Choir better

Why I ♥ Gareth Malone…and I ♥ singing, too

I’m not one to go gooey over celebrities, A-list or otherwise. But I must admit to a having a huge soft spot for the nation’s favourite choirmaster, Gareth Malone.

Ever since I first saw him on the tellybox in 2006, fronting the original series of The Choir, I’ve been his NUMBER ONE FAN. (And even though I italicised that, I don’t mean it in a scary, Kathy Bates kinda way. Honest.)

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years and don’t know who Gareth is or what he does, let me explain his USP: he creates choirs from disparate groups of people. To do this, he coaxes harmonies from the tuneless, pulls the apathetic to their feet, and convinces the cripplingly shy that their voice is worth hearing. The resulting documentaries have, for me, been the most inspiring and entertaining reality shows to ever hit our screens.

You know what? I was so inspired by Gareth and his programmes that three years ago, I joined a choir myself. I’ve always been a bit of a shower-warbler and something of a karaoke-dabbler, but I’ve found that singing in a large group is the most fun of all. With many voices delivering three or four-part harmonies, even amateurs can make some really nice sounds. And it’s true that singing is effective therapy: whatever mood I start rehearsals in, I always finish them on a high.

That’s us in the picture above: The Grand Union Community Choir.

Anyway, the actual reason I’m writing this post is because on Monday, the best thing ever to happen to me on Twitter happened. I won a signed copy of Gareth’s new book.

I’m not sure if I was plucked randomly, or whether they somehow knew that I was Gareth’s greatest fan. But either way, I was quite chuffed about it.

Specs appeal: Please Gareth, can I be in your next choir?

So this is just to say a big thank you to Gareth and his publishers, HarperCollins, for sending me this scrumptious prize.

Also, if you like singing (or think you might), go join a choir. You won’t regret it.

Baby Lily 1

Happy Birthday, Miss P. Don’t grow up too fast, will you?

Happy eleventh birthday, Miss P!

It’s not an especially notable age, but it is the first time you’ve hit matching double digits. And now that you’ve been at middle school for more than a year, and your birthday gifts are no longer toys, but a camera of your own, cash, boots and bling, it seems to me that you are nudging ever further away from the little girl I’ve been living with until now.

I know kids are growing up faster now and yes, it bothers me dreadfully sometimes. This part of parenting you seems more beset with doubts than any other bit of parenting you so far.

Maybe we shouldn’t have let you have your ears pierced, and maybe we shouldn’t let you watch those ruder episodes of Miranda. Maybe we shouldn’t have bought you the patent party shoes with the heel, and maybe we shouldn’t let you go beyond our front door – even for very special occasions – with lip gloss on. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so quick to let you walk to school and back on your own, and maybe you shouldn’t be in possession of a mobile phone for which we must cough up for cost of the social texts you’re already so keen on sending.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Of course, a bit of me would like you to stay a little girl forever, and pull you back as the march of time, the pressure of peers, and the toxic influences of this modern world thrust you forward. But I know in my heart it’s an inevitable trajectory from now on: those patent-clad feet of yours have already set off on the long path to adulthood – via the ups and downs of adolescence, of course.

And actually, I also feel excited and proud when I look at the interesting person you’re developing into, and think about the thrills that lie ahead for you.

PS, is it really possible you were once this small?

Puzzle cropped

Middle-aged? Turns out I’m not after all!

Well, that’s a relief. I found out this week that middle age actually begins at 55 , which is marvellous, as it gives me another 12 years to play with.

However, I must admit to finding this surprising news. Because, you know what, I was SO sure I was middle-aged already.

Here’s why:

  1. Nothing, but nothing, delights me more of an evening than settling in front of the Great British Bake Off in my jim-jams.
  2. Completing minor domestic tasks such as re-ordering the spice rack makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
  3. I’ve started doing puzzles.
  4. My roots need colouring monthly – that is, unless I actually WANT to look like a badger.
  5. I haven’t played Radio 1 for more than a decade – and frankly, Radio 2 is beginning to sound a bit too hip for its own good.
  6. When I talk, I hear my mother. When I look in the mirror, I see my father.
  7. I dance like a mum. I DANCE LIKE A MUM!
  8. Skinny jeans? Are you having a LARF?
  9. I don’t bother with a bra some days. #lostcause
  10. I have embraced as much digital technology as I am capable of. For help with the rest, I must turn to my ten-year-old. Or Nickie.
  11. Good Housekeeping is quite simply the most appealing monthly on the market.
  12. I don’t read the small print any more. I CAN’T read the small print any more.
  13. I’ve taken to calling people ‘love’. Random strangers included.
  14. I go to kitchen suppers. We compare notes on vegetable growing.
  15. Sunday night costume dramas make me feel, um, frisky.


Guinea pigs 1

In which we review Guinea Pigs Online

Now look, there’s nowt wrong with a little bit of nepotism once in a while and in the spirit of that, I would like to warmly recommend to you a new children’s book called Guinea Pigs Online: a very funny, slightly whacky tale of small pets in a digital world.

It’s written by children’s authors Jennifer Gray and Amanda Swift, with delightful illustrations by Sarah Horne and, oh alright then, if you must know, Amanda is my paternal cousin so I’m slightly biased BUT nevertheless, I really do think it’s a delightful read for kids aged 5+.

The Misses P (aged ten and eight) both gobbled it up with much joy, with the younger declaring it worth ‘ten stars’ and the elder reporting it was ‘completely crazy – but in a good way’.

Brief plot precis here for you, courtesy of my daughters:

There were two guinea pigs called Fuzzy and Coco. They lived together in a hutch their owners with Henrietta and Ben. Henrietta’s guinea pig was Coco, and Ben’s guinea pig was Fuzzy. What happened was Coco lived with the Queen. One day she put Coco in the wrong handbag and it turned out to be Henrietta’s handbag and then Ben was found scrunched up in a hutch and Ben and Henrietta didn’t know each other though. Ben took Fuzzy to the vets and because Henrietta worked there they saw each other and fell in love. and they then got married. One day Fuzzy sees in the newspaper that Scarlett Cleaver, a famous television cook, is looking for Guinea Pigs to eat them, but he gets the wrong idea and thinks it’s to test people. Fuzzy goes on the computer to get the address and runs away. Coco gets help from her friend Banoffee who lives next door who gets her son Terry to help Coco get the address. But then Coco gets an email from a mysterious person asking to meet up with her, turns out it’s a fox but Eduardo another guinea pig saves her and helps her get to the Meat Cleaver which is Scarlet’s new restaurant and when they get there they find out the Queen is coming.  Then they rescue all the guinea pigs – who are captured in glass cages, including Fuzzy. But then Coco gets caught and Scarlett plans to dish her up to the Queen – raw and alive! She serves her up under a silver tray and the Queen recognises Coco and together they work out how Coco got into the handbag in the first place. Coco and Fuzzy go home they get taken by the Queen on a little velvet cushion and Coco plays the harp. And they live happily ever after.

Hmm, ok, well, not that brief really. But still, not too many plot spoilers I hope.

There’s a second book in the series coming out in January, apparently, so there’s further adventures to look forward to. Swing by the book’s Amazon page if you would like to purchase a copy, do.

Squeak squeak!


She’s bored. Time to go back to school, I think…..

Miss P the elder has just informed me she is bored. She has nothing to do.

I am not that surprised by this, as she has been bored and without something to do for much of the last six weeks and, with a day and a half still to go before she must return to matters educational, she’s getting in one last grumble about the dearth of stimulating pastimes on offer to her here at home over the holidays.

My dear Miss P, I am sorry you are bored and that you have nothing to do. I’m sorry there are no dancing girls, circus workshops, or firework displays scheduled for your entertainment right now.


Here are some ideas though.

Why don’t you read one of the several dozen unread books that are in your book shelves? Why don’t you challenge your sister to one of the numerous games we are lucky enough to own, or tackle one of those craft kits you’ve been gifted but never got around to opening? Come to think of it, how about doing something useful to help your old mum around the house? Tidy up your own bedroom, maybe, or go through your wardrobe and drawers and put all the things you never wear into a charity bag? What say you catalogue your Jacqueline Wilson comics, or your Harry Potter audio CDs, scattered all over the shop as they are right now? How’s about writing the birthday thank you letters you never got around to last year? Practise your trumpet? Locate your pencil case and get your school bag ready for Thursday? Clean out the rabbits? (The ones you promised you would always clean out but, um, never do?)

Or hey, why don’t you just go and lie on your back in the garden in the sun, daydreaming about nothing in particular and making the most of these last few moments of having absolutely nothing to do?

One day soon you’ll be a grown up, kid, and then you will never be bored, because you will always have something to do. Too many things to do.

Roll on the new term….

cheap tadalafil

Camping better

Ten things I hate about camping

The annual Family P camping jaunt is over for another year. And actually, it looks like it could be over in a permanent way for me. Having grumbled and sulked fairly unremittingly through my three day maximum and announced that next year I may only be able to stomach two, Mr P’s rather curt suggestion was that I make it zero and stay at home altogether from now on. Humph.

But seriously, what is it with camping? I can see why kids like it because for them there is always going to be novelty value in sleeping in a bag and eating off a plastic plate, but what in God’s name has it got to offer grown-ups? What are they on, those countless happy campers I see pootling to the toilet block in their Crocs as though there was absolutely nothing to be feared in trying to pass a number two within earshot of a dozen other people, or trying to wash off the previous day’s filth under 15-second bursts of insufficient lukewarm drizzle?

You’re gonna tell me it’s all about the fresh air on your face, aren’t you? That it’s the back-to-nature-ness and spirit of adventure that thrills? Yeah, well as far as I’m concerned, you can pop all those things in your Porta Potti and flush it. Fair enough if you’re looking for a masochistic spin to your summer break, but me, I like to kick back and relax when I’m on holiday, not put myself through a series of unpleasant physical and mental challenges. And actually I suspect that camping isn’t really enjoyed by anyone – it is merely a way for the middle classes to feel less guilty about their comfortable lives by roughing it for a short period every year. Just a theory.

Anyway, here you go then: ten things I hate about camping. Go on – shoot me down in flames, outdoorsy types. I don’t care. I’m booking into a B&B next year.

  1. Having to erect your own accommodation: Ensuring that you’re sweating, swearing, exhausted, and have generally lost the will to live before the holiday has even started! Bonkers.
  2. Exposure to inclement weather: It’s not until you’re staying outdoors that you realise quite how unbelievably fecking cold and wet this country is. Even in August. Unfortunately, having an okay time whilst camping is entirely reliant on having okay weather. There is no reliable plan B when it rains, other than huddling together in the tent with a pack of cards and a large bar of Dairy Milk, or sitting in the nearest pub. And on the same subject: being so cold that you’re unable to feel the tip of your own nose when you wake in the morning is not a plus, to my mind.
  3. Sleeping on an inflatable/sleeping in a sleeping bag: I appreciate this is old-fashioned of me, but I tend to place comfort fairly high on my lists requirements vis-a-vis holiday accommodation and in particular, sleeping arrangements. Trying to pass the night on a steadily deflating plastic mattress whilst encased in a tight nylon sausage skin does not cut it.
  4. Night-time bladder issues: Seriously, what are you going to do when you’re camping and you wake up needing a wee at night (which I customarily do – at least twice): wake the whole family in the noisy process of unzipping the tent, and venture across the potentially perilous (see number 8), cold, dark, silent site to the toilets proper? Or just take a piss right there in a plastic washing up bowl? Happy choice, no? I plump for the latter – it makes the tent smell bad but at least my feet don’t get exposed to the night air for longer than 60 seconds.
  5. Communal crapping: Can’t do it. Just can’t. Have to hold it in. Further discomfort.
  6. Rubbish showers: Would it hurt for campsites to install decent showers? Particularly given that camping makes you muddier, sweatier, and smellier than ordinary, civilised living.
  7. Warm milk; rank butter; leaking hummus: the joys of catering from a cold bag.
  8. Fear: Does anyone else find night-time in a tent on a rural campsite ABSOLUTELY terrifying? The pitch black, the utter quiet, the spooky wild animal squawks, the claustrophobia, the sheer bleddy Blair Witchy-ness of it all? And not even the possibility of a cuddle to make it better, since a) I can’t get my arms out of my sleeping bag and b) Mr P has in any case decamped from the marital pod to the tent’s central area due to being six foot two and needing to stretch his feet out.
  9. Living in chaos: How I love to live out of a car boot! NOT. Tents fall short of my ideal accommodation in many ways but not least because there is simply nowhere to put anything, other than in a general mish-mashy heap in the middle bit. For someone who likes a certain amount of order in life, this is hard to cope with.
  10. Having to leave all my good stuff at home: I appreciate that one’s family and a pack of cards should be all one needs to achieve perfect happiness on holiday. But by heck, I miss my computer, my telly, my iPod and my guitar when I’m camping. (Did I also mention that I miss my toilet?)

Messy room 001

Messy bedrooms: nag, tidy or avoid?

So. Messy bedrooms.

What’s a mum to do? Close the door and let it go; nag until it gets tidied; or just get in there and restore order oneself – because let’s face it, it’s the only way it’s ever going to get done properly and until then, you can’t effing well find anything they need, when it’s needed, or indeed recover the mislaid items of your own property which have been secreted somewhere among the detritus.

(I’m reluctant to make any wild accusations in case it turns out I’ve just lost it myself, but at the moment, I can’t quite shake the suspicion that my missing iPod is languishing underneath something, somewhere, in the devastation zone you see above).

My daughters’ bedrooms are more or less always messy – apart from during the nanosecond of neatness after I’ve been in myself and blitzed them – but right now, a week and a bit into the summer holidays, the Misses P have truly surpassed themselves in their aptitude for creating chaos in their personal corners of this house.

Some people say it’s one of those issues you should probably just chill about. No harm is being caused, and if they choose to wallow in their own untidiness, so be it.

Thing is, I cannot let it go. It’s not that my domestic standards are THAT exacting, really – there are cobwebs and sticky skirting boards aplenty round here to testify to that – but I do feel that a certain amount of order is necessary for a busy family to function. Practically speaking, you need to get those crusty cereal bowls into the sink at some point, otherwise there won’t be anything to put your breakfast in towards the end of the week, and dirty clothes really do have to go through the laundry if anyone is ever going to have anything to wear again. In term time, living among random piles of your own cack becomes particularly impractical, since you need to be able to locate that school tie or crumpled item of homework if you’re going to get everyone out the door of a morning without blowing a gasket.

Anyhoo, seeing as I’m properly flummoxed about the best way to tackle this situation, I asked Sue Atkins – a proper parenting expert, who helped me with my first book, Cool, Calm Parent – for her thoughts. She says she feels my pain because she’s been there with her own untidy daughter, and agrees, for the sake of getting on with life, you can’t really just shut the door and leave it all to fester.  But is it unreasonable of me to want tidy rooms – and unrealistic to expect them to maintain them?

‘I think it’s important they keep on top of messy bedrooms for themselves, not just for the obvious practical reasons but because it’s part of being a family team – and because it’s an important life skill they need to learn so they can look after themselves one day,’ Sue tells me.

Ok, so they really do need pulling up on this. But how? Last time I instructed Miss P the elder to go and tidy her room, she spent ten minutes pushing everything on the floor in the middle of the room to its edges. It was not so much tidying, as shunting the mess into a different area.

‘You need to be assertive and confident when you tell them to tidy up – and very clear about what specifically you want them to do,’ Sue goes on. ‘In fact, it’s a good idea to write it down for them: ‘Put your pencils in the pot, hang your clothes in the wardrobe, put your books in the bookshelf’, and so on. You want her to keep on top of it rather than letting it become really bad, so you could have a checklist up with, perhaps, five basic tasks which she needs to do every day. Putting her PJs under the pillow, for example, making her bed, and putting her dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Give praise or a reward if she keeps at it – but not money. I don’t think kids should be paid for keeping their own rooms tidy. After all, we don’t get paid for cooking their dinner, do we?’

Seems like wise words to me. I have in the past flirted with the idea of using cold hard cash bribes to get their rooms sorted, but now I come to think of it, bugger that. I do plan to have a crack at the written instructions and checklists, though. And I guess I do need to chill a bit and let at least some of it go – as Sue suggests.

‘Kids don’t like tidying their rooms, they’ve got better stuff to do. So there’s no point in expecting it to be pristine,’ she says. ‘And you don’t want to end up being a nag about it, because in the scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal. There’s no point in sweating the small stuff, otherwise they won’t listen when it comes to the things that really matter, later on.’

Talking of later on, I am assured by my friend Pippa – mother to two girls of the teenage variety – that I have many, many cycles of wrecked rooms, quiet despair, giving in, and giving up, ahead of me. She has kindly shared these delightful images of her youngest’s bedroom with me, along with a warning that it’s only going to get worse.

‘You think it’s messy now? Wait until they’re older – and smellier,’ she advises me, ominously. ‘I do try and let it go, but I find it impossible not to think about what lurks behind that door. In fact, I obsess about it. Once in a while I give in, hold my breath, and go inside: it’s the only way I can get any of her clothes through the wash or reclaim a cup when I need one. Some of the dirty dishes I find in there should have a health warning – it’s easier to throw them away than attempt to clean them.’   

Hmm. Sounds like I need to overhaul some bad habits round here before it’s too late. Meanwhile, in order to achieve a blank canvas and a fresh start, I think I’m just going to have to don my flak jacket, roll my sleeves up, and launch an offensive.

As the saying goes, if you want a job doing….


Big thanks to Sue for her advice in this post. Check out her website for more information about her work, or take a look at her latest book.