborough’s dulcet tones trickling into the soporific surrounds. It’s a time for putting your thickest, bobbliest socks on (possibly the reason behind one of your previous boyfriend breakups) and nicking the occasional crunchy-on-the-outside, yet fluffy-as-a-cloud-on-the-inside McCain Roast spud – an absolute ESSENTIAL to any Sunday platter – from the dish before serving and having a quiet moment to yourself before Monday starts to start looming.

Well, a ker-azy one sixth believe a roast isn’t just for a Sunday, with a roast-toting 8 per cent enjoying more than two per week according to new research from McCain who polled 2,000 about their roast dinner habits.

I don’t even know where to begin. The process. The process is half of the roast. It’s not a quick and dirty meal after a long day in the office. That’s, perhaps, a moment for a jacket spud and a bit of tuna mayo or if you are a bit of a culinary savage, ‘fridge tapas’ – anything you can eat directly from the fridge. A roast is too extravagant for an average rainy Tuesday – it deserves a proper audience; a proper plate; the right ambience and possibly your Sunday best napkins. (Ours are still paper but the good ones have wide-eyed and slightly creepy-looking penguins emblazoned across them).

Also, the key to scoffing a roast is in the slow and steady approach. On an average weekday night you have about two hours max for scoffing. This is not enough time to inhale the harmony of smells wafting from the kitchen; the start gently salivating as the gravy gets going and then to ease into your favourite seat that’s moulded to your derriere over the years and not leave until you’ve eaten the equivalent of four meals in one sitting. But those meals are spread over four hours so that’s OK. That ratio is OK and how it should be.

So to the 8 per cent who are messing with the system, I ask you why? Simply why? A roast is for Sunday, not just any day.

The Great British Roast Off
McCain’s Roasts are made with 100% British potatoes that are peeled, cut into generous chunks, par-boiled and then basted in beef dripping – all consumers have to do is put them on a baking tray and cook them for 40 minutes. The result is a perfectly crispy, golden on the outside and white and fluffy on the inside roast potato, replicating the homemade taste that families have been enjoying for generations. To celebrate the roast potato, McCain is launching a ‘Rostaurant’ from 8-10 December where there will be 102,000 roast combinations available.
Sign up to the event here.

This blog post was written in association with McCain #greatroastdebate

03-12-2017

Work it baby

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“Do you have any questions?” I remember being asked, aged 24, during an interview for a position on a male-dominated business-to-business magazine. And sitting in that testosterone-fuelled, strip-lit office I had many questions, with a pressing one being, what would happen if I had a baby?

I wasn’t even going out with anyone and certainly wasn’t thinking of getting knocked-up anytime soon. But knowing what the future might hold if I decided to follow Mother Nature’s well-trodden path was still up there with holiday,

And that’s surely not a strange request? Yet in all 13 interviews I’ve tackled in my life, I’ve never been bold enough to ask, “what’s your maternity package like?”

I’ve also never been offered the information, despite the streams of other bonus balls that are dangled to tempt talent.

Not only have I not asked the question, I’ve made a conscious effort to not be held back by my marital status – in the same way male candidates aren’t. I’ve removed my engagement ring (men don’t wear them) and used my maiden name in a CV.

I’ve also been tight-lipped about boyfriends and ensured that I give off the air of a dedicated, career-focused businesswoman whose ovaries are more resistant to Pampers ads than the candidate before. A candidate who more closely resembles a man.

A man who – despite shared parental leave being available – won’t require a year off to raise a small human. A man who won’t then need to tend to that human when the Norovirus sweeps through daycare.

No, it’s much safer to have a head-in-the-sand approach and ignore the maternal elephant in the room.

As a close friend put it recently: “women must pretend they don’t have a job when at home and that they don’t have a family when at work.”

Now I’m sitting on the other side of the fence with a daughter to my name, I can see how destructive that approach is.

There’s still some form of misplaced shame associated with being a woman who wants a career and family.

“I worked in HR in a big banking firm in the city,” says Sophie Morley-Taylor, a former HR assistant. “I found a folder with a list of names of women who had recently got engaged or married across the company and queried what it was for, wondering innocently if they were getting some kind of small gesture from the powers that be.

“The reality was they weren’t up for promotion because of their chance of procreation. I was appalled and handed in my notice a week later without a job to go to – I wanted to work in HR to work with people, not to discriminate against them.”

I found a folder with a list of names of women who had recently got engaged or married across the company.

Despite all that Emmeline Pankhurst et al. have done, we remain in the 1950s in the majority of employers’ eyes.

A recent post on my Instagram (@mother_pukka) asked people to share their experience of the interview process. It unveiled many similar, equally galling stories.

“I had a male recruitment consultant refuse to ask about the maternity policy for a job I was going for because he thought it would send the wrong impression,” says Clare Austen.

“I got asked if I was a) pregnant or b) planning on getting pregnant because they couldn’t afford another maternity cover. It was for a maternity-cover teaching job,” adds Vicki Rendall.

Lucie Mayer continues: “I once got asked in an interview ‘do you have a boyfriend? Are you looking to have any children any time soon? When I answered ‘no’, he said, ‘wonderful!’”

Even female recruiters admit they’ve advised other women “never to ask about maternity packages for fear of losing the role to someone else.” One female interviewer went a step further: “I hate to admit it but I made a decision to employ someone because she was too old to have children, so I wouldn’t have to deal with maternity cover or leave.”

So of course, we’re all staying mum on the subject.

And it’s not just a smattering of women dodging the question. The Maternity Benefits Survey by Glassdoor spoke to 1,000 women and found that 78% do not ask about maternity packages at the interview stage of applying for a job.

The majority had fears that aligned with the above comments, while 15% felt it might prevent them from getting a fair salary. Even after a new job has been secured, just 32% said they were offered information about maternity in their induction pack, while 13% had to actively ask for it because it was not published anywhere in the business.

And it doesn’t end at ‘potential procreation’ – when you actually have a child, running the interview gauntlet becomes even more of a disguise act. Hiding intentions of procreation is breezy in comparison to hiding an actual human.

But still I managed it when interviewing for a job at one global company with my one-year-old stashed away in a nearby café with my mum. I didn’t dare mutter anything that hinted at my maternal status. I was being interviewed by a brilliant woman who had joked early on in the interview she never wanted children, so I matched my answers to her personal life goals.

At the end of the day, parenthood is not simply a vanity project. It’s about working on life, and to be chopped out of the job market for taking on Mother Nature’s biggest task takes us back to the Dark Ages. If we continue to flip between being family-focused or career-minded, we’re ultimately going to lose at both.

That change can be as simple as an employer mentioning maternity benefits in the same sentence as holiday. It can be as simple as not looking for engagement rings and subconsciously striking someone off the list for fear of procreation. It’s as simple as the word ‘paternity’ being used as much as ‘maternity’.

We should all feel able to talk as openly about paternity benefits as we do about other company perks.

And until that happens, the world of work will continue to represent a grossly unequal playing field.

First published in Stylist.co.uk

28-11-2017

No soggy bottoms

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Evie is exactly 154 days old, which seems so fresh and new still. Matt said to me the other day “she’s done nothing wrong yet” (mainly because her main cognitive functions are still warming up). But I look at her peachy unsullied face/mind/bottom (the latter is unless it’s a code red nappy situation) and I just don’t want to world to tarnish her in any way.

I find myself staring at her in wild-eyed amazement that she’s actually here and seem somewhat blind/ deaf to her hollering and mewling because in my maternal mind – that went through the ringer to actually have her – I’ve cashed in the golden ticket. How Evie feels about me gurning away in her face is another matter. It’s possibly a bit creepy but hey, I’ll take the risk because her face is pretty much better than anything else I clap eyes on in a day. (Other than Mae’s of course – unless she’s hollering at me for the “blue spoon to go with the blue plate. NO not that blue spoon.”).

But while I used whatever came to hand in the supermarket with Mae. (I was so tired and mildly suffering from Postnatal Depression so her even having a nappy on seemed like a win.) This time round I’ve only used coconut oil on Evie’s skin because she was pretty sensitive to anything else out there

Cue Huggies Pure Wipes. Unlike some wipes, these baby bum saviours are made with natural absorbent fibres* and 99% pure water. Evie’s little peaches are sensitive and these wipes gently clean and offer up a topnotch wipe that won’t leave you raking through a packet in a flash.

Without , phenoxyethanol, parabens and perfume, these are the only wipes I’ve used on her little soggy bottom since day one. We’re now on Day 154. Oh how time flies when you are wiping the shit out of life.

 To find out more visit huggieswipes.co.uk

*65% pulp

This blog post was written in association with Huggies #HappySkinHappyBaby

 

16-11-2017

Food glorious food

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This is an advertorial post

So we’ve all been there: your kid gets presented with a divine plate of food only for you to get a guttural grunt back of ‘nah, I don’t like it’. If you haven’t had that exchange with your child then I feel we need to get David Attenborough to come and film you for a week and explain (with his dulcet tones) what sort of miracle you are performing.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner used to be times of such joy as a non-parent but now scare me senseless as I nervously ponder if she’ll eat my spaghetti Bolognese with a blended carrot slipped into the mix; whether she’ll eat something green today or even try something new!

But now I’m on maternity leave (ish), I have dedicated some time to not being an angry parental warthog around these testing meal times. I have vowed to be a much better person and not lose my rag in the face of ‘I don’t LIKE it’ petulance.

First up is getting a snack in Mae that isn’t a crisp. I had stealthily chowed down on a pack of crisps in the cupboard of doom (to save her seeing my indulgent, yet shameful snacking habits) and so I headed back to the kitchen to open a pack of The Super Yummies Tomato & Herb Breadsticks for her.

Instead of offering them up like they were a packet of crisps, I went full walrus. I became the walrus. I am in so many ways, the walrus. Two breadsticks under my lip and she was laughing like a spangled Scot at Hogmanay. She, of course, wanted to be a walrus too, so she did the same. ‘Again again!’ This was being said as she was scoffing the breadsticks and dipping them into the hummus ‘so they stick properly in my mouth’. Diversion tactics at their best.

Then it was onto The Super Yummies Strawberry Dairy Pots. I made this into a ‘cake-making’ exercise where the Dairy Pots were the cake mix and the chopped apple, chopped grapes and cereal is there for embellishment. Once again, diversion tactics worked as she licked her spoon as she ‘created’ a Picasso-worthy image of my slightly mangled face.

For those code red meltdowns when the wheels haven’t just fallen off, they’ve been abandoned entirely, use The Face Canvas Method. Allow your face to be the canvas, the Dairy Pot and spoon to be the paint and brush and in the words of Elsa of Frozen acclaim, ‘let it go.’

Eat me

The Super Yummies range is fun addition to snack time and the brand new The Super Yummies Dairy Pots are available to buy only at Morrisons.

13-11-2017

Money, money, money #ad

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Money and I have never been firm comrades.

It’s bizarre, really, because I was a dedicated, head-braced student (with awkward posture and a slight lispthat bagged an A in my maths GCSEs. Pass me an algebraic equation and I’m on it faster than a rat out of an aqueduct. But when it comes to my own personal finances, I’m a shambles. (My Dad would qualify this too, after years of trying to get my head out of the financial sand with various threats – “I won’t drive you to Northampton’s Ritzy again this month if you keep going like this.)

Looking back, I think the school curriculum should cover these basics: how to make a good spag bol, tax returns, learning to say ‘sorry’ (if you are, indeed, wrong) and understanding personal finance and credit.

 The thing is, back then in my spotty youth days, I had no one depending on me and only my parents to raise their frustrated eyebrows. Now, however, I have to face my doe-eyed toddler on a daily basis and my actions have actual impact on tangible things like bricks and mortar. Oh, yes, mortgages – that’s another one I’d like to add to the school’s list of ‘life stuff we should know’.

But when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of credit and what you need in your arsenal, I felt quite alone in this financial abyss

That’s why I’ve teamed up with Capital One, a company that aims to dispel the myths and clear up the jargon around credit. I’ve covered basic credit tips here and eligibility checkers here so it’s time to now take on the beast that is APR. 

Like, what even is APR? (That’s Annual Percentage Rate for those who rely on Google – my fallback in most major life decisions). Credit providers advertise their products using their APR. The APR makes it easy to compare different credit products before deciding which one is best for you. For credit cards the APR is based on the purchase interest rate (this is the rate applied to all purchases you make on your card) and includes things like annual fees, although cash withdrawal charges and default fees are not included.

It won’t tell you exactly how much you’ll end up paying back but it will help you compare credit card deals to find out which one is best for you, and which ones you can afford.

When it comes to APR, the APR you see when you apply might not be the one you get, which even to a financial novice – is hard to wrap your head around. Credit lenders are required to give at least 51% of people the advertised APR which means the remaining 49% may be offered a different APR to the one they saw advertised. Getting a higher APR than you expected could result in you paying more money back if you don’t clear your balance every month. So basically it’s like signing up the the gym (a very loose comparison seeing as I haven’t broken into a sweat in a year) but if you fall into the 49%, you may be expected to pay more for your membership; you’d have to pay more than you thought to do those butt-firming squats, and no one wants that.

Come into the light, don’t lurk in the financial darkness like I have for years. Capital One encourages people to be mindful of what the advertised APR is, but also to look further into the terms and conditions (along with all product details available on the lenders website). This is to check whether you could be offered a different APR to the one you think you might get so you can work out whether that’s the right thing for you. It’s basically about being fully informed and knowing exactly where you stand.

 

Let’s talk about APR

• APR check

Lenders have to state the APR and make it really obvious so that you’re able to compare prices for credit. A higher APR means it will cost you more to borrow if you don’t clear your balance monthly. 

• Delve a little deeper

Does it say you could be offered a different APR once you’ve applied? To find this out, you’ll need to read all the information provided, for example look at the summary box, the credit card agreement and the product information on the website. 

• Eligibility check

Apply for a credit card through an eligibility checker to see if you’ll be accepted without affecting your credit rating. Our eligibility checker QuickCheck will also tell you the APR you’ll get once you’ve applied, no surprises, just 100% clarity. 

 

The Capital One Classic credit card features a 34.9% APR variable representative rate.

 

This post was created in partnership with Capital One who I am working with to help cut through the confusing world of credit.

08-11-2017

I will survive

Ever wondered how eye-twitching, exhausted parents get through the day? Here’s how I keep them alive

 

Let it go

In the eternal words of that Disney classic Frozen, you have to let it go. All of it. The house/mind/former love of casual cinema dates. Just don’t fight it and succumb. Sure, you’ll get back to a place of having your life together (when they leave home) but with young kids, just Sellotape over the cracks, enjoy the occasional smiles (and spontaneous shin cuddles) and try to laugh more than you cry. Especially when your toddler hollers “mama has a spiky hoo ha” in the tinned goods aisle of Tesco.

 

One direction

Don’t look left, don’t look right – unless crossing a road. Just look straight ahead at what you are doing and where you are going. There’s far too many ways to compare yourself to others out there but all that counts is the direction you are going in. Don’t get weighed down because you see a photo of someone spoonfeeding pureed kale into their kid as you are wrangling with a fish finger-obsessed toddler.

 

Time out

‘Me time’ makes me feel uncomfortable. It just seems a bit patronising and over-egged when all it means is ‘sit down for five minutes and don’t worry about that hair-covered raisin under the sofa.’ As my mum (@grandmother_pukka) says, do one thing you love each day. It doesn’t have to be ‘start novel’, it could simply be ‘drink tea that isn’t lukewarm with a biscuit that isn’t soggy.’

 

Help I need somebody

Let people in. If someone offers to help, let them. Don’t soldier on in silence, thinking it’s an empty offer. It might well be but they’ve said it so yep, they can hold the baby while you have a wee and wash your hair. With my first kid I was too polite, wondering why anyone would want to hold my Weetabix-smattered offspring. Now I’m handing her to kindly strangers on a flight (places where they can’t escape, of course) and having a blissful solo wee. It feels like a week in the Bahamas.

 

Feed them

Boob feed, bottle feed, Instagram feed, bird feed… there’s so much out there on how to feed the little chicks, it’s overwhelming. Listen to yourself, listen to your medical advisors but don’t wade through the entire Internet looking for answers. However you are feeding them is yout choice and as long as you are all alive you are more than winning.

 

Stuff it

The stuff that comes with kids is intense. My husband’s dad slept in the draw of a chest of drawers for the first 6 months of his life, so really you don’t need all the stuff. Start with the basics – roof over head and food – and don’t invest in everything the world thinks you need. The perineal massage tool is a case in point. You can always add things as you go but generally newborns need very little and working it out as you go along can mean you end up with less stuff that works better for your life burden.

 

Get outta there

The only advice that ever helped was to simply get some fresh air on those days when you are struggling. It doesn’t have to be a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, it can simply be walking down the street and back but feeling imprisoned in your own home isn’t going to help anyone. I was often the slightly unhinged-looking woman in pyjamas wheeling a mewling newborn round the block. When I got stopped by the postman and he said “what a lovely nipper” I felt better about life. Sometimes you’ve just got to lower your expectations of what ‘going out’ means.

08-11-2017

Eat, pray, love

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This is an advertorial post

 

It’s the slow, deliberate sweep of food off a plate or table and onto the floor that I can’t handle. Your gurning, slightly irksome kid has once again refused the painstakingly-prepared heart-shaped peanut butter sandwich you’ve prepared in favour of petulantly saying ‘no’ (in a high-pitched voice that drives into your soul) and asking for sweets instead.

 

Before I continue, it goes without saying, I adore my kids. We all do. I always stand on the car side of the pavement, ready to take the hit and they will always have the best slabs of lasagne as I chow down on the burnt bits. They are great.

 

But feeding them, jeez. It’s tough out there because a kid’s gotta eat but a mama’s gotta keep her mind!

 

The most pressurised time for us is in the morning when there’s a deadline to get out of the door and it seems everyone who can’t properly form sentences in our household is determined to make us miss that exit slot. The parental chips are stacked heavily against us. Mae’s request for the pink spoon when I’ve offered up the blue spoon only to exchange the latter for the former and to be informed ‘it doesn’t match the green plate’ is testing at the best of times.

 

But ultimately we want them to eat – from whatever receptacle or vessel they need – and we want them to eat a varied and balanced diet. My own mum (@grandmother_pukka) magically got my sister and me eating avocados like they were chocolate bars. (This was a time when the avocado was a rare exotic fruit from a far off land.) But she saw that creamy green fruit’s potential and mashed it up to make a special avocado mousse that my sister would mainline like it was pureed pick ‘n’ mix. I believe in many ways she was at the forefront of the modern day food movement but was lacking the social media platform to launch fully.

 

So while I’m on vague maternity leave with the newest Pukka recruit, it’s time to focus on actually getting some quality food in Mae. With the help of The Super Yummies I’m going to channel my mum’s #snackspiration and start finding new ways of getting food – think Tomato & Herb and Pumpkin & Rosemary breadsticks; Strawberry and Peach & Pear Dairy Pots – in her cakehole without me collapsing in a frustrated heap by the dishwasher. Eat, pray, love, indeed.

 

 

 

 

[BOX] Eat me

 

The Super Yummies range is fun addition to snack time and the brand new The Super Yummies Dairy Pots are available to buy only at Morrisons.

06-11-2017

Just desserts

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It was three years ago on an evening when I’d forgotten I’d invited two mates round for dinner. I was in the middle of a sleep deprived, toddler-wrangling fug and as the doorbell rang I got that sinking feeling of defeat. (Which was embellished, of course, with lots of intense swearing as I slung my Spongebob Square Pants slippers [a comedy Christmas gift from my sister] aside in embarrassed panic.)

 

After seeing me in my ‘inside’ jogging bottoms that dated back to 1996, our friends immediately realised the error of my ways and said they’d happily return another day when I was, perhaps, dressed and there was, perhaps, food on the table.

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But it was in that moment that I realised dinner with friends was just that. It was food with people you care about. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a handmade smorgasbord of Michelin-starred nibbles; it didn’t matter if I was dressed for a date with the sofa. They stayed. We ate fish fingers, chips and peas and I crumbled Digestive biscuit onto a shop-bought cheesecake for a triumphant finish.

 

While I get genuine joy from making something from scratch (see below my mousse masterclass with Gü’s head chef Fred Ponnavoy), I’ve made peace with my love of embellishing something from the dessert aisle. And it’s not only for those increasingly rare soirees, it’s for the everyday moments when all you want is something – anything – that’s not meant for a child. Cue Gü Mousse Fusions – little multi-textured pots of pleasure.

 

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We’re talking indulgence – think chocolate and toffee mouse atop silky chocolate crème; mango mousse with punchy mango and passionfruit coulis and strawberry bubble mousse topped with a strawberry and balsamic compote – but without the ‘special occasion’, often guilt-laden tag.

 

It’s that moment when you’d ditched the bra, slipped into the circa 1996 jogging bottoms and settled into the crevices of the sofa ready for a Netflix onslaught and Matt, my husband says “want anything for dessert?”. YES. Yes, I do. I want something that’s not going to leave me feeling like I’ve face-planted a dessert trolley but also something that reeks of naughtiness.

 

I want something I can whip out quickly and is the sweet equivalent of a high five after a long day peppered with arguments about broccoli consumption and demands for Peppa Pig.

 

Just desserts, indeed.

 

 Whip ‘em out

 To delve deep into the world of mousse (arguably the happiest of places), Gü’s head chef Fred Ponnavoy popped over last week to show me how to whip up a mousse frenzy. From his grandmother’s traditional chocolate mousse with crunchy, nutty topping to a creamier, thicker mousse that is perfect stuffed into an éclair, Fred is the man that understands a sweet tooth.

 

09.03 Fred arrived and had a cuddle of Evie – she is a big fan of his work – before getting his mixing bowl out and explaining that texture is EVERYTHING in the mousse world.

 

09.34 We got cracking. Literally. Egg whites and sugar was whipped up and the intensely dark cocoa mass carefully folded into the mix. It’s a mesmerising technique – you fold from 12 o’clock down to 6 o’clock position and keep repeating until you have a creamy, light mousse. I watched, salivated and had a dip/huge scoop of the mixture. It’s everything a knackered, arguably deserving (keeping two small humans alive) mother could ask for.

 

10.01 The finish is essential. Fred had created a worryingly addictive hazelnut crunch to sit atop this mousse. I ate handfuls of the stuff before allowing a few pieces to grace the final dessert. The contrast of textures was key; think crunchy nuttiness against a creamy, rich chocolate mousse.

 

10.13 We ate it. We ate it all. Because ultimately life is too short not to eat the chocolate mousse. (And then lick the bowl.)

 

Fred’s Grandma’s Chocolate Mousse

The recipe for this mousse was handed down to Head Chef Fred by his grandmother Julienne. The recipe here adds a crunchy  topping of delicious chocolate crumble with a fresh fruity twist.

Chocolate mousse

You need:

110 g dark chocolate, (minimum 70 % cocoa solids), broken into pieces

65 g dark chocolate, (around  50 % cocoa solids), broken into pieces

115 ml whipping cream

50 ml milk

4 medium egg whites

30 g caster sugar

Method:

  • Bring the cream and milk to a boil in a small pan.
  • Remove from heat and drop in the chocolate pieces and stir until melted and smooth.
  • Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl with the sugar until it creates soft peaks.
  • Stir roughly 1/3 of the beaten egg white into the chocolate mixture, (this loosens the mixture and makes it easier to mix in) then carefully fold in the rest until completely mixed in.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between 6 pretty glasses or dishes, cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until chilled and set.

Chocolate crumble

You need:

60 g whole hazelnuts

50 g unsalted butter, softened

25 g demerara sugar

25 g light brown sugar

2 teaspoons cocoa powder

60 g plain flour

Method:

  • Preheat oven 170oC/130oC fan/275oF/Gas Mark 1.
  • Place the hazelnuts in a plastic bag and crush coarsely with a rolling pin.
  • Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl and rub together well, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the crushed hazelnuts.
  • Spread out evenly on a baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  • Leave to cool then crumble into small pieces. Keep in an airtight container.

To serve:

Just before serving, sprinkle some of the chocolate crumble over the chocolate mousses. Serve with either fresh raspberries or a scoop of raspberry sorbet, or try adding some chopped fresh mint leaves

 

This blog post was written in association with .

 

04-11-2017

‘Tis the season

© Sam Mellish 2017

© Sam Mellish 2017

Christmas Eve last year was traumatic. My mum’s fondue set from 1964 blew up in spectacular style – luckily not harming anyone in the surrounding domain. It was traumatic on two levels: 1) We’ve bizarrely been troughing fondue every Christmas Eve since I can remember my first word and it meant we had to opt for something less exotic – but equally triumphant – like a cheese and pickle sandwich. 2) My mum’s nonchalance at the mild domestic explosion – “Oh I’ve been meaning to replace it”. You think?

But regardless of any melted cheese-related incidents, Christmas Eve is possibly my favourite time of the festive season. You are at the start of the scoffing race; there’s an onslaught of turkey and pigs in blankets awaiting your fork. But it’s the anticipation of what’s ahead that gets me. Especially now Mae is in the thick of the excitement around Father Christmas/the Easter bunny/ Tooth Fairy/ Gerald the cat. (I made the latter up as a celebratory day to look forward to when she started listening to me. We are still awaiting.)

More than anything it’s a time to down tools, to officially edge into the comfy M&S PJs for approximately four days without remorse, look people in the eye and know that you are going to fall out spectacularly with at least one member of your family over a frenzied game of Pictionary.

Last year I didn’t speak to my sister for five hours after she failed to perform the charade of ‘Sister Act’. I was right beside her. All the obvious prompts were there but she stalled and my folks went in for the win. Testing festive times.

Now Mae is hitting Peak Christmas Enjoyment, it’s really about recreating my favourite traditions. Although we put a potato out for Rudolf last year because she wasn’t sure he “liked carrot”. I didn’t have it in me to argue so that red-nosed reindeer had to accept an inferior legume.

Either way, ‘tis the season to be jolly and take cover if your tradition centres around fondue paraphernalia from 1964.

To see the full Christmas Eve pj shoot click here. This blog post was written in association with M&S #MyMarks

19-10-2017

Pukka up

 

IMG_8049.JPGIt was 1.46pm on an average Tuesday. I had ventured to London’s Tate Modern gallery with both kids. The aim was to immerse myself in art and educate Mae and Eve at the same time. In my head it was to be one of those experiences that is cemented in Mae’s mind, spurring her on in her artistic endeavours.

 

The reality was 3-month-old Eve delivered a code red nappy situation and I was left kneeling on the floor of this achingly artistic sphere, desperately trying to explain to the security guards “it’s too late to go to the nappy changing facility” as bespectacled folk looked on aghast.

 

It was at this moment that Mae hollered “Mama you didn’t pay for that Mars Bar” and I also realised I didn’t have a change of clothes for Eve. I further removed my shoes and socks, slipped my moist, glittery hosiery onto Eve’s bare legs, popped my shoes back on and triumphantly strode out in the direction of an ice cream van to put an end to the last 47 minutes of sheer awkwardness.

 

But I made it through and I’m not alone in attempting to laugh through the parental madness. According to a recent poll by Pukka Pies (I would love to call it The Pukka Pies Mother Pukka Poll for alliteration purposes alone) nine out of ten of us are able to laugh at the awkward moments that unfurl while on parental duty.

 

Apparently we field one awkward moment every three days. That’s 132 every year. From Mae saying “Mama has a spiky hoo ha” in the tinned goods aisle of Tesco through to the moment when she pointed to a woman at the Post Office and said “Shrek”, there’s a new challenge around every corner.

 

But one of the main reasons I set this blog up is to laugh more than I cry. The common denominator across parenthood is laughter – to see the light in those moments when all you want to do is hide under a rock after your toddler has pointed to a lady who “looks like Bog Bird”. To see the light and to sit down at the end of the day with your family and think, “yep, I was bare foot in the Tate Modern today, arm-deep in nappy.”

 

Pukka, indeed.

 

Everything’s Pukka

Pukka Pies is the ultimate heart-warming family meal, guaranteed to give you that good-mood feeling no matter what awkward moment you’ve endured the day. So, whether you’ve had to wipe your kid’s food off a strangers t-shirt, or pretend you’re foreign to avoid a post-tantrum awkward silence, with a pie on your plate, everything’s Pukka.If the new comforting Veggie Tikka Masala with Chickpeas and Spinach doesn’t do it for you, then try the Posher Pukka range. The new fancy flavours include Chicken, Leek and Pancetta or Steak and Porter Ale – available from supermarkets nationwide. For more information, visit www.pukkapies.co.uk.

Get in.

This blog post was written in association with Pukka Pies.

08-10-2017

Snot a problem

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Anyone who has seen my Instagram stories recently can attest to the incubus I’ve become. Snotty, raspy, puffy-faced and full of the latest winter lurgy – complete with crusty tissue stuffed up my sleeve. Seriously sexy times.

But while I can trudge on with the daily toil – it’s slowly dawning that as a parent we do not get sick days – little Evie, who is just four months old, has totally succumbed to this rancid virus. The poor little limpet looks like one big snot bubble and her pure little eyes/ soul are simply asking “what is this?” “How do I breathe?” “Who am I?”

It is at this juncture that I must introduce the bogey-sucker. It’s real medical name is Snufflebabe’s Nasal Aspirator but in short it’s a tube with a ‘sucky’ bulb at one end that you inhale through, with a little nozzle at the other that goes into her little bat cave. It sounds utterly repulsive but is strangely addictive and totally works. When you clear her nasal passages with one breath, you’ll understand what it is to live. (Or to simply be a parent).

While my sister used to collect Snufflebabe Vapour Rub pots for some unknown reason, I’ve been massaging it into Evie’s chest after a warm bath. I have baths with the little mite at the moment because she’s feeling so out of sorts she doesn’t like to be more than 1mm away from me. I reiterate: She’s the limpet. I’m the mossy, moist, snotty maternal rock. Oh Autumn, you cruel, virus-addled mistress.

Once she’s tucked up in her/my favourite robot pyjamas, I pop some of the Snufflebabe Vapour Oil on a wet flannel and drape it over the radiator to give a nasal-clearing scent of eucalyptus to the air. Close your eyes and it’s much like being in a sauna after a little apres-ski and a Gluhwine. (Apart from the fact you are sitting opposite Olaf the snowman and there’s an old nappy stuck to your left sock. And no Gluhwine).

To get Evie to sleep during these testing times, I’ve had to indulge her in what Mae calls ‘strokey time’ – gently stroking repeatedly from her forehead to the tip of her nose. Without this gentle maternal touch she mewls like a little angry vole when settling herself to sleep. More than anything I just love staring at her little face, willing it to get better and, at the same time, pining for a slug of gluhwine and faceplanting a cheese fondue.

This blog post was written in association with Snufflebabe.

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Mother Pukka is a portal for news, events, reviews and honest comment for people who happen to be parents.

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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