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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“I really hope we make pancakes at school today,” said Belle as we walked to school this morning.

“We did already make pancakes though,” I pointed out, “I was up early making the batter remember?”*

“Yes, but I didn’t do any of the making. You did the batter, and you cooked them, and you even put the fillings in.”

“You did the chewing though,” I said, “and that’s one of the most crucial bits.”

“It’s not really making though is it?” argued Belle. “If anything I unmade them.”

Fair point. We walked along for a bit in chummy silence. View Post

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February.

Eurgh.

Not a very inspiring month is it? It’s cold, the evenings are still dark, and you know that at some point you’re going to be forced to make pancakes that no one really wants to eat. Hardly surprising that my mind has been wandering forward to summer, imagining being able to sit outside with my lunch, feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.

I’m having a bit of dilemma though when it comes to planning holidays. For a start, you know when you’re taking children with you that it’s never really a ‘break’, so you’re reluctant to spend too much money or travel too far for what will essentially be like being at home but without your own bed and favourite tea bags for comfort.

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I’m not really here!

I mean I am a real person obviously, but I’m actually writing this on Thursday, and you’re reading it on, well, not Thursday. How cool is that?? I just told the computer, and it remembered to do it all by itself. I feel like a character in a Graham Greene novel, sending a letter out to a spy in some far flung part of South America, with instructions for him to post it on a particular day, at a particular time, from a postbox marked with a black crow.

I love being at that age where although I can use it fairly well, technology still has the power to amaze me. How do voices come out of your phone without it even being connected to anything? Where even IS the internet?

It’s all very impressive.

So here’s my question today – if you weren’t here either, where would you rather be? You can be anywhere in the country, in the world, in the whole universe, doing anything you like.

Of course if you weren’t here, and I wasn’t here either, which I’m not, this conversation would never have happened, and you wouldn’t know what the question was to answer it, but let’s try not to think too deeply about the whole thing.

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Last weekend I had the whole weekend to myself.

I will say that again for emphasis. The Whole Weekend.

It doesn’t happen often, but the forces of nature and orbits of the planets and such like all aligned so that everyone apart from me was somewhere else. The prospect was quite overwhelming, and by Saturday night I had resorted to making origami animal friends for myself, but we’ll brush over that part.

Keen to make the most of it, I set off on Saturday morning for a day of doing all the things that no one else in my family enjoys terribly much, like mooching about in book shops, and spending money in cafes. One thing I particularly like about being on my own is that you can leave places as soon as you like, so after fifteen minutes or so in a modern art gallery, when I realised I didn’t really understand what was going on, I could just leave, nodding sagely to myself, and know that no one would judge me. View Post

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