If parents’ evening this week was anything to go by, Belle’s mental maths is pretty hot. The point was proven nicely recently when Bee sent her to the shop with two pounds to buy her a small bottle of coke.

“Here’s your change,” said Belle, handing over 26p.

“Where’s the rest?” said Bee.

“That’s all there is,” said Belle.

Bee looked disbelieving. “So how much was the coke??”

“£1.74,” said Belle smoothly.

See?

Now we all know that a small bottle of coke isn’t £1.74, but that’s not the point, (although it was for Bee naturally). The point I’m trying to make is that regularly handling money has made Belle pretty quick at maths. I’m not alone either. A recent survey by TK Maxx found that four in five parents use shopping to teach their children numeracy skills, getting them to add up and subtract the cost of their purchases.

One particularly funny thing the survey also found is that men are not to be trusted when it comes to balancing the budget. Most parents apparently agree that mums are better at teaching children the value of money (62%), compared to just over a quarter who put the same level of trust in dads.

Belle’s money management skills have been put to the test through her new Roosterbank account too, although at the moment more often than not it’s working out how much money she can take out and spend on strawberry laces rather than concentrating on saving. I really don’t know where she gets her need for instant gratification.

*reaches for third caramel hobnob*

If I were Belle I’d be saving up for this:

"finger print kit"

How cool would that be? I could put on some tight black trousers and a little leather jacket and pretend to be on CSI. It would be awesome.

Does having their own pocket money help your child with their maths? How do you teach your children the value of money?

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Today is the first ever International Day of the Girl.

As part of International Day of the Girl Plan UK want to raise awareness of the issues girls around the world face, such as early forced marriage. Girls sometimes as young as five are forced into marriage. Five years old. Can you even begin to imagine?

Plan UK’s campaign will support four million girls to get the education, skills and support they need to move themselves from poverty to opportunity.

This International Day of the Girl, support these young girls by signing Plan UK’s petition now.

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I need a bit of help.

Belle’s bedroom in the new house is a little bit smaller than her old bedroom. I say ‘a little bit’, but it’s actually about a quarter of the size. I have already ruthlessly made her throw a lot of toys away, and got rid of most of her bedroom furniture, (who needs things like wardrobes anyway right?), but as you can see, it’s still looking a tad on the cramped side:

"Belle's bedroom"

‘Cosy’ I like to call it.

 

She still has several boxes to unpack, and we’ve already had to turn over a section of the living room to Sylvanians:

"Sylvanian Families"

As you can see, the kangaroo family’s apartment is a little run down at the moment, but they do have the luxury of a pet monkey in a tin.

 

"Sylvanian John Lewis"

When they have a bit of spare cash they are going to come here for a few tasteful accessories.

 

I’ve been toying with some sort of high bed, so that she can store things underneath as well as just lining things up around the edges, but I’m worried that it might be a bit much for a room this size. I remember when I was her age, I had a small bedroom with a cabin bed in, and although I loved the bed, it did take up most of the room, and was rather overpowering.

These are both very lovely, but I’m not sure they’d look quite so nice with only a foot of space between each side and the wall:

"Kidspace Oreo Bunk Bed"

"Kidspace Henry Bunk Bed"

 

Something like this feels a little less intrusive, but I’m still not convinced:

"Novara mid sleeper"

How have you managed small bedrooms? Should I invest in a new bed, or should I spend my time instead convincing her of the joys of frugal living, Sylvanian kangaroo style? (I am not getting her a monkey though.)

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A few weeks ago, I went to Totnes with my lovely friend Rin, a very talented lady who writes Glass Jars & Photographs. Rin’s passion is interiors, and she has one of those proper cameras with a big lens that comes in a case like grown-ups have. I felt a bit silly pootling about behind her taking pictures of pretty things with my phone, but actually it was great fun, and made me even more determined to get a proper camera and learn to take half decent pictures. (Camera companies looking for review take note here.)

The day was extra special as it was on the train on the way there that we decided to set up our own media training business, which is very exciting. We have a proper name and bank account and everything, so along with Rin’s camera, I think this definitely makes us Very Grown Up and Important Indeed.

I very rarely post pictures for their own sake, but today I am feeling happy in that way that makes you smile, sigh and look about in a contented way, and I wanted to be frivolous. I know the photos aren’t amazing, but I had fun taking them, and they remind me of a very serene and inspiring day out.

"A sheep wearing a sock"

A sheep wearing a sock

"The pee bucket"

The pee bucket

"Curious chicken"

Curious chicken

"Casual chums"

Casual chums

"bug"

Bug

"Flower pots"

Flower pots

"Bee"

Bee

"Another bee"

Another bee

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There are lots of things I like about our new house. I like that I can sit in the living room and look out into the garden.* I like having a garage and a driveway of sorts and not having to drive around the block for ages looking for a space to park. I even quite like having a bedroom back on the same floor as Bee and Belle and being able to hear them moving about.

One thing I’m not so sure about though is the carpets. They are cream. (Cream!) Throughout the entire house, including the bathrooms.

I’m not exactly well-coordinated at the best of times, (think me crying, unable to park a van), and will quite often just walk into door frames, but in the old house, this was OK, as we mainly had floorboards. Floorboards are much easier to wipe down when you uncontrollably slosh tea on them. Here though, nowhere is safe. I already dropped tomato on the carpet today from my mouth. My cream carpets don’t stand a chance.

The worst bit though is shoes. How do you train two unruly children to take their shoes off at the door?

"muddy boots"

Belle at Beautiful Days. I fear she will just walk into the house one day like this.

I have a few ideas:

Distraction – It only takes a few seconds for them to remember, so to avoid them getting to the middle of the hall and going ‘Oh yeah!’, I need to dangle something like a malteser from the ceiling, just out of reach. In the time it takes them to figure out how to get it, (stood safely on the mat the whole time), they will have remembered about the shoes.

Positive reinforcement – This, so I’m led to believe, is the most effective approach to parenting. Whenever they take off their shoes at the door they get a little treat like a chocolate button, a pat on the head or the chance to stroke a kitten.

Negative reinforcement – I hire someone to stand by the door, and every time they forget to take off their shoes they get punched (in a gentle, child-friendly way), in the side of the head.

Desperate times and all that.

*I make it sounds like I occasionally glance up and admire the view. What actually happens is that I find myself staring out at nothing in particular for minutes at a time. I’m tired though. I’m sure the staring will improve.

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We have now moved house.

Thank God.

The day itself was just a teeny tiny bit longer and more stressful than I imagined. “It’ll be fine!” I was practically chanting in the weeks and days beforehand. “We’ll be all done by tea-time and by the next day it’ll be like we’ve lived there all our lives!”

*roars with laughter, verging on hysteria*

Picture me at 10.30pm, standing, shivering, in the pouring rain on the van rental forecourt, crying because I lacked the basic skills to back Boyfriend properly into a space rather than a nearby car. It was not a pretty sight. Boyfriend sent me home to bed at this point, fearing some sort of breakdown, and continued the ferrying of my bags and boxes of rubbish on his own in the car until 2am.

(He is very lovely indeed.)

Now it would be fair to say that our new house is a little bit smaller than our last house, but I’m not sure it warrants Bee nicknaming it the ghetto and singing this song around the house:

 

A bit harsh I would say.

This is the point at which I end with an amusing fact or witty sign-off but I am too tired and my hands still ache from all the carrying so instead I might just go for a little lie-down amongst the bin-liners.

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Tomorrow I am moving house.

In twelve hours time I will actually be picking up an actual van and having to fill it with all of the things in the house. All of them. Not just a few of them.

And then, to add insult to injury, I have to drive them half a mile around the corner and take them all out again.

Crazy times.

I thought, looking around the house when we first decided to move, that we didn’t have that much stuff. We’ve got rid of lots of furniture, as we’re moving somewhere smaller, and in my mind it was really just a sofa, a couple of beds and a few boxes of books. Oh deary, deary me, how wrong I was. We may not have masses of furniture, no wardrobes or big bookcases to speak of, but my God we have a lot of shite.

There are so many things that you just wouldn’t think of, that seem to blend into the house, so that you don’t notice them until you pile them all up in one room and stand back, aghast.

I’ve done a quick stock take of some of the things you might not normally consider, and we have:

  • 17 house plants
  • 12 outdoor plants in tubs
  • 43 framed pictures, including 4 large canvas prints
  • 3 bikes and 2 scooters
  • 3 printers. Who on earth needs 3 printers? We only have one desktop computer. It is quite ridiculous.

This is just a teeny tiny part of the list.

As we speak, my downstairs is piled floor to ceiling with the detritus that I have collected over the years and I am hiding upstairs in a now empty bedroom, afraid to look.

Wish me luck…

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“Have you got any tissues?” Bee asks me. “I need to blow my nose.”

“No, sorry,” I reply.

She looks like she doesn’t believe me, like I might be deliberately withholding my secret supply of tissues just for jokes. “Have you not got any anywhere?”

I’m driving and we’re on the motorway, so I’m not exactly sure where she’s expecting me to find some.

“There’s an old bit of kitchen roll on the floor in the back with oil on it?” I offer.

She doesn’t look keen.

“Belle,” she barks into the back, “look in Mummy’s handbag and find me a tissue.”

Belle does as she’s told, but the best she can come up with is a piece of A4 paper with a map of Bristol on it.

“You can’t use that,” I say, “it won’t have any absorbency. You’ll have to use a pair of pants or something.”

(We are on the motorway driving Bee down to stay with some friends, so she does have an overnight bag with her. I wasn’t suggesting she take off the pants she was wearing or anything.)

“No way,” she says, clearly disgusted, “that’s gross. Can’t you stop at some services?”

“No!”

“Well then, I’m going to use the map.”

I should probably explain at this point that Bee has quite a bad cold. Needing to blow her nose isn’t just a casual whim; it’s a matter of urgency. I’m sceptical about the usefulness of a paper map when it comes to blowing noses, but Bee is adamant.

It does not go well. I hear a muffled ‘ergh!’ through the mix of mucus and paper. The map it seems is not terribly effective as a tissue. As I predicted, the lack of absorbency is a bit of a problem.

“It’s all over my face!” Bee wails. “What shall I do?”

“I told you to use pants!” I say, trying to keep a straight face and half an eye on the road. She rummages in her bag, but not for pants.

“This is going to be gross,” she says, pulling out a pack of Always Ultra (with wings), “but don’t judge me.” I am speechless. I give her a look, raising my eyebrows. “What?” she says, trying to look nonchalant, as though it’s perfectly normal to have snot on your chin and to be about to wipe your face with sanitary protection, “they’re absorbent!”

Anyone looking into our car at that moment may have been rather taken aback. “You look like you’re sniffing a sanitary towel,” I pointed out, as she struggled to blow her nose, Always Ultra sticking to her fingers.*

Always Ultra, we soon learn, are not designed for blowing noses, (although they are an improvement on the paper.) Despite working her way through two pads, she still has to clear up afterwards with her spare pants.

We arrive in Bridgwater, trying desperately to block the last hour from our memories, and as we get out of the car, Bee stuffs her hands into her pockets. “Oh no!” she cries, and pulls out a wad of tissue…

*Why she took the backing off I do not know…

 

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I have been to visit three potential secondary schools for Belle in the last eight days and I am fed up with it. I am fed up with having to spend an hour and a half doing something that should be over in half an hour because of all the parents who insist on asking so many boring, stupid questions.

I appreciate that choosing a secondary school for your child is a big decision, but with that in mind, do some research beforehand if you must. You visit a school to get a feel for its atmosphere, to see the building and grounds, and to watch children taking part in lessons. You surely do not visit a school to waste everybody’s time asking the headteacher what proportion of children take part in after school clubs?

And not just roughly either. One dad this morning really wanted to know. “I’m not sure of the exact proportion,” the head said, “but I can tell you that last summer when we had a fie drill at 4pm that there were about 150 children out at the fire assembly point.”

“And how many children at the school in total?” asked the dad, clearly not satisfied.

“About 950,” said the head.

“So about one in six then?”

“I guess about that,” said the head, looking perplexed.

“OK, one in six.”

Good grief.

Does it matter? Who cares how long lunch break is? It will be a sensible length for a lunch break. Do you really have to wait until you are in a group of 50 people to ask about GCSE results and options? Can you not just look up things like that on the internet like a normal person?

The best question though, which made me want to smash my head against a wall, came from one very keen dad, who had already asked half a dozen equally stupid questions.

“This is a bit of a circular question,” he said, chuckling indulgently to himself, (I’m doing a Will from the Inbetweeners voice here if you can’t tell). “My question is, will there be any more time at the end to ask more questions?”

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I have been asked to speak at a conference.

*pause for ‘ooohs!’*

On the 10th of November I will be getting up disgustingly early to go to London for Mumsnet Blogfest to be part of their keynote panel. The theme of the discussion is ‘finding you voice’ – something I don’t normally struggle with – and with me on the panel will be real actual writers like Zoe Williams and Jeanette Winterson.

Real Actual Writers.

*anxious sideways look*

Rather than thinking though about what I might say to appear witty, charming and intelligent, my first thought was ‘what on earth will I wear?’ An elegant, well-tailored outfit, as any woman will tell you, is the key to any occasion. Unfortunately, I am not any woman.

To illustrate my point, I look for Bee. I find her on the sofa, watching TV, sniffing, surrounded by lockets and used tissues.* “If you had to describe my fashion sense in three words,” I ask, “what would you say?”

She looks me up and down and raises her eyebrows.

“Too jazzy,” she starts, but then, realising that means she will have already used up two-thirds of her insults, she begins again. “Jazzy, infantile,” she pauses, struggling to find a word that suitably sums me up, “and uncoordinated.”

Point duly illustrated.

The trouble is that I hate shopping for clothes. I am rubbish at it. Apart from the horror of catching sight of my bottom reflected in four different mirrors simultaneously, I just don’t know what goes with what, and what is appropriate for any given occasion. I thought then that perhaps I could have a little browse online, and you could tell me which outfit would be best for my conference appearance. I want to appear clever and funny, quirky yet stylish.

Dresses are usually a good option, as they eliminate the risk of clashing top and bottom halves. I really like this, (I’m sure I read somewhere that ‘floral’ is a thing), but wonder if it might be a little on the ‘jazzy’ side for a day time conference?

"floral dress"

This could be me, turning up a little late – “Oh, I’m so sorry! My train was delayed! It’s such a hilarious story! Mwahahaha!”

Or I could go for a suit? Perhaps too formal – I’m not sure it screams ‘witty, creative writer.’

Suit

Can you even imagine my thighs in such light coloured trousers? Oh my goodness me no.

Or I could just do the classic jeans and sparkly top combo, but perhaps that’s not quite jazzy enough?

"Jeans"

The jeans are fine, but how on earth do I get my hair to look like that?

Or I could just wear something I own already and rely on my sparkly personality to carry me through?

I’ll get my credit card…

*She has a cold, not some sort of fetish.

All images courtesy of Next.

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When Lands End offered to send me a dress from their autumn/winter collection to jazz up the school run, I wasn’t sure at first whether or not I should be offended. You know how sometimes friends will look at you and smile in a slightly pitying way and offer to lend you a hairbrush or some make-up?

No?

That could just be me then.

I decided to assume though that they were approaching me not because I need the help, but because I am an incredibly stylish woman, and the perfect person to act as an aspirational fashion figure for all the other mums.

*snort*

A girl can dream.

I chose this dress, because I love bright, bold colours, and because it had a whole section on ‘slimming details’ and everyone loves a flattering empire waistline and a ‘fluid ponte knit that drapes softly over your curves’:

"Lands End red dress"

Me admiring my new dress

When it arrived, I was really impressed with the weight and the quality of the fabric, and it really did feel like it draped softly over my curves. I even got a surprised ‘it looks quite nice actually’ from Boyfriend, which is a big compliment.

The one thing I wasn’t sure about though was the colour, as it looked much pinker on the website than it did in the flesh. This could just be me though. I have a grey bag that everyone else swears is green, so I’m possibly not the best judge.

"Lands End dress"

Bee goes for a ‘look thoughtfully into the distance Mummy’ shot.

What I love about this dress though is that it’s so versatile – you can wear it really casually with some flip-flops and a ponytail, or dress it right up with a nice belt, heels and some fancy jewellery.

"Lands End dress"

Add a belt and some heels and tada!

And I do often find myself having to go straight from a day out on the beach to a jazzy cocktail party. OK, not often maybe, but if I did have to do that, I would certainly be well prepared now.

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I don’t often buy new shoes. To be honest I hate shopping for shoes. It’s a good job that no one has (as yet) offered me a part in a Sex And The City remake, because I really would suck at it. I spend most of my time in a pair of black flats from Clarks, that Bee calls my ‘Topsy shoes’ as she reckons they would look good on Topsy of ‘Topsy and Tim’ fame. I think Topsy is about four years old.

I also have very unsexy wide feet, with comedy lightbulb toes, so it’s hard to find shoes that are comfy. My feet are really not my best feature.

When I do get a new pair of shoes then, it is a big deal and I have to genuinely love them. My new shoes are red and beautiful and make me feel happy. My family agrees that they are ‘very me’, which I think is an insult, but I’m trying to ignore that. They are by Clarks, but I got mine through Zalando. Before I even put them on I loved them. Before they even arrived I loved them.

Watch this short clip and imagine this is me talking about my shoes:

 

Now you get the idea. Aren’t they lovely though?

"red clarks shoes"

 

And here they are on the end of my legs. I think they look very happy.

"my new shoes"

 

They are very me and I like that.

*smiles and skips away like fictional four-year-old character*

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