Author Archives: madeinhornchurch

Getting Down With the Kids 

Mother: a woman exercising control, influence or authority
February half term holiday is an odd week, children have barely settled back into school after Christmas and parents having just crawled out of last year’s overdraft when the kids are back home again for a week without the promise of presents or good weather.  

I have three children; 9 year old boy/girl twins and a 13 year old son.  They are close (to a point) but mostly irritate each other and if given control of our plans for the day, will never agree on the same thing.  My daughter has cold bones, you could wrap her in a bear skin (obviously a faux fur one) and within 5 minutes of being out in the elements she is sporting blue lips and shivering as if she’s in the closing scenes of The Blair Witch Project. Her twin brother has the energy levels of a Tasmanian Devil and, along with our 5 year old golden Labrador Chester, needs regular walks, likes to bring sticks home from the park and partake in wild wees in wooded areas.  My eldest son has depleted energy levels since entering his teens.  Any suggestion of a walk is subject to questions of; How far will we walk? How long we will be out for? Will I have snacks (and most importantly) What is the point? 

With three very different children, I try to pre-plan a lot of our school holidays with activities to keep them from moaning, to afford me some stress free time and to not spend too much money. Obviously, these desired outcomes are rarely achieved.  So today I had a masterplan up my sleeve to ensure all three of my rugrats were catered for, on Valentine’s Day, we arrived at the Olympics pool in Stratford, as a family of five, to take part in a Total Wipeout/It’s a Knockout type event in the very same pool Tom Daley donned his teeny tiny speedos in the London 2012 Olympics. 

As we lined up alongside far too many energetic looking teenagers, I nervously asked the lifeguard if many adults took part to which she agreed that there would be as it was ‘quite full on’. What I really wanted to ask her was ‘are there any women of 41 who are feeling a bit unfit and out of place taking part’ but I just smiled and felt relieved when I spotted a few other parents trying to wedge themselves into the lifejackets that were being handed out. Lifejackets! Was this going to be like the advanced swimming class we had at school when the better swimmers had to wear their pyjamas and try and retrieve a rubber brick from the deep end?! I never got to that level, in fact, this was now the first time I had ever worn a lifejacket and I was starting to worry if I would be able to swim in it or just bob about in search of a wardrobe door. 

I must have been sporting the look of fear as my twins kept on reassuring me that I will be fine to which I shrugged and try to convince them that I was looking forward to it. We were put in pairs (as usual a family of five is never catered for) and run through a safety briefing of basically don’t crawl along the inflatables, swim out of the way if you fall off and don’t drown! As we reached the edge of the pool I noticed that a majority of Mums were sitting in the spectators’ area with their coffees looking on at me sympathetically. Oh well, I would just have to embrace my fun Mum alter-ego and just make a prat of myself. My daughter was beaming up at me and I would just have to get on with it, so in our pair we stepped up onto the poolside and when given the nod by the lifeguard we jumped in and had to swim a few feet to the floating barge of inflatables. 

The first task was to clamber onto it using handles, at this point I was thankful that hubby was behind me and not a random child as the clambering part was definitely not ladylike! Once on board the ridiculously slippery rubber, we had to climb along a vertical wall, facing each other with nothing to grip onto other than hand grips. I sort of shimmied along to the end and then we had to try and walk an inflatable plank to enter the next phase. We were told to run it, which I did and then face planted at the end taking out the legs of a young girl who ended up on my back! My daughter skipped across the plank making it look easy and was back alongside me whilst hubby and my eldest son were in the water already so I was doing alright. 

Next, we had to run around a sloped area to the climbing wall and slide (god how I envied the Mum’s with coffee at this point). We were allowed to crawl here, which my daughter did, but I considered I might look like I was in trouble if I did it and the lifeguards might feel the need to rescue me so I went for the run once daughter was out of my way. I just about got round the slope then catapulted straight into the climbing wall with a wallop. 

The photo really doesn’t demonstrate how tough it was!

My agile daughter was already over the climbing wall, down the slide and swimming gracefully back to the poolside and I felt like lying in a foetal position and crying at this point but knew I must get over the wall.  I started climbing up the super slippery surface with the smallest hand grips possible to steady my balance. I got to the top, lost my footing and landed at the bottom again, I climbed again, got to the top, got one leg over and then fell backwards nearly wiping out a small child. I was starting to feel like Cadet Seeger from An Officer and A Gentleman and that the lifeguard was going to start shouting ‘Go Round’ any minute, but I made it, with sheer determination I dragged myself up that wall and belly flopped into the water and inhaled about a pint of water but it was worth it to see the total shocked faces of my children (I’d like to think awestruck but I could be wrong).
As I swam what seemed a mile to get out of the water, I clambered onto the poolside to find myself back in the queue to go again! A teenage girl behind me vomited all over the floor and a lifeguard leisurely came to deal with it like it was a regular occurrence, this was of no comfort to me as I jumped back in and swam towards the barge for another go.  After another five rounds my daughter’s inability to stay warm saved the day as she came shivering out of the pool and asked if we could get out. I could have cried with relief as I was now covered in so many friction burns and concerned about the amount of water I had swallowed.

It was lots of fun, all three children loved it and were thankful. I felt proud that hubby and I had ventured in despite how we must have looked. Now we are home and youngest son wants to go the park and play football, there is no end to that boy’s energy levels! Tomorrow I think a trip to the cinema might be on the cards, something a little less energetic… 

Second Place is Good Enough! 

Finally, the Paralympics will be starting tomorrow night! I’m not sure why there has been such a delay, I was starting to worry that Rio would have started dismantling their Olympic Village but hopefully not.  I’m not sure what happens to me during Olympic season but I do become a little bit sport obsessed. Ordinarily I would never watch competitive cycling or care less about diving but when it is an Olympic event I’m all over it!
My love of Olympics is mainly due to my parents love for Athletics and I have fond memories of them rooting for Daley Thompson and Fatima Whitbread who were flying the flag for GB in my childhood.  Nowadays, our GB stars are much bigger celebrities mainly due to London 2012 putting Great Britain on the map and reducing the size of Tom Daley’s swimming trunks over night!

My own children love the Olympics with my son having attended the London Paralympics with my parents when he was 8 and as my twins turned 9 this year they became drawn into the events playing out on the TV during the Rio coverage.  We were on holiday in Norfolk the week it was on and had to literally drag my youngest son away from the TV each morning as he settled down to watch a cocktail of Judo, Fencing, Hockey or Pole Vault.

Team GB did amazingly well this year but am I the only who thought that the coverage was a bit OTT and fairly harsh at times? Due to the time difference the live events were on during the night and if you did have the stamina to stay up until 2am to watch the likes of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah you were also treated to Dan Walker from BBC Breakfast trying to fill hours of awkward airtime on Copacabana Beach.  In fact, BBC Breakfast was renamed Olympic Breakfast during the events as presenters interviewed the likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill’s next door neighbour and Carol brought us the weather whilst trying out a kayak on the Thames.  

It is quite incredible that we made it into second place with our ‘gold rush’ of medals but it did seem that the media was never satisfied.  British commentators were complaining about athletes only achieving a silver or bronze and dedicating about an hour’s conversation on whether Jessica Ennis-Hill should retire now as she only managed second place.  That still makes her the second best heptathlete in the world! On the flipside, media from around the world became suspicious of our glory and why we were achieving gold medals, however, if they looked at our athletes faces when they did win a gold they were more shocked than anyone! 

I love how the Great British public become experts in random sports each year, especially me.  Having never learnt to dive myself, I was more than confident to berate Tom Daley on ‘too much splash’ when taking his dive as well as telling synchronised divers how ‘out of time’ they were.  And this year we even had the added bonus of the suspect green water debate and the bizarre use of the Jacuzzis tucked behind the boards, which often had some random bloke sitting in it reminding me of why I often swerve the Jacuzzi in public pools as there is always someone who spends too much time in there!

There were so many highlights for me this year.  The gymnastics were incredible with a Basildon boy sweeping the golds by, amongst other things, holding his own body in the air using just his wrist. But for me, the cycling was super addictive.  Possibly because we were so good at it but mainly because the rules are completely bonkers!  A sporting event that takes place in an arena that sounds like its straight from Blade Runner – The Velodrome – where cyclists are placed on enhanced skinny bikes and led into position.  They then run circles against each other like crazed gerbils as the viewing public try and work out what is happening.  My apologies to any cycling experts reading as I should just Google the rules, but what was with the kerb crawling race? One cyclist starts the race by pedalling slowly along all the while sneaking a look over their shoulder whilst the opponent cyclist creeps up on them, after a lap of two of this cat and mouse game they then race like lunatics to try and overtake each other.  Seemed completely mental to me but probably the only race I stayed up late to watch. 

I am really looking forward to the Paralympics as for me it is when the real super humans take part.  I watched coverage of an athlete training on the news today who had no legs but he is taking part in the triathlon! I am just sad that BBC didn’t feel it was high profile enough to put it on the main programme and instead C4 will be hosting the coverage.  I just hope Clare Balding has jumped ship to carry on the coverage as she seems to be the only commentator I was able to stomach.  

My 12 year old son came home from school today moaning about the Olympics which was weird as he loved the coverage.  When I asked him why, he said that his teachers were all using Mo Farah as an example in lessons and it was driving all the kids mad.  Apparently, whatever the problem the student was having and whatever the subject, Mo taking a stumble in his race and getting back up again and winning the gold was being overused as an incentive for children ‘to tackle their own obstacles’!  Personally, I thought it was a fairly genius teaching method.

Three IS a Crowd

3 kids

I never expected to have a big family.  In fact, I didn’t expect to have children at all after medical experts had told me as much.  How wrong they were (thankfully) as I am now a proud Mum of three, my eldest son is 12 and I have boy/girl twins who are almost 9.  However, more than two children can be a struggle, so for those of you who are in the same boat with multiple children, or if you are considering opting for a third let me fill you in on what a challenge it can be!

One Set of Hands is Never Enough

With three children, one always has to hold an elbow at some point.  A double buggy is tricky on its own without an extra child hanging off the side and how can people use buggy boards without 8ft long arms?!

When I had the twins my eldest son was only 3 years old, past the age of reins but still needing to be kept in line from running amok and so needed a hand to hold.  It may sound silly, but two hands just are not enough when you have three children.  With a twin baby in each arm, I became quite adept at using other body parts to do simple tasks. My feet became more dextrous than a chimpanzee at picking up items from the floor, I had to rely on the strength of my teeth to grab stuff and balancing became an art form when trying to hold children whilst simultaneously opening a door with a phone cradled under my ear.  In fact, multi-tasking is now an essential way of life, whilst talking to a friend on the phone I can sort a washload, find a missing Barbie hairbrush, clear up a mountain of Lego and make a cup of tea, albeit whilst sounding like a person living with Tourette’s by shouting “Don’t lick that!” at the same time as catching up on gossip with my friend.

Not Built For a Family of Five

Cars, hotel rooms, rollercoasters, bus seats, the list goes on of places that are created for a family of four.   When I had my first scan and was given the very unexpected news that twins were on the way, hubby’s first words were ‘We need a bigger car’… Bigger car! I’ve got to grow two babies!! But he was right.  Our beloved four seater car just wouldn’t cut it for a toddler and two baby seats.  And now that we have a bigger car it is a constant battle to persuade one of the children to sit in the middle seat as they all fake car sickness to be by the window.

A day out to a funfair/theme park often creates a situation of ‘taking it in turns’ to sit next to each other on the rides whilst me or hubby fill the seat next to third child, which is normally hubby as I can’t deal with the motion sickness these days.  There has been many a situation where I have shoehorned the three of them into a two seater dodgem/rollercoaster car to save on arguments/queueing which also doubles up as an extra security measure as they can’t actually move their limbs!

Late For Everything

Three or more children can mean that one to one time with a child becomes near on impossible! Before the arrival of the twins, me and my son used to go everywhere together. I’d prepare a packed lunch for us, sling on a backpack and venture out somewhere for the day with him.  When three children are in the mix then a day out can look like you’re preparing for a school trip with packed lunches, coats, toys, etc.  Just finding three pairs of matching shoes is an impossible task. In fact, spending a night away as a family of five is equivalent of a week’s holiday in stuff to pack.

Parent Guilt x 3

I often spend a sleepless night worrying about how I should be playing with the children more.  How I need to be making the most of every minute because it goes so quick and that I really should be playing imagination games with the twins, making Lego creations with my youngest son, making art collages with my daughter or talking through feelings with my eldest.  Yet, each day is filled with cooking, cleaning, washing (endless washing), school runs, cooking, finding shoes/school books/special toys, cooking, cleaning, drop offs to brownies/football/tennis, washing, homework, cooking…. Where is there time for ‘special time’?!

Budgeting is Impossible

I feel flush for exactly four days after payday then the money disappears.  A ‘big ‘shop often costs the same as a European City Break.  A full cupboard never lasts and a packet of biscuits disappears within a day.  However, having to constantly put your hand in your pocket does mean you find ways to become thrifty.  I have often been left with the challenge of creating three lunchboxes on a school morning when I discover that there is no bread and I will have to fashion a lunchbox out of cold pasta, cut up cheese, raisins and unwanted flavoured crisps.

I Want to Be Alone!

Beds, bathrooms and kitchens are all places that I miss spending time in by myself.  I gave up having a solitary wee or a bed with less than three bodies in it a long time ago.  Date nights are few and far between and cost a fortune in babysitting.  Thankfully I have a very supportive family, but a night away with the hubby loses its appeal when you come home to find exhausted parents surrounded by chaotic children. I constantly moan about needing some ‘me time’ but when I went away for a girls weekend last December I felt a constant emptiness (between the mojitos!) and found myself looking at pictures of my little family before I went to sleep.

It is hard/expensive/exhausting having a big family but every now and then, when we are walking in our group across the park or all squeezed together on the sofa laughing at a movie my insides go all squishy with love looking at my three gorgeous children, all unique in their own little way and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

3s

I Heart Europe!

I can’t shake the shivers. A cold internal feeling creeping across my back as I consume the horrific news in Nice.  Yet another tragic terrorist attack but this one has hit me hard I think because the victims are mainly families, parents with their children watching a firework display. The type of event me and my husband would take our three children to, where you would be helpless stuck in a crowd with an impossible escape hurtling towards you. News reports have said parents were hurling their children to safety before meeting their fate. It is too much to bear the thought of being in that situation. I’ve visited many European cities but have never been to Nice but imagine it was (before yesterday evening) a vibrant family friendly place which has now been tarred with tradegy. I don’t want to feel unsafe in Europe but be proud of it. I don’t want to allow the hate of a few radicalised monsters to define the love that is needed to shower the survivors and families of the victims with. My hubby and I visited Rome earlier this year and I wrote the following blog about our trip which I’ve been meaning to share for a while. I feel it is right to do it today. I want to share my gratitude at a city steeped in history and the pride of its inhabitants and help stand firm against terrorists and not allow them to destroy our homes and communities and to drag us into their hate.

Ciao Roma!

Our Italian 4 day break was my 40th present from hubby and was completely unexpected. Rome is amongst many places on my very long bucket list of destinations I would like to visit and it was everything I dreamt of and more.

We set off on a Thursday afternoon from Stansted airport and strolled (a type of walking that can only be achieved without our three children in tow) around the departure lounge. As it would be just us two, we decided to actually plan stuff to do whilst on our mini break and had already pre-booked the Colosseum and The Vatican tour and had even figured out the public transport situation so we could commute from the airport by bus and use the metro once there.  ‘When in Rome’ as they say!

After a fairly stress free flight (thanks to Kalms, Heineken and a movie on hubby’s IPAD) we arrived on Italian soil.  It was freezing and dark and we felt miles away from the centre of Rome and headed to our bus stop to begin the first leg of our journey to the outskirts of the capital where we picked up our (super cheap – London take note!) underground connection.  We wedged onto the very bright and noisy tube which had a TV monitor hanging at equal sections throughout the carriages churning out Italian infomercials like a scene out of  Blade Runner.  Hubby had booked a hotel by The Vatican so when we reached our stop and ventured out onto the street the view that met us was breathtaking.  The streets were perfectly symmetrical with ornate apartment block buildings above shops of varying type either side of wide streets bustling with cars, trams and mopeds.  As we wheeled our mini cases down side streets, the buildings stayed the same in style but the streets became narrower and sleepier as we passed groups of well dressed Roman teenagers and adults walking their pampered pooches.

Rome is a city steeped in history and each corner you turn you feel like you could be in any era with its unspoilt appearances and ageless surroundings.  Our accommodation was a room set within an apartment block full of local Romans. Our apartment owner met us in the dimly lid street and led us through two enormous doors into a marble decked courtyard with windows overlooking the square below.  It was like a film set and I felt a million miles from home.

Rome is a beautiful place with an unbelievable amount of historical sites to visit that in a short break you have to be fairly ruthless with your itinerary. With so many monuments worth a look, there was also the added importance of ensuring we sampled plenty of Italian food and wine.  My personal highlights were:

The Colosseum 

What an incredible experience and not just because of hubby’s numerous Russell Crowe impressions.  This famous amphitheatre is enormous in size and has been so well protected and updated without losing its historical charm.  We opted for a headphone tour rather than an actual person which meant we spent our time walking around the monument using sign language or shouting loudly to communicate with each other.  To stand in the middle of the stadium and imagine the events that unfolded there was unbelievable.  It is believed to have housed a staggering 80,000 audience members to watch the barbaric games that were held in the arena, with the seats allocated by class and your ranking in Roman society, meaning the cheap seats at the back were for the peasants.  If you were a gravedigger, actor or a former gladiator you were bizarrely banned altogether!

The Vatican and St Peters

Our apartment building was a stones throw from the walled city known as The Vatican.  Let me just labour that point – The Vatican is a country within a country! There is a 2 mile wall (which we pretty much walked the length of) that surrounds the Pope’s home and at one end is the breathtaking site of St Peters Square and St Peters Basilica.  It is so momentous I cannot do it justice in words and although I do not consider myself to be that religious I felt a strange sentiment when I entered the cavernous walls of St Peters Basilica.  We opted for a proper tour guide for The Vatican as neither of us really understand the art and the history of the religion within and thank goodness we did as our tour guide was a hilarious Roman lady with impeccable English. Her knowledge was incredible and as a born and bred Roman her pride of this historical site was very engaging.  We spent four hours walking the vast corridors of the Pope’s palaces with its walls and ceilings covered in historic art as we weaved around centuries old statues and apart from my feet aching I was intrigued at every turn.  When we came to the Sistine Chapel, our tour guide warned us not to speak and to walk slowly through the exhibition. The Vaticans are so concerned over this work of art being damaged that the room is decked out with security guards glaring at you menancingly whilst making shushing noises and ushering you past the priceless paintings.

The Trevi Fountain

This famous site was very impressive, so much bigger than I expected and the noise of the water gushing was mesmerising. What I particularly loved about this fountain though was the area in which it was set with its narrow cobbled streets and perfect apartments with their trademark scooters parked outside amid quaint restaurants and bars. My favourite meal of the weekend was in an amazing restaurant in a courtyard just metres from the fountain. The Spanish Steps were also just around the corner but were unfortunately closed for maintenance denying me the opportunity to perform my planned Audrey Hepburn scene from Roman Holiday.

The weekend seemed to fly by and we really did cram in so many sites, walked many miles and more than ate my body weight in pasta and red wine! I would urge everyone to put Rome on their bucket list.  As the saying goes – Rome was not built in a day – and once you’ve walked its cobbled streets you can say how that is true.  It may have taken many years to create its beauty and thankfully the Romans have decided to keep it how it was meant to last.

 

Learning To Love The Big 4-0!

I entered my 40th year last month and I have to admit I am still trying to get my head around my new age.  When I’m asked how old I am, I find myself imitating Rainman and pronouncing the number as if I’ve never heard it before “Four-T, Forre-T, Forrre-T”.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lied about my age since turning 40 and in fact I did some major celebrating for my birthday, which pretty much lasted 3 weeks and all kicked off with an amazing weekend in Palma with 9 of my closest girlfriends along with my 2 gay husbands. However, since the celebrations have ceased I am now left with the uneasy feeling of being stuck with this age!

I have been trying to rack my brain as to why I feel this way.  A lot of my friends are already into their 40s, they look fabulous on it, have embraced it and have said its their favourite decade yet.  We are told that ‘Life begins at 40’ but how can that be true when its the start of our middle age?!  So, not one to be negative and in a bid to learn how to suppress a sob whenever filling out an application form and realising I’m in the next age bracket tick box, I have decided to compile a For and Against list to see if that helps.

 

Good Things

  • I do feel more of a grown up now.  I don’t tend to sweat the small stuff as much as I did in my 30s and definitely not as much as I did in my 20s when everything was analysed over and stressed about.
  • I feel more inclined to be healthier and look after myself now.  Unfortunately, it is through necessity as I consume endless information on superfoods and healthy living blogs whilst trying not to obsess about my weight/skin/hair.  I am still holding on to my skinny jeans (which are probably best donated to a 20 year old) because you never know, those sandbags I developed on my hips from my twin pregnancy might disappear one day?
  • I achieved a great deal in my 20s and 30s. I climbed the career ladder in the profession I wanted to work in, went to fabulous places/parties/concerts, met an amazing man, married him and we had three gorgeous kids.  My goals can now be adjusted to what I want rather than what I need, although glossy thick hair as if I’m in a Pantene advert and a bank balance similar to Victoria Beckham’s might be slightly out of my reach.
  • I am happy with the simple things in life.  I’m no longer desperate to wear the latest fashion, be ahead of every trend or to always have plans for a Friday and Saturday night.  Instead I love a night in front of the TV with the hubster and a nice bottle of wine, a good book, a meal in a good restaurant or a night at the theatre/cinema.  I don’t need to be the last one standing in the club anymore (although me and the girls did stay out till 4am in Palma) and now happily opt for a bar with ‘somewhere nice to sit and chat’ instead.
  • My friends are my family and my family are my friends.  Gone are my fly by night friends of my 20s and those that are still with me from that decade are like extended members of my family.  We have been through it all together and will be in it for the long run now.  Any new friends I have made are keepers too as I can only surround myself with people I have a connection with.  My beloved parents I now regard as my friends as we holiday together, socialise together, appreciate (lots of) wine together.  They have always been my on-hand therapists but now I feel I am old enough to return the therapy when my advice is needed.

Bad Things

  • I have a lot more ailments at 40 then I did at 20.  I am basically a pin cushion for my doctor now with regular thyroid tests, we discuss pre-menopause and I am also now eligible for breast screening.  No longer are my visits to the doctor for an occasional water infection from burning the candle at both ends but instead are due to irritable bowel syndrome with my metabolism giving up the ghost.  If you have period problems in your 20s the doctors are on hand to discuss options – period problems in your 40s I am told its my age and it is to be expected and perhaps I could whip it all out if I’m fed up with it!
  • Dealing with the ageing process.  Gone is the tinted moisturiser for youthful skin and now instead I need foundation that drag queens endorse to cover those rosescia and age spots freckles and blushes.  Plus the constant control of my grey hair natural highlights without looking like Paul McCartney (a la aubergine) and what is with the chin hair?
  • I can’t do hangovers anymore.  I do love a tipple or two but literally more than two or three drinks and I’m contending with insomnia most of the night, a day spent feeling like my organs have been removed and the type of alcohol blues that make me want to start writing morose poetry.

It seems that the good things do outweigh the bad things.  I think the best way to sum it up is in the words of Lucille Ball:

“The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age.”

So if anyone asks – I’m 39! Which means I can celebrate my 40th again this year!!

 

 

 

Hello 2016

Considering it is only the 3rd of January, 2015 already feels like a distant memory.  It has been a big year in my family with me turning the big 4-0, my Mum celebrating her 70th and my Mum-in-law turning 80.  My eldest son is well settled into his sulky tweenager role having recently hit the grand old age of 12 and our twins celebrated their 8th birthdays in the summer. Time is most definitely flying by and we are doing our best to make the most of our days.  However, before we completely turn our back on 2015 and make promises of 2016 being the best year yet, I would like to walk back through some of the headlines of 2015, just as I did for 2014 (https://anounceofme.com/2014/12/31/so-long-farewell-auf-wiedersehen-2014/)

FEAR LIVES ON

Terrorism unfortunately made itself known in Europe with Isis seeming to gather momentum and slaughter the innocent on Tunisian beaches and Paris sidewalks.  We all felt the vulnerability of evil on our shores and watched helplessly as thousands of Syrians risked their lives fleeing warzones and into Europe seeking salvation.

POLITICS

David Cameron cancelled his removal vans after the SNP pretty much wiped out Labour in Scotland and the Tories returned to power without their Lib Dem sidekick this time.  Mr Cameron was smug jovial about his victory as PM until that ‘pig story’ hit the papers and it was difficult to watch him speak without feeling a little bit queasy.  Ed stepped down as Labour leader and we watched as the outsider Jeremy Corbyn, who was likened to a very unexciting Geography teacher, took the leadership role. Still, at least he’s a vegetarian so unlikely to have taken part in a pigs head initiation ceremony in his past.  Across the pond in the US, Donald Trump joined Hillary Clinton in the race for the Whitehouse.  Trump likes to offend everyone it seems from Mexicans to Muslims, women and gay people right down to hairdressers and tanning salons with the oompa loompa tan and comb over he likes to sport!  Apparently he says to prospective voters on his campaign trial “to touch my hair, its real”! Er no thanks!

R.I.P. CECIL

An American dentist became a hate figure after taking part in a trophy hunt in Africa and killed a beloved lion named Cecil from a national park. I was extremely saddened by this as I cannot see the pleasure in killing a beautiful defenceless animal, especially those at risk from poachers already! It seems that he received his just desserts as the news of him luring the elderly big cat to its death hit social media and he had to go into hiding while his dental practice was decorated in cuddly toy lions as a protest.

WHOOPS A DAISY

One of my personal lows this year was when it was announced that Dave Grohl had fallen off stage and the Foo Fighters would have to cancel their summer concerts at Wembley Stadium. This would have been my fourth Foos concert and I instead spent the whole day being a sulky teenager and trying to recreate the gig in my back garden by drinking beer from plastic tumblers and encouraging my twins to stage dive from the patio. However, it seemed to be catching when Madonna took a tumble after a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ caused her backing dancer to accidentally drag her backwards off a set of stairs at The Brit Awards.  As it was a live televised event Madge had nowhere to hide and had to scramble up onto her feet looking like Patsy from Ab Fab after a skinfull and carry on trying to sing her song.

BIRTHS, DEATHS AND MARRIAGES

The world’s media camped outside a posh London hospital awaiting the birth of Princess Charlotte.  Kate and Wills emerged onto the steps holding the new royal baby which was apparently an hour after childbirth with new Mum Kate looking as if she was about to attend a formal event rather than having just been through a traumatic event.  Her hair and make-up was perfect, baby weight well hidden in a designer dress leaving the public wondering how much of an entourage did she have waiting in the wings?!

‘Our Cilla’ took her last curtain call along with Jackie Collins, Lemmy, Warren Mitchell and Leonard Nimoy to name but a few.  The news of Cilla Black’s departure became the most Googled news item of the year showing what a mark she made on the UK, I remember fondly playing Blind Date with my cousins as we sat with our backs turned to the TV and listened to Graham and his quick reminders!

Mark TOWIE Wright married Michelle Keegan in a wedding only people with Rylan’s megawatt style teeth were allowed to attend.  Peter Andre and Jennifer Aniston went in for their second time lucky weddings (although not to each other) and Stephen Fry married his 30 years younger toyboy (go Stephen).

FINAL NOTE

Paper 2016

How I will spend most of January writing the date.

I have been trawling through the web trying to find an inspirational quote to sum up 2015.  The year of politics, of terror, of great change ahead.  I could turn to a great prophet but instead I will quote Justin Bieber, not because I am in any way shape or form a ‘Belieber’ and my eldest son will not allow his little sister to play Justin’s music EVER, but just to sum up how not to get too tied down with religion/politics I will leave you with this:

‘Like I said, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco,’ Justin Bieber 

 

Carry On Glamping

My hubby is buying camping gear again.  He is studying the screen of his iPad as if his life depended on it, scanning the various deals on Ebay and bidding against other Dad campers looking for the best price in portable gas cookers or enamel mugs.  It has become an addiction of his ever since I begrudgingly agreed to ‘give camping a go’. Apparently, sleeping in a home decked out in waterproof material in the Great Outdoors is fun! It will reconnect us with nature, he says, make me appreciate the peace and quiet around me and help us embrace back to basics living.  I, however, envisage a weekend of living like a survivor from The Walking Dead, looking grubby all weekend, not bothering to change out of my pyjama’s during the day and trying to make a family meal out of a can of beans and a pack of sausages.

When the whole camping holiday idea was put on the table last year it was laughed out of the room by me and my 7-year-old daughter.  Sleep in a tent? Wee in the woods? My daughter won’t even use a public toilet without moaning about the state of the facilities.  However, with two sons aged 7 and 11 with a reason to behave like Bear Grylls on holiday, not having to wash much and being allowed to wee in the woods, us girls were outnumbered and the camping gear started arriving in the post.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, for hubby’s birthday in April, I booked us 5 and our golden Labrador Chester on a ‘Glamping’ holiday.  It would be 3 days in a “luxurious home from home canvas retreat”, basically a posh tent with wooden floors, proper beds, working toilet, a shower and a kitchen.  This is how camping is meant to be done, as if I am a member of royalty on safari in Africa.  If I could hack this and actually enjoy myself then I would definitely slum it on a normal camping holiday after.

Out of Africa and into a Chicken Farm in Suffolk!

Out of Africa and into a Chicken Farm in Suffolk!

There were 5 tents situated in a large farmers field on a working chicken farm.  Thankfully, a free range egg farm, with about 3,000 chickens happily scratching about in a neighbouring field.  The tent was love at first sight with oak wood floors, thick canvas on the outer walls with huge tapestries hanging from the inner walls. The tent was decked out in shabby chic furniture and the beds were beautifully made with plenty of hanging space for our clothes.  It was, however, definitely back to basics as my eldest discovered whilst trying to plug in his iPhone.  There was no electric hook-up and our only source of heat was the Aga in our lounge area, but we did have running water which was a bonus.  I was already picturing myself in a scene from Poldark, making pies for the Aga, trying my hand at needlework in front of the fire and taking a turn round the room with hubby in the evening.

In the tent next to us, we thankfully had neighbours consisting of a family of five like us with children of similar ages to ours and even a dog for Chester to harass.  Kids being kids struck up a friendship with each other after about 7 minutes whilst us grown ups just waved and made a bit of small talk about the weather.  Despite my fears of the children moaning constantly about being bored, they instead become feral quite quickly and proceeded to build dens and climb trees and introduce themselves to the farmer all within the first few hours of arrival.  All was hunky dory as we settled down for our pasta evening meal that I had prepared on our two gas ring stove (planning on cooking my Poldark pies on the Aga tomorrow, might even bake some bread).  Hubby had got the Aga fire burning to its maximum capability and we hoped that soon the tent would warm up nicely for our first nights sleep.

After an hour or two, we realised that the heat output generated by the Aga was not really going to warm up any part of the tent and that it was mainly for show.  As the kids started to shiver and put their coats back on in the tent, I realised then that all was not well, that in fact there was quite a strong breeze coming through the gaps in the lovingly sanded wooden floors and that the sheer size of the tent meant that any heat generated was never going to be distributed.  As it was only 7.30pm we couldn’t really go to bed to warm up, so brought ALL of the quilts into the lounge to play Scrabble.  As a westerly breeze blew through the lounge, we wrapped the kids up with hats and gloves and starting to unpack our clothes so we could wear all of them.  Chester, who normally will happily sleep at our feet, climbed on top of our quilts and moaned.  The dog was even cold, this was not boding well!

We sent the kids to bed in as many layers as possible and wished them goodnight whilst trying to laugh off the fact that they could actually see the breath leave our mouths from the cold environment around us.  I was now refusing any offers of wine as I was too cold to visit the loo and against medical advice, was dehydrating myself in a bid not to have to undress at any point.  Me and hubby took our turn around the room, however, we had to do it with the throws from the couch wrapped around us and it was more of a shuffle and a shiver then a pleasant stroll.  Luckily, hubby had brought hot water bottles which was the only reason I didn’t cry when inserting myself into the freezing cold bedding.  We prayed for a sunny morning and hoped we would make it through the night without frostbite.

The Children earning their keep!

The Children earning their keep!

The following morning, we were all up bright and early.  Our neighbours had literally moved into their car so they could put their heater on.  Thankfully, the sun came out and we were able to defrost a bit. We headed off to the local supermarket and as well as our planned shopping list, stocked up on firelighters and even managed to find some long johns in the sale section. We spent all day out and about visiting the Suffolk coast and basking in the sunshine, trying not to think about another cold night in the tent.  When we returned ‘home’, Chester point blanked refused to enter the tent as if the tent had transformed into the vets.  Our host, the farmer, walked over to see us and in true British fashion we told her how settled we felt and how well we had slept, with no intention to complain, stiff upper lip and all that.  She told us of a dog friendly/child friendly pub in walking distance that we could visit that evening and with the promise of a real open fire we decided it was the best bet.

After trying to persuade the local publican to let us sleep in the pub and despite being joined by my daughter who was too cold to sleep alone and Chester who looked like he was silently weeping, we made it through our last night. As we packed up on the final day, my last glimmer of hope was that this might have put hubby off the whole camping lark.  We weren’t campers, we couldn’t even glamp! Unfortunately, it had made him more ambitious to see it through with the reasoning that normal camping is warmer!  So, in 3 weeks time, we will be taking our Ebay purchased tent and accessories and sleeping in a different field and apparently doing that whole embracing nature thing again.  Oh well, at least I have my long johns now!

Let’s Get Physical

Keep Fit.  Ever noticed how the phrase ‘Keep Fit’ sounds like a command? How Nike tells us to “Just Do It” and Adidas insists that “Impossible is Nothing”.   I’m sure most people find these slogans inspiring but I tend to find them a bit bossy!  Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a couch potato.  As most of you know I own a demented golden Labrador called Chester who I have to chase daily over the park to retrieve him from bothering other dogs/members of the public and his most recent pastime of disrupting outdoor Boot Camp classes (they pull tyres along a park, what do they expect? It’s catnip for dogs!).

However, aside from my dog walking exercise regime I am also a member of a gym.  When we moved recently, we decided it would be a nice ‘family’ endeavour to become members of our local leisure centre, we could take the kids swimming once a week and hubby and I could take it in turns to hit the treadmills and join in on the many exercise classes on offer.  This little plan of ours started last September and we were very committed for about erm…. 2 weeks, but things have slipped a little over the last 5 months or so!

In my late teens, me and my mates donned our leg warmers to eagerly jump along to my Mum’s Jane Fonda Workout VHS.  Anyone else remember Leslie singing her “Do It” song where Jane instructed us to ‘sing along to if we knew our breathing well enough’? Which was easier said then done when you are trying to follow her jumping jacks whilst whooping and high fiving each other!

Nowadays, I try to move out of the living room and into the gym itself.  When we joined our new gym I avoided the induction on offer as I tend to have a weird goldfish memory when it comes to being shown gym equipment. By the time they have talked me through how to ‘work on my abs’ or ‘boost my biceps’ with what looks like Medieval torture equipment, I have completely forgotten where I should put my peg on the weights or how to adjust the seat.  Then there is the intimidation of the masses, the other gym people who seem to look like they instinctively know what they’re doing whilst I’m desperately trying not to slide off the treadmill while jabbing at buttons to incline or speed up my pace.  With every session I tried to be bold and brave the weights or Stairmaster but normally end up in my comfort zone of using an exercise bike whilst watching This Morning.

Intimidating sight!

Intimidating sight!

But it’s OK, I don’t need to go to the gym, I can do exercise classes instead, this will maximise my monthly direct debit membership that I really can’t afford.  I started off gradually with a few Yoga and Pilates classes, stretching and meditating my way through the week.  Then decided I ought to be increasing my workout beyond working on my wellbeing and actually shift some calories.  Spinning looks too hard, particularly as you have to wheel the static bikes in and out of the classroom before and after the lesson!  Body Pump involves aerobics and weights, I have dabbled in this class before in my 20s and remember the John Wayne walk I adopted from ripping my muscles and I’m just not that committed to gaining with pain just yet.

I drag hubby along to a Body Combat class one morning which is good but too exhausting for 9am on a Monday morning, jab jab, run round the room, kick, jab, run on the spot…. Phew!  So I decide to drag my friend along to try out Zumba.  What’s not to love, twerking and shimmying for an hour without judgement!  It is fun, exhausting, challenging yes, but enjoyable.  Me and my friend hide at the back, pretty much keeping up with the quite tricky dance moves, throwing in a bit of freestyling when I lose my place but generally feeling quite good.  When Beyonce’s Crazy In Love starts pumping, I’m fairly certain I am now resembling one of her backing dances, until that is I catch a glimpse of myself in the surrounding mirrors and decide not to make any career changes just yet!

I love Yoga.  It’s the one exercise class literally anyone can do.  The best Yoga class I ever attended was with my Mum where I used to live.  As it was during the working day at an Adult Education Centre it mainly consisted of retired folk with the odd youngish Mum like me attending.  On my first lesson, it did seem to resemble a scene from Cocoon, lots of silver-haired folk who seemed strangely so much more agile and energetic than me.  I had no idea how old anyone was as they looked so youthful and were so capable of every exercise that I was still trying to get to grips with.  I have been to numerous Yoga classes over the years but none quite like this one, not only did we start with 30 minutes meditation but ended with at least 30 minutes of meditation.  Two hours of Yoga and meditation, pure bliss and well worth clearing my work schedule each week for.  I have found Yoga at my new gym but as soon as I settle down for my expected long stint of meditation, after 5 minutes the lights are back on and the next class is piling in.

My Downward (Chester) Dog!

My Downward (Chester) Dog!

 

However, today I discovered Hot Yoga.  This is not a kind of cocktail or a spa treatment, but an actual exercise class.  It is basically Yoga with the central heating on full, which I’m sure has some sort of scientific reasoning behind it, but just made me want to adopt the foetal position and sleep.

So, whether you’re a gym bunny who actually knows what to do with a medicine ball, a Zumba devotee who can get your Salsa on at any given moment, or you are closing your living room curtains so you can jump about to a Celeb fitness video, I have come to the conclusion that you must do what makes you happy as long as it makes a difference in the end.  As Jane would say “Feel the Burn!”

Joyless January

Click on me: Diet Picture Courtesy of ProPicture Plus

January oh January! This month many people are embarking on their doomed to fail resolutions, myself included! I have promised to do a dry January even with the lure of half a bottle of Bailey’s leftover from Christmas, as well as cut down on sugar and other bad stuff, lose weight, budget my finances, ya da ya da ya da. In fact, this week kicked off with ‘Blue Monday’, which is apparently the most depressing day of the year as most of us are either halfway through our resolutions and feeling deprived or we have failed them and are back to supping the wine and neglecting calorie counting. It is also really cold and you are having to wear lots of layers whilst dealing with chapped dry skin and payday feels like eons away.  But we must not let this dampen our spirits.  We must embrace our stiff upper lips and battle on through our ambitious resolutions and if you have slipped then just jump back on track. Here are my top 5 tips to see you through the last week of your hopefully not too dreadful January:

1. DIETING KNOW HOW  

Please forgive me but I’m about to quote Katie Hopkins. Her philosophy for losing weight is eat less and move more, which seems pretty obvious but she maintains 10,000 steps a day on a pedometer is the trick to making it work. So my hubby has been my lab rat this week and hitting the 10,000 a day target and it appears to be working. It may mean ditching the car and walking instead or a lot of going up and down stairs, or perhaps an impromptu rave in your lounge would help, but get those steps clocking up and see the difference.  Furthermore, chew each mouthful 40 times, I know it sounds a bit Rainman, but it will seriously help your digestive system from having to break down large particles of food as well as tricking your brain into thinking you’re fuller quicker.

2. BALANCE THE BUDGET

Every month my outgoings far outweigh my income so my tip is to have two spend free days a week. Leave your purse/wallet at home, take a packed lunch and flask of coffee/water bottle to work. It may mean at some point you will be scrabbling through your change pot in the car but try not to be tempted to have a debit card with you.

3. COUNTING SHEEP

I’m a part-time insomniac, some nights I sleep like I’m in a coma and other nights I fidget about wide awake watching the clock tick by. It’s frustrating and completely floors me the next day. According to experts, to be a better sleeper you have to train your mind by sticking to a routine with the same bedtime each night and make sure you wake up the same time each day. This means no late nights and no lie-ins at weekends, set your alarm (mine is child shouting in ear alarm) and read in bed/watch TV if necessary but don’t sleep in, eventually your body will be conditioned to sleep well during those regular hours.

4. IS BREAD BAD NEWS?

Bread gets a bad review from dieters but if you are dieting don’t completely turn your back on bread. I did earlier this week and found myself literally drooling at the window of my local bakers. According to those experts again, it is OK to eat bread if it is home-baked or sourced well as mass-produced bread has lots of nasty additives. So no more just sniffing that freshly baked loaf to get your fix but treat yourself to a slice instead (just the one slice though!).

5. SUGAR ADDICT

Sugar is bad for you, like really bad, as addictive as cocaine apparently. I mean there are times I could easily scour the streets for a fix at any price, even lowering myself to a Bounty bar if desperate. But we need to quit or massively cut down to avoid a future blighted with health problems. Guidelines recommend 5-6 teaspoons a day for women and 7-8 teaspoons for men and that includes hidden sugars in processed food. Cold turkey here I come!

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen 2014!

As you stuff down the remnants of your Christmas cheese board, all washed down with your novelty flavoured Bailey’s and the promise of a diet/detox/new you as of tomorrow, I would like to take you back through some of the events of the past year.

Just as I did last year, (https://anounceofme.com/2014/01/01/well-hello-2014/), I find it amazing that another year has passed by in a nanosecond.  My personal year has been fairly life changing, we moved our family to the countryside and the kids into new schools and I appeared on Sky News being interviewed by Eamonn Holmes as a ‘parent expert’ on technology.  The weirdest part of the experience was eating porridge in a green room at 5.30am alongside Katie Hopkins and Tony Blackburn.  But in the real world it was quite a year!

A WORLD GONE MAD

Faster Faster!

Faster Faster!

There has been many a news story this year that has tried my faith in the world.  Firstly, the ongoing horrific outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, I donated, I did as I was told by Sir Bob and downloaded the Band Aid single, then asked my 11-year-old son who half the people were and in turn explained who Sinead O’Connor and Seal were to him.  We learned that evil exists in the form of ISIS and their relentless beheading of innocent people as we continue to live in fear of their threats.  Borders in countries throughout the world were fought over and torn apart, even in the UK we watched with anticipation as Scotland voted to stay and allegedly caused the Queen to purr in pleasure of the news.  Kim Jong Un continued to pop up on the news as a feared dictator, even though whenever I see him he appears to be visiting a cake factory.  There has been a spate of plane crashes, devastating towns with hundreds of people vanishing from the skies and leaving us with the feeling that flying is not the safest way to travel.  And Operation Yewtree continued to lock up dirty old celebrities with Rolf Harris being incarcerated for his perverted actions…. Rolf Harris! Putting a whole new meaning to his catchphrase “Can you see what it is yet?”.

THE WORLD CUP RUMBA

My 6-year-old son became this man's biggest fan during Brazil 2014.

My 6-year-old son became this man’s biggest fan during Brazil 2014.

Brazil hosted the World Cup in the summer and us Brits actually were quite realistic about our chances this time round.  Only a few St Georges flags adorned houses and we were not plagued by an unmemorable football song telling us ‘it was our 1966’, in fact my two sons already had their back-up teams ready in case England went out early.  We lasted 6 days!  Most of the England fans hadn’t actually arrived in Brazil and we were already out of the competition.  You can read my blog about it (https://anounceofme.com/2014/06/20/footballs-coming-home-again/) but suffice to say we were rubbish, we lost 2-1 to Italy then lost 2-1 to Uruguay and couldn’t even hide behind Luis Suarez biting one of our players, we finished our reign of hopelessness with a goalless draw against Costa Rica, Costa who??  However, despite our early departure I enjoyed this World Cup more than any others.  The Brazilian crowd were lively and engaging, even the television coverage had catchy theme tunes.  I was almost joining the Brazilian population in tears when Germany destroyed them with a 7-1 semi-final victory and then went onto win against Argentina.  Faith in humanity was restored when it was revealed that German football star Mesut Ozil donated his prize money totaling $400,000 to Brazilian charities as a thank you.

STUPID DEATHS

The Loss of Legends

The Loss of Legends

We lost some great people this year, Lauren Bacall, Richard Attenborough and Rik Mayall to name but a few.  However, there were two passing’s that affected me greatly.  In February, one of my favourite actors Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead following a drug overdose. A waste of a huge talent and at just 46 he had so much more to offer.  A man who had battled drug addiction in his youth and had been sober for 23 years before massively slipping off the wagon and ending it all in a heroin binge during one fateful night.  In August, we received the shocking news that comedic legend Robin Williams had taken his own life.  Nothing prepared me for how I felt about this sad news.  Robin Williams was a big part of my growing up from Mork and Mindy being on the TV when I was a child to his numerous acting roles in some of my favourite films.  I consumed every news article on his suicide, unable to process the news or to understand how such a hilarious energetic man could be so sad in his private life.

AND FINALLY

Millionaires were made overnight (with a little help from my offspring) with the release of the Disney film Frozen becoming the highest grossest animation in history.  I have now watched it with my 7-year-old daughter at least 117 times, have the words to ‘Let it Go’ imprinted onto my memory and enough merchandise to start our own shop.  Also a big hit in our house and many others was the invention of loom bands, annoying little elastic bands of various colours with crochet style hooks and fastenings that captured even my 10-year-old sons imagination as he constructed all manner of bracelets, flags, ropes, etc.  Us parents in turn entered a battle of clogging up our hoovers, trying to stop small children and dogs from eating them and adopting an ever-changing impressed reaction to the many designs thrust in our direction.  I found myself on a night out putting on a nice dress, heels and then being given a guilt trip into wearing a collection of vivid loom band jewellery to complete my outfit.

Whatever your plans are for tonight, a New Year is almost upon us.  It is time to bid farewell to the woes of 2014 and look forward to the promise of 2015.  Be merry, be hopeful and try to avoid any “conscious uncoupling”!

Happy New Year!