Wednesday, 29 April 2009


Great ideas that I wish I'd had. The Anywayup cup. The Ugg boot. The Filofax. It must be fantastic to have an idea that everyone else likes so much that they all buy one. Or two.

A case in point is my Pandora Bracelet. For those not in the know, Pandora is a type of charm bracelet. First you buy the basic bracelet in either silver or gold. It is a plain rope chain which is divided into three sections. £55 for a silver one. Over a grand for a gold. And then you are off. The idea is that you fill your bracelet with charms. There are hundreds to choose from. Star signs, letters, animals, abstract designs, Murano glass. In fact almost anything you can imagine has been fashioned into a charm. And once you are in they've got you. It's addictive. Filled one bracelet? Buy another or a necklace or swap your charms depending on your mood. You could go on forever.

I got the bracelet for my birthday. My husband and each child spent ages poring over the website and each chose a bead that meant something to them. I was delighted. Then I went to the Pandora shop in Leeds to spend my birthday money. The shop is a little boutique in the Victorian Quarter, Leeds' exclusive shopping district. It's managed by a lovely and somewhat camp chap who is incredibly enthusiastic about his product. "Do you find that your beads slip round your bracelet and all bunch at the bottom?" he asked with his brightest smile. Well, now he came to mention it.... and so he sold me a couple of clips which ensure that the beads stay in the particular third of the bracelet where they have been placed. £46.

Then I started to look at the charms themselves. I thought a bit of colour might be nice and was encouraged to choose a colour and stick to it for fear of my Pandora looking a "mess". My favourite colour is blue so that was easy enough. I chose two beads with pretty blue enamelling designs. £80. Birthday money spent. That didn't take long.

Over the next few weeks I bought myself a rather cheeky looking rabbit and a little bear with a button nose. £40. Christmas, Mothering Sunday and wedding anniversary all brought more charms from friends and family. And then I committed the cardinal sin.

As is often the case with a good idea, Pandora has been copied. There are now four or five retailers doing similar bracelets all with a different range of charms. Most of them are cheaper than the Pandora originals but this has the added bonus of allowing you to fill your bracelet more quickly. Lovelinks, for example, sell boxes containing five glass beads for the same price as about two and a half Pandora Murano glass ones. As I wandered passed a jewellers, a box of vibrant greens caught my eye. I thought this might give me a bit of variety and so I bought it. And that was it. I was a Pandora trollop! I felt horribly disloyal but the temptation of filling my bracelet was too strong. It's true that the diamante sparkles fell off the fake beads but you have to look really close to notice.

Now my bracelet is multi-coloured ( the chap in Leeds will have a fit when he sees it) and almost full. It gives my family and friends endless gift possibilities and any duplicates can always be exchanged so everyone can buy with confidence. Which brings me to my original point. What a simple idea. With such a wide range of products there is something for everyone. You can buy gold, silver or a mixture of both so there is something for every pocket. They make fabulous presents for all kinds of occasions . All you have to do is buy the chain and off you go. Mr Pandora must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Sunday, 26 April 2009


Have I mentioned that I haven't been on holiday for ages? It's been eight months. Way too long! Because of the way I run my life, I spend almost all my time at home. This is my choice ( most of the time ) and I try not to complain. Don't laugh - I do try. But because of my role within the home, in order for me to get a break we have to leave otherwise I just spend my time doing all the stuff I usually do. And more if they are all here. So I like to get away.

However, if you read last week's posting you will know that the sun generally has to factor somewhere in my plans. A holiday with no sun is not really a holiday for me. The prospect of being stuck in a cottage somewhere in the rain fills me with horror. Occupying four children of various ages can be challenging enough but trying to do so in the middle of nowhere in poor weather is both unappealing and incredibly expensive.

Many of my friends head off each year to Boden by Sea in Cornwall or Northumbria. I'm not sure what they do but it seems to involve the beach and wind breaks. And flasks. As far as I am concerned, beaches are best either in winter with big hats and plenty of hot chocolate shortly afterwards or when the temperature in the shade is about 26 Celsius. Anything in between and I'd rather be somewhere else. I know that holidays aren't all about my needs but to be honest the children will play happily just about anywhere so I see no point in getting sand in my knickers unnecessarily.

The exception to my stringent holiday requirement for warm sunshine has been Centreparcs. Many people of my aquaintance turn their noses up at Centreparcs - posh Butlins. Indeed it may be but we have been around half a dozen times and have always had a fantastic time, generally assisted by unseasonably warm weather. Until now we have always been in the first week of June which is a school holiday for our primary school but not for many other people giving it the double benefit of being both quiet and cheap. However, unhelpfully the grammar school doesn't have two weeks holiday at Spring Bank so we would have to go in the half term week with everyone else or not at all.

Uncoordinated school holidays are not our only hurdle this year. Whilst my eldest's ear is on the way to recovery, she has a fair way to go and swimming is still forbidden. For us, swimming and water always play a major part of any holiday and Centreparcs is no exception. How can we resist the lure of the fake sub tropical paradise? It suits the swimming abilities of all the children, keeps them entertained for hours and has the added benefit of warmth so I don't get chilled to the marrow in the first ten minutes. Take that out of the equation and suddenly Centreparcs no longer looks like a viable option. I couldn't possibly countenance swimming without my eldest. It would break her heart.

And for us, the swimming and the woods are the main attraction of Centreparcs. Spending £20 per child for an hour of some activity that they will enjoy just as much as charging round the site on their bikes seems unrealistically extravagant.It has been suggested that given that we live a couple of hundred yards from both a beautiful lido which is free for the children and wild woods where they can run about to their heart's content might negate the need for a Centreparc holiday. What would be the point of paying to stay in a villa and just use the pool and the woods when we have a beautiful home with comparable facilities?

But if we stay at home where is my break? Even if we go away to do all the things we can do at home, I am away. I am out of the house. I can relax.

Either way it is immaterial. We will be at home for half term and I will just have to wait until the summer and hope I do not lose my mind in the intervening period!

Sunday, 19 April 2009


Today was the first day that it was warm enough to sit in the sun and expose flesh and so a girl's mind turns to tanning. Now I know that it is terribly unfashionable to get a tan the old fashioned way but I am an old fashioned kind of girl and so when the sun is strong enough to cast a reasonable shadow I am usually to be found in it somehow or other. I am, however, more careful then I was in my youth where the closest we got to an SPF was Hawaiian Tropics number 2 and towards the end of the summer neat baby oil was all that we needed. We would lie in the sun, perfectly aligned with its rays ensuring that no stray washing line or other impediment would spoil the tan... and bake.

Now I am older and wiser and far more concerned about wrinkles so I do apply an effective suncream most of the time although I have to confess that this is more to do with the aging process and very little to do with any concern that I may have about skin cancer which troubles me considerably less.

Fortunately, the mahogany tans that we tried in vain to achieve in the 80s are no longer in vogue. This is good because I do not have the type of skin that can achieve that kind of colour and certainly not in the two weeks that I get in the sun a year. For a while, the pale and interesting look was the sought after one. This only lasted a very short season. Let's face it. Pale and interesting only works if you have skin like porcelain and Titian locks. For the majority of the population, pale and interesting generally equates itself with illness. Not a good look in any one's book. Think goths and consumptive heroines.

No. It doesn't matter how it turns out. Deep and rich or golden like me, everyone looks better with a tan. Even those less desirable or wobbly parts of the body, which are usually kept hidden from public view, look better with a bit of colour.

In my twenties I strove for the all over tan, searching out beaches where it was acceptable to bear all in an effort to ensure that I had no white bits. One memorable year I was on a Greek island with a girlfriend. We were both lying on our fronts without a stitch on enjoying our trashy novels. Suddenly someone said hello. It wasn't the kind of hello that you learn to ignore whilst sunbathing but sounded genuine, the kind of hello that stems from recognition. And indeed, there stood a man that I saw on the train from Ilkley to Leeds every day. Worse still, he had his trunks on. We had a brief and slightly awkward chat about our respective holidays and then he continued his saunter down the beach. I like to think that he hadn't noticed that I was naked until he spoke and by then it was too late to pretend he hadn't seen me. It took me a while not to turn puce when I commuted into Leeds with him after then.

These days it's all about faking it. Sunbeds - even I draw the line at those these days and fake tan. I can't do fake tan. I once had it applied professionally for a wedding but generally I am way too tight/busy for that. I have, of course, tried to do it myself. Like most of my friends, I seem to have tried dozens of brands following recommendations from people who swear that this brand doesn't streak, doesn't smell, doesn't turn your joints orange, doesn't stain the bedclothes. But I have given up, defeated. I rarely see a well applied fake tan and of course you know it's fake as few of us tan overnight in any other way (although I did have a friend at school who could tan in a lunch break).Even if it is streak free it is still clearly fake tan because nobody goes that colour naturally. Suddenly everyone has turned the same hue and that doesn't suit me. My own golden brown takes an age to achieve but when I get there I love it. It is my colour and it is special to me and when I have a tan I feel like I could conquer the world.

This is my first summer without preschool children and I am certain that it is going to be a belter. I have just taken delivery of my new steamer chair and I have a pile of novels all calling out for my attention. I intend to spend my spare time, such as it is in the sun. Starting tomorrow.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


This week daughter number 2 had her ears pierced. It was almost exactly a year since her sister had hers done and now the precedent is set for daughter number 3 - Easter holidays in year 6.

When I was a girl I wasn't allowed to have my ears pierced until I was 16. Then when I hit 16 the goalposts shifted and the magic age became 18. By the time I hit 18 I had gone off the idea. I finally took the plunge when I was 34 and have never looked back.

So when my eldest asked if she could have her ears pierced I said no. "Why not?" Now I was flummoxed. Why not indeed? I never really understood why I should have been prevented from taking this somewhat innocuous step. My mum obviously felt strongly about it. But now that I am a parent in my own right I look at the way that I was brought up, pick out the good bits and try to replicate them in my own parenting. The bits that I disagree with I disregard or reexamine depending on the nature of the bit. I decided that the age that a child should have her ears pierced needed reexamining.

I decided to carry out my own straw poll and asked a number of fellow mums what they thought. They seemed to think that 14 was a good age. When I asked why they had landed on the that particular age it was generally because that was when they had had theirs done. No one had or was prepared to vocalize any better reasons than that.

I still couldn't answer my daughter's question. The only reason I had come up with so far was that in the seventies, 14 was considered the appropriate age. But a lot has changed since the seventies. I suspect 14 was hit upon for fear of girls being seen to grow up too fast. But girls in the 21st century are older in outlook and physically more mature. I can't think of a single child in my year 6 class who had hit puberty but could rattle off a whole list from my daughters' classes. I thought about whether it was a perception thing, knowing that girls further down the social scale have their ears pierced earlier. But my girls are bright and articulate and any perception of them would not be altered by earrings.

So when the eldest asked for the hundredth time why she couldn't do it I failed to come up with one decent reason and so I said yes. Then the guilt started. My mother disapproved. My friends who were sticking with 14 for historical reasons disapproved. It was hard to stick to my guns and more than once I wished that I had just said " No. Because I said so " like everyone else. But we made the appointment, did the deed.

They have both had their ears pierced with very pretty, diamante daisies, not those dreadful gold studs of yesteryear. They look lovely and my eldest now has a wide selection of similarly tasteful or playful earrings, all of which enhance her prettiness. Within a relatively short period of time I grew used to seeing her with sparkles on her ears and even began to enjoy choosing earrings with her. As soon as she moved up to High School everything about her grew up anyway and earrings seemed to be the least of my concerns.

When the Easter holidays approached and daughter number 2 started asking I went through the whole doubt thing all over again but this time it really was a done deal. I could hardly say no to her.

Daughter number three is only in year 1 so I have a long way to go before I have to re examine the whole question again and I have plenty of time to come up with some jolly good reasons as to why my son cannot have his done!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


Days like today remind me how astonishingly inadequate my knowledge of all things technological actually is. If you have read this blog since its inception you will know that some progress has been made in the years since I stopped working in an office. In fact quite a lot of progress has been made in recent months. I have learned how to put music on my ipod, download photos onto facebook and watch Coronation Street on my laptop when I accidentally deleted it from the Sky+ box. All vital contributions to the technological age I am sure you will agree.

But now it's 8.10 on a wet and windy day in the school holidays and nothing appears to be working as it should. Something mysterious is blocking my inbox so that the 10 emails that is wants to deliver are stuck behind it. I know there must be a way of bypassing whatever it is that is in the way but blow me if I know what it is.

Then the older two children loaded something on to the family PC a couple of days ago. It ran like a dream for two days and now the whole thing has crashed beyond redemption. Just like it did last time they tried to run the same thing. It is so confused it won't even turn off.

Now, it is at moments such as this that the cry goes up " Ask Daddy." Daddy knows a lot about computers and can generally sort it out when an errant computer goes off on a frolic and refuses to cooperate. Unfortunately, Daddy has gone to work and won't be back until long after the household has retired for the night. And so we are stuck. No progress will be made today or tomorrow for that matter.

I find this extremely frustrating. It is broken and I can't fix it Not only can I not fix it but I have absolutely no idea where to start. It's like when I open the bonnet on my car ( assuming that I can first locate the little button that does that. Not necessarily a safe assumption.) I stare at the engine but have absolutely no idea which bit is what. I have always reassured myself that in these days of computer diagnosis, it is perfectly acceptable to leave it to the "mechanics" to fix whatever ails my car. Things have moved on from the days when every self respecting driver could bang the offending part with a spanner and achieve a result. My husband can't fix a car ( although to be fair he knows at least a hundred times more that I do about the workings of the internal combustion engine.)But he can fix the computer.

I'm not sure what is more frustrating - failing physically or mentally. I am regularly defeated physically. I recall on one occasion weeping because I was trying to make a black forest gateau for my brother's birthday but was unable to open the jar of morello cherries and so was defeated. Without some strong chap to rescue me from my damsel in distress act my whole course of action was thwarted. If that has never happened to you then you will be unable to understand precisely how irritating it is.

But being unable to fix something because I don't understand it is in a different league. How dare they invent something that I don't get and can have no hope of ever understanding?! I loathe having no control and being entirely beholden to someone or something else to get where I want to be. And yet I just don't care enough about technological issues to make any effort to learn more than I need on a day to day basis. And with that point I answer my own question. I can do nothing about the failing PC. It is hardly a disaster and there are countless other ways that the children and I can pass a perfectly pleasant wet April day. I can't believe that when my emails finally arrive there will be anything urgent or life changing amongst them and I shall just turn the other computer off at the wall to silence it's infernal humming. And wait, with everyone else, for Daddy to fix it.

Monday, 6 April 2009


Families. Love them or loathe them? Discuss.

It depends on the family I suppose. And who you mean by family. In this instance I mean the family into which I was born, not the one I have created. There is my mum and dad, still married after almost 44 years and my brother, 22 months my junior and somewhat confusingly sharing the same name as my husband. And that is it. A tight little unit of four which seemed perfectly normal at the time and now seems quite meagre compared with the numbers rampaging around my house.

I have never been terribly good at the whole family thing although I do try a bit harder as I get older. As with most traditional units, my family falls into two parts - mum's side and dad's side. As we had something of a nomadic lifestyle, moving every few years to follow dad's job we never lived anywhere near any of them. So there was no popping in for tea or older cousins baby sitting or confiding in aunts when mum wouldn't listen. We would go and visit either for long, long days or for whole weekends depending on how far we had to travel.

We generally saw more of my mum's side. I don't know whether this was because they were slightly closer or because they were mum's family and she did the arranging ( although I have my suspicions). There were grandparents, aunt and uncle and two cousins as indeed there were on my dad's side as well. My main memories are of going as a teenager. By then the cousins all had their established characteristics and we enjoyed playing up to them. Elder cousin - heart of gold, very good with oldies. Younger cousin - bright but bad and thus adored by aunt. Brother - baby, kind and thoughtful. Me - high achiever, difficult, gobby. If you put us together we still slot neatly back into these roles and I wonder how much this stereotyping has had to do with my attitude towards family since.

Yesterday, my dad's sister had her 80th birthday party. My own family was invited. All invitations are very gladly received as they can be a bit thin on the ground now that I have four children. However, this one was particularly welcome as I rarely see either my aunt (of whom I have always been particularly fond) or my cousin and his family. Plus, they live in Suffolk which is one of my favourite parts of the country and I hoped to turn it into a bit of a holiday. But the fates were not on my side as the date of the operation meant that us all going wasn't a viable option. However, my parents and brother were driving down in a day and would I like to join them? Eight hours in a confined space with my family. It required careful consideration but in the end the desire to wish my aunt a happy birthday overcame any doubts that I had about the means of getting there.

And so the appointed hour came and I clambered into the car armed with phone and ipod in case of dire emergency. Actually, my concerns were unfounded. Despite the fact that I can't remember when the four of us last spent any time together without outsider or interruption we all just fell back into our time honoured roles. My brother was treated as golden child and we all ganged up on my mum, mainly in relation to how she favours the golden child. It was fun and the four hours passed without argument or even tongue biting.

At the party there were lots of my aunt's friends a couple of whom I knew or knew of so after a period of polite chat, my brother and I retreated to talk to my cousin. Even though we saw my dad's side of the family far less frequently, my memories of those trips are remarkably clear. I remember the places that we played, the smell of my granddad's beautiful, flower filled garden, the vast playing fields of the Royal Hospital School where my uncle taught. Our cousins would spend hours playing with my brother and I swinging us round and round until we were so dizzy we couldn't walk. They had a fantastic collection of Asterix books which I read but never properly understood. But because we saw them rarely I never had a label of which I was aware and so I have no reputation to live up to. I didn't have to be the difficult, gobby one. In fact I firmly believe that my cousin could give me a run for my money on that front should the mood take him!

So in all it was a highly successful day. I proved to myself that I could spend eight hours in a car without murdering my family and I got to see my lovely aunt, albeit briefly and my cousin and family. And suddenly Suffolk doesn't seem so very far away. Perhaps we can all meander down again before too long.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


I am frustrated and disappointed. The G20 Summit meets in London. Lots of important men shaking hands, slapping each other on the back and smiling in the reflected glory of Barack Obama. They have real and serious problems to discuss behind closed doors but first they must have their rehearsed moments in front of the baying media so that 24 hour news coverage has something to discuss whilst the real work happens.

Travelling with the important men are their wives. All wives have a role in supporting their husbands. Behind every successful man and all that. And so the media spotlight falls on Michelle and Sarah. They are well aware of their role and the attention they will receive. They will have spent time carefully choosing outfits to portray the image that they want to project on the world. Not to my taste but I am sure they gave their appearance careful thought.

So why did no one advise them against allowing the photo opportunity to be of Sarah Brown playing mummy and pouring her visitor a nice cup of tea? Of all the activities that they could have chosen....

I am not a political beast. I have never banged the drum for women's rights but quietly tried to play the system to further my own ends. An enemy within if you like. And it is true that eleven years working in a corporate and very male environment has left me with a degree of cynicism about equal opportunities. However,I do believe that women should not give up and resign themselves to the seemingly impenetrable status quo. Even if change continues at the snail's pace it has managed thus far, it has to be an improvement on where we have come from.

So the two first ladies get together with the world watching and make tea for each other? It's at times like this that I realise just what a very, very great distance we still have to travel.