Weekend Perspective.

Small children are renowned for many things, but a sense of perspective is not amongst them. I say this as the mother of two girls who spent this morning wailing over various troubles. One had the heart-wrenching choice between a summer dress that is slightly too long, or a summer dress that is knicker-skimmingly short. Or, one which is approximately the right size but ‘is a bit itchy and gets its sleeves all scrunched up when I put a cardigan on.’ You could ask my neighbours to confirm that was EXACTLY what she said, as she bellowed it right next to the (very thin) wall. The joys of semi-detached living.

The other girl wanted to wear a skirt which is somewhere in the loft. I refused to get up in the loft at 8am to rummage about for it, which was clearly very unreasonable of me. The boy was slightly nonplussed by all of this. “Mummy,” he said, sadly, “Tilly won’t stop crying. She won’t put her shoes on. We might all have to stay at home today.” Well, if there is one thing not to do with a house full of wailing children, it is stay in all day.

Luckily for all involved, we made it out of the house and into school. The moment they get on their scooters and are on their way, all of the worries about dress length and skirt selection just evaporate. But like I said, perspective is not really a concept they are interested in yet.

And neither is it a concept that the author of the piece I read in the Family section of the Guardian can have been very aware of as she was writing.  I should say that usually, this is one of my favourite sections of the newspaper. I read it second, after the Weekend magazine. (Shiny bits first, is my rule with newspapers.) The article was about how much ‘screen time’ you should allow children to have. Because, like the author of this piece, we all have 3 or four iPads lying about, plus laptops and PCs. And the damn kids just keep, well, using the things. Don’t we all live like that?

The issue of how much time we allow children to use technology is a pertinent one, and one that will become increasingly important as technology integrates itself further and further into daily life. But. But. The iPad rule is surely the same as the biscuit rule: if it is there, it will be consumed. Instead of moaning about how much time the kids  spend on the technology, how about not having so many options available? iPads were made to be lusted after; and children and touchscreen technology is a love affair waiting to happen. The article is interesting, and balanced, and the author discusses what is a moderate path through the kids vs technology battleground, acknowledging that using them sparingly and constructively is in the best interests of everyone involved.  She doesn’t ignore the link between parents’ technology habits and those of our children; adding a reminder that children look to adults for their behaviour cues, and if the grown – ups are glued to their phones and laptops, it makes sense that the children will follow suit.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about how it was basically an article that could have been subtitled ‘Help! I have too many iPads lying around!’ As twitter would say: #firstworldproblems, or perhaps #middleclassangst. At no point does Emma Cook acknowledge the fact that she must be incredibly fortunate  to have enough technology to share between her three children, not to mention a ‘new smartphone and laptop’ for herself.  I couldn’t shake off the association with the criticism so often leveled at less well-off families who ‘haven’t got any money, but they’ll always have Sky TV.’  Well, maybe that is a bit silly, but no more silly than Emma Cook’s house, where ‘it’s as if Apple has been breeding in my living room; its slim screens and sleek lines clogging up our shelves and kitchen surfaces, beyond reproach because they look so good.’ A sleek, innovative iPad is so much more aesthetically pleasing than a rusty old Sky dish screwed to the wall of a crumbling mid-terrace, though, right? The trouble with poor people is that they just have no taste.

Later on, I was Googling some recipe ideas (this came after a disastrous incident which I will refer to for now as ‘the spaghetti bolognaise argument’) for families on a budget and I came across a blog so good it quite literally stopped me in my tracks. A Girl Called Jack is a story of a young single mum trying to quite literally survive by the skin of her teeth. Having been made redundant from her £27,000 a year job in the fire service, unable to find even the most basic job, despite endless applications, she was thrown into a a world of benefit-balancing, pawn shops and bailiffs.  A world where it’s a good idea to unscrew the lightbulbs to stop you from using unnecessary electricity, and put furniture in front of heaters to keep you from the temptation of turning them on. A world where you have to sell your iPhone and furniture  just to keep a roof over your head. She started blogging about her mission to make the best meals she could for her and her son, whilst living below the breadline. Her recipes are great; the blog is eye-opening. Jack writes in a post titled  Hunger hurts:

“Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one Weetabix and says ‘more mummy, bread and jam please mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.”

I don’t think I really need to go on about how this gave me a bit of a kick up the backside and totally put the over ipad-ding issue into perspective. Two mums, probably geographically not far apart but at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum, both writing about (amongst other things) trying to do the best for their kids. The technology argument has its place, and whilst I would love to be in a position to worry about how much time Tilly had spent on the third laptop, I am mostly just glad that we will at least be able to feed her and her siblings tonight, and that the television doesn’t have to go to the pawn shop any time soon.


Yesterday: April the 23rd

It’s kind of cool that St George’s Day and William Shakespeare’s birthday are celebrated on the same day.  Two legends of English history. A pick n’ mix of cultural icons. I have to confess that I don’t actually know much about the story of St George, except for the essentials, like, er,  he slays a dragon. The myth that we based our portrait of St George on, the noble Christian who kills the dragon to protect the beautiful maiden, is inextricably mixed in with earlier Eastern religious folklore. We celebrate him as the patron saint without really needing much more; his legendary status has been assured since 1222, when the Council of Oxford appointed 23 April as his Feast Day. If anything, the story of St George reflects the messy, complicated,  cross-cultural heritage of most of the mythology that underpins our ideas of what ‘England’ itself represents.

St George (Maiden in background.)

St George (Maiden in background.)

Shakespeare, with the benefit of being born slightly later than the tricky ‘days of yore’ era, we are more sure about. A bit more sure, anyway. I know, (mostly from watching Shakespeare in Love and a QI episode about him) that there is still some debate around whether all of the work accredited to him actually belongs to him or not, but this mostly seems to be rooted in the snobbish idea that a man of relatively humble origins could not possibly have produced so much Good Stuff. In the celebration of anything English, clearly there must be at least a smidgen of cynicism, not to mention a touch of class-based snobbery thrown in, just for good measure.

At school I used to grumble about the amount of Shakespeare that was shoved into the GCSE syllabus and shoe-horned into every term. I liked a lot of the plays; but always thought they are written as plays to be performed and watched, rather than half-read and picked over by bored year nines trying to impose every meaning possible on each line of deconstructed dialogue.

Will Shakespeare. Kind of like a groovy 6th form English teacher here, no?

Will Shakespeare. Kind of like a groovy 6th form English teacher here, no?

Then we studied Room with a View and I never looked back on the bard. I had fallen in love with 20th Century fiction. I picked a University literature course that  didn’t include compulsory Shakespeare.

But these days, I am glad in a way that we had iambic pentameter force-fed to us for a while. Lines drift back to me now and then; offering a view into the mysterious world of 16th century language and poetry that I never would have been aware of left to my own narrow minded devices. Our world now is one where culture is constantly photographed, documented, discussed and regurgitated online. The sheer volume of plays and poetry that Shakespeare wrote gives us an opportunity to peek into the otherwise impenetrable world of  500 (ish) years ago. It’s all there; but instead of documentary footage, twitter trends and instagrams, it is witty, sharp, revolutionary writing. A bit hard to read at times, but mostly worth the effort.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Also, the film 10 Things I hate about You would simply not have existed without The Taming of the Shrew. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

You can't just buy me a guitar every time you screw up, you know?

You can’t just buy me a guitar every time you screw up, you know?

Meeting your Heroines.

People often say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes. They might disappoint you, or, in the case of fictional heroes, be notoriously difficult to track down. I think it depends on who you choose as your heroes. Or heroines. A lot of mine are in fact fictional, so there is no danger of me ever being disappointed by them. Pippi Longstocking, for instance, can remain safely as cool as she is in my mind for ever, I am unlikely to ever run into her.

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking

Some of my heroines are real. Some are on twitter. Many, I have tweeted; like a demented, love-sick, idiot. And then, the other day I got the chance to go and listen to a couple of them speak, as columnists at The Guardian, at a writing Masterclass. It was only when I got there that the fact that I had semi-idolised these people, in the way that normal people might have idolised rock stars or actresses, was a bit weird. (It is not entirely coincidence that Polly is a Polly, and one of my all-time favourite columnists for the Observer magazine, and yes, Grazia – is Polly Vernon. Luckily Polly is also partly named after PJ Harvey, which makes the whole thing a bit less of a geek-freak thing.)


The beautiful Polly Harvey

The two speakers I was excited about were Hadley Freeman and Marina Hyde. Hadley I liked initially because she was a fashion journalist who doesn’t take fashion too seriously, and writes a hilarious fashion-advice column called Ask Hadley. But also because I can identify with the slightly shy, little-bit-geeky character she comes over as in her writing. She has written a book, The Meaning of Sunglasses, which I own and is brilliant. She has another one out tomorrow called How to be Awesome. You see why I like her. Marina Hyde writes a sports column  a politics column and a very funny feature on a Friday called Lost in Showbiz; searingly sarcastic and properly laugh-out-loud funny. One of the first thing Marina talked about was not writing in list form, unless absolutely necessary. “If my column appears as a list, ” she said “it means it’s totally sh*t, but I couldn’t think of anything else to write.” (Or something to that effect. I didn’t tape the whole thing, or anything. I’m not an actual stalker.) But she did swear. Marina is one of those gloriously posh people who swears like a sailor, all the time. I do love a bit of posh-person-cursing. So, um, in honour of, but at the same time directly contravening  Marina’s advice, I am going to list some of the things I learned on Monday. Because it was f*cking brilliant. (Nope. Just not posh enough.)


Converse: uniform of wannabe writers

*The collective noun for a group of aspiring writers should be, if it isn’t already, a converse of writers. (Navy being the colour of choice.)

*The question ‘so, are you actually a writer?’ almost never has a one word answer.

*Tone is everything.

*Write widely, and often, about stuff you are passionate about, but also about anything else.

*Try not to be angry too often. Or smug.

*Keep it brief. No one wants to read a 15,000 word essay on a blog.

*That I would remove at least two of my limbs for the chance to be a columnist at The Guardian.

*If you don’t want anyone to sit next to you on the train home, you could try eating a tuna sandwich.

There was probably more to be learned, but I was distracted at the beginning of the session by the attire of a gentleman three seats along, who was bravely attempting a red-shirt bow-tie/tight tweed trousers combo (with converse, obvs,) and also the fact that I was IN THE SAME ROOM AS HADLEY FREEMAN.

Guest Blog: Kelly the Naturopath

Park Life

We’re very excited about this guest blog from one of out lovely local customers, Kelly. Kelly is a naturopath practicing in Bedford. Here’s her story of how she has worked hard to pursue her dream job; with a few handy tips for healthy living too!

I grew up in Bedford but moved to London when I was 19 to pursue a career in media. After making copious cups of tea and running so many errands that I knew the West End as well as any black cabbie, I bagged my first job as Beauty Assistant on the coming-of-age teen title Sugar Magazine, and within a few years I’d worked my way up to be the youngest Beauty & Wellbeing Editor on the block. I had a contacts book stuffed with the numbers of London’s top hairstylists, facialists, make-up artists and wellness experts, a bathroom over-flowing with more products than your average branch of Boots and my new-found passion for natural health and…

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Lottie Stuff

Lottie pink


Pretty Lottie

So, um, there is no easy way to say this: I have started buying handmade clothes for the girls’ dolls. Why? Because I need to get out more, because they are beautiful, because the girls like dressing and undressing them, and because I’ve found a lady who makes them in fabrics I like  (she also restores vintage Sindy/Barbie/ Skipper dolls) – you can see her ebay shop here.

Right. Just off out. Think that is for the best!

The Accidental Adventure

Ooooh, I do so love it when it just so happens that the title of something is nicely alliterated. Accidental Alliteration…I’ll get my coat.

Our accidental adventure came about because after my Easter holiday trauma, which you can read about if you fancy a laugh – we can all laugh about now, enough time has passed – Rich and I rewarded his parents with the gift of our three children for a day and a night, and skedaddled off to Cambridge.


The Rainbow Cafe

Cambridge is one of those places that are truly good for the soul. We spent a LOT of time in bookshops, had lunch at The Rainbow Cafe, which serves the best vegetarian food ever, as well as amazing vegan, gluten-free, nut-free options. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are in Cambridge, it’s just opposite Kings’ college too – downstairs though, you have to go outside to admire the view. We went to all the lovely arty shops and galleries that you can’t attempt with three children in tow. (We had to leave my favorite one- Cambridge Contemporary Crafts swiftly, because it turns out that I want to own ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING in there.)


Jugs by Debbie Joy


Cambridge Contemporary Crafts


Oh, and we bought a duvet. A nice, summer weight duvet from John Lewis. And then, in the excitement of trying a nice shirt on, Rich left it in a shop. Rich NEVER does stuff like that, I should emphasise. Well, almost never, obviously. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to race back to a shop in a panic to see if it was there that I left my shopping/bag/keys/phone/coat/child . So my panic was tinged with ‘well, at least it wasn’t ME this time’-type glee.

The next morning we checked with the shop that the duvet was safe and well:

(Me: Um, we might have left a duvet in your shop?  Shop man: Yes! We have one here!  Me: It’s a 4.5 tog, ah, just in case more than one person left a duvet in your shop yesterday… Shop man: Nope, that’s the only one. )

And then obviously  we had to arrange to collect it. Another trip to Cambridge. Oh no. (It’s very hard to convey sarcasm effectively in print, I find, but I was being sarcastic there. Bit clunky, but better to clear it up now, eh?)

Anyway, armed with children and grandparents, we went off on Sunday to Cambridge and had a wonderful time. I can totally recommend the Quentin Blake exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum; it consists on one smallish room (the one room thing being crucial in the selling of the word ‘exhibition’ to children) full of his original illustrations for various books, and also some of the paints, ink pens and chunky watercolour crayons that he uses to create his work.


The Girl with the Magic Horse


Quentin Blake

The exhibition is free, and in the museum there is also an Egyptian room with mummies in, and an entire room full of armour, guns, swords and other stuff that is catnip for nearly-six-year-old-boys, (and their Grandads.) Oh, and the gift shop is pretty ace too. One thing though, don’t sit on the lion statues outside the museum. You get told off by a shouty lady.

We also had a great time in a shop called blott. blott sells nice stationery (catnip for me) and collectible erasers in the shapes of animals, food, vehicles…anything. They only cost £1.25, so are pocket-money friendly, and there are LOTS to choose from.


Irresistible unicorns


Blott: pretty stationery

Oh yeah, and some of them are unicorns. Other cultural highlights for the children included: buskers dressed as the Beatles, a ride on the Park&Ride double decker (you can very rarely beat a bus in the excitement stakes for my children,) and a dog that looked like a bear. For me, I love all the new ideas and inspiration that places like Cambridge give me. It’s always exciting there. So in summary, hurrah for occasional scattiness, and the Leaving of Duvets in Shops.


Goody two-shoes.

Now that the Spring snow has finally melted, perhaps you fancy buying the kids a new pair of shoes for the summer. Have their flip-flops flopped? Have last years’ crocs floated out to sea? (Polly’s did, a few years ago in Norfolk! She thinks they might be homes for sea turtles somewhere now.) Here are two cool ways that you can buy new shoes at the same time as donating to charity. I do so love shoe shopping efficiently.

Sometimes it is hard to remember a time before crocs. But before the rubber-clog-domination years, there were jelly shoes. (Not actual jelly shoes, although possibly there is a gap in the clown-shoe market if anyone is interested.)

jelly shoes

Pink sparkly jelly shoes.


Blue Jelly. Blueberry?

Well, they are BACK. Juju, the makers of the original jelly shoes, have announced the launch of project jelly – in association with learning disability charity Mencap. Two new styles, Watermelon Red and Raspberry Mivvi (pink and sparkly, if you need to ask,) will go on sale at the end of April projectjelly.com and in independent stores such as Olive Loves Alfie. You can pre-order on the project jelly website if you are as excited as I am. A massive 25% of profits go to Mencap, so you can not only give your children the gift of jelly shoes (well, in terms of 80s fashion gifts to bestow, this beats the perm, the neon mini and stonewashed denim hands down, right?) but you can donate to the charity that is the ‘voice of learning disability’.

For the little chaps:  Toms is a footwear brand with a different approach to consumerism. For every pair of Toms you buy; Toms gives a pair of shoes to a child in need. One for one, is their philosophy.  Read more about their giving policy here.

Toms one for one

Toms ‘one for one’ policy in action

And, as I discovered recently, they also do shoes for children. And babies. The kind of baby shoes that are so cute, that if you see a pair, you want to buy them, even if you don’t even own a baby. They are just…tiny shoes. Which is cute. There is no sensible reasoning here.

Toms Giraffes

Giraffe print Toms. Walk tall.

Toms shoes kids

No giraffes were harmed, presumably.

Toms kids

Fashion feet