Sponsored post in association with DEFRA

Last week I went to some of my favourite nearby gardens, where they also happen to have some chickens. After some searching online, I think they are Golden Sebright chickens, one of the oldest British bantam breeds. Apparently, they were the first poultry breed to have its own specialist club for enthusiasts, and are a largely ornamental chicken. They lay tiny white eggs and are too small to be kept for meat.

I have a lot of respect for a largely ornamental chicken. It’s kind of sassy to say ‘you know, I’m not much use for anything other than being pretty, but keep me anyway.’

Golden sebright chicken

And to be fair to them, they ARE beautiful. I hung out with them for a little while, and they were full of personality.

If I didn’t have three cats and an excitable dog, I could see myself as a backyard chicken kind of a woman. I would go out and sit with them and let them climb into my jumper for a hug and we’d probably chat about our hopes and dreams and boys.

In this post though I want to talk to you about an issue that is impacting backyard bird owners throughout the UK. It’s not ‘which jumper is best to cuddle your chickens in’ – it’s bird flu.

What is bird flu and why do we need to know about it?

Avian influenza, more typically called bird flu, is a disease affecting birds in the poultry industry, backyard birds and wild birds alike. It’s normally a winter disease, peaking between December and February, but in 2022, for the first time ever, there were cases found in wild birds during the summer.

Although there is a very low human health risk associated with bird flu, it can be very harmful to bird populations as well as natural biodiversity more generally. We’re currently experiencing the biggest outbreak of bird flu that we’ve ever seen in the UK and it’s vital that all bird owners understand what they need to do to protect both their own birds and the wider bird population, no matter how few birds they keep.

It’s definitely not all doom and gloom though, and as a bird owner there’s plenty of guidance available to help you. To help keep bird flu under control, a UK-wide Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) was introduced in October 2022. The AIPZ made it a legal requirement for all bird owners to follow some simple rules around biosecurity, including: View Post

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I remember getting a TV in my bedroom for the first time in my teens. I think it must have been from a car boot sale or a house clearance or something, because even by early 90s standards it was ancient. Not quite as ancient as the huge TV my Gran and Grandad had, that had wooden sliding doors, but nearly.

It was a black and white TV. I remember it being small but heavy, cream coloured and boxy. It had a line of dials on the front, one for switching it on and off, one for the volume, and a larger dial for tuning it it. Yep, that’s right, like a radio. Any time I wanted to watch TV I had to work my way through the white noise, trying to find a channel free enough from static to make it bearable.

when should you let a child have a TV in their bedroom

I remember the only channel I could get reliably was S4C – the BBC TV channel broadcast completely in Welsh. I remember one particular night lying in bed, staying awake late to watch snooker, and feeling very sophisticated, even though I couldn’t understand anything being said and had no idea which ball was which.

I’m sure children nowadays would not be so easily thrilled. I’m pretty sure it’s all 4K TVs and live Twitch streaming now. (I’m not entirely sure what live Twitch streaming is, I’ve just heard talk.) View Post

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It’s got to just about that time of the year where I start to look sadly out of my living room window and into my garden, with the air of someone looking at the shell of a burnt out house.

In the summer, I can just about get away with my garden because it looks FULL at least, and I can pretend I have let things become unruly on purpose, in a bid to create a magical, overgrown fairy garden. In the winter, this does not work. In the winter you can see the unpruned shape of things. You get a good view of the dead leaves accumulated throughout the autumn under the once full flowerbeds, and you see THE HOLES.

Oh the holes!

I should tell you that my garden has not always had this post-war trench vibe. A couple of years ago I took pride in my lawn, spent time tending to shrubs, and even spent actual money on a landscaper. You can see the transformation here from prison backyard to tropical paradise.

And then I got a dog. Hello Mako.

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Feature in association with Electrical Safety First

Christmas tree with lights

The tree/house combo I wish was mine

My daughter Bee and my grandson Joey put up their Christmas tree last week. It looks beautiful but, unlike a lot of trees, it has no lights. When I first heard they weren’t having lights I thought they were being a bit over cautious and scrooge-like about the whole thing – is it even Christmas if you’re not watching a cheesy Christmas film and slurping sherry by the light of the Christmas tree?

(Side note: If you like your Christmas films old school then I recommend the 2008 Four Christmases with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn as an underrated Christmas classic.)

But then Joey’s dad told me about all the firefighters he works with and the number of fires they get called out to where Christmas trees have caught fire and caused huge amounts of damage in literally seconds.

Okay, fine. Not so scrooge maybe.

As unfestive as it may seem, the reality is that we all probably own some kind of piece of electrical equipment that poses a threat and at Christmas especially the risks are higher than ever as we’re all busy buying gifts online. Any kind of electrical item bought through a third party seller could be an accident waiting to happen, including Christmas lights, phone chargers, hairdryers – anything that’s powered by electricity.

So what’s the risk? Surely all electrical equipment has to be safe to be sold? Actually no. While you can go into a traditional high street retailer and feel confident that you’re buying the real deal, online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon and Wish are not bound by the same laws when it comes to safety. This means you could be buying fakes, or products with sub-standard or counterfeit parts and have no real way of knowing for sure.

Here’s a quick video that explains the problem: View Post

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Happy nearly Christmas!

How many mince pies have you eaten so far? I stopped counting after my second box of M&S frangipane topped mince pies, and that was in November, so probably best we don’t talk about it.

Instead, I thought I would spread a little selfless Christmas cheer by hosting a bit of a festive giveaway. This isn’t in anyway endorsed by Marks and Spencer, even though I’ve blathered on about them a lot already, it’s just me buying a voucher, but when I tried to think about a prize that would be both useful but also distinctly treat-like, M&S sprang to mind.

I’m going to run the competition until December 18th, then I will pick a winner straight away, so you’ll then have a whole week to spend it on Christmas dinner, or gifts, or just a trolley full of frangipane mince pies if you like. We won’t know, so we can’t judge. Not that I would judge you for that anyway, as they are really very good mince pies.

I did go on the M&S website in fact, to find a picture of them for you, but when I searched ‘frangipane mince pies’ I got pictures of men in loungewear? Not sure what happened there.

Definitely not frangipane mince pies

Where was I?

Oh yes. View Post

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This post is in an advertisement feature in conjunction with Boots UK. All thoughts are my own.

It’s official, Halloween and bonfire night are out the way and in my mind that means one thing – CHRISTMAS!

If you’re a Christmas scrooge type who doesn’t even like to get a whiff of a mince pie before December 23rd then you might want to look away now as I’m going to be taking you on a festive rollercoaster ride of Christmas joy.

Because that’s the thing for me – Christmas isn’t about one day of extravagant gifts and gorging, it’s about a whole festive period of lots of lovely things, little joys that brighten up each day, literally and metaphorically. Christmas for me is the smell of spices and pine trees, meeting up with friends, surrounded by Christmas lights, and getting cosy under blankets watching films about the children of competing Christmas tree farms falling in love and living happily ever after.

That’s not to say I don’t love buying and wrapping presents, in homemade Christmas wrapping paper if I’m feeling extra wholesome, but it’s about everything else besides. It’s also about making those gifts count when money is tight and thinking about how to use gift-giving as a way to create special moments for other people, without breaking the bank. It’s why the new Little Joys Christmas campaign from Boots is perfect for me – meaningful gifts on a budget, that show people you care, whether it’s small secret santa gifts or big presents for under the tree.

No more googling ‘Christmas gifts for him‘ and buying the first golf themed shaving kit that pops up, let’s put some thought into it this year people.

To help you get into the proper Christmas spirit, I’ve pulled together a few ideas for ways to find those little joys at Christmas…

Get yourself an advent calendar

There is no simpler way to make Christmas last a whole month than to buy yourself a decent advent calendar. I know the world has gone a bit crazy with advent calendars lately, but I don’t think you have to open a bottle of craft gin every day, or try a different artisanal bag of pork scratchings – I am a fan of a good old fashioned chocolate advent calendar.

A couple of years ago I got myself a Ferrero Rocher advent calendar and I’m telling you, the Ambassador has it spot on. I’m spoiling myself again this year. Thank you Boots.

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How do you define your values? What are the things that guide how you behave on a day to day basis, how you interact with friends and family and the wider world?

That was the question I pulled from my pack of cards today, when I decided it had been a while since I blogged and I needed to stop thinking about what to write and just get on and do it.

What are the most important values?

It was an interesting one to pull out as I’ve just finished listening to Lost Connections by Johann Hari, an amazing book all about the true causes of depression and anxiety and how we can go about fixing them.

I came of age as part of the generation embracing the idea of ‘brain chemistry’ as the one stop, magical explanation to depression. Although not depressed myself, I was well versed in the idea that depression is simply down to low serotonin levels, nothing you can do about it, nothing society or the government needs to feel responsible for, just plain old chemistry. View Post

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Hello hello! I have EXCITING news today!

You know how I went on tour with Gill Sims and it was lots of fun and I was quite sad to come home and have to live a normal life of doing my own washing up? Well, Gill felt exactly the same, and so we wracked our brains for how we could make it happen all over again, and decided to launch a podcast! It took us a little while, as we are really ideas people, but we’ve done it, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

It’s called It’s Five O’clock Somewhere and you can now listen to episode one – Martial Arts and NHS Lube – on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Audible, and probably other places, who knows how podcasts really work? We’ve got a link here to a few options anyway, or I may have successfully embedded it just here, in which case you may just be able to press play! Probably best not to do it if you have impressionable aged kids around, what with the lube chat, and the thing about poking your husband with a fork during sex.

The grand plan is that we obviously become super successful and famous and tour the world with our podcast, but in the meantime it means we get to at least hang out and drink cocktails in the afternoon. Gill lives in Scotland and I’m in Somerset, so it’s all very modern and recorded on Zoom, and sometimes only at midday, but I looked it up and that’s 5pm in Omsk, so it’s all fine.

We have had a brilliant response to episode one already, including from Bee, my very own daughter, who said she thought it was hilarious and was going to give it 5 stars and not even out of pity. High praise indeed. If you do listen and enjoy it then pretty please do leave a rating and a review, as that’s going to be massively helpful for us as a brand new podcast.

You can also go and follow It’s Five O’clock Somewhere on Instagram and on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing behind the scenes snippets, pictures of our drinks and potentially items we feature on the podcast that may need a visual. (Not wanting to be a tease, but in our Halloween special we discuss an item my mum accidentally crocheted and you’re going to want to see a picture.)

We’ve got a teeny clip from the first episode here, just to give you an idea of what’s in store, then go and listen to the full show and tell us what you think!

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Advertisement feature in association with First News

When my sister Annabel and I were little we had our own newspaper called The Banjo Times. It was excellent – a sort of magazine style journal packed full of useful news and views, horoscopes and fashions that Annabel had ‘rubbed’ on her fashion stylist set. (If you know you know.) Sometimes our one-day-to-be-step-sister Rebecca would contribute illustrations, and now she’s a well known children’s book author and illustrator, so there you go. Would she be where she is now without that first break on The Banjo Times? We will never know.

As I’ve got older I’ve gradually isolated myself from pretty much any kind of news because I find the tone generally so downbeat and depressing – it feels like it’s only ever the bad news that makes the headlines. I definitely feel like I miss out, but it seems impossible as an adult to properly filter the media you consume.

Not so for kids thanks to First News, the UK’s bestselling newspaper for kids.

First News subscription offer

I think I should probably just start reading First News myself

First News is an honest but upbeat newspaper for kids aged 7-14, full of news stories, accessible articles on world events, interviews, photos, games and more. It’s a weekly newspaper, delivered either as a paper copy through your letterbox or digitally via the Frist News app. Although it’s a newspaper for children, and does give children a platform to share their stories too, it’s written by professional, award-winning journalists, so you know your kids are getting a high standard of reporting.

It’s not that First News wants to avoid talking about difficult subjects either, it’s just that they want to make sure that the news kids are consuming is age appropriate and impartial. We can’t stop kids overhearing the news on the radio or TV, but catching snippets of the news or conversation like this can be scary when children don’t have the context for it.

First News back issues

First News gives that context in a straightforward way, meaning when kids do hear their parents talking about the cost of living crisis for example, it seems way less frightening.

It’s not all news though, there are sections for kids to write in with their own stories, sports coverage, books, news on gaming, and competitions and cartoons too.

First News

If First News sounds like something that your kids would enjoy, then you’re in luck! First News has very kindly offered a FREE subscription for one lucky reader, which can be taken either as a three month print and digital bundle, with actual newspapers delivered to your door, or a 12 month digital subscription via the First News app.

To enter simply complete as many of the options in the widget below as possible. The more you do the more tickets you’ll get in the prize hat. The competition will close at 11.59pm on November 3rd 2022 and full T&Cs apply.

In the meantime, if you want to crack on and give First News a try, or maybe buy it as a gift for Christmas, you can get a no obligation free four week trial here.

Good luck!

Win a First News subscription

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Advertisement feature in association with Jet2 Holidays

This weekend I took a train up to Bristol to make some tapas. It might feel like quite a way to go when I have a perfectly good kitchen at home, but this was a special event being hosted by Jet2 Holidays to promote the fact that they are expanding their range of flights from Bristol airport. Plus I was promised free wine. I’ll go a long way for free wine.

The event was a tapas cooking class at Little Kitchen, which is a really lovely space in Totterdown, within walking distance of the station. They do a lot of private events, but loads of open cookery classes too, so if you like trying new things then definitely have a look. I’m seriously considering a scotch egg masterclass.

Jet2 holidays from Bristol

The aim of our cookery lesson was to recreate some of the Jet2 Holidays winter sun vibe that you would normally get by flying off to the Canary Islands. I have never been to the Canary Islands or had a winter sun holiday or even been on any kind of package holiday at all. I’m not sure why exactly – I guess money, as a young, single parent, and possibly just never having done it before, not being sure how it would work with kids on my own? That said, a week in a caravan in Cornwall is probably MORE expensive nowadays.

Lately though, now that Belle is older and I don’t have ‘children’ anymore, I’ve quite often found myself browsing package holiday sites like Jet2 Holidays and imagining how wonderful it might actually be to just lie in the sun and drink cocktails and not have to pack all the self-catering paraphernalia like tea towels and tea bags. Does any holiday ever feel like a real break when you have to pack tea towels??

There I am then, browsing the all inclusives, and into my inbox drops this event invitation, with the promise of wine and cooking and a quiz, where the winner would get a Canary Islands mini-break. Food, drink and competition – all of my favourite things.

The universe had provided. I had to say yes.

Jet2 Holidays Canary islands

Yes please manchego cheese

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Do you understand the signs and the dangers of energy theft?

I didn’t. Not until this morning anyway.

Until then, if you’d asked me to explain energy theft I’d have probably thought about the Christmas film Deck The Halls, where Danny DeVito runs a cable over to his neighbour’s house in the dead of night to power his record breaking Christmas light display.

Spoiler – it’s not that.

How to spot energy theft

Energy theft, or energy fraud, is when gas or electricity meters are tampered with so that they don’t record usage properly, meaning you can pay less or nothing at all for your energy supply. Unfortunately energy theft if definitely NOT a victimless crime.

Although it often goes unnoticed, energy theft is hugely dangerous and can result in gas leaks, fires, electrocution and sometimes death. Not only that, but the cost of the theft is passed on to other bill payers. It’s estimated that energy fraud costs the average household an extra £30+ on their energy bills every year, so it’s worth doing what you can to help catch the people doing it.

Energy fraud is a crime, with a possible prison sentence attached, and yet with rising fuel costs putting pressure on businesses and individuals it’s a crime that’s on the rise – there has been a 15% increase month on month recently, which means more lives at risk. View Post

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Includes gifted items from Lily Blanche personalised jewellery

Last night at Brownies we talked about jobs and careers and the kind of things that the girls might want to do when they grow up. There were a lot of ambitions involving baking and animal rescue, but a good mix of more unusual things too like deep sea divers and archaeologists.

When it got to my turn, I said that when I grow up I’d like to be a detective. I didn’t have the chance to elaborate, but if I had, it would go something like this…

I would be freelance, obviously. I don’t want to be faffing about reporting to anyone or having to do boring paperwork. I will take on cases that I find intriguing, rather than just those that are well paid. I will be like Poirot in that respect, noticing the odd way a man peels an orange and instructing my assistant to follow him while I recline on a sun lounger with a cold drink to Think Things Through.

I will probably ride a bicycle with a basket, although bikes do scare me a bit, and I will definitely have a LOT of jingly bangles. They’ll be the sort of bangles I have collected over the years either on my adventures or as gifts from suitors. I will have been proposed to at least four times in this fantasy, but I will have always turned them down because they will have wanted to take care of me and buy me houses and I can’t bear to part with my hand built canal barge and collection of plants.

The bangles will jingle together as I ride through the woods on the trail of a suspect, silenced temporarily with a woolly sleeve if I’m doing anything particularly stealthy. Otherwise they will be a permanent fixture, reaching further and further up my wrists the older I get.

None of this has happened yet, although I feel it’s just a matter of time now that I have not one but two Lily Blanche bangles. They are exactly how I imagine my mature lady detective bangles to be – that sort of hammered gold vibe that looks homemade and expensive.

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