Monthly Archives: May 2012

Trois, deux, une… Holiday Countdown Time

“Mum, why don’t you get some French wine to get you in the mood for our French holiday?” said Tom in the supermarket last week.

“That’s not a bad idea.”

I would have picked it up if it wasn’t for the fact they won’t serve me in there without my passport. (Ridiculous business.)

One thing I really need my passport for is our holiday. Ever since we found out that I won it in the Al Fresco / Tots100 competition, France and all things French have touched almost every conversation Tom and I have had. School runs, bus journeys, night-nights: all of them have contained some sort of countdown, basic French phrases or discussion about French food. (Is it cruel that I told him French ice cream only comes in snail or frogs’ legs flavour? He didn’t believe me.) Neither of us have ever been to France, never mind the glamorous-sounding South of France, so it’s fair to say we’re really excited… and now it’s very nearly time to go.

The beach (the beach!)

Al Fresco gave us five beautiful parcs to choose from. It was a tough choice, but in the end I went for Yelloh! Village Le Club Beach Farret in Vias Plage in the Languedoc. Why? I always thought European holiday parcs were for people with cars, but this one is only 12 miles away from Beziers Airport, making it perfect for those of us who can’t (or are terrified to) drive. And although Al Fresco recommend a car, there’s plenty to see and do within walking distance…

Nearby, there is a theme park, a treetop adventure course, horse riding, mini golf and lots of vineyards. Club Farret is also close to the lovely-looking Canal du Midi, which probably contains less shopping trolleys than the canal near us. The centre of Vias Plage is within walking distance, so we’ll be able to go to the market, practise our shoddy Francais and pick up food to cook back at our mobile home.

Entrance to the Beach Farret area

All of Al Fresco’s mobile homes are in their own separate, sandy area right beside the beach at Club Farret, which was another reason why I chose this parc. Being able to eat breakfast on the verandah and then walk down to the sea is about as idyllic as things get. Inside, the accommodation looks pretty swanky, with no pink draylon, brown formica or net curtains in sight. In fact, I’ve got a feeling our mobile home is going to be nicer than our real life, stationary one. In the evening, Tom will no doubt want to see the evening entertainment –  I can’t wait to hunker down with a notebook when he’s tucked in and listen to the sea.

Fancy mobile home

As well as the fancy mobile homes and Mediterranean beach, Club Farret has loads going on. Tom must have made me watch the parc’s promotional video more times than repeats of Total Wipeout (a lot.) He’s really looking forward to the play area, pool, children’s activities and the pirate ship themed restaurant. While he’s off playing games and making things, I’m going to slip into the spa and enjoy some peace and pampering.

It all sounds excellent, doesn’t it? I’ll be reporting back on our return. If you’ve ever been to the Languedoc and can recommend some things to see and do, let me know…

Just look at that pool

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Shanene Thorpe’s Petition: Please take a moment to sign

I just received an email from Shanene Thorpe via change.org and I really wanted to share her petition with my readers. Shanene was given the opportunity to be interviewed by Newsnight about being a single, working mother struggling to pay rent and housing costs. “Of course I was happy to do it,” she writes in her petition letter, “being a working mum is something I am proud of.”

But the interview turned out to be far from the positive experience Shanene had expected: in the final edit, no mention is made of the fact she has a job. Reporter Allegra Stratton aggressively grills Shanene on why she wants a family home for herself and her three year old child – and why the three of them can’t just live together in her mother’s two bedroom flat. The interview is clipped just as Shanene says “I’m asking for help towards, I’m not asking for a free handout.”

You can watch the two minute interview here:

Here we go again, the age old image of single parents being scroungers being perpetuated. We know it’s not true, but the media just isn’t interested.

Shanene feels humiliated and wants an apology. I don’t blame her. Please take a couple of minutes to sign her petition to Peter Rippon, Editor of Newsnight, here. She should feel proud, not ashamed – and I hope this all brings her and other working single parents some positive press.

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Magical Stunning Amazing: a Review of The Spellbound Forest

Anything rural that’s easily reached by public transport from Manchester gets our vote. The Spellbound Forest was just that (and a lot more besides.)

Although it’s obvious that a train starts in one place and ends up in another, there’s still something magical about squeezing on to a packed carriage at Salford Crescent and disembarking in the middle of a forest. (Heck – I’ve used up my “magical” and we’re only on the journey…)

The Spellbound Forest at Delamere was a joint effort between the Forestry Commission and Wild Rumpus, the people behind Just So Festival. Most of the fairy tales in our collective consciousness come from Europe; The Spellbound Forest aimed to awaken four English tales through visual arts, performance and all-round magic.

The enchantment began when we got off the train and saw an ornate poster inviting us to the King’s Grand Ball. This and other signs along the way certainly helped the build-up in atmosphere (as well as helpfully leading us to the entrance.) After a hot dog break, we began the trail through the trees. First stop was Earl Mar’s Daughter, themed around the lady herself and her bird by day / bloke by night lover. Tom is at the age where he wants to read everything, so he enjoyed stopping at every sign and Reading. It. Out. Loud. Beyond the signs, amongst bird cages and origami birds hanging from trees, was a very comfortable four-poster bed. I resisted the urge to climb in and have a sleep (we were up early for a Sunday) and we moved on to the Magpie’s Nest. There, a giant nest had been carefully woven out of willow and children were making star-shaped wands.

There was a queue for the Three Heads in the Well, so we moved on to Tattercoats, a bittersweet tale of a lord who cries a stream and a girl who can only wear rags. The props in the forest really were spellbinding: think banqueting tables with goblets and pine cones, Singer sewing machines and dresses hanging from branches. Equally good were the actors, who engaged the children and made them laugh. Tom loved the creative writing workshop, where children were invited to invent a fairytale character that may end up in the Spellbound Forest book (I doubt his fly-scoffing, winged banana from the sewers will make the final edit.) We came out at The Grand Ball, an outdoor stage edged by dressing up boxes overflowing with chiffon and sequins. Tom skipped the glad rags, jumped on stage and busted a few moves amongst the princesses (any excuse.)

Finally, we whizzed through the Three Heads in the Well. This tale ended with an eerie performance where the masked heads emerged from the well and talked, much to the petrifiction of some of the pushchair-based members of the audience. There was also a simple, three-word creative writing workshop on fairy tale setting.

Protests when you announce it’s home time are the ultimate seal of approval when it comes to children’s days out – and that’s what I got. Keeping with the three word theme, I curbed a full-on whinge by asking Tom to describe the Spellbound Forest in three words:

“Magical. Stunning. Amazing,” he said, before flopping face down across three train seats and falling asleep.

My verdict? Wild Rumpus created something very special indeed. I’d say their recommended age of over 3 was about right – and children of reading and writing age would benefit most. I felt like I’d spent the afternoon in a Florence and the Machine video (in the best possible way.)

If I had to make suggestions, I’d say it would have been lovely to have a bit of music near the entrance to add to the atmosphere, some guidance about what was happening at the start and a little more seating near the food vendors. But really, they’re only tiny improvements – from the spotless loos to the brilliant acting, Wild Rumpus got it right.

The Spellbound Forest was a great way to escape the city and made an average ramble in the countryside look like a walk to the corner shop. In fact, I’d love to see Wild Rumpus cast their spell in schools and parks of more urban necks of the wood. What they do is unique: creating beautiful, memorable family events in the glorious great outdoors.

The best testament to that was Tom, who came into my bedroom this morning, stretched, yawned and said “Oh-wurr! I wish we were still in that Spellbound Forest.”

Find out more about the events of Wild Rumpus here.

 This is a review post. Wild Rumpus very kindly sent us our tickets to the event.

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Hide and Seek

Alright, alright I give in: it would be quite nice to have a man.

It was fine when I was 25 and not really bothered and just having fun, then I blinked a couple of times and now I am nearly 30.

Working in a job where you never meet anyone new, partying less and writing more mean there’s only one place to meet one: THE INTERNET. The scary, horrible internet.

I’ve been petrified of doing online dating for a long time. It feels a lot like you’re putting your head on an emotional parapet. After all, no one would walk around with a sandwich board on saying “HELP! I really want a boyfriend!” And I don’t know if I even want a boyfriend (is there a better word than that? I also dislike ‘partner’ – reminds me of the old stationery shops and sounds like it should be prefixed by “howdy”.) Life is too busy and the house too untidy for sharing. But where’s the harm in going for a couple of drinks with someone new? (If I had a quid for every time I’d heard someone say that…)

My friend came round and we went on a dating website and decided which of the men on it looked OK. I thought about it while I was in Wales and when I got back, I signed up.

In I logged, ready for anything. I’d start by looking for the men my friend and I had found.

But all of them had vanished. Just like that: gone.

They did seem lovely, but I couldn’t believe every one of them had been snapped up over the Bank Holiday weekend.

I logged out of the website, searched again and they all magically reappeared.

Weird.

I copied the link to one of the profiles I liked, logged back in and pasted it in the address bar.

There he was! But a big fat cross told me he was not a match for me because I’ve got a child. I think I actually heard this noise in my head.

He and hundreds like him are hiding from the single mums.

Of course the festival-going, globe-trotting creative with the cute smile doesn’t want to go out with someone who has kids, of course he doesn’t.

I got a bit upset, if I’m honest. Mainly because given the choice, I probably would have ticked the ‘no kids’ box too. If only people knew that going out with a single parent didn’t have to be complicated.

Coincidentally, Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 was running a single parenting feature all last week. On Friday, they did a single parent dating phone in. A bloke called in and said he wanted to talk about things from his perspective as the boyfriend / partner / man of a single Mum.

What a goodun, I thought, nice bit of press for Team Single Mum.

Then he said his girlfriend’s child has too much energy, which, he claimed, ‘is not always directed in a positive manner’ and that her ex comes round to see his son and he ends up feeling like he wants to disappear.

Wonderful.

So I toyed, not for the first time, with the notion of making a profile where I didn’t mention the child. It would be an experiment, of sorts – but also a way to get to know people who would otherwise be hidden from view. I mean, in real life, you get talking to people long before you tell them you have a child.

But at what point, if things went well, would you tell them?

I needed a male opinion. I texted my friend, who recently became a dad and isn’t known for his tact. He wrote back:

Depends if you just want a shag then lie but you want more so dont lie

Thanks.

In the end, I couldn’t do it. I know I mustn’t go on dates and start talking aboutTom’s certificates and the tooth fairy, but it would be a real effort to not mention him at all, especially four drinks in. It would add even more of an edge to an already frankly terrifying experience.

I can’t lie about my son’s existence, I just can’t. He’s a much a part of me as my blue eyes, love of music and my MA – all the kind of credentials you list on a dating site.

So, I think I’m going to try again.

(Soon.)

The links in this post are sponsored, but I was going to write about this anyway and I mean everything I have said.

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ARAF

I think I’m falling a little bit in love with Wales.

When he came to meet me at Gladstone’s Library last month, Tom spotted a squirrel in the woods. It was the silliest squirrel either of us had ever seen; swinging upside down from a tree by his back legs, like a daft, woodland pendulum.

“The squirrels in Wales are different to the ones in England,” Tom whispered, in a serious voice, as though we were in the Madagascan rainforest and he was David Attenborough. Or Steve Backshall.

The thing is that being in Wales really does feel like you’re somewhere completely different (and not just because of the silly squirrels and the fact it says ARAF on the roads.)

We went last weekend, further down this time, to Ceredigion. It was our second visit and I had forgotten just how beautiful the drive there was. (Actually, my excellent friend and neighbour did the driving and I’d like to thank her for that.)

Only about an hour of the journey is motorway, then it’s into the wilds. You have to stop for a last loo visit before the turn-off, otherwise it’s wild wees and funny little petrol stations all the way. There are big forests of gangly pine trees that make you feel like you’re driving into an American horror film. The roads twist and wind through nothing, occasionally swooping into valleys that make you gasp. Granted, there are parts where the gorse is the only colour and you know you wouldn’t make it out of the house for booze and bog roll in the winter, but it’s pretty spectacular.

On the edge of it all, next the Irish Sea, is the best British seaside town I’ve ever found: New Quay. The sea’s almost Caribbean blue, patches of the beach are made entirely of a load of crushed up shells, the rock pools are slate grey and dolphins hang out in the bay. And there’s a £1.20 shop (which used to be called the £1 shop and has the “.20” shoved on the end in a different font.) New Quay is tucked away, not on a throroughfare; you’d really have to know to get there. It’s thought to have been the influence for the ‘cliff-perched town at the far end of Wales’, from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood and a Thomas trail takes you round buildings of significance. The people are really friendly – and have good taste in masonry paint: in New Quay (and nearby Aberaeron,) the residents paint their houses beautiful colours: cornflower, bright yellow, lilac and orange. Why don’t more people do that? Imagine the Manc terraces coloured in (it would all go wrong though – there’d be pale blue versus bright red warfare.)

That’s my favourite coloured house on top of the hill.

We weren’t staying at the seaside but inland, on a farm, where Tom enjoyed being the ‘big boy’ to the extremely cute sixteen month old in our party. There were lambs everywhere and more red kites than Manchester has pigeons. It was windy and miserable but it didn’t matter. Tom named, hassled and loved the resident chickens all weekend. (Three of Henrietta VIII’s Assistant’s eggs came back to Manchester with us and got made into butties and omelettes.)

When I got home, I felt woozy – stoned even – and the only thing I’d inhaled all weekend was woodsmoke and the scent of singed marshmallows. I even managed to have a couple of dreams while I was there. That’s really switching off (or getting knocked out by the air.)

You know when people say they’re moving to the country to buy their children chickens and live happily ever after? I always thought “Twee. Manchester wins. Don’t like the country. Lonely. Bleak. Keep me here.”

I do wonder though, sometimes…

This lot caused delays and lots of giggles.

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Oops

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The Tooth Fairy: Keeping It Real

We’re only on tooth number two, but I’m getting asked loads of questions about tooth fairy logistics and I don’t think I can keep it up much longer. I reckon we’ve got two more teeth max before he works it out, but I’m determined to keep ours alive for a bit longer. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Children lose teeth sooner than you think. One day, they’re wailing as they break through, next thing they’re whooping that they’re on their way out. It’s a very stark reminder that this whole business goes fast. Prepare early and buy or allocate a pot or bag for milk tooth use.
  2. The teeth aren’t very nice to look at. Removed from a smile scenario, they look like mishapen lumps of gravel with horrible bloody holes in the bottom. It’s a wonder they ever bit through anything.
  3. When asked what the tooth fairy needs teeth for, I said they’re building bricks. There’s a lot of development going on in Tooth Fairy World right now, including the erection of a new library, a school and some blocks of flats. Feel free to come up with your own answer, but plan it in advance – you don’t want to get caught off guard.
  4. Tooth fairy names add depth and authenticity. Ours is called Pearly White. You could always introduce new fairies, but they should mention in their note that the main one is off for the night, perhaps because of a broken wing or similar.
  5. Write the notes in tiny handwriting on tiny pieces of paper. If, after writing the note, you fill in your child’s reading record and notice marked similarities between your own handwriting and that of the fairy, start again: write a new note, compare it to the reading record writing and sneak back into the room to swap. Do not leave the pen you used to write the fairy note lying around.
  6. Chopping up bits of leftover Christmas ribbon (as advised in an earlier post) might not be the best way to create ‘fairy dust.’ (“Is that fairy dust real?” I was asked with a smirk at bedtime last night.) If you don’t clear out your dressing table drawers very often, you’ll probably find a pot of iridescent eye shimmer that you should have binned ten years ago. If not, go to Superdrug and buy some. This will do the trick. (“Wow! when I opened my pot, there was real fairy glitter all over my fingers!”) Use liberally, but remove all traces when you’re done. That stuff gets everywhere.
  7. There’s some debate about how much money a child should be given for a tooth. Our tooth pot is just the right size for a pound coin, so that settled it for me. Twenty quid over the course of a few years seems fair enough. (Actually, does anyone know how long it takes for all of the teeth to fall out?)
  8. Be stealthy: Tell the child that the fairy can only get the tooth from under the pillow if it’s somewhere near the edge. Do not put it on the side nearest the wall. Be ninja-like; you absolutely cannot get caught, under any circumstances.
  9. Feign surprise. No matter how sleepy you are when your child bounds into your room at six am and tells you that the tooth fairy came, remember to act surprised and excited. On second thoughts, don’t act too surprised – you promised she would come. “Oh wow! What did she bring you?” should suffice.
  10. Remember to hide the teeth somewhere far, far away where they can never be found, preferably in Fairy Land. If you can’t get there, put them in a box inside another box, on the dusty top of the highest shelf. Repeat 19 times.

Since writing this, I’ve found out about Palaces, an interesting arts / science project that aims to make a magnificent sculpture out of thousands of tiny milk teeth. I’m off to find out more…

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