Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Things to do before your next baby arrives

Inspired by Gillian Crawshaw's blog:

The age gap between my children is seven years, and with the imminent arrival of a baby last year, I wanted to spend some special time with my son before his new sibling came along.
Here is what we got up to:

1) Weekend away in a hotel.

Babies aren't great in hotels. The rooms are too small to do much in, you just know they'll end up sharing your bed half the night and there's no chance of a lie-in in the morning. But 7 year olds find hotels exciting, like a mini adventure. Also they sleep through the night (well ours does) so you can still have a relaxing time. And if the hotel comes with a pool, then you're definitely on to a winner.

So I booked a weekend in Cardiff for myself, my husband and my son for when I was 6 months pregnant. The idea was that I would not be too big to walk around or enjoy the mini-break. It worked really well - Connor loved the pool, the X-box (which we don't have at home) and even the fun of having breakfast in a 'posh' restaurant.

I would love to do it again - when said baby is at least 3, that is.

2) Child-friendly activity

Not one that you can easily do with a baby in tow, like soft play or going to the park. There will be plenty of time for that when the baby arrives.

We went to the Dr Who experience in Cardiff. It was great fun, and I was very aware that it would have been much harder work with a crying/ pooing/ tired baby along. At six months gone I wasn't too huge to traipse around, although I did need to sit down a few times. The site is just the right size to not be too tiring for pregnant people or young kids.

It does help to choose something that everyone in the family would enjoy though - if I had suggested a weekend's shopping in London it would not have gone down so well with the boys.

3) A child-centred day

Aren't all days child-centred? Well, yes, but how often do you find yourself distracted by housework or emails or your mobile phone while you are spending quality time with your kids? Focussing on a child for the whole day, or even a few hours, is surprisingly tough. The idea is that you ask them what they want to do, and then do it. So it might be playing on the Wii or feeding the ducks or making a robot out of loo rolls - as long as it's something your child/ren really enjoy doing. The important thing is not to allow yourself to get distracted by stuff that you need/ want to do.

When all of your lives are about to be changed forever by the arrival of a baby, this is an ideal time to let your child know by actions and not just words, that you love them and are there for them. Or at any other times of change or upheaval.

It doesn't have to be expensive and s/he will relish the positive attention from you. For older children, try suggesting going for a coffee/ milkshake together or a trip to the cinema and lunch out- just you and him/ her.

If you have several kids, obviously this would be harder. You might need to spread it over a few days.

4- Craft

I know some of you hate the messiness of craft. But often kids love it - again half of it is probably about the quality time that they get to spend with you. You can make something together to remind yourselves of when you were just a family of (insert number here.). Maybe make a handprint canvas or paint stones to represent each family member. Have a look at art and craft websites for more ideas.

Something that I love is scrapbooking. When I get the stash out, my son inevitably asks if he can make a page too. It's not the tidiest page ever made, but he enjoys doing it and it's a great keepsake. Definitely not just for girls - make sure you get blue/ red/ yellow/ green papers and ribbons and stickers such as football or surfing or whatever they're into. There don't need to be any flowers. Of course not all girls like pink and flowers, just choose what your child likes.

And let them choose a photograph for the page that means something to them - you can always print another one if it accidently gets chopped in half.

5- Talk

I was always talking to my son about what life would be like when the baby arrived, so it wasn't a shock to him when he saw how tired I was or if I needed to stay in hospital for a few days (which I did.) Otherwise he would probably have expected something from a nappy advert - a cooing baby who sleeps through the night and a perfectly made-up mum who is always smiling.

Also talk to your child about where the baby comes from (age appropriate). I found books from the library helpful - read them together and ask if s/he has any questions. Telling your child that a stork brings the baby is not that helpful.

You could discuss how the baby is growing week-by-week and that you love them both the same, even if you do need to spend a lot of time looking after the new baby when it arrives. Expect some sibling jealousy, but this can be minimised by talking and listening to your child before and after the arrival.

What else did you find helpful before your second/ third/ eleventh baby arrived?

Monday, 30 June 2014

Grandma's WWII

My husband's Grandma (Kathleen Hooper nee Richards) was nine years old when World War II broke out in 1939. She lived at 102 Cumberland Road, Hanwell, West London. She was friends with another Kath, who was 2 years older than her. Their parents were friends, through the Salvation Army.

Kath was evacuated from London when she was 10. She went to stay with one of her father's colleagues, Mr Whiteway, (who he met when serving during WWI) who lived with his family in Lyndale, Lancashire. It was a small village and there were only two classes for all of the village children at the local school. Mrs Whiteway was the postmistress. She was middle class and her family were seen as the 'leaders' of the village. She was a kind woman who insisted that the two Kaths drank hot milk every night before bed. It was boiled on the open fire in their kitchen. Kath was happy in Lyndale, but the kids made fun of her London accent. Otherwise, they all got on well. She didn't learn much at the village school - she was too busy having fun.

The two evacuees went with the Whiteways to church on Sunday mornings, and they went for walks in the evening. Sometimes Mrs Whiteway would send the girls with a jug to buy milk from a nearby farm (fresh from the cow.) One evening, they took their time going back home and it was getting dark. They saw some sheep in one field, which was ok, but then they came upon another field filled with large ugly creatures that made a horrible sound. The girls sat down and cried. They were too afraid to keep walking through the field. Soon the farmer found them, sitting there in the grass. He told them that it was safe- the terrifying animals were only turkeys. The farmer put Kath on the handlebars of his bike and leant the other Kath a bike to ride, and made sure they got home ok. They were told off for getting back after dark.

Kath and Kath only stayed there for a few summer months. They saw it as a bit of a holiday but they did miss their families. Soon they went sent back home to London - just in time for the start of the Blitz.

Kath's father was too old to serve in the forces, so he volunteered for home war work. His job was to boil up water at his home in a huge urn, and then take it to the bomb sites to serve tea to those who had just been bombed out. He also used his own car to drive injured people to the closest hospital. It was a harrowing job, seeing the immediate after-effects of the Blitz. No doubt he witnessed many terrible injuries and dead bodies. He found it very stressful, and sometimes Kath would see him shaking in fear as he headed out to help. She quite liked the idea of making tea for people, but was told firmly that "it's no place for children."

People could choose to sleep in the underground overnight if they wished, and many did. Bunk beds were set up and there was a communal atmosphere. There would be sing-songs through the night, as the bombs landed overhead. You would then head back home in the morning to get dressed and go to work. Kath asked her parents if she could sleep in the tube one night, but was told no. They had an air-raid shelter in their garden. If the siren was going off, Kath would be put to bed by her mum in the shelter, and her mum would then head back to the house to make dinner for her dad. They would then join the children (Kath and her older brother Den) to sleep in the shelter overnight.

When there was a lull in the bombing, Kath would visit her friend Kath who lived in Bayswater. She would take the trolley bus to get there. If there was another raid while she was out, she would just head to the nearest shelter. Older Kath lived in a block of flats, and her father (Mr Truman) was the head porter. Her friend had a bedroom in the old maid's room of the building, which was right next to the porters' rooms. Mrs Truman would put the girls to bed and then head back to her room. One of the porters would them let them out and they would sneak out to Hyde Park. They would wander around a bit, buy some chips, and then head back home to eat them. Mrs Truman never said anything, but surely she smelt the distinct odour of chips in the room?

Kath's school was open as education was supposed to continue as normal. On one occasion, their home was fenced off from the school- there were some unexploded bombs that they had to walk past. Kath had to go into school, walking closely past the bombs, collect homework, and then head back home to do it. Not surprisingly, not a lot of learning was actually done during this time. Although Kath did pass her 11 plus and got into grammar school. While she was there, the whole school was evacuated to Torquay. But Kath did not want to go, and her mother did not want her to go either. So she stayed home in London.

When she was 16, Kath attended Pitman's College to study book-keeping and commerce. The college did not have an air-raid shelter, so when there was a raid, everyone took what books or tabulations that they could and sat under one of the stone staircases. They were considered safe as did not tend to fall down if a building was hit.

Kath's brother Den left home when he was 16 to train as an architect. He went to Wessex and stayed with his Auntie Nancy and cousin Ron. Den was called up when he was 18 to the Middle East. Kath is not sure how many countries he served in, but she does remember getting postcards from Egypt. Den helped to design the Bailey bridge - a temporary bridge that was used by the army during the war.
Click for more info on the Bailey bridge.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Jewel and Arthur

Gran (Jewel Booysen) and Gramps (Arthur Huebsch) met in early 1949 in a boarding house called Faylands, in Pietermaritz Street, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where they were both staying.

Gran and her younger sister, Jenny were living there together. They had grown up in Cape Town, where their mother was still living at the time. Gran worked in the Post Office, starting on the switchboard and then moving to the telegraph office.

Gramps was there with his brother, Edgar. Their parents had retired the year before and bought a small farm called Langverwacht, in Hidcote, near Mooi River (a small rural town in the foothills of the Drakensburg Mountains.) The boys needed to stay in town for their jobs. Gramps worked in the local brewery, as a mechanic.

There was a shared dining room at the boarding house, and no doubt they caught each other's eye one night at dinner. One evening, Gran was sitting in the lounge knitting, when Gramps walked up to her and pulled one of the knitting needles out of her work, leaving all of the stitches dangling. Later, they all decided (Gran, Gramps, their siblings and some friends) to go for a walk. They ended up walking for a long time, and found themselves at The Hatcheries on the north side of town. Somehow Gran and Gramps got separated from the group and got back home much later, long after everyone else had gone to bed. When Gran's mother found out, she was not impressed.

After a whirlwind romance of only 3 months, they got married on 1 August 1949 at St Mary's Catholic Church in Loop Street, Pietermaritzburg. Gramps had been raised a Catholic, so that's why the ceremony was held there. They had very little money, so Gran got married in a normal inexpensive pale-blue dress. The whole ceremony lasted only 7 minutes. (That was just like her, not to make a fuss.)

Gran was 22 and Gramps 24 years old.

They moved into a tiny one-roomed place after they were married. Gran told me once that some people thought (incorrectly) that she was pregnant, hence the 'rushed' wedding. The fact that their first baby was born more than a year later proved the gossips wrong.

Gran told her new husband that all she really wanted was 6 children and a van to drive them around in. She did conceive 6 babies, but sadly miscarried twin boys. Their 4 surviving children are: Uncle Philip (who lives in Botswana); my Mom Heather (UK); Aunty Ruth (USA) and Aunty 'Joon' (Kathleen) who still lives in South Africa. Gran also got the van she desired, about 14 years later.

They had 10 grandchildren, and now, although they never met them, 9 great-grandchildren, and one more on the way.

They were happily married (they really were happy and obviously still very much in love) for 48 years, until Gramps died in 1997.


Friday, 6 June 2014

My back garden

We moved into the house in Oribi Road when I was about 11. There was a badly-dug small pool with far too much chlorine in it. After we moved in, Dad soon turned it into a beautiful well-made larger version. I loved that pool. Summer lasts about 10 months in Pietermaritzburg so we really appreciated it. It got up to about 40 degrees Celsius at the height of Summer (Jan and Feb). On those days we couldn't stay outside too long, even in the pool.

As far as I remember, there were two trees in the yard. One was an orange, and one a mixture of lemon and orange - literally two types of tree were grafted together. I guess you could call it a lorange or oramon. We sometimes made fresh orange juice with the fruit but needed to add loads of sugar to make it drinkable.

Around the back of the old servants' rooms (two small bedrooms and a not-very-nice toilet block) was where Dad had his vegetable patch. He grew all sorts there, and very successfully too. Home-grown food tastes so much better but I am useless at growing things- they all die in the end.

Sometimes when Dad was gardening, he would come across small snakes. He would chop their heads off with a spade (there are many poisonous kinds in South Africa). I liked to play with the smooth dead bodies. They were pretty cool. When my brother and I played hobos in the garden, I would light a fire and burn the bodies. Or anything else that was to hand. Sometimes marshmallows.

When we first moved in, the servants' block was filled with junk and random furniture, and we used it as a den. My cousins would come round and we'd play armies in there. Being the oldest of the group, I was leader or co-leader most of the time.

Sometimes I would have to mow the lawn. Not I job I enjoyed then or now.

When we got lovebirds, they lived in a large aviary along the far wall (furthest from the house.) They needed to be far away because they were so loud. We also kept guinea pigs in the yard, much closer to the house. I loved my guineas. The cats would sit on top of their run and keep a close watch. But if we took the pigs out and showed them to the cats, the felines would scarper. Most amusing.

We had three cats and a small naughty dog called Thomas. He belonged to my brother but adored Mom.

There was a gate outside the old servant's quarters toilet block. You could climb to the top of it and then carefully position yourself on top of the outside wall (about 7 foot high). From there you had a great view over the neighbourhood. All houses are single-storey, so you don't usually overlook your neighbours. One neighbours on one side had lots of lush vegetation, so you couldn't see much anyway. But you could see surprisingly far. The neighbours on the other side had a huge pool and two large unhappy dogs who I never saw being walked or petted. I felt sorry for them - they were obviously seen only as guard dogs and not pets. They barked a lot.

I spent a lot of happy times in that garden. In the evening it was lovely to just go and sit in it and look at the stars. You could hear the crickets at night - I missed them when we moved to the UK.

When it rained, it did a proper job. You would get drenched in seconds. It didn't rain often, so I enjoyed standing outside and feeling the warm drops pummelling my skin.

The thunderstorms were amazing. We would count between the lightning and thunder to work out if it was moving towards us. We felt so small and vulnerable against the might of creation. It was liberating. The thunder shook the windows and sometimes lead to a power cut. All the torches and candles would come out. So much fun.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Exercise: Write about a memorable meal from your childhood

1) One Christmas Day we went to Durban beach as a family. It was mid-Summer, so very hot and the beach was be packed. I can't actually remember what we ate. It would have been a picnic probably. Some people had braiis on the beach but I don't think we did.

The day was hot and sunny as usual and we spent time playing on the sand and swimming in the sea. The waves along that stretch of coast were huge - imagine Cornish waves but much bigger. It is a real hot-spot for surfers, unsurprisingly.

I was out swimming and none of my family were nearby. I must've been about 13. Suddenly a wave grabbed hold of me and didn't let go. It rolled me over and over until I could feel my lungs running out of air. I wasn't scared though. I thought that if it was my time, then that was that. It was a pretty cool way to go anyway.

Eventually the sea did spit me back onto land. I sat for a minute on the shore, getting my breath back. Then I wandered back to where my Mom was sitting under a parasol and asked for a drink. I never told my parents about what happened- I was worried that they'd ban me from swimming in the sea. After my drink I went back in. I love the beach.


2) It was my Gran's birthday I think. We had a swimming pool in our back garden (that my Dad had done most of the work to make and kept spotless - I remember he always seemed to be measuring PH levels.) All 10 of the cousins (and their parents) on my Mom's side of the family were there. We ranged in age from 2 - 15 years old.

I loved my cousins - we always had so much fun together. It was a hot sunny day as always and we were running in and out of the pool. There was a lot of making whirlpools and playing Marco Polo. It was noisy and chaotic, but in a good way. All the dads had a swim too. I don't remember the moms swimming very often - they always seemed to be busy preparing food or chatting. I did think that when I grew up I would make sure I had as much fun as the men and kids always seemed to have. And I'd go swimming in public, not fret over if I was too curvy. I have kept that promise to myself, I'm pleased to say.

Again, I'm not sure what we ate for lunch. Was it a braai? I know we did have several. Dad had built a brick braii pit for us.

Hmm, the brief for this exercise was to write about a memorable meal but the trouble is that I just don't find food that interesting or memorable. It's always the people (and water, apparently) that make an occasion special.

Friday, 23 May 2014

I wanted to write a poem

I wanted to write a poem

but I didn't know what to say.

So I've sat here for an hour

just staring at the rain.

I like the use of metaphor

but can't always think of one.

The puddles are small seas

that brave ants swim across.

Similes are similar

but with as or like.

Slugs and snails love to splash

like overweight Dad-dancers.

Personification is where things become human

but it's difficult to pull off.

The cats beg to come inside-

lazy old blokes that hate getting soaked.

I tried to write a poem

but couldn't think of what to say.

So instead I'm going to sit here

just staring at the rain all day.

By the way,

modern poems don't need to rhyme

or even have a regular metre (time.)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Mind the gap

This is going to be a bit of a ramble with no point - you have been warned.

I read in The Times today that the average gap between siblings in the UK is now 3 years and 8 months. It used to be 2 years. The reasons for this are chiefly financial it seems (having two pre-school age children in nursery is very expensive). Three-plus years sounds sensible to me. The gap between my children is much larger - 7 years. This suits our family well - I love how our son (8) can look after our daughter (11 months) without having to be supervised, because he's old enough to trust. I don't mean that we leave them at home for the night and go out or anything like that, don't worry. No need to call the social.

Also there is absolutely no sibling rivalry- they are at such different stages of development.

I suppose that there are people reading this who think that the 1 or 2 year age gap between their offspring is ideal, and I am slightly mad. Fair enough: every family is different. There are advantages to having a small gap: getting over the baby stage more quickly; and ease of entertainment because they probably like similar things, so they could share toys for example.

I was never going to have a small age gap: even before I had my son I knew that having a toddler and baby in the house would send me to the asylum. I mean how do you cope with the total and complete lack of sleep for so long? Anyway, it turned out that baby #1 was a lot harder work than I imagined (he's lovely now, of course). Parenthood is such a steep learning curve, and I had little confidence in my abilities. I believe that this, in part, lead to my PND. Also he never slept. But don't get me started on that.  

I think that whatever age gap you have, you are probably happy with that. It tends to work out.

Of course you may have one child and so this isn't an issue. The average family in Britain now has less than 2 children (1.8 I think - are there lots of kids walking around with an arm missing or something?) So actually onelies are in the majority. There are still many people who are quick to judge or look down their nose at parents of only children, which annoys me. For some families, one child is just right. Especially if there are financial concerns (why bring a child into the world if you don't know how you'll feed and clothe it for the next 18 years or so?) or actually the parents are happy with their child and see no need for any more.

There will always be the people who assume that only children are spoilt. My son was an only for a few years, and he was much better behaved and less spoilt than many children with one or more siblings. That's not just me saying that, other people have told me. A child's behaviour is not down to his siblings, it's down to his parents.

There are also parents who have secondary infertility.  It must suck being told how selfish you're being by only having one child when you've been trying for years. The same goes for people who don't have any children.

People are so quick to judge aren't they?

Edit: I meant to talk about larger families too. I respect parents who manage to raise several kids to be fully-functioning human beings, while still leading normal not-too-chaotic lives. Especially if they do that without relying completely on the state for funds. And some mothers of 4-plus even work! How do they fit it all in? I am in awe. If I had four young children, I think that most of my day would be spent lying on the sofa trying to have a nap while pre-schoolers run around pulling cats' tails and eating newspaper. I couldn't bare the thought of going through the labour and newborn stage over and over - but if you've done it - good for you. And think of all the grandchildren that you have to look forward to one day. Awesome. I guess that in many countries, four or more children is the norm, and that's cool, except for the poverty side of it of course. Also many mums don't have access to contraception so really don't have the choice. But I like large families - especially if they all get on and can fit in one house for Christmas dinner.

The only other people that I respect more are those who have chosen to adopt. Seriously, wow. You people rock.

On a side note, I see that there are now more 'happy surprises' in women over the age of 35 than under 20. Apparently we've all been told for so long that our fertility drops off quickly after 35 that many women assume that they've reached the menopause in their mid-thirties. Whoops. Many women will fall pregnant within one year of coming off contraception, between the ages of 35-40. Also it seems you're more likely to have twins as you get older. All good fun.

There, I told you that there was no point to this.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Lunch by the sea

 A challenge to write a story which includes the words: a teacher - grizzled - crime of passion - restaurant - magic beans


He sat at his favourite table by the window. He could see the waves lapping the shore and people and dogs strolling past. It was a sunny spring day.

"Are you ready to order?" Asked a young waitress wearing a black apron.

"Yes please."

Ben glanced at the menu.

"Could I have a jacket potato with beans and cheese. And a large cappuccino."


Ben resumed staring out of the window. He loved this part of the world - he'd always come here on Summer holidays with his parents when he was a child.

He looked up when he heard a baby grumbling at the next table. Her mother was trying to feed her a rusk but she was having none of it. She moaned and grizzled some more, pushing the biscuit away with a scowl.

"I give up." Said the mum, to no-one in particular.

Then she caught Ben's eye.

"Do you have any?" She asked.

"Me... on no. Well, that is, I have a class-full of them, but none of my own."

"Oh, you're a teacher." She smiled. "That must be hard work. What year do you teach?"

"Year 8. They are great kids but sometimes I just want to..."

"I know exactly what you mean," she replied, taking a knife out of the grumpy baby's hand. "So, how come you're not in class now?"

"Oh, well... I'm actually off sick at the moment. With stress. I came here for a break; I'm not local."

"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to pry." She replied.

"No problem. I'm here for two weeks and I've been to this restaurant a few times now. I love the view." He said.

"Yes, it's good isn't it?" She was now trying to feed the baby a bottle, to no avail. She gave up and enjoyed her panini instead.

"Here you are sir." The waitress placed his lunch and coffee on the table. "Enjoy."

"Thank you." Ben tucked into the meal. It was delicious.

An old couple entered the restaurant and sat at a table next to his.

"Enjoying your lunch?" Asked the man.

"Yes thanks." Ben replied.

"Good. Those are magic beans, you know."  

"Sorry?" Asked Ben.

"Magic beans. This is the place that Doris and I came to on our first date. We both had jackets with beans too. And they obviously worked because she fell madly in love with me and here we are today celebrating our 10th anniversary."

"Oh wow. congratulations!" Grinned Ben.

Doris said "Maybe you'll fall in love too. Are you single?"

"Oh, yes. Yes I am - currently. I was recently divorced."

"Oh I'm sorry to hear that dear. I lost my first husband to cancer. But good things can happen when you least expect." She gazed into her husband's eyes.

Ben noticed that they were still holding hands.

The waitress asked for their order and they also went for jackets with cheese and beans.

"And two glasses of your finest red wine please Miss." Asked the gentleman.

Ben finished his meal and took out his book. One good thing about being signed off was that he didn't have to think about work. He could sit and read his novel all day.

He ordered another cappuccino.

The elderly couple started their meal and clinked wine glasses.  


"Oh dear!"

Doris' wine glass broke and red liquid ran dramatically down her arm and onto her blouse.

"Are you ok?" Asked Ben, jumping up and mopping up some of the wine with a napkin.

"I am fine thank you dear," she replied.

Her shirt was ruined. It looked like she'd been stabbed.

"I suppose you could call it a crime of passion." Laughed her husband.

The waitress ran over with wipes and offered the couple a free meal, which they accepted.

Drama over, Ben returned to his book. He sipped his coffee and glanced at the view again. The sun was dancing over the waves and the seagulls shrieked at each other.
Today was a good day.

Where did you meet?

I'm not usually this mawkish, so please forgive me. I blame my lack of sleep.

In the film We bought a zoo (based on the autobiographical book by Benjamin Mee) the father tells his kids about how he and their mum first met. It was in a cafe, incidentally. The scene is especially emotional because their mother died only a few months before.

This made me think about how my husband and I met. In case you're interested, it was in a grubby low-ceilinged pub at our local football ground. It was where our church used to meet before we could afford our own building. He was the first person at the church to talk to me so I thought I'd marry him. That's a joke.

Where did you meet your other half?

I had never thought of showing our children where we met, but as the father played by Matt Damon says in the movie, it's a part of their story. My son and husband actually regularly visit (although not that room) because they have season tickets to football. But I haven't seen inside that room since our church moved buildings.  Maybe we'll all go and visit one day.

If you have children, have you spoken to them about where you and your spouse met? It might be geeky but it's part of their story before their story, so that's pretty cool.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Let kids be kids

So Ofsted has said that the Early Years education system is  failing children, and all nurseries should have sit-down formal teacher-lead lessons from the age of 3. Also they would like all children to attend school from 8am-6pm every week day.

Apparently 'the rot sets in early' and two thirds of the poorest children start school unprepared - for example they can't hold pens, hold conversations or even use the toilet.

Are kids not allowed to be kids anymore? What about the benefits of play? What about occasionally spending time with their parents? Or should family time be relegated to weekends? Actually, having care of a child for two whole days in a row is a bit much to ask of modern parents - let's send them to school on Saturdays as well. Then those teachers can teach them more manners and discipline and solve all their social problems as well as getting them ready for university aged 5.

Any why is being poor causing problems for children's education anyway? All it takes to be prepared for school is a parent or grandparent who sometimes speaks to their child; sometimes reads them bedtime stories; sometimes plays imagination games with them and takes them for a walk to the park. Feeding them and potty training them and giving them some boundaries helps too. None of these activities costs anything, besides the food. Is this too much to ask of parents?

Also who will pay for all this extra teacher training for nursery school teachers and all the extra hours for all teachers?

Why is it suddenly the fault of the nurseries and schools? I think it's time that parents realised that they are the ones responsible for their kids, not the state or the poor overloaded teachers.

When you have children, surely you realise that you will have extra time and financial commitments? If you can't cope with looking after a young child (you're just too busy to talk to them or play with them) or you really do need to work all the hours under the sun just to put some basic food on your table, maybe you shouldn't have kids. Actually, the benefits system helps with this anyway, so there's no reason your child or you should go hungry.

It may be your 'right' to have a child, but it comes with a heck of a lot of long-term responsibility.

Stop blaming the schools and nurseries. Keeping young children cooped up in a formal school environment for every minute of the day is not going to make well rounded, happy children. Children learn by playing - it's been proven many times. They also become happier and more intelligent by being loved and being paid attention - this is something that families should do from their first day- not leave it to the education system to sort out a few years later.

Let's treat kids like kids again, instead of Human Resources.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The princess and the pixies

Once upon a time there was a princess called Jewel. She had sparkling blue eyes and long brown hair that reached all the way to her ankles. Jewel could not sleep at night unless there were seven mattresses filled with down on her bed. Down is tiny feathers. One morning, Jewel woke up from a particularly bad night's sleep.  She climbed out of bed using her golden ladder (the mattresses were very thick) and walked into the dining room which was set for breakfast. Her parents and sister were already there, eating chocolate croissants with fried egg, and drinking decaff espressos.

"Good morning," said her Mum the Queen "How did you sleep?"

"Terribly," replied Jewel as she sat down at the table, "I couldn't get comfortable all night."

"Oh no! Why not?" Asked her mum.

Mergatroyd the maid served Jewel her breakfast.

"I don't know. It felt like I was sleeping on glass. Then when I turned over it was like I was lying on rusty nails." Grumbled the princess.

"On my great-Aunt Petunia!" Exclaimed the Queen.

"Yes." Agreed Jewel.

Jewel tried to eat her breakfast, but just couldn't enjoy it what with the tiredness.

"Have you tried checking to see if there really was glass or rusty nails underneath your mattresses?" Asked her sister, Princess Grace.

"No, I didn't think of that," replied Jewel, "I will have a look after breakfast."

"Maybe it was the pixies." Announced the King.

"What?" Asked Jewel.

"The pixies. They live in the woods and like to cause havoc  when the mood strikes them." Answered her dad.

He poured himself another espresso and stirred in some honey.

"Are you joking?" Wondered Jewel.

"Pixies don't exist." Said the Queen.

"Please pass the ketchup." Asked Grace.

The King passed his daughter the ketchup- she couldn't eat croissants without them.

"I don't make jokes." Said the King. "I ran into some when I was a child. They are very small and exceptionally mischievous."

"What does mischievous mean?" Asked Princess Grace.

"Maliciously or playfully annoying. Harmful or injurious." Replied her dad.

He enjoyed reading the dictionary.

"I must go to a very important meeting with the Pope, some MPs and Will-i-am." Announced the King as he folded his newspaper and kissed his family goodbye.

"Well, who'd have thought?" Mused the Queen. "Pixies are real?"

"Why would they be so horrible to me though?" Asked Jewel sadly.

"They just don't like children," said Grace, "don't you know anything?"

"How do you know so much about pixies?" Asked her mother.

"I read the Faerie Times." Replied the princess.

The family finished their breakfast and Jewel returned to her bedroom, with Grace following to help. If this was the pixies' fault, she would teach them a lesson they'd never forget.

The princesses checked underneath the bottom mattress - wow, it was heavy. Nothing there. Underneath the second mattress, there was nothing.

"Maybe you just had a bad dream." Said Grace as they took a breather.

"No, I know that I felt something!" Insisted her older sister.

They checked underneath the third mattress. Jewel stretched her hand as far as it would go. Aha! She felt something.

"I can feel something here, Grace, Try to keep the mattress up on your side."

She pulled it slowly towards her - being cautious as she didn't want to accidently cut her hand on the glass or whatever the offending object was.

"What is it?" Asked Grace as the item appeared.

Jewel held it carefully in her hand.

"It looks like a flower. A tiny flower." Jewel marvelled.

The flower was blood red and about the size of her fingernail.

"That is what made you sleep badly all night?" Wondered Grace. "I'm surprised that you even felt it!"

"It is pretty small isn't it?" Agreed her sister.

"I think we should show Mummy." Suggested Grace.


Suddenly  the flower melted. Just as though it was made of ice. All that was left was a tiny crimson drop in the princess' hand.

"Oh no. It must've been magic." Whispered Jewel.

"It must have been the pixies! What are we going to do now?" Asked Grace.

"We'll have to speak to them." Said Jewel. "I need to find out why they did this."

Grace nodded sagely. She agreed that it was the only way to resolve the issue.

"How are you going to find them though?" She asked.

"I will have to stay awake tonight and catch them when they come back." Replied Jewel.

"What if they don't return? And what if you fall asleep?" Asked the younger princess.

"They are sure to come back. For some reason they have decided to play a nasty trick on me, and they won't be happy that I've stopped their fun."

"Ok... but how will you stay awake until midnight?"

Midnight is the time when pixies are known to perform their mischief, as any reader of the Faerie Times will tell you.

"Coffee. Lots of coffee." Replied Jewel.

And so Princess Jewel spend the rest of the day drinking espressos. She was determined to have a word with those naughty pixies that very night. At bedtime, Jewel kissed her parents and sister goodnight and went to bed. But she didn't fall asleep. On no. She has drunk enough coffee to keep a large elephant awake during Question Time. There was no way that she was going to get any sleep that night.

As midnight approached, Jewel put down her Rubrics' Cube, switched off her torch and pretended to be asleep. Soon she heard a  little shuffling and the tippa-tappa of tiny feet - if she didn't know any better, she'd think it was a mouse doing a tap-dance.

She kept her eyes firmly shut and her ears firmly open. She could just make out the pixies whispering to each other. There was definitely a male and a female voice.

"What's the Human done with our flower then?" Asked the female voice.

"I guess she found it. It would've melted on her warm skin, of course." Answered the male.

"Typical Human- causing problems. Just as well we have lots of spares."

"Yes. Small Humans in the olden days used to behave themselves. They would never be bold enough to mess with the proud Pixie people."

"I blame the parents. Now, which mattress should this one go under?" Asked the female.

"Bottom one this time. She'll still sleep badly. Tee hee." Giggled the male.

Jewel felt her bed move ever-so-slightly as the pixie placed one of their magical flowers under the bottom mattress. She thought that they must be extremely strong. Now was her chance. She switched on her torch and climbed quickly down her ladder.

"Oi! I've caught you!" She shouted to the startled magical creatures.

They both froze in fear. They were smaller than Jewel had imagined, only about the size of a guinea-pig. They wore funny hats and shiny boots. They both had pointy ears and noses.

"Why are you playing this trick on me?" The princess demanded. "What have I ever done to deserve this?"

"Well, um, that is. Do you know who we are?" Asked the male pixie.

"Yes of course! You're pixies. I'm not stupid."

"Ah, well then you know that that's just what we do. Be naughty, I mean. It's kind of our job."

"You mean to say that your job is to pick on innocent children?" Asked Jewel.

"Yes," replied the female pixie. "We have done it for hundreds of years. It's our proud tradition."

"Oh." Responded the princess. She wasn't sure what else to say.

"What's your job?" Enquired the male pixie.

"My job? I don't have a job!" Replied Jewel incredulously. "I just have to play, and eat, and be a kid. Oh, and go to school."

"Lucky you. If we aren't mischievous, we are cast out of pixie society. We would be shamed for life." Said the female.

"Oh, I see. So you have to pick on children?"

"Yes, that's what I'm saying."

"But why me?" Jewel wondered.

"Why not you?"

The princess didn't have an answer to that. She thought for a few moments. Then she had an idea.

"Why don't you just pretend to play tricks on children?" She suggested.


"Yes, you know: make-believe. Sneak out every night and pretend to pick on kids, but don't. Maybe put your naughty flowers in a goose's nest instead." Replied the princess.

"A goose's nest?" Laughed the pixies.

"Yes. I've never liked geese. They are loud and they hiss and they are a bit scary."

"Oh, ok. Well, I don't see why not." Replied the male pixie.

"We could certainly give it a try." Agreed the female.

And so that night, Princess Jewel did a favour for children around the world - she saved their sleep. From that night on, those two pixies picked on geese instead of kids. And so if you had a good night's sleep last night, say a quick thank you to Jewel.

And if you are a sleep-deprived goose, well, sorry. Maybe if you weren't so annoying then the princess would have suggested that the pixies pick on magpies instead. Or maybe pigeons.



The End

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Naughty cat

I made a hot cup of tea.

Naughty cat jumped up

and had a drink.

Slurp slurp slurp.

"Bleurgh!" Spat Naughty cat.

"This tea is too hot for me."


So I made a luke-warm cup of tea.

Naughty cat jumped up

and had a drink.

Slurp slurp slurp.

"Yuck!" Moaned Naughty cat.

"This tea is too cold for me."


So I made a milky cup of tea.

Naughty cat jumped up

and had a drink.

Slurp slurp slurp.

"Delicious!" Meowed Naughty cat.

"This tea is perfect for me."


So he drank all of my tea.


I made a cup of tea

and added a bit of milk and one sugar.

I had a drink.

Sip sip sip.

"Ahh." I sighed.

"This tea is just right for me."


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Yellow duck

I ran a hot bath.

The yellow duck

Jumped in.

Splish splash splosh.

'Ow! That's too hot!' he shouted

And jumped out.


I let the water out.

I ran a cool bath.

The yellow duck

Jumped in.

Splish splash splosh.

'Yikes!' He yelled. 'That's freezing!'

And jumped out.


I let the water out.

I ran a luke-warm bath.

The yellow duck

Jumped in.

Splish splash splosh.

'Ah!' He quacked.

'That's just right.'


He swam around:



Three times.

'I'm dizzy.'

He moaned

And jumped out.


I gave yellow duck

A cosy towel.

He snuggled in

With glee.

'Thank you.' 

He quacked to me.


I ran a bubbly bath

And got in.

Bubbles bubbles bubbles.


Just right.


The yellow duck

Jumped in.

'Get out!'

I demanded.

'This is my bath.'
He jumped out.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Mascot day at Swindon Town FC

My son Connor was recently a mascot at STFC as a birthday present. George and Brenda Chadwick have been hosting mascots at the County Ground for 35 years. They are a lovely couple and made us all feel welcome. We started the day by having a tour around the stadium. I didn't find this part particularly exciting, but did like the trophy cabinet. There was a cool replica statue of Romulus and Remus (from the Roman foundation myth) nursing from a she-wolf (Lupa), which I especially liked.

Connor enjoyed getting autographs from the players on a football. All of the players were friendly and the kids (mascots and friends) obviously enjoyed meeting them. I couldn't help thinking how young the players all are. One of them (Pritchard) is about the height of my 8-year-old. We saw the opposition (MK Dons) changing room and the Swindon changing room. There was also a small room which held the disjointed corpse of Rockin' Robin. Thankfully it turned out not to be his corpse - it is apparently a costume, so there was no need to call the RSPCA. None of the kids seemed to be traumatised.

We also met the manager, Mark Cooper, who was good at talking to the kids. He presented them all with a certificate. My husband Mike said that he had been a mascot back in the 1980s, and, as if on cue, the goalkeeper on that day, Fraser Digby, appeared. There was a nice feeling of family tradition. We then had a three course lunch. The boys were allowed to eat the same posh food as the adults. They all spurned that and went for chicken and chips.

Soon the mascots went off to change and go to play kick-about on the pitch before the game. Rockin' Robin joined them in his usual refined way. I was allowed to go onto the pitch and take photos. Later the boys ran on with the team. This was definitely a highlight for Connor - he came on with Nathan Thompson.

We then went into the posh seats to enjoy the game. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the game. Unfortunately we was robbed but it was a game of two halves, as they say.

After the game, man of the match Troy Archibald-Henville joined us in the Sponsors Suite and posed for photos with the mascots.

I had a good day and am not even a football fan. Highly recommended.