As I write this I am sucking an Olbas lozenge.

It’s a lovely image isn’t it?

I was given them at an event I attended recently, hosted by Olbas, about coughs, colds and how to make sure your baby sleeps well, even with the snuffles. As it turned out, I had a cold on the day, so thank goodness there was plenty of decongestants on hand.

Try as we might though, we just can’t figure out a cure for the common cold. Over the years, people have come up with all sorts of remedies, from shoving bits of orange peel up your nose to the mysterious carbolic smoke ball.

The carbolic smoke ball was very popular in the late 1800s as a cure for everything from coughs and colds to asthma and bronchitis, and it even came with a no win no fee style promise – if you could prove that it didn’t work or made you ill, there was a guaranteed payout of £100. £100 was a lot of money in 1892.

"Carbolic Smoke Ball"

Nowadays though, nobody even pretends that they can do anything to cure a cold or flu, you just have to tough it out. (With the help of your Olbas lozenges obviously). If your children are struggling with coughs and cold this winter though, here is sleep expert and paediatric nurse Kathleen McGrath with a few top tips:

If you or a member of your family is suffering from non-snot related sleep problems, try the Sleep Matters Helpline. The helpline, run by the Medical Advisory Service, puts callers straight through to trained nurses who will talk through problems and, if necessary, refer to the right source for further help and advice.

Tel:   020 8994 9874 (6pm-8pm daily)

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When I was little, one of my favourite things to do was to make domestic appliances out of cardboard boxes.* Washing machines were a particular favourite. I would cut the flaps off the box, turn it upside down, cut out a door and draw buttons and dials on the front. Then I would arrange it nicely in my bedroom, pop Teddy’s clothes in through the door, and Bob’s your uncle, hours of fun.

When Bee was born and I was quite poor, I even had a bedside cabinet made out of a cardboard box turned on its side and filled with books.

Fortunately nowadays I don’t rely on cardboard boxes for any of my furniture, apart from the box bed in the corner of the kitchen that I make Boyfriend sleep in, but Belle has definitely inherited my love of turning cardboard boxes into things.

This week she has been working on an entry for a new monthly competition from Cartoon Stripz. The competition involves taking a creative photo or video of her Cartoon Stripz characters, and as much as I’d like to think Belle was drawn to the competition because she was fed up of watching CBBC and wanted a more wholesome activity, I suspect it was more to do with the prizes.

Have a look at what your kids could win and you’ll see what I mean:

  • November Prize: an amazing Apple iPod Nano
  • December Prize: a super-cool Sony Digital Camera
  • January Prize: a monsterrific Moshi Monsters 7-inch Capacitive Touch LCD Tablet
  • February Prize: a huge voucher to spend at Toys ‘R’ Us, worth £75
  • March Prize: a brilliant Nintendo 3DS Console

See?

Now, fortunately for Belle, I have been getting into the Christmas spirit lately by ordering masses of books from the Book People, so the house is awash with cardboard. Belle has turned one of said boxes into a two-storey home for her Cartoon Stripz, complete (obviously) with a giant penguin. The characters are perhaps a little out of proportion, but I think all in all it gives a desirable, high-ceilinged town house effect:

"Cartoon stripz"

Belle has now sent off her entry, and has her fingers crossed for an iPod Nano. If you’ve got young children, perhaps they might fancy entering themselves? Full details can be found on the Cartoon Stripz website, but don’t tell Belle I told you, I’m not sure she can handle the competition…

*I am very old. We didn’t have computers or anything in those days.

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It’s crunch time.

The whole queue of men at the burrito van is watching expectantly as the first in line places their order.

“What can I get you?” says burrito lady.

“Chilli beef please,” says man number one.

“Jalapenos?”

“Yes please,” the tension rises. The men further back in the queue look anxious.

“Any barbecue or chilli sauce on that?”

“Chilli please.”

Bam. There it is.

"hot sauce"

Lunch for every man in the queue has just been cranked up a notch. Not a single one of them can order anything now other than chilli beef with extra jalapenos and chilli sauce.

It sounds ridiculous, but it is just one of the many benefits of being a woman. Back at the office, as we sit around the table, I watch the boys sweating through their lunches, and feel quietly smug at actually enjoying my burrito with marinated chicken, no peppers and no chilli sauce.

I have nothing to prove. Who cares if the seven people ahead of me have ordered burritos with the works? I can sweetly ask for no jalapenos please and it doesn’t matter, because I am a girl.

So what’s the down side? As the token woman am I left to clear the table? Nope. And someone else even gets my plate for me.

Result.

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When trainee journalist Rhiannon Davies asked if she could write a guest post for my blog I was very flattered, and excited too. When I read her piece on the joys of noisy sex though, I must admit I felt a teensy bit inadequate. Since moving to a smaller house, with children’s bedrooms either side of me, loud sex is rather tricky.

To comfort myself that my sex life is fine even if the neighbours aren’t banging on the wall, I asked mum of three Ella Tabb, aka Purple Mum, to give a different side of the story, and the explain why in her opinion, quiet sex can be just as good.

Which side of the fence (or should that be bed?) do you sit on? We’d love to know what you think – is noisy sex always better sex?

Rhiannon says…

We’ve all been there, whether it’s a new housemate at University with a tendency to, ehem, ‘voice their opinion’ in the bedroom, a noisy neighbour, or a new house where suddenly your kids are on either side of your boudoir. Culprit or victim, loud sex is a sound familiar to all of our ears.

"shouting"

For me, there’s no question that loud sex is better sex (have you never heard the phrase ‘scream if you wanna go faster’?). In my opinion, if you’re relaxed enough to belt out your pleasure, then everything is going to feel better. But then, I’ve never faked an orgasm, and having been the one desperately tearing my room apart to find my head-phones and drown out the noise, I can certainly see why the debate against noise equalling pleasure is there.

To prove to those of you who don’t believe in loud sex, I’m going to get out the big guns and rebuff you with science. Screaming-sex requires a lot of oxygen going in and out of your lungs, thus, oxygenated blood is spread everywhere, making things a lot more sensitive (girls, you have twice as many nerve endings as men, I am talking to YOU). Gym bunnies – why do you exhale when you lift weights? Because it lets your muscles r e l a x, the point of orgasm is a contraction of muscles, moaning releases the tension. Basic biology.

On an emotional level (and provided that you aren’t faking), loud sex lets your partner know that you’re enjoying yourself. How are you supposed to tell them what you like if you say nada? I’m a firm believer in being able to laugh during sex, and although I’m not suggesting you wake your neighbours up with well-placed humour, noise in the bedroom can be a great a bonding opportunity, stop wasting it.

I’m not saying go at it like a porn-star, but when it feels good, what’s wrong with saying so? Let’s face it, they’re going to hear the sound of the headboard banging against the wall anyway, so why not complete the symphony. If you don’t mind the idea of being loud, but hate the idea of being overheard, wait until they are out. If you can’t wait, well, it’s obviously too good not to share.

Ella says…

Science has proven that noisy sex results in better orgasms. I’m not entirely sure that in my case I agree. Ok first up I am not judging you if noisy sex is your thing. In fact I have to admit I’m a teeny bit in awe of you, but I don’t think I will screaming in the throes any time soon and here’s why.

"Lego man"Firstly I have children, three children in fact, and noisy sex could result in waking the children, this would not lead to a better orgasm! Basically when you’re a parent sexy time does change somewhat. Going from doing it whenever and wherever you fancy to grabbing a stolen moment when the children are asleep, on the rare occasion that you are not completely knackered from the sheer relentlessness of parenting. The location goes from finding somewhere new and fun to bonk to finding somewhere not covered in lego (ouch) and not too close to the children’s bedroom. Anyway I digress.

The other reason I am a quiet lover is that it basically doesn’t occur to me to make any noise. I am just naturally quiet in bed, which is odd considering that on any other occasion you literally cannot shut me up. I have tried to make more noise, thinking a little heavy breathed screaming might help my partner feel appreciated, bedroom applause so to speak. However doing so made me feel a bit silly, and took me away from the moment and into my head which is not very sexy at all. Virtually impossible to orgasm whilst thinking I really must make it sound like I am enjoying myself.

So there you have it, if noisy works for you then that’s great, and apparently your orgasms will be better than mine. I have to say though I am perfectly happy being quiet in bed.

Massive thank yous to both Ella and Rhiannon for such honest and entertaining posts.

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Some books you’ll never read? Tasteful bath salts?

Or maybe you’ll get something awesome because you’ve bought it yourself.

A survey by Barclaycard revealed last week that on average we spend a whopping £280 on gifts for ourselves every year. I’m not talking ‘treats’ either, I mean actual presents for ourselves for birthdays and Christmas because we don’t trust other people to buy us something that isn’t awful.

What’s not clear from the survey is if we actually get this money back – are we choosing our pressies and being reimbursed discretely at a later date, or are we simply buying our own presents, full stop?

With me, it’s often the latter.

Being a single parent at Christmas and on birthdays can be a little depressing. You fork out loads of money on the kids, and what do you get in return? Lousy hand-made gifts and cards.* There’s no one in the house apart from you with an actual job, so you get the rather short end of the stick.

A couple of years ago I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was fed up with being the only one of the three of us in bed on Christmas morning not opening a stocking full of gifts. Father Christmas had very kindly left bulging bags of goodies at the foot of Bee and Belle’s beds, so where was mine? I put a note up the chimney, but nothing, nada. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

"Treats for Father Christmas"

I went to the cashpoint and took out forty quid. Then I came home and gave it to Bee. “Use this,” I told her, “to make me a Christmas stocking.” She looked a bit taken aback at first, but quickly came round to the idea, because who doesn’t love being given somebody else’s money to spend? “I want lots of things to open, but nothing crap.”

You have to be direct with children I find.

Christmas morning came around and hoorah! Santa had been for me too. It was very exciting and well worth the investment, even if most of the stocking budget seemed to have been blown on a teeny tiny iPod speaker in the shape of a jukebox. (I was more explicit the following year about what I meant by ‘crap’).

What do you reckon? Do you buy your own gifts? Or is it the thought that counts, even if the thought only goes as far as the bath salt aisle of Boots?

*This is a joke Belle. I love you hand-made gifts really. And the cute things you wrap up from your room.

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