Thursday, 1 December 2016

A Networking Christmas

Is Christmas making you queasy?
Are festivities making you frown?
Athena makes gift shopping easy
And avoids all the trauma of town

Buy your brother-in-law a nice back rub
Buy your aunty an intimate wax

Treat the family to a great photoshoot
Help your in-laws to sort out their tax

Book a mindfulness course for your mother
Or a dream holiday for next year
Take some reiki to help you recover
Have some coaching to help your mind clear

Train your canine to become a "good dog"
Train yourself into feeling more strong
Help your husband to learn how to cha-cha
Get a workout to fit in your thong

You can outsource your post-Christmas clutter
Free that neck nerve that somehow got trapped
Outsource dinner, pretend that you made it
Get your presents professionally wrapped

We have so many talents between us
So much that we're able to do
Here's to the ladies of Athena
A very happy Christmas to you!


This poem was inspired by the ladies of the West Berkshire Athena Network - thank you for your support, friendship and endless gift ideas :D

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Why I'm Learning to Love Football

I'll confess, I wasn't keen on my son getting 'into' football.  This makes me a traitor to my upbringing where football was the sport of choice and rugby was for "posh kids" or fat retired policemen.  I liked Chelsea because my dad supported them, but my mum supported Liverpool, so our living room featured a mirror for each team, which alongside the Coca-Cola mirror they had purchased, made it look quite a lot like a social club.
Can't see the mirrors?  Download the pics!
Frankly, a home is not a home without a selection of these...

Can't see Roy?  Download the images!
The man behind the song
(image sportworld cards)
My Great Uncle was a West Ham fan who taught us "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" and took the time to try to instil in us a love of local football with trips to Camrose to watch Basingstoke FC.  My brother and I wandered around the ground taking in the banter and the smell of Bovril, while we waited for goals that would never come.  These formative experiences prepared me well for secondary school where football chants were frequently sung in lessons.  My personal favourite was one that would be sung with incredible gusto and was beautiful in its simplicity.  It was about the QPR player Roy Wegerle and required just two things: his surname and the tune to "Here We Go". 

By the age of 14 I was going to matches with friends. We bought tickets via a friend of the 'QPR Boy' to go and watch Spurs vs Arsenal at White Hart Lane.  I don't even know how he got hold of them in the first place.  This is pre-internet - did he write off including a stamped addressed envelope?  Did he phone up the club and promise to send a postal order?  It matters not, we got the tickets, enjoyed the buzz of the tube on match day, went to the stadium, sat at the home end and then as the final whistle blew and people made their way out of their seats....my friend unzipped her jacket to reveal...an Arsenal shirt.  We ran the rest of the way out.

I have experienced the thrill of the terraces, been caught in a crush as people rushed to the barriers to celebrate a goal, enjoyed the independence of going to a match with my mates (and nearly got lynched) and felt the excitement of walking up to Wembley for a Cup Final (and seen piss cascade from the bottom of an advertising hording as men relieved themselves behind it) so why on earth wouldn't I want my boy to enjoy all this?

Here's a sentence that explains why I didn't want my son to like football:


"Oi you f**king c**t! Pass the f**king ball for f**k's sake!"

I heard this at my local park from the village football team.  As I walked my children to the swings.  I wondered if their families on the sidelines had selective hearing...

Here's another one:

"Pass it to Alfie!  Pass it TO ALFIE!  PASS. THE. BALL. TO. ALFIE. NOWWWWW!!!"

This sentence was bellowed by a parent at their 6 year old.  At another village park.  At what was billed as a "friendly football club".  Nice.

So whilst our son has always enjoyed football at school and is devoted to Reading FC, when he showed an interest in rugby I was pleased as I did not want to stand next to Mr "Pass it to Alfie" every Sunday.  

Here's what I heard at rugby:

"First things first, we respect the ref."  "We play as a team."  "If someone has a bad game we don't single them out."  "We have fun."  "There is a place on the pitch for everyone."


And here's what the parents said:


Not much.  Most people were gently nursing Sunday morning hangovers but when they did speak it was to say hello.  Nobody shouted at their children.

At local rugby tournaments people are friendly, at major games opposing fans can be trusted to have a pint in the stands together.  Without exception I have found rugby to be a welcoming and well-mannered game where it is possible to attend a match without hearing someone call the ref a "f**king wanker".  And there's the added amusement of some roaringly middle-class things happening like the time I saw a mum take her son's teams' sports bottles to the pitch in an Ocado wine carrier.....

But there is a little something missing with rugby.  And I think it's best described as this:


Anyone can take part in a kick-about.  It is nigh on impossible to have a 'rugby-about'.


The 'jumpers for goalposts' adage is true.  In Devon our son was kicking a football on the grass, and within a couple of minutes was joined by another boy.  Our daughter decided to join in too.  Three soon turned into four with the arrival of another girl, the dads followed on and before long I was in goal and the pitch was awash with dad-running, silky-skills and clumsy kicks.  We had over an hour of unprompted exercise and bloody good fun.  Everyone knew what they were doing and no-one needed to get grabbed by the legs. 
Can't see the Reading kit?  Click to download the pics.
Treasured and very, very lairy

In Poole a few weeks ago we saw 20 kids playing on an artificial pitch, with two dads loosely in charge.  On the first day our boy just watched them, counting the different team shirts and trying to suss out if they all knew one another.  We concluded that they didn't.  On the second day he looked over at the pitch then looked at me and said "I'm going to ask if I can join in."  And as I watched my 8 year old son, clad head to toe in his cherished fluorescent Reading kit, trot over, introduce himself and then get heartily welcomed into the swarm I realised that perhaps football isn't so bad after all. He had 90 minutes of being part of a team, the kids all calling each other by the names on their backs and no-one being told that they couldn't play.  The team sizes fluctuated up and down as children came and went but the game carried on.  He was in heaven and I saw how inclusive football can be.  And how it needn't be like the other examples I'd come to believe as the norm.

He's still playing rugby, but now he wants to join a football team too.  Perhaps I could learn to love it.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

I Helped the Dawn to Break

A cool October morning
My breath hangs in the air
The leaves hang on the trees - just
Next month they won't be there

I jog along the pavement
And push just up the hill
To enter into woodland
Damp shelter from the chill

Dog walker treads his circuit
His pup grins ear to ear
I leap a fallen tree trunk
Come out into the clear

And see the sunlight streaming
Lift souls from off the land
I raise my palms up skywards
Let light pour through my hands

A field once full now flattened
I race along its side
Bright shoes across the dun earth
The plough marks straight and wide

On to a narrow bridleway
My lungs about to burst
I run right through the cobwebs
It seems that I am first

I caught the horses dancing
I made the rabbits wake
I heard birds herald morning
I helped the dawn to break

Monday, 3 October 2016

The Bosching Machine


Dear Bosch

You say you offer a superior wash

But must you announce the laundry's end

With an ear-splitting noise that's bound to send


A person racing across the kitchen

To turn you off, and I am itching

To find your bleep and rip it out

"TURN OFF THE MACHINE!!" is the family shout


It would be cheaper to use you at night

But then you'd beep, which means I might

Take a hammer to your door

And spill your workings across the floor



At every wash I'd lain in wait

To stop the sound that I so hate

Until I found, oh joy of joys!

This clip of how to kill your noise....


Monday, 26 September 2016

I want to do great things

I'm not a promoter. Not a musician. Not an events organiser or full-time entertainer and yet.... I had an idea that what our village really needed was to have a live band and indie disco evening.
Oh yeah, PowerPoint has a Reading Festival template!
I wanted to do this because 18 months ago I'd been at a friend's party where we danced until 3am to a playlist of '90s music and sank drinks like we were at the Hacienda, rather than in someone's tastefully decorated home. People I'd only spoken to on the school playground or at the local pub became teenagers once again, and friendships were strengthened as we realised that we loved the same music. It felt like we all shared a little of the spirit that we allow to shine so freely when we're young and unencumbered by mortgages and the gradual build up of life's worries.
I also wanted to do it because since taking up stand-up I'd seen some great live performances from local musicians and felt that other people ought to see how talented these bands are. The comedy night I put on was well received so how hard could it be to put on a couple of bands?
Harder than I thought. During the process of organising the event I discovered that there was an awful lot I didn't know. Like what a 'DI box' or a 'stage monitor' is, or is for. I didn't know how to pronounce 'cajon' (it's "cah-hon" - a type of box drum) and I didn't know how to connect a guitar amp to a mixer. I didn't know that you needed a sound guy to make all this work well enough that the band won't sound like they're playing underwater in a dustbin. Fortunately for me (and for everybody else), the DJ and another villager who works in radio were experts, and kind enough to make up for my considerable lack of knowledge.
Awesome sound quality nothing to do with me...
The event itself was incredible. We danced like we didn't have any responsibilities beyond perfecting our Happy Mondays moves or being able to recite all the words to "Get Your Rocks Off". We tried to drink the bar dry but one thing that I *do know* is how to make sure a bar is well stocked. We tried to eat enough food to avoid getting drunk - only some of us were successful on that front. The next morning my feet were half a size bigger, the recycling bin had over 200 bottles and cans in it and I heard how someone had stopped on the way home to "have a go on the swings" for old times' sake. Someone had also been sick in their bathroom but I'm not supposed to tell you that....
That's not even the half of it......
The evening was a fundraiser for Smart Works Reading so there wasn't any financial reward in it for me, but I did get something else extremely valuable: a reminder that sometimes we don't need to wait until we think we're 100% there to go after the things that we want to achieve. By showing my enthusiasm, people became interested. By being clear on the outcome, others wanted to take part. By being honest about the stuff I didn't know, others offered to help.
This process has inspired me to go after the things that I really want to achieve - chief among which is to ramp up the number of speaking engagements that I do. So that's why I'm off to see the Berkshire WI speaker selection committee this week to see if I can't get myself a little tour underway.  I want to do great things, how about you?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Holidays: An Education

I don't know about you but I am chomping at the bit to get back to work properly.  I'm afraid that six weeks of squeezing work in around the holidays have led to my writing abilities diminishing beyond recognition, and I'm bored of the children being bored.  This is not one-sided either - they're desperate to be back amongst friends and the certainty of routine.

Always, always cold

There's also the small matter of whether the break has erased the efforts of the teachers over the past term.  If today's return to rugby was anything to go by (where children forgot how to catch balls and parents forgot that standing on a pitch is always, always going to be cold) then that may well be true.  Unless you frame the learning in a different way.  Which is what I'm going to try to do, so here's....:


How to keep your kids educated during the holidays:

Maths (or numeracy, if you want to be PC about it).

At primary school, depending on where you children are at in the curriculum, they could be covering anything from basic addition to multiplying fractions.  Leave this stuff to the teachers (you'll be getting homework on it anyway), instead demonstrate to them the wonder of maths by doing the following:

1. Ask them what theme park they would like to go to
2. Ask them to calculate how many boxes of cereal you will need to buy in order for the children to get in for free.  Make sure they add on the cost of all the extra stuff you ended up buying from the supermarket because "you were in there anyway".
3. Take them to the theme park
4. Ask them to calculate how much it costs per minute, per ride (answer: circa £20 unless you subscribe to the divisive wealth indicator that is a Fast Track pass).
5. Watch their little faces light up in amazement when you explain to them that even though you bought cereal packets instead of tickets, you still managed to spend £150 on one day out.


English (or literacy.  Or phonics.  Or SPaG.  I don't know what the right thing is anymore).

Poo pants.  There for all to see..
With less focus on writing and honing formal sentence structures, children get far more time to exercise their conversational skills - whether you want to talk to them all day or not.  This is great for developing their confidence in communication although you may find yourself having to explain to them that declaring "Dinner is Served" in a loud voice as they exit the toilet is not an 'appropriate' thing to say.

You may also want to plan any leisurely strolls that you want to take around your neighbourhood with care.  I recommend avoiding bus stops, unless you want to find yourself having to explain "all the swears".

If you're interested in the extent of your children's vocabulary, you could also while away some time by playing Hangman, as we did in a restaurant.  How smug we felt entertaining our children without devices.  How short-lived this was when the waiter noticed the words 'poo pants' written on the pad.


PE (joyously this is still PE!)

The one thing that I *love* about the holidays is that the children get a hell of a lot more outdoor exercise than during an average week at school.  The only challenge is that more often than not this exercise needs to be undertaken as a family.  Which means negotiation, bribery, arguments, fighting and occasional crying.  What begins as a simple bike ride or "just a walk" will morph into an hour of misery but like with all tough work outs, once you've busted through that wall you will find yourselves enjoying a tremendous sense of achievement (and ideally a pint).  If you want to avoid the misery, the solution is to go with friends - there is something about the children being around other kids that seems to silence the whining button in a way that offering encouragement / threatening a tech ban / shovelling Haribos into their hands will never do.

If you want to ride this route without whining - just add friends :)

Music

As neither of us play an instrument, our ability to influence our children's musical tastes begins and ends with playing what we like.  We keep BBC 6 Music on the radio and if we can be arsed to connect up the iPod, they'll hear mostly indie rock, dance and (heavily edited) hip-hop.  

All this counts for nothing however as we have discovered to our great dismay.  What the children have decided is all they want to listen to is Heart.  Which means that the soundtrack to your holiday will be Shy Guy by Diana King which they seem to play on the hour, every hour.  I think Diana puts it best when she says: "Oh lord have mercy, mercy, mercy......"

Your children may also decide to search the iTunes with their friends for Cake by the Ocean by DNCE.  Did you know that it's got a version including the word "f*cking"?  Neither did I.  But now I do.  And so do you.

Sex Education

Whether on holiday or not, we all run the risk of being caught 'in flagrante' (unless you're camping, I mean seriously are you really going to attempt it when you're separated by a 'wall' that is the thickness of a high-vis vest?) but on returning to our favoured holiday destination this year to discover one of the owners had had a beautiful baby just 7 weeks earlier, our son was most interested to know precisely why he was not going to get a little brother.  Couldn't we just "wish for one"?  Erm...no.

RE

Whatever the lessons contain at school did not quite prepare the children for the moment when on holiday I walked down to the swimming pool which contained a large group of men, women and children of various ages, yet when I got in to the pool the men and teenage boys had mysteriously all disappeared.  I thought for a moment that perhaps I had mistakenly put my costume on back to front (now that would be horrible) but it turned out that we were holidaying at the same place as a family of Orthodox Jews.  So there's me and my girl in our speedo cossies and the ladies in their swimming dresses.  We stared a bit, smiled a bit, chatted a bit about the temperature of the pool and the weather (we were in Devon, it's The Law) and carried on enjoying our respective swims.  

Despite the differences we may have had, I learned that the way you deal with awkward questions is universal.  My husband overheard one of the dads telling his son that he had to get out of the pool "because you just have to".


This holiday has been one of revelations, of family time, of raised voices, big hugs, memorable moments, boredom, excitement, beautiful days and torrential rain, late nights and early mornings (why does our boy not understand what a lie-in is!) but above all, it has been an education.  I think we're all ready to go back to school. 

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