In case of emergency…


I realised in the bath this morning that it might, possibly, say something quite revealing about my character that I used the very first post on this blog to give myself a ‘get out of jail free card’, for use in emergencies. Moments later, of course, I realised that whatever it is, however revealing it might be, it’s unlikely to be flattering, so I launched into my fall-back diversionary tactic of making a shopping list in my head instead.

Recently, though, I have been wondering… what counts as an emergency? Some friends recently applied for schools, only to get a letter explaining that they hadn’t been allocated a single one in their borough. The place they were given was so far away that one of them would have had to ditch their job in order to do the marathon school run each day. Which would mean halving their income, skipping mortgage payments and eventual destitution. So, clearly, a full blown emergency. Black and white. Nothing doing but to sign up for a nearby private school for a year, stick it on a credit card and prey fervantly for a local school place to materialise before the bailiffs do.

But it’s not always so clear. Life as a parent is full of micro-emergencies and it’s these that I’m most frequently tempted to break The Rules for. Standing in a station at the end of a long day, with a murderously overtired toddler who is about to turn the one hour and eight minutes from Euston to Reading into a tortuous, endless Groundhog day for you and the entire commuting community… Is that an emergency? It feels that way, when the entire nightmare could be averted by taking just a few steps into the WHSmiths concession where a whole row of Octonaut magazines await.

Then there’s the trip to meet friends that involves so much  packing (beaker, nappies, change of clothes and other things the boy deems ‘essential’ like swimming goggles, a spanner and length of rope because YOU NEVER CAN TELL what disaster might befall you in the park)… So much bumph that the addition of a homemade lunch – and the resulting extra weight of jam sarnies, flask, mush for the baby – could (almost) literally be the straw that broke the camel’s back. How much easier just to grab an Ella’s pouch and a packet of Organix rice cakes from the nearest Tesco?

Worst of all are the educational micro-emergencies. These are the most toxic kind by far. Because I can give myself a stern talking to when my micro-emergency is about the mere frippery. But when it comes to education….

Should J be taking swimming lessons like his little friends? Might it literally end in an emergency if I try to teach him just by splashing around with him myself in an amateur fashion? Or, if not an actually dramatic lifeguard moment, might it lead to a micro-emergency – falling behind his peers, losing confidence, hating sport and ending up bunking off PE and lurking behind the drama centre smoking menthols and dousing himself in impulse to mask the smell (can you see I’m projecting here?)

The same goes for: word games; learning-to-tell-the-time games; numbers and counting games; games involving the months and the days of the week; books about the world and geography; pencils that help you develop a proper grip; very occasional theatre experiences and musical concerts; football clubs; drama club; pasta in funny shapes (not explicitly educational in themselves but might possibly be a vehicle for coaxing brain food into him?)…

The list goes on. Each of these, individually, I can find creative ways of doing myself. But somehow, now he’s approaching four and school, it’s all hit at once. These things didn’t matter last year. He was definitely just as happy and just as stimulated without them. But now… does he need a little nudge? In all these areas? I’m not talking pushy parenting, just the smallest bit of help along the way to liven up his learning… it all suddenly looks a bit critical. And ALL of it, at once, I cannot DIY. Not while also working and looking after the baby and managing four people who all (myself very much included) suffer from acute cases of chronic untidyitis, oh and a house that has no dish washer or dryer and is constantly, CONSTANTLY falling apart.

None of these things are essentials. I know. None of them are emergencies. But are they micro ones? Is he missing out by missing them? Tanith Carey sent me a copy of her new book Taming the Tiger Parent, which she promises will make me feel better about dumping J in the garden with a twig instead of enrolling him in Mandarin classes. It’s a really good read, so far, but since I’m currently tackling it in the bath, while simultaneously making mental shopping lists and brainstorming free maths activities, it might take me some time to finish it. So in the meantime… answers on a postcard please!

In which I find a kids product that I like…


So it’s probably pretty clear by now that product reviews aren’t my thing. Which is a shame, really, because since I vowed to stop spending money on kids’ things I could really, really use a way of sourcing them for free (now that, Alanis, is what I call ironic…)

Still, there’s always an exception to prove the rule and this, dear readers, is mine: the NomNom refillable pouch.

Like every brilliant invention, it’s so utterly simple that you look at it and think, “Why, in God’s name, did I not think of this?” Basically, it’s this: an Ella’s pouch that’s reusable. Meaning you can fill it up with yoghurt, smoothies, homemade baby food, whatever, at a quarter of the price of one of Her’s, feed it to your diminutive dustbins on the go, then stick it in the washing machine and start all over again. Saving money and the planet.

It’s genius. I fill mine with mashed sweet potato, veg, banana, yoghurt, whatever really for Frida to eat if we’re out for the day. Better still, I make smoothies for Johnny to take to nursery and sneak green things into them and he is so excited about the secret lion that roars when you’ve finished your smoothie* that he doesn’t even notice. Sucker.


It has a simple zip-lock running down one side so it’s phenomenally easy to fill and clean and, well, that’s it. Oh, except that if you loose the lids you can nick Ella’s ones off your less savvy friends and they work just as well.

It’s a kids product, yes, but one that helps you be more independent from kids’ products. You can say goodbye  to expensive, single use pouches and yoghurt pots. I can ditch my DIY solutions that have never once, in eighteen months, failed to leak stealthily over the inside of my handbag. Plus, its made almost entirely by a seemingly very nice and normal mum of two, not a huge corporation. So yep, I admit it, I like them.

And yes, I got mine for free. But if you think I can be bought for the equivalent of £6.95 you are very much mistaken. It takes at least a tenner.

*you’ll have to see this yourself when you order your own, which you probably should, I can’t believe I’m saying that…

Kids party hell

This morning, this press release dropped into my inbox:

In a new consumer report looking at spend on children’s birthdays it has been revealed that across the nation mothers are spending up to £808 million solely on the traditional party bag gesture. 

Mothers spend as much as £5 on each bag and children invite, on average, 21 friends. This equates to a sizeable spend of £105 per party – just to keep their place in the league of best party hosts, as rated by parents in the playground.

It’s no secret that parents feel a level of competitiveness to surpass each other when it comes to who does it best, and this research shows that the party bag is playing a big part in the competition. But, so big is the trend to make birthdays an occasion to remember that generous mothers are also spending as much as £355 on gifts, cakes, party entertainment and a family day out.

The study, carried out with 2,000 mothers to mark the launch of a new campaign by charity World Bicycle Relief UK, verified this trend as almost half (43%) of mothers admit they feel social pressure to spend a lot of money on their child’s birthday but it didn’t necessarily increase the enjoyment of the occasion for the child.   

Arghhhhhhhhh…. What am I going to do?! We’ve been to a thousand kids parties in the last few months (possibly an exaggeration but that is how it feels…) All but one has been in a hired venue, with an entertainer, little lunchboxes, party bags… And this year, Johnny has wised up. He knows what a birthday party is ‘supposed’ to look like.  And it’s ‘supposed’ to look… expensive. We are already getting requests. “Will there be an Octonaut’s cake like at X’s party?” “Will our clown have a creepy face like Y’s did?” “Can we have a tattoo tent and football and soft play and magnums of Moet and caviar on a bed of gold dusted with diamonds?”

What will we do?! We can’t do it outside, because it will be December. Can we have it in the house? Or will twenty four year olds trash the place irreversibly? Is it one of those situations where it would be so hideously painful to organise, run and then tidy it ourselves that it is just insanity NOT to shell out on a venue? HELP?!

P.S Please don’t tell me to do something brilliant like craft my own soft play out of recycling. As you know, my ingenuity and patience are EXTREMELY limited…!

What happens when you leave a city slicker family in the forest?


I’m been trying to start this post for a while now and, for the first time since I started this blog, I’m truly stumped. Our week at Tinkers’ Bubble  - an experimental, eco-community living completely off grid in the forest outside Yeovil – was pretty wild. Extraordinary. Hard, beautiful, fascinating, infuriating and inspiring.

We worked all day. For a week I dug, forked, lifted and heaved with a baby on my back while J tagged along, helping, kicking fallen fruit, climbing trees and complaining in equal measure. No fossil fuels meant no lawnmower – so blisters on the palms of my hands after hours of scything a field of long grass and bramble – and no tractor, so Johnny falling in love with Jim the carthorse, who heaved loads of logs and gravel up the forested hillside, or ploughed the potato field with us running behind, shaking his treasure into buckets.

No shop bought food meant eating communally for every meal, vegetables that had been grown and, occasionally, meat that had been caught. It meant working hard to keep enough food on everyone’s plates, which meant – for the first time since I can remember – eating every meal because my body was hungry for it. It meant Johnny refusing nearly every meal (vegetable stew, again) and living almost entirely off bread and jam. But it also meant fruit trees and hedgerows at every turn, laden with ripe fruit to pick and milk on the table five minutes after the goats had been milked.

No telly and only basic, off-grid electricity meant being outside from the moment we woke, to the moment we went to sleep. It meant Johnny playing with old, scruffy wooden toys, trees and whatever recycled materials he could get his hands on. It meant the toddlers who lived there permanently could jump, run and climb like children five years older than them. It meant seeing deer flitting between the trees as they played. It meant Johnny didn’t ask for TV for 14 days after we’d left.

No conventional building materials meant a beautiful but basic wooden structure for us to sleep in. No conventional heating meant a wood burning stove, cosy in the early evening, infuriating when taking an hour to boil a kettle. It meant a boiling pot and a mangle instead of a washer-dryer. It meant going to sleep staring up through the window at swaying trees and the stars, listening to the sounds of cows and the snuffles and shuffles of the family we were sharing with. It meant sleep without the background noise of traffic. It meant early nights and early mornings and all night wakings shushing the baby so she didn’t wake the others.

One bath hut to share between fifteen people, lit by a stove that took three hours to heat up, meant real tears of happiness the first time I lowered myself into hot water. It meant being forced to look properly at the casualness with which we use resources in our home, how we fill our homes and our time. It meant I didn’t look in a mirror for a week.

Long drop loos meant a beautiful view across the hillside but an awkward balancing act with a baby on your back. Oh, and the loos could only be used for, arm, solids. ‘Fluids’ made the compost smell bad so were dealt with at any secluded spot of your choosing.

It meant the families who live there permanently (not the tourists passing through, like us) actually doing something about climate change and consumerism, not just talking about it over the weekly Ocado shop.

It was an adventure. An inspiration. It showed us what we were really capable of, and it showed us what we are simply too wimpy and city-slicker to handle.

And I’d love to go back every year. For a week.

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