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.

Ferrero Rocher advent calendar View Post

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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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Sponsored post in association with Stay Energy Safe

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.

birthstone jewellery View Post

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untold stories slummy single mummy

Today’s Untold Story has been anonymously contributed by a man who has been through the experience of losing a friend – literally losing them, without any idea of where they’d gone. I can’t begin to imagine how this must feel, that state of limbo and uncertainty, unable to move on or let go of the hope. Please read and leave a kind comment if you’d like to. If you have a personal story you’d like to share please get in touch.

This story starts in the late 60s – 68 and 69 to be precise.

Growing up I had lots of friends, but I had one special friend. She lived on the same street as me and we were as thick as thieves. But the story starts before just living on the same street.

Our mums worked together at the local school as dinner ladies and were great friends, they both had other children older than me and  my friend – let’s call her Claire. Our mums fell pregnant at the same time, so as they were good friends they supported each other through pregnancy just as they did with my older brother and sister.

They would go to antenatal clinic together, shop for baby clothes, support each other through pregnancy, do what expectant mothers do all throughout the country.

So as the pregnancies progressed the due dates appeared to be within days of each other in March. Claire’s due date came and went with no sign of her. Three days after the due date she appeared, a happy and healthy little girl. Next it was my turn to make an appearance. Within three hours of Claire being born, little old me came along.

As you can imagine, living on the same street only six doors apart life was pretty much growing up together. From going to school together, playing together, eating together, even going on holidays with both families together. We were inseparable friends.

I lost my older sister when I was nine to a tragic playground accident and Claire naturally took the role as my sister. Once the tragedy of the accident had faded and was just a memory, Claire was my rock and best friend. Even though we grew into teenagers, our friendship never faded and we didn’t let hormones get in the way.  View Post

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flea anxiety

Last Friday I had a bit of a day. I don’t know quite what it was exactly, but I was overwhelmed and anxious and couldn’t seem to calm my brain down. On Friday evening I spewed out this post, of all the things that had happened, but I didn’t publish it because I didn’t want to seem moany. I felt much better even the next day, but perhaps it’s still useful to share this as a lot of what I share, especially on Instagram, is sunny pictures of the garden or the dog doing something adorable.

I think too that when I wrote about life not being my own, I meant not just the physical act of doing things for pets or the house or for other people, but also the feeling of your brain not behaving quite how you want it to.

Do you ever feel like this?

Here’s what Friday looked like and what I wrote at the time:

6.30am – Woken by noise of dog whining at the cats trying to tunnel into my bedroom via the carpet.

6.35am – Give up pretending I can’t hear the dog and get up. Feed the cats, take the dog for a walk. She’s in season so she can’t come off the lead for a proper run, so it was a lot of pulling as she tried to ‘make friends’ with some ducks in the park. I make a mental note to avoid the park but know I will forget this in a couple of days, imagine the park will be delightful and go again. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Open Table

If you’ve ever watched Death in Paradise, chances are you’ve longed to spend a tropical evening on the edge of the water at Catherine’s Bar, gazing out over the sands and sipping a cold beer. Sure, if you were in Death in Paradise you’d also be looking over the case files from a baffling murder in a locked room but let’s be honest, that’s only going to add to it isn’t it?

Well, without wanting to make you too jealous, take a look at me, just this week…

The River Shack

Right?? It’s basically Guadeloupe. Except that it’s actually the River Shack at Stoke Gabriel, near Totnes, in Devon. I know, isn’t it gorgeous? We were even sat on a shack style patio. I just needed Catherine to saunter over in one of her long dresses and big hoop earrings and offer me a rum and I could have been there, about to crack the case.

I’d never been to Stoke Gabriel before but I’d been doing some research into dog friendly restaurants in Devon and was lured by the River Shack photos and also the promise of an ancient tree in the village churchyard that can grant wishes if you walk backwards around it seven times. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Southern

When I put ‘complete all three crazy golf courses in Hastings, the spiritual home of crazy golf’ on my list of 50 things to do before I’m 50, I didn’t realise I was carrying on a family tradition. Little did I know that my mother and grandparents before me had, in the mid 1960s, stood on the slopes of East Hill in Hastings, playing the 9 hole, council run, pitch and putt.

Hastings pitch and putt East Hill

That’s my mum on the left, my uncle Pete in the middle, and my Grandad on the right. My Grandad was rarely seen without a suit and tie, although we did find some other Hastings pitch and putt photos where he appears with his short sleeves rolled up! The scandal.

The pitch and putt closed in the 1980s, but Hastings hasn’t lost its love of mini golf. In fact, Hastings now plays host to the World Crazy Golf Championships, which I’m sure is something a lot of you had never even imagined existed. Hastings Adventure Golf, which you can see in the picture below, taken from the cliffs above, has three courses – ‘Adventure’, ‘Crazy’ and ‘Pirate’ – and last week we took a Southern train along the south coast to Hastings and did ALL THREE.

Hastings crazy golf

Crazy golf, crazy lady

Now you might be thinking ‘THREE courses of crazy golf is a lot of crazy golf Jo, are you sure you’re not the crazy one?’ and you would be right, it IS a lot. In fact, by the time we finished it was dark, and I was feeling a little bit like I might never want to see a golf ball again, but that’s the whole point isn’t it? Life is fairly meaningless at the best of times, so if you’ve challenged yourself to complete three crazy golf courses back to back then damn it, you’re going to complete them, even if it is past your bedtime. (We were visiting mid heat wave and were very pleased that the golf was open until 10pm so we could go in the evening when it was a bit cooler.)

Seriously though, we had a lot of fun, and there was a WINDMILL and everything. You know your crazy golf course is properly crazy when there’s a windmill. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Zip World – all views my own

What are you really scared of?

I like to think that generally I’m pretty confident. I’m not scared of a lot of big stuff like being a single parent, being self-employed and the only breadwinner, driving massive motorhomes by myself, going on stage in front of hundreds of people and trying to be funny, zip wiring off the end of a pier across the sea – all of these I’m good with.

Stepping out onto a bridge made of planks though, high above the ground, with just a couple of carabiner clips to reassure me – THAT I am scared of.

It’s probably not surprising then that the weeks leading up to visiting Zip World in the Rhigos mountains in South Wales were a little on the anxious side. Especially not when you consider their brand new family attraction – Tower Climber.

Tower Climber Zip World

Umm…

Right??

Tower Climber is the newest addition to Zip World in South Wales, joining Tower Flyer, Tower Coaster and Phoenix – the fastest seated zip wire in the whole world. (We did this while we were there and LOVED it – definitely recommend.)

While I can get on board with zip wires, as you really just have to sit there, there is something about the high ropes and having to physically make yourself step out onto an obstacle that I find really tough. Still, I’m always up for a challenge, so I engaged the ‘act now think later’ part of my brain, said YES and off we went to the site of the old Tower Colliery for some wholesome family fun. View Post

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