Jul 212014
 

I have noticed, recently, that a few well-established blogs are going about somewhat of a transformation – namely – they are changing their name and twitter handle etc. The key reason behind this seems to be that the blog name no longer reflects who they are or what they write about. Brave move. Stupid move? I don’t think so. Partly because they are so well-set in the blogging world that everyone will know who they are anyway, and followers will just keep on following. I also think it is wise to move with the times, keep up with changes and also with who you are. These bloggers are actually staying true to themselves and what blogging IS, so hats off to them.

imagesNow, I have always been a teeny bit of a sheep. So all this got me thinking….this blog is now weeks off being 3 years old and I wondered – perhaps it has also outgrown its name?

I named it ‘Hello Wall…’ after Shirley Valentine, a 42 year old housewife, stuck with no proper conversation or raison d’être and so, she finds sanctuary in talking to the wall. (For further clarification – take a look at my ‘About Me‘ page for an excerpt).

So I look to my life: not solely a housewife, a part-time one. 41. Lots going on with Paper Swans taking off…

Hmmm…

I then remember a conversation I had just last night, where I questioned if I had changed in the last few years? Life has certainly moved forward and things seem better generally, but are things really different? The answer I got then answers the question I have now raised about whether my blog needs a change?

What was the answer?

Well, you’d have to ask the kitchen wall…

 

 

I apologise for the overuse of italics in this post. Oh, bugger. I’ve done it again.

Jun 272014
 

My body speaks to me; the ultimate body language.

It says:

‘FFS turn the lights out.’

‘Yes, your bum DOES look big in that.’ 

‘You used to be so much slimmer, I mean LOOK at you!’

‘Really? Shorts?’

‘Stop eating. Just stop.’

‘You look hideous in that, just look at your belly.’

IMG_1623

Ah, yes. My belly. My nemesis.

We all have parts of our bodies that torture us. Some people can eat cake and it goes to their hips; their thighs; their arms – me? It’s all about the belly.

As soon as I eat (especially carbs) my belly expands. I’m sure if you cared to stare at it for 10 minutes while I eat pasta you would actually witness its growth. Recently, one of my pupils asked if I was pregnant. They say kids speak the truth, and, although a wholly inappropriate comment, I knew that they saw what I see.

Without carbs, it goes flat (ish). but one sniff at a bagel and it literally balloons.

And I hate it. My belly. I hate it. Before I had kids it would poing back into place but three kids later….not so much.

Then I realised what a pile of crap this is.

Some of you probably don’t know, but I am the co-founder of Paper Swans which is dedicated to poetry and flash fiction. And over at Paper Swans we have launched our #bodybeautiful project for women just like me. And you, possibly. Women, who thanks to the media indoctrination, think that we should be skeletal and unnaturally proportioned. So five poets have written postcards (free for the taking – mine is about peeing when you sneeze.  I know.) about the subject of a post-child belly and we are getting our #showusyourbelly campaign trending. I am in awe and moved by the women who have been so brave and gutsy to send me photographs of their bellies for our slideshow. It’s totally anonymous, emails are deleted as soon as the image is added to the slideshow, and it is a campaign to normalise women’s bodies. Show that we are all the same. We even have a celebrity belly on there but you won’t know which it is because celebrity status means nothing when it comes to post-natal bodies. Mumsnet featured us in their newsletter this week and we are hoping the word will spread…

I really hope you’ll take a look and JOIN IN. It’s all for the right reasons and whatever size or shape you are we think your bellies are wonderful. I have even come to terms with my own because of it. Free therapy! And women, empowering themselves.

Gotta be good.

#showusyourbelly

Jun 152014
 

IMG_2125Yep. In 5 days time it’s Britmums Live. And this year I am a butterfly. No, not literally, but there to smile and chat to the more apprehensive amongst you and assure you that we are all the same. Some might seem louder, but that’s just compensation for nerves. Crap. I’M nervous and I’m a flipping’ butterfly!!

But that’s because I know how it is.

I decided to write this post as a sort of interview with myself. Three years ago. When I was first attending Britmums and had SO many questions that didn’t quite seems to be answered…

I don’t know ANYONE who is going.

You and most other people. Those that have the most tenuous of links to someone will be all gushy and loud and (thinking thank GOD I’ve found someone). Give it five minutes and you will be that person. If not, FIND THE BUTTERFLIES.

What do I wear?

Anything you like. Jeans, trainers, dresses, heels, fancy dress…it’s all there and NOBODY cares. Really. I’d go for something comfy – jeans and flats. This year I am being dressed by the lovely Boden so I will be elegance personified. With wings. (Not the sanitary kind I hasten to add).

What do I do with my suitcase?

There is a bag and coat check at the venue. Fear not. They will take care of any excess baggage.

I haven’t been blogging very long…

Doesn’t mean you’re not FABULOUS! (and nobody cares)

When I meet people and they say ‘I blog at..’ and I have no idea – WHAT DO I DO??

Smile and say ‘I haven’t read your blog. Do you have a business card?’

If they do, you have their details and they feel great.

If they don’t, they feel embarrassed and you have the upper hand.

Nobody looks like their Twitter avatar. Who ARE these people?

Your guess is as good as mine. Smile. They like that. Then get out your phone/tablet/card and say…So, WHO are you again? (they will be the ones to feel like their profile isn’t big enough;-))

What if I get to the evening and everyone has plans and I don’t?

PLEASE come and find me (or another butterfly). DO NOT go back to your hotel.

I am going to All Bar One on Friday evening and eating far too much on Saturday. Come and find me.

I am there to meet brands and monetise my blog.

Good luck to you. Go and schmooze…hand out cards, tweet, instagram, Facebook…THEY LOVE IT!

I don’t want to walk in by myself.

Come to the Butterflies page on Facebook. We match up and get people to meet beforehand, like a coffee shop or pub, so they can walk in with friends.

I walk into a seminar and there are TABLES!! Where do I sit?

If you are feeling confident, go up to a free seat and ask “Is anyone sitting here?’ Chances are the answer will be NO and it is a mis-match of lots of bloggers.

Alternatively, (served me well in the past) sit at the end of a free table People will join you. You can do the seminar and not have to talk to anyone. It’s OK. Really.

I am only there for the BiBs…

Good luck. I am not bitter. At all. ;-)

I don’t know my way around London. Help! Scary!

It’s Ok. Everyone is so self-obsessed in London, they won’t notice.

Please, PLEASE, if you have ANY other questions – ask! nothing too silly and all will be answered.

 

I feel very privileged to be a butterfly seeing as I am really quite shy. But I think that means I understand. And I really do.

See you on Friday xx

xx

May 202014
 

I have been having a bit of a rant to anyone who would listen to this week and I thought it only fitting that I should my views to you lovely lot as well.

Last week I read an article that really grabbed me. I am one of the few teachers that actually read the Times Educational Supplement magazine and last week there was an article about how children address men and women differently. I found the article so engaging and clever and pertinent to my feminist tendencies that I ripped it out of the magazine as a keeper. Nobody would have noticed except for the fact that by the next day the story had been picked up by the BBC and (heaven forfend) the Daily Fail.

imageIt basically spoke about the imbalance of the titles ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’ which are given to teachers at school. Sir coming from sire or being equated with knighthood and Miss being, well, anybody really. It went on to comment that in further education, you get a bachelor of arts degree or a Masters and anybody with any academic seniority is a fellow, all terms which have masculine connotations.

I had never noticed this before and, whilst it has not shaped who I am, it does stress the underlying sexism that is in our society. Something that, if you are not on the receiving end, goes unseen but when you feel the effects of it, it is a deep and stabbing undercurrent in the world that we live in.

It stems to racism too. Again, something I had never thought of but brought to my attention in the book Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (children’s Laureate). Plasters. By and large all ‘pink’, all ‘skin colour’. But, whose skin?

These little subtleties may go unnoticed and be ‘liveable’ but when it is you they are grazing each day, you they are itching like that label that won’t sit straight, it gets to you. It irritates and it scratches.

Perhaps we need to cut out the label?

May 152014
 

photoOof, it’s been one of those weeks. You know the kind; you start with it all planned out and then it decides to head south. Via the M25 on a Friday evening. A lot of stopping and starting, a lot of muttered expletives and despite all your efforts to keep ahead of the traffic you realise, with ignoble despondency, that you’re going nowhere. And you’ve run out of sneaky car sweeties (it’s not just me who secretes them in the glove box, surely?).

As the hours pass me by, my ‘To Do’ list gets ever longer and my energy levels ever shorter. I am in the land of ‘I can’t be arsed’ and my ticket out of here is somewhere in the pile of stuff that adorns the kitchen worktop.

I have made myself feel better by writing down what I need to do on a piece of paper (which I’ve lost) and consequently, on my Reminders App. I feel better; I have achieved something and even had the foresight to include ‘making a list’ on my list, just so I had something to cross off.

I know, I know. I need to get a life. I’ll put in on my list. When I can be arsed.

May 152014
 

Last Friday I had the opportunity to go to a bloggy thing at London Zoo. I’ve never done one of these before and I was pleasantly surprised. I was able to take my 4 year-old daughter with me and while we were do the ‘grown-up’ stuff, she was taken very good care of by some children’s entertainers who had more energy in their little fingers than I display in a month. They kept in character throughout, even when we said goodbye, which left we wondering if they were like that all the time…? Good God, I do hope not ;-/

Anyway, the event was run by Bounty and Maynards and was about the psychology of children – the positive effect play and discovery can have on them. I was really impressed with how it was run; in small groups we moved around different areas which included:

A_Maynards_96The magical cave of Myths and Monsters

This demonstrated how important storytelling is to feed and expand the imagination (mine as well as the kids!)

The Doctor’s surgery of body bits

Using objects to play games like ‘Guess the Object’ (blindfolded) or hide and seek with something (my daughter loves it when I hide her teddy around the house)

The safari animals

Acting out animals thought movement, noise and description. My group is the one in the photo but fortunately I was not the one who had to pretend to be a squirrel!

The Explore and Play app

This is the free app which gives children factual information about the different topics after you have found them by scanning around your room. My kids enjoyed playing on this when we got home, especially my nine-year old!

A_Maynards_112 A_Maynards_104

 

 

 

 

 

It was well-organised and all the demonstrators were great fun. The most pertinent comment one of them made (she with the plaits in the photo) was the look on our faces when we described the ‘shows’ we used to do for our parents. It made me realise how much I had enjoyed doing them and the fact that we could all remember doing shows/dressing up/dances for our parents with our faces lit up with memories, spoke volumes.

I know for a fact I don’t play with my kids as much as I should. Partly due to screens, partly due to time constraints and partly due to energy. I have three kids and I work. They play together and I am usually exhausted. But when I make the effort to play with them, make up games in the car, do an activity with them, it is not only the pleasure of doing it that rewards me but the knowledge that they are making memories. I feel that kids of today are so ‘spoon-fed’ that they are losing independent thought and inquisition. I see it when I teach as well as kids I see socially. It is not down to spoiling them (although we often do) but more about the fact that everything is instant for them. They want an answer, they google it. They want to know how something works, go to YouTube. They are raised in a world of instant gratification and no longer strive to explore and discover. Little kids do, and this is what we need to nurture.

*gets down off orange box*

glass wing butterfly london zooglass wing butterfly london zooAfter all the fun we got free rein to go around London Zoo. It was so lovely, just me and H. She starts school in September and I have vowed to spend my day off each week making the most of her. We had particular fun in the butterfly house where, despite the man saying they never land on people, three of them landed on me and the biggest moth in the world landed on my leg. I smiled broadly but I think the look of bug-terror gave me away. H loved it, she had glass wings landing on her finger which attracted her an audience (never one to shy away, my daughter). Then we strolled through Regents Park back to the tube to head home. It was just lovely. So a big thank you to Maynards from me and H.

By the way, if any of you know the blog/twitter of the pregnant lady in the photos with the white top (her name was Vita) could you let me know?

May 142014
 

If I were a man, I would be outraged at the blatant sexism in this title. But it’s true; I have man-flu.

I’m dying (I’m not)

My head is about to explode (it’s still intact)

I can’t smell anything (except the kids’ chipolatas cooking – is there a spare one?)

I can’t taste anything (except Frazzles and Freddo Frogs)

The washing up? I am far too weak (plus the footie’s on)

My TLC?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you miss it? Me too.

image

May 102014
 
Look! It's my typewriter!

Look! It’s my typewriter!

In two weeks time my daughter and I will be embarking on our first road trip. We are off to the Hay Festival in, erm, Hay. I mean the place on the River Wye of course, not literally in hay (my days of rolling in the stuff are, alas, over). We are packing our bags and heading for our Travelodge luxury hotel via the scenic route of whatever takes our fancy. The M4 is our oyster…

We have booked to see Jacqueline Wilson (daughter is nine and partial to Tracy Beaker if, thankfully, dissimilar) but apart from that I hope to immerse her in a world of books and words and that earnest desperation we wannabe writers seem to exude. The romantic in me envisages mulling over vintage copies of books I am never likely to read and nodding sagely at long words while secretly googling them under the shield of a large, flouncy scarf.

image

Quite probably, I will be wandering around in dutiful awe and she will be trailing behind in awful duty. But I hope she’ll love it. I hope she’ll feel grown-up, inspired, enriched; drinking in the experience of being away and having some freedom to be herself and discover new things, new places, new people. I hope it will nurture her reticent confidence and give her the courage to ask questions, speak to people and to laugh. Because she’s awfully quiet of late. She has her father’s tendency to internalise and where she was wont to giggle, she now tends to sulk. It is more than likely the impending tweenage hormones digging their claws in, but I can fight harder and I want her smile back.

I plan to stop off en route wherever takes our fancy. To like the name of a town on a signpost and go and see what’s there. I don’t want to be in a hurry. We have three days and two nights to ourselves.

And I can’t wait.

 

 

May 072014
 

tess of the d'UrbervillesMay always makes me reflect on times gone by. Even the word has a vintage quality to it; in my head I think of maypoles and dancing and suddenly I am Tess of the d’Urbervilles catching the eye of Angel Clare on that fateful Wessex morning…

It feels pagan, natural and grounded.

 

may morning oxfordFor me it also brings happy memories of Oxford May Morning; crammed streets at 5am, morris dancers waving belled sticks at the impending hangovers and the purity of choirboys sailing from the top of Magdalen Tower and drifting over eddies of student laughter and humming crowds. I remember, having dutifully stayed up all night to welcome the new month, thinking I had never been so tired. How foolish we are when we are young, before having kids launches us into a whole new world of sleep-deprivation. Foolish, but joyful. I miss it; probably more than I should.

May also brings reminders of family weddings and friends’ birthdays. Spring is in full blast and then comes the annual conviction that picnicking is a concept that works as I peruse Kidston-lined baskets and dream of summer meadows.

Let’s face it, picnics usually consist of squashed sandwiches, sweaty cheese, a random pocket of pom-bears that nobody likes and leaking fruit shoots. Alternatively, it will be a number of snack-packs swiped from the M&S garage on the A21 and a token baguette. Do people really ever sit on gingham blankets sipping chilled wine and seductively popping cherry tomatoes in each others’ mouths? Our picnics have added extras such as wasps, tantrums and (if I’m lucky) a lukewarm gin in a tin. Despite knowing all this I still allow myself to be lured by the picnicware that lines the supermarket shelves. Last year I bought one of those rucksacks that has cutlery for two in the front pocket along with napkins, a corkscrew and mini salt and pepper shakers. The back compartment is thermo-lined and capacious(ish).  I think we used it once (not the front pocket, obvs) and since it has hung in shame on the garage wall.

Last month my husband went to ‘recycle’ it and found that the front zip had been left open and in it was a small nest nursing one tiny blue egg. Wondering if it was abandoned, we reasoned that we would leave it before presenting it to my four-year old as the ultimate show and tell. Well, just look what I found filling the nest last week!

baby robins

Five robins, all staring at me as I peeped in. I noticed the corkscrew was put to good use by Daddy Robin as a convenient perch and the napkins had made the perfect cradle for the nest. My heart melted and I had such a smile on my face all day long. I felt the joy.

And then, this morning, they were gone. One perfectly woven basket, the only evidence they were there. Oh, and a lot of droppings NONE of which landed on my husband’s toolkit below *ahem*.

I am loathed to move it and want to leave it there, just in case….

And I may.

May 032014
 

In an act of pure self-indulgence I bought myself something.

I showed it to my daughter and she said ‘Oh, it’s one of those, um, old-fashioned computer thingies.’

A typewriter.

typewriter

My kids didn’t know what a typewriter was but they thought they’d seen one once, in a land far, far away….

My husband just rolled his eyes at me with a look of ‘You’ll never use it and where is it going to go?’

Ha!  Well, I will use it and it’s going to go…um…oh, I don’t know where. When I get my writing room it will have pride of place on a vintage desk…

It is gorgeous and came in its original bag with manual. A 1959 turquoise Olivetti Lettera 22. Made in Glasgow. And it felt strangely natural to type on, the physical feeling came flooding back to me. It even smelled like I remember typewriters to smell (inky!). Yes, I had to whack the the keys quite hard so my fingertips hurt afterwards and yes, there is no exclamation mark (my friend reminded me you have to do a full stop then backspace and type an apostrophe). However, there is a much more useful 3/8 key!

I didn’t get much time to play before the kids were on it and they loved it – I am sure this is novelty value, but it was so lovely to see them typing away/fighting each other over whose turn it was.

IMG_2595

It brings out the nostalgia in me, the fact that I used my mother’s manual typewriter as a child and now, as a hopeful writer myself, I drift into a world of thinking of all the great literature that has been tapped out on just such a thing. I am a huge fan of Graham Greene and it makes me think of him, especially (on that note I picked up a first edition Greene in my doctor’s surgery the other day – never was I more pleased to be ill).

After the kids had gone to bed (and my husband too) I sat down in front of it and took a moment before starting to type my first poem on it.

The ink had run out and it needed a new ribbon.

Bloody kids…

Apr 302014
 

I’m on it! And a little bit gobsmacked. I was secretly hoping, yet maintaining a safe degree of nonchalance as I really didn’t expect to be there and wanted to retain some kernel of pride. But you know how it is; the so often half-empty cup we writers nurse so well as we burn the midnight oil, wrestling with syntax and metaphor. To be given any sort of credit or adulation in the public sphere is like that time at school when your essay was given not just any sticker, but a glittery sticker that sparkled and proclaimed ‘THIS is in your face brilliant’. Then you’d draw around it in pencil just to make sure everyone could see it.

Well, I can’t make it sparkle (at least I don’t think pic monkey stretches to that) but here is my sticker!

VOTE FOR ME BiB 2014 WRITER

Now I need your votes to help get me on to the final list…please, PLEASE consider voting for Hello Wall… in the Writers Category – there’s some amazing competition, so to get through to the final six would give me such a thrill and believe me, with two dogs and three kids you don’t get many of those.

A lady called Sarah (that’s me!)
Loved writing since she was just wee
So she started a blog
On which she could log
All her mischief for others to see.

Award time is here and I need
Your support, so I beg and I plead
Please click on the link
And I’ll be in the pink
‘Twould be such a marvellous deed!

I might get to London in June
Yes, the final will come all too soon!
It’s ‘The Oscars’ for blogs
The most clever of clogs
If I won I’d be over the moon!

Apr 292014
 

imageLast weekend I ventured north to Birmingham to attend my first BlogCamp run by Tots100. Rather indulgently, I went up the night before and stayed in a lovely, old-fashioned (but in a good way) hotel in the Burlington Arcade, just a kitten’s sneeze away from New St Station, Primani and one of the loveliest Waterstones I have had the pleasure of getting lost in (treated myself to a special edition of The Bell Jar).

It was also about 90 seconds walk away from BlogCamp, even if I did have to google map it. Ahem.

I had a rather self-indulgent night in the hotel which started with a Cosmo in the bar. I battled my way through a small group of effervescent pensioners and found a small corner where I could read my new book and sip my favourite cocktail. I did get a few quizzical looks but I am somebody who is quite happy with their own company and the freedom and time to be able to sit and read with a very well-made cocktail (if I may say so) was just pure bliss.

Now, I am not sure if it was too many Cosmos or the dodgy baguette I got for myself in Euston station, but I felt a bit peculiar the next day and made it through two sessions of BlogCamp before surrendering to my growling stomach and heading back home to Kent.

Which, as it turns out, was a blessing in disguise as Birmingham was compounded by riot police and the front of my hotel and the street where the conference centre was swathed in police and barriers and all trains to London cancelled.

You don’t get that in Tunbridge Wells!

Well, not unless Fenwicks has a blue-cross sale on.

I lived in Brum for a year in 1994/5 when I was at drama school and I didn’t recognise the place. Not at all. I struggled to find my way out of the station, let alone navigate some of my old haunts. I did recognise the people though: friendly, chatty, loud and of diverse ethnicity.

You don’t get that in Tunbridge Wells either.

BlogCamp was great, in a very funky venue and, although I didn’t know many bloggers there, it was the kind of place you can grab a coffee and tap on the iPad without looking unusual. And I did get to finally meet the very lovely (and very tall) Victoria Welton!

I wish I could have gone to the food photography seminar as well as the writing one, a feeling exacerbated by the fact my contrite stomach made me miss the portrait photography session too. However, in a couple of weeks I am going on a one-day DSLR course, so watch out Silent Sunday! The food blogging session was great and I got in touch with the lovely Tinned Tomatoes who has given me some sage advice for my What Would Nigella Do? blog. What a lovely, generous blogger!

Great to get away, great to see Birmingham again and an indulgence to have all that time to myself.

Funny how you miss the kids though…

Apr 202014
 

I have invented a new label for myself: I am to become a Social Pescatarian.

Let me fill you in thus far:

I have been a vegetarian since my animal ethics course at university. Never much of a carnivore to begin with, it was an easy decision to give up meat altogether and at the time there was little opportunity and even less money to be considering buying organic or free-range meat which would appease my conscience. So I happily gave it up (read more about it here if you like).

So, after 21 years, minus 6 months in Germany (I defy ANYONE to be a successful veggie in a country that sells raw meat in a bun) and about a year after the birth of my third child (more info here if you must) I am being driven into eating fish, albeit socially.

So what heinous thing is driving me to this?  What could possibly make me quash my hardened principles?

Bloody risotto, that’s what.

Let me give you an example of most menus in gastro-pubs up and down the country and most high street kiddie-friendly joints
to boot:

menu

Yep, there you have it. If you are vegetarian, most likely the only option you have is risotto (or salad – purleeease! I’m out for dinner!). Now, I like risotto, but not all the bloody time. I only have to think of carbs and my stomach begins to swell in some peculiar Dahl-like manner. I am the Violet Beauregard of white carbs. And the risotto trend is for spring vegetables (see above) or fancy mushrooms and with risotto, that’s it. No option for triple-cooked chips on the side or champ mash with a masterchef jus, oh no, a large bowl of rice is yours and that is it.

So fed up am I with this being the only option I have recently found myself ordering the fish instead. Fish comes with nice side dishes and fancy sauces (OK, except the menu above where it is still carbtastic) but just look at all the meat dishes! They sound SO much nicer. I had fish today, herb crusted with green vegetables. It felt healthy, it tasted of something, it didn’t leave me feeling like I had filled my stomach with ever-expanding balls of bleached wheat. And, while I’m at it, why is there never a veggie option on the Sunday roasts? Is it so hard to rustle up a bit of nut roast? Stick a bit of quorn in the oven? Not cook the roast potatoes in goose fat?

So, weighing this all up, I have decided to become a social pescatarian. If I go out and it’s risotto I will, without guilt or self-flagellation, allow myself to peruse the fish option and not think about Finding Nemo.

So there. *descends from orange box and leaves Hyde Park*