29 May 2012

God Save the Queen

1977 The Queen's Silver Jubilee

There was a party in my village, on the rec. Tables and chairs were laid out in long lines. The tables were covered by flimsy plastic cloths, their red, white and blue edges flapping in the breeze.

We ate sweaty ham sandwiches. The thick grey margarine made my mouth feel funny. I ate jelly from a cardboard bowl. I had to go home to be sick.

There was a fancy dress competition. I went as Noddy. I wore a red top and blue shorts. My mum drew big red spots onto a yellow scarf with a felt tip pen. She made shoes and a hat out of blue and red felt; both had bells on. She drew circles on my cheeks with red lipstick to match the scarf. This was our go-to fancy dress costume for several years in the mid-70's. My mum wore it too. One time my dad dressed up as a woman. He wore a blonde wig. I loved that wig. Another time he dressed up as an Arab. He wore a sheet, a tea-towel, sunglasses and sandals. He carried a fat cigar as a prop.

Robert, who lived next-door-but-one, should have won the fancy dress competition. He dressed up as Dougal from The Magic Roundabout. He crawled along on the grass with a straggly rug on his back. He had a paper-plate mask on his head with Dougal's face on it. Everyone said he looked brilliant.

The judges from the Parish Council came round and gave first prize to a girl dressed as a Victorian. All she did was wear a long skirt, a white blouse and a shawl. Even at the age of seven I rolled my eyes at the injustice. The silly old duffers probably chose her because she reminded them of their childhoods. Everyone said Robert was robbed.

2012 The Queen's Diamond Jubilee

I have my Jubilympics bunting ready to go up. I'm hoping it will survive being up from the end of this week until the end of the Paralympics in September. I have my special edition Marks and Spencer tins, and a sequined union flag tote bag, and a Paralympics scarf from Our Greatest Team Rises and flags for us to wave at the Olympic Games. I'm having to resist the urge to buy a Jubilee tea-set and picnic-ware, although I do have tea-towels and mugs. We don't eat enough of the stuff to justify a jar of Ma'amite, but I bought one anyway.

There's going to be a street party in our village. I am ridiculously excited at the prospect. I'm imagining a good old-fashioned knees-up. I know a lot of parents from the school gate, so there should be some familiar faces there. There will be a bouncy castle, welly wanging and rolling pin hurling (for the ladies), and a drunken tug-of-war.

Bring it on.



24 May 2012

Why I'm glad I have sons

When I was pregnant, both times, I secretly wanted a boy. I'd have been thrilled to have daughters too, of course, but I really wanted sons. I've had a tough time being a woman. I've been better at my job than men, worked harder, but been paid less. I've been overlooked, particularly at work, and I've been ridiculed for having (large) breasts. Now, as a fat, frumpy, forty-something mother, I feel invisible.

The grass is always greener, but life seems altogether easier if you have a penis. You can pee anywhere, for a start.

I have two sons, Presley and Cash. They are aged four and three and are becoming aware that there are differences between boys and girls.

I am raising them to be civil children. I chose the word civil carefully. You can not be civil if you despise one half of the population. I am also raising my sons to be feminists, like their parents.

We're not nearly as extreme as some parents in our dislike of gender stereotyping. We currently have no gender confusion. They are boys. They love playing with cars, they love trains and dinosaurs, aliens and pirates. All pretty typical of boys their age. They also push their teddies around in pink pushchairs, wear hair clips and spend a lot of time colouring-in. They fight over who has the pink cup at breakfast time. They are still boys.

Recently they told us that they were playing a game at nursery and they wouldn't let the girls join in. When we asked why not, they couldn't answer. They've never watched Peppa Pig, but Cash told me 'only girls like Peppa Pig'. Again, he couldn't tell me why, he was simply observing or repeating something from nursery.

I am appalled in shops that there is such a pink/blue divide. Feminism has been around for decades, but the obsession with pink and princesses is escalating. What does that teach girls? Madonna summed it up for me on The Graham Norton Show. She said that even when we're strong, powerful grown-up women, we still have a nagging feeling in the back of our mind that our prince is out there, ready to rescue us. This is Madonna talking. Madonna.

The obsession with 'pinkification' continues as girls get older. As tweens and teenagers they're bombarded with passive female sexual images in magazines and music videos. Andy's friend has a daughter. On her 13th birthday a friend bought her a present in a Victoria's Secret bag. Her father felt nauseous as her friends chanted 'thong, thong, thong'. She's 13. The Playboy bunny is a huge brand, plastered all over pencil cases and other products aimed at young girls. Let's not even mention Primark and their hideous padded bikinis for seven year olds. Urgh.

Of course, it's not just girls this is aimed at. Our sons see this crap too.

I need to figure out how I'm going to counter this superficial nonsense and teach my sons to respect girls, even when girls don't appear to respect themselves.

I get it though, I really do. I know how girls feel. I remember being a teenager and wanting to look sexy, to get a boyfriend. Hey, I remember being single in my late twenties and I still didn't have much self-respect. I chased after 'bad boys'. Sure, they wanted to get into my pants, but they didn't want to be my boyfriend. I confused sex with love. I think Jerry Hall has a lot to answer for with her statement that 'a woman needs to be a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom'. No, Jerry, a woman needs to be loved and respected.

It's even worse now that the porno look seems to be so mainstream. The boob jobs, fake tan, ratty blonde extensions, plumped up lips and bald fannies. Yes, I'm looking at you Katie Price. These girls are in newspapers and magazines, and on television. You can't get away from them. Who is telling women they should look like dolls? My guess is there are a lot of men who hate women and some of them run the media. No matter how far feminism has come we're still being kept in our place by men who want to have sex with passive, pouting, bald-from-the-neck-down dolls. These men are suggesting to my sons that women are only worth shagging if they look - and act - a certain way.

Well, I am going to rage against this. I am going to teach my sons about equality. I'm going to teach my sons to respect men and women. I'm going to teach my sons to be civil. Once they are older we'll have the big awkward conversations about relationships and condoms. For now we're going to lead by example. They have loving, caring, feminist parents. They have strong grandmothers, one a fantastic matriarch. We are all civil.


23 May 2012

Things to do in Cornwall when you're 4 & 3

We recently went to Cornwall for our first family holiday. We were based at Trevella Park, a lovely caravan park in Cornwall, near Newquay.

Our children are four and three and loved playing on the beaches at Crantock and Newquay. For a bit of variety, and because the weather was sunshine and showers, we visited a different family attraction each morning. This left plenty of bucket and spade time for later in the day.

Dairyland Farm World, near Newquay, was a massive hit with my children. They loved feeding the goats and seeing the piglets, sheep, cows and hens.

Listen out for announcements throughout the day as there are many activities such as milking the cows and pat-a-pet:

One area of the farm that is suitable whatever the weather is soft play at the Bull Pen. Some of the vertical slides are not really for little ones, but my boys (and my husband) loved the rest of it. You can buy refreshments here, the coffee is pretty good as it happens.

There are swings, climbing frames and slides everywhere. There are also mini-excavators and sand pits galore. This is Cash driving a tractor:

There were trampolines too:

There was so much for pre-schoolers to do that we could have stayed all day. There was a cafe at the main entrance and funky picnic tables outside. We liked the hygiene stations where you could wash your hands, especially after touching the animals or feeding them.

Facts and Figures
Entry is £9.75 per person. This reduces to £9.45 per person for groups of three or more. So a family of two adults and two children will pay £37.80. Children under 92cm get in free. If you're staying the area for a week it's a good idea to take advantage of the seven days for the price of one offer. That way you can pop in at any time, even if it's just to go to the soft play area.

Our Verdict
This was the highlight of our holiday from the children's point of view and if they're happy, we're happy. We thought the entry price was a little steep, especially as the pony rides and hay ride were extra. The animals were well looked after and everywhere was well-maintained and clean. I'd imagine it gets super busy at peak season, but it's well worth a visit.

The Eden Project

We chose a rainy day to go to the Eden Project, near St Austell, thinking that it was an indoor activity. In fact, a lot of the gardens are, well, gardens and therefore outside. It's also quite a trek from the car park to the entrance (park and ride buses are available) and then from the entrance to the biomes. There are two routes: slopes and steps. There is also a tractor and trailer for the less able.

Here I am, getting wet:

Here are the world's largest conservatories:

I'd always wanted to visit The Eden Project and I wasn't disappointed.

We went to the Mediterranean Biome first and wandered through citrus orchards and olive groves. The boys loved the sculptures. A lot of the plants were labelled and all of them were flourishing.

The Rainforest Biome contains the largest indoor rainforest in the world. It is just like being in a real steamy jungle. It is hot and humid. Bear this in mind when you're dressing for your trip. There are places to store your coats before you go in. The boys ended up in their vests, their cheeks flushed and their hair sticking to their heads. The less said about my frizzy mop the better.

Some of the plants are huge, like the giant palm above. The tree canopy is almost fifty metres high. We loved seeing the banana trees, and the coffee and cocoa plants too.

These guys have created a paradise out of a clay pit and it is an incredible achievement.

The waterfalls are cool and welcoming.

There wasn't that much to specifically interest pre-schoolers, but they were happy to take it all in. They particularly liked playing in the jungle shacks and they loved the spice trail:

We had lunch in the Eden Bakery. The food was fresh, plentiful and tasty. It was excellent value too; £5 for a main course with herb and garlic potatoes and a salad. Andy had a Cornish pasty (well, it would be rude not to) and I had a roasted veg and feta slice. The boys had a kids' lunch box. 

Facts and Figures
Adults, on the door, are £23 per person, children 5-16 are £9.50 and under 5's are free. There are big savings to be made if you book online. You can also find out about events, such as the Eden Sessions on the website.

Our Verdict
As the Eden Project is a charity we thought the entry fee was good value for money. The shop, on the other hand, was pretty pricey. Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Eden Project.

Newquay Zoo is actually in Newquay, so you have to pay to park there. Make sure you take some change with you to pay and display.

Newquay Zoo is a nice size for pre-schoolers. There are loads of cute animals to see and you can listen out for feeding times and talks from the keepers.

Our apologies if you were at the zoo at the same time as us during the macaque feeding. Three year old Cash told everyone that he too liked carrots and then jabbered on about what we sometimes eat for lunch.

There are places to eat and drink dotted around the zoo, but watch out for pesky pilfering peacocks trying to pinch your picnic!

The boys loved the penguins. We saw some babies peeking out of their nests, all fluffy headed and nosey.

The lions were sleeping. Four year old Presley was pleased. He made us ask the zookeeper to check that all the gates were closed before we went near the animals.

Facts and figures
Adult entry is £12.05 and children aged 3 and over are £9.30. A family of four can get in for £35.

Our Verdict
We liked Newquay Zoo. It was a great value day out. The zoo does a lot of conservation work and is part of a successful breeding programme. There are some lovely things in the shop and prices are reasonable.

Disclosure: we were given a four night break at Trevella Park and a trade pass allowing two adults free entry to many attractions across Cornwall. I write reviews based on my personal experience. I always think about the value of any activity as if I had paid for it myself, to determine whether I think it is good value for money.



Review: Trevella Park, Cornwall

Trevella Park, a five-star caravan park in Cornwall, was the perfect base for our first family holiday.

As soon as we arrived at Trevella Park (the less said about the 282 mile, five toilet break, journey the better) Andy took the boys to the playground, while I checked in with the friendly and helpful reception staff.

We relaxed straight away and the boys were over the moon to run and climb and swing and slide. There is also an adventure playground for older children and a heated swimming pool. Like everything at Trevella Park, even the crazy golf is beautifully maintained. There are flowers and trees everywhere.

The park is quiet, set in the Cornish countryside. You can walk from there along the Gannel Estuary to Crantock Beach. Newquay is a couple of miles away. There is a regular bus service, but we had our car.

There are wildlife walks and two lakes suitable for fishing at Trevella Park.

Our luxury caravan was a real home from home. It was modern and comfortable. It had everything we needed for our holiday. The only thing we missed was being able to see a clock. I know, I know, we were on holiday, but still...

The beds were comfortable and the toilet and shower exceeded my expectations. I remember going on a caravan holiday when I was young and luxury wasn't a word that would be used to describe that accommodation.

I'd always said that self-catering wasn't a holiday for the person doing all of the food preparation and cooking, but I had to eat my words (and the pasta, pesto and sweetcorn that we ate a couple of times). We didn't eat elaborate meals, but it was no trouble to open a box of cereal and make a few sandwiches. There was a shop at the park and a cafe too. Self-catering gives you the flexibility to eat out if you find somewhere that takes your fancy, but it's handy to have a few basics to knock up a meal too.

This is Crantock Beach on a wet and windy afternoon in May. You can either walk there from Trevella Park or drive down via Beach Road, as we did. Parking is free for National Trust members, otherwise it's £3.50 for the day.

If the tide is out, it's a long walk to the Atlantic. When you're four and three it's worth it to have a paddle in the sea.

There were a few dog-walkers on the beach and we spotted some honeymooners in the car park in their fab yellow campervan.

We had more luck with the weather when we went to Newquay Beach.

Head for the Blue Reef Aquarium for the closest parking. It's not an easy access beach, but the acres of golden sand make up for the steps and the slopes.

There were a lot of families around, but the backpackers were out and about too. It was super watching the surfers try to stand up. We were grateful our boys kept on their feet as they played in the breaking waves.

Full of fresh sea air each day our tired mini-holidaymakers went straight to sleep. Each luxury caravan comes with decking and a picnic table. If it had been warmer in the evening I'm sure Andy and I would have enjoyed sitting outside.

Instead we entertained ourselves with a DVD box set and a box of wine. The second glass always tasted better than the first.

Our Verdict

We had a brilliant time, we couldn't fault the park at all. We can see why Trevella Park is award-winning. Our five-star holiday was great value for money. Cornwall is lovely too, I just wish it was a little closer to Milton Keynes. We all thoroughly enjoyed our first family holiday and we would definitely stay there again. Cheers, Trevella Park.

Facts and Figures

Trevella Park is pet-friendly. They have various styles of holiday home, none more than seven years old. Prices vary depending on the length of stay and the time of year. Our four night break in May was just £191.

They also offer Glamping. You can sleep in safari tents, teepees and bell tents. If that's your sort of thing. There are fantastic facilities for touring campers too.

You can save 10% off all glamping, mobile homes and touring pitches at Trevella Park, for holidays taken between 11 June to 14 July 2012, and 3 Sept to 29 Oct 2012. To claim the offer, use the offer code MUMS10, and book on the website www.trevella.co.uk

Disclosure: we were given a four night break in a luxury caravan. I write reviews based on my personal experience. I always think about the value of any activity as if I had paid for it myself, to determine whether I think it is good value for money.



17 May 2012

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I'm on a swing. I go forward and I go back, forward and back. In perpetual motion.

I have a bad back. It hurts, so I take painkillers. I feel queer, so I stop taking them. My back hurts, so I take painkillers.

Forward and back, forward and back.

At no point can I jump off the swing and feel like myself again. I either feel detached, disconnected and fuzzy or I feel excruciating pain. There's no middle ground. No balance.

I'm tired, but I can't relax. I rarely sit down. I can't get comfortable in bed. All I can do is walk, keep moving. Walking helps. I walk around the house in the morning to loosen up. I walk around the bedroom at night, reading my book.

I try to keep on top of the cooking and the washing and the cleaning, but it's not easy. Andy is helping where he can. I've been out a few times. We even went on holiday last week. It took me a tearful hour get out of the car one afternoon as the muscles in my back went into spasm and I couldn't move.

The hardest thing is not being able to take care of my children. Luckily they can feed themselves, dress themselves and entertain themselves. But I can't get down on the floor and play with them. I can't push them on the swings. I can't pick them up when they fall.

I can't pick them up.

Sorry this is so 'woe is me', but I'm fed up. I thought I'd be better by now. I see a physiotherapist tomorrow.

I've had enough of the swings. I want to get off.


Our Greatest Team Rises

Look, it's Prince William!

I love blogging sometimes.

PR: Would you like to come to a Team GB gala event celebrating the British Olympic and Paralympic Teams?

Me: Yes.

PR: It's at the Royal Albert Hall...

Me: Yes please.

PR: You can meet Sir Steve Redgrave...


PR: There's entertainment too. It's hosted by Davina McCall and John Bishop and features performances by Gary Barlow, Will Young, Melanie C, Spellbound, Kimberley Walsh, Bear Grylls, The Feeling, The Noisettes, Alfie Boe...


PR: Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be in attendance...

Me: You had me at 'Team GB', to be honest.

I was invited as a guest of BP, who last week launched their 'Our Greatest Team Legends Collection'. You can collect 12 medallions, each showing a charming image of a great British Olympian or Paralympian, from BP garages. All profits go to the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. The first medallion in the series is my mate, Steve.

I had the honour of meeting our greatest Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave. He was super to chat with, although I have to admit to feeling a little star-struck. The guy won five gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games (in case you didn't know).

On our way to the event we bumped into one of the presenters, the twinkly Dermot O'Leary. If I look a little flustered in this photograph it's because he had his arm round me for ages.

The event was teaming with Olympians past and present and, as promised, it was attended by royalty...

 The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge eat their dinner whilst I say repeatedly to my 'date' for the evening, Carol, 'I can't believe we're in the same room as them'.

The amazing Will Young.

*Scream* it's Gary Barlow.

I could treat you to the video I made of Tony Hadley singing 'Gold', but nobody needs to hear Carol, Mrs GoonerJamie and I singing along.

Disclosure: I was given two tickets for the show and the PR bought us a glass of wine in the interval.


1 May 2012

What is #blogitforbabies?

Blog it for babies is to raise awareness and funds for Save the Children's Build it for Babies campaign.

Annie from Mammasaurus is travelling around the country this week attending blog events. Today she was in St Albans, just down the motorway from me.

Helen  from Actually Mummy organised a free marquee at the Noke Thistle Hotel in Chiswell Green. Local businesses made donations to set up stalls. Jenny from Bake Yummy and Cheetahs in my Shoes created the official #blogitforbabies cupcake. Peanut and chocolate. Seriously delicious. There was also a bring and buy cake sale and a raffle. I got to meet some lovely people and catch up with a few old friends. We raised hundreds of pounds towards building a clinic in Bangladesh.

My highlight was taking part in the hour long Rock Choir session run by Abigail Smith. We learnt to sing, in three part harmony, 'Aint No Mountain High Enough' with actions. I LOVED IT.

Here's me, hiding unsuccessfully behind Annie, singing 'stop' with appropriate hand gestures.

And this is me chatting to Abigail afterwards.

I've since signed up for a taster session with the Milton Keynes Rock Choir. Exciting.

I had to leave before Annie was transformed into Justin Bieber. Can't wait to see the photographs from that makeover.

For details of how to make a donation please visit the Just Giving page.

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