I went to Lyme Regis yesterday.

I went to Lyme Regis a lot over the summer, but I haven’t been since one particularly tricky weekend a couple of months ago and I’ve missed it. I think it might be my very favourite seaside. It has pebbles and sand, pretty fishing boats, colourful beach huts, a couple of eccentric book shops and a kiosk selling excellent coffee and bagels.

And the sea obviously. But also bagels. Did I mention the bagels?

Of course while I was there I had a paddle. You can’t go to the seaside and not have a paddle can you? It was freezing, but I took my socks and shoes off regardless, and the cold was surprisingly exhilarating.

Lyme Regis also has some rather lovely gardens, which climb up the side of the hill from the beach, and feature a small mini golf course. If Lyme Regis wasn’t already my favourite seaside town then the mini golf would seal the deal.

For some reason though I don’t normally walk up and into the gardens, but yesterday I did. I hadn’t realised that the gardens have a little sculpture trail, and so I was quite surprised when I came across this.

Persephone sculpture Lyme Regis

My first thought was ‘me after bearing two children’,* but then I read the sign that went with it and felt a bit taken aback, because it really did feel like it was written for me.

I felt like I’d been caught out. View Post

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How does it feel to give birth at any age really? Could you describe birth to someone who hasn’t experienced it and really communicate what it’s like in a way that would make them feel it?

Even if you could, would that birth experience be their birth experience? I’ve given birth twice and I’m not sure there were comparable, even though it was the same hospital, the same vagina.

I was pregnant the first time around when I was just 16 years old and gave birth at 17 and now, aged 42, I often think about the women starting families for the first time. It feels a lifetime away to me. How on earth would I cope with the exhaustion and pain of pregnancy and childbirth now, let alone the sleepless nights and relentless parenting. If there is one perk to having a baby as a teenager it’s that you have a LOT more energy.

Baby Bee

Me and baby Bee

When people find out that I had a baby when I was 17, their first reaction is often ‘that must have been hard’, but honestly, I’m not sure it was. You have an adaptability and resilience when you’re 17, a kind of carelessness almost, like the world is yours for the taking. At 17 I felt invincible, immortal. Nothing much worried me – I just lived. Things happened, I made things happen.

Giving birth as a teenager, I felt like I knew it all. I didn’t really have a plan, I certainly didn’t have a birthing soundtrack or preferred blend of essential oils, but perhaps that worked in my favour? I know a lot of women have births that don’t go according to their ‘plan’ and they end up feeling like they’ve failed somehow.

I was naïve at 17 for sure, unprepared even, but maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing, maybe it allowed me to just go with it, to do whatever needed to be done without self-criticism.

I wonder sometimes if this isn’t just my entire approach to life to be honest.

To give you a little flavour though of what it was actually like for me, giving birth at 17, I’ve reproduced, unedited, my own ‘birth report’ from the time, transferred from the Peter Rabbit notebook I wrote it in 25 years ago. I have shared this before, a long, long time ago, but as you likely haven’t been reading my blog for ten years, I thought it was worth another look. View Post

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Tesco bauble cake

There’s no getting away from the fact that Christmas is going to be a little different this year. There’ll be no crowds of people gathered around the bandstand performing hearty renditions of Oh Come All Ye Faithful, no jostling for position at the front of the mulled wine queue on a group trip to the Christmas market, none of those extra things that give you those warm, festive feelings.

However, Christmas is far from cancelled.

If anything, it’s been wonderful to see the number of people jumping on the festive bandwagon early, getting the tree up, tucking into mince pies and bejazzling the front of their homes like they’re auditioning for Deck The Halls. If any year needed us to raise the festive bar it’s 2020. View Post

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I may not have quite gotten around to learning to play the trombone or turning my vagina into a bespoke candle or whatever it is that Gwyneth Paltrow would have us do at times like these, but if there is one lockdown activity that I’ve well and truly bought into it’s banana bread.

In fact I was on the banana bread wagon even BEFORE the pandemic, but then we’ve always known I’m a trend setter haven’t we? ‘Finger on the pulse’ is a phrase close family often use to describe my approach to fashion and current affairs.

Just to keep ahead of the lockdown banana bread curve then, I decided to crank things up a notch last week and take my banana bread exploits to the next level. I did this in two ways.

First, I added chocolate chips. I know, mind blown. You can literally add chocolate chips to ANYTHING and it’s better. I feel like you could add chocolate chips to a bath and it would be a win.

Second, I went MINI. Everyone knowns that making normal sized things SMALL is a sure fire way to improve them. Think of all the things you know and love and imagine teeny tiny versions of them. It’s adorable isn’t it? It doesn’t work with wine, but that might be the exception.

Bish bash bosh – mini chocolate banana loaves. We’re saved! November’s lockdown is going to be okay! (I mean it’s still shit, but at least you’ll have cake and something to do for half an hour.)

To make mini banana loaves you will need:

  • 140g soft margarine
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Splosh of vanilla essence
  • Big handful of chocolate chips
  • 2-3 ripe bananas.
  • Extra chocolate and banana chips for decoration should you feel so inclined

Whisk everything except the chocolate chips and bananas up together into a delicious looking cake batter. Stir in the bananas and the chocolate and transfer to a tin.

You’re done.

That was easy wasn’t it? I had quite fancy eggs, with brightly coloured yolks, so my mixture was quite a vibrant yellow colour. Fitting for banana bread I thought.

easy banana bread recipe View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Thorner’s Farm Shop

Okay, so not just pies, but that’s the beauty of this giveaway from Thorner’s Farm Shop – if you did want to spend your whole £50 prize on pies then you could. No one’s judging. Their pies are award-winning after all.

The idea behind this competition is that we all need a bit of a pick me up don’t we? Winter is coming, the nights are drawing in, (I’ve banged on so much about dark evenings on Instagram that I’m boring even myself), and really, a pie WOULD HELP. There’s no getting away from it, when the weather turns nasty, a cheeky cheese and leek pie can do wonders.

Jon Thorner's pie competition

(Confession: this is a picture that I pinched from the Thorner’s website because even though they sent me a pie to try, amongst other delicious treats, I got over-excited and ate it before I remembered I was meant to take a picture. Also this is way better than anything I could take, so.)

Although the Thorner’s pies are award-winning and delicious in every way, they are about much more than pies. They are a butcher, so sell all kinds of fresh meats, as well as deli meats. When I was little my mum says that, in a bid to get me to eat, she used to leave little plates of ham and cucumber around the house so I would happen upon them and eat them, so I know a good ham when I eat it.

They sell cheese, quiches, fruit and vegetables, even fresh ready meals, and the beauty of it is that it’s all online, so you get all the wholesomeness of a farm shop without having to get your shoes muddy.

They also make cakes, and although generally I’d consider myself more of a homemade biscuit girl, the toffee apple slice is a think of magic and wonder. Put one of these in your virtual basket and you won’t regret it.

(I also make an exception for this ricotta and raspberry cake but you do have to make that yourself, sorry. Unless you want to pay me to make it and bring it to your house.) View Post

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untold stories slummy single mummy

Today’s anonymous contribution to Untold Stories is a powerful one. It tells the story of one woman, living what seems to be a perfectly normal life, but hiding a secret. Reading it raised so many questions for me about relationships, intimacy and sexuality. Can we really be happy if we are keeping a part of ourselves hidden? Where do you draw the line when it comes to putting other people’s happiness ahead of your own? I’m sure there are a lot more people in situations like this than we realise and I’d love for you to leave a comment if you’d like to tell your own story or simply share your thoughts.

I got married fairly young by today’s standards. I was 24 and had met my future husband 5 years before that. We had a house, a dog and joint bank accounts. The next expected step was marriage and so, when he proposed, I accepted without hesitation.

We’ve now been married for the best part of 15 years. We have three gorgeous kids, a beautiful home and a secure financial situation. We go on holiday a couple of times a year, upgrade our car regularly and are always doing something – days out, evenings with friends. We have a busy, full, happy life.

So where’s the catch? Well, for that I need to go back to the start.

I grew up on a city council estate with parents who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. They were very conservative for labour voters really and it was a different time back then in the 1990s. Life has, thankfully, changed so much over the years.

By the time I got to my teens I knew my parents expected me to get a boyfriend eventually – they were dreading it. I was a late developer. Had no interest in relationships and instead focused on school. But, by the time I got to 16, all my friends had boyfriends so it seemed really natural for me to have a boyfriend too.

I’d had a hard time at school and hadn’t found it easy to make friends or form real relationships so as soon as a boy showed interest in me, when I was nearly 17, I jumped at it. We went out, I lost my virginity – as I felt it was expected of me – and we were together for a few months.

After that I had a couple more boyfriends and it was all fine. But, I didn’t really know what the fuss was about. We had sex but it wasn’t the mind-blowing experience from the movies. It was more mechanical than anything else – going through the motions until it was finished. Everyone was doing it, but what was so special about it?

Then something changed for me. A new girl started at work and she was different to anyone I had ever met. She was gay and she didn’t mind who knew it. She was loud, proud and full of personality and we became friends easily.

Our friendship was strong from the start. I’d chat to her all day at work and then text her through the evening until I saw her the next day. We’d go for drinks, go to the movies and wander aimlessly around the shops. All the things that friends do.

And then one day we were sitting in the park, drinking Red Square like we did most weekend evenings, and she kissed me. She kissed me and my world span around. I finally knew what people got excited about. I had butterflies in my belly and tingles everywhere else.

After that we formed a tactile, close relationship. We’d kiss and mess about and I felt like the 17 year old I always should have been. I found myself and I liked it.

But, back then I was torn. I found someone that made my heart leap. Their fingers entwined with mine made me so happy and even now, 20 years later, I can remember the smell of their shampoo on their hair.

But, it was never going to be straightforward. View Post

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I’m a sucker for love in all its forms, from Reese Witherspoon and her childhood sweetheart in Sweet Home Alabama to the ‘Be Mine’ on a love heart.

You know what they say though, you have to love yourself before you can really love someone else*, so I decided to create a twist on the classic love heart – the self-love heart. The self-love heart is basically a positive affirmation, but in treat form. Edible Pinterest if you will. I thought the benefits of this could actually be multiple, as it would also serve to specifically counteract any guilt you might feel about eating the treat the first place.

Newsflash guys: life’s too short. Eat the treats.

Love heart biscuits

Anyway, I had no idea how to make real homemade love heart sweets, and I’m not sure I really like them aside from the sentiment, so I decided to make self-love hearts in biscuit form instead, inspired by a set of tiny letter stamps that I found in Taunton’s new Hobbycraft.

To make my self-love heart cookies I also used a baking sheet and some heart shape cutters that I was sent as a gift from Judge. Judge has a really amazing bakeware range, and they sent me a view bits recently to try out because they know I like a little potter about in the kitchen. The quality of everything I’ve used so far is top notch, and it’s not expensive, so do check them out. I’m particularly excited about using my new mini loaf tin soon to make some teeny tiny banana loaves.

As my biscuit base I used the same recipe as for my homemade party rings – it’s a sort of light, soft shortbread texture. Very tasty and easy to make. I already had some ready to roll fondant icing, which I coloured with tiny bits of pink and yellow food colouring, but you can make your own fondant icing very easily – just mix tiny quantities of water with icing sugar until you have a dough like consistency that you can knead and roll, a bit like playdoh.

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Advertisement feature in association with Fine Art America

When I bought a house for the first time three years ago I thought that was it, at last, I’d be able to paint the walls whatever colour I wanted without worrying about what the landlord would say when they realised. Fast forward to last month and I’d managed a teal chimney breast and one feature wall in the bedroom.

I didn’t know what was the matter with me.

In pretty much every rented house I’ve ever lived I’ve completely ignored restrictions on decorating and painted every room in elaborate combinations of pink and yellow, red and gold, teal and chocolate brown. (I just had a trawl back through Facebook to find you a picture of the kitchen where I painted bright pink and yellow on opposite walls, and draped the windows with turquoise sari fabric, but I look too drunk in all of them to be honest. I had some good parties in that kitchen.)

Perhaps it’s just that I don’t like being told that I can’t do or have something, and like to prove otherwise, and the minute I was actually allowed to paint, I wasn’t that bothered anymore?

It’s not a terribly flattering insight – it makes me sound a bit immature and possibly like I have some issues with authority – but it’s probably true.

This month though I got over myself. For ages I’ve been toying with painting the hallway, stairs and landing a lovely coral pink colour, and now I’ve finally done it!

Coral pink wall

I also may have got a bit carried away with the idea and repainted Belle’s bedroom AND painted my spare room a gorgeous dark green colour, basically turning it into a teeny tiny working men’s club. Go and have a look at my Instagram story highlights under ‘workspace’ to see it in all it’s glory.

Back to the hall though. View Post

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If you like a bit of sweet chilli jam, where you don’t particularly taste the chilli but it’s a nice dollop of something extra in your cheese sandwich, then this post may not be for you.

If, however, you buy shop bought sweet chilli jam and think to yourself ‘seriously? What even IS this pathetic excuse for a chilli jam?’ then STRAP IN my heat loving friends, as this homemade hot chilli jam is going to blow your socks off.

Hot chilli jam recipe

It’s pretty simple to make, although you might want to crack a window as the heat does get to the back of your throat a bit in a confined space. My recipe makes two jars, so scale up if you want to make a bigger batch. This homemade chilli jam would make lovely Christmas presents for friends who like a bit of spice in their life, or perhaps an enemy at work that you’d like to see spend some time on the toilet.

(Not literally SEE. No one wants that.)

My homemade hot and spicy chilli jam goes very nicely with a bit of cheese and some crackers, or even as a side to something like steak and chips. If you want to be terribly avant garde, you could even have it with a scone or two and make a savoury cream tea. NOTE: Generally I don’t approve of savoury cream teas as a concept but I’m not going to disown you or anything. View Post

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Hello hello and welcome to my latest competition to win a Mamibot robot vacuum, the giveaway that’s going to take your cleaning into the 21st century! One robot vacuum cleaner equals less work for you and more time for putting your feet up with a gin. Hoorah!

(Probably should actually put your feet up, you don’t want to confuse Mamibot.)

So, before we get on to the exciting business of winning a robot vacuum, let me take you through a quick product tour to show you exactly what you could be winning.

The Mamibot robot vacuum and mop, or ‘Mamibot PreVac670XBR (black) – robot vacuum and mop’ to give it it’s full, catchy name, is the latest in robot vacuum technology. It’s app controlled, has INFRA-GYRO integrated localisation technology, a 2600mAh lithium-ion battery pack and anti-cliff sensors. (Presumably in case you are vacuuming at the beach?)

I will admit here that I’ve had the Mamibot sat in my hallway for a week or so as I was nervous about setting it up, what with finding the TV remote a bit complicated nowadays, but honestly, the set up couldn’t be simpler.

Mamibot comes with an app, which paired the robot vacuum to my phone very simply. Once you’ve connected your device, you get the option to name it.

‘What shall we call Mamibot?’ I asked Belle.

‘Call it Stinky,’ said Belle, who is allegedly 18 years old.

Mamibot review

We then set up the charging dock, which again was very easy. Mamibot, (or Stinky if you want to be on familiar terms), sits quite happily on his little docking station, charging away, and once he’s done the carpets there is also the option via the app to send him back to the dock. If he knows he is low on battery he will make his own way back to recharge too.

This is very cute to watch as the word ‘find’ comes up on the large LED display as Mamibot slowly makes his way home.

(It’s amazing how quickly you can turn inanimate objects into living creatures in your mind if you’re sentimentally inclined and haven’t been out as much as you’d like lately.) View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with QV Skincare

My name is Jo, I’m 42 years old and I don’t like washing my hands.

Who am I kidding? I don’t like washing full stop. I don’t like getting wet just to get dry again – where’s the logic in that? – and I don’t like how it dries out my skin and makes it feel all overly smooth and dry to touch like I’m some kind of wizened old lady living in the woods in a house of sticks.

*shudders*

I’ve always been the same. The stories of my Dad having to carry me up the stairs to the bath while I screamed ‘don’t make me do it!’ have been retold to me many a time and I very much believe them. Remember a while ago when I wrote about the research around the average number of showers and baths people have a week? Let’s just say there is someone out there washing a LOT to balance me out.

I do try not to be a complete baby about it though – hand washing is important and although I don’t like it, I know I have to do it.

The other thing that I find impacts the health of my skin is stress. The last few months have been stressful ones for sure and stress has a way of showing itself in our bodies doesn’t it? One way it does this for me is by giving me dry, itchy skin in odd places, like my shins. Sometimes I wake myself up in the night savagely attacking my own shins, which is a lovely thought isn’t it?

To summarise then…

Frequent hand washing + life stress = dry skin desperate for some extra care.

Imagine my joy then, both for the moisturising relief and the perfect timing, when QV Skincare got in touch to see if I’d like to try out some of their products.

QV Skincare offers a range of cleansers and moisturisers designed to help manage dry skin conditions. Dermatologically tested, the QV range is suitable for all ages and skin types including sensitive skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. The whole range is also free from common irritants such as soap, colour and fragrance which could irritate the skin.

QV Sopa free wash View Post

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Have you ever kept a diary?

I’ve always liked the idea, I’ve just never had the dedication. I’ve written things, on and off, in various notebooks, but not consistently and not for a long time.

The only diary I have is a small, blue Snoopy diary from 1990. I would have been 11 years old at the start of 1990, in my first year of secondary school. I only managed about a month, and the entries are each only a sentence of so long, but I think it gives a valuable insight into who I was as a child and, if I’m honest, who I am now.

January 24th for example – I can still remember the annoyance and injustice I felt when I discovered Vicky hadn’t done any work on that hat. In Vicky’s defence she wasn’t the brightest button in the sewing box and I’d been away the lesson before with some kind of undefined illness, (my attendance record at secondary school was poor, mainly due to my mum quite liking the company I think). I’m guessing she felt a bit overwhelmed by my complicated fruit design. (Vicky not my mum.)

I love the simplicity of my 11 year old mind though. ‘Went to town in the rain so I bought an umbrella.’ OF COURSE! Why would you not buy an umbrella? So obvious, so straightforward. Bish bash bosh, life done for the day.

I think you can get a sense though of why I didn’t have many friends. I was an acquired taste for sure. I don’t remember the French spelling test but if I close my eyes and imagine it I can conjure up a little surge of adrenalin at getting full marks.

For a long time I thought on and off about how cool it would be to go back and do school again, knowing everything I know now, but honestly, I don’t think I would change it. I may not have been popular, but I was authentic. If Instagram had been around in 1990 I could have been the poster girl for living as your true self and that has to be the best foundation for anything doesn’t it? You can only be yourself.

Here’s a little insight then into how my brain works. You’re welcome.

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