Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Christmas Carol

You know when you think you're just going to hear a few carols being sung by your child's class and it turns out to be a full blown church service?  That's precisely what happened to me recently.  Perhaps the fact it was held in an abbey should have alerted me, but I couldn't help but feel unprepared for 'what I was about to receive'.

It wasn't all bad though; the singing was great, the abbey was awe inspiring, and I learned a very useful lesson - some things never change when it comes to carol services.  I'm willing to bet you'll find the same things too:


1. There will be a child who actually sounds like an angel

To the boy who sang the first two lines of 'Once in Royal David's City', on his own, in the abbey, in front of hundreds of people - thank you, your voice is a rare and beautiful thing.

2. Two things about 'We Three Kings'

i. The alternative version

If the person next to you also knows the "one in a taxi, one in a car, one on a scooter beeping his hooter" version it will offer you a wonderful moment of bonding.  It will also offer you the opportunity to pass on a tradition when you teach it to your children later on that day.

ii. There is a pause

Don't rush into "Oh star of wonder" - oh no.  It actually goes "Ohhhhhhhhhhh (wait for it) ...... star of wonder".  The woman next to me said it reminded her of the punk version of Nellie the Elephant.  Which means that I now have two reasons to giggle my way through the carol.  And two ways in which to get it wrong.

3. 'Oh Little Town of Bethlehem' sorts out the regulars from the visitors

Doesn't matter how many times I sing this, I always forget that "How silently, how silently" should be sung quietly (shhhhhhhhh)

4. You will revert to childhood at some point

I found myself raising my eyebrows at the re-telling of the immaculate conception and associated on/off/on again of Mary & Joesph's marriage, especially as it was being read by a child.  So when I heard a man behind me say "oh, isn't the text wonderful" I presumed he was joking.  But as I turned to him in shared mirth I discovered that he was in fact A MONK.  A monk that was stood next to A NUN.  Neither of them were laughing.  Oh the hot flush of chastisement coupled with wanting to cry with embarrassed laughter.  Such. A. Child. 

5. 'Silent Night' is best left to the children

Even the nun didn't try "sleep in heavenly pea........eeeeeeeeece".  Too high.  Best sung by six year olds.

6. Two things about 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful'

i. It's that volume thing again - the choruses start quietly.

ii. It contains the classic line "he abhors not the virgin's womb".  And there's no way I'm singing it.  Change it to "he totally loved that virgin's womb" and I'll consider it.

7. You'll probably cry at some point

For me it's all about 'Away in a Manger'.  Can't help it.

8.  'Sing Hosanna' - still challenging

When I was at school the infants used to add an extra "of kings" right at the end of the chorus.  I went to one of my daughter's first carol concerts and guess what?  It happened then, and it's still happening today. 

9.  You should shake hands with the vicar on the way out

Whether it's a "thanks for the service" or "that's out of the way for another year", it seems a fitting way to finish.


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


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 cruditĂ©s 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!


Monday, 2 May 2016

Match Report: London Irish vs Harlequins

Blue skies
Tricolour hats
Club ties
Pints of black stuff
Irish eyes
A beautiful game, but not quite the result we were after...

Piper, drummer
Battle cries
Game on
The crowd rise

Shields and sinews
Strapped-up thighs
Explosive power
Gasps, sighs

'Quins fan turns
says "No surprise"
Half time
Hot pies

Second half
Game ties!
Pushing forwards
Exiles vies

For home team glory
Last minute tries
The time's run out
There is no prize


(If you prefer your match reports a little more, well, sports-like, click here: http://www.london-irish.com/news/gutsy-exiles-defeated-by-harlequins/bp871/)




Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Body: What you Should Know

Behind this smile lies discomfort,
massive discomfort
Walking past TopShop the other day (naturally I didn't go in there - those detectors by the front door aren't to catch shoplifters, they're a magnetic field to repel anyone over the age of 35) I saw a picture of BeyoncĂ© wearing what I thought was a swimming costume.  But it wasn't a swimming costume, no, it was a fashion garment so terrible that it brings women like me out in a sweat: THE BODY.

As someone who wore a 'body' for many years (although only one photo survives - see right where I have teemed it with a PVC waistcoat c.1991) I feel that I must pass on the following advice to anyone considering such a purchase.

Things to know before you buy a body

1. They come with poppers.  At the crotch.  Like a baby-gro.  

This will cause one or all of the following:

  • The inability to do it up without either giving yourself a wedgie, trapping your pubic hair or (worse still) your skin.
  • The poppers to release themselves at an inopportune moment, causing the flaps to work their way up to the top of your waistband.  There is no 'tucking in' that will fix this.  You'll have to either excuse yourself or forgo all dignity and forage around in your trousers in the middle of a meeting / at the dinner table.

2. They make going to the toilet impossible

Watch that flap at the back!  It is specifically designed to be the optimal length to get dipped in the toilet / wee'd on.  If this happens you are either going to have to go topless or spend the rest of the day with a wet noonie.

Should you find yourself in that horrible position where there is no loo roll and you have to 'drip dry', doing the poppers up is especially tricky and potentially unpleasant.  What are you going to wipe your fingers on afterwards?  How are you going to unlock the door now you've got wee on your hands?

3. Sometimes you just forget....

Ever seen a woman wander out of a nightclub toilet with a flap of fabric hanging out of the back of her trousers?  Excessive refreshment makes doing up poppers between your legs either too much of a faff or you simply forget there is an extra bit of admin to do before you flush the chain and unlock the toilet door.

4. They will cause a fight between your breasts and your bum

If you've got a daughter involved in gymnastics then you will be fully versed with the 'picking leotard out of bum move'.  This is what you're letting yourself in for (and it's unlikely that you're going to look like a gymnast).  The body is an item of clothing that simultaneously pulls down your tits and carves its way across your buttocks making your backside look like a joint ready for roasting.   You could put on a Wonder Bra to counteract the dragging effect but this then creates a war between your extremities which will cause the gusset to become so taught it will unmercifully chafe your bits until you're forced to un-popper it.  At which point the back flap will come out and you'll have to clutch it between your legs like this....  

Could someone help me please?  My body has unpoppered itself...
Photo from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/36045466/beyonces-ivy-park-clothing-line-crashes-topshop-website

5. They make your life complicated

Do men wear these?  No they do not.  Why not?  Because they're a bloody pain!  The only way to make your fashion life more complicated would be to combine a body with a pair of dungarees. Nobody would do that would they?  Would they?  Aaaarggh!
https://swavy.com/post/beyonce-paige-overalls-givenchy-backpack   




Friday, 15 April 2016

Smoking

Basingstoke: Guy Fawkes' Night 1986

A gang of children are hanging out in 'the woods' just in front of the old peoples home where local mothers put on pale blue housecoats and aprons to look after the oldies.

The bonfire has a plank running across the centre of it and boys are riding their bikes through the flames.  Children play catch with firelighters bought from the Co-Op - why pretend you've got a hot potato when you can hold real fire in your hands?  We are out in the dark, unsupervised.

A boy (one of a pair of local twins who I am "not allowed to play with") turns to me and asks "do you want one?".  He is tall and slim, thin lips parting to show sharp teeth as he offers a lit cigarette in his bony hand.  I am eleven and impressionable - I take it.

I put the cigarette in my mouth and suck - the smoke enters my mouth and I cough it out.  It's like eating the remnants of an ashtray (and I should know, having been caught doing exactly that as a baby), I hand the cigarette back and run away.

Woodley: Late 1995

It is late evening and I am cold.  I'm wearing a short silver A-line dress, shiny tights and patent black dolly shoes.  I'm going with a colleague to see a DJ at the After Dark Club but we stop at his local pub first to collect his friend.  The pub is full and I am out of place - my short denim jacket not adequately hiding the fact I am dressed for clubbing, not playing darts.  

I clutch the bottle of Becks that is offered to me and stand close to my colleague.  A man correctly observes that I am "not his girlfriend" but is assured via some choice words that I am there as a friend, not a bit on the side, and that I am not up for grabs.

The man we are waiting for arrives.  He has hair like Action Man, dark brown eyes and neat, straight teeth.  "I thought you were going to be a bloke", he says.  He offers me a Silk Cut and I am hooked.


Monday, 28 March 2016

Stop Leaving Stuff on the Stairs!

And this is on a 'good' day
Sometimes I think no-one else cares
About the crap that gets left on the stairs
Coats, jumpers and Crocs
Gloves, homework and socks
That are dirty, and never in pairs

Sometimes I think everyone's blind
To the detritus they leave behind
They sail past each tread
On their way up to bed
While I seethe as I count each new 'find'

Why don't they clean after themselves?
Do they think we've got housework elves?
Well I've had enough
Of picking up stuff
Our staircase shall now be called "shelves"








Wednesday, 9 March 2016

A Night in a Bookshop


A man shape-shifted into a gangsta Peregrine Falcon
A woman nearly choked to death by being an unsuspecting participant in "Dorito Roulette"
We took a tour of a sales floor
A Kraken cast bones across the ocean
God roared and wept
A one night stand was documented with a flawed jewel
A wedding ring was lost and found
A son was remembered
A bookshop filled to the gills with people
A stack of books toppled onto the toilet floor


Thank you Hungerford Bookshop

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Freedom

I missed my own anniversary.  My business anniversary that is; my wedding anniversary is seared into my brain like a brand on a juicy piece of steak because it is a bona fide reason to call on the in-laws to babysit overnight so we can enjoy a night away and a lie-in (children steal your lie-ins forever, that's a fact).  Anyway, I had missed my business anniversary but thanks to the power of LinkedIn, a flurry of messages over the past couple of days have informed me that:

Five years ago I ditched my corporate career

This makes it sound like I threw it out of a moving car (which I would quite happily have done on more than one occasion - and then backed the car up and run it over for good measure.  And then got out of the car and stamped on it.) but in actual fact it was a planned move.  I had decided to go, sought advice, put a (kind of) financial plan in place and then gone to become a "freelancer".  

A freelance what?

Initially I started out offering Alliance Management consultancy because I was good at helping businesses to figure out how to work with Microsoft.  I still do it a little bit, in subtler ways but something happened that I wasn't expecting, and it took me in an entirely different direction to the way I thought I was going to go.

Blog off  

This very blog that I started writing to celebrate my freedom got picked up by Cosmopolitan and then people started asking me if I would consider blogging for them.  And then I started ghost writing for people who simply didn't have the time to write the stuff that they kept getting told they should be putting out there - funnily enough thought leaders and captains of industry are often too busy to spend three hours at a keyboard crafting content.  And because of this, I started getting asked to write other stuff - web copy, eShots, LinkedIn profiles, even poetry for events and off-sites.  

Write on

And the more I wrote, the more I got asked to write.  Luxury brands, small businesses, start-ups, charities and individuals all asked if I'd give them a hand. 
Some days I write about skin aesthetics, others about cloud computing.  The day I had to write both a white paper and a best man's speech was a pretty interesting one.  Every day I get a proper writer's work out, and there's nothing like flexing your writing muscle to make you want to write more.

Lessons Learned

And at the same time that all this was going on I was getting a chance to properly put into play all the things that the corporate training courses that I had attended told me about - especially in the realms of managing cash flow and profitability.  The training was right but the context was wrong.  The theory of running your own P&L is wonderful in helping you understand your customers but it's not until you actually run your own that you really get it (especially that first time you realise that you didn't save enough for your tax bill...).

Tales of the unexpected

Quite aside from the fantastic thing that was realising I had carved my own career as a writer (thus proving my English teacher right - just 20+ years after her initial assertion that I should "do something" with my writing), the past five years have included publishing three books, becoming a trustee of a fantastic charity and making some tentative steps into stand-up comedy, all of which have made a massively positive impact on my life and all of which I don't think I would have had the courage (or time, let's be honest) to try when I was still employed by a corporate.

What's next?

If I've learned anything over the past five years, it's that the best thing about freelancing is in the name - being free.  Free to make choices and mistakes, free to take risks and opportunities, free to create your own definition of success.  Free to decide to spend a day doing stuff that you have chosen to do.  And it's because of this freedom that I can't say for sure what will happen over the next five years - who knows what ripple in my life the next decision will create.  Whatever happens - I'm glad I took that first step.  Happy Anniversary indeed!