Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A working mum's snap, crackle and pop

I have a fond memory of mornings a lifetime ago. They were days I could eat a leisurely and nutritious breakfast possibly while reading a book. I could ponder my choice of outfit before setting off to work, probably early.

I was thinking of that this morning as I prepared for one of my occasional appearances at And here's why:

First, while I was in the shower Boy One wanted to know if the ends of his tie were the right length. They were.

Boy three wanted his milk but it had to be on our bed and in the company only of a meerkat called Sarah. Don't ask.

Sarah was abandoned when a better game presented itself. Turning the hairdryer off at the wall as soon as someone turned it on. Repeatedly. An excellent game.

Later I had to explain that the breakfast they were all so hungry for would be easier for me to prepare if they GOT OUT OF THE WAY.

A form needed filled in. Next year's school trip options in order of preference. London then Paris. Prices start £500.

And another one about parents' night and I'm late to hand it in. Oh dear., I'll have to phone school.

Dishwasher emptied and filed. Washing machine and dryer likewise. Dinner money - £3 for high school, £2 for primary. Nappies, wipes, change of clothes for nursery.

I had to attend to a couple of conversations - what does the pope wear under his robes? Is there life on other planets? How should I know (but yes he probably wears pants) and how should I know (but likely not).

Then when my back was turned Boy One bit Boy Two. Boy One turns twelve later this week, so emotions are running hot. There were tears, yells and very nearly blood.

Blimey. I had to have quite a think about a suitable punishment so I sent Boy One upstairs with his Frosties. I plumped for time on the naughty step, an earnest lecture to both biter and bitee and mutual apologies issued with sincerity.

Meanwhile Boy Three was having a protracted session of washing his hands at the kitchen sink. A very damp affair.

I dashed upstairs to get Boy Three and I changed, telling Boy One to keep looking out of the window as his bus was due any minute.

Moments later mid toddler grapple (anyone know how they make their arms so bendy?) I hear the bus driver honk his horn, Boy One oblivious on the soda.

Boy Two dispatched to his bus stop and we're nearly there.

Just a case of getting Boy Three into the car with his essentials of the day namely a dalek - back in the house for the remote control - and a red plastic car.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work I go... finally.

PS for anyone interested in the I Don't Know How She Does It film and novel, I'm considering writing a bad-tempered and knackered book called Get Me A Gin And I'll Bloody Tell You How She Does It.

Monday, 26 September 2011

An e-reader's lament for the book case

What will become of the book case? The shelf, the stack and the pile?

Til now, a home is not a home that doesn't have at least one wall given over to jostling colourful spines. Books read, loved, received, abandoned. The shelves tell their own story. 

The progress from empty shelf to bulging, double-stacked collection charts the chapters of a life. And a book case isn't a static thing, it grows like at tree. Volumes are shed in clearings out and givings away, only to make way in the spring for the new, fresh discoveries.

But it's more than just a place to keep reading matter. Of course it is. It's vanity, declaration, revelation and, sometimes deception. Are there intellectual tomes you aspire to? One day, I'll read that. When I've got time. Topics selected to shine a little light on another facet - mountains I've climbed, subjects I've learned, places I've visited. I am the kind of person who needs that text in her life. Dog-eared is essential, it proves the point.  It's a written representation of the sum of my parts.

And the secrets. Where do you keep the books that don't come up to scratch. The lusty pot-boilers, the romance with the garish cover, the porn? I'll bet they're stashed on a another shelf that visitors don't see. 

What of the joy of shuffling crab-wise in front of the book-lined walls of an emporium, treasure-trove of literature? Head tilted: "Ah, look. I read this when I was at school. Oh, I didn't know she's written something else." Flicking through the boxes at the jumble sale. "Have I read that before?" Three for a pound. 

But, then, in my bag. A shiny, glossy, glorious new e-reader is nestled. If I want a book, I press a few buttons and it ping-zips onto the virtual shelf. A little stroke and the pages turn. Too dark, to light, to small, no problem. Sigh. It's just so easy and lovely. 

So what will become of the book case?

As time passes will the spines get dusty and faded, tired of telling their tale of a reader in 2011? Will books join those techno dinosaurs the videotapes when even the charity shops don't want them?  If I clear the space, what's going to happen to that wall in the sitting room? Is another painting of the sea the only memorial the book shelf will get? 

What will become of the book case?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Panther on whether or not the twos are terrible

The Panther of News went on the prowl to the supermarket with the Panther Cub, (AKA Boy Three) in tow. All did not go according to plan, here's the Panther's own story: 

A note of caution for my friends and colleagues who are about to embark on the parenthood journey and a more pressing warning for those with cute and cuddly offspring under 18 months.

The tyrant is coming, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

The little fella has just turned two, a fine piece of work he is. All cute phrasing and excitable joy.

But he has now discovered his own terrifying and at times embarrassing brand of negotiating skills.

The terrible twos, they call it, as if it's some cute short term affliction. What they didn't tell me is the funniest little creature I have ever known will turn into a tiny version of the Reverend Ian Paisley, without the word NO, his vocabulary is limited.

NO to the breakfast bagel, a resounding NO to the terrors of the fish finger. Bedtime is essentially the same as asking his full grown version in the 1980s to dine with Gerry Adams.

But this is all fine as it's at home. I can allow him to let off as much steam as he pleases until his high pitched wail becomes a soft cry and a demand for hugs.

It is the supermarket prostrate screeching negotiation that makes me want to peel off my own skin and roll around in salt. It's only during the "big shop" that he will suddenly dive to the ground at the knowledge that he is not getting a biscuit. He likes the tinned food aisle, usually near the soup. I hate Baxters and Heinz now because of this but still have a soft spot for Cup-a-soups though, I can't explain it.

I cannot understand everything that is being demanded between screeches but I know the entire shop has stopped to watch the show, happy in the knowledge that someone else is the centre of unwanted attention.

Bending down in a soothing way is uncomfortable and pointless. This is a put up or shut up situation. So I have taken to standing, holding a can of Heinz soup at arms length so my ageing eyes can read the label, 57 varieties eh. They must be so proud.

Staff who were stocking shelves, moved to other aisles. Even some of the soups looked slightly embarrassed. We were alone in the aisle, me and a biscuitless ball of fury. There were people speeding past the top and bottom of the aisle, except a few people who had either been through it and were trying to throw sympathy my way, or just cruel people enjoying the show.

It is of course in mid negotiations that an earth mother walks by exuding her own excruciating efficiency. One child strapped to her heaving multi coloured breast and a toddler walking peacefully at her side picking up mung beans as he goes. She tuts with her eyes as I offer chips and ice cream to the back of my son's floorbound head while her toddler Tarquin says: "Mummy can I have an oat biscuit please. I find it's mixture of complicated carbohydrates ensures that I can maintain this level of energetic smugness all day."

I want to shout at her that her son is exhibiting all the signs of being a serial killer and he smells of sh*t, but that would be mean and she would only understand my awkwardness and make my impotent shame all the more limp.

After ten minutes, I open a packet of Tuc biscuits and some fizzy cola bottles and allow him to sit on the bread and frozen pizza as we share the treats and I weep inwardly at my uselessness.

Five minutes later and we are whizzing around Asda in a sugar-crazed frenzy, eyes wide and teeth quivering.

We passed the earth mother at a thousand miles an hour in our pre-diabetic coma trolley dash. "Who's that?" says the little fella. "That's Tarquin, he needs to wipe his arse before going on his killing spree," I explain.

And we arrive at the checkout with an assortment of shopping that I didn't want. The Cub is sitting astride some thawing chicken nuggets as I finally accept the invitaion to have someone else pack the bags. The cashier has seen the Cub's eyes and my drool and wants rid of us sharpish. A quick £2 on some motorised toy and there, shopping done, no problem.

Am I a bad dad? No. Am I less patient or understanding with his demands and changing moods? No.

Is he a bad or maungy child? No, he is two. It is not the "terrible twos", it is a chance to explore his world and his relationships with those closest to him. She Who Must Be Obeyed insists he is establishing his limits, how far he can go and what he can get away with. I am still doing that with everyone I know.

So when your time comes friends and colleagues, and the staff and shoppers in Asda look down a collective nose at your rubbish parenting, stop and think that your child is a bright experimenting little joyous soul who is not sure what he wants but knows it starts with a biscuit. I have taken to enjoying his tantrums, his shaking rage and utter contempt for social niceties are as clear a sign that he is progressing as he should be as potty training or leaping on daddy from an unreasonable height are.

He is not a terrible two, he is a mini me. Bugger.

Shop online.

Friday, 23 September 2011

SMWGla: BlogOff! and read what I said

I took part in a Glasgow Social Media week event called BlogOff, run by Ryan Wenstrup-Moore of Social Chemistry. I was asked to speak about why I blog, so I told the story of In A Bundance and me. 

Here's what I said: 

Good morning,

Ryan asked me to talk in the ‘why blog?’ section of her Blog Off event.
So why blog?
Well I blog because I love it and I believe blogging can make life better in many, many ways.
My blog has improved my sanity, created work opportunities, made me new friends, found me communities to join, taught me new skills and given me the chance to be creative.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate is to tell you my blogging story – the ways blogging has made my life better.
I started my blog, In a bundance,  on 28 April 2007. I had just started working as a freelance journalist and – in the absence of colleagues  – it seemed like an entertaining diversion from proper work.
I’d like to say I didn’t have any ambitions for my blog but, along with most people who enjoy writing, that’s not strictly true. I had this fantasy that a publisher would happen along to my blog, like what they saw and offer me a book advance large enough to pay off the mortgage.
However, apart from the entirely implausible, I didn’t have real ambitions for my blog.
My first posts were tentative and halting. I wrote about my family, places I’d been to, food I’d eaten and things that were getting on my wick. I was experimenting, but it didn’t really matter as no one was reading it apart from my mother, my siblings and a couple of friends.
There’s a notion that journalism is creative, but it isn’t really. You tend to write what someone else tells you to, to a fairly strict formula and you aren’t, generally, allowed let the reader know what you think about it.
So writing a blog was a liberation. For the first time in decades I could write what I wanted, in the way I wanted. No one was going to care about style, substance or the fact I was – for once – voicing my own opinion. I could make up words, break punctuation rules which, for a journalists and rehabilitated sub-editor, was heady stuff. This was probably my first blogging bonus.
I realised that my humble blog was serving as a useful record of what my family and I had been up to. Sort of like a round-robin letter without the smugness. It also let far-flung relatives see photos and keep in touch.
Then I realised that blogging about things I did slightly shifted the way I looked at the world. On high days and holidays, when I knew I was planning to write something I started using my blogging goggles. It meant that generally I looked at things properly - paying attention - considering what I might say about them. Without sounding too ‘out there’ blogging goggles do make it easier to ‘be in the moment’.
The next blog turning point was when I discovered the world of other bloggers. In my case I found the BritMums community. This is not the same as the mumsnet people who gave David Cameron such a hard time over what he dunks in his tea. Very much not the same.
Britmums is the internet home of a group of parents who write blogs. That’s it. But when I first found them I was astonished, the things they were saying and the way they were saying them seemed to talk straight to me. I had found somewhere I felt at home.
I also discovered the ScottishRoundup, where a group of volunteers take turns to collate their version of the best of the Scottish blogs. I ‘met’ some lovely folk there too. Many of whom I ‘talk’ to regularly, although I’ve never met.
Through my blog I have got to know a great many fantastic people, who I wouldn’t otherwise have met. I’ve attended conferences for bloggers and, even, been asked to speak at events like this.
So with a few more readers visiting, I started to try to improve the way my blog looked. I sought advice from people who had beautiful put-together looking blogs and those who clearly knew about design and I was able to tidy up my blog and learn the importance of adding some pictures.
I learned about which images were available for sharing on the internet and which weren’t and, frankly, decided it was just easier to take my own pictures. So I dug out my camera and started snapping. Little by little I was able to improve the quality of the photos I took, work out how to enhance them a bit and now my blog pictures look a little better. A renewed interest in photography and confidence in taking pictures are another blogging result.
Things trotted along like this for a while.
Then a whole series of life’s ups and downs arrived all at once. Not long after my third son was born, I realised that I probably had post natal depression. But before I had the chance to seek help for it my brother died unexpectedly.
It’s fair to say the next few weeks were some of the most difficult I’d ever had. But my biggest worry while I was trying to come to terms with everything that had happened was the effect it was having on my three kids. I realised I was too caught up in my own emotions to give them what they needed.
They were silly or sweet things that they’d said or done. Fleeting things that previously I’d barely even noticed. Gradually, looking for these things started to change the way I was thinking about the boys and eventually helped to lift my mood. When I was with the children, I would start to watch them ready to spot a lovely or funny thing to blog about. It was definitely a case where thinking positively helped me to feel positive.
I also found that writing about some of the more difficult times helped me to deal with them. Almost as if putting them in a blog post and publishing them enabled me to tick them off a list of things to do.  I subsequently found that writing things out is a recognised technique of treating mental heath problems.  My blog was helping me feel better again.
About this time, a friend pointed out that STV were having a writing competition on their website. They were looking for a new columnist. So I entered by cutting and pasting a post I’d written about the lunacy of the council’s decision to cut back on school buses. I was really chuffed to be shortlisted.  In the end I didn’t win, but through the weeks of the contest, I got to know some of the people at and had the opportunity to do some work there. I still regularly work for STV on the entertainment section of their website.  It’s a professional avenue I wouldn’t have had without my blog.
But STV isn’t the only work I’ve gained from my blog. I was approached by a parenting site to write some regular posts for them. Ready For Ten is a site aimed at parents of primary school age children and it belongs to Britvic  - it’s part of the marketing for their Fruit Shoot brand. Ready For Ten was created for Britvic by London-based social media agency Made By Many. Suddenly it wasn’t just blogging, I was part of an exciting way to promote a brand.
I also now write for a site called TutorHub for secondary pupils and their parents.
Meanwhile, I was still writing news and features for papers and magazines and doing corporate writing – newsletters and the like for various public sector organisations and businesses. But gradually, blogging became something that people were keen to have done for their organisations. I know a great many small business people write lively and engaging blogs about the behind-the-scenes of their enterprises, but lots of people just don’t fancy it, struggle with it or don’t have the time. Several now employ me to write blog posts for them.
I have been able to earn a small amount of money directly through my blog, through sponsored posts and advertising but nothing like what my blog has earned me in its capacity as a showcase for what I do. Blogging has had a huge influence on my career.
I’m still learning through my blog – or at least getting helpful feedback. For example, not long ago I was struggling with my 11-year-old son. He has Asperger’s syndrome and people with asperger’s can be terribly enthusiastic on their favourite subject. For a while I was finding this really hard going. Every time my boy opened his mouth it was to give me a lecture about something – at that point I think it was fire safety. Now, I’m all for fire safety, but I really didn’t need to hear about it for hours on end, especially as I’d heard it all before... several times. This was making me really cross with my son even though I know it’s just what he does – his way of communicating.
So I blogged about how I felt. About how I knew I wasn’t really listening to him and generally being snappy when he started to talk. The response I got back was fantastic. Lots of other asperger’s parents commented – they felt the same, they understood, they knew it was hard, but it would pass. They had some helpful suggestions about ways of coping. Once again my blog made me feel much better.
By then I was a total blog enthusiast – in my mind there is very little that can’t be improved by a good blog. Blogging as a route to happiness was idea that grew in my head until I had the audacious notion that it might just make a book. So I pitched it to a publisher and was astonished to have it accepted. Blogging For Happiness will be published next month and that certainly is something I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for my blog.

Thank you

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Bucket list linky: what do you want to do?

What is on your life-long to-do list? Do you have burning ambitions? Of course you do.

The 2007 film The Bucket List starred Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two terminally ill men who go on a road trip with a list of things to do before they kick the bucket. 

Not, before anyone asks, that I am terminally ill, or even slightly under the weather. I just think that it's good to know what you're aiming for. 

Here is my bucket list:
  • See the aurora borealis. A long-held ambition that even defied a trip to Iceland.  
  • Fly a seaplane to some fabulous Scottish West Coast island hideaway.  
  • Become comfortable with public speaking, maybe even enjoy it.  
  • Climb Kilimanjaro. Super sister says she's up for this.
  • Visit the Australian rellies, in Australia. 
  • See my sons all settled in homes, jobs and lives that make them happy. 
  • Learn to salsa dance. 
  • Get a novel published. 
  • Go on a yoga retreat.Transatlantic Blonde fancies this.
  • Fit back into all those clothes. 
  • Work less. 
  • Ski more. 
  • Get a non-fiction book published. Done
  • Conquer the clutter (or at least make peace with it). Lost interest in this
  • Have a lovely garden. And this
  • Learn to take good pictures with my lovely new camera. 
  • To be the kind of confident freelancer who can pick and choose. 
  • Visit Russia.  
  • Visit India. 
  • Stay in an ice hotel. Ms JS of Priority PR, we will do this.
  • Visit New Orleans. 
  • Learn to say no without feeling bad.  
  • Go fire walking.  
  • Travel on the Orient Express. 
  • Spend a night in New York.  
  • Learn to paint, and I don't mean emulsion.  
  • Continue to share daily conversations with my lovely husband.  
  • Continue to spend memorable times with my fabulous family.  
  • Finish the Times crossword.
  • See the RSC at Stratford. Thanks mum. 
  • Climb more mountains.  
  • Go back to live in Cumbria. 
  • Cook more food for more people more often.  
  • Don't leave a day unseized.
Now I'm not one for telling people what to do - unless I married or gave birth to them - but if you fancy it, draw up your own. @mmelindor says she'll have a go. In fact, she suggested a little linky. So here you go:

The opposite to my bucket list

It's called a fuck it list.

I recently wrote a post about my bucket list - the things I'd like to spend my life doing, other considerations aside.

Writing it, my mind filled with loveliness: days of travel and family and writing things just for the heck of it.

Then only a matter of a few hours later I was looking for a plastic box and a lid that matched and it struck me that there are a great many things I'd quite cheerfully never do again.

  • Rooting around in the plastic box drawer for a matching set.
  • Busting a gut to get somewhere on time only to find I had cocked up and the event was yesterday.
  • Having to change my clothes before I've even left the house because someone smeared me with something, usually snot, but sometimes not.
  • Picking junk mail of the mat and putting it in the recycling bin.
  • Ending a phone call without swearing while someone is telling me about there being some amazing offer in my area at the moment.
  • Ironing almost all of a shirt before spotting a nasty stain on the last bit.
  • Ten pin bowling and crazy golf.
  • Depilation.
  • Eating bran flakes.
  • Looking for things in my handbag.
  • Looking for things in my house.
  • Hangovers.
  • Trying to understand cricket.
  • Putting up flatpacked furniture.
  • Reminding members of my family about matters of personal hygiene.

I'm sure there are many many more candidates for the fuck it list, but that's it for now.

And credit for the name of this list goes to Keris Stainton, thanks Keris.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

GlossyBox: genius in a pretty package

 Boxing clever

 OK, what makes your ears sparkle and your eyes prick up? A goodie bag, a free gift, a package just for you, something that smells divine. Oh yes. 

Lets face it, who doesn't love a pressie? Especially one all pretty and enticing and brought by the postie.

And it's not your birthday or Christmas or Mother's Day or anything.

Ok some really grown up people might not, you know, the kind of people who don't rush into a posh hotel bathroom to see what kind of mini bottles of fabulousness they can take home. But there aren't very many of those kinds of people.

The ladies behind GlossyBox know this. That's where their brilliant idea came from.

Once a month you get a pink (of course) box and it's filled with new and exciting beauty products, the sort there is likely to be a buzz about.

People who love pressies - or indeed you could give it as a pressie - subscribe for a tenner a month and everyone is happy.

Mine arrived pristine and exiting - full of products I was interested in, I certainly felt it was a worth ten quid. 

People of GlossyBox I salute you for one of the best ideas I've seen in a long time. Maybe you could do it for other kinds of products too?

Disclosure: I was sent a box to try.

Admission: I was far too excited and impatient to take a picture before I opened the box.

Monday, 19 September 2011

SMWGla and another bucket list item ticked off (sort of)


I gave a talk today. At a Social Media Week Glasgow event called Blog Off, hosted by Ryan from Social Chemistry

She asked me to talk about why I blog and what's so blogging good about it. My mouth found itself saying yes, before my brain had a chance to say: "Hold up, I don't do this speaking in public stuff."

So this morning among I joined Ryan, Saskia the Style Fairy (I love her blog) and lots of other in a hotel in Glasgow. I told my blogging story, everyone listened nicely and they clapped afterwards. That's pretty much a good result. Someone later tweeted that I was "inspirational" but she didn't say what she was inspired to do!

Bucket list

So what indeed. Well in December, I posted a bucket list of things to do and this seems like as good a time as any for a review. 

See the aurora borealis. A long-held ambition that even defied a trip to Iceland.

Fly a seaplane to some fabulous Scottish West Coast island hideaway.

Become comfortable with public speaking, maybe even enjoy it.

Climb Kilimanjaro.

Visit the Australian rellies, in Australia.

See my sons all settled in homes, jobs and lives that make them happy.

Learn to salsa dance.

Get a novel published.

Go on a yoga retreat.

Fit back into all those clothes.

Work less.

Ski more.

Get a non-fiction book published.

Conquer the clutter (or at least make peace with it).

Have a lovely garden.

Learn to take good pictures with my lovely new camera.

To be the kind of confident freelancer who can pick and choose.

Visit Russia.

Visit India.

Stay in an ice hotel.

Visit New Orleans.

Learn to say no without feeling bad.

Go fire walking.

Travel on the Orient Express.

Spend a night in New York.

Learn to paint, and I don't mean emulsion.

Continue to share daily conversations with my lovely husband.

Continue to spend memorable times with my fabulous family.

Finish the Times crossword.

See the RSC at Stratford.
Thanks mum.

Climb more mountains.

Go back to live in Cumbria.

Cook more food for more people more often.

Don't leave a day unseized.


Well that's it really. I've crossed off three things, I'm quite pleased with that. I also realise that I care less about having a crappy garden and a house full of clutter than I obviously did that day. I'm clearly going to have to do some buckety revision. This time I'll include 'learn to say no, when I'm already busy' and 'practice what you preach'.

In a forthcoming post - if I remember - will be the useful things I learned from Blog Off.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Fireman Samantha and her pretty, pretty pink helmet

Last Sunday, pandering to Boy Three's Fireman Sam fixation, we visited our local fire station which was taking part in the Doors Open Day scheme. 

There were fire engines, Blaze the Bear being rescued from a tower, a bouncy castle (who knew fire stations had them?), avuncular firefighers, corpulent firefighters and, even, some mildly decorative firefighters (not, that I really noticed (oh hell, is that a sexist thing to say?)). 

Boys Two and Three turned into tigers, and Boy One got to demonstrate his extensive knowledge of fire safety. One and Two marvelled at the chip pan fire demonstration - although this is Renfrewshire, so I didn't think that was a skill that needed much teaching. And Boy Three had a ball gatecrashing the glittery little dancers on the dance machine. Plus it was peeing down and most of this was under cover, so I was feeling reasonably smug about things parenty. 

Then I spotted this. A table selling toy firefighter's hats for kids. There was a heap of yellow ones and, yes, a heap of pink ones for the girls. A shocking sight, surely? 

That's all wrong, isn't it? 

Well it's wrong because a firefighter's uniform has a yellow helmet whoever is under it. They are yellow because it's the most visible colour and a firefighter needs to be seen. 

It's wrong because little girls - even the most pinksome of them - don't need a helmet to be made girly in order to be more palatable. Why stop there, glittery truncheons for police officers, frilly trim on guns for Little Miss Soldiers?

It's wrong because it sort of suggests that fluffy-headed females wouldn't want to actually be a firefighter, look, they can wear pink and pretend. 

I asked a female firefighter friend what she thought. She's also a mother of girls and boys. Talking about her daughter, she said: "Her magnetism towards pink was nothing to do with me therefore my gut reaction is that it's harmless fun as they were probably getting the pink ones to expand the appeal. As long as they weren't forcing the pink ones on the girls and the yellow ones on the boys. However, it does sit a little uneasy though."

Then I thought about the rest of the open day. My friend doesn't work there - all the firefighters in evidence were men, but women were doing the face painting and manning (womaning) the dancing game, the snack stall and the plastic helmet stand. Apart from Boy Three, little sequined girls were the only customers of the dance game. 

A long-suffering firefighter helped Boy Three to sit in the cab of a fire engine for a while. While the boy gazed about awed, the firefighter had a good grumble about Fireman Sam and the increasing number of requests for visits to nursery schools. It seems Fireman Sam is becoming more popular than his (all male) rivals Bob the Builder and Postman Pat.

But the pink hats, what about them? I know they're wrong, you know they're wrong, but are they any more wrong than pinkness elsewhere or the endless reinforcement of gender stereotypes at every turn. 


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tulips from Berlin - a love story

You made me think of floral clogs
The Panther of News has been aprowl, far and wide... well Berlin actually. And when he came back this is what he brought me. 

No, your eyes don't deceive. He's given me clog-shaped slippers made out of a rather super tulip print fabric. They have a cosy green fleece lining and those little studdy things on the bottom that are supposed to stop you slipping, but, in fact, make a weird noise and attract dirt. They are, in short, preposterous... and warm.

But I was delighted, and touched. No, really. You see, there's a bit of a back story. 

Once upon a time, well December 2005 to be exact. I went to Amsterdam with my chums as one of them was celebrating a birthday with a 0 on it so as excuses go, it was excellent. 

Before I left I asked the Panther of News what he wanted me to bring back for him. And he said: "Don't worry about me. Don't get a present, I don't want anything."

So I didn't. Not until we were on our way back and I happened into the tulip shop in Schipol Airport. Not the one that sells pretty bunches, but the one full of stuff with tulips printed on them. I bought him a fetching pair of tulip pants.

When I got home and handed proper goodies over to Boys One and Two (Three not even being a twinkle then), the Panther was watching, so I gave him the tulip pants. He said: "Very funny, but what did you really get?"

"Tulip pants. And you said you didn't want anything."

"D'oh. I clearly didn't mean it."

The tulip pants became symbolic of saying what you don't mean and don't expect to be believed, which happens surprisingly often in our house. For example, "Do you want some help with that?"

But, time passed and the tulips faded, the elastic sagged and eventually there were holes. 

So when I saw the slippers - in the same print as the long-departed kecks - they made me smile. 

They meant my man had prowled past anodyne perfume shops, samey, samey gift kiosks until he found the very thing. He wasn't just passing off some press pack giveaway as a present he bought (not this time, anyway). He took care and time to choose something with meaning, but not just something with meaning, something that was practical and, if it saw me resisting putting the heating on, a money saver too. That's my Panther, that is.

Friday, 9 September 2011

9/11 shines some light on Asperger Syndrome


Or here's the short film elsewhere on the net if it doesn't work for you here.

This morning Boy One said: "I don't understand what all the fuss about the 9/11 thing is all about, mum."

Being quite affected by the coverage and my memories, I was somewhat taken about. How can he seem so careless about this international outrage? 

"But lots of people were killed," I said.

"I know mum, but lots of people have been killed since, in Afghanistan, Libya and lots of other places," he reasoned. 

"That's true, but I think this was worse because these were ordinary people who just went to work. And it was America, where there hadn't really been an attack at all...."

But he was gone, off to the bus stop. I had to get ready for a parents' coffee morning run by the hard-pressed team of The Columba Unit at St Benedict's High School, who provide support for kids who have autistic spectrum disorders. The two women (yes, just two) of the Renfrewshire Outreach Support Team provide a wonderful service helping children like Boy One thrive in mainstream school.

I'd forgotten Boy One's comment about the Twin Towers until they showed this video. It's one of the best explanations of ASD that I've seen. 
But did you see the boy talking about how he was affected by 9/11? Just like Boy One, only now - almost 10 years later - he understands why it might have sounded crass and self-absorbed. 

One of the mums said that since September 2001 her son had been afraid, convinced an attack was going to happen again near him. Another said her son became a little obsessed with the details of how the 9/11 terrorists committed their attack. 

My point? Just that these kids' perspective on an event about which there can be nothing but sadness, shock and anger, shines a little light on how the world is for them.  

Oh and my other point? The Columba Unit does a marvellous job with ever-dwindling resources, so, council folk, find it in your budget to help them out.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Decision time: please help me pick the best

Cover story: which do you prefer?
I know lots of lovely Facebook chums and Twitter pals have already given me their thoughts, I thought you might like to do so too. 

The book is almost finished (honest, Ms Publisher) just a few revisiony tweaks and, hopefully, it's done.

So, now, and you can't imagine how excited I am about this - think little girl doing supermarket-type sweep in Clair's Accessories - bit of the process. What goes on the cover. Now we're down to the last two and are looking for some feedback about which you prefer. 

There's no prize unless you insist, in which case I'll ring you up and read excerpts to you.

And thanks very much to Transatlantic Blonde for clever techy stuff.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Where are my specs? and the truth about being in your 40s.

Do you remember when tiredness was a result of partying not restless toddlers? When you had loads of energy? And when a night in on the sofa was the most boring thing you could think of instead of a bit of treat?

Perhaps that's still you and you're thinking that you will never, ever get to the point where a nice cup of tea is the high point of a day. I've got news for you. One day in your 40s you'll suddenly find yourself uttering some of the following phrases and you won't have the slightest idea how it came to this. 
  • Where are my specs? 
  • What is this music all about, I can't hear what they're singing?
  • Does her mother know she's out in that outfit?
  • Shhh, not now, it's The Archers.
  • Ooh, a cup of tea, lovely.
  • These shoes are so comfortable.
  • A nightclub? No thanks.
  • You must give me the recipe...
  • You're a doctor, how can you be so young? (probably not said out loud, but nontheless)
  • Can you cover up the gray please?
  • Oh an early night, lovely. Now where's my book
  • Hmmm. I wonder how long that hair's been there.
  • What did I come upstairs for?
  • I'm sure I know you from somewhere, what's your name?
  • What am I on Google for?
  • Shhhh. That's a bit loud. Turn it down. 
  • Oh, heck. I know the word, I just can't remember it.
  • And the killer - is it me, or is it hot in here?
Take heart though. It's not all bad news. You'll find that a cup of tea and a quite evening on the sofa really is rather lovely... if only you could remember what it was that you were planning to watch.

Monday, 5 September 2011

What were you doing the day the Twin Towers fell?

KzAkabueze via Flickr
Ten years ago this week. What were you doing when the World Trade Centre came under attack? Do you remember?

The sun was shining that day in 2001. I was about four months pregnant with Boy Two and working as night editor at the Daily Star of Scotland. 

I was late for work, so driving around looking for parking space while half listening to the news telling me something about a plane and the World Trade Centre. My imagination conjured a single misguided fool flying a little aircraft - I think someone landed one in Red Square the previous week. 

But the minute I arrived in the newsroom I knew this was different. My colleagues - we shared an office with the Scottish Daily Express - were standing silently watching the TV screens suspended from the ceiling. The sky was blue there too as we tried to digest what we were seeing. 

There are few journalists that don't love to be at work on the day of a big story - however hideous the facts. But for us that day, in truth, there was little to do but watch. There was nothing Scotland could offer that would come near the importance of what was happening in America.

Our colleagues in the London office set about clearing the newspaper of it's usual content and deciding how to present this monumental story. In Glasgow we read the stories as they came in on the news wires and watched developments on the TV. 

Pictures arrived on our computer screens and we gazed at them in shock. Then with a sickening jolt, I realised that wasn't debris tumbling from the building, it was people - cartwheeling, freefalling living people. I put my hand to my belly where a new life was growing. 

I will never forget the weight of that day, but, in the main, my life went on more or less as before. The new life I was carrying is nine and finds Doctor Who too scary to watch all the way through. 

But spare a thought for those whose lives changed for ever on 11th September 2001. Remember the dust lady, Marcy Borders, snapped, stunned and with her office clothes and pearl necklace coated in yellow dust. She has fought addictions and lost custody of her children. It took her to this year to be able to board a plane again. 

What were you doing on 9/11?

Friday, 2 September 2011

What women are supposed to know

Have you ever noticed that there are certain bits of knowledge that are presumed to magically arrive with the birth of your first child?

You know. There is the mum wisdom that you will have acquired or at least you must pretend that you have. I'd like today, Feminist Friday, to address these issues. If we can debunk these myths, maybe it'll help us step towards a slightly fairer society. And I know not all women are mothers, but all mothers are women.

Mothers all know:

How to clean things. This includes getting stubborn stains out, understanding which wash to put things in at and how to deal with unfortunate carpet incidents. We should somehow be able to instantly remove evidence of gravy or curry from ties and mildew from tiles. 

In truth we are no more likely to be able to create hygiene and the smell of spring meadows than our male counterparts. They watched the adverts too. There's an idea that men are immune to smells, mess and dirt, but that's one of their myths.

How to cook things. If you don't like cooking and don't care enough to learn then giving birth is not going to change that. Theoretically anyone who can read can cook, but then the same must apply to gardening and a look out of my window disproves that in an instant. On the other hand, it really doesn't matter, knowing what we should be eating for heath is more important and reading about that isn't restricted to those with a recently vacated uterus.

What's wrong with the baby. Just because we gave birth to the thing, doesn't endow us with any mystic understanding why it's screaming at us. We can have a good guess, but then again so can it's other parent. Confident trial and error is the best tactic, oh, and working through a check list.

When to dish out love or punishment. Somehow we are supposed to know when our child needs a hug, when they need a telling off, a star on the chart or some time on the naughty step. How are we supposed to know this? There is no app for it. The only person who always gets this right is Supernanny and she doesn't have any children.

What to put in their bags for every eventuality. "Oh, Ellen will have one because she's a mum." Yup, I've heard this several times at work when someone - usually a middle aged man - is looking for something like a wet wipe, a tissue, a needle and thread, some paracetamol. Why the heck would I have one just because I have children who are at school/nursery/the childminder? Although rather irritatingly  I often do have the thing they need. 

What to do in a crisis. It doesn't matter what's gone wrong, you, the mother, will know what to do next. Of course you will. You will know who to ring, where to go and what to say. You will be unflappable and sensible - because you are a woman who has bred. Anyone know why?

Where to find things. If you don't know where something is, ask a mother because she will know.  Doesn't even matter if she has never clapped eyes on the thing before and doesn't even know what it does. She will divine - by means of her stretch marks probably - where it is.

I know there are man myths too - apart from the one about them liking mess - that they can do stuff like change tyres and fix leaks. Oh and that the poor dears can't do two things at once. These are also cobblers and, in any case, because we sisters were so keen to have it all we learnt DIY and car maintenance too. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The unexpected benefits of blogging

We all know about how blogging and how marvellous it is. Or at least those of us who are converts do. I'm sure there are a great many people who just can't fathom the urge to tell the world about events too insignificant to even phone our mothers about.

But we know that you can make friends, learn things, earn a few pounds and create a little corner of the Internet that's ours alone. You might even get a book published, or something. And there are some unexpected advantages of becoming a blog keeper. 

A visit to your inbox will become a magical mystery tour. This week I've had an invitation to write on a parenting website, the offer of a free box of cosmetics, invites to lunches, launches and days out (most of which are more than 400 miles away, kind offers of help and the invitation to speak at a Social Media Week Glasgow Event.  

Ever wanted a search facility on your own memory? My blog now provides an imperfect record of what I've been doing for the past few years. If I need to know which year we went to Germany the a quick search will tell me. 

Blogging means never (or at least less often) having to explain yourself. On meeting real people in real life, if they read the blog (or even look at the pictures) they usually have a good idea of whatever's been rattling my cage or floating my boat or otherwise metaphorical lately.

It's another way for the Panther of News to communicate his feelings. Despite his occasionally fierce exterior and habit of prowling the jungle in a menacing manner, my husband, the Panther of News has a soft underbelly.
By means of some modern internet magic, it is possible to find out what search terms were used to find your blog. And upon checking the terms lately I found, among "ban toasters", "pocahontas mackenzie", "snobbery in Bridge of Weir" and "shoulder shoulder Shoulder dance Ellen", messages from the PoN. I'm not going to tell you what they say, but they are lovely. He sometimes gets an extra tickle under the chin on the days I find them.

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