Monday, 20 November 2017

It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it

Last night I went to see a band from my childhood. As I surveyed the room full of middle aged women and men - and a fair few gay men - I checked out the fashions in the room. You see before I left the house it took ages to decide what to wear. I wanted to 'dress up,' but it was really cold and I didn't want to freeze. What I'd forgotten of course was how hot and sweaty it gets in a venue during a gig. The long sleeved striped top and carpenter jeans I'd chosen caused me to feel fair overheated, but that might have been down to the dancing. Hubbie had expressed a wish for me to dress like this: 

Well, he is a man after all ! So I laughed and went upstairs to change into something far more suitable for a woman of my stature and age. As I watched the big screen behind the bananas showing their old music videos it reminded me that pretty much all my fashion choices in my teens were informed by Siobhan Fahey - and later Madonna. Okay so it didn't look the same on chubby asian me as it did on tall and slim pop starlets, but they had a look that was accessible and - by their own admission - thrown together. These girls weren't styled by anyone - well not until the Stock, Aitken & Waterman days anyway. Before that anyone could dress like a pop star. 

I mean this look was one of my staples - checked shirt, braces and pleated trousers. Yep did that. 

Then there were the dungarees. I have revisited this look in recent years, but back in the day I did in fact own a white pair and can honestly admit I must have looked more like a pint sized painter / decorator than a member of a pop band. 

If you grew up in the eighties you will remember the big hair. Oh yes it was big. I had very long hair back then, but I still tried to make it big and would braid it overnight to make it all crimped and wavy, then tie it up with scarves or rags. It didn't quite resemble this fab look, but I did try. 

Then there were the hats. I love a hat me and in the eighties we had the fantastic Mel and Kim big hat look and of course I had one. It didn't look quite as cool as this, but I like to think I was rocking it in my own way. 

So by the time I was at uni my clothing choices were getting more indie and less pop like, but I could still look to my girls for the cool edgy look I was going for. Look at the fingerless gloves, the red lipstick and the big coat - that's hardcore indie as far as I'm concerned. 

When I turned to my gig buddy and told her that I dressed like Bananarama for most of my teenage years she patted me on the shoulder and said, "never mind." Actually I loved being reminded of my scruffy, experimental, cheap and cheerful teenage looks. It was a bit of nostalgia and reminded me how much effort I put into my appearance. Just as the band have grown up and their look is far more sleek now, I like to think I have developed and grown into my middle aged style.

Mind you in my heart I still want to dress like this.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Go Go Ape for fruit and nut snacks

Now that both boys are at school I find that they are always ravenous when I pick them up at the end of the day. As a result I need a supply of portable snacks that I can take for them to have on the way home. We've made a strict rule that they can't have sugary snacks during the week and I want them to feel satisfied, but not so full that it spoils their dinner.

Ape coconut snacks

stylish packaging and no monkey business !

We were asked to try these new Ape snacks - moreish bite-sized pieces of coconut that pack as much punch in taste as they do in texture. They are something different and offer a change from crisps or rice cakes. The range offers mouth-watering and satisfying treats that don’t compromise on taste. Ape Snacks is available in two variants – Crispy Coconut Curls and Crunchy Coconut Bites.  All nibbles are gluten free, sugar free and high in fibre, making them the ideal snack for any time you’re feeling a little peckish.

tasty flavours too 

As you can see there is an extensive range of flavours with the Ape Curls are available in Lightly Salted, Slightly Peppered and Salted Chocolate variants, whilst the Bites come in scrumptious Natural, Chia Seed, and Sesame Seed flavours. All natural and suitable for vegans, the Ape Snack’s range is low in calories and high in taste.  I'd keep these as a treat for the boys or a post-gym or afternoon treat for me with a cuppa.

Ape’s coconut snacks are available from Boots, Ocado, Whole Foods, Planet Organic, Amazon and Holland & Barrett, amongst other leading retailers. RSP for the Crunchy Coconut Bites is between £1.49 and £1.68 for 30g standing pouch, and between £0.89 and £1.19 or a 20g bag of Crispy Coconut Curls.

Go Go Squeez Fruit Snacks

so many delicious flavours 

I often take fruit based snacks for the boys to have after sports or school. An actual piece of fruit is always good, but a these pouches of Go go squeez offer a great fun way to enjoy fruit. Each pouch contains 100% fruit and the varieties include apple, strawberry and mango - all of which my boys love to eat. The yoghurt varieties have another distinct advantage for me which is they don't need to be kept in the fridge. Once opened they should be refrigerated, but to be honest my boys wouldn't leave any to be stored for later.

yes it's 100% fruit 
no fridge - whoop whoop ! 

The pouches are just the right size and the propeller style lid is quirky and cute. On a practical level it is easier for children to open and looks like a good shape to prevent choking - which is a serious consideration if you're going to put these in packed lunches. The brand started in North America as 'applesauce' - which is big over there. I think it will do well here and we are certainly going to pack some into our travel bags when we go on holiday as a plane snack to help the boys if their ears pop on ascent.

cute and practical lid

Disclosure: The lovely folks at Ape and Go Go Squeez sent us some delicious snacks to try. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Why I'm walking to support Help for Heroes

Brown Bear had his first sleepover with the Scouts last night. Very little sleep occured, but he came home exhausted and happy. They had put up a tent, watched a movie until late at night, slept in sleeping bags and this morning he took part in a church parade for remembrance Sunday. They also observed a silence in commemoration of the fallen. At school on Friday both Blue and Brown Bears took part in a school service of commemmoration and they stood in silence to remember the fallen. Hubbie and I were home this morning when the Cenotaph was shown on TV. He scooped up Blue Bear and we all stood watching the service and even managed to keep him quiet.

A few years ago we took Brown Bear to see the poppies at the Tower of London and we talked to him about what they meant and explained that the silence is a sign of respect. He was very young, but it seems to have struck a chord with him and he still loves to talk about it. At school his project this term is WW1 and he has taken a great interest in the topic.

I worry that talking to my children about war might frighten them. That they will be sad to hear about the young soldiers and the killing and the loss. Instead remembrance is a time to talk about bravery, sacrifice and pride. I am proud that my grandfather was in the army. I never got to meet him, but I know enough about him to feel a sense of gratitude for his service. It is also important to tell my children about those who return from service. Those who have served and might now need help to manage their lives.

It is with his in mind that I wanted to tell you that Hubbie and I are raising money for Help for Heroes.

"Help for Heroes supports those with injuries and illnesses attributable to their service in the British Armed Forces. No matter when someone served, we believe that those prepared to put their lives second, deserve a second chance at life.

Every course and activity we offer aims to empower them to look beyond illness and injury, regain their purpose, reach their potential and have a positive impact on society.

How we do it

Working with a vast network of professionals and partners, we help our Veterans and their families through physical and emotional rehabilitation, identifying new career opportunities as well as financial and welfare support.

We know that those who served together, recover better together - supporting each other, enjoying the camaraderie and sense of fellowship once more.

The Nation has united behind our Armed Forces. During our first 10 years, we’ve directly helped more than 17,000 individuals and their families in this way. Offering this to thousands more who need it remains possible thanks to our supporters, and specialist charity partners."

I hope you agree that Help for Heroes is an amazing charity doing fantastic work. If you can support our fundraising efforts I'd be delighted:

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Me and my big mouth

Oh man it's been one of those days. Early on I realised I'd put my foot in it with someone and spent the rest of the day feeling really stupid and useless. Then in the evening I was at a meeting where I spoke up about inclusion and again felt really out of step with the feeling in the room. As a result I'm now thinking of ways to avoid seeing or talking to anyone for the forseeable future. This space is - of course - exempt from that.

Talking is what I do. I always have. For 4 years I travelled around the country doing public speaking to Rotary, schools, churches and any other group that would turn up to listen to me. I've trained people and hosted meetings and conferences and I produce and present a radio show. It's fair to say that my voice gets used a lot. However, I don't always think before I pipe up my deepest thoughts and on occasion this has led to me feeling daft and seeing a people look baffled by what I've said. At one point I started to do stand up and when audiences actually laughed I was so embarrassed I'd talk over the laugh so they would miss what I was saying. I wasn't a natural.

Speaking has been my job, it's been my hobby and now it's pretty much all I do. Admittedly the sentences I use are shorter and more commands than conversational, but as the boys grow older I can see that our interactions are becoming less one-sided. I hope that at some point we can even talk to each other like human beings rather than me repeating, "get your book bag," "I said put your shoes on," "Where are your socks ?"

A fair amount of my professional life has been spent in campaigning roles. I have made the case for supporting charities, for equality and diversity and worked to improve the lives of children in institutions overseas. This has made my tone expressive and at times confrontational. The only problem is that when I make a stand I get all wobbly inside and after I've spoken I feel sick and embarrassed for speaking up. It always worries me that I've said too much or made a mistake. I undermine my own efforts by feeling bad for making a stand about something. Others will say, "you were spot on," but all I can think is, "But, did I sound like a screeching harpie ?"

Today I've been called out for expressing how I feel and I've challenged a situation that really is not right. In both cases I am left feeling sick inside. This is why I am not cut out for a career in politics. I just wouldn't be able to face the criticism (real or imagined) and I'd struggle to hold back when something really bothered me. I would appear to be trivialising serious issues when I make light of things - as is my habit. Every now and again I make a decision to pipe down and not to draw attention to myself. This is one of those times.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

What's white, furry and purrs a lot ?

It's hardly news that I love my cat. From the day we met him at Battersea Cats and Dogs home and he decided he was going to live with us we've been very close. When he first came to live with us I would rush home from work to see him as he wasn't allowed out for a few weeks and didn't like being inside. He's always been affectionate and friendly and when I was pregnant he used to lie down with me. As my belly grew bigger, Neo became more protective of me and the baby. Until the day Neo got an unexpected boot from the unknown family member while he was snoozing on my belly. It was very funny.

His relationship with us as a family has developed to include first one baby - who grew into a handsy toddler - then a new child who he has also taught to give him biscuits. He loves company and often sleeps on Brown Bear's bed. They are such great pals it's wonderful to see. When I'm home he comes to sit next to me and keeps me company. I will admit I do spoil him. He has a soft bed in most rooms in the house and I have a special fleece blanket for him to lie down on the sofa. Recently he started to drink from my glass of water so I now leave bowls of water all over the house for  him. It's just the decent thing to do isn't it ?

People are asking me how old Neo is now and when I tell them they reply with remarks like, "well that's a good age,' or "Oh he's an old man now." None of these comments inspire me to want to talk to them much further. According to the vet if he was a human he would be around 75 years old. He's doing far better than any human I know of that age range. In reality - of course - he is an ageing cat and that means he is becoming an old man. He is on medication and when I take him to the vet these days they take his blood pressure and check his heart rate. If you have never seen a cat having it's blood pressure taken it is definitely worth it. I'm not sure that Neo would agree.

Of course the unspoken part of all this is that he won't always be with us. It's not a thought I want to consider so when anyone asks me, "will you get another cat when he's gone ?" I swiftly end the conversation and move onto something else. After all at this point he is like any old man, he is grumpy, short tempered, often loses his temper and likes to sleep a lot. As I type this he is lying with his head against me and is purring. I like to think this is his retirement and he's making the most of it.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Play it again sam...

I need some music this week. Some uplifting joyful music. There has been so much in the media to be angry about and frankly I just want to turn up the sound and forget everything else. If you are feeling this too, join me for a little self-indulgent musical interlude if you will: 

This is ridiculous, but I love it. No, not even sorry. 

TLC were epic, this song is a proper hanging out with your girlfriends and singing it loud choon:

This one is just so cool I love it:  

This one is pretty self explanatory: 

 Finally, one I have been playing a lot since I've been back on the radio again: 

Business as usual again soon - I promise. I just need this right now. 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Mythical creatures make for magical family adventures.

Years ago when I wrote reviews for the uni newspaper the best thing was the amount of time I spent at the theatre or cinema seeing shows and movies. I knew how lucky I was and now I'm able to share this luck with my sons (and their friends) when we get invited to fantastic productions for families with children.

Pokemon Movie: I Choose You - Nationwide release


On Friday evening I took Brown Bear to watch the new Pokemon Movie: I Choose You with two friends from school. He's not a Pokemon officianado so it was interesting to see what he made of it as a first timer. It helps that the film is the origin story of how Pikachu and his trainer Ash met and became friends. I liked that fact that it starts at the beginning and explains who they are and what the Pokemon world is about. There were a lot of well informed people in the audience whose reactions to scenes suggested they have a history with the characters that gave them a deeper insight into the story than we had.

Brown Bear and his friends loved the trading card games they got before the film and the Poke ball with mini figure was a bit hit. It was certainly an exciting story with lots of positve themes about friendship, loyalty and a big helping of magic. They boys didn't stop talking about it on the way home or the next day with the oldest comparing it with the resurrection story. It is an epic tale and the storytelling is engaging.

Watch the trailer below to see what you can expect when it opens in cinemas on the 4th November.

The Hunting of the Snark - Churchill Theatre Bromley 

The Churchill Theatre in Bromley is one of my regular venues to see shows and I particularly like taking my boys. It's closer to home than the West End, they serve slushies (which Brown Bear is a big fan of) and the boys really enjoy the shows they have seen there. Churchill have a great programme of family friendly shows including the upcoming production of Hunting of the Snark. Based on the poem by Lewis Carroll this production was a huge success when it premiered in Cardiff, has been on tour to Hong Kong and comes to Bromley on Sunday 5th November.

The Boy, The Banker, The Butcher, The Baker, The Bellman and The Knitting Beaver set off on a journey to search for the mythical Snark. On their subsequent adventure they meet the Jub Jub Bird, the Bandersnatch and the dasterdly Boojum. It's a wild ride with witty songs, high energy performers,  puppetry, witty songs and plent of daft humour.

We can't wait to see the show which promises: All aboard ! The ship is departing ! All children, animals and silly people welcome ! 

Tickets for The Hunting of the Snark are available from: Box office