Friday, 25 March 2016

Worlds apart: From one mum to another, on Dunkirk refugee camp

I am sitting on the floor of a small wooden hut in the new Dunkirk refugee camp with a young mum called Runa.  She is a midwife, in her early twenties.  We’re drinking sweet black tea and eating bread that she made that morning. I am in awe of this lady, who can find the will and the means to bake bread for her family while living in the horrors of a refugee camp.  I can barely bake bread in my clean, warm kitchen, listening to Magic FM, and swigging a glass of wine.

The reason I am here is because I wanted to do something practical to help the refugees in Dunkirk.  As well as distributing ‘dignity packs’ donated by the kind people of Herefordshire, I came here to take photos, in an attempt to humanise the situation and bring it home.  Confronted with the reality of the situation, I feel helpless before the scale of the task. The unendurable pain of what these people have withstood is leaving me feeling inadequate and speechless. 

A few days ago, Runa, her husband, their eight month old daughter, Amira, and their two year old son, Olan, moved here from the recently dismantled Dunkirk camp where they’d been living for four months knee deep in mud, human faeces, and rotting debris.  I went to the old camp yesterday to take photos, and it was the closest thing to a war zone I’d ever witnessed.  


This time last week 3,000 people were all crammed into this boggy, wooded area right next to a housing estate.  Everything is as they left it; tents, clothes, boots, sleeping bags, toys, countless plastic bottles and boxes of urine, and rotting food.  As I tiptoed through the carnage, the sun shone, the birds sang, but it felt eerie, even sinister, and the stench of the rotting, wet, dirty remains was unbearable. 

Runa tells me that they lived in the old camp for more than a hundred nights through the winter months, in sub zero temperatures and snow, in a wet, mouldy tent.  The closest I’d come to anything like this in my own life was one particularly cold and windy night in a tent in Wales, and I couldn’t find adequate words to respond. What could I possibly say to her? 

It got worse. While living in these conditions, baby Amira had chicken pox, and there was no treatment.  She screamed every night, had a high temperature, wouldn’t eat, and scratched so much that she drew blood and her skin became infected.  

When my eldest daughter had chicken pox, she had two weeks off school.  I remember feeling really anxious during that time: not only did we have a bad case of chicken pox in the house, I also had a broken wrist, and a birthday party to arrange.  By anyone’s standards, that was a tricky situation. However, I was at home, in my own country, I had my belongings with me, I was safe, I had access to medicine and clean water, and my own mother to support me.  Runa’s mother is dead.  


I hand Runa a ‘dignity pack’ containing toiletries, a pair of leggings, a couple of t-shirts, pants and a bra.  She holds up the tiny pink bra against her large chest, and we both laugh.  Amongst the chaos and devastation, she can still see humour in things.  I feel another surge of admiration for her.  

In the new camp, where we’re now sitting, living conditions are better, but things are still desperate.  The hut, their new home, is a few square metres, and everything I see in that hut, is all they have left in the world.  And even these few belongings are unsafe. The future of this camp is uncertain, there is widespread fear of demolition, and the people may be moved on again.  

As we talk, baby Amira wobbles next to the gas stove which sits in the corner.  The baby already has a really nasty burn on her hand from sticking it through the bars of the heater and scalding herself yesterday.  I get out some bubbles from my bag to distract her away from the gas stove.  I am neurotic when it comes to health and safety, at the best of times.  When my babies were this age, I wouldn’t allow our woodburner to be lit at all, and even went as far as winding bubblewrap and blankets around the woodburner to prevent them banging their heads on the hard edges.  

Amira is distracted by the bubbles for a while, but she is soon crawling back towards the hot stove.  


Feeling overwhelmed, I step outside the hut to see where two-year-old Olan has gone.  Thankfully he is still there, sitting in a dust pile, playing with a broken guitar he has found.  

The sun is beating down, all the wooden huts sit in neat rows, children are playing on donated bikes and scooters, and kicking balls, grown-ups are sitting around fires, washing is hanging out to dry.  I see a group of chattering ladies in the communal washing area, which was built yesterday, washing clothes, and pots and pans.  For a weird moment it reminds me of a holiday camp, a place where people might have chosen to come to have a good time, and relax with family and friends. A happy place.  

I’m jolted back to reality when a man comes to tell Runa that his wife made it to England last night, but he and his three year old son did not. They were spotted by the police at customs at the ferry port, but his wife (Runa’s friend) was better hidden in the lorry, so she made it to Dover.  They don’t know if they will see her again. They behave as though this is good news - it gives them more hope. At least one of the family has made it through. 


‘Coughing and bad headache is no good when hiding in lorry,’ Runa jokes.  Coughing and bad headache is no good in a warm, safe bed, I think to myself.  She tells me how they tried to get to England two nights ago, hidden in a lorry.  She was unwell, and both her children were screaming and crying, while trying to hide and go unnoticed.  ‘I was very scared.  We got caught.  We try again soon,’  she says, almost matter-of-factly, like she’s talking about a stressful trip to the supermarket with a tantruming toddler.  This failed attempt at getting to England cost them thousands of pounds.   

The people here are trying to get to the UK because they speak English, or have family and friends here. Runa has an uncle in Manchester. Of all the options available to these people - proud people; people like my friends back home; people who are doctors, lawyers, business owners - the best option open to them is to try and smuggle their families into the UK via a lorry. It is like a surreal, slow-motion war.  

As I finish my tea, Runa, who is now tearful, physically tries to put her baby into my backpack. ‘You take to England with you,’ she keeps pleading.  ‘You hide her’.  ‘You look after her.’  Olan thinks this is a hilarious game, putting his baby sister in a bag.  I cuddle the happy, babbling baby, who is oblivious to the horrors her parents are going through. With my whole heart I want to help, I want to try and help her.  But instead I have to tell her: ‘Sorry, I cannot take your baby.’ I try not to cry.  I cannot imagine a situation where I would be  begging a stranger to take my baby away to a safer place.  


‘More tea?’ Runa asks.  She tells me: ‘My country not good, we had to leave.  Lots and lots of fighting and bombs.  Friends and family dead.’  She then describes their horrific journey from Iraq.  She mentions a country I have never heard of.  She laughs heartily and tells me my geography is very bad.  Still laughing, she gets out her iPhone and points it out on the Maps app.

Crossing from Turkey to Greece, 140 women, men and children (including elderly people and babies) were squeezed onto a wooden raft in the middle of the night.  The crossing took four and half hours on rough freezing cold seas.  “There was screaming and crying all the time,” Runa tells me.  “Boat almost sank, and we nearly drowned, but Greek police come with big boat and helicopter and help us”.  More unimaginable horror.  I remember the fear I felt on a boat in Wales with my two precious babies, crossing from Caldey Island back to Tenby on rough seas.  Unlike Runa’s journey, however, that was a legal twenty minute boat trip in daylight, and there were plenty of shots of whisky in a friendly pub to get over the shock.

I learn that traffickers helped her and her family for part of the journey from Greece to France.  ‘They treat me very very bad.’  She looks terrified and mentions sexual favours.  ‘You take my baby?’ she begs me, again.  

We hug, and I tell her I will get her baby milk and nappies, which feels like a pathetic gesture compared to what she needs, but she thanks me profusely.  I tell her that I will see her tomorrow with the supplies.  She cheerily waves me off.  

When I say goodbye to Runa and her family on my last day, she asks me for my backpack.  ‘Very useful to me,’ she says.  She tries to give me the necklace from around her neck as payment.  Without thinking, I tell her that I need the bag as I have my things in it.  But while sitting on the ferry a few hours later, I realise that, of course, she needs it more than I do. 

The pain and guilt and anger I feel at having to leave Runa and her beautiful children in such squalor and suffering, and being able to simply drive onto the ferry with my British passport - thanks to sheer accident of birthplace - and return to England, just twenty miles away from by the worst human situation I have ever seen, is overwhelming.  I don’t know what the solution is for these people, but this situation can be solved, and it must be solved quickly.

When I get home I’m overjoyed to see my children.  I hold them tight, and thank God I am not in Runa’s situation.  I am lucky.  Wonderful, kind, loving, doting mum Runa.  We both want the best for our kids, and care for them the best way we possibly can.  We are just the same, with only one real difference: we happened to be born in different parts of the world.  



*Identities have been changed.                                               All photos © Billie Charity

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Refugee camps, Dunkirk - slideshow

I have just returned from a week in Dunkirk, visiting the old recently abandoned camp 'the jungle' and the new camp, which is developing at a phenomenal rate.  During my time there, I watched the school being built, as well as the adult education centre, kitchens, distribution centres, and numerous other buildings.  There are charities doing some amazing work.

I have put together a slideshow of some of the photos I took.  These amazing, kind, brave children, lawyers, teachers, business owners, engineers have lost everything - they are going through unimaginable hell and suffering.

They need our support.


Sunday, 3 January 2016

My new venture! Portraits and reportage...

This blog has been neglected during the last year or so.  This is because I have been concentrating on my new and exciting venture. As well as writing, I have always been passionate about photography.

So about a year ago I launched my new business Billie Charity Photography, and I am thrilled to say it is going really well.  I focus on portraits and reportage photography, and try to use a style that is informal, candid and spontaneous.  I am fascinated by real people and their lives and that's what I try to capture in my photos.

I have put together a short slideshow of some of my recent work in the video below.  I am planning a trip to Calais next month to meet some of the refugees, get their stories, take their pictures, and try to help in any way I can.



Saturday, 12 September 2015

A car-phobic’s review of the new Ford C-Max

Crashing the new Ford C-Max
As a person who views a car as a necessary evil - tons of flying metal that people are lucky to get out of alive - I was puzzled about my invitation to test-drive Ford’s new family car, the C-Max. But I was prepared to give it a try, since I had never been to Belgium before. 

The journey from Brussels station to the hotel was spent in the company of some total petrolheads who were as confused as I was by my presence on the trip. They were discussing things like retuned dampers and new shock absorber valve designs. I was thinking about the hotel pool and whether Belgian gin & tonic was any good. It gave me plenty of time to reflect seriously on what I had let myself in for. 

When we arrived at the hotel a friendly Ford executive greeted me at the hotel with an extended hand; I extended a fist (which he politely shook) so that he wouldn’t know about my sweaty palms. Another manager came up to me and I accidentally shook his hand twice, and it was only when I went in for a third hand-shake that he politely told me to stop shaking his hand.   

Having finished with the handshakes, it was time for dinner. Buoyed by two gin and tonics, I decided to share my thoughts. I asked if Ford still had an unexciting reputation; announced that Fords were for the older, less cool driver; and said that the one great car they have produced is the Ford Corvette. (Someone pointed out that Ford didn’t make the Corvette). Next I got quite shirty about the fact that the Capri had been discontinued and asked what they planned to do about it. Then I decided to take photos of my dinner and put them on Facebook. 

Journalist doing a RoboCop impression
When morning arrived I spent some time trying to work out if I could slip back to the Eurostar without anyone noticing. Unfortunately I had no idea whereabouts in Belgium we were, so I had no choice but to go to the test track and hope I wouldn’t make too much of an idiot of myself. 

At the test track's safety zone, I got to wear a pregnancy suit, which I put on back to front. Then the safety man told me lots of important things about child safety in cars which I found highly reassuring. 

It was time to do the actual test-drive, and it turned out that things have come on quite a long way since the Capri. I got behind the wheel, pressed a button on the dashboard, and not only did the car find a suitable parking spot, it also parked the car! All I had to do was use the foot pedals, while the steering wheel took on a mind of its own.  I felt like I was in Knightrider or something.  

Unlike my current people carrier, which turns into a giant ice skate if there are more than about five rain drops on the road, the C-Max can be safely rally-driven to within an inch of its life. And the back seats have this crazy water-repellent covering which liquids sort of float above, like something out of a sci-fi film. My only concern with that feature was that my kids would start deliberately pouring juice all over the back seat, just to watch these futuristic globules appear on the surface.  

Futuristic globules
I also learnt that Ford isn’t an aged company producing boring cars, quite the opposite.  The Ford employees are young, and good-looking, and cool, the environment is buzzing and exciting. And the managers also don’t seem to mind too much if you accidentally test-drive one of their cars into the back of another car when testing the automatic braking system. 

I still don’t really like cars, but fair play to them, Ford are producing some pretty impressive cars.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

My sat nav is a bastard

Our road trip through France:

After the sat nav playing some sort of sick joke (having already been on the road for seven hours) then for the final leg of the journey taking us for 50km through single track, crumbling, hairpin mountain roads that were seven miles high (according to my eight year old) and not a barrier in sight, and then after two hours of actual tears and near-vomiting, it proudly announcing that we had arrived at our destination - when in actual fact we were at the top of an extremely high, and remote mountain with no sign of life whatsoever and now in the pitch black - we have decided never ever to trust the effing sat nav EVER AGAIN.  The bastard.

And to add insult to injury, we later discovered that there is a perfectly brilliant main road, at ground level that would have taken us to the correct destination in about 10 minutes.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Our day at Conkers (photos)

We have just had a great day at Conkers, which is situated in the National Forest in Derbyshire (they are planning to plant 30 million trees...). We had a bushcraft session which involved making shelters, building fires, and toasting marshmallows.  

We then went on to obstacle courses, walked barefoot through mud and freezing cold water, and then balanced on ropes way up high (well, the kids did).  There is so much to do at this attraction which covers 120 acres of maturing woodlands, lakes, ponds and play areas - an excellent day out!






Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Hopeless with hamsters

When I was young I had a weird hamster obsession.  I kept buying them with any spare pocket money I had, knowing full well that I really didn't like them.

They kept dying or escaping, or being rescued by friends, but each time I would come back from town on a Saturday afternoon, proudly wielding my latest rodent replacement, much to my mum's exasperation.

A few weeks ago, desperate to quieten my children about me being 'the worst mum in the whole world' I had a lightbulb moment, and decided we needed a hamster.

So without telling anyone, I went into town on a mission to buy one.  I didn't want my children with me as I wanted the thrill of choosing it myself.  But they didn't have any hamsters for sale in Hereford that day, so I ended up driving to the next town to track one down.

After a nerve-wracking 60 mile round trip, where I was convinced the hamster had broken free from its box and was going to jump on my head and make me crash the car, I arrived home with the newest member of our family. I had such grand plans for our new pet and I was going to try to love it with all my heart.

The children were thrilled on seeing the hamster, and for a while I became the best mum in the world. But then Betty, my eight-year-old, likened it to a mouse, and the first friend who saw it thought it was a rat.  Being a rat/mouse phobic person, my enthusiasm quickly diminished.

Poor old Hetty the hamster has been in residence for six weeks now, and despite some very tense taming sessions in the first few days, which involved heavy duty gardening gloves, Hetty temporarily getting lost under the sofa, and us Buttons all yelling at each other, with half of us ending up in tears, none of us have even attempted to get her out of the cage (apart from when I have to clean the cage, and then she gets poured into a bucket for the duration).

Dolly, my five-year-old, is now completely uninterested in her, and Betty talks to her, and feeds her Shreddies through the bars of the cage when she thinks she's looking a bit sad or upset.  But when an introduction between Pecky (her chicken) and Hetty didn't go well, her interest waned too.

So we now have a Hetty that produces a large amount of poo, and noisily tries to make a bid for freedom every night between 10pm and 2am.  I am sure that one day she will succeed.  And then I'll probably replace her with another one...

Friday, 13 February 2015

You don't have to be mad to work here

I recently had an interview with one of the world's biggest employers.  It was my first ever interview experience (excluding the BBC) with the public sector.

Before I entered the reception area of the offices situated on the outskirts of town, I was optimistic, even excited, about the possibilities that working for this giant might bring. 

The reception desk was unmanned, and a scrap of paper stuck wonkily to the wall read: 'Our receptionist was recently made redundant, please use the phone on the desk to call the extension number you require and announce your arrival.'

And so in front of an audience of four immaculate but glum-looking ladies all sitting there in their black suits and manicured nails, I dialled through to the department who were interviewing me and told them that I had arrived.  I was informed that they were running very late and to take a seat.  I turned to look at the four expressionless ladies and the penny dropped - they were all waiting for the same interview.  I wondered whether it was appropriate to talk to the enemies, but in the end we all sat in silence, listening to the ticking of the clock from 1987 that hung from a nail nearby.

Having spent the last eight years bringing up my children and working as a freelance writer, this was my first formal interview for a very long time.  So it was a massive deal for me to be here, I was very nervous, and I prayed that the interviewers would be nice personable people.  I envisaged chatting merrily about what I had been doing in the last eight years, and about my varied work before having children, and sharing my enthusiasm and excitement about the prospect of working in an office again.

After an hour of sitting in the dreary unheated reception area, watching more and more ladies arrive for the same interview, my enthusiasm began to wane. After an hour and forty-five minutes, which is when my name was finally called, it was all I could do not to run screaming from the building.

Things only went downhill from there. I was ushered into a windowless box room where the manager, Glenda, and the lady currently doing the job that had been advertised, Susan, sat with their orange clipboards.

Without so much as a hello, Glenda said:  'I will ask you a list of questions, while Susan writes down the answers, and then we're going to swap roles, and Susan will ask the questions and I will write down your answers,' Glenda continued. 'It's all very informal.'

I began to tell them that this was my first interview in ten years and that I was quite nervous, but was quickly cut short with:  'Let us begin.  What are your strengths and weaknesses?' asked by Glenda in a robotic and unnerving manner.  Completely floored by her coldness and the inane-ness of her question, I couldn't think of anything to say other than: 'I love working.' 

After several more questions, like: 'What is the importance of accurate data entry?' and 'How would you prioritise the filing?' I was once again internally reaching for the gin. (Incidentally, I told them I would prioritise the filing by doing the most important bits first.)

Pretty soon, I couldn't summon up enough mental energy to respond with more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Unbelievably, there was a wilted pot plant on the desk between us, a clumsy metaphor for the situation, which I really wanted to point out to them.

'Why do you want to work for this organisation'? asked Susan.  I told them how wonderful I thought this institution was and how it offers a fantastic public service, and how great it would be to be part of such an important service.  To which Susan replied (in a very similar robotic nasally voice to Glenda) 'Yes well you wouldn't think that after working here for thirty years like we have.'  This was the first time either of them had actually said anything in response to any of my answers.

At one point I tried to engage them in an actual conversation about my work at the BBC, and LearnDirect, and my writing, and my award-winning blog, but evidently they didn't want a conversation, or to find out anything about me, or to employ anyone with a heartbeat, so I dragged my attention back to the questions on their clipboards.

'Imagine you had this job and a parent at your child's school approached you in the playground and asked you for confidential information about another child. How would you respond?'  I could tell that Susan was really proud of herself for coming up with this question.  'I would tell the parent that if they slipped me a tenner I would tell them whatever they wanted to know,' I replied.  Even this didn't induce any kind of response, apart from a robotically raised eyebrow or two.

We reached the last question, which Glenda dramatically informed me was a question from the organisation itself.  Drum roll.  Finally something interesting I thought.  'Do you have anything to declare?  Any conflicts of interest, such as convictions or bankruptcy'? 

I laughed out loud, and told them that I thought it was going to be something a bit more exciting, perhaps about privatisation of the organisation, or my views of its constant presence in the news, and the political war surrounding it. 

Glenda and Susan just stared at me and waited for my answer.  What remained of my will to live stirred up inside me once more, and I considered telling them that I was actually on the run from the cops, having just robbed a bank, and could they keep it schtum, but instead I just shook my head with a sigh.

'Any questions'?  Glenda said.  I turned to Susan and asked what a typical day in this role might be.  Glenda butted in faux-chirpily with: 'No day is ever the same in this office, it's complete madness!'  There was a pause. I looked at Susan and waited for her answer.  'I open the post,' long pause.  'I enter some data.'  She then thought for what seemed like an eternity.  'And I do lots and lots of filing.'

After the interview finished I went to Tesco and then sat in the car park and ate a cheese sandwich.


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

This year Betty has spent all her spare time cradling Pecky, and declared that chicken could never again be eaten in the house; Elsie had her leg broken by an irate cockerel; Tom was traumatised to discover a drowned hen floating in its outsized water bowl; and Dolly was pecked on the hand, and so ate a chicken nugget in protest.



With thanks to Postsnap for producing our personalised card.  The app is clear and simple to use and there are many different styles and designs to choose from for every occasion.

Happy Christmas everyone! xxxx

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The unflappable chicken

An extract from Pecky's portfolio (note the loomband)
Life in the Button household very much revolves around chickens, either because Betty is giving Pecky a cuddle, or Tom is trying to balance Ethel on a rake, or because they are breaking my leg etc.  For the last week or so, however, things have moved to a whole new level. Tom came back from school the other day mumbling something about having to take a chicken into school for a calendar shoot.

I asked him what he was talking about, but he was a bit vague.  'Cathy [fellow school parent] said something about needing a prop for a photoshoot. She asked if Pecky might be available.'

After asking around, I discovered that Cathy's photographer partner was putting together a calendar with themed monthly photos as a fundraiser for the school. April involves a live chicken, for reasons Tom wasn't able to pass on.

'Apparently there's ninjas as well. but I don't know what month they're for,' said Tom. 'How does Cathy know about Pecky anyway?'

I told him that there were about three hundred photos of Betty and Pecky on Facebook, as he would know, if he ever felt like lifting his self-imposed ban on all forms of social media,

I thought no more about Pecky and the photoshoot - consigning it to that black hole part of my brain involving anything chicken related - until we got a call from my friend Sandra.

Apparently Cathy and Sandra had had a chat that morning, and conversation had inevitably turned to Pecky.  Sandra was phoning us to find out from Tom what time Pecky might be available to come into school on Monday.

Sandra had become involved in the discussion due to the fact that her son Owen had been selected to hold Pecky for the photoshoot.  Owen enjoys holding Pecky almost as much as Betty does. He once held our massive leg-breaking cockerel upside down by the feet, which is pretty impressive for a seven year old. Tom has been going on about it for months.

On the day of the photoshoot, and I was woken up by a message from Sandra: 'It's Pecky's big day - hope she's ready!'  Poor Betty had a bug, but with her head stuck in a sick bucket, gave careful instructions to Tom on how Pecky should be transported to the school and treated during the shoot.  'Only Owen is allowed to hold my Pecky,' she reminded Tom. It was not a relaxing start to the day.

After half an hour of increasingly desperate hunting, Tom found a soggy collapsed crisp box for transporting the chicken. I helped him tape it together (while Betty told me that she wanted to be featured in April, and didn't want to dress as Guy Fawkes for November) and off Tom went to the chicken house, while Dolly waited in the car with an inscrutable expression on her face.

Just then I got an urgent text from Cathy telling me the photoshoot had been postponed due to the bad weather. I yelled to Tom down the driveway: 'NO PECKY', and apparently he got back in the car to a barrage of questions from Dolly about why the chicken was supposed to be coming to school anyway, why her chicken Ethel wasn't involved, and whether Pecky would be coming home on the school bus.  But despite the family flapping all around her, Pecky has remained unflustered throughout this whole episode.  We all have a lot to learn from that chicken.  

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Quiet kitchen

Coleslaw was quite a big part of my upbringing. Admittedly though, it wasn’t until I became a little more mature, that I began to really appreciate the raw shredded cabbage and onion combo that my mum had been producing throughout my childhood.

In fact, I remember many occasions where I would reject much of her laboured over home-cooking, and instead demand a frozen pizza and a tin of processed peas.

Children can be a bit blind to culinary efforts, and I now know only too well what a thankless task it is cooking for them. There are few things more annoying than putting your heart and soul into a meal only to have your children announce they don’t like it before they’ve even reached the kitchen.

Although I loved my mum’s pizzas, and her fry-ups, and her roasts (her ‘white gravy’ was famous), I didn’t fully appreciate at the time what an inventive, and superb cook she was. I reckon these days, I would even relish her lentil stew and dumplings, which, as a child I used to cram unchewed into my mouth and then spit into the toilet.

Among many other things, like gardening, painting, housework, walking unaided, and shopping, my mum really misses cooking. She now completely relies on others for her every meal - and there are a lot of kind people around - but I’m sure nothing beats being able to do her own cooking.

Having eaten some shop-bought coleslaw recently, my mum remembered the coleslaw that she used to make. So I offered to make her some. And having never made it before, I thought how hard can it be?

Very hard, it turns out! I have just delivered my third attempt and I’m waiting anxiously for the verdict. She takes it all with good grace and humour, but I know that my inability to be inventive with nuts and courgettes, frustrates the hell out of her.
 
My own children will never experience the joy of being cooked for by my mum, their granny – to sit at her table in her steamy lively happy kitchen and be served up a ‘random seafood pasta thing with egg, mozzarella and tomatoes in a glass bowl’ that my husband remembers with great fondness.

They do, however, get to sit on her lap and cuddle her, and talk to her, and make her laugh, and bring her immense joy, and for that I am very grateful.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ascot, the giant fancy dress party

The night before we were due to go to Ascot, I completely panicked, and decided that the lack of a suitable hat, and the girls' footwear situation (a choice of flipflops, school shoes or grubby crocs) meant we couldn't possibly go. The clincher was the fact that Tom had recently given his few remaining ties to a charity shop.

But after pathetically telling a friend we weren't going, she told me: 'Never ever ever let wardrobe considerations stand in the way of experiences. I'M SERIOUS.'

So with flowers in our hair, the girls' best flip flops, and a tie borrowed from our farmer neighbour, we set out for Ascot at the crack of dawn. Tom moaned about having to wear a tie, and argued that he hadn't even worn one at our wedding. I reminded him of the upset that that had caused, and told him he was bloody well wearing one today.

It was quite a long walk to the ticket office from the car park, and by the time we got there my shoes - last worn at my wedding - had left my feet black and blue. 

When collecting the tickets there were people on hand dressed in full finery, with top hats and everything, and I started to panic again. But then I noticed there were also ladies not wearing hats (or even flowers), and I even spotted a few in casual summer sandals. So before we were even inside the gates I had swapped my shoes for my trusty Birkenstocks. And I whipped the flower out of my hair and plonked my Asda sunglasses on my head instead.

What I hadn't realised is that there is a smarter dress code in the boxes, and the more champagne I had, the more I felt the need to explain in great detail to beautifully dressed ladies wearing incredible hats and shoes, why I was wearing Birkenstocks. 

Quick to change the subject, the lovely marketing lady asked me if I liked horses. 'No, I hate them. But I love champagne,' I told her. Dolly, my ever diplomatic five year old, felt the need to explain to her that it wasn't just horses that I don't like, but all animals. And in fact it was because of my hate of animals (a cockerel attack, resulting in a broken leg) that I had had to wear Birkenstocks in the first place. 

After a delicious lunch, and more champagne, and meeting really friendly guests and their children sharing the same box as us, we were taken down to meet Ant and Dec, who are Patrons of Ascot’s Colts and Fillies Club for under sixteens, for a questions and answers session. Betty had decided that she was going to ask Ant if he likes ants, and Dolly was going to ask them what their best horse joke was. Some poor bloke wandered past in a large furry horse costume, while next to him a minder hissed ‘Just keep waving,’ and I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t required to dress as a horse on this hot day.

I took several pictures of the girls with Ant and Dec, and (insensitively) told them that my girls had no idea who they were, but that I really admired their work. They were such warm funny people and I would have loved to have stolen them for an hour to two to see what they could do. My girls were pretty taken with them too. 

I promptly put the photo I had taken on Facebook, causally mentioning that I was hanging with Ant and Dec at Ascot. I think it caused a lot of confusion with my friends back in Herefordshire.

Meeting Ant and Dec was a tough act to follow, and the girls seemed less than enthused about meeting Peppa Pig and George, characters who Dolly still absolutely adores, as do the rest of us.

I was very excited, and bellowed a little too aggressively 'GO ON, CUDDLE GEORGE SO THAT I CAN TAKE A PICTURE' while thrusting Dolly through the crowd of mini fans. Dolly gave George (also extremely hot in a giant padded outfit) such a massive embrace he almost toppled over, and his bodyguard looked a bit worried.

There were so many things to do, including different fair rides like the big wheel and merry-go-rounds, and various activities including pompom making and feeding meerkats. And everything was free, which is virtually unheard of these days. We had been at a water theme park in Spain just a few days before and were fuming, that after paying a hefty entrance fee, we were charged 5 Euros just to sit on some grass. 

Despite loads of wonderful things to do and see, I was a bit irritated that here we were at Ascot and all my children wanted to do was hang out in the loom band making tent - having spent the last two months hiding under their duvets at night making endless loombands. ‘Please come and say hello to Ben and Holly with me,’ I begged them at one point, pointing to a very jolly-looking pair in their massive costumes. 

A highlight for me was meeting a jockey dressed in full silks, watching him get weighed, and then watching him in several races. I got a photo of him with my children (while he stood on the scales, with a complex expression on his face) and then more pictures of him racing. I felt I knew him pretty well by the end. 

I have never been to the races before and if we hadn't been invited by Ascot to come along to their King George Family Day, I would not have dreamt of going. But we had such a truly wonderful day, and although there were many exciting things going on, the best part for me was actually watching the races. 

And both girls are now seriously into Ant and Dec and are following their career very closely and watching back episodes of I'm a Celebrity and Byker Grove. 

Thank you Ascot for a fabulous day – and I no longer ‘hate’ horses, I bloody love them!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Popular names = a quiet life

Sulking
I once had a run-in with a fellow mum at a play group when my eldest daughter was a baby. She was horrified that I had named my child Betty.

She asked me if I had considered the bullying that Betty would endure at school because of her 'unusual' name, and had I prepared myself for her hating me for it. 

And she genuinely felt sorry for Betty that she would never find those cheap plastic mugs, and pens, and door plaques, and toothbrushes, with her name emblazoned across them. 

I quietly seethed at her rudeness, and scoffed at the idea of a common, sorry, popular name and marched out of that playgroup and never ever returned. 

Seven years later I am happy to report that Betty hasn't endured any bullying about her name, and has only mentioned a handful of times that she wants to be called Emily instead. And I don't think she has started hating me yet. 

But... in recent weeks, Betty has become obsessed with trying to find one of those garish plastic mugs with her name on it. And despite me telling her that this is a pointless exercise, it hasn't stopped her dragging Tom from one tacky greeting cards shop to the next. 

And while we were away in Pembrokeshire last week she sulked for three days because her name could not be found on any merchandise anywhere. 

As I sat there on a beautiful beach near St David's, gazing out to sea, the wind in my hair, Betty persistently moaned in my left ear about personalised pens with gold lettering.  It made me think of that mum at the playgroup all those years ago, and I decided that perhaps she had a point.  Chantelle would have been a much easier option, if only to be able to enjoy my holiday in peace...

Friday, 11 April 2014

Contrasting views of Hereford (slideshow)

I spent yesterday afternoon taking photos in Hereford - I have put them into a slideshow, with music by Hereford Cathedral Choir.


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My hate of animals has made me a vegetarian

I have never been a big meat-eater, particularly meats that resemble the actual animal, like joints with bones.  A thick slice of bloody beef amongst my roast potatoes and carrots literally turns my stomach.  I would find it just as appetising to walk up to a mooing muddy cow standing on the hillside and bite a chunk out of its side.

My dislike of eating animals isn't because I have any deep affection for them. It’s actually the opposite. I would rather eat food that hasn't scratched or bitten me, or chased me, or barked loudly at me, or broken my leg.  Vegetables are much safer by comparison.

And in the wake of the whole cockerel killer-attack incident, I have now gone from avoiding animals to positively disliking them, particularly poultry - I do not want them anywhere near me (certainly not inside me), dead or alive.

This leaves a bit of a problem, because although we promptly got rid of vicious 'Cocky' (affectionately renamed by Betty when she realised 'Buttercup', her cute fluffy yellow chick, turned out to be a he) we still have four hens left, all of which the other Buttons totally adore.  In my rational head I know that they won't attack me, but they still terrify me, so much so that I tried to take one of them on with my crutch the other day when she pecked at some grass a little too close to where I was standing frozen to the spot.

I later announced that I wanted to move back to London, and my mum told me: 'Your poor children, not having a hardy countryside-loving woman for a mother.'

In light of my chicken aversion, I did wonder whether Pinterest were having a cruel laugh at my expense recently when they sent me an email entitled: 'Mouth-watering chicken recipes'.  UK pinners might be 'cluckers for chicken recipes' but this one ain't.  I am actually thrilled that I now genuinely dislike the taste of chicken - it feels like sweet revenge.

Interestingly, the leg breakage incident has also forced Betty into announcing that she too is now a vegetarian.  But for her it's on the grounds that she feels 'so so sorry for cute lovely animals who are killed and then eaten.'

She blatantly doesn't believe that her cockerel is now living happily on a farm somewhere, and she still eyes me suspiciously while saying 'I would be heartbroken if I ever found out that Cocky was dead.'

A small part of me feels bad that I got the next door neighbour to kill and eat Betty's pet, particularly when she makes me listen to tortured love songs she has written for him.  But then I remember that I am still hobbling around on crutches, I can't drive, it takes me three hours to make lunch, my house is a mess, and I have put on about three stone... and all because of him.

So Betty and I will continue to reject meat for our opposing reasons, but one thing we do agree on is that our vegetarianism sort of excludes pigs, because as Betty pointed out 'they just taste too nice.'

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

A slow but happy existence

It's been five weeks since Betty's beloved pet chicken tried to kill me. Which means I am now half way to possibly being able to ditch the crutches, drive the car, and resume some sort of normality.

But actually, the last few weeks, though very unpleasant and frustrating at times, have been far better than I could have ever imagined. 

I have had copious amounts of tea made for me by my lovely visitors, while we sit in my kitchen, eat cake, and I regale them with stories of my vicious fight with the cockerel, and my marriage proposal to the paramedic (who gave me lots of gas and air and morphine), and the fact I now have a metal rod in my leg and feel like a bit of a hero.

I have been brought homemade cookies, curries, Chocolate Oranges, wine, scones (with jam and cream) olives, ginger cake, laxatives, flowers, biscuits, magazines, Revels, pies, homeopathy remedies, soup, Fruit Pastilles, and lasagnes. 

And the kindness has even extended to friends cleaning my house from top to bottom, while I lay on my bed eating chocolate and watching a rom com on Netflix, being whisked away to Pizza Express, and to the pub.

Having a broken leg also forces you into a very slow existence, which I'm beginning to think is really rather nice. When else would you get away with taking a blissful hour to have a shower and brush your teeth? 

So although I cannot wait to be able to leave the house at will, and walk down the stairs without fear of breaking my neck, it has most certainly not been all bad...

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

All About Me

One of my fave bloggers Nappy Valley Girl has tagged me to answer some questions about myself.

Here goes:

1.  What's for dinner tonight?

Sausage stew, a la Tom Button (currently the one doing everything around here due to my broken leg).

2.  Do you read a daily newspaper?

No, not unless you count Buzzfeed.

3.  If you could take off on a no-expense spared holiday next week, where would you go?

Pretty much anywhere you don't have to wear wellies, and change out of muddy clothes every five seconds, and run away from angry chickens.

4.  What was your favourite book as a child?

The Bears' Picnic, by Jan and Stan Berenstain.

5.   who is your favourite author as an adult?

David Nicholls, because he wrote the fabulous One Day, and introduced me to the gorgeous Dexter Mayhew.

6.  Do you buy your underwear at M&S?

Yes - I have a mad splurge in M&S every five years or so.

7.  What's your dream career and do you wish you'd done it?

When a careers advisor came to our school and got us to take a questionnaire to determine our ideal career, mine came up as train driver!   However I was adamant I wanted to be a news reader on BBC1 - mainly because my drama teacher told me I had a good speaking voice, and this coupled with the fact that I wanted to be famous, seemed like the obvious choice.

8.  Do you ever google people you meet afterwards? (And not for work reasons).

Yes! I sometimes even start googling them on my phone while still in their company.  I was in hospital last week and out of sheer boredom I googled all the other patients on my ward (as their names were written above their heads), and also some of the doctors and nurses.

9.  What was the last thing you saw at the theatre?

Rapunzel, and before that Ben and Holly, and before that Jack and the Beanstalk... (jeez)

10. Do you use Pinterest, and if so, do you get the point?

I use Pinterest very occasionally, like when my kids set me impossible challenges such as making a multi-coloured, three tier, flashing Disney Princess birthday cake - for this purpose it is very useful to get ideas.  Other than that I haven't got a clue what it's for.

11. What's been your proudest moment as a parent so far?

I'm pretty proud of my girls right now - they are waiting on me hand and foot.


I am now going to think of some questions of my own and tag some bloggers...

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

My husband is Superman

Tom is pretty much having to do everything at the moment. It is very frustrating for me and totally knackering for him.

These are things I have said to him in the last 24 hours:
  • Have you checked the mouse traps?
  • Are you keeping the surfaces clean?
  • Please can I have a bowl of Weetabix?
  • It's so important to stay on top of the washing.
  • Have I got any clean pyjamas?
  • Can you switch the telly on for me please?
  • Shall we write a shopping list together?
  • Can you carry me up the stairs?
  • Do you think I've lost weight?
  • Have the girls brushed their teeth?
  • When did they last have a bath?
  • This is delicious.
  • Are you sure it's cooked properly?
  • Can you get me a clean towel?
  • Do you think it's ok to drink gin with morphine?
  • Shall I teach you how to use the steam mop?
  • Please can I have a cup of tea?
  • Can you move that pile of dirty laundry out of my path?
  • What's that smell?
  • Would you mind shaving my legs?
  • Tidy as you go - that's my motto
  • Don't forget to pick up my prescription from the surgery 
  • Have you checked the post?
  • Can you buy me some Arnica?
  • Thanks so much for hoovering
  • Are you ok?
  • Can you wrap my leg in clingfilm?
He is being absolutely amazing, and hasn't once complained.  What a guy!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Using crutches: it's not all bad

I am trying to get the hang of my crutches, but it's not coming that naturally. I clumsily topple this way and that, I accidentally forget to keep my broken leg off the ground and wince in pain, and my hands hurt.

But there are some definite advantages to being on crutches:
  • You can use them rather effectively to bat away objects left in your path, such as Lego and doll's houses.
  • Your children stop nagging you for food every five seconds, because they know you're currently pretty useless - you can barely go to the toilet on your own, let alone make them endless snacks.
  • In fact the children very quickly learn that for anything to happen around here they have to become your slave, and fetch you everything from clean socks, to chocolate, to your next morphine fix.
  • And they even bring you croissants in bed, occasionally.
  • Crutches also provide hours of entertainment for the kids who love playing with them. When I was little I always dreamed of breaking a leg so that I could have my own crutches.
  • You can make the handles look pretty with a huge array of different coloured comfy covers to choose from on eBay. 
  • You build up serious arm muscle and those bingo wings finally become a thing of the past.  No more having to half-heartedly weight-lift baked bean tins once a fortnight.
If only I'd had them on me when the cockerel decided to attack - bastard wouldn't have stood a chance.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Hospitalised by our pet cockerel

As I walked down our lane to meet my girls from the school bus the other day I was severely attacked by our cockerel. 

This is the cockerel who was lovingly hatched in the girls' playhouse last Summer, and started life as a gorgeous fluffy yellow chick who we all adored, and who has featured many times on my Instagram feed.

The attack was so crazed and vicious, I think the bird was intent on actually trying to kill me. He attacked me the entire length of our lane, while I flailed and kicked and screamed blue murder, desperately trying to protect myself.

In the struggle, I eventually slipped on some mud and fell back onto my left leg and hit the ground.  When I frantically tried to get up I realised the bottom half of my leg was swinging around, completely broken and disconnected from the top half of my leg and the cockerel was now angrily circling me as I lay helpless on the ground. 

At that very moment both my husband and my neighbour appeared on the scene, having heard my screams.  And the cockerel calmly clucked off as if nothing had happened, happily pecking at some snowdrops as he went, leaving me sitting in mud and chicken shit, in a mangled, traumatised, and excruciatingly painful mess. 

At that point the school bus arrived, Betty took in the somewhat tense scene and went over to the cockerel to make sure it was OK.

Next the ambulance arrived and the paramedics gave me reassurances, and held my hand, and cut my clothes and shoes off me. The very funny paramedic kindly pointed out that the shoes were cheap so it didn't really matter. 

I got through an entire cylinder of gas and air before they'd even got me into the ambulance. I went from wanting to be shot in the head to stop the pain, to cracking jokes about poultry and roast dinners. 

As we pulled away in the ambulance the cockerel saw us off with several chirpy cock-a-doodle-doos, and I sobbed and laughed and swore and then passed out. There was a lot of emotion in that ambulance as we whizzed through the Herefordshire countryside.

The only thing I remember when I arrived at the hospital is one of the porters making a joke about KFC, which made me laugh, and then cry. 

The next day I had a lengthy operation to straighten the leg and had metal pins inserted through my bones because it was so mashed up. 

I later asked the farmer who lives next door to us to put the cockerel through a very slow and painful death. He just texted to tell me that the deed has been done and that he tasted delicious. 

I am still in hospital and writing this post on my phone.  I'm learning how to use crutches, drinking lots of tea, and making the most of the morphine, but am missing my children terribly. 

I just hope they don't give me a hard time about ordering the execution of their beloved pet chicken...

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

When two dads try to organise a play date

Below is an email conversation between Tom and another dad at school:

Other dad: Would Dolly like to come over to play with Jacob after school on Wednesday?

Tom: Dolly would love to, thank you. What time?

Other dad: Great. We will collect her from school and feed her. Can you collect her at 5.45pm? Is there anything she doesn't eat?

Tom: Sounds perfect, thank you! In theory Dolly will eat anything, in practice she eats sausages.

Other dad: Sausages it is then.

24 hours later...

Other dad: Does she eat anything with sausages? Potatoes, carrots, peas, sweet corn etc?

Tom: Dolly should eat pretty much anything that is put in front of her.

Other dad: Ok

Tom: As long as it's sausages...

Other dad: Should I just give her a plate of sausages then?

Tom: No just kidding! Give her anything. Please don't go to any trouble though - there is a danger she might not eat it and then I would feel awful...

Other dad: What sort of sausages does she like?

And so it continues...

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Herefordshire life... and dreaming of those summer days

I have been in bed with flu for the last few days, so what better way to spend my time than hankering after summer days and being a pest on Instagram...

Betty and Dolly enjoying Herefordshire life

Friday, 10 January 2014

Back down to school with a bump

During the holidays any kind of sensible routine went completely out of the window. In fact, the girls bouncing off their bedroom walls and squealing in a Christmas-induced tinsel frenzy til ten o'clock every night seemed a small price to pay for all the blissful lie-ins we were getting.

However, when it was time to go back to school, they understandably found it hard to settle back into the routine of lights out and sleep at 7.30pm. But when they came home after their first day back and said that they had both been told by teachers that they looked shattered, I decided I needed to take action and forego the lie-ins. Heaven forbid the school thinking that we are awful neglectful parents for having knackered, dopey children, who stay up all night watching Disney films and eating crap.

So on Tuesday night, at 6pm, I hid the clocks and marched them upstairs telling them it was already practically the middle of the night. 'But we've only just had supper,' they protested. They were tucked up by 6.30pm and as I left the room I told them that if they went straight to sleep without getting out of bed or exchanging insults, they would get a treat in their lunch box the following morning.

My chocoholic, sugar-addict daughter Betty took this bribe very seriously indeed, and after about two minutes of her gently but intensively persuading Dolly that she must do as I said, they both pretty much went straight to sleep.

And not only did they sleep all night, but the following morning Betty appeared at my bedside at 7am, fully dressed, bright eyed and bushy tailed and asking: 'So, can I have two treats for being so good?'

Dolly was a bit cross that Betty had got dressed so efficiently. In response, Dolly decided to take 20 minutes to get one leg into her tights and then have a meltdown.

The following night, not long after I had given them the same treat-in-lunchbox bribe and left the room, Dolly called down to me and, proud as can be, she told me that she was already dressed in her uniform and ready for school.

I had already settled on the sofa with a glass of wine and Alan Partridge on Netflix, and so decided that it probably wouldn't do her any harm to sleep in her school uniform all night, and it would in fact save me a battle in the morning. So I let it go, and carried on with Alan.

This morning though, Betty was beside herself with annoyance that Dolly had got dressed before her - a whole 12 hours before her in fact. Who would have thought that a miniature imitation Milky Way could hold this much weight? And who knows where it will end?
 
In the meantime, my children may now be awake in class but I wonder what the school would have to say about them sleeping in their uniform and eating chocolate from Aldi for lunch every single day?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Hands off my phone!

Dolly's Instagram photo
Recently I have been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster due to family members borrowing my phone. My beloved phone.

First off was Tom who, while eating apple cake and custard the other night, inexplicably asked to look at it.

He never looks at my phone, even when I want him to, so I can only assume that he purposefully borrowed it in order to drop it into his custard (though he claimed later that it was an accident). 

I scooped my terrified phone out of the custard and ran into the bathroom, where I sucked the custard out of the charging sockets and speaker holes – basically performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Fortunately my emergency response was effective and my phone still worked. 

Then the other night it got borrowed again. When I checked my Instagram account the next morning, I noticed a very arty picture of the bedroom that I didn’t remember taking. Intrigued, I scrolled down and there was another picture, this time a nicely-framed shot of Dolly’s rabbit comforter, and I realised who the mystery photographer was. 

Somehow, my four-year-old daughter had taken two photos with my phone and uploaded them to my Instagram account. She’d even added a frame and an effect to one of the photos (above).

The pictures proved to be popular and they gained several likes, and Dolly even netted me a few extra followers too.  No disrespect to Dolly, but it does make one wonder about the judgement of some of my followers...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

No to the Cream Horn (poem)

Cream horn, cream horn, why are you so bleak?
You think your cream's fantastic, and your cone is really neat
With your faux-French style you believe that you're the best
But every time I see you I start to get depressed.

You make me sigh so much, you're not even a proper cake:
Your pastry's made from cardboard and your cream is clearly fake.
Everything about you is either dismal or synthetic -
What you need to understand is that, to me, you are pathetic.

Some might mourn the disappearance of this old-school confection;
Though you can be found in market towns too destitute to mention,
It was so long since I'd seen you that I thought that you were dead;
But one awful day I noticed you on 2 for 1 in Greggs.

From now on when I see you I'll be sure to cross the road,
And warn the shoppers round me to beware your creamy load.
You think you're like an ice cream, a sweet treat for the thrifty
You should go back to where you came from, back to 1950.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Letter to Grandma

This is an open letter to my grandmother, who sadly passed away three weeks ago today.

Dear Grandma

My amazing grandmother
Your great granddaughters, Betty and Dolly, are missing you so much. I am too. Dolly has cried a lot and keeps asking to see photos - there are many with you two gazing adoringly at each other. You both had a very special bond, and I know that the fact you always called her a 'little bugger' was a term of great affection.

Betty is showing her grief in a different way and is trying to be brave. She is concentrating on comforting her little sister. But just before bed the other night, I saw her thoughtfully looking at the candle we have had burning for you, and close to tears, she quietly said 'goodbye grandma.' It broke my heart. You two were also very close - you and granddad were her first visitors at the hospital when she was born, after all. And you both admirably braved the snow and ice to attend her first birthday.

Both girls always loved coming to visit you. And when we'd arrive you would always have a duster in your hand and the ironing board out, and needless to say, your house was spotless. This made me feel very nervous with two small children in tow. And while I was almost blowing a gasket, I was always amazed at how calm you appeared when the girls dropped cake crumbs throughout your house and then trod them into the carpet, and smeared chocolate into the cushions, and left jam fingerprints on the wall. But you always put me at my ease and refused to let me get the vacuum cleaner out. And then off we'd go, laden with Dolly Mixtures and Turkish Delight in the pink boxes, and you'd tell me off for having a filthy car. I would love to know what you did after we left - I am guessing you were up til midnight straightening things out. As granddad always said: 'If I had a brass button on my bottom she'd polish it.'

Grandma, you were truly brilliant... when I think of you...

I think of the lady who made the most perfect Victoria sandwich, and the best roast dinners. I had my first taste of sherry at your house, while you and mum were having a tipple before our roast lamb one day. And after lunch you and I would sit down and excitedly swap our Mills and Boon books with each other. We would talk about our favourite bits, and you would tell me about Rock Hudson. I think I was about eight at the time, and thought you were so cool. And my Sindys were the most well kitted out dolls in the history of mankind, thanks to you.

The speed at which you would knit while watching the telly was incredible, and you'd stay up all night knitting yourself a cardigan because you wanted to wear it the next day. You once knitted me a school jumper which wasn't quite the regulation shade of bottle green - at first I was mortified about having to wear it, but grew to love it in the end.

You had a wicked sense of humour, and we would heartily cackle together about the same things. You always looked immaculate, and were Marks and Spencer's best customer. You were fiercely independent, still cleaning your windows and weeding between your paving stones at 93.

You loved sunbathing, and your figurines, and yellow primroses, and Princess Diana, and Corrie, and you pretended to love cBeebies (for the sake of my children). You got me hooked on Viennetta and mint jelly. You made truly magnificent trifles and mince pies, and regularly force fed me angel cake, but you were a painfully fussy eater, often taking your own cheese sandwiches if we went out for lunch.

You often remarked on how much Tom looks like Elvis and how I'd got myself a real catch. And you completely adored and doted on Betty and Dolly. And you always asked after my mum who I know you were very close to. When you last saw her your smile lit up the room.

You were an amazing, funny, kind, loving lady and you touched us all. We all love you so much, and I am so glad that you and I held each other tightly not so long ago and told each other so.

You were such a big and important part of our lives, and you will be sorely missed. We send love, light and happiness to you always.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Things I hate about Christmas

a depressing Christmas scene
I am listing below my grievances related to the ever-expanding festive period:
  • Mince pies being sold in September, with a best before date of 25th October (two whole months before the big day itself).
  • People who buy mince pies in September, eat them, and remark on how festive they are feeling.
  • Shop-bought nativity costumes - tea towels, old sheets, tinsel, and dressing gowns are what nativities are all about, not spending a small fortune on an elaborate sheep costume in Sainsbury's.
  • Fake Santas - I have never seen a convincing Santa in a grotto. So when your child meets a skinny man (sometimes woman) dressed in red and wearing trainers, with no charisma, a blonde ponytail sticking out from under a cheap synthetic wig, who then hands them a crap present (which you've paid £5 for), it makes them ask a lot of questions, and completely shatters the magic.
  • Christmas cards - writing and sending cards is both time consuming and expensive. If you want to write a heartfelt festive letter (or email) to dear friends and family telling them of your news, then that's lovely. But merely scrawling your name on a tasteless M&S card and sending it to someone that you see every day, or haven't seen for thirty years come to that, just for the sake of it, is totally pointless. I realise I now won't receive any Christmas cards this year and I'll have to buy a load to send to myself from imaginary people otherwise my house will look bare and people will ask awkward questions.
  • Unwanted presents - my house is already filled to the brim with crap that I don't know what to do with, so I would really prefer not to add to it. So please think before you buy me that mini food processor (intended for a family of one) - will I actually find a use for it? Or will it kick around in the back of the cupboard, taking up valuable space while housing a few mice, before I feel an acceptable period of time has passed when I can cart it off to the charity shop?
  • The giant inflatable Father Christmas that pops up outside the garden centre on the way into Hereford, in mid October. Every time we drive past it, it has either deflated and lies in an ugly, muddy, depressing heap on the ground, or the looming monstrosity gets the children really excited because they think Christmas is just around the corner.
  • Christmas trees that start appearing in the windows of houses in November - I genuinely don't understand how the owners don't get sick of the sight of them - all those baubles, and gaudy tinsel.
  • And even worse, Christmas trees that are still up in February.
  • Receiving emails that are signed off with 'Wishing you a very happy Christmas' from the beginning of November.
  • Christmas shoppers in the January sales.
  • The question 'What are you doing for Christmas?' asked in July.
  • Feeling obliged to put on two stone.

I might sound like a miserable old cow, but these things really get me down. I absolutely LOVE Christmas. I love taking the kids to the nativity service in Hereford cathedral on Christmas Eve, marvelling at the Christmas lights on Regent Street, buying them little stocking fillers that I know will make them chortle, making the Christmas pudding and sipping on mulled wine, seeing the kids with tea towels strapped to their heads, watching their little faces as they discover the presents under the tree, making decorations, eating pigs in blankets, singing carols around the piano, lighting the advent candle, leaving Father Christmas a glass of sherry and a satsuma, and playing with new toys and games. But for us, none of this takes place until we are well and truly into December.

So I really resent the fact that all around us, Christmas now seems to take up 25% of the entire year. Apart from anything else it gets in the way of my Easter preparations, which I like to begin in August.

Photo source: flickr/Po'Jay

Monday, 18 November 2013

Birthday/rugby mania, and Betty's big day

After a six month countdown, and a weekend of birthday treats and celebrations, Betty finally turned seven today! 

She was gutted that she had to go to school on her birthday. But as I packed her off this morning with the 24 cupcakes for her class, I was secretly relieved to be having a few hours' respite from birthday mania.

On Saturday we took the girls ice-skating at the Winter Wonderland in Cardiff. We thought it would be fun to take the train, until we realised that there was a major rugby match taking place at the Millennium Stadium later that day. The train was jam-packed, and we were told that unless we got the 3.55pm train back again, we would have little chance of getting home.

So Betty's birthday day out took place at very high speed. We had lunch on the go, while jogging to the ice-skating rink from Cardiff Central, pushing our way through the pissed Wales supporters, and dissuading the girls from wanting a Welsh dragon tattooed on their cheek.

After an hour on the ice, being bashed in the ankles and sent flying by Dolly and her penguin support, and trying to protect Betty from a fast but out-of-control woman who seemed to be tailing us for the entire session, we hung up our skates.

Betty and I then had a quick go on a fair ride, which spun us over the rooftops of Cardiff. It was exhilarating but terrifying, and I am always amazed at Betty, who freaks out over a pimple on her knee, but is totally unfazed by being shot 60 metes into the sky on a plastic swing with her mum screaming in her ear.

We then had to race back to the station before the rugby match finished. We made it just in time, and saw just one confused rugby fan wandering up and down the platform.

Having recovered from our day trip, my next task was to start thinking about the 'amazing' Disney Princess birthday cake that Betty had requested. I enlisted Dolly's help, and yesterday we pored over photos on the internet for inspiration. Thank goodness for Pinterest, is all I can say. Three tiers (and tears), 14 eggs, and a few minor disagreements with Dolly over the design later, we were done.

Betty, I do hope you like the cake and that it meets your expectations, and is better than the cake you said you wanted from Sainsbury's just an hour after I had spent an entire day making you one at home.

Happy birthday my darling, beautiful, clever, funny girl. Your love of Disney Princesses, and astronomy, and the workings of the human body, and rainbows, and gel pens, and joined up writing, makes you very unique and brilliant indeed, and we love you very very much.