Tulips and Gerberas

I have just finished an excellent book on my kindle called The Language of Flowers , I will never look at a yellow rose or a basil leaf or a sunflower or a clematis in the same way again.

The book uses flowers to describe the emotional journey the lead character goes through as she battles her nemesis – attachment disorder. The horticultural vocabulary is based on the translations of the victorian era, some of the descriptions are very victoriana in their composition.

I was relieved to see at the end of the book there was a flower dictionary and I hastily looked up my Dad and Stepmum’s main flower for their forthcoming wedding and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the words next to Tulip read ‘declaration of love’. Phew!

I then looked up the main flower at our wedding 10 years ago, the gerbera, which simply said ‘cheerfulness’. I need a truck load of gerberas at the moment in our relationship because it is anything but…..

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

Life on the back of a toilet door..

When I was sat in the loo of a restaurant the other day, i read a little saying that had been inscribed in a ‘boho chic’ kind of way on something that resembled driftwood but not actually the real thing. Sayings and quotes about life and family seem to be very much in vogue at the moment, particularly purchased from stores like ‘notonthehighstreet.com’ (yes but its every-bloody-where else, including restaurant toilets). This is another fad that I find irritating (along with my earlier post on all things ‘vintage’). Having ‘love this, laugh at that’ and all round smugness dressed up as a quote and emblazoned across your walls, is firmly in the locality of naff street. However I have to amit there are some quotes that are worth broadcasting around the home. For example, I have a sign in the kitchen with a laughing 1950s housewife saying ‘A clean house is a sign of a wasted life’. This is up there in an attempt to excuse untidiness to unexpected guests. On the door to the washing machine etc, reads ‘Mom’s laundry, need help’, which is true, I do need help as I spend a lot of my time in that tiny room. In fact every time I turn the washing machine and moan at the bore of loading and unloading a machine, i think of my granny hand-washing and mangling and then I feel ashamed. My granny ha it harder.

But going back to the sign i saw in the loo, i cant remember the exact words, but it said something like this:

Two things you need in life:

1) Someone to love

2) Something  to look forward to

I think regardless of your situation or where you are in the world (or restroom), these two things make life worth living and make the difference between existing and living.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading. 

Merry Mums enjoy Merry Wives

Apologies for my absence yesterday, another £1 in the pot to Unicef, but I was busy with a family friend and fellow mum, enjoying Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives’, in the beautiful idyllic grounds of a boarding school in the heart of the British countryside. It was oozing with national charm, right down to the 1950’s setting, the cameo appearance of a vintage car and good old-fashioned fun-poking at the aristocracy, the Welsh and the French (in no particular order).

The lead role of the overweight, boozy and letchy Sir John Falstaff was played by Northern charmer, Ste Johnson, whose wicked wit, genuine 44inch waist and willingness to poke fun at the audience (and judge them on their wine from Lidl) as well as his salacious appetite for their crisps, was unlike anything I had ever seen. Knowing our hubbys were at home dealing with bath-time and bed-time while we sat in St George’s flag themed deck-chairs, eating picnic food rom M&S and drinking mojitos while guffawing at one elegant and poetic innuendo after another was different and bliss all rolled into one.

I did not know the plot of The Merry Wives before last night’s performance but the brilliant acting made it so easy to follow, freeing the audience to fully appreciate the prose and poetry that makes Shakespeare so entertaining and so admired.

In fact understanding the plot is key to really enjoying Shakespeare, thats why a book that has converted all of the key Shakespeare plays into cartoons for primary school children is genius. I bought a copy for my daughter and it puts Shakespeare’s lines next to illustrations as well as explaining, in modern-day English, the complexities of the story and the many characters and how they relate. I figure if she reads some of these in bedtime stories, by the time she has reached secondary school a basic understanding of  some of the key plays will have sunk into her psyche.

I have started to read some classic texts as part of my bedtime reading too. I have just finished ‘The Age of innocence’ by Edith Wharton and was blown away by her descriptions of characters and emotions, it is this ability to use words that effortlessly describe a feeling or an emotion, that makes enables a nook to give pleasure regardless of the century it was written in.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.


British Book Off

There is an argument for losing the word ‘English’ in ‘English literature’. I often think about all the good books and authors out there that I miss out on because they havent been translated, or rather, I dont speak or read any other word apart from English, this includes ‘American English’ as I cant tolerate the weird spelling.

While I think it is good to review the current texts on the British secondary national curriculum, am I the only person who thinks it strange, illogical and, frankly, bordering on facism to dictate that young developing minds must only digest literature written by English authors.

I am going to try and remember what I read at secondary school (incidentally while under a Tory government, led by John Major, havent the foggiest who looked after education but do recall my dabble in state being disastrous, the standard was abysmal yet today now it is brilliant. Naturally Gove wants to revert to the crap system of the nineties to help broaden the gap between the privileged and the less so.

I read: William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, Susan Hill’s ‘I’m the King of the Castle’, James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ and F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines. I’m sure there were more but these were the most memorable. Most of these would still tick Gove’s boxes. My favourite thankfully will still be on the list, ‘Lord of the Flies’. I enjoyed the book so much I kept my battered original from school days. My second favourite (helped by the hit song during that time ‘Wake up Boo’ by the Boo Radleys, is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, i think it is criminal this is no longer on the list. It has more messages about social history, ethics and justice than Michal Gove has in policy u-turns.

I work at a place where students decide on the book they will study. There is obviously a long-list but they have a discussion about the synopses of each collectively with the class and then decide which one to study based on discussion. Kids are more receptive to learning if they take ownership of what and how they learn. I think this may make life more interesting for teachers too. So back off Gove and hand the power of what texts to study to the teachers and their pupils. They are the experts NOT you.

Contemplating sending a list to Gove of what he is permitted to read on holiday and see how he likes it.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

Happiness is perfect yet perfect isnt happy

I read an article by actress and stand-up comedian Francesca Martinez. It was brilliant and inspired me to order her book ‘What the f*** is normal?’ It also made me re-evaluate some of my views, particularly relating to parenting disabled children. I had always thought that parenting a disabled child overwhelming, although I could never have brought myself to abort a baby based on a predicted disability forecast by health professionals – a predicament that would have no doubt finished our marriage. My husband’s views on bringing up a disabled child are in contrary to his own childhood, which was marred by severe hearing loss due to brain damage.

Francesca looks at it from a different angle, ‘Most parents-to-be still fear that their beloved Newborn will turn out to be -oh, the horror – disabled. My personal fear is that my future child will turn out to be unhappy. I don’t care what he or she can or can’t do, how they talk or walk or how many fingers and toes they have. Because I don’t think that is a good indicator of happiness. Forget aborting babies because of the suffering they might endure. What about the suffering they will create? Wouldn’t it make sense to develop a test to check for the arms-dealer gene, the advertising executive gene, the corporate-overlord gene, or the gossip-magazine editor gene? That would eliminate quite a lot of suffering.’

I wish I had read Francesca’s article in The Guardian before I passed judgement on my daughter’s maths test mark. She described the scale of marks to me with 6 being the top score. I cant pretend that I was disappointed she had got a 3, they then get a sub mark in the form of letters, with A being the lowest and D being the top. Her total mark was 3B. I couldn’t hold back this disappointment and said that I didn’t  think her mark was ‘that good’ and that if she wanted to get into boarding school (her wish not mine) she was going to need to get a 5 or 6. What made me suddenly turn into a mother with the support and encouragement skills of an amoeba? Why did I turn into one of those pushy mothers who focus so much on grades they don’t recognise their daughter’s anorexia and anxiety attacks because of this unnecessary pressure to perform. Most parents say they just want their child to be happy, but also gets lots of qualifications and a high-earning job, the stress of which will put them into an early grave? I managed to halt the destructive path I was proceeding down when she explained to me that she had done her best and I later described it to Daddy in front of her as a ‘good’ mark, to which he said, ‘well that’s OK, it’s average’ gah! So I quickly added that no doubt Mummy and Daddy would have scored a 0 or a 1 if we had taken the same test at her age. Then I thought about the research that found those  who doubt their own maths abilities pass this down to their children. A fine case of how not to support the school life of an 8 year old. Next time I will apply duck tape to our mouths.

So tests are meant to give the teachers a steer on how the child is progressing and what additional support the child needs. I just wish teachers would give parents a steer  as to how we handle the news of the scores and whether we do nothing, praise regardless or encourage to try harder.

I agree with Francesca that kids and adults should just aim to be happy, so why as parents are we so f***in obsessed with perfection, when we are anything but.

I am blogging for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.


Making a difference in 2013 – lets start with the Bhopal disaster

Hi all, hope you had good christmasses/ holidays and enjoyed seeing in/ sleeping through the new year. My mission with this blog is to raise money for Unicef. I hope to raise at least £100 this year through my blog if not more. I am seeking fellow bloggers to give a donation, no matter how small, to Unicef after reading my blog. If one blogger donated £1 each day Unicef would be able to buy a vaccination for one child – so if I achieve my target of £100 – then lots of children get immunised. Unicef also work hard to protect children in war torn and poverty stricken situations and this money will help their eneavours world-wide. I pay a fee to Unicef for my downtime. This year I will start with £11 as I have not blogged for 11 days over the Christmas period.

Over the past few days I have been thinking about what I can do to help the world be a better place for 2013. What happens to children in care or in families who are unable to buy christmas presents? Are there charities out there that bring Christmas to these children? Either way I would like to know if stores such as John Lewis have some budget in their corporate social responsibility expenditure to donate a few of their toys to children in need in the UK? I am going to look into this and keep you posted.

I am once again going to swim for Marie Curie Cancer care this Spring – but this time an even longer distance in a relay with my daughter and friends affected by cancer. Last year I did 64 lengths so would like to aim for closer to 100. My daughter has recently got her level 3 swimming badge so hopefully she will be able to do a couple of lengths with me along with her friends and my friends – between us we should be able to cover a few miles. I  must invest in a new costume though because the one I have was designed for when I was better endowed (they have shrunk to nothing since breast-feeding ceased) I am still mourning the loss of boob now :(.

I love powerhoop – an exercise craze that tones the midriff through hoola hoping with a weighted hoop. I am hoping to convince my instructor and fellow hoopers to do a rountine to music for Unicef on London’s embankment next to the EDF London Eye (will keep you posted on this too).

Finally I read a gripping book about the industrial chemcal leak tragedy in the eighties that left hundreds of thousands of people dead or maimed. The effects of which are still present today in the form of cancers, infertility and psychological disorders. It happened when I was only four years old yet I didn’t hear about it until now. It should be on the history timeline as one of the world’s greatest tragedies but sadly it isn’t (it should be on the same awareness level as the Titanic and September 11th 2001). I am referring to Bhopal and the American owned Union Carbide chemical leak that suffocated and blinded thousands of indian infants, children, women, men and livestock. What’s worse, Union Carbide paid out a miniscule amount in damages. Carbide’s managing Director, at that time, is still in hiding after the Indian government found him guilty of homicide. The company completely disregarded safety procedures, then tried to lay the blame on Indian workers. What’s worse, the factory is still rotting and contaminating India today. The company that now owns Union Carbide, the Dow Chemical Company, have not made any effort to clear up the mess of the Bhopal legacy and a US court, in all its infinite wisdom, ruled that the Indian Government is responsible for the clean-up – sounds fair doesn’t it?  In the article online there is a picture of Indian people calling for the hunt for Osama,  a few years ago, to be re-directed to the hunt for the Union Carbide president of the eighties – Warren Anderson. Their voice has gone un-heard – why? Because lives of people in the West are more important than Indian lives (of course this is not my belief but the belief of senior American officials and corporate executives who have to date done nothing to help India out of a humanitarian disaster caused by the actions of American industry). To make matters worse, the organisers of London 2012, in all thier infinite wisdom, allowed Dow to be a sponsor – nice touch. Just as nice was letting BP sponsor the event too not long after completely fucking up part of America’s coastline and environment. The consequences for companies who mess with people’s lives, livelyhoods and surrounding environment needs to be severe – allowing them to sponsor is just as bad as letting cigarette companies sponsor events – they aren’t allowed to do it so why should Dow and BP – they contaminate health too. Read more about the Bhopal Disaster on Wikipedia. Read more about the Dow sponsorship of the olympics here.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year.

The average person does not exist

Dare you to define an average person? I used to think it quite easy to box people up into their little categories but having had a few jobs working with the Great British public (I cant speak for other countries) we are all fruit loops in slightly different ways – the royal family especially included.

Everyone has a story to tell and every now and again you meet people that stand out like a sore thumb for various different reasons – but that is what makes them so interesting.

I met such a person the other day at work. He is a slightly overweight Liverpudlian covered in tats. He has bizarrely shaped facial hair and flip down shades on his specs. He his also an author and quite a good one, with several novels under his belt, a few that have been turned into films. His writing style is unique – like a really pissed off and foul mouthed Virginia Woolf using a similar stream of consciousness style. His topics lean towards the poorer end of the social class spectrum and his prose often makes you flinch but it feels real because of that. He teaches creative writing in prisons, some of the inmates no doubt inspiration for his characters. He says that characters come to him as words in his head rather than faces when writing a story and that is what gives his work depth.

I like him because he is approachable, not remotely up his arse and different because of who he is and what he writes about. He comes from a shitty neighbourhood so the odds were stacked against him from the outset to write good and do well but he did. If he was in music he would probably make a good rapper – I’m sure Eminem would enjoy his verse – but I don’t believe Liverpudlians and rap go well together….can you imagine the Beatles rapping?

I am writing every day for Unicef in the hope that some kind soul will spare £1 when they read this blog. If you are that person, please check out my Unicef fundraising site. Tomorrow, I will be writing for BBC Children in Need. This year shcoolchildren around the country will be donning their pyjamas in school with a ‘spotty’ theme and eating lots of cupcakes to raise money (my daughter included). I offered to join in but she said she would be too embarrassed if I turned up to the bus stop in my PJs – so instead I will wear something spotty and my blog topic tomorrow will be about spots and pyjamas with a link to the Children in Need website for those bloggers who can lend their support. I haven’t the foggiest what I will find to write about spots and PJs but I will give it a fair crack of the whip – I will need to think laterally that’s for sure.

Thanks for reading.

Planning and Poetry

Last night I promised an update on our little village’s planning saga following my husband’s return from the meeting in the Church. All sounds a little bit ‘Vicar of Dibley’ with a packed church of NIMBYs wanting a say in where 100 houses should be located. Everyone was given a pair of dots (green for yes and ….. yes you guessed it…..red for no). They then placed these dots on a map of the village.

We are self confessed NIMBYs. We back onto a field with uninterrupted views of the countryside and lots of sky – we are very lucky considering our heavily populated island. Forgive us, therefore, for wanting to preserve the bit of green out back. We also live on a council estate, one of three estates in a small area (hard to imagine isn’t it?) One the one side there are lots of fairly ugly post-war houses built to accomodate families bombed out of London. On the other rolling fields, trees, a bit of a wasteland/ hunting ground for owls and buzzards and the odd pylon. This field, like many others surrounding our village, is owned by developers keen to cash in on the local authority target to build 100 houses in the area over the next 5 years.

At the meeting a lot of red dots were placed on the field near us. However, there were a few red dots on the other option. I don’t envy the people trying to put together this ‘neighbourhood plan’ as you can’t keep everyone happy. What I resent is the short-termist thinking of our successive governments. For example, two schools in neighbouring villages were closed down in the past decade. Yet within the past few years, more and more families have moved into the area following an increase in housing. What a surprise, the schools are now oversubscribed and class sizes are bloated as a result. Doh! They seem to think its OK to dump housing down like they are playing The Sims with no thought on infrastrcuture.

Anyway it looks likely that the conclusion will work in our favour. The council don’t like putting social housing amongst existing social housing developments for fear of creating a ‘ghetto’ (“Too many low income people in one area is bound to cause trouble darling”). Snobs in the village, however, prefer it that way – “at least we can keep an eye on them when they are all together, God forbid we have a mixed population across the village”. Yes the class divide is still as strong as it ever was in Great Britain – particularly in the rural South-East. I will let you know the result…

Changing the subject completely, I aim to get my daughter in bed by 7pm. I could count on one hand how many times I have managed to achieve this during the Autumn term, in fact, the whole year. Tonight she was a ball of enthusiasm and did  everything she was asked without any protest (thanks to some harsh words about her behaviour last week). After completing some work on maths and English (we bought those books that ‘support’ the curriculum at home) she started talking about poetry writing, as her class is currently learning about poetry. The subject is the great fire of London and they are learning about adjectives to use in their poems. Lots of sparking and igniting going on. My daughter said she was struggling a bit and I wanted to help her out before school the following day (although it was 7.30pm already so bang goes the rule on bed by 7pm). I dug out one of my old poetry books in the hope that she would be inspired by poems such as The Jabberwocky by CS Lewis and The Listeners by Walter de la Mare (I think!). She was engrossed and then started writing a couple of lines herself about fire. I was amazed how it quickly went off on a tangent about poos and loos but she was enjoying herself so if toilet humour gets her inspired so be it.

It made me wish I had appreciated my school days more, because in my case, once you have analysed and assessed the text for an exam, it is rare that you pick it up again for pleasure. If I returned to the classroom now I would have enjoyed the experience so much more. But Im glad my daughter is enjoying school….I think it has come along way since the state system in the 80s and 90s. I just hope Michael Gove doesn’t cock things up again – I don’t believe the Torys have a good track record when it comes to education.

I am blogging every day for Unicef. If you can support the campaign, please visit my site.

Thanks for reading

Crying over Charlotte

My daughter has just finished reading Charlotte’s Web. Well I should say we have just finished reading it. Being six and a half, my daughter has an attention span long enough to listen to a chapter a night. So every night I have dilligently read each chapter and, in doing so, have rediscovered the pleasure of reading children’s classics. I recall reading the book as a child but the only bit I remembered was that something sad happens to Charlotte – why do we always remember sad memories better than happy ones?

In Chapter 21 Charlotte dies. The prose is very moving as the spider takes her last breath and I am struggling to read the book like someone reading an epilogue of a loved one’s life at a funeral, blubbing all the way through. I turn to my daughter expecting her to be equally moved and she is grinning at me like a cheshire cat. “It’s only a spider Mummy, you are such a baby!”.

There have been few instances when I have cried and my daughter has found it hysterical. We were watching a programme about Zoo animals and the vet “sadly had to put Imogen the giraffe to sleep as she wouldn’t get up once the anasthetic wore off” (I found it hard to believe that that was the only solution but what do you do when a giraffe won’t get up?) Anyway they started playing a sad song and that was it, I was blubbing like a good’un. “Oh Mummy” my daughter said, “She was old and the zookeeper has her babies to look after now, it’s OK”. I couldn’t believe my ears, talk about role reversal. Are we going to be like Saffi and Eddie out of Absolutely Fabulous where she is the Mum and I the child?

Maybe its my age. My daughter does seem to be able to control her emotions rather too well for six. Maybe I should be worried about that?

Anyway,back to literature…..Through my daughter I am re-discovering old classics and I am loving it. At the other end of the spectrum I am reading Peepo Baby to my 10 month old and am enjoying that too. The Ahllberg’s illustrations are enchanting because of the little things – the coal in the back-yard, drying the washing on the stove door, teapots in teacosies, a rainbow rimmed mirror and granny living next door. You can almost hear the theme tune to Dad’s Army as you read it. My son loves it because he can poke his chubby fingers through the peepo holes.

It just goes to show that books are enjoyable at any age and that it is not too early to read to kids. I am looking forward to starting the Harry Potter series soon (I missed out when it was first published) plus the Secret Seven, Famous Five et al. I’m also glad I saved my Classic Adventures series carefully collated week by week in my early teens along with a magazine on the storyline. My dad used to save them for me when I went to his for the weekend. There  must be at least fifty of them – some of which I haven’t read because I didn’t get round to it. They are stored up on the top shelf of our bookcase and occasionally my daughter stares at them wistfully imagining being old enough to read them (the text is a bit small).

I just need to toughen up a bit – Black Beauty is next and I don’t fancy my chances of getting through that without a Kleenex.

I am blogging every day for Unicef. I am aiming to generate £1 a day. If you are able to lend your support, please visit my fundraising page.