Birmingham Christmas markets

I love a good Christmas market.

I’ve been to a fair few – Bristol, Bath, Edinburgh, Bruges even – and one of the things I love is that actually, wherever you go, you get vaguely the same loop of bratwurst, Russian dolls, furry hats, handcrafted wooden candlesticks and weird wine bottle holders made out of metal. There’s something comforting in the familiar, like visiting a National Trust property anywhere in the country and knowing you can bank on a nice cup of tea and lavender soaps in the gift shop.

Bruges Christmas market

Bruges Christmas market

In 2010 I went to Birmingham Christmas market. I had only recently met my boyfriend at the time – he was a student there – and we (or me at least, I’m not sure it’s something everyone does…) were in that exciting yet awkward phase of trying to do and say everything you think the other person would like, meaning that neither of you ever make a decision about anything.*

“Shall we go to the Christmas market?”

“I don’t mind. Do you want to?”

“Sure, if you do?”

That sort of thing.

We did eventually get there and it was really lovely. There is always something magical about being out in the dark, Christmas lights twinkling everywhere you look, crowds of people laughing, scoffing their bratwurst and chugging back the mulled wine. The smells of a Christmas market are glorious – food cooking, festive spices brewing – it captures the very essence of Christmas.

TOP TIP: If you do fancy a trip to Birmingham Christmas market I would recommend treating yourself to a nice Birmingham hotel rather than staying in a student house in Selly Oak where central heating is considered an unnecessary luxury.

The downside of Birmingham, in my experience at least, is that it can get very busy. We did end up in one of those shoulder to shoulder situations at times, where you can’t really look at anything as you are just trying to walk upright and not slosh your tepid mulled wine over anyone. If you fancy a bit of a quieter location for your Christmas shopping, you could try staying in Coventry instead.

Same bratwurst, shorter queues.

Do you have a favourite Christmas market?

Bee in Bruges at Christmas

Bee in Bruges

*I have to confess that I probably don’t grow out of this as a relationship grows. Something to talk to the therapist about.

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The one where I lose my patience with the world of PR

I know that it’s part of your job description if you work in PR to be as annoying and over friendly as possible, and mostly I am tolerant of this, but today I just couldn’t be doing with it. Seriously, if you send me an email today that begins ‘Hello lovely!’ please don’t expect me to respond with anything other than a punch to the face.

The email that sent me over the edge this morning went like this:

“Hi there,

I hope all is well with you! I’m already one flat white down this morning. Might go for a second coffee but I fear the jitters!

I wanted to share a lovely bit o’ content with you from the weekend…”

Ha ha! Coffee jokes! Now we are best chums right? Oh no, hang on, we’re not, because I don’t know who you are and you haven’t even used my name.

And ‘a lovely bit o’ content’?? What even is that??

I literally had no words, so as a reply I just sent this:

Annoying PRsSometimes people just need to be told.

Tesco announce the shortlist for the Mum of the Year Awards 2015

Regular readers will know that this is the third year now that I’ve been involved in the Tesco Mum of the Year Awards.

Every year it is an absolute joy to follow the journeys of the inspirational women who are doing remarkable things to improve the lives of others. It’s a bit of an annual wake up call for me; a reminder that there is a lot more to life than posting funny pictures on Twitter and complaining about ridiculous things like having to walk all the way upstairs to get my phone charger.

(Although this picture that I posted today is very funny.)

The shortlist for the Tesco Mum of the Year Awards has been announced this week – 26 incredible women chosen from literally thousands, 26 women who have made a difference to their communities.

Tesco Mum of the Year Awards 2015To mark the fact that 2015 is the 10th anniversary of the awards, Tesco is donating £1,000 to a charity of each shortlisted mum’s choice. Since the Awards began in 2006, Tesco has helped over 80 mums raise the profiles of their charities and causes.

I will be following the awards and am already looking forward to the winners being announced early next year. In the meantime I’m going to try and think of these women the next time I leave my phone charge upstairs.

Disclosure: I am a blogger ambassador for the Tesco Mum of the Year Awards.

REVIEW: Hudl 2 from Tesco

This review is from my very favourite 19 year old daughter Bee.

Hudl 2

I recently received the new Hudl 2 to review.

“What is a Hudl 2?!”, you’re all thinking, “is it something to do with penguins? Or rugby? Big, burly rugby playing penguins?”

The Hudl 2 is actually the brand new tablet bought to you by the makers of my favourite thing, Pink Doughnuts…

Tesco!

I was obviously not that enthusiastic about it when I originally accepted the offer because it isn’t a tablet made by one of those big tablet making companies so I assumed it would be a bit lame. The information said it was £129 and was great for families with kids, so it sounded like the sort of thing that would keep kids entertained and let frazzled mothers do their online grocery shopping with the touch of a button, but that would be about it. Read more

4 things not to do after an accident

I’m trying hard but I can’t think of a time when I had an accident that wasn’t my fault.

When I first moved to Bristol I had a car accident where I managed to write off three cars, including one parked on an Avis forecourt, but that definitely was my fault. I wasn’t really having a very good day and I sort of forgot that I was driving around a dual carriageway/one way system. Still, on the plus side, I did help Belle tick off one of the things on her bucket list that day.

“I always wanted to be in a car accident,” she told me, “but I always imagined it would be the last thing I’d tick off because I’d be dead.”

I was pleased then to have been able to involve her in a non-fatal car accident. A proud parenting moment indeed.

Car accident

Read more

3 top tips for first year university students

I never really went to university.

I mean I went – I have a degree and everything – it’s just that I didn’t go in the sense of moving into halls, staying up all night playing drinking games, sleeping all day and generally dossing about eating pizza. (That’s what students do right?). I lived in a little house with my toddler, Bee, drove in for lectures and went to bed at a sensible time. Drinking games with a two year old are generally frowned upon.

Said toddler is now in her second year at university and has gone in the proper sense. She lives in halls near Waterloo, with a lovely view of the London skyline, and I’m sure eats less fresh fruit than she should. She is doing an amazing job of living on her own in a big city and is working really hard on her course too – I am full of pride and admiration for her. Well done Bee.

Not having had the full student experience myself then, I turned to Bee’s instagram feed for some inspiration to help me come up with some top tips for students. Here’s what I picked up:

Make the most of wherever you are

The temptation I’m sure is to spend as much time as possible asleep or in a Wetherspoon’s but don’t! Any decent university city is going to have a lot to offer culturally and you may very well look back in ten or twenty years time and wish you’d made more of the opportunities on your doorstep.

London skyline Read more

What will you do if trick or treaters knock on your door?

I remember one particularly ill-prepared Halloween; I had forgotten completely that it was October 31st and the house was definitely not well-stocked with suitably spooky sweet treats. Blissfully unaware of the ghouls that would be waiting for me, I happily opened the door when the doorbell rung.

Fortunately it was one of those groups of pre-teens who see Halloween as an excuse to wear a black coat and hassle vulnerable people for sweets rather than a collection of adorable five year old witches, so I didn’t feel so bad when I came back from my rummaging in the kitchen with a handful of apples. They did not look like the sort of children who considered fruit a ‘treat’.

Still, at least I made the effort to give them something. According to a recent survey from Webloyalty, over half of you aren’t going to even open the door. Worse than that, there are a small proportion of people who will actually open the door, get their visitors’ hopes up and then crossly send them away! Shame on you.

Alongside their extensive research into the nation’s Halloween plans, Webloyalty has produced this fun animation highlighting some of the most interesting findings.

I’d love to know what your plans are for Halloween. Will you be thoughtfully carving a pumpkin and fashioning yourself a hand-crafted costume or will you be of the 50+% of people closing the curtains tight and pretending not to be home?

This year I’ve decided I’m definitely going to be better prepared. I’ve bought apples and bananas.

Don’t forget – you still have until Monday to enter Webloyalty’s quick competition to win £50 to spend on Halloween fancy dress so go and enter now!

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COMPETITION: Win a fabulous family roast dinner with Mash Direct – £50 Asda voucher + yummy veg up for grabs

There are a lot of things that I’ve inherited from my mother. These include:

  • A low threshold for boredom
  • Crumbly teeth
  • A tendency to eat too much butter and cheese
  • A habit of putting ‘My Friend’ before people’s names when talking about them to other people, even though the person I am talking to knows them well. E.g ‘I went out my My Friend Andrea at the weekend’.

Aside from all of these charming attributes, I have also been blessed with the ability to whip up a delicious roast dinner. You can’t beat a roast can you? Mountains of vegetables, (ideally covered in a cheese sauce – see point three above), bread sauce, gravy, a big glass of wine; I am salivating as a type.

If you feel in anyway as passionately about roast dinners as I do then this competition is for you. It’s brought to you by a Northern Irish company called Mash Direct. Mash Direct grows delicious vegetables and gently steam cooks them immediately after harvesting to ensure unrivalled freshness of flavour as well as texture, whilst retaining their natural nutritional benefits. They are gluten-free and free from artificial flavourings, preservatives and colourings so a great brand to introduce to children to help ensure they eat their veg! Read more

Easy chicken tikka masala recipe – celebrating #nationalcurryweek with a little help from The Spice Tailor

chicken tikka masala

I love a curry. Poppadoms, naan, that minty dip thing that I never know the name of that you always get in a tiny pot when you order takeaway – I love it all. As it’s National Curry Week then it would be positively remiss of me not to whip up a delicious spicy feast.

Fortunately, I recently discovered The Spice Tailor curry sauces, so rather than having to spend ages grinding things in a mortar and pestle or trekking to a specialist supermarket for spices I can have a chicken tikka masala ready in about 15 minutes – a proper one that doesn’t taste like it’s full of sugar and just came out of a jar. Read more

Discover fear with Thorpe Park’s Friday Fright Nights

Fancy the idea of being trapped in the dark in a terrifying SAW inspired maze?

No, me neither to be honest. I’m much more of a Sweet Home Alabama kind of girl. I actually sometimes find it a bit too scary to watch Inspector Morse on my own and then don’t like to go to the toilet in case someone is hiding behind the shower curtain.

I know that lots of people do get their kicks from all things horror though, so in my role as a Thorpe Park Blogger Ambassador it is my duty to inform you that as well as all of the regular rollercoaster and Shark Hotel funtimes you can enjoy at the resort, there are also these very scary Friday nights happening until early November.

Look away now if your idea of frightening is not knowing whether or not Reese Witherspoon will get Bruiser’s Bill passed in Legally Blond 2.

Find out more about Fright Nights and book your tickets now.

Disclosure: We are Thorpe Park ambassadors. We have received Merlin annual passes in return for sharing our news and views but all opinions are my own.