Post in association with Coca-Cola Great Britain

Belle has been on her summer holidays now for ooh, I don’t know, about two years?

It feels like it anyway.

She had her last GCSE exam on the 19th of June and since then she’s been at home, mainly asleep, or at least during the hours that I’m awake. Either that or she’s watching TV or playing on her phone.

Part of me knows that it’s been a tough year or so for her, and if she wants to lie about doing not much for a couple of months then it’s probably fine. The other part of me does try to get her to think of other things to do sometimes, and encourage her to perhaps even leave the house occasionally.

(After spending an hour in the garden making the cat tubs below her skin was so shocked that she came out in loads of freckles the next day!!)

When she was younger Belle loved crafts, (remember the wall mounted make-up brush station we made out of old jam jars?), and if you catch her in the right mood and call it a ‘life hack’ she’s still quite keen. The last year of school has definitely been a drain on her emotionally and I wanted to come up with some activities that might kick-start her creativity.

As the second part of our project with Coca-Cola Great Britain, which is all about keeping plastic off the streets and out of the oceans by making recycling creative and fun for families, I thought I’d get Belle to have a go at some plastic bottle upcycling activities. We recently took part in a beach clean, which was meant to get us both thinking more about the consequences of not taking care of our waste, so this challenge was about putting those empty bottles to better use.

Coca-Cola is always looking for new ways to encourage people to recycle more plastic bottles, but that doesn’t necessarily have to mean just bunging them in your recycling boxes – it could be turning them into something new at home. When you re-purpose your old plastic bottles you can do your bit for the planet and have a bit of cheap family fun at the same time. Winner winner chicken dinner.

We did some research online and had a go at four cool plastic bottle upcycling ideas – four fun ways to use your empty plastic bottles that are particularly suited to teenagers. (Belle made all of these projects herself.) Hopefully this will give you the inspiration you need to think about those empty plastic bottles in a new way, and have some fun together over the summer as a family.

Kitty cat storage pots

You may not have picked it up from the hundreds of posts on my social media accounts about my cats, but I have a bit of a soft spot for kitties. When I saw some pictures online of plastic bottles that had been turned into cute little cat tubs, well, it was meant to be.

plastic bottle cat tubs View Post

Okay, so not yet, but you can pre-order it from Amazon as of right now, which totally counts.

Now I know they say you should never judge a book by its cover but at the moment that’s all I can show you, so you’ll just have to. Here it is. Judge away:

Playgroups and prosecco book

Note MY NAME on the front, casually next to that little penguin.

*humble brag*

The title definitely isn’t an excuse for me to drink prosecco every time I mention it or do a book signing or interview or anything like that. (Do you think I will get to do book signings and interviews? That would be cool.)

I’d like to say that it has always been a burning ambition to write a novel and that this is the result of years of hard work, but that would be only half true. The hard work bit maybe, as without having put all this effort into my blog the publishers would never have found me, but aside from that thing I wrote about the camel, I’ve not really ever written fiction. View Post

Camp Bestival was a bit of an odd one for me this year.

It’s been one of our favourite festivals since we went the very first year it opened and it was pretty much contained in two fields, but this year was the first time we’ve been where Belle has been old enough to hang out on her own. We took her friend Ella with us and basically I got to see them first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and the rest of the time I was forbidden for looking like I knew them outside the tent.

We kept in touch by phone and at intervals during the day I was allowed to meet up with them briefly to do things like bring them jumpers, but the rest of the time I was on my own. I did have ‘go to a festival on my own’ on my list of 40 things I wanted to do before I was 40, but given the amount of time I spent at Camp Bestival trying not to cry when I looked at babies, it’s probably not something I’d be in a rush to repeat.

That said, I did have a good time overall. It was nice being able to do things like have a gong bath without someone complaining about being bored, and I was grateful for not having to watch Mr Tumble. I got to listen to quite a few talks in the literary tent, which I wouldn’t be allowed near with Belle in tow, and it was there that I watched Rick Astley doing some impromptu karaoke.

I also spotted Mary Berry eating some chops.

I know Belle and Ella had a brilliant time too, even though they DID watch Mr Tumble. Fortunately all of the acts they really wanted to see were on the Saturday evening, so it didn’t even matter that Sunday was cancelled due to the bad weather. They were proper fans, standing at the barrier of the main stage from about 5pm through until the end – around 11pm. By this point I think their bladders were teetering on the brink and Ella was shivering quite hard, but they stuck it out.

I on the other hand made myself a little camp on a blanket slightly further back, alone with my thoughts and a plastic bottle of wine. It was pretty classy.

Declan McKenna was really the guy that Belle went to see, and he was really very good live indeed. Clean Bandit were ace too and I really enjoyed Dodie, although she made me feel old as I kept getting muddled up and referring to her in my head as Dido who, according to Wikipedia, is now 46 and had her debut album in the previous century. God.

I even surprised myself by enjoying Max and Harvey, who are probably a little young for my musical tastes, but this is what happens when you let your 15 year old be in charge of in car music choices. They were such sweethearts – full of positive energy and enthusiasm. The highlight there though may have been Belle’s face a couple of days ago when I showed her that they had followed me on Twitter.

You see Belle? You see how COOL I AM??

Camp Bestival may have been a slightly different experience for me this year but I still rate it massively as a family festival. If you’ve never been to a festival before and want to try something kid friendly then Camp Bestival would be a great place to start.

Camp Bestival review View Post

In association with Unite Students

I never had the opportunity to GO to university in the traditional sense.

I mean sure, I WENT – I got the degree and everything – but I already had a two year old, (teenage pregnancy and all that), so I didn’t ever do that whole ‘pack all your belongings into the back of a Nissan Micra and spend three years living in a shared house on pizza and cheap beer’ thing. I did share a house, technically, but it was with Bee, and she was too small to drink beer and we didn’t have enough money for takeaway.

From day one then, my ‘university essentials’ have been ‘an entire small two bedroom house full of things you need for a family.’

I got on with it though, it was all good.

What it does mean though, is that I had to put a little extra thought into helping Bee to make that leap from home to university, as I knew that I hadn’t had the typical experience myself and so wasn’t sure entirely what she should expect. With Belle too, if she decides that’s what she wants to do, it’s going to be a massive step, especially given how difficult she has found school over the last couple of years.

She wouldn’t be alone in feeling anxious about it though.

According to a report from Unite, 61% of students feel anxious about making the leap from school to university and only 9% –  less than one in ten – say it closely matched their expectations. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it, but either way we’re clearly not prepared.

The worry is perhaps not surprising given the apparent lack of information and advice from parents – 77% of 16-19 year olds heading off to university said they hadn’t been given advice on sex or mental health, 72% hadn’t had advice about relationships and 66% were in the dark about drugs.

I find that pretty shocking, don’t you?

I’m not saying I would do a big sit down ‘this is what you need to know’ type talk before they packed up the Micra, but they’re such important topics, surely they’re an ongoing conversation with young people, whether or not they go to university?

We do seem to do a bit better on the practical side.

66% of 16-19 say they’ve been given advice on things like cooking and money management, although even then, that’s a third of students going in with nothing? Throw in stats like 55% of parents not thinking their child will be able to cook a meal from scratch, and you can’t help but wonder if there is room for improvement here.

Would you feel confident in your teenager’s basic cooking skills? Could they whip up something more impressive that a massive bowl of cereal?

As a bit of an experiment, I thought it might be fun to test out just how prepared Belle might be on a practical level by gathering a few university essentials. View Post

Over the last few years I’ve started doing this thing whenever I travel anywhere of bringing Bee back some local currency as a present. (I buy myself tasteless fridge magnets, but that’s probably a whole post in of itself – a treat for another day.) Not only does this tradition mean I have a useful thing to do with leftover holiday money, but it also means that I am technically giving her cash, which she always likes.

(She has from time to time, when things have got desperate, thought about exchanging it all for pounds, but I think she’s been disappointed by the value of her Vietnamese Dong.)

compare foreign exchange rates

Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

Although this is a very lovely and thoughtful gift, it’s undermined by the fact that my approach to travel money generally is a bit backwards. In my head, people who order foreign currency in advance for trips are OLD PEOPLE who are just overthinking things. ‘Look at me,’ I think to myself, ‘getting cash out at an ATM and casually paying for things abroad on my card like a pro-traveller.’ Then I get home and realise that my bank charges me a fee AND a percentage on all non-sterling transactions and I realise what a doofus I am.

And then I forget about it until the next time I go abroad and the VERY SAME THING happens all over again.  If I ever do think to buy foreign currency in advance then I just go into the post office because I really don’t know how it works otherwise. Thinking about it I really don’t know where the cocky attitude has come from as I am clearly RUBBISH at the whole thing. View Post

Now don’t get me wrong, I rate Camp Bestival massively as a festival in of itself for families. It’s ace.

But when you go with teenagers and they don’t want to hang out with you and you’re forced to strike up creepy sounding conversations with seven year olds in toilet queues about their Max and Harvey VIP lanyards, well, let’s just say it’s a different kind of experience from when I first went over ten years ago.

I’ve never been ‘maternal’ in the traditional sense. I’ve never longed for children and not had them. I’ve always joked about how annoying children are generally and how they cramp your style when you want to do fun things like go to pubs/sit in silence/not hang out with children.

And then they grow up and you think ‘oh right. Only hang on a minute because actually you were pretty cute.’

I walked around Camp Bestival by myself for two days and all I saw were happy families. And yes I know that that wasn’t actually what I saw but that’s what it felt like. I saw wives looking chilly and husbands fetching them fleeces. I saw dads pushing babies in wagons and mums dancing with toddlers. I don’t know what was the matter with me to be honest. When I got the chance on Friday night to hang out with a friend with a one year old I offered to carry her and danced with her and sneakily kissed her on the head when no one was looking.

I was like a 37 year old single women with no children and a ticking biological clock. View Post