Monthly Archives: April 2012

50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 and Three Quarters and 35 and One Quarter, Respectively

You may have seen something in the news last week about the National Trust’s list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾*. I did – and I got really excited about it.

The idea is that children who are chained to their XBoxes and / or wrapped in health and safety wadding will break free into the great outdoors and have some fun (and visit some National Trust properties, obviously.) On a nifty website, children record details of what they did and how they did it and collect virtual bits and pieces along the way. It might seem a bit twee, but when you look at the list, there’s loads of great stuff that you probably did when you were a child and would love to have a go at again.

Interestingly, the author of this article in Huffington Post reads it as another ‘litany of to-dos’ for parents. It’s an valid point, given the fact we’re all short of time and we are told what to do a little too often, but I still love the idea. I’d rather Tom was using a computer to record what he’s been doing in the fresh air than sitting at it all day, playing games and not getting any fresh air at all. Tom’s only six, so we’ve got until the end of 2017 to tick everything off (by which time I will be 35.). No one is going to stamp a massive red ‘failure’ on my head if we don’t get to do all the things, but we’ll have some fun trying…

It was the National Trust’s list that inspired me to drag Tom out into the overcast afternoon last Saturday. He’d been watching telly while I spring cleaned (faffed about on Twitter, looked for the hoover attachment but couldn’t find it, went on Rightmove, put three dresses in a charity shop bag then decided I might wear them again and took them out again.) We went to Clifton Country Park in Salford, where they were running an activity about bird nests. We ventured out into the woods with binoculars, looked at birds nests (did you know that birds make nests with horses’ tail hair and padding from people’s coats? Clever little things), collected nest stuff and made our own, psychedelic nest. Afterwards, Tom fell flat on his face in a quagmire and cried for a bit (I always know it’s bad when he cries.) I brushed him off and cuddled him, then we went on a massive, five mile ramble, got lost somewhere in between the motorway and the Irwell and laughed. We didn’t tick anything off the list but it was an ace day out and I didn’t have to do the housework.

Psychedelic nest, possibly belonging to the Roly Poly bird

We’re going to try and do as many of the things on the list as we can near home. We’ve done lots of them already, but we might do them again. We might not have a garden, but we do have a yard with a newt in it and loads of parks. “Manchester has got everything except a beach” is possibly the most over quoted Mancunian quote, but it is actually true. (Apart from that pop-up thing in Castlefield, is that still there?) Anyway, there are some beach-based tasks on the list, but we’ll be able to tick some of those off when we go on holiday to the South of France in a few weeks (The South of France!) We had a choice of Thomson Al Fresco parks for our prize, so I went for the one with the mobile homes right on the beach. (More on that soon.)

How about you, are you doing the list? I don’t think you have to be under 12…

*I’ve just realised that you can’t actually see the list on the National Trust website unless you sign up, so I’ve put the full list in a comment below…



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The Newt and Aphrodite

I had almost forgotten about newts until last week, when I replied to a comment on my blog about being a bit odd as a child. After I’d confessed to breeding newts in washing up bowls, I thought oh yeah, remember newts. 

On Thursday, after I’d finished writing about our street being a bit of a hole, a beautiful newt came to visit. I went to let the cat in and there it was, frozen under the beam of the security light. Either it was a (somehow unscathed) present from Monty, or he hadn’t noticed it standing next to him. However  it came to be in our yard, there it was with an inane smile in its face, (sort of) saying “Hello. It ain’t that bad round here, you know.”

I tweeted about it, I texted a few people, then I rang my mum and asked her what to do with it.

“What do you think this is? The National Newt Helpline? I’m trying to watch Corrie,” she said.

Even though I knew I should leave him to his own devices and let him find his way back to wherever he had come from, I knew that Tom would really love to see him.

Next thing, I was heating the tip of a knife on the hob and stabbing it through the lid of a Quality Street jar. Wikipedia said it was a smooth newt; not the great crested, endangered kind but still pretty impressive for our A3 piece of concrete. It was gorgeous, with a bright orange tummy and a paddle tail. I watched it swimming round for a bit, arms and legs splayed, then realised it needed somewhere to rest. If it had to doggy (newty?) paddle all night, it could get tired and drown.

It was getting late. The only heavy object I could find was a statue of Aphrodite; a souvenir from Cyprus that was poking out of a charity shop bag. I plonked her in the Quality Street jar and the newt embraced her straight away.

In the morning, it was still alive, still clutching Aphrodite, still looking a bit shocked.

“Finish that quick, I’ve got something special to show you,” I said when I gave Tom his Rice Crispies.

“OK I’m full now,” he said, after one spoonful.

“Nice try.”

When he had really finished, we went outside. He gasped and chuckled when he saw it

“He’s like a cross between a lizard and a frog! Fancy putting him in a Quality Street jar with a statue, Mum.”

“Well, I wanted you to meet him.”

I really hope that the day a newt came to our yard ends up being one of those vivid memories that never shift.

“Can we keep it?”

“No. It’s spring –  it needs to go and make some baby newts. And Monty would kill it and I haven’t got anything I got anything to feed it and it’s probably hungry now so let’s let it go.”.

And off it slithered, into the long grass at the edge of the cobbles behind our little house.

“Bye newt, nice to meet yer!”


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I want to move (again) but I can’t afford it (still.)  One of the reasons is that I am fed up of dodging Durex wrappers, drugs bags and dog poo on our street.

I can always rely on my son to brighten the dreariest of days.

I saw a soggy Greggs bag and a spent fag; he saw a love heart.




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Things That Go Missing and Things That Won’t Go Away



Scissors (when wrapping presents)

Pounds (money)

The nit comb


The parking permit (when visitors arrive)

Right socks

The front door keys

Pyjama tops

Shin pads

Tights without ladders

Pyjama bottoms

The end of the Sellotape (when wrapping presents)

Bra wires


Left socks

Confidence to write (when you’re not living in a library)

Debit card (several times a year)

Memory sticks



Won’t Go Away


Charity shop sacks with pictures of crying children on them distributed by companies that only give a little bit of money to the charity

Kinder Egg toys

Pounds (weight)

Big bills

The fear

Creased clothes

Pizza menus

Stretch marks


Things that need to go on eBay

Dinner money slips

Nit slips

Coat hangers



The guilt


Leaflets inviting you to sell your rented home

The student overdraft

Grey hairs

The feeling that there are a hundred and one things to do

The feeling that when there are a hundred and one things to do, you can always write a blog post about it.


A picture I took in Wales last week that is not relevant to this post but that I like.

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Greer, Glitter and Guns

I went to see Germaine Greer last night. She said a lot of good stuff and she said a lot of stuff that made me and my friend look at each other and pull the “what’s she on about?” face.

Anyway, at the end of it all, one lady asked a question that really made me sit up and listen: What does Germaine think of the whole ‘princess’ phenomenon amongst little girls? She had a granddaughter and was worried about her princess obsession.

Germaine says she’ll grow out of it, apparently. Her advice was not to pander to it, not to let it go underground and also to ask her to look at the lives of real life princesses and ask if she wants to end up like them.

It made me think about something that I’ve been wondering about for a while: how the heck do you manage if you’ve got a girl?!

You want your little one to fit in, but you really don’t want them to fall into the princess trap. I read with interest this post last week by Mammasaurus, who is fed up of companies like just-ate-a-cupcake-and-puked-on-my-shoes footwear manufacturer Lelli Kelly marketing to children (warning: keep the sound down when you watch the ad.) What would I do if I had a little girl who wanted light-up hair extensions and lilac eyeshadow (other than puke on my shoes?)

Of course, they do grow out of it at some point – hopefully they won’t be wearing a highly flammable dress in the style of Disney’s Snow White to the high school disco. But then there’s a whole host of other stuff to worry about, like that Rihanna video where she appears to take E in a field, enjoys some blow backs from her fella and lets him tattoo ‘Mine’ on her arse. (I do actually like that song.) (But not the monologue at the beginning by Aggynessse Deaeeine.)

Then there’s the fact that The Sun is (still, despite everything) the most purchased newspaper in the UK, which means an awful lot of girls are growing up thinking having big tits and looking tiny in a bikini, being a “TV babe” and taking back a bloke who’s treated you like dirt are all things to aspire to.

It all just seems really scary.

Then again, as Greer pointed out, we frighten girls by telling them they cannot go out on the street in case they get attacked, but boys are getting attacked. Every weekend, grown men get killed or injured in bar or street brawls. And boys want to go in the army. I want my son to be happy and I’ll support him whatever he decides to do and all of that, but if he ever wanted to join the army, my heart would break. He has never asked for a games console or a toy gun, but I know he probably will one day. I’m not particularly fond of football, but Tom loves going to the match with his Auntie J. It’s a real treat for him and it means he doesn’t feel left out when the other boys talk about it at school. I’ll just have to deal with the fact Wayne Rooney is apparently his favourite player.

I suppose it doesn’t matter whether your child is a boy or a girl – there’s always stuff to worry about. It’s just being a parent. You have to work it out, compromise here and there and hope they work things out in the end.

But how do you cope with demands for Lelli Kelly?


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I Know a Place…

Look at this place, it’s where I’ve spent the best part of the last week. I’ve been sitting here, getting fat(ter than normal,) writing and writing and writing. It’s like something from Harry Potter. Actually, what am I on about? I haven’t even seen any Harry Potter films. But it looks like the sort of place that seems to feature quite heavily in Harry Potter. A cross between that and a church.

It smells – of wood and polish and very old books. The desks overlook the gallery and are designed to be exactly the correct height and angle for laptops. The sky and the grand statues outside look wobbly through the leaded windows. Beyond the heavy, wooden door, there’s no work, no dirty washing, no clean washing, no washing up, no dinner money bills, no football kit, no swimming trunks, no drama club, no bills, no phone calls, none of the other stuff that usually fills my brain instead of words for my book. Along the corridor is the kitchen, where my (delicious) meals have been made for me. I haven’t had to think about cleaning up afterwards (apart from carrying a tray across a room.) Opposite that is the lounge, with massive old Chesterfields and a real fire, really good coffee and lovely, interesting people to talk to. My bedroom’s upstairs. I don’t even have to leave the building to go up to bed. I just walk up the big, creaky staircase and I’m there. This is Gladstone’s Library, the UK’s only residential library. And it’s writing paradise. I cannot recommend it enough.

I have just spent five nights doing nothing but writing (and eating) and it feels wonderful. The book is still not ready, but it is closer than it has ever been. I am sitting in the silent lamplight of the library now, with half an hour left until the door clunks shut for the night. It’s magic – and I wanted to write about it while I am still under the spell. I almost don’t want to leave…

It’s been perfect, but I have missed my daily drawing and morning cuddles. Where’s Tom? He’s with his amazing Nan having a magical week too. They’ve been to the seaside, a country fair, an art gallery, he’s had a picnic in the front garden with a massive cuddly dog. I keep getting photo updates. I am seeing him in the morning and I am going to get the biggest hug in the history of the entire universe, apparently. Which is a good job, really. I’ll need it.

If you have something you need to finish, if you really want to be studious and serene, come here. It’s just the place. (It’s so good, I didn’t want to tell, but I promised them I’d spread the word…)


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The Things You Do…

Before I throw it out, before it stinks the house out, here’s Ancient Eggypt. Look at Claire O’Patra’s face!

(It won.)

Happy Easter. Even if you’re not a fan of Jesus, it’s a good time of year.

PS: To the anonymous reader who nominated me for a Mad Blog Award, thank you.


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