Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Businesses I can't be arsed to set up

Blooming good ideas
Some people are starters and others finishers when it comes to enterprise. (Probably many other things too.)

I'm in the prawn cocktail category of the entrepreneurial feast. For me it's all about the idea. The idea and nothing else. I leave meat and two veg to the others. 

I've met people who say they are desperate to start a business if only they could come up with an idea. I'm the opposite, hundreds of plans but no energy, inclination or time to get off the drawing board. Or even on to it, if I had a drawing board. 

So here's a selection of enterprises you might like to run with.

Flower box. Like a veg box only flowers. A regular bunch of seasonal blooms delivered for a fixed price.

Meerkat the Groupon. Offer Supermarket. If you're fed up with hundreds of offers clogging up your inbox, then a service to bring the top ten daily. 

Size-ercise. An app into which you enter your vital - and top secret - statistics. It then scours the Internet for only things that fit.

Slurp-no-more. A device that delivers a mild electric shock to people who slurp, sniff or eat too loudly. Satisfying even if it doesn't stop them. 

Voucher voice. Coupons and vouchers that make a noise when you reach the checkout of the store they are valid for. Thereby making sure you don't forget to use them again. 

Hair off. Something you can put on at the hairdresser that really does repel hair cuttings. The deluxe version also prevents conversations that begin 'are you ready for Christmas?' or 'have you been on holiday?'.

Realcycling. Recycling for things you really want to see recycled such as single socks, curtain rings when you bought eye-let curtains, tights with ladders and posties' rubber bands. Oh and most of things you get in a tombola. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Google + hangouts: Much easier than they look.

Where to start a hangout

A cunning disguise
The new kid on the block, Google +, has actually been around a while. Long enough to know better anyway. 

Google + is a social networking system (It's not just a site, although if it was it would be much simpler to get to grips with). It belongs to Google and currently has some 400 million members of whom I am one. 

Most of us joined in the same way we buy insurance, because we think we ought to. 

And, like the best kinds of insurance, once you've joined you promptly forget all about it. 

It has nagged at me a little bit as I've tried to see what the (Google generated) fuss was all about. My few visits didn't find it desperately welcoming or easy to get. 

But because I'm determined to be seen as an early (ish) adopter, I have persisted. 

At last, lately I have learned there's a big benefit to Google + (G+ to it's pals). It's the hangout - which even manages to sound ever so slightly cool. 

Hangouts are a way of meeting people on line. They are very flexible and allow, among other things, to watch something on a website (opening the possibility of a virtual movie night), public or private hangouts, up to ten participants, sharing what's on screen and, most importantly the addition of funny hats and silly noises. 

Yes, they mostly do what Skype does. Apparently - and I don't know either system well enough to comment - G+ is more stable and has all these other options. Also, and I have this from no greater authority than Rosie Scribble who works for G+, if you do a private hangout it is very secure. Secure enough for G+ to use for their business meetings. 

With the patient assistance of Karin at Cafe Bebe and Rosie I have hosted a hangout or two. 

Here's what I've learned:

You need to be in the circle (ie a G+ friend of) the people you want to hang out with. This isn't as easy as it seems as the search facility appears to be a bit pants. It might be old-school, but emailing your G+ IDs could be the way to make sure you're all joined up. 

G+ hangouts work better on a computer (with a camera and a mic) rather than a phone or a tablet. They do work, just not quite so well. 

If you start a hangout, you need to invite the people you want to talk to. (And they have to be in your circles). 

Someone else cuts a dash too
You decide if your hangout is going to be private or public (very simple to do).

If it's public anyone can watch - if it's not then no one can. 

If it's public then you can use the recording of your hangout like a video. There's one I took part in below. 

The silly hats and noises do take away the awkward intensity of seeing yourself on screen. 

G+ might provide something of social life to those stranded at home with children or otherwise isolated. Regular hangouts over a glass of wine could become a thing of the future - or at least I hope so. 

Drop me a line/email/tweet/text or pigeon if you fancy a hangout.  

Here's my first hangout - a public one at Britmums Live earlier this year. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Man, It's hard to be a (single) woman...

Door knocker
Opportunity should know better
Many men are sexual opportunists.

Oh, that's a bit of a statement, isn't it? I'll bet you or your man aren't. Nope, not us either.

However, last week a couple of friends and I enjoyed some delicious lunch and a wide-ranging and entertaining conversation.

All three of us at some point over that last two decades had been a single parent. Not even slightly remarkable, really. However, what we realised when we explored the topic was that each of us suffered the experience of receiving the pity pass.

It goes a bit like this:

Woman has split from husband/boyfriend and is now coping alone with the kids. She is likely to be relieved to be rid of crap chap and concentrating on making a home and career for herself and her little family. Sexual frustration is unlikely to be right at the top of her list of things that causes her sleepless nights.

Then one day the doorbell will go and there will be a man on the doorstep. He might be the husband of a pal, a colleague or some other acquaintance. At first she may be persuaded that he's only there out of concern for her welfare - how thoughtful.

But shortly it will become apparent that it's only her sexual welfare he is concerned by. He will be utterly convinced that she is, as well as everything else, addled by sexual desire.

So entrenched is his conviction that he is doing her a favour, that a rejection will be met by incredulity.

Oh yes. Having got rid of him with as much grace as she could muster, she will be left wondering if he really thinks that intelligent women can't solve that particular problem by themselves.

The fact that she has just rid herself of one troublesome husband, means she is highly unlikely to want someone else's.

And the pity pass isn't confined to the suburban doorstep. It also appears at works dos - conferences and the like. Anywhere a woman is away on her own, there will be a man who believes that it is his duty to 'give her one', whether she has given any suggestion that this might be on the cards or not.

Obviously, I don't mean you dear reader or your lovely loyal man, but to those others, stop it. An upbeat what-have-I-got-to-lose attitude may work in much of life, but not here. 

We don't need a shag - and certainly not from you. And in any case if we fancied you, you'd know about it. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Trouble on the doorstep: What would you do?

Hard to see the wood for the trees on the doorstep
I've never seen a chapter in a parenting book called: How to handle an irate parent on your doorstep.

Not one. And I've never seen a blog post or an article about what to do when your child has been accused (and convicted) of a crime against another - and that other's parent is standing crossly ringing your doorbell. 

But this very thing happened last night. 

Boy Two had come home from school as usual and was setting about redressing his E-number deficit before I could find him a healthy snack. 

The doorbell rang. I was greeted by a mother (who I vaguely know and don't like much) and her red-eyed sniveling daughter - a year or so younger than 10-year-old Boy Two. 

"There was an incident on the bus with your son," she began. 


"Boy Two hit Her in the face with a shoe on the bus."

"Oh. That looks nasty." Sure enough the child did have a red mark on the bridge of her nose. 

Stalling and feeling outnumbered I called Boy Two. 

"What happened?" I asked him. 

He began a flustered explanation about how She had hit him in the face first another day with her lunch box. Then again with her gym bag. 

"But she didn't have her lunch box," the mother was triumphant. 

"I did on Monday," the daughter seemed embarrassed. 

"And you didn't have your gym bag."

"I did," she whispered. 

"It wasn't just me," said Boy Two. 

"It was. Everyone on the bus said so." claimed the mother. 

"Everyone?" I asked. 

"Yes. Everyone who got off."


I asked her daughter to tell me what happened. And she said that yes my boy did hit her with the shoe, but she might have been "annoying" him. 

This felt like a victory, so I decided to wrap things up while I could still keep my temper. 

"I think apologise are what we need."

"I'm sorry," said Boy Two. 

"It's OK," said the girl, very quickly, clearly as keen as I was to get the encounter over with - although not keen enough to apologise herself. 

"We'd better go and put some ice on that," said the mother looking at the already fading red mark. 

I restrained myself from yelling: "Don't you think you should have put ice on her face first before you hauled her out to have a go at my boy at what was clearly a case of a playground spat and a mis-aimed gymshoe."

And after she'd flounced off. "You won't do that again, will you Boy Two?"

I hate confrontation almost as much as I hate false accusation and decisions made without considering all the facts. 

What would you have done?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

You know you're the parent of a three year old when...

Buzz and Woody
When someone, apropos of nothing, asks: "You know that cowboy?" And, of course, you do. It's Woody from Toy Story, chum of Buzz Lightyear

You wince when the conversation comes round to just how early Darling Child was potty trained. 

"I'm not tired," is usually followed around three minutes later by snores. 

There is Lego in your handbag. 

Conversations defy all sorts of logic. "I hear you were learning about Diwali today. Was it fun?"
"It wasn't Diwali. It was The Valley. They have lanterns."

"Are you sure it wasn't Diwali?"
"Yes. Only The Valley."

You have it on good authority that strawberry fromage frais tastes of monkeys. 

You find you're the only one in the world who knows that the hysterical sobs are just an act. 

You know exactly which page "in and out of weeks and almost over a year" is on.

There are books hidden under the mattress so you never, ever have to read them again. 

Comforting a child who is weeping because he wasn't on a holiday that happened before he was born is a fairly usual occurrence. 

Parents of two year olds suggest their Little Darling will grow out of the tantrums soon and you don't have the heart to tell them the truth. 

There's half a banana in your pocket. 

There's always someone to blame for the mess/smell/lost or broken thing.

You have to come up with an answer to the following question. "Mummy where's your willy?"

This is a partnered post. However, it doesn't affect the quality of the post because I was going to write it anyway. May contain nuts. 

Keep your kids safe online with Hollyoaks

Do you watch Hollyoaks? Nope, me neither.

However I do have online age children and they are dealing with issues of cyberbullying. 

They're doing it for Anti-Bullying Week which has become so important it has been extended to Anti-Bullying Month

Two Hollyoaks actors, Jimmy McKenna and Jazmine Franks have done a video that neatly illustrates the gulf between parents and their kids when it comes to what they do with a computer/phone/otherinternetthingy.

While Jimmy thinks that you should just switch off the internet if you don't like what's happening there, it's obvious that solution simply doesn't work for most of us. 

I much prefer Jazmine's notion that we need to discuss what's happening - more often and in more places. 

She strikes a real true note for me when she says that at 13 she used to close down her screen when her dad came into the room - my 13 year old has just started doing this very thing. 

To this end - there's lots of info on the CEOPS site and on Channel 4's Hollyoaks site. You can see the events unfold on DocYou 24/7  

But I think the most important thing is to let your children know that the internet isn't some shiny world that crusty-old parents don't have a clue about. We might not have the exact answers, but we know where to look and we can help. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A most unusual career: Dead people and throbbing pasions, Violet Fenn's story

Earlier this year I met the very lovely - and utterly compelling - Violet Fenn. It's fair to say she's one of my top internet crushes. 

Ellen very kindly invited me to write a guest post about my strange employment combination. But I have no idea where to start.

Some days it does occur to me that my various occupations are maybe, well, not entirely normal.

Take yesterday, for example. I'd been trying to think of a different word for 'cock' (todger? Rod? Throbbing weapon of pleasure? No, I didn't think so either) but was getting nowhere. So I decided to leave it where it was and instead went off to find a fresh corpse.

Like I said - not entirely normal. But then things generally aren't, when you spend half your day writing erotica and the other half working on a website that is mostly preoccupied with collating vintage photographs of the dead.

People are always surprised when they meet me and discover that, far from being some sort of Helena Bonham-Carter lookalike (I wish) who sleeps in a coffin, I am actually a relatively normal mum of two who keeps chickens and rides horses in her spare time. Admittedly, my interests have always verged on the macabre - one of my best and worst points is that I am curious about everything. This makes planning a career rather harder than it might be.

I went back to my old university earlier this year to give a talk to current students about working in the 'real' world. After weeks of thought, the only constructive advice I could give them was 'don't do what I did. There is no point trying to be conventional if it's not in your genetic makeup to do so’.

I was 40 before I decided what I really wanted to do with my life, which was (and is) to write. What a waste of forty years. But it probably wasn't a waste, not really.

During that time I worked out what I don't like doing (office work - I often fell asleep at my desk and once threatened violence towards a particularly annoying boss) and what can always be relied upon to see me through (bar work and waitressing). I also tried out events promotion (turns out I'm really not good with people), taxidermy (which I still do occasionally) and making weird custom plush (loved it but the pay's crap).

Bored one day, I started writing down a children's story about a girl who bumps into a strange boy in the woods. I thought my kids might like it, and it was a good creative outlet.

As is my habit, I gave up on that story about four chapters in. Or rather, I changed my mind about what it should be. The story still exists - I'm halfway through rewriting it as an adult novel. Only now the boy in the wood is a strange immortal, stronger and older than any of those silly, modern vampires.

The best thing that story did for me was get me into blogging (I used Blogger back then but soon moved to WordPress, which I adore). So when I was idly pressing the depths of the internet one night and came across a strange old photograph of a dead man posed to look alive, I knew I had to do something with it.

I started The Skull Illusion as a way of keeping track of these odd photographs I found scattered across the web. A repository, in a way. It was only ever meant to be for my own amusement, but other people took to it. It now has hundreds of readers every day from all over the world and I write about anything that piques my morbid curiosity, as well as memento mori photography.

I love my Deads. I look after them and make sure that they're not forgotten, or left lurking in the 'weird or what' section of Cracked.com. Because they're not a freak show - they were all real people who were loved enough for others to want a permanent, tangible memory of them.

The Skull has proved a critical success, but as with many of my projects it has worked less well on a commercial level - a problem inherent in many 'niche' interests. If anyone can suggest how to attract commercial interest in a website that talks about death a lot, then I'm all ears.

Which is how the erotica came about. A friend knew of a publisher who was looking to move into the 'adult' market and needed new writers. She also knew that I was looking for some writing that might actually earn an income.

And thus Indigo Moore was born. I decided to go with a pseudonym in order to delineate the erotica from my 'usual' stuff, but have never been worried about staying completely anonymous.

Why should I feel embarrassed about writing smut? It's a job like any other. No one asks Stephen King whether he regularly commits horrific murders, do they? I've got a good imagination and sharp pencil, is all. I currently write short stories for the Kindle market, but have plans to take my erotica further (and darker) in the future.

This all sounds wonderfully independent, but there are downsides. As I've already made clear, pleasing yourself work-wise often means that you have to compromise when it comes to income. To further complicate my personal situation, my husband has - at the age of forty - recently take voluntary redundancy from the civil service to start a new life as a composer of music and sound effects for computer games. Not the most stable of career moves, for sure.

It's certainly brought difficulties - I'm writing this post to the soundtrack of very loud and repetitive (artificial) gunfire, and having someone else around the house all day has certainly been a shock to the system (please God don't let him realise how much time I spend on Pinterest). On the plus side, there's nothing like looking at a rapidly-dwindling bank account to get your head down.

I guess that what I'm really saying is that no one has to conform if they don't want to, and nor is there a time limit on making up your mind. The worst thing you could do is to take other people's advice to heart. My mother told me at the age of thirty that I'd 'had my chance and blown it, so get a shop job and be done with'. I didn't know whether to be more offended that she considered working in Asda to be the lowest employment option (I've done my time in supermarkets and quite enjoyed it, actually), or the fact that she honestly considered it acceptable to tell her own child to give up hope of ever being professionally content. She was wrong, and so is anyone who tells you that you should have a Plan by now.

So that is my only constructive advice - be true to yourself, be careful who you listen to, and never, ever give up.

He blogs, she blogs - our lives online.

The Panther of News has been a blogger for about six weeks now so you'd have thought things might have settled down a bit for him. 

You know when you first blog and you check the stats, then you see some comments. It is such a buzz you come back and check again - about half an hour later. Then a real-life person says something nice about it... Oh yes. You are a blogger. 

Well that's been happening to him. And, although I'm biased, his posts are very good. My favourite is the one where he talks about his trip to the supermarket with Boy Three.

When The Panther puts paw to keyboard and creates another work of genius, the first thing that happens is I'm supposed to stop what I'm doing and read it... giving appropriate feedback.

Then I have to deal with inconveniently timed and breathless calls saying: "Get me a copyright free photo of Where's Wally, please. It's urgent."

Whereupon I patiently explain how to use the creative commons search on Flickr and other bits of modern-day mystery. Again. 

Eventually I get so fed up of the pitiful messages that I say: "Right fine, here's your flipping photo."

A little while later I'll get another message. "It's done now. Will you do the Facebook, Twitter, Stumble thing please?"

Moments later: "Have you done it yet?"

Then: "What have people said?"

And: "97 people have clicked on it. Wow, I'm an internet phenomena"

Of course this is all very endearing but while it's going on I'm usually trying to do some work for people who pay me, feed children, pose as a functioning adult, and do my own blog stuff. 

A week ago, during a conversation "let's talk about my blog first", the Panther of News let slip he hadn't actually even read In A Bundance for a couple of weeks. "Sorry, I'm just too busy."

Hmm. It's not really on, is it? There must be equality in the world of blogging - and more importantly in the house of blogging. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Pudsey in a cake tin - Whitbread

Children in Need again and this time Boy One decided he'd turn his culinary skills to charitable use this year.

Months ago he bought a Pudsey cake mould from Lakeland with this very moment in mind. 

"I'm too busy to help this week," I said, and I was. This week seems to have been more hectic than usual. 

"Don't worry, I'll do it myself," he said. And he did. 

Pudsey turned out beautifully. So perfect that I advised against icing it. 

"It's not yellow enough. But, don't worry. I know what I'm doing."

So I left him to it and went out on a date with the Panther of News. (Oh yes!)

When I came back, Pudsey was beautifully iced and covered in cling film. I didn't dare unwrap him, Boy One would have noticed. 

He - the cake not the son - was used as the prize in the school's Children in Need pupils v teachers quiz. Isn't that good?

The recipe he used was the one on the packaging, which has now vanished. However, I believe it's an 8 egg Victoria sponge. It was certainly fairly straightforward. 

Doubling the quantities of this recipe from the Whitworths Sugar site. I'll put Pudsey quantities in brackets. Also the cooking time for Pudsey was quite long - he needed about an hour at 160 in the end although our oven isn't very good. 


Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate
Makes 1 cake, 10-12 slices
200g Whitworths caster sugar (400g)
200g unsalted butter, softened (400g)
4 medium eggs (8)
200g self-raising flour (400g)
1 tsp baking powder (2tsp)
1 tst vanilla extract (2tsp)
Whitworths Twist and Sprinkle icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 180°C / Gas Mark 4. (160 degrees) Grease and line with baking paper 2 x 18cm round cake tins. (grease and sprinkle with flour)
Place butter, vanilla and caster sugar in a large mixing bowl, beat until pale and fluffy. Beat eggs into the creamed mixture. Sift flour and baking powder into the bowl and fold in. Divide between the tins. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden.(Pour into tin and bake for 1 hour)
Cool for 5 minutes, turn out onto a cooking rack.

I am paid to talk about Whitworths, and in this case it's all I'm doing as Boy One did the baking.

Bouffadou: Fired up by the perfect present

Note to mum, please don't point this post out to you-know-who as he's getting it for Christmas.

You know when you see the very thing - the gift that you know is ideal? Yup that thing.

Well I had that experience the other day.

The lovely folk at Handpicked Collection asked if I'd like to test drive their Christmas shopping experience and blog about it. Yes please, I said.

Then I sat down to see what there was and quickly spotted this wonderful thing. Not only has it got a great name - the bouffadou - but it's a piece of genius.

It's a poker you can blow through to help get the fire started. Isn't that clever?

If you have ever given yourself a stiff neck and sore knees as you tried to coax some flames from a disinterested hearth, you will instantly see the benefit.

Not only that, but I know exactly the person to give it to. Someone who always takes charge of the fire and who enjoys having the right tool for every job.

Happy shopping and good luck in finding the perfect Christmas gifts.

PS Bouffadou is an actual thing - a French thing used for getting fires going for centuries.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Things I've learned but wish I hadn't

Boys about to discover that it's really cold in there
This week I made the rather surprising discovery that poo doesn't melt or dissolve when washed at 90 degrees on a cotton wash. No. It tucks itself into the rubber seal and waits to pounce. 

This moment of domestic education led me to consider the other things I'd rather not know: 

  • If you undertake a journey that involves more than 10 hours of driving, a three-year-old passenger will become constipated.
  • The addition of a weaning child to a brain-melting hangover tips it over into intolerable.
  • It takes a really long time to get the smell of vomit out of anything.
  • There really isn't anything suitable to say when your child barf all over himself, you and the chair you are both sitting on in a restaurant, just as the food arrives.
  • The only way to get encrusted bogies off a leather sofa is to pick them with your finger nail.
  • A flatpack wardrobe will collapse and break irreparably if you try to build it on your own (I'm still not ready to laugh about this yet).
  • Pontins at Burnham on Sea is a revolting place to spend the night.
  • It's really hard to give up smoking.
  • It's really hard impossible to lose the baby weight.
  • The best time to discover you have forgotten to pack any nappies is not at 50,000ft when your child has just dropped a particularly explosive bomb.
  • The day you're sure your toddler can't put the plug in by himself is the day he can. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Teenagers: the stereotype is true

At first when you get a baby (once the colic and breastfeeding misery is over with) it is really rather lovely. They smile sweetly and you adore them. 

People say "just you wait for the Terrible Twos", but you ignore them. Your cute little butter ball couldn't possibly have a tantrum. 

Then he does - just like they said. Howling his little head off and going red and rigid somewhere public. What they don't tell you is that the twos bit is because it lasts for at least two years... 

However, it does pass and you get a mostly sweet and childish child back. Life is good again. 

After a while people start saying "just you wait until he's a teenager... there will be hormones". Hah, you say. Tell me about hormones - they are my superpower. You know all about hormones. 

At first your darling child's impending puberty is something mildly amusing. Short and curlies on your little one are a bit like reindeer antlers on a cat - wrong but funny anyway. 

Then the moods start - your sweetie pie suddenly growls at you and tells you exactly how your parenting is lacking, how bad your dancing is, and attempts to list all the things you don't understand. 

Sometimes these lapses in charm will be caused by hunger - and boy can these teen folk eat - and sometimes they aren't. 

About this time you will become intensely embarrassing to your teenager. Mine made me promise never, ever to talk to him in front of his friends. I mustn't say a single word.This got a bit dull so I threatened him with a spit-wash and a kiss for fun. 

Before long the little chap stops being quite such a little chap and suddenly you are looking him straight in the eyes and, once again, planning to go and buy more clothes because his are too small. 

While the teenager's verbal skills don't make much progress, their non-verbal communication comes on leaps and bounds. I had no idea a sigh or a slouch could be quite so expressive. 

And a whole new world of things to worry about begins. For example, today, my teen has posted his first picture to Facebook.  

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Ritual abuse - they told me she was crazy.

A little under 20 years ago I was news editor of the Big Issue in Scotland. As a young journalist, it was an exciting job and I felt I might be doing some good. 

One day I took a phone call from a woman who insisted she had a story for me but that we had to meet. No, she couldn't give me her name or her number. So we made an elaborate plan for me to see her in a faceless motorway service station miles off either or our beaten tracks. 

The woman I met was obviously frightened. She kept looking over her shoulder, scared of who might spot her. 

Once she'd told me her tale I could understand. She explained that she's separated from her husband - a man prominent in society - and that when she handed their two kids over for visits she was convinced they were being abused. 

And this wasn't just any old seedy abuse by one wrongly wired individual, this was organised, ritualistic and systematic. She told me how her children came home full of the most awful stories and able to draw pictures of things no child should have any idea of. She showed me some of these pictures. They made me feel sick.

She explained that, of course, she had tried to make it stop and report it. But she claimed she was threatened and told that if she rocked the boat she would lose the children and never see them again. A threat she clearly believed.

When I asked how this was possible? She told me that the group of men abusing her children - and others - included those in the judiciary and the police. They were too respectable and powerful to fight and, for her, the stakes were too high. 

I was utterly shaken by what I heard. How could something like this happen? Yet, she believed that it did - and I believed her. Of course, she was too scared to give me any recorded proof or, even, her name. She wouldn't identify the people she was accusing - she said they'd know who told me. She said they'd 'get me' too. 

I struggled with this. What I was hearing was so hideous that I would have loved her to be vengeful and unhinged. Then it couldn't be true, you see. 

So I asked the experts if this could be true. I had a long conversation with criminal expert Ray Wire. He convinced me that every word of what I heard was true. His job took him into the most depraved minds to try to understand them and what they caused to happen. He was a kind and gentle man and, over the years, I wondered how he managed to cope with continually staring into the awful darkness. 

I also spoke to other experts - none of whom suggested the story I heard was far-fetched or imagined. 

So I wrote as much of the story as I could. I tried to do the best I could for the women I interviewed and I handed it to my editor. 

When the magazine was published I was bitterly disappointed to see my story was cut down to a few paragraphs. It was the only time a story was cut significantly while I was at The Big Issue. I couldn't even contact the woman to explain.

My friends didn't want to hear what I had to say - they told me the woman must have been crazy and I was crazy to believe her.

Over the next few days my phone rang a lot - never with that woman, but with others. No one would go on the record or name names, but they were all frightened and all wanted someone to listen to them. The callers came from all over the country and what they told me scared me and made me cry. 

They petered off after a while and I left the job - to sail around the world, like you do. I put the haunting episode to the back of my mind and got on with life. 

But now with various allegations and accusations of abuse and claims of happening so dark and damaging they are hard to consider, I find myself thinking often of the woman, her children and all the others who spoke to me. 

If someone tells a story that's so awful it's hard to imagine - then it almost certainly is true and must be believed. There is, of course, a chance that there will be false accusations, such as the latest Newsnight debacle. (What happened here was a courageous and damaged man told his story and over-eager and inexperienced journalists failed to do their jobs properly.)

I hope the Savile scandal and all that followed can genuinely pave the way for victims to be believed and for that to be the most important consideration. Just maybe some good can come from this evil.

Shortbreading the news - Whitworths

Yes it really was as messy as this!
As, ahem, a baking ambassador for Whitbread it is clear that some baking is required. 

Normally the baking in our house is done by Boy One who is currently fixated on all matters culinary. However, he was elsewhere when the domestic muse came upon us. 

Boy Two and Three decided it was time they got in on the action. So we considered the recipes and agreed on brown sugar shortbread. They because they said it looked yummy and me because it only had three ingredients so how hard could it be? 


350g butter, room temperature

450g plain flour


Preheat oven to 160°C / Gas mark 3.
Cream butter and WHITWORTHS FINE DEMERARA SUGAR in a large bowl.
Add 400g of the flour and mix well. Add more flour until you have a soft dough.
Sprinkle worktop with the remaining flour. Roll to 1cm thickness. Cut into 7 x 2cm strips. Prick with fork and place on lightly greased baking trays.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden. Transfer to a cooling rack.

For something so short it created an enormous amount of mess, but it also created an equal amount of fun. The boys had a great time and were delighted to produce something they actually wanted to eat. 

The whole issue did raise a question though: why do we prick the top of shortbread? Does anyone know the answer. Especially any of you clever Whitworths folk.

And relax!

 I am paid to talk about Whitworths, but that doesn't make the sweet stuff any less tasty.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Christmas: This year it's going to be different

I know there is still a sixth of a year to go and by the measure of anyone sane this is far too early for mention of the c word, and certainly not time for any ho ho ho.

I have already met three people who have done ALL Their Christmas shopping. All of it. How is that even possible?

I would stand a better chance of provisioning a kayak trip up (or down) the Yukon river than of sorting out all the seasonal shopping. This I know because I recently met a woman planning to do just this, so I thought about it.

About now, coinciding with the first M&S ad and the local hardwear shop shoving a family of illuminated polar bears in its window my anxiety moves from free floating to festive. 

However, not this year. No siree Santa.

I am going to be serenity herself.  I will not get irrational and unreasonable culinary ambitions. This year I will be utterly content to aim for buying everything necessary readymade and any proper cooking that happens is a bonus.

The themed and glittering transformation of my home into a magical place is unrealistic - a fact I can finally accept. Therefore I will be content with wonky and moulting.

Shops pumping out merciless and catchy versions of Frosty The Snowman and Last Christmas will not catch me out this time. I am prepared - braced against my reaction.

Mistletoe and Wine will not cause me to hurtle up the seasonal aisle stuffing never-to-be-sent cards, selection boxes and just-in-case bath salts into my trolley. Not this year. While we're on the subject where is the selection element in a packet of sweeties you are going to scoff everyone one of?

So the next time someone asks if I'm ready - which they do with a glint of sadistic glee - I'm going to smile and say "yes, I am". 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Calling all teachers: come and have a look at Kent

Competition for teachers to win a luxury weekend in beautiful Kent.

Have you explored Kent? It’s in the very south east of the country and offers everything from lively urban environments to the most out-of-the way rural delights.
Reflecting the varied nature of the county, there are some 600 plus schools across the Kent and Kent County Council estate offering a huge variety of opportunities for both secondary and primary teachers.

What’s so good about teaching in Kent?

Not for nothing is this part of the country known as the Garden of England, surrounded by nature, yet within easy reach of London and the continent. Life in Kent affords the best work-life balance alongside top-notch professionals. Wherever you are heritage and the best of contemporary Britain are only a short reach away.
As one of the largest local authorities in the country, Kent County Council Schools are committed to attracting talented teachers – both experienced and new – to their schools and offering them the challenges and rewards they are looking for.
As part of the Council’s drive to encourage the UK’s best teachers to look imagine Living and teaching in Kent, they are launching a competition on Facebook with a fantastic prize – a luxury trip to Kent.
All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is write a brief account of what you think your life would be like if you lived in Kent. Would you work in a primary in a serene costal village or an energetic urban secondary? Consider the lifestyle opportunity.
Then the stories will be shortlisted and posted on our Facebook page for the public to vote on – the one with the most votes wins. It’s that simple and will only take a few minutes to enter. Visit the Facebook page to enter.
Sponsored Post

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What are you really angry about?

Seeing red?
I'm still here cross-legged on the mat, pondering. The weekend's large helping of Om has still not worn off, or at least my coat still smells faintly of incense.

Clearly too much gazing at one's navel is not a good thing. Especially if it means children go unfed and husbands un-husbanded. However, a little glimpse in your mental mirror can be quite revealing. 

For instance, are you sure your emotional reactions are entirely in response to what you think they are in response to? 

Those of you rolling your eyes and muttering about it being 'one of those' posts, can push off now. Or sit still and listen, you may learn something. Yes, you. You know who I'm looking at. 

Anger is a good example. Are you really angry that the post office queue is nine people long on the day you need to get your car tax renewed having left it too late to do online? Is your fury at being betrayed by your ambitious young hairdresser who has moved to a new salon actually in proportion? Does the burning rage you feel at getting a parking ticket ever seem slightly over the top? Hmm... 

It is possible that you might still be cross about something that happened ages ago. Maybe you were overlooked for the football team, humiliated by a teacher or betrayed by someone you trusted and you haven't had a proper chance to deal with it. 

I was pretty cross after I discovered that my first husband was, actually, homosexual and had been all along. Not as easy to spot as you might think. This was something of a betrayal and involved - while no actual verbal lies - a reasonably colossal deceit. Consequently I'm rather keen on the truth and inclined to get a bit miffed if I think someone is lying to me. Now that doesn't need to be a huge "trust me, I'm a Nigerian heiress and I have some money for you" kind of lie, just something that I had believed for a while. Thus, a minor promise like "I'll put the bins out/tax the car/book the hotel" which gets broken through domestic amnesia feels like a lie and gives me the rage. 

Interesting observation, don't you'd think? Yes. And you have no idea how happy I feel knowing why I'm quite as cross as I am.

I'm not suggesting we can use long faded slights in the playground as an excuse for whole range of unnecessary grumpiness, just that sometimes it's nice to work out what's really going on. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

You know you're a blogger when...

... You're hungry but you have to take a photo of your lunch before you can eat it.

From time to time I review things on my blog. It's a public service, something I endure for your benefit, dear reader.

But his time I must confess I don't really care what you think. The people at The Handpicked Collection asked if I'd like it if they sent me some smoked salmon to try.

As luck would have it no one else in my family much likes smoked salmon. More for me then...

The salmon arrived beautifully packaged and still chilled. It was delicious - firm and flavoursome, yet delicate. The salmon I was sent was lunch yesterday, breakfast today and there's enough left for lunch again today. 

It would make the ideal gift for those people you can't think of the ideal gift for. Especially where you don't want to send wine, chocolates or smellies (again). 

Is it lunch time yet? 

Other ways you know you're a blogger...

  • Your wardrobe (and your children's) contain an increasing number of items you reviewed. 
  • Something hasn't officially happened until you blog about it.
  • A sense of calm descends when you press 'publish'. 
  • You ask your husband to take a photo of your tattoo and he doesn't even ask why.
  • You can tell if someone is blogger or wordpress just by looking at them. (This might actually not be true.)
  • And all of these other things I wrote about last year. 

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