Thursday, 16 April 2015

A home makeover - the quick way

I have a problem. On the one hand I love to live somewhere beautiful, well-decorated that brings me joy, yet, on the other I'm too idle and impatient to be bothered with getting the paint brushes and tool kit out.

And alas, neither am I rich enough to be able to get staff to do stuff at the click of a finger (or mouse). 

So consequently I live in a perpetual mess state of discontentment about the lack of gleam in my home and my own inability to shift myself to do something about it. The ideas are there aplenty, it's just the follow-through that's lacking. 

And I'm not alone it seems. 

Boy Three proudly announced that he'd tidied up his bedroom, and would I come and see it. 

Translation: T-shirts, trousers and PJs, with helpful drawings too.

Translation: wall
His little face was so full of pride and expectation as he explained that at school they had labels on everything and it helped to keep things tidy. Thus, full of fast phonics, he decided to apply the same logic to his room. With permanent marker. On everything. 

I think we'll live with this version of tidy for a bit. 

Meanwhile, though I got asked to review products from a company called Wallpops. Wallpops are stickers - vinyl probably but I've no idea exactly what vinyl is - that you bung up everywhere until you're bored and then either take them down or bung them somewhere else. 

Ideal for a quick 'tidy up'. 

They are also useful too. Some are even write-on wipe-off versions of helpful things like shopping lists and calendars. 

Our downstairs loo now includes a large map of the world with a pen for me to mark on all the places I want to go this year. 

I call making travel plans in the smallest room an excellent use of multi-tasking.

I've also added some mirrored stickers to the stairs to take my mind off how threadbare the stair carpet has become ... and how I have yet to apply myself to the tedious business of replacing it. 

So thanks to Wall Pops for some excellent stickers which are perfect for my home - and for anyone else who is too idle or impatient to effect any other kind of DIY. Plus some of them are just gorgeous. 

There are hundreds of designs to choose from and lots of them are nice and large. They are easy to apply without even much in the way of instruction reading. 

I'm just off to see if there are any Wall Pop stickers to, erm, tidy up Boy Three's tidying. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

The things we learned in Donegal

We're still shaking the sand out of our turn-ups because last week we harnessed the Bundance pony and trotted off to Ireland. 

Here's what we learned: 

Boo: Hanging out in the dunes at Ards Forest Park

Ireland is warm and sunny. Yes, really. Every day we were there we regretted not bringing more pairs of shorts and sun block. Later an Irish colleague told me that this was a total fluke and that a return would almost certainly find rain and cold. 

Eating out doesn't need to be a letdown. I'd become so used to finding that meals out were leaving a bad taste - either boring, bland, freezer to fryer or, even, simply nasty. Everywhere we went with our appetites we weren't disappointed as everything was home made, tasty and delicious.

Balls: Boys in a bubble at Dunlewey Centre.

There's nothing boring about Monopoly. Not the card version anyway. It doesn't take long to play this game, what kept us at it for hours were the grudges and desire for revenge. Oh, and the fact that it become compulsory to celebrate by doing a the dance of a victoriuos crab. 

Round: Obviously we didn't take any pictures inside the building! Here's a bendy fency though. 

Like many of the things of middle age, roof boxes are such a good idea you don't know why you didn't think of it sooner. Also into this category fall comfortable shoes, employing a cleaner, early nights, the Archers and a nice cup of tea. 

WWW (or similar) can be a breath of fresh air. The logo is, in fact, for the Wild Atlantic Way. Kids were a bit miffed but recovered when they saw the beaches.

Euro is plural, apparently. On all the TV adverts, big sums of money have no s. It's "50,000 Euro for a big shiny thing" and only "1,000 Euro to travel a long way on holiday". Though two cups of tea and a piece of cake will be six Euros. 

Simples: One of the residents of Tropical World, Letterkenny
Hiding in a corner is still possible in a round building. Boy Three tested this in our digs - a perfectly round, three-bedroom flat. 

Bin there: Over the rubbish bin to the Wild AtlanticWay
Roundness is a significant feature in a building. After we had driven around the village of Downings for some time on the first night looking for our accommodation, Boy One tuned in and piped up. "It's over there," he pointed, certain. And he was right as he was the only one of our number who had paid enough attention to know what shape the building we were looking for was. 

The Troubles are already part of history. Thankfully. As we discussed painted gable ends and edited Londonderry signs, it became clear that from the kids' point of view the whole business was as far back in time as the sinking of the Titanic.   

Not everything that looks like fun is a good idea!

Troon - Larne is a ferry good crossing. No idea why we haven't done that before. Less than an hour down the road, a hop on the boat and then there we were. Easy peasy. 

Sand angels are better than snow ones. They're warmer and don't melt. 

Division of labour doesn't work on a pedalo. Not when you let the five-year-old old do the steering, anyway. 

Why the chicken crossed the road. Because there's a new Nando's in Derry. 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Anger: When the rules get broken?

What boils your water? Is there something that sets your teeth on edge? Do you know what's going to make you see red? Will you be vexed or incandescent? 

I'd love to be able to take a deep, calming breath and let it go - fury, rage or temper. All gone. It only gives me indigestion. However, like most people, I can't. I get hot under the collar at all sorts of things and irate or indignant at others. 

Of course, it's just another part of the human condition, like flatulence or ingrowing toenails and, therefore, must be borne with equanimity, mustn't it?

Not bloody likely. Let's rage, rage against the queueing at the lights ... or something. A sort of primal defence system kicks in when we're under attack, or when we get that funny look ... again, or when that man over there makes that noise with his teeth. 

And then the penny drops. I think I understand what it's all about. 

The tantrums and the sulks. They're It's about the rules. We all have an internal set of rules and when someone breaks one, that's when Mr Angry comes to call. 

Some of the rules are the 'don't run in the corridors' ones that help keep us safe. Like you mustn't take me by surprise, you can't help yourself my stuff without asking, never attack the people I love... that kind of thing. It's easy to see what happens when there's a violation - there's a huge thunderclap and some heavy-duty crossness takes place. And the problem may well find itself solved. 

However, a great many of the rules don't appear to make much sense at all. For example: 

  • If he loves me, he'll know exactly what I want to eat/watch/listen to
  • No one should ever give me a funny look
  • Strange noises are forbidden
  • Never jostle me
  • That shade of purple is all wrong
  • Not that shirt with those trousers
  • No one tailgates me 
  • If she loved me she'd know how badly that meeting went just by looking
  • If he cared he'd understand that I'm too hot in this dress
  • To err is human, except when your spouse does it
Can you see it's a bit like saying setting up a country's road system but then making the Highway Code a secret. Thus having a hissy fit about a violation isn't really going to help, especially as no one will know why you flipped your lid. 

So before for you let rip with a satisfying rage-fuelled attach, make sure that you understand which rule has just been broken and by whom. 

Then try saying: "I'm sorry I shouted/threw the tea cup/called you names, but you must understand that I expect that everyone must consult me before changing the channel just when I've got into my brand new favourite show, yes, the one I hated last week" and see if it doesn't spread a little light and love over the exchange...

Monday, 30 March 2015

Things I've learned from family camping in the winter...

The bucket list: A lengthy, specific list of wonderful, exciting and exotic things I'm intending to do before I die. 

One of the things on it is not 'go camping in winter in Lanarkshire'. So why, then, was I to be found snuggling down under canvas in a field on the outskirts of Cumbernauld? 

It was all because of a promise to Boy Two. His 13th birthday (13? Yes, 13. How did that happen? No idea.) looms and what he wanted more than anything (and in the absence of an Apple watch or a hover board) was a family camping trip. 

"Of course, darling. It'll be fun."

Oh yes!

Then I started looking at the calendar and it was either that weekend a couple of weeks ago or the middle of May. 

What followed taught me a lot. 

Not many camp sites are open in the middle of March. Really? Except one at World of Wings bird of prey centre. 

Having a very fat sleeping bag makes a difference. The warmest members of the group had cosy 3+ season versions by Vango. 

Sometimes I know what I'm talking about. Some members of the intrepid group didn't believe me about putting on layers of clothes, did you Boy One and Panther? And who do you think was warmest?

Camping is not just a place to stay, it's a verb. It's true. Boy Two is very good at camping and taught us about pitching tents, building fires and lots of other scouty skills. 

I found the question to which roofbox was the answer. The hasty trip to Halfords was prompted by one look at the huge heap of kit needed for just one night. 

Don't put things into the roof box in such a way as you won't be able to reach them to remove them. Seems obvious... after you do it. 

Camping can make the improbable very tasty indeed. S'mores, for example. Boy Two gave expert instructions on making these things. They are a loosely packed sandwich of chocolate and marshmallow in digestive biscuits, wrapped in tinfoil and toasted until they're delicious. I have it on good authority that Abernethy biscuits are better. Something to try next time. (Next time?)

Why vultures are bald. It's to stop rotting entrails sticking to their heads. They have strong enough stomach acid to ensure they don't poison themselves by eating carrion. So they do and stop it polluting everything else. Handy. 

Cockatoo is a funny word. I think you have to be a boy to get that. Or just one of my Boys. 

Camping means you don't have to nag. (Or maybe a different set of things to nag about) But there are no vegetables to eat, no way to wash a face and no tables to set or keep your elbows off. 

We're now a family that camps. Probably just as well, considering the new roof box and extra sleeping bags. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

International Women's Day - what does making it happen really mean?

A Sunday ponder: International Women's Day. What's it all about?

Of course I'm in support, why wouldn't I be? Obviously, it's important and, without doubt, the rights of women, their safety and equality should be at the top of everyone's agenda. 

There are women and girls in the world who can't get education, who are in real danger or who have no choice about what happens to them. It's about them surely. 

I'm lucky. No one abuses me, I got a good education, legislation protects my rights. I'm safe. I have everything I need for me and my family. I have choices. 

International Women's Day, with its #makingithappen theme, is about those less fortuate.

And yet...

Last night was the Glasgow Press Ball. An annual gathering of the great and good among Scottish journalists to raise funds and glasses. Jolly good fun and probably why I'm slightly less sprightly than usual today. It was lovely, as ever, to catch up with lots of people I haven't seen for years. 

It's weird. Some of those people are now fairly lofty - editors and the like. Of note, even. 

But the thing is, almost all of those in elevated positions are men. Odd that. 

Able though they are, I don't believe any of these blokes are endowed with significantly more talent than the rest of us, men and women, had when we were starting out. So what happened? 

There's no great conspiracy - not really. There's no boys' club secret handshake thing (or at least I don't think so). And I don't believe journalism is any different to any other field. 

No. Instead it's a series of small, almost insignificant, decisions made along the way, for a variety of reasons. Things like concluding that the only childcare solution is the one that requires a job with regular hours; that the sexist comment from a manager isn't worth challenging; that applying for flexible working won't make a difference (ha!).

This includes domestic matters too - who does what at home, the kind of care your children get, and how that makes you feel? Who's responsible for it all - really responsible? 

And elsewhere, every time no one stuck up for a bullied woman, each instance a woman was objectified or demeaned for her gender - and nothing was said, and all the times you wearily sigh and get on with it - because that's just how it is. They all count too. 

Would it have made a difference? I've no idea whether I could have been chief of this or editor of that if I fought harder - or even noticed - every time I made a sexist choice. 

I do know this though - making it happen isn't just about clear significant campaigns in other part of the world. It's about seeing, understanding and saying something every time it happens.

#makingithappen for International Women's Day. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Why middle-aged women make the best spies

James Bond's time is up, MI5 has come to its senses. 

British spy bosses have announced that they're keen to recruit more middle-aged women to the ranks of the intelligence agencies. More? It's hard to see where they might fit among the well-cut suits, rippling biceps and broodingly mysterious strangers. Do you notice many secret agents with school timetables and kids' party invites on their fridges?

Among the suave and cosmopolitan do you see people lugging large battered bags stuffed with just-in-case wet wipes and emergency socks? Do some of their number suddenly get the crumpled brow and down-cast air associated with the recollection that it is scouts tonight, fancy dress tomorrow or that there's no milk in for breakfast and it's too late to do anything about it?

Disguise (Yumikrum via flickr)

No? Thought not. 

Spies like us? (That has a ring about it, doesn't it?) How can middle-aged women join the ranks of the dashing and debonair? What would MI5, MI6 or GCHQ want with someone, well, someone like me? 

Well that's the very sneaky thing. Women in their prime make the best spies ever. It's obvious. 

How much cunning do you think it takes to do earn a living, keep some children alive, a house from utter squalor and still manage to find time to get to the hairdresser once in a while? Bucket loads, that's how much. It's the same skill that allows them to identify which bakery products will look home-made enough for the bake sale and how to head most of tantrums off at the first petulant sigh. 

As for the need for disguise - that one comes easily. All a middle-aged woman has to do to become invisible is to stand still and say nothing. It's something of a superpower. 

With more hand bags coming into the Service, Q could end up out of a job. Inside the average mother's bag you'll find equipment to deal with most eventualities from splinters to explosions of toxic chemicals (even after the nappy years). 

But what about the fitness? I hear you cry. Of course, we're used to seeing our secret agents leaping into action, bounding across casinos and disarming assassins before you'd even noticed their evil skulking. Well watch what happens when a toddler near a hard surface or a body of water picks up his mother's new iPhone and you'll find your concerns put to rest faster than she can say: "Put it down."

Some intelligence work is about decoding messages and intercepting enemy communication. It can't be any harder than understanding teenagers, can it? Especially not when they're trying to keep a secret. 

Obviously spies need keen observational skills. You know. Like the ones mothers have when they think their children are up to something, or when their spouse is hatching a plot. They may wonder how you know everything you know, but, to us, it's obvious.

Let's consider covert listening - also known as eavesdropping. Take the ability to become invisible add don't-wake-the-baby sneaking skills plus a dash of cunning, and there's very little a mother doesn't know about in her own home - or else where for that matter. 

There are a batch of abilities a mother - particularly a working one - can bring to the international espionage arena: These include the ability to keep tabs on a whole group of people while appearing to pay attention to the primary task; curing minor ailments (reference working mother encountering minor rash or slight cold); finding things (other people's); and being in two places at once. 

So it's obvious really. Mothers make the best spies, they have done for years. The next time you see a woman with a slightly distracted look on her face, she's not wondering what's for supper, she's considering how to handle a crucial piece of intelligence that might just save the nation. 

Monday, 2 March 2015

5X50 Challenge - springing into action

I know it's snowing outside, but soon it'll get warmer, brighter and springier. Then there will be no excuse for skulking by the fire.

So it'll be the time of year for taking up a challenge, or it might be if I could be bothered. In previous years I've done half marathons, got on my bike or climbed marathons. This year, well, meh. I haven't got even an ounce of inspiration.

Until now...

My fit friend Fiona Outdoors nudged me in the direction of 5X50 Challenge. 

It's a 50-day fitness challenge. You have to do something energetic every day from the day the clocks go forward for 50 days. That's March 29 until May 17. 

It's been going a couple of years now and there are lots of ways of achieving the 5X50 challenge. 

Co-founder Kelly Mason said: "with five different 5X50 platforms we hope to see even more people benefit from being more active in 2015."

Launched in 2012, the 5x50 Challenge called on people to do 5km or 30 minutes of exercise every day for 50 consecutive days.
Now Challengers can choose one of the five platforms to complete their 50 days, including: 

• The movers: Individual/team/school complete 5k distance by walking, jogging, running, cycling, rowing etc for 50 days
• The added extras: Individual/team/school complete minimum 30 minutes of activity/exercise including the above with addition of yoga, weight training, exercise class etc for 50 days
• The pairs: Two people split the challenge to cover 5k for 50 days between them, so each person does 25 days.
• The teams: Five people cover 1km per day for 50 days by walking, jogging, running, cycling, rowing, swimming etc.
• The builders: Individuals build from five minutes of activity to 50 minutes of activity by the end of the 50-day challenge.

Five charities in 2015

In 2015, the 5x50 Challenge, which is a Scottish charity, will raise funds for five charity partners. These are Macmillan Cancer Support, SAMH, Guide Dogs, Chest, Heart and Stroke (Scotland) and Children 1st.

Raymond Wallace, the other 5x50 founder, said:  “The Challenge started off in Scotland as a personal challenge in 2012, to run 5k every day for 50 days.

“Since then it has grown amazingly quickly and with so much enthusiasm from so many people worldwide. Research demonstrates that habits are formed after 21 days, so with the challenge running over 50 days, this makes it much easier for participants to continue beyond the end of the challenge into a new way of life.

“We are very hopeful of a fitter and healthier future for so many more people thanks to 5x50.

So I'm going to put my trainers on every day for nearly twin months - or at the very least get on the yoga mat. Anyone fancy joining me?

Sign up to the 5X50 Challenge at
Also see and

5 benefits of quitting smoking

According to surveys, approximately two-thirds of smokers would like to break the habit, but only 30 to 40 per cent try to quit every year. If you are on the verge of making the leap to a smoke-free life, this post might give you the push you need.

If you’ve tried and failed to stop smoking in the past, you may think there’s no hope for you, but don’t be dismayed. These days, there’s a range of effective smoking cessation aids available, including the prescription medicine champix which has been proven to double or even triple your chances of quitting for good.

Whether you get help or go it alone, here are five ways that quitting smoking will change your life for the better:

1.  Your risk of developing smoking-related diseases and health conditions will be reduced
Smoking causes around 90 per cent of lung cancers and can be responsible for a variety of other cancers, including cancer of the throat, mouth, oesophagus and kidneys. It can also lead to heart problems and lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia. Even if you’ve smoked for many years, quitting can significantly reduce your chances of developing these life-threatening smoking-related health problems. As a result, you’re more likely to live a longer, healthier life.

2.  You’ll save money
When you’re in the grips of nicotine addiction, it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand about how much you’re spending on cigarettes. However, the truth is, smoking is an expensive habit and you’re probably using more money than you’d like to support it. The average smoker goes through 13 cigarettes a day. In monetary terms, this equates to almost £2,000 a year. Imagine what you could do with this extra cash. Fancy going on a family holiday, doing some home renovations, or splashing out on a new television, computer or tablet device? By quitting smoking, you could.

3. Your sex life could improve

Stopping smoking can lead to better sex for both men and women. Going smoke free promotes proper blood circulation, which enhances sensitivity. These changes can result in better erections for men and improved orgasms for women. As you’ll no longer smell of stale smoke or have tobacco-stained teeth or fingernails, you’re also likely to be more confident with your partner. In fact, studies have shown that people rate non-smokers as three times more attractive than their smoking counterparts.

4. Your fertility levels may be boosted

Smoking can have a devastating effect on your chances of conceiving. In women, smoking can make the uterus less receptive to the egg. In men, meanwhile, it can decrease the quantity and quality of sperm. Generally, smokers find it more difficult to conceive than non-smokers. In fact, it is thought that smokers are one third less likely to get pregnant in each menstrual cycle than non-smokers.

5. Your breathing will improve

The ability to breathe easier is one of the first improvements you’ll notice when you quit smoking. This can make physical exertion easier and help ensure you feel fitter and more energetic. You can take advantage of this new-found exuberance in a variety of ways. Perhaps you’d like to take up a new sport, try out some exercise classes or spend more time playing with your kids.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Do something about dementia: Give my sister your money!

My sister is a remarkable woman. She runs a successful - award-winning even - pharmacy business, keeps a dog, two small boys and a wife happy, and still has time for other people. Plus she's pretty good company. 

However, this time she's excelled herself. She's gone and entered the London Marathon. I know that to some people running a marathon isn't that big a deal. After all, thousands of folk do it every year. But I suppose I've been measuring my achievements against hers all our lives. (I quit smoking with the mantra "if she can do it, so can I" going around in my head!). We've done 10Ks together and even a couple of half marathons - panting along companionably, you understand. 

But a marathon. Blimey. My hat is truely off to her. The half marathons just about did me in and they were a good few years ago. 

I'm not running with her, but I'm cheering her along. Proudly. Therefore, I urge you to join me and sponsor her efforts. And if I can't persuade you, maybe she can:

My sister: the one on the left
Why the dementia charity?

With an ageing population, we are seeing more and more patients in the pharmacy affected by dementia. The effect it has on partners and families is far-reaching.

It reminds me of how we dealt with cancer when I first qualified 25 years ago. Talking in hushed voices. Nobody having the difficult conversations with the patient themselves. To add to that we really don't have very good drugs yet to tackle dementia.

Do you have personal experience?

Only through my work in the pharmacy. Watching the decline of some of the brightest minds I know is very upsetting and to see the effect that has on relatives, friends and carers can be very upsetting.

I also see this as a bit of an insurance policy. By the time I am over 70, one in three of us will be affected by dementia!!!!

What would you like to see your sponsorship donations achieve?

I have worked closely with Alzheimer's Scotland in our efforts at the pharmacy to develop a dementia friendly pharmacy and community, and I am really impressed with the
Organization and its vision.

They provide much-needed support through dementia advisors, a 24-hour helpline and dementia link workers. I really hope my fundraising can help ensure no one faces dementia alone.

Why the marathon? 
The marathon is the ultimate running challenge. London is the ultimate mass participation marathon.

I have previously run 10k and half marathons, but the marathon is different. I only ever want to run one marathon. This is definitely not the beginning of a new obsession! Running doesn't come easily to me. I am not what you would call a natural athlete and I think that makes this more of a challenge.

Best bits about training?

I actually like seeing the way my body responds to training. 10 weeks ago the thought of running 10 miles seemed unachievable. Now I have done 10... but 20 seems a very tall order.

I also really love being out training in the early morning. Seeing the first glimpse of daylight, crunching on a frosty pavement or spying a brazen fox crossing my path. Weird? Maybe!

Worst bits?

The early mornings.

Having to take time off training with a cold is frustrating. I'm not known for my patience.
How long it takes to run a long way. I only have one running speed and it is verrrry slow! However I have discovered talking books and podcasts which help take me away to another place on long runs.

Have you learned anything about yourself?

I have always liked a challenged and really thought there was nothing I couldn't do if I put my mind to it, but I have had to learn to respect my body and the distance for his one. Probably because the body is not getting any younger.

This is the first challenge I have done where it is really about getting to the start line in one piece and then the stubborn bloody mindedness can get be to get to the end!

Anything you want to add?

Thanks to my family for letting me disappear for hours on end to get the training done. I promise I won't be doing another one....

Sponsor Sally to run the London Marathon for Alzheimer's Scotland. 

Something else she can do that I can't

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Keep St Valentine out of our schools, for the kids' sake

"I'm very sad, mummy," said Boy Three from his seat in the back of the car. 

We were on the way home last night - the night before St Valentine's Day. 

"What's the matter, honey bun?" I asked. 

This isn't an unusual exchange. Often it's the Worst Day in the World. Ever. Sometimes it's really, really, really bad and other evenings something makes him "hate his life... and everything, except you mummy, and daddy, and the brothers".

Mostly the cause of this deep distress is hunger, a snub from his Lego-building buddy or rain cancelling the outdoor play. I listen, say something soothing and usually by the time the fishfingers are in the oven everything is sunny again. 

This time though it was different. 

"R doesn't love me. She hates me. Sob. She says I'm annoying. Sob. And stupid," he wailed. 

I'm sure she doesn't hate you. He'd been friends with this little girl since they were both in nappies. I knew she was sweet and kind. 

"She does. Really." Snot and tears slid down his face and he smeared them away on his grimy sleeve.


School had been making much of the upcoming festival of tat, unrealistic expectations and commercialisation. Among other things it's also an opportunity for class discussion and crafting... in pink mostly.

Boy Three had created a card for his True Love, the unsuspecting R. "She's the girl I like the best - apart from you, mummy - so it must be her."

R being in receipt of the love token in middle of a group of her pals blushed, stammered and found herself unequipped for a suitable response. Feeling uncomfortable, it seems she rejected Boy Three. Who extrapolated and is now heart-broken. 

St Valentine's Day is a load of old bunk, but even to those of us old and grizzled enough to know better it can cause disquiet, self-loathing, unnecessary hair-removal and overspending. What do you think it'll do to children who have no business being pushed into romantic love? 

Five-year-olds need to learn about unconditional love and what that means for them. If we're going to tell them how they should be loving then, good grief, lets teach them to love themselves, nature and humanity.

They do not need to pin their hopes of happiness on the fantasy of happy ever after, they've got the rest of their lives to waste on that. 

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