Sunday, 29 December 2013

Appetite for Destruction

Ugh.  God I feel gross.  Five days of non-stop feasting has taken its toll.  Cut me open and my insides would look like a gala pie: layers of pastry, meat and jelly made from a multitude of delicious fatty morsels consumed with neither guilt nor counting of calories.  My blood is double cream, my skin stretched a little tighter (which is no bad thing for filling out fine lines..) and my brain a funk of too much indulgence and not enough exercise.  Barring the 'Boxing Day Walk' which put a helpful seven miles in the bank, there has been no running or cycling and yet my joints ache from all the sitting around and crawling about on the floor that comes with this season of being a slob in front of the tv, playing board games with children and catching up with friends and family.  Our digestive systems are taking a beating and no-one dares fling themselves down on the sofa for fear of disturbing a dormant cloud of Christmas farts.

Lunches and dinners are awash with seconds, pigs wrapped in blankets and choices of puddings.  The tree grows chocolates, fruit is candied and veggies come from the oven spitting with hot fat.  We eat out before the pantomime at which the 'dame' has better legs than most of the ladies in the audience.  Must be all that dancing and discipline.  Feeling inspired, as soon as we get home I eat a clementine then jig about with the children.  My knees crack, and my stomach feels like it contains several house bricks.  

Come the first week of January the children will return to school, I have work and a talk to deliver that I am bricking myself over, and many miles of walking to put in as training begins in earnest for the MoonWalk in May.  The wise amongst us would be starting early, using this lull before the storm of the New Year to lay off the lard and be ready to meet January 1st 2014 with vim, vigour and a virtuously clear head. 

But that would take the fun out of it, no?  As a friend put it to me "Christmas is like an endurance sport", and we have a full fridge, plenty of wine and the small matter of New Year's Eve just around the corner.  And if I'm to make it through that, I'd better get training - pass me a profiterole would you? 


Soundtrack: Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses 


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Hallelujah

I had two semi-religious experiences yesterday.  The first one was 'near-death' when I stepped off a grass verge only for a car to miss me by inches as it sped past on the wrong side of the road while overtaking.  Quite what was so urgent that they had to drive at seventy miles an hour down a country road I don't know but I hope the driver was as shocked by the near miss as me and my friend were.  We stood in incredulity and I silently thanked my lucky stars that I wasn't a mangle of limbs in a hedge.

The second took place at the O2 in Oxford where I clutched my ticket to see the Happy Mondays like I'd won a tour of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.  It has been a long time since I went to a proper gig but I had remembered not to take a coat and to wear a pair of trainers.  What had changed very much was my mode of transport - I had moved on from sitting on a train drinking cheap lager to getting driven there in a Ford S-Max.  As I was with my husband and a friend who is also a parent you can imagine our delight when we: 

A. Found a parking space in the local Tesco just a two minute walk from the venue
B. Arrived at 8:00pm - the time at which the charge for all night parking goes down to £1.10
C. Had the correct change to pay for it.

Anyway, we're enjoying some properly cold beer out of plastic pint glasses (except for our designated driver, of course) and are thankful that whilst we'll be enjoying music from our 'youth', the beer is no longer like warm piss - not that any of us would know what that tastes like of course.

There's plenty of people watching, conversations with random strangers, and excitement building and then the lights go down.  And then Bez comes on stage like a magical shamen with a stick in one hand and a pair of maracas in the other.  Shaun Ryder comes on, the beats start and things go a bit weird.  Someone has cast out an invisible fishing line and it has hooked in my cheek.  I am dragged through the crowd - through the patchy bit at the back where you stand and bob your head, through the bit in the middle where everyone's respecting each other's personal space and getting their groove on and down to the front where it is heaving and pulsing.  We surge and contract and barge each other.  Beer splashing, hands aloft, pressed together.  Ribcages are crushed and then released and every now and than a space opens up enough for you to dance - head rolling, eyes closed, feet stomping then slipping on the slickness of the floor.  There is arm-linking and whirling groups of people creating vortexes that spin off to the side of the crowd before coming back again and crashing into everyone.  It feels like chaos and violence but underneath it all is camaraderie and etiquette.  People look out for each other, help each other up and try not to smash into small women who are having a moment of pure escapism.  One man shakes my hand and I am bear-hugged by someone who looks more than a little bit like Buster Bloodvessel for my enthusiastic mosh-pit participation.  Between songs we catch our breath and then 'Wrote for Luck' comes on and we are all chanting "ahhhhhh-ha-ha", someone spills beer down the back of my jeans and I don't care.  My hair is messed up and sticking to my face and I don't care.  My cheeks are burning and because I foolishly wore a jumper my top half is soaked in sweat and I don't care.  The Mondays leave the stage, my ears are ringing, they come back on and start up 'Hallelujah'.  If I was on a higher plain before, I'm now checked out.  Forced against the crash barrier, pushing back, placing my arms in the air because there's nowhere else for them to go, toes trod on, nose full of the smell of beer, sweat and skunk, transfixed by the sight of my teenage idols, transported by the music, solar plexus vibrating with the music.  If there's a heaven then this is what I imagine it to be.  

It finishes, I am finished.  I wriggle, push and lever my way between bodies to get to the air and space at the back and a much needed pint of water.  I have paid my respects at the altar of the Happy Mondays, and am ready to return to my grown up responsibility of making sure we're not too late for the babysitter and putting my stinking clothes straight in the wash.  We have had communion, sung together, worshipped and praised.  And then our friend appears with a holy relic:  Bez threw a maraca and it got trapped between the barrier and his chest.  We stare at the golden orb in reverence, touched by the hand of a man who if not exactly a god, is certainly a miracle.  Hallelujah!


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I have been told that I am a less than desirable parent by my children on more than one occasion recently.  You won't be surprised to learn it coincides with times when they have been told 'no'. 

I said "No" to a sub-standard coat that my daughter fell in love with but I knew would fall to bits within a week, "no" to my son watching 'Dragon Ball Z Kai' (a programme that seems designed to turn ordinarily placid children into demons), and "no" to both of them eating chocolate at breakfast time.  Sometimes this is accompanied by tears and tantrums, other times by the classic "It's so UNFAIR!" quote.  On the occasions where we have tried to explain to the children how fortunate they, this has lead to further arguments, frustrated negotiations and either me or my husband uttering the line that I so hated to hear as a child: "Because I said so."  Oh what a killer line, and what a switch for causing your child to get even more upset because they realise they are not in control.


Thanks Iris :)
What to do...  We are very fortunate as a family not to be in the position that my parents found themselves in where illness and redundancy made the household budget so small that when we ran out of things (usually sugar, I don't know why it was always that, but it would appear sugar is pretty much all I ate as a child), we would have to borrow some from our neighbours until more money could be found.  It was a shameful experience being sent round to ask lovely old Iris (again) for a cup of Silver Spoon (again) but it did teach me that good neighbours are a truly precious thing and to always, always help other people out.  If we run out of anything in our house today, the children know it's caused by their voracious appetites and my slapdash approach to shopping, rather than a lack of funds, and so it goes 'on the list' for the next big shop. 




The contrast between my childhood experience and theirs is marked and so I'm left wondering what it means to understand 'no' because you simply don't have enough money, versus 'no' because your parents are aiming to raise you to appreciate that just because there's a cupboard full of food, you don't need to invade it every ten minutes like a couple of mangy foxes.  If there is no struggle, does it dampen their ability to strive?  Are we at risk of creating adults that behave like chicks waiting to be fed?  It leaves me feeling frequently torn: on the one hand I want to give the children everything possible but on the other, I desperately want to avoid them turning into Veruca Salt.  And as much as Mr K and I fill their lives with love and opportunities and experiences that broaden their horizons, build confidence and help them to learn, it doesn't stop them wanting everything in the shops / on tv / that their friends have.  And then they see the Argos catalogue at which point our childhoods converge and they too grab a biro and circle absolutely everything they see.



Photo Credit Robert Izumi on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/theizumis/
This becomes even more acute as we walk the tightrope of expectation and anticipation that is the run up to Christmas, but I'm not sweating it as (thankfully), we are still a household that very much believes in Father Christmas.  So the children will quite happily behave (mostly) and agree to a deal based on being good and delayed gratification.  And they will be thankful for what Santa decides to bring them, and bow down to his knowledge of what makes for a 'good' present rather than have a nervous breakdown for the want of a £2.99 magazine with a shabby piece of tat on the front cover. 

It's intriguing how the idea of a person is more powerful than a real one but hey, if it works then we'll keep the magic going for them until they're 20!  So for December at least, I'm happy in the knowledge that the 'man in the red suit' will take the strain of giving the children what they want (and taking the heat if they're disappointed), leaving us free to get on with giving them what they need.



Soundtrack: You Can't Always Get What You Want - The Rolling Stones

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Part of Your World

"Hey kids, come and look at this, Mummy's in a magazine!"


"Meh"
That's my husband and he's not wrong.  I am in the wonderfully glossy November issue of Berkshire Life in massive technicolour.  My toothiest grin leaping out of a three page spread charting my journey from corporate life to writer and the publication of Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One.  I would be lying if I said it wasn't exciting.  For me. 

As for the children, they trotted into the kitchen, took one look at the picture of my great big head and made a noise that I think is the primary school version of 'meh'.  They then went back to watching Bottom Knocker Street.

Contrast this to when I went in to school to read some stories to my son's class.  My daughter spotted me from down the corridor and made a sprint that Usain Bolt would have been proud of, followed by an impressively forceful leap and a collision of our bodies that resulted with her hanging on to me like a Koala bear.  "Mummy!!!!  It's my mummy!" she shouted in triumph at the other pupils loitering in the cloakrooms.  She was beaming and proud, I was slightly dazed and wondering whether a rugby career might be in the offing for her.

Having my first feature in print is thrilling, but my daughter's reaction to me being in her school made me feel like a superstar.  Becoming a writer has given me more time to be with the children, but if I'm really honest my brain is elsewhere, and they know it.  So I'm resolving to make more of an effort to be part of their world - I'm booked in to read to my daughter's class tomorrow :)


Soundtrack: Part of Your World - Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (okay, okay, yes it's from The Little Mermaid!)

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

I am here

I am the last text that I sent
The note that you kept
The photo that you found
I am the feather on the ground

I am the gifts that I bought
The smile that you caught
The memories stood still
I am the climb up a hill

I am the song in the car
The sparkle of a star
And though I'm not near
In all these things, I am here

Monday, 21 October 2013

You Don't Even Know Me

Hello!  Is it me you're looking for?

Sorry it's been a while but a bit of dream come true stuff has been happening in that I am now writing for a living so my fingers are busy wearing the letters off the keypad of my laptop as I spend my days pouring words onto pages.

Some of the stuff I'm writing is focused on social media which has led to discussions about how people worry about what information they share online and what might happen with it.  Mostly, behind the digital line there's a pulsating mass of companies that are desperate to get you to buy something, throwing thousands of pounds at the likes of Google and Facebook in the hope of getting you to buy their product and tell your friends how great it is. 

Ideally they'd like you to 'like' their page to be in with the chance of winning a sachet of washing powder, or if you're really lucky you might win a family trip to an adventure park where your children will strip you of money within minutes of entering.

I'd say I share a fair amount online so it's easy to figure out my marital status, how many children I have, the job that I do and those that I once did.  A quick search would tell you I believe in equal marriage, wish I could turn moments with the children into memories I can physically feel and that I like to use the hashtag #gratitude fairly often.  You'd find out that I don't like Page 3, being patronised, or disabled people being served with eviction notices.  I sometimes sign petitions and I always say thank you.  I've left a trail of crumbs on the internet to be swept up and examined by SEO experts and sold on to companies.  It's fair to say they know a bit about me, but if these results are anything to go by, they've got a long way to go.

On LinkedIn, I'm asked if I'd like to be a global alliances manager, an account director or a Director of CRM.  No to all three but thanks for asking. 

On Facebook I'm served endless ads that are either ridiculous 'The house wife's anti-aging trick that Dr's don't want you to know!', 'lose 7kg of belly fat in three weeks!' or revolting.  I was invited to 'like' a page for a women's bank.  The name of the bank started with 'w' and rhymed with bank.  Evidently to the folks advertising this non-financial institution, my activity suggests I have no subtlety, no problem with offending my friends and family online and no imagination.  So, no, to those adverts.

They are persistent but I am strong in the face of pretend doctors and vulgarians so I mark all the ads as 'misleading' or 'offensive' and laugh and shout "no!" when Facebook asks me to 'tell us what you like'. 


The upside to this kind of shabby advertising though, is that when we receive something that we're actually interested in, it makes it even better.  Which is why when the next thing happened it made very happy indeed.  I got an email from someone I met a couple of years ago and who recently bought my book.  This is what it said:


"Hi Toni

Loving the book – even though it’s kinda aimed at girlies, it made me laugh out loud on so many occasions during last week’s trip from Boston to Denver via Toronto.
 
It also reminded me of this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmndGt8R3v0

I really hope that you haven’t seen it before and you’ll definitely understand why your work reminded me of it, plus I GUARANTEE that you a) Remember all and b) Burst out laughing on at least two points!

Great work and keep it up…

Your #1 US fan!"
 
The link leads to a brilliant video capturing hundreds of cultural touchstones for us children of the 70's and 80's.  And he was right, I did laugh out loud and in exactly the places that he thought I would.  He was right because he's a human being, he gets context and conversation and all the other things that a search robot can't possibly do: he knows me.
 
Good luck Facebook and Google in even getting close to that.

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Soundtrack: You Don't Know Me by Armand Van Helden

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Lessons in Love

I am sat in the car with two four-year-olds and two seven-year-olds and they are discussing love.  They get on to the topic of marriage and one of the children says:

"Women and men get married."

To which one of the others replies: "Yes, and did you know that men can marry men, and women can marry women?"

Everyone confirms that they do know this and so the conversation switches to Power Rangers and who's daddy has got the smelliest bottom or something equally important.

Some weeks later I am at a church hall at the end of a Scout parade (a parade that one of my children took part in - I don't just hang out at these things!), the hall is full so I stand in the reception area and amongst all the posters advertising cake sales for charity and services for families and children, there's a publication called the 'Pro-Life Times' which has a headline screaming words to the effect that damage on an unspeakable scale will happen to children if they are taught in schools that equal marriage is ok.

As someone who is not homophobic and as a person who believes strongly that women should have control over their own bodies and reproduction, I am not 'Pro-Life's' target demographic.  I respect everyone's right to their own opinion and freedom of speech,  but what astonished me most about the leading article of this paper was that it assumed children need to be taught what love is; that they wouldn't already know.  It also assumed that everyone in the church and their entire network of friends and family are straight...

When my children and their school friends discuss love they're not talking about sexual preferences, ancient laws and institutions, or tax breaks.  They don't feel their moral compasses, or their personal or life-style decisions are threatened by another person's choice of partner, or how they want to demonstrate their commitment to them.  They just see love as something normal and wonderful that is shared between people, and getting married as something that people in love do.  Their conversations are filled with love and light, they are positive and supportive, honest and healthy.

As cheerful as I am, it made me wonder why in a place that focuses so much on acceptance, support and community you could find a publication using the language of fear and shame to influence how our children should be taught about love.  I think they could use a few lessons from the little people.



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Soundtrack: 'Lessons in Love - Level 42'

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Wonder of You

Today marked a milestone in our family history.  The boy wonder is now a 'big boy', so he and his sister donned their uniforms and the whole family walked to school together.

We took more pictures than the children felt willing to pose for so half the photos contain face pulling or are blurred by sudden movements as they adopted a Power Ranger stance rather than standing neatly in their freshly ironed uniforms and new shoes that will be scuffed before I finish writing this post.

I haven't felt particularly sad about our daughter becoming a 'junior' or our son starting primary, because they are now together during the day and we are financially and logistically better off with the pre-school years behind us.  That said I have been a little more wistful and reflective and am being told to 'stop looking at me!' on a regular basis so I feel I need to offer the children an explanation.  Here it is:

When I'm looking at you, or holding your hand, or giving you a cuddle, I'm trying to take in and commit to memory every little part of you - every detail on your face, how you move and stand, how your hand feels in mine.  I'm trying to capture that sheen on your cheeks, the tilt of your nose, how you fit in my arms.  I want to record the way you light up when you're really excited, your uncontrollable giggles, the flashes of your Daddy and Grandpops that sometimes cross your face.  I know the shape of your nails and the length of your toes, the first freckle you got and the chickenpox scars.  The curve of your tummy, the strength in your calves, the shape of your hairline, I'm trying to hold on to it all.  The way you narrow your eyes, your cupid's bow, your little ears, I want to keep it.  I'm trying to absorb these things because the photos can't capture it, the videos don't come close and you are growing fast and one day you'll be too big to fit on my lap, too grown up for holding hands, too self-conscious to dance like a chicken in the living room.  There will come a time when you definitely won't want to be tickled into hysterical submission or kissed goodbye at the school gate, when you'll think I'm embarrassing and cramping your style.  So until that time comes, you beautiful and amazing children, I'm not 'just looking at you', I'm taking every hug, hand-holding moment, and opportunity to enjoy you that you send my way and treasuring every second of it.



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Soundtrack: The Wonder of You - Elvis Presley

Monday, 2 September 2013

Come Back to What You Know

A week or so ago we packed the car full of bags and headed, for the sixth year in a row, to a farm in Devon for our holiday. 

As usual I packed things I would never wear (white jeans, heeled sandals - when will I ever learn that there is no place for these things on a beach or a farm?), and as usual one of the children was unhappy within five minutes of leaving the driveway.  This time it was my fault for remembering to download 'Chasing the Sun' by The Wanted which my son has some strange obsession with, but forgetting to download 'Paradise' by Coldplay which my daughter had asked for.  I was secretly relieved to be free of Chris Martin's shabby lyrics but they may have been preferable to the feeling of guilt caused by my daughter's wailing.  Bad mother. 

Within an hour there were arguments about whether we were playing 'I-Spy' correctly but within two hours we were parked up at Westward Ho! beach.  It is a place that I love very much because in my head it is twinned with a place called 'Thundercats Ho!' that is populated by people dressed as Lion-O.  For those born after 1975 - here's what I'm on about.


Bloody English Weather!
Anyway, back to the story.  We are all starving but we have a massive packed lunch and the beach is looking inviting.  We get out of the car, sit on the beach, take the first bite of our food and then it rains.  A lot.  We pack everything back into the car and sit there as our wet clothes steam up the inside of the windows and the sky turns into a big grey dishcloth.  Bloody marvellous and typical of every holiday we have spent in Devon so far. 

The final thirty minutes drive to the farm is spent sending silent curses to the English weather that has once again blighted our break.  I build myself up for a week of scuffing between barns of animals in wet jeans and smelly wellies, or attempting to find an industrial-sized barn housing a soft-play and drop-slide that we have yet to visit.  The question 'why on earth are we doing this again?' is asked more than once.

We get out of the car and my self-indulgent sulk disappears as we're greeted with hugs by the owners who ask 'how has your year been?' and remember the children's names and remark on how they have grown.  The children beam at this recognition, then shriek with delight as they hear that the summer has brought new rabbits and piglets and yet another round of kittens, and just as they think it can't get any better their cousins arrive which sends them off the scale and I am so happy to see my sister-in-law and her husband for they bring good company, fizz and the extra pairs of hands that means we all feel like we're getting a holiday. 

I remembered why we were doing it again.  In that moment, it didn't feel like we were 'away', it felt like we were coming home.

Soundtrack: Come Back to What You Know - Embrace

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Great Tampon Fire - Part II

Previously in 'The Great Tampon Fire'

Katrina and Annette have left the party and arrived, drunk and disorientated, at an empty train station with no way of getting home.  With bellies full of beer and only a packet of Consulate menthol cigarettes between them they head off to seek shelter nearby and are about to attempt to light a fire...


The Great Tampon Fire Part II


The problem for girls that think things like Scouting and Guides are ‘for knobs’ and ‘well boring’ is that, unless you have parents that are socks–and-sandals wearing, practical, outdoorsy types, you may never be taught some of the things that are very useful when you are frozen to your marrow and wondering how you will make it to morning.  Like making a camp fire.

As ill-educated as we were in the ways of survival, we were conscientious enough to realise that setting fire to the train station would be a bad idea and made for a wooded area nearby to ‘make camp’.

The lights from the station cut through the gloom and enabled us to see a disused hut within the woods that whilst not exactly a hotel, did offer some shelter.  It had a dirt floor and someone had helpfully put some beer crates inside as seats. 

Annette and I agreed to split up for five minutes to search for ‘things to burn’ (kindling had not yet entered our vocabulary) and then return to the hut with our spoils.  It was dark and damp but Annette came back with some nice little branches that seemed dry and I – wonder of wonders – had found some magazines! 

“Check this out Annette,” I said, “I’ve got some magazines, so we can definitely have a fire.”
“Nice one,” she replied, “What are they?”
“Dunno,” I said, squinting at the pages beneath me, “hard to see out there, hang on.  Let’s hold our lighters over them.”

I opened one of the magazines, put it on the floor and we flicked our lighters at the same time.  The darkness lifted slightly to reveal an impressively hairy fanny.

“Oh my fucking God!” shouted Annette “that woman’s got her minge out!”

She was quite right.  Not only did the woman ‘have her minge out’, she was also holding her legs apart and looking at the camera as if to say “Yes, this is my vagina, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you would take some time to have a really good look at it.”

We flicked to another page, more of the same.  I had inadvertently brought a selection of porn mags into the hut.

“Uurrgh, I don’t believe I’ve touched those.  They’ve probably had some blokes’ jizzy fingers all over them.  Oh this is rank.”  I felt truly rotten; this was not the triumph I was expecting.

“Well,” said Annette, “these deserve to be burned, dirty perverts.  Let’s get the fire going.”

This was easier said than done.  We knew nothing of making nice little balls of paper to get a fire going and even if we had, I can’t imagine either of us wanting to touch those magazines any more than we absolutely had to.  Annette edged the magazines into the centre of the hut using her boot and then artfully arranged some of the sticks on top.  It looked kind of ok but after some encouraging burning at the edges of the paper the flames expired.  The lady was still there, but now her minge was singed. 

“I think we need something to really get it going.”  Annette said. 
“Like what?” 
“Dunno, like a fire lighter or something.”

Whilst we  knew neither of us was going to have a fire lighter on us, we were hopeful and so emptied out our pockets to see whether we had anything that might prove suitably flammable.

Bus tickets – not big enough
Train tickets – not big enough either
Fag packets – too valuable, needed to protect our precious last few cigarettes
Tampons....

We decided that what with tampons being made of cotton, they must be great for starting fires and set about placing them on the magazines and in between the sticks.  They lay there, like stillborn mice, little string tails laid out behind them.  I think we hoped that if we lit the strings they’d go off like dynamite.  We scattered the bus and train tickets on top to add to the fuel then set about applying our lighters to everything possible.


As we were to find out, tampons are not an effective alternative to fire lighters.  Our efforts at keeping ourselves warm using only our wits and found items was a stinking, smouldering mess of masturbatory material and sanitary wear.  The smoke and the shame took us back to the train station where we waited, freezing and miserable until the 0825 to Basingstoke came in and took us back home.  To add to our feeling of stupidity the guard informed us that the milk train had ceased to exist at least 20 years ago.   

Compared to the previous night's lodgings my mum's house felt like a spa and after I had scrubbed my hands clean of every trace (real and imagined) of my futile foraging, I slept through most of Sunday.  In hindsight, our complete ineptitude as arsonists was a blessing in disguise – the hut we had been in was made of wood.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Paperback Writer

Hello to you all!

I'll cut to the chase and share the news that my book Reasons to be Cheerful Part One is now available to buy as a Kindle download from Amazon right here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reasons-Cheerful-Part-One-ebook/dp/B00EEA8V9Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1376162893&sr=1-1&keywords=reasons+to+be+cheerful+part+one    I've got an author page and everything!

In it you'll find a collection of the best essays from the blog over the past year all polished up, shiny and grammatically correct for your reading pleasure ;)

With the book published, I've retired most of the posts contained within it from the blog but have kept the ones I really love on here for posterity.  I'll also continue to write new pieces and share with you more of the work I am doing on the next book as well as my efforts to get Reasons to be Cheerful printed as a paperback (takes deep breath).

Thank you to all of you who have read the blog, encouraged and supported me, it's been one hell of a journey so far, looking forward to the next step!


50% of the curious £3.08 price point will be going to charity - definitely a feel good purchase :)

Soundtrack: Paperback Writer - The Beatles

Sunday, 4 August 2013

I'm a Fire Starter

As I'm in the midst of getting 'Reasons to be Cheerful Part One' ready for print, I'm not able to dedicate quite as much time to blogging as I'd like to, and so I thought I'd share with you an excerpt from another book I'm working on.  Part fact, part fiction, a bit of swearing and a lot about teenage girls who have the magical combination of the funds to buy alcohol and an off-licence owner who never ever asks for ID.... 

'The Great Tampon Fire'
I have never been sure whether our parents were too distracted by their own grief to try to exert more authority over what we got up to during the evenings, or if they truly did believe that we were responsible young people in possession of basic survival skills and a spare ten pence to phone home.  Whichever it was, we were frequently out most, or all, of the night and always nowhere near where we had told our parents we were going to be.  With friends who were now at college we had a ready supply of invites to parties and people old enough, and willing, to buy alcohol for us.  This was a time of much revelry, cheap cider, black leggings and moshing to Neds Atomic Dustbin.  It was also a time of going out and not thinking about how, or if, we were going to get home.  And it was inevitable at some point that we would end up roughing it, as Annette and me did after one such party in Bramley.

Bramley was a short train ride from Basingstoke and boasted five pubs for a village with less than five hundred people.  Living in the countryside requires the constitution to cope with extreme weather, extreme boredom and extremely high alcohol consumption.  This night would test us for all three.  We had told our parents we were staying ‘at a friend’s’ and so arrived full of excitement and a sense of being very clever at getting an all-night pass.  The venue was the village hall and we were in our finest indie kid attire.  I was attempting to rock Robert Smith-style hair back-combed to within an inch of its life and Annette was pale and angular, with eight-hole Doc Martins.  I was planning to save up and trump her by buying some ten-hole ones in Ox blood red but until then had to make do with cheapo monkey boots from the army surplus store.

By the time we arrived, the party was already well underway, the room full of goths and shoe-gazers; Inspiral Carpets ‘Cool as Fuck’ t-shirts alongside frayed cardigans.  But even teenagers, who hate everything, secretly like a disco light, and so flashes of red, green and blue cut their way through the thick fug of cigarette smoke.  The parents, aware that their presence would cause a huge dent in their son’s cool, had left us to it, hoping that the evening would not result in them facing a huge bill for damages or having to publish a public apology on the Parish Notice Board. 

We walked in, our green plastic bags each containing six cans of Special Brew (our tastes at that time were dominated by strength rather than seeking out hints of gooseberry and citrus aromas) and in our pockets a pack of twenty Consulate menthol cigarettes.  Somehow smelling and tasting like a minty ashtray was far chicer than smelling and tasting like a normal one.  We sought out the birthday boy, offered our congratulations and cracked open the first can.

We drank our way through our green bags and then set about procuring some more alcohol using our minty charms.  I acquired a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale and Annette got a can of Tennents Super.  We knocked them back and headed to the dance floor to flail our arms to ‘Sit Down’ by James.  Unfortunately for me, the belly full of beer coupled with flailing and the fact that I was a fifteen year old girl, and not a six foot, sixteen stone man meant that I had definitely had more than enough and it was with a sense of great panic that I realised that there was a very real possibility that I was going to puke all over the person next to me.  Somehow I managed to career through the room quickly enough for the arc of bile that left my mouth to reach a toilet and not the dance floor.  I was at once relieved and then horrified.  I had thrown up blood, and lots of it.  I screamed for Annette but really didn’t need to as she had seen my swift exit and followed me in. 

“Annette, I’m dying man, I’m throwing up blood!”
“You what?”
“Blood, oh my God, oh my God, call an ambulance!”
“You’re such a twat Katrina”

Annette crouched down, rubbed my back and gently explained that in the same way that Sugar Puffs makes your wee smell, Newcastle Brown Ale makes your sick red. 

On discovering that I wasn’t about to die, I perked up, stuffed half a pack of Wrigleys in my mouth to disguise the foul taste of Newky Pukey and went back to dance.

The rest of the evening was the expected mix of drunkenness, crap fights and mums and dads arriving to collect their teenagers; instantly making them look five in front of their friends.  By the time it was all over it was half past Midnight and it was then that we realised the following:

Everyone we knew had gone home.
We had no way of getting home.

It was a sobering thought.  There was the option of calling Annette’s dad to come and get us but as she put it “he’s told me if I cause him any more aggro this week he’s going to throw me out” so we decided against risking his wrath and instead bit the bullet, nicked some left overs and walked out into the night.  We decided to make our way to the train station as we had figured that the mythical ‘Milk Train’ that we believed travelled up and down the country delivering vats of the white stuff to towns and cities before being put on milk floats would probably stop by in the next few hours and drop us off in Basingstoke before the morning.  

How wrong we were….

We got to the station and looked around.  It was a typical village station – two small platforms with two benches, one locked waiting room and that was that.  We took a bench each and decided to try to curl up and get some sleep.  It was there that we learned a simple equation:

Light clothing + February in England + bench for bed = sub optimal sleeping conditions and possibility of dying of exposure. 

After an hour of fruitless shifting (you can’t ‘plump up’ a wooden bench) and shivering to the point of aching we decided to do something about our predicament.  We would light a fire.....



Thursday, 18 July 2013

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Here's a little follow up to my last post supporting the #nomorePage3 campaign.

I asked a member of each of the main parties in Newbury if they'd sign the petition requesting that David Dinsmore, Editor of The Sun reconsider the content of Page 3 and this is what happened:

Labour: I contacted Richard Garvie who texted me within 30 minutes to say that he'd signed the petition - whoop!

Conservative: I got in touch with Richard Benyon, MP who replied with a rather lovely letter (below).  Great that he agrees with the aims of the campaign, but I think he has misunderstood what it's asking MP's to do.  We're not asking you to legislate Richard, just show your support! (pretty please). 


Liberal Democrat: I emailed Judith Bunting who I'm yet to hear from...come on lady!

Three messages, two replies and only a few minutes work on my part to promote the hard graft of a few people who are really putting themselves out there to try to take the tits off the tea-tables in our local cafĂ© and soft play.  So if you've got a few minutes to spare, drop a line to your local MP and give these girls a hand!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off

I have never written to my (or in fact any) MP before.  But I just have.  Well, when I say 'written to' I have in fact requested via Twitter that he sign a letter to David Dinsmore; Editor of The Sun newspaper to put an end to the Page 3 'feature' of a woman with her breasts on display.

We don't buy The Sun (or borrow, steal or read it on the sly in case you're wondering) but my mum and dad used to when I was growing up.  This meant that the female role models available to me as a child included Samantha Fox and Linda Lusardi.  It is almost comical that at a time when a woman was running the country my curious young mind was getting a picture of a pair of baps with my breakfast as an example of what it meant to be a woman.

Of course my parents didn't open the paper at Page 3 and make me look at the picture of 'Suki, aged 19 and a 32D' but I did pick up and read everything I could get my hands on and it would be wrong for me to say that the daily image of a half-naked woman didn't in some way inform my views on (and issues with) my own body-image and what men like and look for in women.  It's not just a 'harmless bit of fun'.

So for that reason, and for the reason that it's outdated, irrelevant and not the reason that many people buy The Sun I've asked Richard Benyon to sign the letter here: http://nomorepage3.org/letter-to-the-editor-signed-by-mps/ 

Lucy Holmes - Campaign Founder
and chief t-shirt rocker!
And how about you?  Would you like to reduce the potential for your sons, daughters, nieces and nephews to have a picture of a pair of teenage breasts stuck in front of them at your local newsagents or softplay?  Or perhaps you'd just like to reduce the likelihood of having to explain to them why it exists when they do :)  If so, you can head on over here http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/dominic-mohan-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3

You can learn more about the No More Page 3 campaign and admire or buy their rather
fetching 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood' style t-shirts - here: http://nomorepage3.org/

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Soundtrack: We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off by Jermaine Jackson

Monday, 1 July 2013

Bye Bye Baby

So the boy wonder is due to start school in a couple of months and with it will be the end of a chapter for our family.  No more babies.

Neither of the children are actually babies (and haven't been for some considerable years), chubby limbs with lines instead of ankles and wrists became sturdy arms and legs many moons ago, their songs are no longer the lullabies that I sang, their bodies no longer small enough to be contained in my arms but there is something about your youngest starting school that seems a much more decisive transfer from the baby years than any other landmark.

But it's ok.  I don't long to push a pram, change a nappy, get woken up at hourly intervals or wipe sick off my clothes.  I don't want to return to wearing a changing bag on my back like a tortoise's shell, or a maternity bra on my front like a.....well a maternity bra, and I definitely don't want to revisit the singularly uncomfortable contortionist's act that is childbirth.  I am ready for this.

The girl is loving school, the boy can't wait to go and we're all looking forward to having them both in the same place at the same time.  We are roaming restlessly, counting down days, collecting uniform and making great plans for the nursery fees we will save.  He will come home with a book bag and tell us tales of what books he is going to learn to read and we will be proud.

And because of this, when he walks in with his big sister on his first day, I will try really, really hard not to cry.


Soundtrack: Bye Bye Baby by the Bay City Rollers


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

For Daniel

This morning, my little sunshine boy thundered down the path to your house, short legs pumping, covered in the bruises of a thousand tree-climbing adventures and hair already wet with the heat of today in the way that only you boys seem to be able to manage.

We get to your door and you're almost ready to go bar a disagreement with Daddy about what shoes are going to look best with your trousers.  No matching uniform for you boys today but you carry the same sense of mischief, this is going to be a memorable trip.

It's your first visit to 'big school' and you're going together.  A big deal, a big day.

I walk with your Daddy while the two of you trot on ahead but you are good enough to stop at the road which is frankly amazing given how away with the fairies you both seem to be.  Stop, look and listen.  Good boys.

We go a little further and you stop again, not for the road but to pick up a feather.  You hold it out and say "Look Daddy, here's a feather from Mummy."  Your mummy.  Your daddy's wife.  My beautiful friend.  She saw you and sent you a feather and in that moment she is where she should be, here with us, with your Daddy, walking you to school. 

A second later and you're off.  Running, racing, chasing your friend, your mummy's smile bright on your face.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Daddy Cool

With Father's Day upon us now seems like a good time for a post on fatherhood. 

I have heard that a man out with his children will be viewed by women as more attractive than a man out on his own.  Now this really does depend on the setting; a father in a nightclub with his 5 year old twins, or a man hitch-hiking with a baby might not support this theory.....but with the father and child being in the right place it does have a point.

When I met my husband we were in our 20's and spent our time and money on clubbing, drinking and eating out.  We took our hangovers to work and started our weekends on a Thursday night. We went on long, expensive holidays, laid the foundations for years of 'in-jokes' with our friends and generally did as we pleased for a good 10 years.

You think at the time that it's the best it's going to get.  What more could you want but to have no ties, cash in the bank and weekends dedicated to getting silly and falling over with your mates?

Fast forward to a wet Bournemouth beach on New Year's Day in 2005.  We are married, I am nearly 30 and we decide that we would like to have children.  18 months later it becomes a reality and whilst there are a million other blog posts that could be written on the topic of parenthood, oh what a life affirming thing it is to see your husband hold his child for the first time. 

Seeing your other half comfort and nurture a tearful toddler, wipe up the unspeakable (and sometimes unstoppable) mess that comes from every orifice of a newborn, pull ridiculous faces to get that 'first laugh', mend bikes, play catch, sit through Mr Tumble for the tenth time, tie little laces, learn lullabies and sit on a child's chair at parent's evening with a straight face is, for me at least, one of the most fantastic parts of parenting.  For all the DIY, heavy-lifting, log-splitting and fire making skills a man may have, there is something perhaps even more masculine in being a great father.  Which brings us back to the start - seeing a man who is great with his children is a better advert for masculinity than a man with his shirt off showing you how 'ripped' he is.  Fact.

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ps - If you're wondering who the dude in the photo is - that's my dad holding me as a baby.  Long hair, denim flares and silver cowboy boots - he was a great man and a great dad.  A proper 'Daddy Cool'.

Soundtrack: Daddy Cool by Boney M  what's not to like about this?!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

It's Only Words

Right then!  Having finished the first draft of Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One and sent it off to be proof-read I have a little space in my head to write again whilst he covers the manuscript in red pen highlighting my declining grasp on grammar and disregard for the wiggly red lines that signify you have made a spelling mistake.

Before sending it over to him, I did something that is a little bit like giving your house a quick hoover before the cleaner comes - I checked it over.  It comes from the same place as wanting to convince the cleaner that you live in a tidy house when she knows for a fact that you use 'under the sofa' as a storage solution.  I wanted him to think that my work is grammatically great when he knows that I'm far too busy trying to unravel a story from the ball of wool that is my brain to pay proper attention.  

Unsurprisingly there were many mistakes and I was touched that nobody had put a stick in my writer's spokes by pointing these out on the blog.  So thank you for forgiving the extra letters in words like occasionally and necessary (words that I was sure I had right, but definitely did not), the missing letters and the liberal sprinkling of unnecessary apostrophes.  And David, if you're reading this, you now know that I know, that you know, that I know that I'm not great at this.  I await your score!

Soundtrack: It's Only Words by The Bee Gees

Monday, 13 May 2013

Come Together

Did you know that this blog is now a whole year old?  It feels like a bit of a landmark occasion to me and I had been scratching my head about how to mark it when I had a little brainwave.

The title of this blog is inspired blatantly lifted from Ian Dury and the Blockheads' Reasons to be Cheerful, Part Three.  It feels like this year has been my 'Part One' and so with that in mind I'm going to publish the best of the essays in an ebook and will follow it with a print format a bit later on.  My huge thanks go to the polymath that is Mr Tony Cocks of Binge Thinking.  You can check out his facebook page here or drop by and visit his incredible pics on flickr here 

And for those of you that know me, and that have followed this blog over the past year you will know that my life has been lit up by good, good people and the generosity of others so by way of acknowledging that I intend to donate at least 50% of the profits to be shared between Macmillan Cancer Support and Daisy's Dream.  Macmillan has directly supported my family and friends at one time or another and Daisy's Dream provides incredible services supporting bereaved children.

So where do you fit in to all of this?  I would love it if you would let me know what your favourite posts have been, the current 'most read' are listed down the right-hand side of this blog and I thought I'd give you the all time Top 10 below but do have a browse through and tell me if there's one that you'd particularly like to have included, I plan to include the name of everyone who lets me know their favourite in the book.

Now, if we could have some Top of the Pops music please......

1. IT's Different for Girls (a tribute to working in IT and avoiding cavemen)
2. Because You're Worth It (telling L'Oreal to stop patronising us)
3. Not Forgotten (on remembering those we've lost)
4. My Beautiful Friend (just read it)
5. What a Girl Wants (on caving in to practicality when all I want is an evening gown)
6. Paid in Full (on why corporate bonus schemes are impossible to understand)
7. Little Green (Dustbin) Bag (on the reason my shoulder aches so much)
8. The Future's Orange (a celebration of all persons ginger)
9. You Can Say What You Want (about not hiding your light under a corporate bushel)
10. You Want to Live Like Common People? (because Iain Duncan Smith annoyed me)

And here's some that didn't make that list but which I particularly enjoyed writing:

* Who You Gonna Call? (on the power of good friends when you're stuck on the A34)
* Wild Boys (on why small boys are powered by superhero thoughts)
* All You Good, Good People (for all those with generous hearts)
* Lost in Translation (since when did asking for batteries become so rude?)
* Oliver's Army (Jamie Oliver made me set fire to my kitchen) 

Leave a comment or drop me a line via the facebook page: www.facebook.com/cheerfulblog , to let me know your favourite!

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Soundtrack: Come Together by The Beatles

Monday, 29 April 2013

Where is my mind?

There was a time when the amount of email received in a day was paraded as the mark of a true warrior.  Ok, not the mark of a true warrior, more the mark of someone who thinks that being sent loads of stuff makes them look very important.  I will confess to having been involved in conversations with colleagues where we compared the volume of messages received and nodded gravely in agreement at how very busy we were.  Strange stuff.  You would never brag about the amount of post that you get through your letter box or the amount of conversations that you have.  Can you imagine saying "You'll never believe it, I got home to find seven letters on the door mat and that was after I'd spoken to at least twelve people on the phone and met precisely five more.  Really, the amount of communication I've had to take part in today has made me feel incredibly weary."?  No, you would sound like a pratt.  So why is it different when it's digital?

I have a long history with email, from managing the single account belonging to my workplace many moons ago to running three separate accounts today.  I would struggle to get by without it, and I do like it when it's properly used.  I have also experienced the thrill of receiving a company-wide email that says 'please delete the previous message immediately' which of course means that everyone reads it, saves it, and its contents become more interesting and explosive than the latest episode of whatever soap nobody watches together these days.  It has had it's moments.

But here's the thing.  Somewhere along the line I had forgotten that I can choose what email I receive and respond to and my email accounts were filling up with sales messages that I don't want.  Every day yielded a digital disappointment as I would miss a message from my friend in Australia because it was lost in a see of 'SHOP NOW' emails from companies I don't want to hear from.  No, Wallpaper Direct, I have no desire to re-enact last year's eight weeks of decorating this year thank you very much.  

Same goes for facebook status updates and LinkedIn discussions threads that drip into my accounts by the minute.  If I'm not 'there' then I can't properly contribute, and these endless blips and updating inboxes are distracting me from the stuff I should be doing and smothering the messages I should be seeing (like those from my accountant - sorry!) which makes me feel annoyingly disorganised.  No wonder people frown when they look at their phones.  I blame mine for the irritatingly wonky lines that are forming between my eyebrows.  

Now of course you could apply lots of lovely rules and 'sweeps' and automatic clean-ups but this makes you keep shed loads of unwanted mail 'just in case'.  You wouldn't keep every pizza flyer or double-glazing leaflet or save every voicemail you received so why store every email?  Unfortunately, as our email accounts are not like the cupboard under the stairs which will eventually burst forth if you shove even one more toy in it, we end up with years of dusty, pointless old data and I have had enough.

There's nothing for it but to be as ruthless.  I'm going on a mission to remove all the rubbish and ditch the endless offers from Debenhams (sorry Debenhams but there's only so many 'Blue Cross Sales' a girl can take) after which I shall clap my hands over my computer and chime Indian bells to get my digital chakras in order.  I'm going to detox the inbox.

Soundtrack: Where Is My Mind - The Pixies