Monday, 15 August 2016

I Need a Wife - for Kindle!

Hello lovelies

This is just a little update to say that thanks to a few late nights and the power of the Olympics to entertain my children, I Need a Wife is now available for Kindle!  It's got chapters, it's got a new ending, it's even got a couple of extra poems.

To download a copy for £2.99, click here: http://bit.ly/INeedAWife 

Hope you're enjoying your summer, and if you're camping - I wish you luck!

Toni
xx


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

(Why You Should) Carry On Camping

So we went camping again, this time venturing much farther than our usual New Forest haunts to the delights of North Devon.  You know, that place where it is guaranteed to rain.  We go there every year but stay on a farm.  In a cottage.  Where you do not have to walk across a wet field to go for a wee.

Under normal circumstances we wouldn't travel so far but lured by friends with whom we knew we could pass time without killing each other we went for it and at first it was lovely.  Beautiful sunshine for two days - an actual camping holiday that involved a trip to the beach without wellies - marvellous!

But then the weather remembered that we were on holiday and so sent 48 hours of rain and sea mist which caused one set of friends to go home because their tent decided to have a complete seam failure and us to have to use our fog lights in August.  In fecking August!
Actual August


Here's the weird thing though.  Despite the shitty weather that made us complete and utter martyrs for the remaining two days of the holiday and caused my husband to have to buy Tesco Trainers because he had done the manly thing of packing 'light' and his one pair of shoes got too wet to wear (that'll learn him...), we had a brilliant time and will do it again.  This is because....


1. We are friends with people who have a van.  And an awning.

Our tent has an awning.  Oh yes.  But it is not attached to a beautiful watertight vehicle that has optics and a dvd player in it.  I don't care if you think this is cheating because when your children have trenchfoot and you need peace and quiet, you will wish that you too had friends like these.  The children watched Wimpy Kid twice as we drank wine and played cards, which leads me on to....

2. We rediscovered the joy of Gin Rummy

I thought I didn't know this game.  Turns out I did - it has the same rules as every other card game: you must forget whose turn it is because you're too busy talking rubbish to keep track, you must accuse one another of cheating and the person who says that "they're no good at this game" will be a complete liar who wins every round.  We also rediscovered the joy of shops that cater for people who are trapped in one place and so need things to spend their money on.  Things like books about cross-eyed cats and multi-purpose bottle openers with the names of men from the '70s and '80s on.
This is a real book.
Richard *and* Rick? Such choice!

3. We (ok I) completely lost the plot

I blame the fact that one of the cards was a Joker used to replace a missing 9 of Clubs which meant that someone had drawn a Club on top of the Joker's head which would have been fine except that the 'Club' looked like a cock and balls.  That pretty much set the bar for the conversation which then turned into ways in which to create enormous confusion and chaos when living in a shared house that Vic & Bob would have been proud of involving UV paint, security lights and menacing gnomes.  It's been a while since I pulled a 'crying and laughing at the same time' face.  It reminded me that I need more nights like that.

4. We had the absolute best of British entertainment

You know when you're in a barn with a bar and soft play area, and a Britain's Got Talent semi-finalist walks in, juggles knives, balances a pub table on his chin and then risks drowning by having a diver's helmet put on his head and filled with water while he tries to escape from chains.  All whilst stood in an Angry Birds paddling pool so he doesn't get the floor wet?  YES THAT!!  We saw Merlin.  He's a bloody legend.  He's so much of a legend that we saw him twice.  
Just your average morning in a barn..


5. We had the absolute best of British entertainment (again)

We were planning on taking the kids to Disney at some point and have since changed our mind because we have had all the theme park fun we every need at The Milky Way.  Why fly for 10 hours to then spend a week of queuing for hours for high tech rides when you can have an 'alien experience' where you are led through the dark by a teenager from Bideford who knows they can't kid you that you're on an 'abandoned alien spacecraft' because everyone knows that you're really in some kind of blacked-out shipping container but your children will still freak out because confined dark spaces are scary.  

And why bother with virtual reality rides and Lucas Film / Disney approved 'experiences' when you can see someone's personal collection of Star Wars memorabilia which includes a spooky Luke Skywalker model and Ewok toys still in their packets!
Bez Skywalker?


Our son went on a roller coaster that he has waited five years to go on (yep, we go every year!) and as we watched through the sea mist we could just about see his beaming face as he passed the "are you taller than the red line" test to ride at the very front with his sister.  It didn't  matter to him where we were - he had made it!  


We watched a falconer who will not let you touch his birds because he is not into pissing off owls but is into getting them to swoop low over your head.  We sat right next to one of the perches to get the best view and recited his set with him, enjoying the familiarity of his spiel.

We saw Merlin (again!) and wondered how much a good sword-juggling escapologist gets paid these days.  Whatever it is we suspect it's not enough....


And so....

And so, despite the fact that every time we go camping we all end up moaning at the weather / our complete inability to pack properly  / the incredible noise and lack of sleep that combine to make you feel like you're hallucinating in the mornings / the fact you have to put the bloody tent up when you get home in order to dry it out because Britain is not the South of France.....we're going to go again.  If you're teetering on the brink of giving up too, give it just one more try - let's Carry on Camping!

Sunday, 26 June 2016

How to be more 'rock & roll' (in six easy steps)

I'm not at Glastonbury this weekend.  Haven't been to the Reading Festival for years - although I have been to a gig in the last three at which I came home stinking of spilt beer and sweat.  I don't smoke anymore, haven't touched drugs in nearly twenty years and most of the time drink de-caff coffee.  And I beat myself up when I drink (not actually hitting myself, just the usual guilt-tripping that a lot of us give ourselves because we've woken up on a Sunday with a hangover from drinking wine in front of the telly).  Sheesh.  No wonder I don't feel very rock & roll anymore.

So if I can't do all those things that made me feel a little bit wild, what can I do?  I can redefine rock & roll, that's what.  If you'd like to join me, try some of these:

1. Turn down the free stuff

Take that Waitrose!  I don't want your "free" coffee (although I will take a complimentary copy of The Times in the vain hope that my children will leave me alone for long enough to read) I refuse to stand in a queue of people with trolleys for a sippy cup full of liquid that I will then spill on my legs in the car. You can keep it.

And while we're at it...up yours Confused.com!  I just insured my car with you and I DON'T WANT BRIAN!

2. Volunteer 

Hey you, yeah you West Berks council.  You know how you've cut the buses, and the library funding, and money for the arts?  Well guess what.  I'm going to give my neighbour a lift into town so they can get some books out.  And do you know what I'm going to do after that?  I'm going to book a local band to play at my village hall so people can get an injection of art and pretend that they're 15 again and drink too much and and maybe vomit when they get home.  And we'll raise money for charity while we're doing it.  And the next morning we're going to clean up after ourselves and put the empties in the recycling - alright!

3. Be a Womble

Oi!  Teenager at the park smoking weed - of course I bloody know what it is you're smoking!  You carry on dropping your tins of Monster and making a mess, because do you know what I'm going to do?  I'm going to pick that shit right up and put it in the bin so you don't win at making the park some kind of hovel.  You are not bucking the system, you are simply making a big smelly mess.

4. Talk to a Stranger

Ok - pick your stranger carefully but might I recommend the elderly woman that you see every day and say "hello" to in passing?  She'll probably tell you a joke that's a bit rude and put a few things in perspective for you.  I spoke to Daphne.  She was awesome and made me thankful that there are people out there that look out for my nan.

5. Get fit

To all the people who seem to be making it their business to f*ck up the NHS - I will make it my business to stay well away and save space for the people that really need it.  I am going to put on lycra and not give a damn if it gives me camel toe because I am (hopefully) avoiding a heart attack.  

And finally....

6. Get out and perform

Are you *still* pissed off with your drama teacher because she didn't give you a part in Godspell thirty years ago? (carrying a grudge - moi?) well do something about it!  There are groups and gigs and venues and spaces that would welcome you with open arms whether you want to sing a solo, dance the fandango or tell your favourite joke.  Just type "open mic" into your favourite search engine and see what comes up.  Then get out there and do it.  LET'S ROCK!


Monday, 20 June 2016

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Remain or leave...
Where's the reprieve
In mudslinging?
Who's bringing
Clarity?

Watch those Turks
Danger lurks
On boats
Our border
Needs order!

Found in a village decorated with 'Leave' signs.  Ironic eh?
NHS?
Both say "yes!"
We love nurses
But want our purses
Full

Money, country
We want them BACK
An unpleasant tack
Refugee?
Don't come to me

Fishing quotas
Foreign trade
Security, farming
Finance, aid

Trade links broken
Market crash?
Save our shores
Protect our cash
From bureaucracy....

Reform is due
But are you able
To negotiate
Not at the table?

We need humanity
And integration
Built with migrants
Our island nation


Tuesday, 14 June 2016

You are the Quarry

A summer's morning - cool because we're talking a UK summer.  Light mist over farmland, lapwings whirling and skylarks singing to their mates in the nests below.  The sound of my feet on a gravel track.

I veer off right onto the Ridgeway, marvelling at the expanse of land in front of me, and giving a nod to the remaining towers of Didcot Power Station - grey top hats away in the distance reminding me that I'm not entirely in the sticks.

There is no-one else around.  Or is there?  Hard to tell until half a mile on I come across some bird watchers, readying their lenses on an old train bridge, turning them towards the landscape.  I wonder what they're looking for but they've already been distracted from their efforts by another runner who has voiced my curiosity.

Feet push further through grassy tracks, nettles sticking out with the express intention of stabbing me and cow parsley that is up to my shoulders - how does it get so high so quickly?  And then I spot her.

It is another runner.  A woman. 

Pad-pad-pad-pad... 

We're a little way apart but an incline slows her down and I begin to catch up. 

Pad-pad-pad-pad... 

Getting closer now, should I say something?

Pad-pad-pad-pad... 

I spot the ear phones.  She can't hear my footsteps.  The track is too narrow for me to zip past so I call out a gentle "good morning".

She says "SHIT!" as she jumps.  I jump.  And the rush of adrenaline makes me feel like an animal that has been surprised.  A cat that has pounced only to find the mouse has sharp teeth...  I laugh and say sorry and use the extra energy to race away, down a blossom covered track that leads me home.



Soundtrack: You are the Quarry by Morrissey

Friday, 27 May 2016

Here's one way to stick two fingers up at SPaG

Let me begin by saying I love my local school, love the teachers and love the English language.

Let me continue by saying I am wholeheartedly hacked off with SPaG being used as a means to measure how our primary schools are performing.  One of the stand out things for me about the school my children attend is that they were taught 'free writing' to help them play with, explore and enjoy language.  I am not as well-informed, or articulate as Michael Rosen, so if you want to read the thoughts of someone who really knows what they're talking about, please read his blog.

Tools of the trade - yes I did take in a record player.
Anyway, I'm not going to rant because I've found a way to stick my fingers up at the pressure this then places on primary school children to know what a fronted adverbial is when they still have so many other fascinating, interesting, exciting things they could be doing with words: I ran a performance poetry workshop.

Here's what we did:


1. Discussed poetry as being like a song without words


2. Talked about how hip-hop artists play with words and combine movement and language

does anyone diss Tiny Tempah for the spelling of his name?  No.  Do people care about the role of each word when he states "I've got so many clothes I keep some at my Aunt's house?"  No.

3. I performed a poem I for the class:


Poetry as expression
Not a session
The only time I'm likely to be in the
same picture as Michael Rosen...
In spelling and grammar
Use your words like a hammer

Or a feather
Make them sweet
Bring them out
To a beat

Have fun
Bend the rules
Brain and mouth
Are your tools

Be still
Be physical
Savour words
Make them lyrical

Make it up
Or make it true
Poetry
Is for you

4. Discussed whether animals feel self-conscious before they make a noise.  

Ever seen a dog think twice before barking because its friends might laugh?  Didn't think so.


5. Did a full 'pack howl' 

I watched The Jungle Book recently - it was always going to happen :)  Luckily it's also a great tool for breaking that whole 'self-conscious' thing that we have.  Sometimes you just need to be more 'wolf'.

6. Asked if anyone spoke any other languages:

The purpose of this was to examine how different languages have different rhythms - we heard Afrikaans, Chinese, Hindi, Italian and Polish.

7. Played the first couple of verses of 'Fight for Your Right (to Party)'

Licensed to Ill was the first album I bought with my own money.  That song blew my mind.  The children marvelled at seeing a record player then rocked out in their chairs.
Heroes

8. Sent the children out to find baseball hats and sunglasses

Apparently mirrored shades are in.

9. Put the children in teams and gave them a copy of Spike Milligan's 'Ning Nang Nong'

They then had fifteen minutes to rehearse a version of the poem to perform in front of the rest of the class, with emphasis on feeling the words, using facial expressions, body language and any props they fancied - lots of baseball hats went on back to front at this point.

10. By way of repaying their performance, I told them how Jamie Oliver set my kitchen on fire

If you want to read the poem - it's here

What came out of it

By the end of the session, each child had stood up in front of the class and performed poetry.  Some children heard a new language for the first time, some children spoke in their mother tongue in front of their classmates for the first time, some children did something that they'd never tried before.

Not one child refused to take part and everyone received applause for their efforts.  We had possibly the best "Jibber Jabber Joo" that's ever been uttered.  And not once did we talk about the function of any of the words, or how they should be spelled, or which one ought to go where.  We just had fun for a full hour, hooting and shouting and enjoying what no-one can ever take away from us:  our ability to express love for our language and play with words.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Children's Parties - What I've Learnt So Far

Next week my daughter will be 10 and rather than writing something reflective on the joys of being her mother, I was struck by the thought that I've done ten years of children's parties and so thought I'd share my experiences so far.  If you've yet to have kids, let this be a rough guide to what to expect.  If you already have children - feel free to enlighten me on the parties I've missed out on!

The 1st Birthday Party

Don't kid yourself that this is for your baby.  This is an opportunity for you to acceptably drink alcohol in the middle of the day while you pat yourself on the back for 'making it through' the first year.  Your baby will not appreciate that he or she has 'guests' (ie. other babies, relatives and knackered mums that have squeezed themselves back into their skinny jeans in order to feel normal but are still wearing black tops because when other babies cry their breasts leak) and will definitely not appreciate the many (tasteful, preferably wooden) presents, preferring the paper instead.

The Soft Play Party

This takes place in a former factory that has boiler lagging and scramble nets attached to every available surface.  Where it normally costs you £5.00 to get in, you will instead spend £11 a head for the added extras of nuggets and chips on paper plates (and if you go to Eddie Catz you'll also get a plate of crudités thrown in that the children will ignore) plus a visit from a budget 'character' that will either scare the children or will be scared by the children as they try to wrench his tail off. 

There is nowhere for parents to properly relax so they will head off into town to do some shopping leaving you to spend most of the party worrying where the "little boy who has a tendency to start fights with other children" has got to.

The Professional Entertainer Party

Some of these guys cost £300 - THREE HUNDRED POUNDS!  Their waiting lists are months long and they have seen you bloody coming.  You are guaranteed a great set, children in tears because of a sinister puppet or because the entertainer has called them their pet name in front of all their school friends and angry parents as the entertainer starts singling them out for kicks - "look everyone, that daddy's got a baldy head!" and "that mummy's eaten all the biscuits!".  I've yet to meet anyone that's done this kind of party more than once.

The Do It Yourself Party

So you go to a Professional Entertainer Party and think "that's money for old rope - I could totally do that!  I'm going to hire the village hall, make all the sandwiches, decorations and party bags the night before and then we'll play party games just like when I was five and we all had a party in the front room."  This is a BAD MOVE although you won't realise that at first because it will start off being the best party in the world.  Then you'll lose your audience as the children realise that there's 30 of them and (at most) 5 grown ups (all the other parents have pissed off because there's no way they're spending three hours making small talk and besides, Next has a sale on).  The children will refuse to play Musical Statues because "that boy is always cheating", someone will have a nosebleed, and the "girl who only eats mini-sausages" will eat everybody's mini-sausages which causes a riot.  You will wish you'd paid £300.

The Whole Class Party

Do it once because, frankly, you have to.  Then never do it again.  It's like the 'Do It Yourself Party' but on speed.  It will take you a week to recover, and your child two days to open all the presents (I'm not a big fan of conspicuous consumption but I'd rather not hold a party than earnestly ask my friends to plant an acorn on my child's behalf instead of buying another necklace-making kit).

The Really Easy Party

This has just started to happen in my life and it is *bliss*.  By the time your children get to 10 they're (hopefully) free of tit for tat party invites and the whole 'Whole Class Party' thing has died a death.  Pick two to four friends, take them to the cinema, bite to eat afterwards and you are done!  Brilliant!  I shared this opinion with my daughter's friend's mum today and she conspiratorially whispered "I know, it's great - we do it too!".  Now this may sound a little smug on my behalf but I plan to enjoy every minute of this stage because I know what it is to be at an:

Out of Control Teenage Party

What to say here without incriminating anyone?  Let's just put it this way:
Thunderbird
Uninvited guests
Breakages
Police
Furious parents
Clean up operation that included having to scrape vomit from the pocket of a pool table



So until I get payback for my own terrible teenage behaviour, here's to Really Easy Parties - long may they continue!