Thank you very much to everyone who replied to my post yesterday about talking to children about death.

I’m sure you all hardly slept last night, anxious to know whether someone would have moved the bunny, or whether we would be forced to confront the realities of death on our way to school. Really? You slept fine you say? Oh.


This morning we set of to school, late as usual, as Belle had been watching a recording of the election debate while she ate her rice crispies. At her request may I add. She is, she tells me, ‘really very interested Mummy’. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much of it she was going to be able to understand, but she seemed to get to grips with it very well and appeared genuinely interested.

“Mummy,” she asked as they discussed inheritance tax, “David Cameron’s got it wrong. He wants to give the rich people even more money…”

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Our walk to school every morning takes us alongside a small cricket pitch. Yesterday morning there was a rabbit stretched out on the grass, clearly dead, but nevertheless looking decidedly relaxed.

Belle, who at seven years old is highly sensitive and often slightly melodramatic, spotted the bunny straightaway. “What’s that rabbit doing there Mummy?” she asked, looking concerned.

I then had exactly two seconds to make a decision. Do I tell her it is dead, which will result inevitably in her crying and clinging to me at the school gates telling me she never wants me to die ever ever, or do I lie?

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Continuing in a positive spirit, today I have been thinking about the simple things in life that give me pleasure.

If you don’t take time out to focus on what makes you happy, it is all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tedium of parenting alone. Washing, cleaning, cooking – admittedly I don’t do a huge amount of any of those things, but the responsibility is still mine, should I choose to accept it.

Sometimes I worry that the things I enjoy are rather dull. I don’t do any kind of extreme sports, or have a secret part-time job as a lion tamer. I don’t drive fast cars or jet off every weekend on exotic city mini-breaks – my life is much more acoustic folk than rock and roll. I did once jump out of a plane, but to be honest I found the whole free-falling thing quite boring – you just hang there after all, and not much else happens.

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Firstly, please let me apologise for my last post.  I had had a couple of rather emotionally exhausting days, and clearly wasn’t feeling myself. I am now back though, and to lighten the mood I am going to write about parties. I don’t want everyone to think I am some kind of isolated single parent who spends all  their time at home alone, pacing about, writing occasional bursts of gibberish.

I love parties. I get to dress up, drink cocktails and talk to men. What’s not to love? Unfortunately, I don’t often get invited to parties (sob). I don’t know if it’s just that no one I know has them much, or that I am particularly disliked, but I never have to push my way through piles of invitations to get to the front door. It’s the same with weddings  – everyone else I know seems to be complaining constantly about having the spend every weekend over the summer at a wedding, but I’ve only been to about five in my whole life.

So, to solve the problem, I basically have to throw my own parties. Being the host has its benefits of course – you get to set the date, choose the fancy dress theme, and not have to worry about staggering home without your shoes on and dropping your chips. It does mean you have to spend the next week cleaning red wine off things, but it’s a small price to pay.

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Do you ever have days where you can’t sit still? You find yourself flitting from one thought to the next, unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time? Maybe it’s a bad ADHD day, or maybe it’s just that end of the week Friday feeling, but today I just can’t get in the zone.

My head feels full. I want to write, but I can’t get anything out, I can’t form my thoughts into a sensible order. I’ve been wandering around, waiting for the jumble of Things I Really Must Do to form themselves into something witty and intelligent, but they just aren’t.

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Before you start thinking ‘three in a bed, what’s not to love?…’, let me make it clear I am talking babies here.

Before you have them, other parents joke about ‘sleepless nights’, but until you become a parent yourself you just don’t appreciate the hell of being kept awake all night by the horrendous squawky crying and irritating writhing that babies combine so well.

Anyway, regular readers will have gathered by now that my parenting style is fairly ‘instinctive’, (a euphemism my critics may say for lazy or ill-informed), and the books I read and the friendships I form are chosen very carefully, designed to support rather than inform the choices I make.

We all know that you can find a study (or friend) to back up any argument, and I always manage to justify the decisions I make. It’s a bit like shopping – “But these shoes were in the sale, so technically I have saved money, and they go with everything, so represent excellent cost per wear value..”

I’d be the first to admit that my parenting isn’t always selfless, but honestly, TV can be terribly educational you know. There are some choices I make though that, although they have not made my life easy for me at the time, I feel confident were absolutely the right thing to do for us.

One of these is sleep. Bee slept through the night from six weeks old. I don’t say this in a gloating way, it’s just a fact. Although at the time I smugly put it down to my ‘laid back parenting style’ (oh what a young foolish woman I was), on reflection I realise it was just luck. She did however sleep in the same room as me, and at times in a bed pushed right up against mine, until she was at least 18 months old. If I’m honest this was less a philosophical standpoint and more a matter of logistics, living as we were then with my mum in one bedroom. It felt right though, and I never had the urge to push her out into her own room.

And then I had Belle.

It would be fair to say that Belle didn’t sleep quite as well as her sister. In fact, she woke up regularly at hourly intervals throughout the night until she was about two, and it was only when she started school that she began to sleep right through.

Many of these nights were spent with her in our bed, often with her Dad relegated to a mattress on the floor. When she got older she moved into her own room, but this just meant I had further to stumble in the night when she woke crying, and that I slept even less. If you’ve ever done that teenage thing of sharing a single bed with another person, it’s like that, only worse, as you can’t really shove a toddler against the wall in protest of them stealing all the covers. Well you can, but I believe it is frowned upon in parenting circles.

My point is…what is my point?…ah yes, my point is that I never resorted to controlled crying. Babies only really have one way of telling us something is wrong, and although it’s a shame that the one way is so loud and piercing, it has a purpose. Whatever the parenting gurus like to have us believe, babies don’t cry as some kind of elaborate mind game, to test us, or to prove a point. They cry because they are upset and need comforting. So when my babies cried, I comforted them. Sounds obvious doesn’t it, but there are plenty of parents who don’t do it.

I was delighted therefore to have my choices validated this weekend in The Guardian  by psychologist Oliver James. James’ examination of the evidence shows that ‘unresponsiveness’, i.e. ignoring your baby when it cries, has been shown to have serious long-term consequences. Having your cries go unheard as a child can make you insecure as an adult and lead to emotional vulnerability in your future relationships. James also highlights how unique we are in this country in believing babies should be sleeping alone – 79% of  societies around the world normally have their infants in the same room, 44% in the same bed.

So why are co-sleepers so often made to feel like freaks? When ever anyone tells me their baby shares their bed, it tends to be in a conspiratorial whisper – ‘I know I shouldn’t, but…’. We feel guilty, weak maybe, despite the evidence showing we’re actually setting our kids up for a healthier adult life.

I thorny subject maybe, but I’m happy at least that one of my parenting choices has turned out to be a good one. Now all I need is a study showing Oreos make a wholesome breakfast and I’m set.


I’ve always had a childlike excitement when it comes to post. Every day I wait eagerly for the sound of the postman carefully trying to wrestle the letters through my rather precarious letterbox – hanging as it does by a single screw.

Although the post normally consists solely of bills, reminders for sight tests, and credit card statements intent on highlighting just how much money I have spent that month on coffee and snacks, I still feel a sense of eager anticipation as I gather the handful of white envelopes up off the dirty tiles. Maybe today will be the day that the postman brings me a long awaited love letter from Colin Firth, or perhaps news that a previously unknown spinster aunt has died and bequeathed me her vast estate, cats and all. But alas, no.

This week though I was rewarded with a package. A squishy brown envelope all the way from California. Now I don’t know anyone in California, so my curiosity was immediately aroused. I tore the package open and out dropped an envelope and a CD. How exciting! I felt like a spy. Would the envelope contain instructions on how to use the CD to download some kind of secret code?


But it was just as intriguing…

“Ciao Slummy Mummy,” it began, “Come stai? My name is Bill, but my artist name is Seamus O’Conner. I was in Italy a couple of weeks ago and the car I rented had this wonderful CD of Italian songs…I hope you might enjoy them, I am giving you a piece of my Italian experience.”

For a blissful thirty seconds I imagined an american artist driving through Italy, thinking of me, moved to spontaneously send me music from the other side of the world. How romantic! Maybe this was better than an unexpected inheritance. And then I read on and heard about his wife. Hmm… that shattered the dream somewhat. Puzzled, I suddenly realised what was going on – it was my parcel from the Secret Post Club! Not an international stalker after all. Boring.

So thank you very much to Seamus O’Conner for bringing such excitement to an other wise fairly ordinary day. Proof if ever any were needed that good things do come to those who wait. So come on Colin, what are you waiting for?


One of the things I struggle most with as a parent is consistency. When it comes to setting boundaries and laying down the law, I often find myself floundering. I can’t quite get my head around the idea that it is completely up to me, that I can just decide. Sometimes this power goes to my head and I find myself saying ‘no’ to the most innocent of requests. Catch me in a rebellious mood though and I will happily let Belle watch hours of TV in the nude (don’t ask), offer up toast and chocolate spread for dinner and quickly succumb to my children’s requests for that guiltiest of pleasures – garage tea.

For me, being a single mother makes consistent parenting even more of a challenge. I don’t have another sensible adult on hand to keep me grounded or to question why I think it is ok to let Belle watch 12 certificate films, but not ok for her to eat a bag of maltesers while she does it. (Funnily enough, the malteser website says you have to be 12 or over to enter – how weird is that – so maybe I’m not being so unreasonable after all!)

Of course I do have my mother. She is always happy to challenge me, often in front of the children, about my take on discipline. But however reasonable she may be, she is my mother, and my childish side kicks in, making it seem suddenly even more important that Belle eat all her peas before being allowed a pudding. Why? Because I am her mother and I say so. No other reason that ‘just because’.

Not wanting to sound too much like a Marks & Spencer advert, I have been trying lately to challenge myself, to think more carefully about what rules and routines are actually important and which are just me flexing my mummy muscles for the sake of it. The trouble is, that once I start questioning things, my pinball machine brain runs away with me. Will tidy bedrooms really make us happier?  Does it actually matter if Belle finishes her peas when ultimately we are all going to die anyway? You see my problem.

My sense of discipline also varies hugely depending on my own selfish needs and fluctuates with my mood. If I have a deadline looming, the Disney Channel suddenly becomes a much more attractive option. When I’m tired, I can easily convince myself that ordering vegetable supreme as a Domino’s pizza topping constituents several of our five-a-day.

Yesterday I had one of those days when my own preoccupations meant Belle was free to wander the house, watch back to back Hannah Montana and eat Weetos out of box. Now I know in my heart of hearts that Weetos do not a wholesome supper make, but I get sucked in by idea of them being ‘fortified with vitamins and iron’ and they are just so yummy.

Busy in the garden with my pressure washer – relocating the moss and mud from the patio onto the walls and my face – I ignored Belle’s plaintive cries for snacks. It was only when I realised it wasn’t actually late-afternoon at all, but nearly 8pm, that I thought I should probably come in and rustle up a healthy snack.

Unfortunately the fridge contained only Carlsberg and Jarlsberg (what are the chances??) so I turned instead to the emergency freezer drawer. 20 minutes later we were tucking into fish fingers and naan bread. By rights it should have been bedtime for Belle, but having neglected her for most of the afternoon I decide to let her stay up with me and watch Jonathan Creek. We are half way through before I wonder if it’s really suitable for a sensitive seven-year-old, but I put my hands over her eyes for the bit where the crazy secretary is having afternoon tea with the corpse of her former boss, so I think it’s ok.

When we finally get to bed Belle is overtired and a little traumtised and wants to come in my bed. I say no – kindly but firmly. Five minutes later she is back, but again I say no. In my head I decide that if she asks again I will say yes, so ten minutes later she is asleep next to me, thus rendering my initial resistance fairly pointless. What kind of rubbish parent develops a method of saying no twice, then yes on the third attempt? It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.

But maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe my fickleness is teaching my girls a valuable lesson about the inconsistencies of life and the importance of determination and persistance in getting what you want. Perhaps I am actually being a Very Good Mum, subtly showing them that life as an adult isn’t always fair or rational. Yes, that sounds plausible. Excellent. Now, Sunday lunch, Wheetos all round I think…

Photo credit: GavinLi


I read an interesting article in The Times yesterday about Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The woman writing the piece had been to see a therapist about her chronic lateness and they had suggested she might be displaying symptoms of Adult ADHD. I read on with interest, and a lot of what was said felt familiar to me. I am hopeless at remembering names, I’m clumsy, forgetful and my children will bear witness to my habit of setting off to new places without a map, certain I will get there somehow, at some point.

I think about my career and relationship history – patchy to say the least – and wonder if this is just another symptom. It’s true that I get very bored easily, and that I worry about getting bored, so will take on lots of new projects all the time just in case. I do also have an occasionally alarming habit of drifting off into my own thoughts, especially when driving. I will often look around and have no real idea of how far along my journey I am, how fast I am going, or what the speed limit is.

I struggle sometimes in conversations too, normally with people I don’t know so well, or if I know I really have to pay attention. In meetings I sometimes find I am hearing sounds coming from other people’s mouths, but however hard I concentrate, I can’t make the words make sense, or stay in my head.

The reference in the article to ‘to do’ lists makes me laugh. It says lists are hopeless for someone with ADHD. Ask us to make a list and we will write down 100 things, start them all and then panic. It sounds all too familiar. But is this really a diagnosable condition, or just modern life as a single parent with two children and a collection of jobs?

I decide to do a quiz online, as obviously a random cyber-test is the most effective way to diagnose important medical conditions.  There are some questions that strike a chord. Are my thoughts like static in my head? Do they whizz round my brain like a pin ball machine? Well yes, but this doesn’t sound terribly scientific to me…

A lot of the questions don’t feel relevant though – I don’t have a short temper, I’m not easily upset and I don’t think I could say that I’d rather be up doing something all the time than having a nice sit down. I feel quite relieved, I’m surely not going to score highly in this case.

I finish the quiz and get a score of 70. Hmmm.

If you scored… You may have…
70 & up
50 – 69
35 – 49
25 – 34
0 – 24
Adult ADHD
Moderate ADHD
Borderline ADHD
No ADHD likely

OK, no need to panic. Einstein had ADHD after all, and sufferers are likely to be highly creative, instinctive and full of energy, so maybe it’s a good thing. I read the blurb underneath:

“It is highly likely that you are presently suffering from adult attention deficit disorder, according to your responses on this self-report questionnaire. You should not take this as a diagnosis of any sort, or a recommendation for treatment. However, it would be advisable and likely beneficial for you to seek further diagnosis from a trained mental health professional immediately.”

Immediately? That sounds a bit worrying. What does that mean exactly? Should I be phoning the local mental health team and handing myself in? Obviously I can’t possibly do that today, as I have a hundred other things to be getting on with. I need to take the bed I sawed in half last night to the tip, I have several work deadlines to meet, and I’m half way through pressure washing my patio.

I will just have to add ‘seek medical help’ to my list…

Why not take the test and tell me how you score?

Photo credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory


Firstly – Happy Easter! I hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend and have eaten suitably horrendous quantities of mini-eggs. I know I have.

Before I began my weekend of gorging, I was tagged by the fabulous Linda Jones of You’ve Got Your Hands Full, asking me to tell you seven previously undisclosed things about myself. If you haven’t come across Linda before, where have you been? I have yet to meet Linda in person, but I am already in awe of her. Everywhere I go in the virtual world, Linda seems to be there already. She is amazing!

Anyway, I have been thinking about this all weekend and to be honest I’ve been struggling. I think I’m pretty open most of the time and I’ve been having a hard time coming up with things that I won’t have told someone already. Obviously I can’t mention the bank heist, and David made me promise to keep my three way romp with him and Samantha under wraps in the run up to the election. Ergh, I have made myself feel rather queasy even joking about that one. Quick, change the subject.

So I’m wracking my brains here for seven things that you don’t know about me, but that will make me seem intruguing and glamourous. I’m hoping if I just type and don’t think about it, something will spill out onto the screen.

So here goes:

  1. OK, here’s one I’m quite pleased with. In 2008 I made a New Year’s Resolution to read 100 books in a year. I was fed up with having piles of half-read books lying around the house, and needed some motivation to finish them. I managed 104, which I think is pretty good going for a year. Um…ok…now I am stuck. I just asked Bee for ideas and she couldn’t think of anything. Does this mean I am just very honest, or just very dull??
  2. “Have you ever been in prison?” asks Bee. No, I’ve never even been arrested. “Lame,” she says.
  3. “Do you play a musical instrument?” asks the young boy on my sofa who is draped over Bee. Actually, yes, this could count as one. At school I played the guitar and the cello. I had an accordion for a while too. Not terribly glamourous though.
  4. I have never been married or owned a house. (Commitment issues)
  5. I’ve had sex at the top of Glastonbury Tor. (Exhibitionist)
  6. I have a giant poster of Zac Efron on my study wall. It was a Christmas present from Bee, I didn’t actively seek it out and buy it myself. He is 22 though, so it’s fine.
  7. I have a naked picture of myself on my bedroom wall. That was a Christmas present too actually. I’m nearly 32 though – is that still fine?

A friend asked me this week what my dream job would be, if children weren’t a consideration.

I found that pretty hard to answer, as I can’t remember a time when children haven’t been a consideration, and I’ve no idea what that would feel like. I already had one by the time I was 17, so I never experienced the luxury of being able to legally drink and drive (not together of course) without a child in tow.

If I didn’t have children, what would I do? Would I make the most of my freedom, skipping happily from the theatre to the gym, filling my days with fulfilling work and wholesome voluntary activities? Or would I be swaying from one cocktail bar to the next, an inappropriately young man on each arm?

Probably neither. If I didn’t have children I imagine I would spend quite a lot of my time loafing about at home on my own, watching re-runs of Sex and the City and imagining everyone else was out doing something terribly sophisticated, like having drinks and chatting about literature with Stephen Fry. Which is how I pass many an evening already really.

So what about as a child, before parenthood was even conceivable – what did I imagine my adult life would be like then? I gave the question some serious thought. I actually have a very poor long-term memory. Goodness knows what happened to me as a child, but whatever it was has been successfully blocked out. Most of my childhood memories come via my sister, who even at four years younger than me seems to have a much clearer picture.

I do have an image in my head that has stuck with me though, from a time when I must have been imagining life as a grown up. It is a really only a flash, and is basically me dressed in a lovely suit and high heels, letting myself into an elegant, tidy and sparsely furnished flat. That’s it, but the sense I get from it is that I am just getting home from a long day in some kind of stressful but rewarding office based job, and am looking forward to kicking off my heels and relaxing with a nice hot bath.

All in all, not very helpful in terms of career planning. The opportunity to wear a nice pencil skirt and a good pair of shoes is clearly important though, which makes me question my current work at home status. Much of my time is spent in trousers with elasticated waists and I barely leave the house, let alone let myself back in with a sense of exhausted satisfaction.

Obviously I like writing, which is lucky, given my line of work, but I do miss the social interaction. Half the fun of work for me is striking up some kind of inappropriate relationship with a colleague, and skiving off to look at facebook or send personal emails doesn’t give the same sense of wicked pleasure when you work for yourself.

In the back of my head I nurture a dream of being offered my own column in the Guardian weekend magazine, one I’m sure is shared by one or two others, but I have learnt in the last year that work to me is about more than just the job you do. It is about the company you work for, the people you work with and the person you become once you get into that pencil skirt.

As much as I love the flexibility that working from home gives me, I miss the banter, the camaraderie, and the reason to get dressed in the morning. So maybe I’ll stick with my journalistic dreams, but I need them to involve an office. An office with lots of other interesting people in it. And maybe an on site cocktail bar and a view over Manhattan.

Hang on, my secretary has a call waiting. It’s Stephen – he has a new book he’d like to discuss over lunch. Sorry – must dash…


Like most women, I am a sucker for lotions and potions, so when a lovely lady from AVEENO® offered me some samples of their skincare range to try out I leapt at the chance. Free potions delivered to your door in an exciting parcel – what’s not to love?

I am cynical enough not to fall for most of the anti-aging propoganda that typifies the beauty market. I don’t believe for a minute that the latest pore-defining-pro-retinal-q10-derma-peptide face cream will transform my face into that of a 19-year-old swedish model, but I do love the idea that one little bottle or jar of cream has the potential to have some kind of life changing, age defying effect. I love the sense of promise and hope that you are effectively buying.

AVEENO® though aren’t claiming to turn back time, they are simply offering a range of natural and effective moisturisers, designed especially for women with dry skin. Now I do love a good moisturiser, especially at this time of the year when cold winds and central heating have combined to give me skin the texture of sandpaper.

I consider it a personal quest to find the moisturiser that will make my skin silky smooth and leave me smelling like I’ve been bathing in exotic perfumes in the middle of an orchard, overhung with boughs of ripe fruits, honeysuckle and jasmine. Not too much to ask I’m sure you’ll agree.

So with unrealistically high expectations I begin to smother myself daily with AVEENO®’s Moisturising Creamy Oil. It does sound promising doesn’t it? And actually it’s pretty good. It isn’t sticky, and it does leave my skin feeling soft. I particularly like the smell – it smells like I’m smearing myself in melted chocolate orange, which has to be a good thing.

I wish I could say the same about the hand cream scent wise, because it really is a great hand cream. I have a bit of trouble with hand cream normally, as I seem to have developed a habit of putting it on just before I am about to do something with my hands, like make a sandwich. AVEENO®’s hand cream does just what it promises though and absorbs quickly, leaving my hands able to butter bread and manhandle the cheese without getting it too sticky.

The down side is that the ‘unscented’ hand cream smells a bit like an old people’s home – that sort of sterile, overcooked veg, soiled trousers smell. It’s only very faint, and I do have a ridiculously perceptive sense of smell, but it is a bit of a shame. That said, I liked it despite the vague aroma of octogenarians, and would probably buy it again.

You may also want to check out the AVEENO® Discoverer programme, where you can sign up to a special website to become an AVEENO® Discoverer, recommend products to friends and relatives, as well as receive news and samples.