No? Well off you go then, do something else like make a cup of tea and watch the telly.

If it’s a yes though, I want to share a new tool from Gingerbread, the charity set up to support single parents. Gingerbread noticed that a lot of the advice available was for parents with young children, so they decided to produce some information for parents with teenagers, particularly those turning 16.

They’ve developed an online advice tool which helps single parents work out how their benefits and tax credits entitlements might be affected by what their child has chosen to do in post 16 education, training or work. The tool works by asking a series of simple yes or no questions which lead you to an answer that’s specific to you. There’s often a lot of confusion surrounding this time in a child’s life – lots of change, excitement, and worry – and they wanted to be able to give single parents an easy way to get the correct information for their circumstances.

Good idea isn’t it?

That’s all. You can go and have a cup of tea too now.

If you’d like to recommend any other online resources for single parents please do feel free to share!

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I have a sports injury.

*dramatic pause*

OK, OK, I have a grazed knee, but still, I did it playing an Actual Sport, and it quite hurt at the time, (although I was very brave and didn’t cry), so I’m calling it a sports injury. Perhaps I should get a massage?? David from Future Focus says that “sports massages are critical to overcoming any kind of muscular injury, addressing your aches and pains all of the body.”

Friends and family will be laughing now at the idea of me playing any kind of sport, let alone putting in enough effort to sustain an injury, but they can laugh all they like, for I am pleased to announce that at the age of 33 I have finally found a sport that I enjoy. Never having been able to maintain any sort of physical activity for longer than a few weeks before, this is something of a revelation for me, and an achievement therefore to be celebrated.

My sport of choice?

Netball. View Post

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A couple of weeks ago, as part of the run up to the TV programme ‘Make Bradford British’, I was asked to consider the following question:

‘The Prime Minister says that state multiculturalism has failed. Can Britain thrive as a multicultural society, or has diversity created a Britain that no longer has an identity – what is Britain’s current national identity and what makes us British?

Blimey. I wasn’t sure where to begin. It’s a bit different from talking about personalised notebooks and dating dilemmas isn’t it? Still, I like a challenge, so I gave it a go. Do you think Britain can thrive as a multicultural society? What does being British mean to you? Do let me know…

I think I have a rather naïve view of the realities of a multicultural and multi-faith Britain.

Growing up in a small West Country town, that was about as homogenous as they come, I was never exposed to any of the issues surrounding multiculturalism, and never felt the need to question the identity of my country, or how it might be affected by increasing diversity. View Post

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A very good friend of mine is currently preparing for the birth of her second baby, and is in the process of getting the nursery ready. It got me thinking about when Bee was born, when I was just 17, and all three of us lived in a room in my mum’s house. To be fair it was a big room, with a bathroom, but still, we certainly didn’t have the luxury of a nursery.

I remember the room very well, as I spent a good deal of time in it. We had a double bed, which my mum bought for me as a birthday present, and a cot in one corner for Bee. The cot came from a car boot sale, and she moved into it after her first few weeks in the carry cot I got as part of a pram in the Oxfam shop for two pounds and kept on the floor next to the bed. On the wall around the cot we had a Mr Men border, which I drew and painted by hand in the five days after her due date, while I waited for her to be born.

Next to my bed I had a cardboard box turned on its side that I’d made into a little cupboard. I wasn’t really that poor, but I was going through a bit of a grunge phase at the time, and was working the whole ‘fill a bag in a charity shop for a pound’ vibe. I was pretty poor though. I certainly wasn’t buying my nursery furniture from Verbaudet.

I wish I had been though.

They asked me recently to have a look at their website and see what I thought, and honestly, it’s almost enough to make me want another baby.* I’ve already written about my recent worrying transition from slummy to yummy, and the feelings I had when I saw this book display and storage unit have done nothing to alleviate my concerns. I’d quite like one of these in my study instead of a filing cabinet:

Then I made the mistake of looking at bedding. I’ve always had great admiration for people who can make their bedding look lovely and flat, (I’m guessing something ridiculous like ironing is involved), but for this set I’d reckon I might be persuaded to make the effort:

OR, I just keep my new imaginary baby is what is possibly the cutest baby sleeping bag I have ever seen and then I won’t need to worry about ironing at all:

I’m thinking then in one corner I’ll have this linen basket that looks like a washing machine:

All images courtesy of Verbaudet

Then I just need to teach the baby how to do laundry. That’s how it works right?

*hahahahahahahahahah! Lies. It’s nice stuff though. That bit is true.

PS I am currently on the short list for the ‘Style’ award in the Brilliance in Blogging Awards. Please take half a minute to cast your vote and tick the Slummy single mummy box.

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Next Thursday is International Women’s Day.

To get into the spirit of things, and to show my solidarity, I have bought tickets for a couple of events that day as part of the Bath Literature Festival. One of them is titled ‘Does it matter what a woman wears?’

Other, less feminist minded family members rolled their eyes and smiled indulgently when I announced my plans for the day. I want to use the word ‘scoffed’, but perhaps that’s a little harsh. I’m sure I heard stifled laughter from Bee though, as she looked up at my outfit for the day, which involved various clashing shades of pink and purple.

It’s an important questions though.

Does it matter what a woman wears?

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Yesterday Belle got back from school camp.

I say ‘camp’, they were actually sleeping in dorms, so a bit of a cop-out, but still, the result for me was the same – two and a half days of not having to say ‘have you cleaned your teeth yet?’ a gazillion times between eight and eight thirty every evening, and not having to make packed lunches. (God I hate packed lunches. The endless futility of it. Yet another round of sandwiches in the bin…)

They returned home at 2pm, and we had to be at school to meet them. Why exactly the school decided to make the school day even more inconvenient for us working mums is beyond me. True, the letter home did say they could wait in the classroom until normal pick up time if it was a problem, but no-one wants to be that mum do they? I could hardly leave Belle sat alone, encrusted with mud, while all the other kids were greeted by adoring parents could I?

She seemed a little subdued when she first got off the coach, but was soon back to her normal chatty self.

“A girl I was sharing my room with folded her pants!” she told me. Important news first obviously. “Who folds their pants?”

“Well not you,” I agreed, “but then you don’t really fold any of your clothes do you?”

“Do you want to hear the exact details of everything we did?” she asked, as we began our walk down to Costa* to meet Bee for welcome home cakes.

“Absolutely!”

“Well, we got there on the first day, and had lunch. They had sandwiches with ham, cheese, or egg mayonnaise…”

I confess to tuning out for a little while here, as we walked past somewhere with a fire in the garden, and my mind took me to Glastonbury festival, with the smell of wood smoke on the warm breeze…

“…and then we went back to our rooms to get changed for lunch,” I guessed we were on the second day now, “and we had sandwiches again, only this time there was tuna, or ham, or cheese or egg mayonnaise…”

We walked past a hairdresser and I spent a while considering a perm.

“…and then we were back!” She smiled. I looked closely at her mouth.

“Did you clean your teeth at all while you were away?”

She shuffled awkwardly and looked at the ground. “I was tired!” she protested.

*sigh*

Welcome home Belle.

*Everyone on the Gloucester Road hates that Costa have opened, apparently threatening the livelihoods of every single independent shop owner within a 27 mile radius, so we go in it just to enrage the locals. Plus we had a voucher for a free coffee.

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Unless you’ve been living in some sort of home-made canvas tent, eating nothing but dandelion roots and milk from your own goat, you’ll have probably noticed prices going up. Everyone’s talking about how much a tin of beans now costs, and how you used to be able to get a packet of value brand super noodles for nine pence. Just today in fact, I was chatting to a friend about the price of ham, and she confessed she’d started buying gammon joints, boiling them herself, and slicing them thinly for sandwiches. Oh what glamorous circles I move in!

So, with cheap beans spiralling out of my price range, I thought I’d have a look at Tesco – The New Price Drop.

Supermarkets are always competing to be the cheapest, and claim to be continually lowering prices. This seems a little suspicious, given the aforementioned cost of beans, but still, you have to believe don’t you? Otherwise we’ll realise we’re all doomed to bankruptcy and collapse in a sobbing heap, shovelling not-so-cheap noodles into our mouths out of sheer panic and desperation.

The idea behind this campaign is, if only purely from a marketing perspective, an interesting one. Rather than just rocking up to the store and seeing that the price has been reduced on all kinds of useless things you don’t really want, if you go to The New Price Drop on facebook, you can actually pick the products you want to see reduced. A pretty clever social media strategy if you ask me. (It’s all about the consumer engagement don’t you know.)

Now I got pretty excited when I first read about this, thinking I’d be able to bring down the price of all my favourites – gin, Haribo, Magnum ice-creams, that sort of thing – but unfortunately you do only get to pick your favourite from a predefined list.

I thought I’d have a go anyway though, just to see how it worked. First off you pick your area. I’m Bristol, but they didn’t have this, so I had to opt for Avon. (Note to Tesco – Avon was abolished as a county in 1996 and the area split between the Bath and North East Somerset, City of Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire unitary local authorities.)

The you pick the food you’d like to see reduced. As exciting as it would be to see the price of cauliflower slashed, I went in the end for ‘frozen desserts and pies’. Hopefully Magnums fall into this category. Then you just click VOTE. Job done. You’ll know who you’ve got to thank when you’re next picking up your cheap frozen apple strudel won’t you?

I had a quick look at the Tesco home page too, and it poses some interesting questions, like just where should Tesco staff stick their avocados? Polite answers in the comment box below…

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As a journalist, it’s all too easy to get distracted by research. In my case, this ‘research’ often starts with checking my blog stats and ends with a nice cup of tea, perhaps with a little stop at Amazon along the way.

This can often mean that the actual writing of words takes some time to achieve. Five minutes into a poetry workshop though and we have already launched ourselves into free writing. Free writing is a way to get you started, to simply get the words flowing, whatever they may be, and it’s a useful tool for people who find themselves staring at a blank page, not knowing where to start. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to impress anyone, it doesn’t matter if the words even form proper sentences, you just have to write.

It’s brilliant. In three minutes I have already written these first paragraphs! I feel a bit guilty, as I’m sure I should be writing something a bit more creative, rather than a critique of the class and its techniques, but the horrors of reading aloud to the group don’t apply to this exercise, so I think I can get away with it. View Post

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I don’t tend to write a lot of product related posts. Partly because I find them pretty dull to read and write, but also because I’m just not a product person. I don’t really see the appeal of things.*

Sometimes though, a company will get in touch with something that genuinely appeals to me, or reminds me of happy times spent as a child sorting my paper collection into different ‘sorts’.** Getting Personal’s gifts collection is one of these.

It actually feels like a bit of a guilty secret, as a penchant for personalised gifts probably isn’t the coolest things to admit to, but there is just something really exciting about a set of pencils with your name on isn’t there? (‘Yes’ is the answer to that question if you want to be kind and reassuring.)

When I was little I can remember getting a set of personalised colouring pencils, and just thinking they were the most amazing thing ever. I have always had a bit of a fetish for stationery, so combine that with my love of things in colour order and well, what’s not to love? Getting Personal do some amazing personalised notebooks too. Seriously, how cool are these? I quite want to have a whole set made for myself with different job titles for different moods – ‘How to be a successful… writer, blogger, ballet dancer, wife, mother…’ I could collect all kinds of useful tips.

Over the years I’ve had all kinds of things turned into gifts, sometimes for fun and sometimes as a failsafe back up gift. Can’t think of anything to give the grandparents this Christmas? A calendar full of pictures of the kids is always a winner.

When Belle was born I had this picture of her and Bee made into a mouse mat:

That one wasn’t a gift, that one was just for me.

*Books don’t count. They’re educational.

**Plain, lined, squared, graph, coloured. The options are endless.

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Picture this…

It’s a Sunday afternoon. The rain is beating gently against the kitchen windows, and I’m humming gently to myself as I lightly dust the work surface with flour and begin to roll out the pastry for the homemade pie I’m baking for dinner. Small babies jabber happily at my feet, and a squirrel swings playfully from the strings of my apron.

No? Not seeing it?

That’s because it would NEVER HAPPEN.

However, I am shoving my slummy exterior to one side just for today, to show my support for CLIC Sargent’s Yummy Mummy campaign, raising money to help children and young people living with cancer. View Post

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Working from home full-time has plenty of perks – not having to go to pointless meetings, eating dry cereal out of the box and watching Cash in the Attic while you work, that sort of thing, but it has its downsides too. As I’ve been inundated by coverage of London Fashion Week, I’ve become increasingly concerned about my dress sense, which has always been a little ‘unpredictable’ at its best.

“Working at home must be great!” people say. “You can stay in your pyjamas!”

Well yes you can, but is that necessarily a good thing? Perhaps it’s not so bad to have to make the effort sometimes to brush your hair and put on something without an elasticated waist.

I realised it had become a problem recently when I started wearing one of my ‘sports’ bra during the day, just because it’s comfortable. I say ‘sports’ – I do wear them for netball, but they are basically the kind of old lady bras you see advertised in the Mail on Sunday magazine, where you can buy a special three pack of beige, and get a free pair of reading glasses. View Post

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A good friend is this season’s must have,
Like a new pair of red footless tights.
You need a good mixture of textures,
Include pastels and some neon brights.

Great mates are a key wardrobe basic,
Friends are this winter’s new black.
Do read the care labels well though,
No receipts so you can’t take them back.

This is the product of my evening at The Steady Table writing group, where I am under pressure to write creatively, and not just reply to emails…

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