My 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
“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.
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.
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.’
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.
It’s bizarre, really, because I was a dedicated, head-braced student (with awkwardposture and a slight lisp) that 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 understandingthe 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 lender’s website). This is tocheck 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 representativerate.
This post was created in partnership with Capital One who I am working with to help cut through the confusing world of credit.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Gü 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.
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 crunchytopping of delicious chocolate crumble with a fresh fruity twist.
110 g dark chocolate, (minimum 70 % cocoa solids), broken into pieces
65 g dark chocolate, (around50 % cocoa solids), broken into pieces
115 ml whipping cream
50 ml milk
4 medium egg whites
30 g caster sugar
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.
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
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.
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 Gü.
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
It 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 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 stranger’s 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 fromsupermarkets nationwide.For more information, visit www.pukkapies.co.uk.
This blog post was written in association with Pukka Pies.
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.
The mum jean. That high-waisted, crotch-ruffling, saggy-bottomed trew. In my mind it’s something I could pull off. In reality I end up looking like I’ve borrowed my granddads painting/DIY jeans – complete with post-Sunday lunch paunch. While it looks stellar on the right person (mainly – and solely – Alexa Chung), it’s not a kindly silhouette, which makes me wonder why it’s been lumped with the ‘mum’ tag.
Probably because mums are daggy, saggy, naggy and sometimes a bit haggy. Well, that’s been how the media seems to have shoe-boxed us over the years. From gargantuan maternity tent dresses in the 60s to paisley unflattering frocks in the 80s, a mother’s style has not been pegged up there with Versace’s all-in-one gold jumpsuits.
No, to be a mum you have obviously had some form of style lobotomy. To counter this misconception and to push back against this routinely-Weetabix-smattered image of ‘us’, here’s my thoughts on styling it out like a mum for Boden:
I think this a question of confidence. Before, mums were branded as lacking in confidence – dressing a certain way, that mum uniform of baggy shirts and leggings – but it was the media branding us in that way. And shops thinking ǲoh we won’t bother with them. Now I think mums are confident – mums are starting to think this is what I look like. I’m doing it my way. That’s what mum needs to mean – confidence, doing it your way.
On styling it out like a mum
I’ve tried to keep my wardrobe the same in terms of colour, style. But obviously there’s been adjustments. I’ve got to be able to get my boob out. It’s a question of practicality + personality. You know, I can’t be in stilettoes in the playground – but I still own stilettos. Gosh that makes me sound ninety. I still have my heels for when I go out with my friends.
On getting ready
I don’t miss it, actually. It was such a waste of time. Now I use my downtime in the evenings to actually relax. That time I used to spend on make-up was wasted – you know my hair used to be poker straight. And styled within an inch of its life. Now it’s a massive eighties bouffant – and people keep on saying how much happier I look.
On being a supermum
Before I had kids, I had the fear that I would become a bit grey. Not necessarily in aesthetics, but in confidence. But since becoming a mum I’ve realised the reverse – I can pick pasta off a floor whilst following a podcast, whilst breastfeeding whilst shouting at my husband to take the bins out. If you can do more than an octopus can do, then you’re doing alright.
On being a new mum
I think for new mums reclaiming their confidence and identity, it starts with laughing. This is where it started with me – laughing at myself. Going into a changing room and laughing at my saggy bits. The minute you start laughing, your entire face lifts. That changed how I dressed and looked – it all started with laughter.
On feeling like a mum
Do I feel like a mum? I feel like a woman. A woman who happens to be a mum.
This post was written in association with Boden. AD
People may have been having kids since before Jesus was born, but that doesn’t make tending to the barnacles any easier. Here are some things we’ve ‘learned’.
ANNA: The minute you get knocked-up, people look at you differently. Random grannies fondle your bump on the bus, looking you dead in the eye to say, ‘it’s a girl’. Mates worry if you’ll be able to cope without as much/any booze for nine months. Other mothers offer tips on perineal massage and sourcing the kind of sanitary pads that could plug an elephantine orifice, and older family members just awkwardly accept that you’ve had The Sex.
MATT: When you tell male friends, you tend to get one of two reactions. The dads manage to force some life back into their eyes to tell you how ‘amazing’ it is, with all the conviction of a man whose invested the mortgage money in a dodgy pyramid scheme and will only get it back if he convinces 72 others to do the same. The non-dads offer congratulations, but you can see the disappointment in their eyes. They know you’ll be out less, and that when you are, you’ll be looking all smug with yourself because you’ve managed to turn a sperm into a person, which, for the man, isn’t really any more impressive than handing a packet of tomato seeds to a really skilled gardener and popping back months later all cocky to show off your rosy-red fruits at the local food market.
And that self-satisfaction really kicks in when the baby arrives. When our first daughter was born, she looked like a bit of topside that had been left out in the sun: she was blue, furry and covered in gunk and it’s amazing that you can immediately love something that looks so odd. For about eight seconds I blubbed with joy, pride and fear for the future, before pulling myself together and trying to look composed in front of the medical staff. They weren’t buying it, but they did let me cut the cord, and I’m now convinced that I’m basically a surgeon.
Magical dairy pillows
ANNA: ‘Funbags’, ‘norks’, ‘titties’, ‘kajungas’, ‘jubblies’, ‘blubber bulbs’ – the list of words to describe those milk-laden hillocks is endless. But we must not forget that they’re primarily a food-source after a baby arrives, and that needs to be front of mind before you lay a frown upon a mother trying to keep the next generation topped up. Claridges, just because you are a posh gaff, doesn’t mean you are beyond the food chain.
MATT: A mate of mine is convinced that there’s a fortune to be made from used breast pads. His plan is to create a range of them filled with tea leaves, which the internet has told him can have soothing properties and ease the pain of cracked arioli. Then, after the pads have been leaked on, you can dunk them in hot water for a cup of tea with highly organic milk. He wanted to do a pop-up, maybe outside that cereal cafe in Shoreditch if it’s still there. But I think it all comes down to the fact he isn’t getting enough sleep.
Come whine with me
ANNA: Even if you own a kid, you’ll have had that sickening feeling of a cacophonous family – often referred to in childless circles as ‘breeders’ – being seated near you in a restaurant. Feelings of entrapment and a night ruined by airborne broccoli are normal. Again, though, the kids have to eat and it’s not fair to shackle parent-people to their homes until the kids are 18. Just speak louder and erect a napkin fortress.
MATT: I understand why people don’t like kids being in restaurants. I’m not sure the kids normally like it much either. But as the kid-wrangler it’s important to know that you will now be eating meals one-handed for most of the next decade, and that you must accept that.
The best bits
MATT: There are many secret benefits to parenting. Not least the fact that we always have fishfingers in the freezer now – I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed fishfingers. And, I think, I’ve also become a fraction less selfish. I’m willing to share my fishfingers now, which wasn’t always the case before, and that’s mostly down to a sharp case of Post-Partum Ensoppimment: the gormless, glazed-over grin that wells up when one of the girls sees something for the first time, or laughs, or quietly and happily plays. It’s like a tiny jab of morphine straight into your aorta. (I imagine – I’ve never actually done that.)
ANNA: It’s when you find yourself travelling solo on a packed commuter train with a Percy-Pig-pumped toddler and a colicky newborn that’s acting like an angry vole. You’re sat in the bit next to the rancid loos, the iPad battery is at 4%, your boobs resemble empty Capri Sun pouches and All The People On The Train hate you.
“I need a poo” is hollered in your face as your hair gets used as a bungee chord. You batten down the maternal hatches and prepare to dangle the toddler over an aluminium pan with one hand, while the flailing vole is clasped under your other armpit like a rugby ball. You can feel your postpartum stomach escaping from your jeggings like butter icing out of a baker’s piping bag. A bead of sweat trickles down your nose into the loo as “I don’t need the toilet now” is bellowed out, breaking a little bit of your soul. Returning to your rice-cake-smattered seat, you find an old Boots receipt for haemorrhoid cream in your pocket and a biro in your nappy bag, which offers up 4 minutes 46 seconds of silence from the Percy Pig-addled one as the angry vole suckles once more and you realise that you are, in fact, parenting the shit out of life.
First published in Metro. Parenting the sh*t out of life – a memoir and rogue parenting guide – is available on Amazon and in all good book shops, published by Hodder & Stoughton. Photo @emilygrayphoto.
[SUBHED] Drink before you think
ANNA: As Nike would say, ‘just do it’. I don’t know anyone (yet) who has funneled a vat of beer and run around, arms flailing in their greying undercrackers as part of a humiliating postpartum dare by their toddler. A light sozzled feeling with a kid safely strapped to the iPad is fine and dandy. (Unless you are my Aunty Julie who has her ‘concerns’).
They held her up like she was a prize in a pub meat raffle. Or maybe Simba in The Lion King. But she did look like a bit of topside that had been left in the sun: she was blue, furry and covered in gunk. It’s amazing that you can immediately love something that looks so odd. For about eight seconds I blubbed like a toddler thats left it’s toy bunny on a train, before pulling myself together and trying to look calm and composed in front of the medical staff. They weren’t buying it. But they did let me cut the cord, which basically means I’m a surgeon.
What are the toughtest parts of parenting?
MATT: Every tiny task is more of a faff. Making sure everyone is clean, fed and not crying for too long each day feels like an achievement to be celebrated with strong liquor. I’ve had friends go as far as taking up running just to carve out some time for themselves. That’s really too much.
Another mate is convinced that there’s a fortune to be made from used breast pads. His plan is to create a range of breast pads filled with tea leaves, which the internet has told him can have soothing properties and ease the pain of cracked arioli. Then, after the pads have been leaked on, you can have a cup of tea with highly organic milk. He wanted to do a pop-up, maybe outside that cereal cafe in Shoreditch if it’s still there. But I think it all comes down to the fact he isn’t getting enough sleep.
And the best bits?
MATT: We always have fishfingers in the freezer now, which is good. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed fishfingers. And, I suppose, it’s made me a fraction less selfish. I’m willing to share my fishfingers now, which wasn’t always the case before, and that’s mostly down to a sharp case of Post-Partum Ensoppimment: the gormless, glazed-over grin that wells up when one of the girls sees something for the first time or laughs or quietly, happily plays. It’s – I imagine – like a tiny jab of morphine into your main artery.
And what’s the book about?
MATT: It’s mostly a parenting memoir – things that we experienced, both happy and sad, and meant to make people laught a bit more than they cry. There are even some very tiny bits of useful parenting information.
Was it hard writing a book together, as a couple?
Parenting the shit out of life is out now.
[BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR THE INTRO]
ANNA: Mother Pukka is a place to help make you laugh more than you cry. As a childless 20-something I used to look at those bulging nappies on top of sanitary bins in public toilets and dry heave at the prospect of procreating. Mother Pukka is a place to make things feel less worrisome.
MATT: It’s a blog for people who happen to be parents. There is a tsunami of bumgravy parped in the general direction of parents: lots of contradictory advice, guilt inducing and judgement, so Mother Pukka has almost no useful information. It’s mostly there to try and be funny and honest. There are a lot of funny mum blogs, but there’s not much that gives both sides. But we also do some serious stuff, mostly around miscarriage and the flexappeal campaign to encourage more flexible working. Too many women (and men) get shafted at work once theylve had a nipper.
I was 28 weeks pregnant when I uttered the optimistic and utterly deranged words, ‘let’s renovate the kitchen’. There really is nothing like a deadline/dreadline to get the interiors motor rolling. Our kitchen ended up being finished exactly 3 hours 49 minutes before our daughter Eve was born and needless to say any ‘nesting’ instincts has been abandoned under a skanky dust sheet and a rusty old skip of stress.
But three months on from splash down and I’m finally starting to see beyond the fine layer of dust that has been etched into every nook and cranny of our abode. It’s time to breathe life into the place again but after investing pretty much all our mullah into these bricks and mortar, our budget isn’t quite as enthusiastic as my reignited nesting instincts.
Cue Homesense, TK Maxx’s brilliant sibling that offers luxe to accessible homewares with savings up to 60%. Think high-end kitchen accoutrements and posh velveteen chaise longues – perfect for being fed peeled grapes upon by some buff youth.
Anyone who has followed me for a while will know of my deep love of TK Maxx – I exited there last week laden with a tub of oversized marshmallows, high-waisted knickers, baby socks and a garden hose nozzle. So imagine my irrepressible excitement hearing there’s a dedicated homewares store? Somewhere to unite all interiors trinkets under one roof?
Armed with £100, I decided to focus my attention on small but perfectly-formed finds to dot about out house. Having nabbed a brilliant coffee table/ kiddie desk (think wrought iron heaviness with an immaculate modern finish) for Mae, I sought out a smaller bedside table that wreaks of achingly cool boutique hotel with a ‘oh this old thing’ casual vibe. We’re talking criss-crossed brass legs with a decadent slab of monochrome marble on top. This top notch piece was made for a paisley print-embellished bone china tea set and a massive packet of chocolate Hob Nobs to sit atop it on a relaxed Sunday.
The Hob Nobs are, as always, ready to go.
I went all in. With an RRP of £250, I got this little interiors nugget for £99.99. (That 1p makes all the difference in any retail decisions I find.) Its not something I’d pay full whack for because it’s not within my DNA to splash out any more than £100 on something that isn’t food.
Alongside this classy addition, I went for two true investment pieces – a posh spud peeler and some ‘investment’ oven gloves. A girl has to live and anyone who has peeled a lot of potatoes with a rubbish, wonky peeler will know what a big deal the former purchase was. My kitchen utensils draw has upped its game and something within me has eased knowing any spud that comes in my path will be tended to efficiently.
But that’s it really, it’s not about having the perfect home, it’s about making life a little bit better/easier/more comfortable. Because when it comes down to it, there really is nothing in life a top-of-the-range potato peeler can’t fix.
This blog post was written in association with Homesense.
I’ve never bagged the prize for excellence, only ever effort. I’d be the one lolloping about at the back (with an abundance of futile enthusiasm) of the egg-and-coit race on Sports Day; I’d be the one who managed to painstakingly type out an entire project on 15th century churches aged 9 – on a computer that resembled a gargantuan breeze block – only to be told ‘it lacked character’. And while effort is a wonderful thing, it always comes second to excellence and often means things fall through the cracks, regardless of how many Post-it notes I dot about the place.
Only recently I managed to completely forget that 3-month-old Eve required a passport to travel to Amsterdam for my best friend’s wedding. (She’s just so small; how can something that small require legal documentation?). A frenzied, sweaty gallop to Her Majesty’s Passport Office and a lot of tears/money later, we snuck it through in the nick of time. Life admin is not my friend and testament to that is the moment I forgot to apply for Mae’s school place.
I can’t even talk about that epic failure for fear of the black tears emerging. (Mascara is not a merry match for the administratively saddened.) But homeschooling it is and here I am trying to instil phonics, the alphabet and ‘The cat sat on a mat’ into Mae’s hungry little mind – alongside ‘cleaning’ (life skills right there) – and answering ALL the ‘why’s’
‘Why is that man fat?’
‘Why does that lady have a funny ear?’
‘Why do you wear such big pants?’
‘Why don’t I have an office?’
The latter ‘why’ I decided to tackle head-on with the help of Homesense, TK Maxx’s brilliant sibling that offers luxe to accessible homewares with savings up to 60%. It’s interior design mecca with quality brands selling for a lot less and this isn’t just no one-would-want-this-in-a-million-years stuff. The brilliant London cabbie who dropped us off summed it up perfectly: “It’s bloody great. I found a posh whisk in there last week for £3.99. Bargain. Didn’t even realise I needed a posh whisk.”
For Mae’s office, we went with a swish coffee table as her desk from (a whopping RRP of £150 reduced to £49.99). It worked as both a parent-friendly and kid-friendly piece – after she’s done with it, we’ll pop it in the lounge or use it to prop us up after years of knackering parenting.
While I’d love to say we went all out on embellishments, I had to leave the finishing touches to Mae seeing as it was ‘her office’. They included: 7 small racing cars, a large red remote control Ferrari, a Clangers sewing kit and a professional artist’s easel.
Too cool for school, indeed.
This blog post was written in association with Homesense
We’ve got a book to flog and we’re coming your way (if you live near Bath, Bristol, Cheltenham, The Wirral, Manchester, Bruton or London). There will be readings, talks, signings, and too many embarrassing revelations. So why not come along and point your tired faces at our tired faces to see if we can all make ourselves feel a little bit better.
We wrote a book together called Parenting The Shit Out of Life. Both Matt and I are still vaguely married. But what’s more interesting is the people who helped us make the launch better than our wedding. From goodie bags created for the event by Becks and Debs at Parent Apparel to manic stuffing of those brightly-hued totes by the aptly-named Jo Love from Lobella Loves and the wonderful Lady B from Lady Bakewellpark, it was a proper team effort. I won’t forget the manic ‘we have 12 minutes left before the doors open get STUFFING’ moment of team madness as The Savvy Mummy swooped in to smash it. (She also dislikes over-amorous advances from near strangers so was very understanding of my need to squeeze her upper arm in excitement/nervousness every 5 minutes.)
Then there’s the long-suffering Charlotte Gray – who has been our photographer for two years and has SEEN things she cannot unsee – who captured the night and its gurning people brilliantly. That’s not to mention Rebecca from Proper Post, who was delighted we wanted her sweary cards in the goodie bags. What other words are there?
And the women who have supported us – from pitching up to swooping in when the chips are down, the women I’ve met through Instagram have made me realise there is room at the friendship inn after hitting 30.
But why a big potentially wazzock-ey London party? Sure, we penned some words but why not a little soiree with Aunty Janet et al? Mainly because I wanted to get mash up with some of the best people I know or have met off the internet. (Not Tinder but if we write a second book I might need to tap that digital arse). But it was also to meet our followers who allowed us to pen those words. There were 100 of you at the launch and it was such a joy to speak to so many of you off the pixels. The majority of you wanted me to sign the book from ‘my skanky manky titty’, so we are, it seems, all on the same page.
Because while many will lambast social media and it’s mind/social skills-rotting ways, it has united us with people. All kinds of people. And it has allowed us to write a book about how we’ve made more people. This book is for those new people, Eve and Mae – we really do hope you don’t look back and cringe too much at all this. Here’s to Parenting the shit out of life.
Here’s a full list of the wonderful people who helped us pull the night together:
Other than the occasional run-in over a dismembered Barbie doll, my sister and I used to mainly squabble about food. I say squabble, it was more a bone fide wrestling match – complete with malicious pea flicking – with mum and dad desperately reffing on the sidelines until defeatedly hollering, “just eat your food. Please, PLEASE [on the brink of a moistened eye] just eat your food.”
We’d tussle about how many crisps we both had; who had the most chips; who had the largest slab of lasagna and it was essential to all familial harmony that we both had the same ratio of fizzy cola bottles to jelly babies in our pic ‘n’ mix.
But while they were dark sibling times. (Even darker parental times looking back – especially the moment in a Menorcan restaurant where dad decided to actually count the French fries on my sister’s plate to ensure there was equal distribution because he’d Lost The Will To Live.) But those wonderfully unhinged family dinners were also the happiest of times. It was where Dad might burp and then blame it on the dog; it was a place where we found out my Mum had organized a joint birthday for us at Activity World – soft play hell for parents, playing mecca for kids. It was a place of messy, occasionally stressy happiness.
But while we were in many ways the average family with 2.4 kids, there was nothing average about us. Especially my mum’s insistence that she was ‘up shit creek without a ladder’. Why a ladder mum? Why not a paddle? Why?
But according to new research by potato brand McCain, the UK hasn’t really moved on from that perfect family mirage. What family actually sits down to dinner without some form of gentle quip like ‘ANNA, COME DOWN NOW AND EAT YOUR FOOD NOW. I’M COUNTING TO THREE AND THEN I’M GOING TO COME UP THERE. DO NOT MAKE ME COME UP THERE’ easing into proceedings? What is average? What is normal?
It seems advertising, TV and films haven’t quite cottoned on to the fact we’re not all simply sitting quietly opposite each other patiently waiting for our turn to speak and enquire about each other’s day. A whopping 84% of Brits can’t recall seeing anything in today’s popular culture that featured a family like their own in the last six months.
The reality is anything and everything – because every family is different and every family has its own version of pea flicking to contend with.
So we’re all over the new ‘We are family’ campaign’ to help open up the kitchen door to real, raw, good, bad and ugly family life. The reality of easing food into a tantrumming toddler; the passive aggressive quips of ‘darling, did you buy the mince?’ [the key ingredient to a spag bol]. It’s about the peaks – seeing your daughter make a smiley face out of ketchup – through to the troughs – seeing your son swiping his entire meal onto the floor without remorse. (And he’s 17.)
It’s time to get real, really. Because while I am mortaged up to the eyeballs with 2.4 kids and low-level anxiety about the lawnmower, my sister is living with her girlfriend on a houseboat and her springer spaniel called Dolly who has a penchant for chewing and regurgitating old socks. Out of that line-up, Dolly is probably the most ‘normal’.
This blog post was written in association with McCain #WeAreFamily @McCainUK
My parental agenda is painfully simple: Let her choose. For all the dinosaurs, princesses, blue and pink divides of the 80s, just let the little nipper pick her lane or colour. Then give her the space to change her mind every day, every minute or every second if she fancies.
Because as women, we’re not always a pretty shade of pink and as men we’re not always into the blue; sometimes we like a diplodocus and other days it’s a swarovski-encrusted pastel-hued crown. We’re beyond all that archaic pigeonholing.
That’s why I am all over the Fruit Shoot It’s My Thing campaign like an e-colour-fuelled toddler. It’s simple: let them try new things, do new things and find their THING. How immense is that? It makes me wonder where my love of snails as a youth would have taken me. This is a campaign that raises them up and celebrates their creativity and self-expression. More than anything it’s about helping us let them simply go for it… to pursue those mollusk dreams.
The thing is, I already feel the pressure of what Mae should be doing at this stage. Is she winding the bobbin up correctly? What even is a bobbin? Should we care? Is she reading enough? Should we let her scribble freely on an old birthday card with a Biro or should she have a dedicated ‘creative corner’ – complete with working felt tips and mindfulness colouring-in books.
Then there’s the schooling juggernaut. I’ve heard mentions of ‘tutoring’ in parental circles to get toddlers in the education zone. It all seems too much considering Dutch kids don’t even start school until they hit five.
And it seems I’m not alone. Research commissioned by Fruit Shoot revealed that 80% of UK parents think that children are under too much pressure today, with 80% also agreeing that this pressure is limiting their creative flow.
If I’m Googling local maths tutors for a three-year-old, I’d say they’ve got it bang on.
So having actually missed the school admissions deadline like absolute plonkers. Yep, we are those parents who are never on top of all the forms, we’ve had to accept a year of Mae doing her thing while we wait to reapply next year.
So far we’ve covered ‘sandwich maker’ where I’ve been offered up a plasticine sausage and mash sandwich – a culinary triumph. I’ve also uncovered a manky Tupperware box under Mae’s bed with all of her favourite stones – “the grey spiky one is the best; he is called Frank the rock”. Perhaps my favourite moment was when Mae asked to take a photo of Matt and I. Since she’s asked for her own camera and instead of buying her cBeebies Magazine every week, we’ve invested in a Polaroid camera for her to merrily snap away on wherever, whenever.
We’re collecting the photos – all brilliantly angular and off-the-wall; much like Annie Leibowitz in many ways – and are planning on framing them once our house has been renovated. We’re going to ask Mae to edit those snaps down to her favourite 12 and she’s going to come with me to pick the frame. It’s essentially the first time we’ve let her lead the creative way and in return, we’ve stopped worrying about what she should be doing and focused on what she is doing – right here, right now.
While I didn’t imagine a year of stone-collecting, sandwich making and photo-taking ahead of us, seeing her confidence grow as she navigates the incredible corners of her mind has made me glad that we’re the rubbish parents that missed the school admissions deadline.
Living the dream
Fruit Shoot want to make a long-term commitment to helping kids find their thing. The Fruit Shoot Facebook page will be a hub and forum for parents to share content and opinion on the campaign themes. There will be a social competition to ‘Win that thing’ on Facebook where children can win prizes related to their thing. The campaign will also have presence in the major supermarkets and leisure destinations.
Celebrate your kids ‘things’on the FruitShootGB Facebook page and by using #itsmything and #FruitShoot.
Our book, Parenting the Shit out of Life, is available for pre-order now. It covers the last five years of our lives and even includes some vaguely useful information. We’ve written half of it each, and it’s led to some tears and sniggers along the way, but we can’t wait to hold it in our hands. And if you fancy, you can pre-order it right here, right now.
I’m blind as a bat – even more so since being pregnant. Who knew having kids would affect your eyesight too? Motherhood really is the gift that keeps on giving.
But the one thing I have learned to do through having two kids is to multitask. I can put mascara on while making fish fingers, chips and peas without batting an eyelid. I can breastfeed one kid while doing a bespoke finger puppet show for the other without breaking into a sweat. And I can wade through work emails at a rate of knots while singing the wheels on the bus go round and round. They really do go round and round and round.
But I do seek out hardworking products that help me ease through the parental day – from waterproof mascara to save the dreaded panda eye at 3pm to ‘active’ wear (the irony is not lost) that makes me feel like I might go to the gym when, in fact, I tend to be lurking in the Sainsbury’s snack aisle.
Then there’s my glasses teamed with Transitions – the ultimate vision multitasker; Visionary in many ways. It’s simple – when inside they’re your glasses that simply help you see better. Job done. Outside the lenses magically transform into sunglasses so you can see AND beat the glare. Even more they offer 100% UV protection at all times, in addition to blue light, leaving your knackered peepers in a happy place.
Choosing the glasses was simple; I went for the Sapphire lenses because I wear a lot of denim and prefer a blue hue next to my often over-fake-tanned skin. I also went with this colour because my frames are pretty heavy – think media person-meets-Velma-from-Scooby-Doo – and needed a lens that didn’t contrast too much with them.
The reality is, I don’t have time to eat a piece of toast most the mornings most days, let alone rummage around in my bag every time I edge inside or outside, so my glasses need to be multitasking in their approach. With four Style Colours, including Sapphire – amethyst emerald and amber are the other options – these natty lenses are designed to make your peepers look good and your life a little bit easier.
Whether you’re wading through the inbox of doom or sunning yourself in a kiddie sandpit, seeing truly is believing.
This post was written in association with Transitions. AD
Those words tend to come from Mae as I’m frazzled and trying to rush out the door like a flapping Big Bird. It’s that moment when you realize you should have left the house 13 minutes earlier to make the train and know you’ll have to get a jog on – leading to a beaded brow and frizzy tresses – as soon as you gallop out of the house.
Then your kid wants to put his/her own shoes on. In principle this is a great thing – independence is to be encouraged and that’s one less parental thing on the never-ending to do list. But not when you are running 13 minutes late for the train and it takes approximately 17 minutes for your little love nugget to get those shoes on.
So often shoes that are good for your kid’s feet and ease the growing process don’t look all that. I’m always looking for ones that support Mae’s little trotters from Weetabix-smattered breakfast tantrums right the way through to drizzly playground playdates.
There was one particularly sodden day with her mate Betsey – they are friends until the cutlery they are eating with is a different colour – where I hadn’t even noticed that Mae was wearing one shoe that fitted and another from when she was 18-months. She limped around for a bit near the swings until I realized the basic parental error. The shoe was most certainly on the wrong foot and I was absolutely to blame – it wasn’t even an easy mistake to make; one was yellow, the other white.
Mae’s current shoes du jour are a pair of blush Bobux trainers with a zebra emblazoned down one side (so when the Zebra’s are together you know they’re on the right feet!). If that’s not a shoe triumph, we don’t know what is. Stripey is Mae’s number one toy at the moment (it’s an ever-transient list that can be brutal at times – I haven’t questioned where Tilly the dinosaur is at the moment for fear she’s under the paving slabs in the garden) so to find a shoe that not only fits but links to that much-cuddled zebra is, indeed, a relief.
There were no laces to contend with, just Velcro or slip-ons and they’re breathable so they won’t honk after a few laps of the park. They’re also cool enough for the kids to want and supportive enough for the parents to have peace of mind. More than anything children’s feet develop in stages not ages, so it’s not a case of just going up a size as they get older – these are shoes that truly do fit.
While I’m no parental oracle if I can impart one piece of time-saving (or mind-saving) advice, it’s to invest in a solid easy-to-get-on pair of shoes. This is not being said simply because we are working with Bobux, it’s genuinely because they’re a kid and parent-friendly life changer. (And have cut that 17 minutes of ‘putting shoes on’ down to a nifty 3 minutes – huge life goals right there).
This post was written in association with Bobux Shoes. AD
‘Pregnancy’. When did it become such a dirty word? “I’m pregnant”. It sure isn’t in social realms – just one look at the pink and blue-hued Clintons card range and you’ll get the thumbs up. It’s not on a wider scale – the world needs people. But in UK office environs it seems to be the equivalent of announcing you’ve contracted raging genital warts.
Having a baby is the bizarre white elephant lurking in a conference room full of strip lighting and rickety office chairs.
The dictionary definition of ‘pregnant’ is this: “Having a child” or “Full of meaning or significance”. Sure the last one isn’t related to being knocked up, but being pregnant is, indeed, significant.
How many times have you heard a friend say “I haven’t told work yet” or “I’m worried about what work will say.” How many times has your pre-pregnant mind meandered towards that moment one rogue sperm hits home base? Will it mean career suicide? Should we wait? Should we bump uglies with wild abandon? Are you in a career that will boot you out at the first sight of a Clear Blue test in the sanitary disposal unit?
How many times have you listened to a job interviewer tell you about the 15% Fitness First discount the company offers without uttering so much as a word about maternity/paternity packages?
I’m sat slumped here in a bed of Hob Nob crumbs at 38 weeks pregnant. My mind is consumed by primary schools for my daughter Mae. But how can I support her venture into ABCs and encourage her to cash-in her working dreams of being a ‘sandwich maker’ only to know the reality is a cheese and pickle-slathered brick wall?
That the reality is someone else who is less burdened with family might fill her position when she’s on maternity leave. That the reality is being edged out of the building when she’s at her most knackered and vulnerable for a multitude of murky reasons that won’t ever get to tribunal because it’s a fight her employer has already won.
(Employers only have to prove ‘they followed correct procedure’ not ‘is the business case watertight’. Oh and you need a handy £1,300 to pay legal costs. Lose-lose. No, at that point even the strongest contenders bow out of employment Gladiators.)
And it’s not just a light smattering of us. Pregnancy discrimination, which is highly illegal has risen significantly since 2005 with ¾ of women questioned in a recent Equalities and Human Rights Commision survey being patronised out of the building.
“If you come back after maternity leave…”
“Let’s see what happens if you return”
“Things will change!”
Those results equate to 390,000 women across the UK. That’s the population equivalent of the entire city of Liverpool.
“Part of the gender pay gap is driven by how women are supported in the workplace around before and after pregnancy so the government should consider extending pay gap reporting to include return rates after maternity leave,” said Jo Swinson who commissioned the research.
“Now that we know the shocking scale of the problem, the government needs to take swift action to better protect women in the workplace.”
Swift action is, indeed, needed. But also immediate action from each and every one of us. While pregnancy is not an affliction, it comes with its physical blocades. Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HGV) can render you a chunder bus that requires a vomit receptacle Sellotaped to your chin. (Check out Susie J Verrill‘s raw and honest account of rivalling HRH Duchess of Cambridge in the vom stakes). Bleeding in those early days can lead to miscarriage. Miscarriage, if swept under the carpet for fear of admitting you are ‘trying’ to your employer can lead to infection and irreparable mental scars. Exhaustion abounds and yes, your hormonal make-up is imbalanced. This is not emotional, it’s biological. It’s simple medical fact – like a leg hurts when you break it, pregnancy realigns your internal organs.
It is significant. It takes its toll and we are not weaker for admitting that. We are weaker for pushing on regardless and not addressing the bigger issue – why employers seem determined to think we are lesser employees as a result of having a child. As a result for asking for a hint of flexibility so we can work more, not less for the bigger business picture. To cut back the daily commute in favour of clearing emails and tackling administrative issues ahead of powering on.
That somehow we have a talent lobotomy among the lactation biscuits and Sophie La Girafe chew toys.
How, after years of GCSE-swatting, work experience-gaining, low-paid training, unfettered drive and determination, we suddenly transform from worker bee to Little Miss Muppet in an employer’s eyes the minute the pee hits that stick.
How after keeping a small human alive using a mammary or a bottle and sheer grit and determination during relentless sleepless nights, you are considered less capable.
390,000 pregnant women in the UK have sat opposite their boss and been tossed aside for simply procreating. It’s ironic that you look at the person saying “we have an exciting new role for you”[read: you have been demoted because you popped a sprog] or “I’m afraid we’ve had to make some redundancies” [read: you’re a ‘mummy’ so won’t mind] only to think, ‘you came from somewhere; you came from someone.’
And that someone is significant.
Pregnant then screwed
A few words from founder of Pregnant then screwed, Joelie Brearley:
“Mother Pukka and Pregnant Then Screwed have been in touch since October 2015 when Anna wrote a post about the work we had been doing to support women who encounter pregnancy and maternity discrimination. As parents who both want to see an end to pregnancy and maternity discrimination we are united in our fight. We are stronger together and Pregnant Then Screwed is proud to support Flex Appeal as well as all the other work Mother Pukka is doing to promote the rights of working parents whilst making them laugh along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for some exciting stuff coming up in the future including: a public demonstration, a Facebook Live and lots of supporting activities that will help working parents challenge discriminatory behaviour, while ensuring both the Government and businesses are forced to take notice of our needs.”
More about Pregnant Then Screwed:
Initially, Pregnant Then Screwed was a safe space for women to tell their stories anonymously, so we could shine a light on this issue. The response from mothers all over the world was incredible, the stories poured in alongside offers from people to help manage and promote the project. A fantastic employment lawyer offered her assistance so we set up a free legal advice line for women encountering discrimination. When the Equality and Human Rights Commission released statistics which showed that less than 1% of women who encounter discrimination raise a tribunal claim, we decided we needed to do more to help women access justice so we launched a peer to peer support programme. This pairs up women who have been through an employment tribunal with a woman who has started legal proceedings to act as a friend and comrade, to help her survive the difficult journey ahead. More recently we launched ‘Flexi-line’ a free advice line for parents who want to make a flexible working request. Alongside this we have been doing some campaigning which has gone down a treat – our #Givemesix campaign which asks that the government extend the time limit to raise a tribunal claim from 3 months to 6 months for pregnant and postpartum women has over 54,000 signatures, has been signed by 71 MPs as part of Early Day Motion 1084 and has recently been included in the Labour Party Manifesto.
We want to continue to protect, support and promote the rights of parents who suffer the effects of workplace discrimination and over the coming months we plan do more intense campaigning on legislative changes we think would decrease the numbers of women who encounter pregnancy and maternity discrimination:
1) Subsidised childcare for children from 6 months old
2) Paternity leave to be increased to 3 months, paid at 90% of salary
3) Abolish tribunal fees
4) Protect pregnant women on zero hours contracts and other types of precarious work from discrimination
5) Ensure mothers on zero hours contracts and other types of precarious work can legally take maternity leave
6) Make companies report on retention rates of pregnant women
7) Make all companies state flexible working options on job adverts. Instead of opting in to flexible working, companies have to opt out and they can only do this if they have a valid business reason for doing so
I don’t think you are ever ready for your card to be declined as you try to buy a cheese and pickle sarnie in Tesco Metro for your hungry toddler. That’s also not to mention the swathes of quietly judging people behind you as that sandwich gets popped back on the chilled shelf of financial dreams. (“How is she in charge of a human?”)
But aged 35 I’m still a shambles with money. My wallet resembles a bulging rubbish bin after a West Ham football match. There’s receipts in abundance and out of the 25 cards (including one from Claire’s Accessories with a 2014 expiration date) in there, only one that isn’t dog-eared and scratched to within an inch of it’s usable life.
But wallet admin aside, that shame-drenched sandwich-yearning moment made it abundantly clear that it’s not just about me anymore. I can’t be left high and dry with my hungry toddler thankful that I’d randomly stuffed a warm Babybel in my back pocket. Alone, yes, it would have been an amusing pub story, chez squawking life burden (“Mama why can’t I eat the sandwich?”), less so.
So I told you all about it; I penned a blog post about being 35 and not being on top of my dosh. I said that while the Instagram pixels can seem all tap dancing and jazz hands at times, we’re all just Sellotaping over the cracks – financial and emotional. And the response I got was overwhelming; from those of us rifling through the bargain bin for a 34p loaf to others celebrating a Pizza Express two-for-one deal and delighting in the power of eBay for second hand goods.
Two people got in touch, who made me take it from words to actions: my Dad, who is a self-made man with a truly razor-sharp approach to money (he owned his own house called ironically ‘The Shambles’ at 24) and someone from Capital One – a company that aims to dispel the myths and clear up the jargon around credit – who read it and got in touch to say that I’m not as alone in navigating this financial jungle as I initially thought.
At school I learned about algebraic equations but never about APR (Annual Percentage Rates), for example. I understood how to dismantle a Bunsen burner but couldn’t tell you about how mortgages work. I even got an A at A-level in Economics for my intricate knowledge of macroeconomic policy. And, yet, while launching a business, buying a house and keeping a small human alive, I’ve dropped the money ball.
So instead of the whole ‘New Year, New You’ guff at the beginning of this year, I decided to focus on the bedrock of making it through the day: dollar. I don’t want to close my eyes at the cash point and hope anymore, I don’t want to furrow my brow at complex credit terms such as credit scores and eligibility checkers, I don’t want to have a head-in-the-sand approach to credit cards. I truly want to know my APR from my CPR.
It’s time to clear out those receipts, edit down my Claire’s Accessories discount cards and sort the confused wood from the potentially fruitful trees.
To get us started, check out these basic tips below to help you take control of your financial health;
Know your credit score – if you know where you stand, you’ll know whether you need to make changes to improve your score or not, you can find your score at the three main credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax or Call Credit.
Check your eligibility before you apply for a credit card, Capital One’s QuickCheck tool will tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll be accepted before you apply, without affecting your credit score.
Know the APR (Annual Percentage Rate) you’re applying for and whether this could change after you’ve applied. Check the terms and conditions, all available product details and the summary box. With Capital One the APR you see when you apply is the APR you’ll get. The Capital One Classic credit card features a 34.9% APR representative variable rate.
Try and pay more than the minimum, if you already have a credit card paying more than the minimum amount each month will save you time and money.
This post was created in partnership with Capital One who I will be working with to help cut through the confusing world of credit over the next few weeks. Check out their blog here.
I’m someone who handles tangible things really well. So if faced with my Mum’s cottage pie, I’m aware of the homely joy and happiness that sits before me. I understand ketchup and brown sauce and if faced with a sale rack in Topshop, I’m all over it like a frenzied mosquito. Credit, however, gives me the fear. (To be honest anything that might at some stage involve a formal-looking envelope increases the furrowed brow).
My approach on these seemingly intangible (almost invisible) things is a resolute head-in-the-sand approach. If in doubt, channel an ostrich.
But this head in the sand approach isn’t going to see you through the long game. I think my biggest underlying fear, though, has been in getting red marks. Whether it’s an overdrawn account or being rejected for a credit card, that stuff starts to take its toll, especially if you decide to have a family. “Sorry darling, mummy can’t buy a house because she splurged all her 20-something cash on Topshop frocks willy nilly and lenders think she’s a ‘big risk.’”
Cue Capital One – a company that I have teamed up with to help dispel the myths and clear up the jargon around credit. They have an arsenal of tips and tools that helps you navigate this financial jungle without ending up with red marks all over your finance homework.
Perhaps the tool that grabbed my attention first was the QuickCheck eligibility checker that can do a pre-check to see if you’ll be accepted for a Capital One credit card without affecting your credit score. This is your chance – without a trace of red mark being left behind – to know where you stand before you decide whether or not to apply. Consider this a starter it’s a litmus test of whether you can afford the main course. No-one wants to ask for the bill at the end and not be able to pay; the restaurant shame is the equivalent of a red mark against your financial name.
And this isn’t a 99% guarantee that you will or won’t be accepted for a credit card. Capital One provides 100% certainty on whether you’ll be accepted or not so you’ll know exactly where you stand.
But why should you even care about the red marks on your credit file? Why not channel the ostrich; that magnificent bird?
Well, there are a few reasons why you should care about your credit score and keeping it healthy. Phone providers, for example, will usually do a credit check before handing you a new shiny phone. If your credit score isn’t up to scratch, they could turn you down – leaving you with Pay-As-You-Go as your only option, and a mark on your credit report.
It’s also not uncommon for landlords and estate agents to do credit checks. A healthy credit score could save you from having to pay an additional deposit up front, or from having to ask a family member to sign as a guarantor on your behalf. Let’s be honest, no-one wants to ask mummy and daddy for help with adulting aged 30.
Then there’s the bricks and mortar. Recently lenders have become much stricter with their mortgage lending criteria, and your credit score plays a very big role in your chances of being accepted. We’re talking actual roof over your (and your kid’s) head here – perhaps that is something a little more tangible to get my head out of the sand for?
Top tips from Capital One for taking control of your credit score:
Know what your credit score is – if you know where you stand, you’ll know whether you need to make changes to improve your score or not, you can find your score at the three main credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax or Call Credit.
Check your eligibility before you apply for a credit card, Capital One’s QuickCheck tool will tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll be accepted before you apply, without affecting your credit score.
Make sure you’re on the electoral roll. Lenders use the electoral roll to confirm your identity. If you’re not on it, it’s harder for them to do so. Registering is free and takes less than 5 minutes. Search ‘register to vote’.
Pay your bills on time by Direct Debit. Missing a payment can affect your credit score for up to 6 years. Setting up a Direct Debit is a simple way to make sure you pay on time, every time
Don’t go over your limit. If you have a credit card, always try to stay within your credit limit. Lenders typically see this as a sign that you are able to manage your finances responsibly. You’ll also avoid any extra fees.
Capital One’s eligibility checker QuickCheck lets you know where you stand before you decide whether or not to apply for a Capital One credit card and won’t affect your credit score. If you do decide to apply, the Capital One Classic credit card features a 34.9%APR representative variable rate.
This post was created in partnership with Capital One who I will be working with to help cut through the confusing world of credit. Check out their blog here.
The morning call of a howler monkey operates at a similar pitch to that of a toddler in need of breakfast. Howlers have more volume and it takes more than Cheerios to placate them, but they at least are unlikely to be sleeping in the next room to you. Although at Port Lympne Reserve, 600 acres of wildlife park in rural Kent, it might sometimes feel like they are.
We woke up in our treehouse just after 7am, and I made breakfast on the terrace for me and Mae. As howler monkeys howled a few hundred meters away, and rhinos grunted on the Kentish savannah, I felt like a well-catered-for explorer, albeit one that hasn’t needed any jabs or been concerned about attacks by local tribes. Between the sounds of Africa, sparrows tweeted as if to remind us we were just an hour from home.
I tried to befriend this giraffe, but he had some extreme views
Our treehouse came with its own golf cart and so with the park to ourselves, and Anna (really very pregnant) left to sleep, Mae and I went to explore. As number two looms, I’ve been thinking more about number one, and the dull ache she causes somewhere in the left side of my ribcage. She’s approaching four and in the last year, as she’s developed into an actual person with a character and temperament and opinions of her own, I think we’ve grown closer. The first year of parenting, I think, is mostly duty and dumb hormonal affection. The next two years were a bit more fun, but definitely with an awareness that I was the second-favourite parent, as she instinctively reached for her mother in times of strife. (And when I say strife, I mean being denied an extra episode of Peppa, or having to wait a little bit for a go on the swings).
But in the last six or 12 months, as she’s learned to tell jokes (exclusively about turds, but jokes none the less), learned to openly mock me and rough-and-tumble about the place, I think a stronger bond has developed. It’s probably made me realise, for the first time, that there will come a day when she moves out or gets married or generally doesn’t need (or want) to be with us anymore. And while that brings a strange mix of sadness and relief, curiosity and concern, it does also focus my mind on the now.
So we whizzed around the park on our little cart, her, slightly nervously by my side (I’m not the finest driver, even with a top speed of 5mph). Our first stop was the howlers, the source of all that noise, to ask what all the fuss was about, then some baboons, to laugh at their bulbous red arses, then deer and dinosaurs. The last of those were fake, of course, but there’s a jungle trail full of them, built to scale for curious kids to clamber on and gaze at, leading to conversations along the lines of, ‘Mae, who do you think would win in a fight between a giraffe and a diplodocus?’ Or, ‘how many monkeys would be needed to take down a T-rex?’ Then we fetched Anna, to feed leafy branches to a greedy giraffe called Gary.
It’s good to meet new people (and be reminded why you like the ones you see all the time).
The Apatosaurus: surprisingly camp
What is it? Port Lympne Reserve is a 600 acres wildlife park with 88 species including wolves, bears, giraffe, monkeys, zebra, tigers and rhino. The beasts roam about as freely as I’ve ever seen beyond a series of Planet Earth and there is now a dinosaur trail with life-sized models and augmented realty dinosaurs.
Staying at Lympne Overnight stays start from £99 per night, with digs ranging from cosy glamping huts and safari-style tents, to private treehouses that are more like Manhattan apartments. Most accommodation has cooking facilities or you can order safari hampers to be delivered. Tiger Lodge, overlooking the tiger enclosure (!) is due to open soon.
Getting there Port Lympne Reserve is five minutes off the M20 between junctions 10 and 11, or a 15 minute cab ride from Ashford station. Day tickets start at £22.50 per adult.
I’m not sure why I had such a warped view of motherhood. I assumed it was quite an ethereal experience all in all – gurning babies that smelled of talcum powder and a sense of general completion. There was, perhaps, a white kaftan in my wardrobe for calming measure.
The reality is most days I resemble a mosquito that’s hit a hot light bulb one too many times. Frazzled is the word, not ethereal. I also tend to be embellished by rogue Cheerios, not swathed in white Egyptian cotton. White? What was I thinking?
That’s not to say I’m incomplete or unhappy, it’s more that I need things in my life to help with the lack of control over The Stuff. I need help with my life admin because on most days I find adulting hard. Like, GCSE Russian hard.
Cue Powershop UK, the energy company that gets that things need to be easy for knackered, eye-twitching folk like me. The app is basically there to make buying electricity easy wherever you are – soft play hell or 9-5 commute. How it works? Customers buy electricity in an online shop or mobile app, shopping for discounted specials in bundles (called Powerpacks – feels very Paw Patrol). So you essentially could save dosh by buying your electricity this way.
You can buy as much as you need based on how much you consume. It’s as simple as pressing a button and topping up your electricity to save getting those scary bills at the end of the month that can furrow even the calmest of brows.
In a nutshell, this is the simplest way I’ve found to stay on top of one of life’s basics – energy. For me, it’s one less thing to worry my tiny little frazzled mind with. Power to the mama, indeed.
Each Powerpack comes with information about how long it is expected to last. There are three types of Powerpacks in the shop:
Top-up packs – a standard pack that’s always in the shop for everyday savings
Future Packs – the option to buy electricity to use later in the year in order to save money during more energy consuming – and money sapping – times
Special packs – these are random discounted energy packs designed to encourage customers to keep getting a better deal. Named after special occasions, news events or humorous moments these pop up as alerts from the Powershop UK app.
Within the desktop shop, customers can also pay for energy when it suits them and change their billing date. While many customers regularly log in to the shop and buy Powerpacks, others prefer not to. Those customers who don’t log in as much, or perhaps forget to log in will automatically have their energy topped up at the end of each month, ensuring they remain powered up.
This blog post was written in association with Powershop UK
There was a time when a weekend away with mates would mean the booze to food ratio was heavily weighted towards the former. Those weekends in your early 20s aren’t the most relaxing of times and you generally return to work looking pale-faced and wan in need of a week off in The Bahamas to recover.
As I edge into my late thirties, the mini break has pulled a full 180. It’s become a glorious time of relaxation, solid chats, good wine (well, the stuff that isn’t paint stripper) and rest – there is no shame in saying “I’m heading to bed” around 10pm in your favourite Primark unicorn pyjamas.
Cue the ultimate sanctuary for this relatively sluggish activity to take place: Boheme Stawley through Unique Home Stays.
This gargantuan rustic barn sleeps 20 people in total, has a 15m indoor swimming pool and it’s own rowing boat and lake – think Pride & Prejudice meets Fortnum & Mason; if they did homes. It’s all crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets, projector screen cinema-style TV viewing and acres of grounds to go for a ‘quick turn’ if you’ve hit the rioja a little hard the night before.
Bonus ball: the rooms are all pretty much identical so there’s no scrapping over the master suite or any latecomers having to shoe-horn themselves into a veritable broom cupboard. Oh and you can pick fresh berries from the nearby hedges for a heart crumble as more than 27 species of bird flit about. Happy, happy wholesome times.
There were ten of us in total who had seen each other sporadically over the last year but craved a full-on catch up overlooking the Somerset countryside. And that is what we got – the full girlie catch-up with rolling British countryside to boot.
From early morning yoga sessions in the courtyard to home-cooked Indian food from our mate Hersha (@cookwithalittleindian) it was the perfect mid-week escape to unwind, relax and actually finding out where all of our heads were at instead of the quick ‘you ok?’ over a manic coffee as you wipe drool from your baby’s mouth.
Even if you want to bring the kids with you, it’s the perfect spot with stairgates in position and a dedicated ‘fairy walk’ for them to go on around the grounds.
As I hit 8 months pregnant, it was also a brilliant chance to take a moment to enjoy having my coffee hot, talking without a knackered eye-twitch and sleep – somewhat ironically – like a baby.
Book Boheme Stawley through Unique Home Stays here. Mid-week escapes are perfect for girlie catch ups, baby showers or simply getting away with mates when everyone else is stuck in the office.
There was one night when I woke up on the beach outside my hut in Koh Pah-Ngan dribbling in the sand next to my best mate. We both resembled Ribena berries on one side of our faces and a rogue flea bitten dog had started licking my big toe. Good times.
Sleep was for the weak back then and I could never envisage a moment in my future when I’d holler at my husband, ‘I just want a good mattress, that’s all I want’ before crumpling into a hormonal heap. But there I was on that drizzly Monday evening, seven months knocked up and edging into ‘nesting’ territory. I think as a mother you end up pretty much living in your bed in those first few months. (I ended up sleeping with a packet of raisins under my pillow for a week without realising last month – the bed becomes part sleep vessel, part storage cupboard).
I remember when Mae was born, we popped her in the baby carrier at the end of the bed and had a sushi picnic before watching Game of Thrones – or as much as we could before the mewling began. The bed was literally the mothership.
Then we moved back to London from Amsterdam and panic-bought a dodgy mattress from a shop that has since mysteriously disappeared and months of bad sleep on that shoddy sponge-like fire hazard culminated in me slobbering on Matt’s shoulder. Middle class problems, indeed.
So Matt went out to feather the nest as best he could. In essence he Googled ‘best mattress’ and ‘best bed’ and came up with the Tinder match of sleeping dreams. A Casper mattress and a Made.com bed. The whole caboodle came to just over £1,200 that we didn’t have but in those crazed nesting moments who needs a weekly shop when you can sleep soundly at night.
I cried once more when it all arrived and then, luckily for Matt, the tears eased up as the sleep increased. I had forgotten what a good night’s sleep felt like – something I shall cherish as we edge into newborn territory.
But as our house currently undergoes intense renovations – we currently have three walls and are lacking a kitchen roof – the one thing I know before this baby comes is that there’s a safe nook upstairs. A sleep-inducing nest where we can hole up for those first few weeks of this little nipper’s life and pretend the drilling noise downstairs is the gentle lapping of water on a Thai beach.
Nothing saves money like staying in bed.
Going out to breakfast can be as cheap as a £4.50 for bacon and egg sandwich or £3 for a pastry and a coffee. Going out to dinner can be as expensive as a £15 for some pasta or up to £20 for a steak. It makes way more sense to stay in, get dinner delivery, or whip up a quick bowl of pasta.
There’s no dress code.
Going to a fancy dinner requires you to put product in your hair and iron a shirt. Dinner in bed requires nothing more than sweatpants.
You’ll have more time to catch up on your favourite show.
Seriously, who has time to go out to dinner and stay up to date with Game of Thrones. Dinner in bed can kill two birds with one stone, and keep your friends from spoiling all the drama.
You’ll get Instagram fame.
Everyone knows that a brightly coloured cup of orange juice and a heaping pile of pancakes are aesthetically pleasing when placed a-top clean white linens. Been there, ate that. Swap those pancakes out for a big, juicy burger and your dinner in bed will be so novel, it’ll rack up more Likes than your friend’s brunch.
Wine in bed makes way more sense than coffee.
As long as it’s white! While coffee in bed is a go-to, it can actually be counter-productive. Studies show that a glass or two of red wine is good for you, so you’ll be treating yourself in more ways than one. When you feel the warm, fuzzy feeling set in — you’ll be exactly where you belong.
It’s a word used for weddings, engagements, exams results, new homes and births. For me, it’s not a word that sits well with pregnancy. When you tell someone you are pregnant, it’s an obvious exclamation – it is, of course, a nice thing to say.
But what is doesn’t account for is the deep-rooted anxiety that you’re not even out of the starting blocks; that your uterus has every chance of being the one to fail at carrying that life. How can you congratulate a 1500m runner at the 200m mark? Perhaps ‘keep going’ or ‘c’mon girl’ fits the bill but for me it isn’t (I’m 8 months pregnant) or wasn’t (I have a three-year-old) a celebratory time.
For every moment I allowed myself to ponder that flicker of life inside, I would be jolted out of those musings by a sickening fear that this one wouldn’t make it to the finishing line. There was the fear of decorating the nursery too soon; the fear of choosing a name too early; the heart stopping moments of waiting three seconds too long for a heartbeat at a routine scan.
While I have miscarried along the way to procreation, I don’t think that fear is shackled only to those who have suffered loss. Everyone questions the viability of their uterus at some point; Anyone who knows what it is to love someone knows what it is to lose someone.
In this pregnancy, I was in hospital at 4 months with dehydration because of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). I’d heard all about the ‘glow’ you get through pregnancy, I knew about the cracking boobs that came with the maternal package – I was even genned up on the best post-partum sanitary pads to invest in.
But what I hadn’t been aware of was that HG dehydration could cause a foetal heart to stop.
I didn’t realise that bleeding throughout pregnancy was fairly normal for some women and a sign of an ‘inviable foetus’ for others. It was a game of biological snakes and ladders where the Internet could offer up two extreme answers for every one scenario. My Google results ran the full gamut of ‘this is normal, all will be well’ to ‘this is a sign of miscarriage, seek medical help immediately’ from one simple search word.
Despite never being a worrier previously, here I found myself in no (wo)man’s land; It was (and still is) a confused arena of fear and excitement – the former often overpowering the latter.
All I do know is that the Internet does not have all the answers; the Internet cannot listen to your body or look you in the eyes and see that primitive maternal fear. It cannot listen, only broadcast. When the Internet was telling me that mild Braxton hicks contractions were normal at 28 weeks with my daughter Mae, I questioned the pixels with a visit to an actual human – my midwife who confirmed I’d gone into labour.
Without listening to instincts, I wouldn’t have been administered steroids to halt the contractions and my daughter would have come prematurely at 28 weeks.
When Mae was born ten weeks later, I lapped up all the ‘congratulations’ people could muster. For then, after what had been a journey of significant peaks and troughs, I could truly sit back and feel like I’d actually won at pregnancy.
Tommy’s, with King’s College London and Babycentre.com, has launched a safer pregnancy campaign to empower pregnant women to overcome fears about speaking to professionals about health concerns. The aim of the Always Ask campaign is to reduce the number of women who end up with serious pregnancy complications or loss. Research from King’s College London has shown that women’s knowledge about their own changing body is invaluable in contributing to safer pregnancies but that they often struggle to voice their instincts and concerns.