In partnership with ATS Euromaster. All research and findings are my own.

Regular readers will know that car maintenance isn’t exactly one of my strong points. Remember when that warning light came on on my dashboard and I just put the satsuma in front of it until one day I tried to turn a corner and the steering wheel wouldn’t move?

*looks awkward*

Having a basic understanding of your car though, things like winter tyres and car safety in general, could save your life, so it’s important to feel confident when it comes to the basics. Winter especially is a dangerous time to be on the roads – road traffic accidents increase by 20% during the winter, and many of these accidents could be prevented by safe winter driving.

Winter is also apparently an excellent time of the year for me to be especially stupid about my car. It was a winter a few years ago when I decided that it would be an excellent idea to scrape the ice off my windscreen with the base of a tin of paint I happened to be collecting from the car boot.

I know, I’m an idiot, but it was so handy. It worked really well too, and it wasn’t until the next time it rained and suddenly the windscreen was a cobweb of tiny scratches that I started to realise the mistake I’d made.

Give me a break… I can write novels, make my own Jaffa cakes and pose naked in front of strangers, just not cars… nobody’s perfect right??

*changes subject quickly*

I was interested then to test our collective winter driving knowledge with the ATS Euromaster winter driving myth challenge. I shared 10 top driving myths on Instagram to see exactly how smart we all our when it comes to winter driving – over 250 people took part and let’s just say a C+ overall, room for improvement. I’ve shared the results below.

If you’re as old as me you will remember ATS very clear from their ‘SOS? ATS!’ TV ad, which I just found on YouTube and discovered is now thirty years old. Good grief. Whoever came up with it though was a genius because it’s stayed in my head this whole time.

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Post in partnership with Competition Finder

It’s September, back to school, and that means one thing – STATIONERY.

I don’t have school aged children anymore, so my life doesn’t feel quite as defined by the rhythm of the school day and term times as it used to, but I haven’t lost my love of a new pencil case. To be honest I’m not sure that was ever really linked to being a parent, I thing I’m just a sucker for stationery.

I’ve teamed up with Competition Finder today to bring you the ultimate back to school blog post – four of my favourite stationery picks PLUS the chance to win £50 of Amazon vouchers, so you can have your own stationery blow out. (Or spend it on something else, like dog food or a hand whisk, I don’t really mind.)

Competition Finder is a great place to find all the latest competitions online. Competition details are organised by type, so whether you’re looking for holidays, cash prizes or something else, Competition Finder can provide you with all the details you need.

Before we get down to the nitty gritty of winning Amazon vouchers though, lets indulge ourselves (me) for a minute and look at some bits and pieces that you really need on your desk, right now.

The Heirloom collection from Katie Leamon

I’ve bought a lot of notebooks in my time, (I dread to think), but I’m not sure I’ve ever come across as perfect a specimen as the notebooks in the Heirloom collection from Lily and Lionel for Katie Leamon. They are just exquisite – the prints, the quality, the thickness – they’re the absolute dream notebook.

They’re blank pages, I cannot abide a lined notebook, and they have a lay flat design, so no awkward spine cracking or holding pages open while you make notes. View Post

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In collaboration with Car Guide

How confident do you feel when it comes to buying a new car? Are you the sort of person who spends hours researching and comparing running costs, doing a thorough car check and looking into the MOT history of each potential purchase? Or maybe you just buy the first one you see in a blind panic and hope for the best?

I’ve spent most of my life in the second category.

I’ve essentially just applied my principle of second crappest and kept my fingers crossed. Sometimes I’ve not even done that, like the time I bought a 20 year old metro on eBay, unseen, for £87. Or there was that time with the satsuma, which it’s best we don’t dwell on.

Basically when it comes to buying new cars, I’m scared. I know nothing about cars or what I’m meant to be looking for in a new car, and so I bury my head in the sand. ‘Do you not even get a free HPI check?’ you may ask. No, no I do not. Honestly, I’d not even heard of an HPI check until I wrote this post. I can just about manage an MOT check for dates, (mainly because I forget for my own car’s and have got good at checking), but I have no idea how to check car history, what questions I’m meant to ask a seller, what repairs to expect at different points in a car’s life – nothing.

I WANT to feel more confident buying a new car though. I do so many other things completely on my own, I feel like I’m letting myself down when it comes to cars. I feel like I’m letting WOMANKIND down. It’s just a car, I need to pull myself together and get some SKILLS, especially if I’m going to realise my midlife crisis dream of buying and renovating my own campervan. (I may not have mentioned this yet. Let’s save this as a story for another day.)

If your feel the same way as me about buying a new car then BUCKLE UP – I’m about to take you on a rollercoaster of a ride around the world of car checks.

Why should I use a car checker?

An excellent first question! Why is it important to get a car check? Doing a car check is a really simple way to boost your car confidence and should be a first step when you’re thinking about buying a new car. A free car check can quickly highlight serious issues like whether or not the car has had a plate or colour change, been exported, might be an ex-taxi – all the classic red flag stuff that you want to avoid when buying a new car.

Doing a quick car check online can help rule out the real bloopers. (Wouldn’t it be good if you could do an online check for potential new partners? Pop in a few basic details and find out if they’re secretly married, have a history of being an absolute loon, that sort of thing. I might write that down as a business idea.)

Can’t I just Google a cheap HPI check?

Well I can’t stop you, obviously, I’m not your mother, (unless this is you reading Bee, in which case I am, but still can’t stop you.) Keep in mind though that not all car checks are created equally. So how do you find the best car checker?

Obviously I can’t claim to have tested every single car check service, but I HAVE had a lovely long chat with the founders of Car Guide and found out all about what makes their car checker different from a lot of the others. I was impressed, not least because Mima, one of the founders of Car Guide, has three cats just like me, AND I got to meet one of them – Tabitha – on our Zoom chat. I find it very hard not to trust someone with three cats. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Rellery

What have been the small changes that you’ve noticed about yourself during the pandemic? I’m not talking the obvious stuff, like missing your friends and family, (or not), or accidentally starting an interior design degree and just doing one module, but the little things – the stuff that’s surprised you.

I surprised myself with how much I’ve enjoyed spending time alone, like REALLY enjoyed it. I’ve explored so many new places, been on so many walks, and I never get bored. It’s wonderful being able to go at your own pace and stop for ice creams as many times as you want. (If you like cute outings then go and check out my Instagram highlights, where I save my favourites.) As a teenager I always loved it when the whole family went out for the day and I was allowed to stay at home by myself, reorganising my bedroom and listening to recordings of the top 40. I’ve always known I didn’t mind spending time alone, but being a parent for the last 25 years hasn’t lent itself to solitude. Now though I’ve remembered how much I love it.

I’ve been surprised too by the things I’ve held on to and the things I’ve let go of. I haven’t plucked my eyebrows in over a year for example – it turns out I just don’t care about that – but I have continued to wear perfume. I wear the same perfume as my Gran – Chanel No 5 – and the smell of it every morning always reminds me of her. It feels significant, a reminder of my roots maybe.

On the flipside, I’ve hardly worn any jewellery and the dress side of my wardrobe has barely been opened. On the one hand I’ve enjoyed thinking less about what I wear, but I have missed the excuse to get a little bit more dressed up. It was why I was really quite excited when Rellery got in touch to see if I wanted to try a few pieces from their collection.

Rellery has a wide range of earrings, rings, necklaces, bracelets and anklets to choose from, and there are collections across different pieces if you like your jewellery to co-ordinate. The quality of their jewellery is fantastic – they only use precious metals, (sterling silver, 18K gold over sterling silver, and 14K solid gold), plus their chains are designed with tighter links to withstand up to 6lb of force. They also offer personalisation on a lot of their pieces, so you can make them extra special.

I used the excuse of a trip to the seaside to visit some friends last weekend to show off a couple of my new pieces.

First up I chose one of their 18K gold over sterling silver anklets. I haven’t owned an anklet in years but I am so happy with it – there is just something about an anklet isn’t there that makes you feel kind of young and free, like you should be strolling barefoot along an empty beach or dancing at a festival?

Rellery anklets View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Eedi

Today I’ve teamed up with Eedi, the online maths support tool, to help you give your kids the confidence they need to thrive at maths. We’re also giving away a brand new iPad, so read on for more details!

 

I watched an interesting series of Instagram stories this morning from my friend Fritha all about maths. She was talking about the process of teaching her son, Wilf, maths at home and how it brought back traumatic memories of her own experiences of maths at school.

‘When Wilf started explaining the maths he is doing,’ said Fritha, ‘my head just said ‘I’m not good at this, I don’t understand.’ My brain just switches off and starts panicking. I was ‘top set’ throughout high school, largely because I had so many coping strategies to ensure I kept up, which involved lots of memorising. Because I got left behind somewhere in primary school though it was fully high stress, surviving and getting A grades but with no actual understanding of what I was doing. I basically had a breakdown during my last year of school and just wrote ‘x = 4′ for an entire paper.’

I wonder how many people this would resonate with when it comes to maths? That feeling of getting by under the radar, but without the real understanding or self-belief to thrive?

I know that I was lucky in that maths always came easily to me at school and I loved the buzz of new concepts slotting into place in my brain. As I got older though, through A-level maths, my degree and then actuarial training, there were definitely times where I felt lost and it was honestly terrifying. I would look at the page and genuinely just not have a clue what I was reading or how to make it make sense and it gave me, albeit later in life, an insight into how so many children must feel doing maths at school.

I actually taught maths one-to-one during university as a part-time job, and what I learned through that was that so much of maths is just about confidence, about overcoming that instinct where your brain starts to panic and believing that you can do it, that you can understand – it might just take some time or someone to explain it in a different way.

Ironically I didn’t seem to be able to transfer this to supporting my own children with their maths, and would often find myself frustrated, snapping at them – ‘just LOOK! It’s obvious!’ NOT helpful parenting at all.

If Eedi had been around when my children were younger I would have definitely signed up and spared us all my impatience.

Eedi is an online maths platform for children that really taps into that idea of confidence being key. It focuses on children in years 6, 7 and 8, where habits and beliefs about yourself and your abilities are really starting to solidify and where that extra confidence can have a real impact.

Children can choose to study any topic, at any level, at any time, whether it’s to do their homework, revise for tests or stay ahead by learning new topics. Over 100,000 children, parents and teachers use and trust Eedi and 98% of children say they feel more confident after just one lesson, which is an amazing statistic isn’t it?

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Nissan LEAF

‘I don’t know how to switch it on!’

‘I pressed the button.’

‘Is it on then?’

‘I don’t know, I can’t hear anything?’

It turns out that the Nissan LEAF was on, but that the whole thing about an electric car is that you can’t hear it. Dur. I mean I knew that, or I knew the theory of it, but I didn’t expect it to be so quiet that I literally couldn’t tell whether I’d switched it on or not. Even pulling away it had an eerie nothingness about it, as though we were on one of those little trains giving us a tour of a theme park. Or a milk float.

If you’ve not seen the Nissan LEAF before, here’s a short introduction: View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Tutorful

Every so often Belle gets a new THING. In the past these THINGS have taken the form of various musical instruments, workouts, crafts, hair care routines – essentially it’s just her having a go at something new. I think she feels like it’s a bit foolish, somehow a weakness to start things and drop them quickly, but I love it. I love that she decides to give something a go and whoosh, she’s all in, before you know it she’s spent £50 on an autoharp on eBay. I think ‘having a go’ is an admirable quality that more of us could do with embracing, and I never think she’s foolish.

(I am saying this partly thinking she might read it, but also because it’s true and I want her to know that I admire it about her.)

This month the thing has been the violin.

‘I’ve never touched a violin,’ she said one day when we were in the car, ‘so I thought it might be fun.’

Never touched a violin? I was slightly shocked. Surely touching a violin was just a thing that everyone has done? But then I remembered that my best friend in secondary school played the violin, a lot, and so perhaps my adolescent violin touching experiences weren’t standard. I mean, if you didn’t have a violin playing friend, when would you touch one?

Anyway, after some time where I was given a lecture about how as a parent I should have insisted Belle practice an instrument every day from age two, and that if only I hadn’t neglected my role she would be a musical genius by now, Belle decided that she was going to learn to play and she bought a violin.

Here it is:

find a violin tutor View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with AvaCare

They say life is about balance. A little of what you fancy, some moderate exercise, getting your vitamins, having a small glass of wine at the weekends. Fine, I get it. I even conducted a little experiment into balance, from which I can only conclude that I’m allowed six bourbons every I eat a satsuma.

AvaCare supplements review

You can’t argue with science guys.

But blimey, this last twelve months has been tough balancing act hasn’t it? For so many of us, the bigger picture balance wise means a night out with friends on Saturday after a week a work or a weekend away mid-winter to escape the monotony of the rain. It means jumping in the car on your day off and driving to the coast to paddle in the sea even though it’s freezing, just for the change of scene, just to FEEL.

So what does balance mean in a global pandemic? How do we take care of ourselves and maintain some semblance of sanity when the scales always seem to be weighed down on one side by homeschooling, homeworking, home bloody everything?

I guess when your life feels small, one thing you can do is to come down to its level and take care of the small things. The small things like eating well, getting enough sleep, trying not to become an alcoholic and getting outside just for half an hour, even if it is with your coat on over your pyjamas. (It’s leisurewear remember.) View Post

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We have this thing in our house. It goes like this…

Someone will get up to do something like go to the toilet or get a drink. Someone else, who has been waiting for just such an opportunity, will say ‘while you’re up…’ It is then the duty of the person who is up to do the bidding of the second person.

Sometimes it’s something simple like ‘while you’re up could you get me a drink of water please?’ Often though, it’s more complex. As it’s just me and Belle in the house and I’m a little more up and about than Belle normally, it’s often me who takes the brunt.

Picture the scene. I get up to have a wee. Belle, who has probably been secretly waiting for this moment for at least half an hour, stirs on the sofa.

‘While you’re up…’ she begins.

‘Yessss…’ I say, taking a slow intake of breath because she has a cheeky look on her face like she’s probably not going to be asking for a glass of water. ‘What?’

‘Can you get me some kind of pudding?’ She says.

‘What kind of pudding?’ I ask. (The worst requests are the non-specific ones.)

‘Something nice,’ she says.

‘We’ve got bananas?’ I suggest. She raises her eyebrows.

‘Could you get me,’ she begins, and she does a sort of wriggle in her seat, like she’s just thought of the perfect thing and she’s excited, ‘a bowl of ice cream, and could I have a spoonful of peanut butter on the top. And then could you grate a little bit of chocolate over it all? And could you get me my lip balm from upstairs please?’

And I have to do it because those are the rules of ‘while you’re up’. View Post

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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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When I bought my house three years ago the garden vibe was most definitely ‘abandoned prison yard’ – it was just a square of gravel, weeds growing, fence panels leaning in the breeze.

I had an equally clear vision for what I wanted it to look like – tropical paradise. I talked about it to a friend who has possibly the most tropical paradise of a garden I know, and she sketched me out a plan. I found a landscape gardener and off we went, the garden makeover began.

A couple of months later and I had the beginnings of my dream garden. The plants were a little small – something I hadn’t really considered – but funnily enough they DID grow and now I have a space where I can escape from the world. It’s been an absolute Godsend this year. If I’d not had my own outdoor space during lockdown I think I might possibly have gone mad.

Here are four things I did to turn my garden into a blissful retreat:

Make a plan

It was so helpful for me to have my friend’s sketch as a guide. It kept me focussed on what I really wanted and what was important to me and really helped to create the vision.

garden makeover

Think about your garden all year round

As lovely as it is just to get out the sun lounger at the height of summer and bask in the glory of the sunshine, a garden is for life, not just for Christmas. (That’s the saying right?) Although it might not be as tropical in the winter months, it can still serve as a retreat – think abut your planting and include autumn colour, winter flowering plants and evergreens that will keep the garden looking alive all year round.

Add colour wherever you can

You can add colour to your garden in so many ways, not just through planting. I painted my pergolas a lovely pink for example, which adds a lot of colour to the garden and is a nice contrast to the green. I also picked colourful pots for the patio areas, which means that even in the middle of winter you have colour in the garden.

yellow plant pots

Get comfy

Weirdly for someone who likes lounging about as much as possible, garden furniture was one of the last things I bought. I did have a garden bench, which is still lovely against the back wall of my house as a bit of a suntrap, but it was when I bought the loungers and a little table and chairs that the garden felt like it became a real useable space.

The ultimate dream obviously is an outdoor sofa set. Then I’d be like one of those fancy grown-up people who have a dedicated garden crockery set and entertain in the garden. Although obviously I’d mainly keep the garden sofa for my own personal lounging.

What are the things that you couldn’t do without in your garden?

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