28 December 2006


Too much christmas cake, and too many mince pies does not a happy me make. I think I might need a quiet lie-down somewhere, while I contemplate the meaning of laundry, life and why exactly I thought it was a good idea to mix champagne, red wine and dessert wine last night...

21 December 2006

Books, books and more books

Once I've started on the subject of books and kids, I can't stop, I'm afraid. Here's today's question: why are most baby books so awful?

Sadly, so many of them look like they've been thrown together at the last minute, with text that seems to have been typed by a dog in a small back room somewhere near Grimsby, and computerised illustrations that someone did with Paint after several bottles of wine. I guess it's one of those things that anyone thinks they can do - ooh, yes, let's write a book for a baby. What a doddle. Write a couple of words, put in a couple of sickly pastel pictures and away you go. Oh, and why not add a musical doo-dah while we're at it, to really annoy the parents.

In reality, because you're working with a more limited vocabulary (although Slinky Malinki manages to include the glorious phrase "rapscallion cat") you really have to make the language work twice as hard. The ones that do it best (and also seem to get the best reaction from my consumer sample of one small child) are those that string together rhymes and silly words, and match them to carefully drawn pictures. Oh, and anything with a cat in it is a winner in our house.

Here's my list of "books suitable for 15-month-olds that I enjoy reading too" (although after the tenth rendition in a row my enthusiasm might take a slight downturn).

Pants (anything that begins "small pants, big pants, giant frilly pig pants" has to be good)
Room on the Broom
Barnyard Dance and Hippos Go Berserk
Slinky Malinki
Miffy at the Gallery
Dear Zoo
The Baby's Catalogue (reminds me of my 1970s childhood)
Cheep! Cheep!

M seems to like all these too, judging by the number of times a day I am brought them from the book basket.

19 December 2006

Books ahoy!

I took M to Seven Stories today. It's a rarity amongst museums/galleries - somewhere that's for children, and yet is not remotely kiddified. There's no dumbing down of the subject matter, and they've really thought about how to get kids (and their parents) involved, and into the idea of reading books. Hurrah! And the bookshop is to die for.

At the moment there's a fantastic exhibition about Robert Westall (of Machine Gunners fame) which M loved because there was a projection of WWII aeroplane flying around the room, and which I loved because it was talking about his links with Tynemouth and Northumberland (and the plane was pretty cool too). We both liked the Blitzcat illustrations (cue much miaowing from M). And we also popped in on story time, listened (ish) to a story about a blue kangaroo, and made a christmas tree decoration. Definitely beats sitting at work staring at a computer screen...

18 December 2006

Can't see the wood for the trees

Next year, when I blithely say I'll make all my Christmas cards, somebody please remember and shoot me. 60-odd later, I've had enough of folksy-Scandi style and have progressed to Habitat-chic. I reckon that at my hourly rate, each card is costing me about a fiver...

17 December 2006

Arts Corner - The Holiday

Or Holiday from Hell, as I like to call it. Now come on Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Kate Winslet. Did any of you actually read the script? Did it not occur to you that (a) it was about two hours too long (b) full of cliches, and (c) corny as hell? What were you thinking? Or were the dollar signs rolling in front of your eyes?

Actually, it was quite fun to watch - in a 'oh my god it's so terrible it's really good' kind of way. Top tips include:
  • outstanding Telegraph product placement
  • the snowy lands of Surrey, where snow appears and disappears from shot to shot
  • Cameron Diaz running for a mile along a 'snowy' lane in stiletto heels without pausing for thought
  • Jude Law smirking in every scene
  • the old bloke who can't walk miraculously discovering that he can run up stairs
And I'm proud to say that I laughed hysterically at the bit in the car at the end when Cameron Diaz finally learns that she can cry (sorry everyone else in the cinema who was blubbing into their hankies at that point).

13 December 2006

Arts corner - tv cookery

At the time it made sense to watch some cooking while I was eating my tea. Yes, I know it's uncouth and leads to rack and ruin, but I was on my own and couldn't be bothered to sit in state in the dining room. Anyway, I'd completely forgotten how annoying Nigella Lawson can be. While I think she's a brilliant food writer, and I have several of her cookery books (How to be a Domestic Goddess is my baking bible), she doesn't half bug me when she's on the telly. I started to watch her Christmas Kitchen earlier on, but had to turn it off halfway through. It's all this pouting, swinging her hair about and delving into cream that gets me. She's just turned into a caricature. Mind, some of the others are no better (stand up Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay et al). I suspect that once you've made it on the telly, the mannerisms/enthusiasms that made you famous become ever more exaggerated, in a desperate attempt to keep/increase the numbers of viewers. There's only really ever been Delia, whose presentation skills seemed to be non-existant, who stayed the same.

So I've had it with tv cookery for the moment. What I really need is a bit of Julia Child.

12 December 2006

Pies (mince)

Here are the fabled pies that M and I made last week. They look quite fancy, don't they? There were a lot more of them originally. And no, I haven't eaten them all.

11 December 2006

If you wanna be the best, wo-oah procrastination's what you need...

I know I'm supposed to be writing Christmas cards, but I've got a classic case of procrastination, so I've been fiddling about on eBay, reading blogs and doing 101 other things in a desperate attempt to make Christmas go away. Don't get me wrong, I love the whole Christmas thang (especially buying presents for M), but it's a pain in the arse to organise.

So I'm proposing a whole new schedule for Christmas 2007, in a bid to avoid all last-minute card-writing, present-buying and mince-pie-making.

January: buy Christmas cards/presents in sales
February-July: write 10 Christmas cards per month, gazing into crystal ball to predict (a) degree of pennilessness (b) progress of diy (c) behaviour of offspring/cat/husband
August: wrap presents
September: make mincemeat/mince pies
October: eat mince pies
November: eat mince pies
December: eat mince pies

By my reckoning that gives at least three months of pastry ingestion, which can't be bad at all.

Buns (2)

No not that kind. Unless they are gorgeous George's. No, more bun cases, this time from the lovely Rice. I saw these at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, and was smitten. It was a bit odd finding bakeware in the gallery's shop in amongst all the modern art books, but maybe I should get some and be an urban trendsetter.

06 December 2006

Tea and buns

Carrying on the subject of domestic-ness (as always seems to be the case round here), here's some rather fantastic bun cases. You can't go far wrong with a fairy cake, that's what I reckon. And all the better if they're dolled up in spots, stripes or even Black Watch Tartan (thanks to the lovely Vic for finding these, by the way). Although I suppose it should really be mince pies, given that it's December. I've not got round to making any yet, although my Delia mincemeat is sitting in the pantry ready and waiting. Pictures to follow when I do.

I realise that my baking exploits probably aren't wildly exciting, but there's a limit to how much excitement you can squeeze out of suburban life. I keep trying to kid myself that we're still living in the city, but once the Avon lady and the Betterware catalogue man have been round I know there's no hope.

04 December 2006

Seasons greetings

Not content with attempting to do the domestic goddess-thingy food-wise, I've taken it upon myself to make some Christmas cards. It's December 4, and I've just begun. No pressure, then.

Above, you'll see a sneak preview of this year's card. As the design afficionados among you will obviously guess, it's a Scandinavian theme (which may have something to do with the fact that the wrapping paper I'm using came from IKEA last year) using the traditional four-year-old's drawing of a Christmas tree that seems to be my default setting. I expect the orders to come rolling in at any moment...

Actually, it's rather satisfying cutting and sticking, and takes me back to being about six and making scrapbooks on that weird coloured paper. Did anyone else save sweet wrappers and cut pictures out of the Mothercare catalogue, or was that just me?

30 November 2006

Gorgeous George

Ooh, this made me laugh. And it's seasonal...

29 November 2006

Arts Corner

This is a serious blog, you know (!), and as such, should obviously have an Arts Corner. Much like that bit in The Guardian that you never read, cos it's full of reviews of opera, biographies of obscure authors and how the telly isn't as good as it used to be (discuss).

So here goes.

Item number one: The Tempest. Shortly to be appearing in London, but last week brought to the provincials in Newcastle courtesy of the RSC.

It should have been fantastic - it starred the thinking woman's favourite Star Trek Captain, Patrick Stewart, for a start. I have to say I was distinctly underwhelmed though. It had the usual RSC groovy-yet-ingenious-scenery and staging, some pretty weird music and some really good actors, but to be honest I fell asleep in a couple of places, and Mr Stewart wasn't anything to write home about. I was expecting someone with real stage presence - I've seen a couple of people (Kenneth Branagh and a very young Toby Stephens spring to mind) who were so mesmerising that you simply had to watch what they were doing no matter where they were on stage, but I just didn't get that with him. And he was a bit fond in places of the shouty hammy thing that actors do when they are attempting to get all emotional, so you can't tell what the hell they're on about. Speak the lines dear boy. Us punters in the gallery who can't necessarily see all the facial expressions and movements need to know what's happening. Or we fall asleep cos it's dark, warm and we were up at 5.30am with a teething toddler. You have to allow for these things.

Thinking of Toby Stephens reminds me of item number two: Random Quest on BBC Four. Which didn't contain Mr Stephens at all, but the lovely Samuel West instead. I know it's not much of a segueway, but I'm trying, I really am. Anyway, I saw it completely by accident - you know how it is, you end up eating your tea in front of the telly watching some mindless rubbish, stay tuned, and actually end up with something really really good. Plot wasn't amazing (it was an adaptation of a John Wyndham short story, and lacked a ballsy ending), but the whole look and feel of the piece was gorgeous - the alternative reality segments looked to have been shot in a house that could have been straight out of Wallpaper. Me wantee. Anyway, nice restrained music, great acting...it was one of those dramas that don't leave your head for a while afterwards. And it was sci-fi. Now that doesn't happen often.

Arty-farty stuff over. Toodle pip.

24 November 2006

How to celebrate your birthday

  • Get woken up at 6.30am by overenthusiastic toddler.
  • Make exciting breakfast of Shreddies and milk.
  • Take a walk to the park, to feed the ducks. Get menaced by starving swans, who turn out to be about 5ft 4in when stood up waving their necks about.
  • Eat lunch, while attempting to avoid being smeared with Marmite and toast.
  • Go to Sainsburys. Allow toddler to stand in trolley, in direct contravention of about 540 byelaws in order to go round store in less than 5 hours.
  • Make tea. Sort out washing.
  • Collapse on sofa in front of Home and Away.

I have to say that throwing bread at the assorted swans/ducks/geese was pretty good fun (although a bit scary due to the sheer numbers of huge birds with very pointy beaks who demanded dough with menaces). I quite liked annoying the staff in Sainsburys. And I especially enjoyed the Marmitey kiss.

And I did get to go out to a very fancy restaurant in the evening (Secco, on Pilgrim Street) where I ate my way through the Menu Gastronomico (orichette with squid! tiger prawns baked in sea salt! fig and walnut torte! prosecco!) before collapsing in a rotund heap.

Best birthday for ages, I reckon.

19 November 2006


If I ever start making noises about going to IKEA on a Sunday, then will someone please shout NOOOOOO at me, preferably at very close range. I'd forgotten how completely hideous it is in the run up to Christmas, full of people (me included) who fancied a trip out to buy some some candles and a pack of napkins, and unaccountably returned with some coat pegs and endless lightbulbs. And who meander. Very very slowly. Around the whole store, four abreast, so that you can't get past (especially not when your toddler insists on pushing the trolley as well). That's it. I'm abandoning Christmas shopping, and going online. Ebay here we come.

17 November 2006

Smug, me?

Rather worryingly, I seem to have produced a child that will devour tagliatelle with chicken livers for lunch. I can't claim any credit though - rather than anything Nigella-Lawson-domestic-goddess-ish, I suspect it was the lure of smiling Italian waiters. I'm sure it'll all go to hell in a handbasket, and that there will be refusal to eat anything except beans on toast at some point, to terrify the middle-class mother in me. But for now I'll sit back in a smug and self-satisfied manner, while looking at all the furore on advertising junk foods during children's tv. My downfall will come soon, no doubt. Probably right about the point that she discovers there's chocolate in her Christmas stocking.

In other news, I'm currently watching the back-slapping celeb-fest that is Children in Need. Much as the cause is worthy, it makes for some really terrible tv. Lots of miming bands, awful local tv segments (sorry Wendy Gibson) and Peter and Jordan. I think I need to go and lie down. Or at least top up the glass of red wine that is conveniently sat right next to the laptop.

16 November 2006

"Give Satan an inch, and he'll be a ruler"

It's amazing what you can see in 6ft high red letters on church billboards. This one had the unfortunate effect of making me laugh out loud at the idea of Satan as a wooden ruler, circa 1982 - those ones that you had in class that always had nicks and scrapes out of them so you could never draw a straight line properly. Dead scary, that would be.

Actually, it's been a day of religion, in one form or another. Took M to Durham, to see the cathedral, which is probably one of my favourite buildings in the world. I just love the ridiculously fat pillars, the sense of height and space, and the fact that it's warm in there when it's hurling down outside and the trees on Palace Green are horizontal. I also have rather a sentimental attachment to it, having taken David Rollason's Northumbria course in my third year at Durham and spent several happy hours pottering about looking at cathedral architecture.

No indication of the cathedral's opinions on Satan, though, which was a bit of a disappointment. Where's the fire and brimstone when you need it?

14 November 2006

Fashion nonsense

Having not bought anything remotely fashionable for a while, I've finally succumbed. And I'm rather proud of the fact that it happened in Top Shop, surrounded by bizarrely dressed 16-year olds. And on a Saturday as well! It's so long since I've been shopping in town that it was all quite exciting (sad, I know). And once I'd stopped myself from looking at toddler-related stuff I had a ball.

Anyway, all that is a long way round of saying that I've bought a new t-shirt and long jumper (grey, no less). I'm in touch with fashion, me. But not as in touch as the sales assistant I saw in H&M, who could have have been in Grange Hill, circa 1982. She had Trisha's flicked long hair, a grey and red stripy long-sleeved top, stripy tights, and some killer dungaree shorts. Made me feel very old...

09 November 2006

Boy band ahoy!

This made me laugh like a drain. And a hyena combined. In fact it's just made me laugh so much that I'm in danger of waking up M and half the neighbourhood. If you loved Take That's cheesy videos (in an ironic manner, obviously, as just liking Take That would have been far too uncool) the first time round then this one's for you. I'm off to You Tube now, to try and have a look at the real thing.

UPDATE: Oh, come on boys, you're not trying. Where's the dance routine? Or at the very least a few outstretched hands? And shouldn't you be in implausibly white suits that remain spotless despite being in the most windswept and rugged location?

I will say this for them, though, they've definitely worked hard on the pouting over the last 10 years. And top marks for the artfully dishevelled hair. It must have taken days to courier over enough hair mousse for the shoot.

UPDATE II: And of course you can't beat the lovely JRT's take on Back for Good... Go JRT!

UPDATE III: I think I may have spent too much time looking at You Tube.

06 November 2006

Mistaken identity (3)

How about Captain Jack Aubrey? Although I'm not sure our Captain Jack has Russell Crowe's frown quite right yet. He's been practising for the last couple of days, but he's still not mean and moody enough.

03 November 2006

Abandon hope...

I wrote the most marvellous post last night, all about this band and their mariachi-inspired spooky Halloween gig that we went to at the Sage on Tuesday. It got to 9.30pm, and my eyes were starting to ache...the next thing I knew, I'd woken up with a start and was gazing at a blank screen. No words, nothing. All very Torchwood.

Sadly, you'll be deprived of the literary genius that was my work as I've completely forgotten what it was that I was wittering on about. I could baldly state that Calexico were very good, but it won't inspire you to go and see them as much as my late-lamented post would have done.

27 October 2006

Mistaken identity (2)

The thought occurs – maybe Captain Jack isn’t that Captain Jack after all, and should really be swashbuckling across the high seas with Keira Knightly et al? Although he might be a bit small to wield a cutlass with any efficiency. And he doesn't like wearing bandannas.

26 October 2006

You got to pick a pocket or two

Oh dear. I appear to have inadvertently defrauded Tesco. Got home from pottering around the supermarket with M, only to discover that she had lifted a toothbrush (a nice ergonomic one as it happens) and had somehow managed to hide it in the folds of her coat. I obviously need to frisk her at the checkouts...

24 October 2006

Mistaken identity

Well, how was I to know that Russell T Davies was going to make M's Captain Jack the star of Torchwood? Here he is practising for yet another stunt on top of a very high building - we're thinking maybe the Get Carter car park in central Gateshead for that gritty, crime-ridden feel.

Although if you want 21st century disruption in the space-time continuum (aka acres of glass/stainless steel etc) he says he'll climb the Sage as well.

18 October 2006

Les francais adore...

ooh, all sorts of stuff. But mostly nice wine, good cheese and cepes, if the last week is anything to go by. Me, well, I like nice wine, good cheese and cepes with the best of them and I think French bread is rather spiffing too. They're also not fazed by a small grinning child waving and shouting "bye-bye" at every possible opportunity. Which at the moment wins lots of points in my book.

In fact, France was pretty good. It was sunny, there were opportunities for small people to play in the paddling pool and sandpit with no clothes on (oh, yes, embarrassing photos a go-go), there were lots of interesting places to wander round and new food to try, and there were grandparents to enchant. It was all rather good. Apart from the seven-hour delay at Bergerac airport on the way home. If you've ever been there, you'll know it's just an arrivals shed and a departures shed with a bar in between. Tricky place to amuse a one-year-old for seven hours...

Anyway, now for something completely different. I was going to segueway neatly into a new topic, but it's late, and much as I love writing all this stuff, quite frankly I'm looking forward to getting into a freshly laundered bed. I could go on about the niceness of new sheets, but instead I'll shout "baking", point you at this link to the Guardian (which incidently has a fabulous headline) and then run quickly in the opposite direction. Don't get me started on baking. I've got a banana and hazelnut loaf rapidly diminishing in size on the kitchen worktop, and I'm planning an apple and rye cake at the weekend. I will shortly be the size of a large French cheese. Maybe a camembert, maybe a Roquefort. I haven't decided yet.

04 October 2006

Oompa Loompa

Well, not much to report really, aside from cavorting to a mad German oompa band at a 30th birthday down south. As you do. A middle-aged seven-piece oompa band, dressed in fake brown lederhosen and long white knee socks. With one man carrying a giant tuba (and to be fair, blowing into it and producing a fair old racket). It was a slightly surreal experience.

Most amusing was the fact that amidst 80-odd drunk folk standing and swaying along to the music with their beer steins held high, M had a whale of a time. There was much clapping, swaying and stomping about, punctuated only by breaks to climb up and down steps (although the obsession with gravel and twigs continues, stairs have made a comeback). I think gig number two was a success. Although at this rate she's going to have something of an obsession with brass bands, given that gig number one was a combination of New Orleans brass and rap. It's an eclectic mix..

28 September 2006

If you go down to the woods today

and you're one you'll (a) fall asleep while trundling through all the scenic bits (b) develop a fascination for pine needles and (c) discover that cream cheese sandwiches taste a bit rubbish once they've been dipped in soil. Marvellous thing, an education.

Actually, Chopwell Woods were rather fine. Lots of huge pine trees, many badly signposted paths and trails, the odd grey squirrel or two (boo hiss) and ridiculous numbers of mushrooms and toadstools. We racketed along with the pushchair, had a picnic and plodged about in the grass looking at bark, dandelions and gravel (an essential thing for any of M's outings - she's now well into the gravel and twig phase). Bring on the leaf prints and collecting pine cones. I'm ready.

24 September 2006

Bella italia

At the grand old age of one, M has learned one of life's essential skills - how to flirt with waiters. In fact, she's verging on the shameful. Friday saw us in Caffe Zonzo for lunch, and she spent most of the hour or so we were there pulling faces at one of the Italian waiters. Mind, she might have blotted her copybook by smearing cream cheese sandwiches all over the table and hurling a plum to the floor with such force that it smashed in two. We might have to work on the table manners.

21 September 2006

Bally hoo

I now know what it feels like to be eight years old again. I was standing in the middle of a ballet class at Dance City this evening when the instructor started talking about port des bras, and I was whisked back to Mrs Meyer's dancing classes, complete with mad pianist and bird cages. I must have done ballet from the age of about five to maybe nine or ten (Girl Guides and then swimming took over), and somehow managed to get through to about Grade 3, despite being very rotund in a pale blue leotard and not at all ballerina-ish. It all took place in a giant shed in the bottom of Mrs Meyer's garden, which smelled of old shoes and sweaty feet, and had a floor that moved up and down as lots of little girls pranced about. I remember plies, jetes, port des bras and all sorts of foreign words that sounded impossibly exotic.

Dance City didn't smell. And the floor didn't move about at all. The words were no less exotic, but I discovered I am nowhere near as flexible as I was age eight (even if I'm a lot less rotund now).

17 September 2006

Words that really bug me (part 1)

"Fashionista" and "on trend"

Yes, I've been suckered into reading Grazia again. It's one of my guilty pleasures - a good cappuccino and a trashy mag. But if I have to read about "fashionistas" one more time I'll scream. I can put up with the fact that the clothes are never ever going to be in my affordable bracket (until they start featuring the St Oswald's Hospice Shop and Tesco), but the language stinks.

Rant over.

14 September 2006

Are we nearly there yet?

In a fit of independence, I took myself off to see Little Miss Sunshine last night. I'm not the world's biggest fan of road movies usually - maybe it's because I get so bored when I'm travelling in the car - but this one had pace, style and wit, and some gorgeous cinematography. Not the picture postcard stuff you usually see (Grand Canyon anyone?), but some atmospheric shots of roadside America, including some run-down gas stations, flyovers and 1960s motels. They just don't build them the same way over here, and anyway the light is totally different. You can't really make anything roadside and English look atmospheric unless you shoot it at night, which gives it a particularly wintry feel.

Returning to real life today involved a singing session in leafy Jesmond, full of proper YMs who arrived in their 4x4s with children named Sonny and Felix, and then proceeded to talk all the way through the songs. If you're going to subject your child to 'Down in the jungle' et al complete with silly actions I always think the least you can do is join in. It's only fair.

11 September 2006

Sunshine and showers

Having spent the afternoon wafting about in the sunshine eating ice cream I can thoroughly recommend this not-working-and-looking-after-child malarky. M was angelic, the Newcastle Quayside looked all hip and cosmopolitan in the sun, and pistachio and mocha was a great combination. Of course it's pissing it down now (with scary thunder and lightening and everything), and I've just looked at my bank balance and realised I can never afford another ice cream ever again. Typical.

In other news, Connie, Siobhan and Helena through to the final. Two out of three ain't bad. Of course I'm only watching it because M loves it. Mind, she's got absolutely no taste - the first thing she ever took notice of on telly was Brucie doing Strictly Come Dancing...

06 September 2006

Happy Birthday

M was one on Monday, so it's the end of an era. Now that she's attempting to walk around, I am the proud mother of a toddler. Eek. It doesn't seem like two minutes since she was lying there, yelling fit to burst because she'd not had any food for all of oooh, two minutes. We looked back at some early footage recently, and it was terrifying. She didn't do anything apart from sleep, feed and yell. And we were still so proud of her.

Anyway, at the risk of being completely pretentious, we took her to a sushi bar for her birthday party. The expensive rice, seaweed and raw fish zipped round on a conveyor belt, we attempted to feed it to her, and like the sensible lass she is, she insisted on eating a banana. Followed by birthday cake (she definitely takes after Grandpa in her cake-eating habits. He's been known to lurk in the kitchen snaffling chocolate bars and almond slices long after everyone has gone to bed).

I failed to make a-grand-birthday-cake-with-something-marvellous-on, and instead went for the fairy cake, icing and cherry option for everyone, which turned out to be much easier. Very satisfying to bake, and they did look rather good lined up, all 14 of them. M's had one tiny candle on, which looked good, but it was a good thing that she wasn't any older, as I'd had to dredge it up from the bottom of the baking drawer, and it was definitely the last one. And the restaurant staff even dimmed the lights, bless them, so we could light it and sing Happy Birthday. M just looked a bit bemused by it all, and then stuffed cake into her mouth with gay abandon. That's my girl.

01 September 2006

Hunt the polo-shaped bread object

M and I went on a bagel-hunt this morning, but came back empty handed. About 10 minutes' walk away is Gateshead's Jewish area, with lots of Kosher shops, including a greengrocers, a disposable plate shop and a bakery/delicatessen. I was hoping there might be a proper bagel or two to be found, but sadly there were none - it occurred to me later that I might have better luck on another day, as the bakery was chock full of challah bread (try saying that quickly!). It was delicious, but not quite what we were after.

The rest of the day was taken up with the educational pursuits of (a) tidying up (b) hanging out the washing and (c) tidying up. Sometimes I worry that I'm not exactly doing the most earth-shattering stuff with M, but then I think it can't be all-singing, all-dancing all of the time, or I'll go insane. I'm insane enough as it is already, having spent several minutes today pulling animals out of Noah's ark and making the noises (though I'm a bit stumped by the giraffe, so if anyone's got any ideas then do let me know). M now shouts "duck" at anything remotely duck-shaped, "twoo-whit-twoo-whooo" at owls, and moos at cows. I'm working on "mint sauce" and sheep, but not getting very far.

30 August 2006

Brassed off

We've just taken M to her first gig - the Youngblood Brass Band, who were bizarrely playing at the DLI museum in Durham. Well, not inside the museum as such, but in the grounds outside, with a lovely backdrop of the 1960s concrete delight that is County Hall. M was supposed to be asleep, mummified in several layers of blankets in her pushchair, but of course woke up and wanted to boogie.

To be fair, the rap bits were quite loud. And not quite what many in the audience had been expecting - from the deckchairs and silvery hair I suspect that a fair few of them had been expecting to hear a slightly more conventional brass band. They seemed to enjoy it though, especially the New Orleans-y bits, which were probably my favourite too, to be honest. The more punky rap stuff, while interesting, is a bit shouty and doesn't really hit it with my pop sensibilities. Mind, the band did a great job explaining to the oldies and me where their influences came from, and how it was all like performance poetry, man.

29 August 2006

A recipe for disaster

  1. Try to make kedgeree for tea for wife and parents, who have spent all afternoon slaving away in the garden chopping down evil spiky conifers.
  2. Boil eggs, cook rice/fish etc, using materials prepared by outstanding sous chef/wife.
  3. Place lightly steaming smoked haddock on a plate.
  4. Put tight-fitting saucepan lid on the top, to keep the heat in.
  5. Leave for a while, whilst you finish off cooking the rest of the rice.
  6. Attempt to wrestle lid off plate, using a combination of tea towels, mallets, screwdrivers, hot water, brute force and rude words.
  7. Try to ignore hysterical laughter.

Eventually, the plate saw sense and collapsed under the pressure. The kedgeree tasted fine, once we'd picked out a couple of bits of china...

27 August 2006


I can't quite believe it, but I think I've become addicted to 'How do you solve a problem like Maria'. As a book-loving time-starved YM, I don't normally have the time to watch reality tv shows, but this one's got me hooked. Maybe it's the sparkly dresses and the pretty lights (those are definitely the bits M likes), or maybe it's the sheer delight of watching Andrew Lloyd Webber trying not to show exactly what he's thinking the whole time (he'd be such a terrible poker player). Or maybe it's just that I was in the Sound of Music at school (Sister Margaretha, since you ask, and yes the costumes were horrible and yes we did wear fishnet stockings underneath) and have a soft spot for it. Whatever it is, I'm there on the sofa on a Saturday evening, glued to the telly. Who's going to win? Connie of course. Although Abi, Siobhan and Leanne will probably give her a run for her money. I'll get back to you with the results in a couple of weeks, once I've finished trying to get 'High on a hill stood a lonely goatherd' out of my head...

In other news, made bara brith yesterday for the first time, and it seems to have turned out ok, despite me forgetting to put any sugar in. Mind, I'm not remotely Welsh (a funny mixture of English, Polish and Irish in fact), or a tea bread connoisseur so it could have been way off for all I know.

23 August 2006


Having blithely claimed to my friend Kate today that "oh, I haven't bought any new clothes in two years", I've realised that it's a complete load of rubbish. I reckon I can cheerfully ignore the things I bought while pregnant, as they're not exactly things I'll wear again day-to-day, so that takes care of at least a year (trust me, even when you've had a baby you still have to wear 'maternity wear' for a while). But if you take 2006 onwards, I've bought (in no particular order)

  • a pair of blue sandals by art (£65, and the most comfortable shoes I've ever bought)
  • a black La Perla bra set (£20 instead of £80 in the sale at Fenwicks - bargain!)
  • a yellow t-shirt (can't remember the brand, but it was a TKMaxx bargain for £12)
  • a blue sleeveless t-shirt (TU at Sainsburys, £2.50)
  • a brown t-shirt (Tesco, £4)
  • a gorgeous brown cardigan (antoni and alison in the department store - one of Debenham's weird designer brands, and another bargain at £20)
  • a pair of second-hand jeans (Top Shop, but £4 from the Scope shop in Gosforth)

Oh well. Not exactly fashion-leading is it? This whole trend for skinny jeans has passed me by, obviously, as has the whole 80s kick (I was there the first time round and it wasn't any better then, trust me). But I probably score reasonably well on the bargain hunting bit.

21 August 2006

She sells seashells on the seashore

Having spent yesterday plodging about on Long Sands beach at Tynemouth with R and M, I can now see why people with children go on beach holidays. M is fascinated with (a) sand and (b) waves, so it was a top day out. She's also discovered the delights of paddling, chasing the waves in and out while grinning like a loon. The only downside is that it's me that has to keep her company in the freezing cold North Sea, as her dad is even more of a wuss than I am. I refuse to go any further than ankle-depth without a full wetsuit, so her experience of swimming in the sea might be a little on the limited side until we can find one that's a bit warmer...

I'd forgotten all about the delights of sandcastles too. We have a rather natty red bucket and spade set that R was given for his 30th birthday, so it finally put in an appearance. It's a proper castle bucket, with turrets, crenellations, a main door and steps. Quite posh really. You almost expect Archie to come popping out with some mad invention.

17 August 2006

Ear Ear

I realised today that I might need to broaden M's listening experience during the daytime. I'm a Radio 4 addict (as an ex-journalist it goes with the territory), so she gets the Today programme at breakfast time (Farming Today on Saturday, maybe Broadcasting House on Sunday), You and Yours and the World at One at lunchtime, and PM with Eddie Mair at teatime. If she doesn't grow up to be a news junkie, it's not for lack of trying. And if she's very good, there might be a bit of Vernon Kay or Jonathan Ross at weekends. Poor lass. What with that and A-ha in the car, she's got no hope.

16 August 2006

Speedy Gonzalez

Have discovered it's very hard to maintain your YM status whilst crawling round the living room on all fours at top speed, chased by a hysterically cackling child. It's also rather difficult to do in a skirt.

Sometimes I wonder what I've done with my day, apart from wash up, and feed and change M. It's hard when you've been used to achieving lots at work, and been good at demolishing large to-do lists. And then I remember the cackling, and the huge grin whilst splashing at the swimming pool, and the wide eyes when trying a raspberry and strawberry smoothie for the first time. To-do lists are so last year, sweetie.

12 August 2006


Goodness. You take your eye off the ball for a couple of minutes, only to discover that you've been in hiding for a whole two months, James kissed Patroclus, and grey is again the new black. The cat ate my laptop. Honest.

Actually, it's been more to do with the fact that R, M and I moved house. Boxes. Boxes. Boxes. That's all I can say. My life was taken over by evil boxes. Hundreds of 'em. Most filled with VERY HEAVY BOOKS. But thankfully, normality has resumed. There are no more dastardly boxes, sitting mocking me from the corner of the room (apart from a few in the garage which are nearly empty. Oh, and those ones in the wardrobes in the spare room, but as they mostly contain R's classic car magazines they'll be ok for a while yet). I now have a whole new house and garden to play with. Yay! Oh the potential for baking cakes, planting vegetables, decorating Christmas treees...oh god it's all starting to sound rather Martha Stewart, isn't it. I do have a life, honest.

And to prove it, I even had a morning to myself today. It included an educational experience (the bus trip into Newcastle, through some of Gateshead's finer architecture...), a little light shopping (Fenwick's sale), a lot of window shopping (much sighing over gorgeous jumpers by Sita Murt in Fenwick's French Salon, and the realisation that self-employment, a small baby and cashmere do not mix) and a very civilised cappuccino and Guardian-reading experience at Intermezzo. Roll on the delights of next Saturday.

10 May 2006


I am beginning to think I have an obsession with laundry. Not only do I find myself debating the finer points of fabric conditioners while going round the supermarket, but M and I actually spent 5 minutes in Lakeland the other day looking at pegs. Not just any old pegs either - these ones were pastel colours, with special cushioned grips. Mine are currently the traditional wooden type, with a few aberrant plastic gripper ones thrown in (I think we inherited these with the house), housed in an old dishwasher tablet tub. What I really need is a peg bag...or a life.

09 May 2006


M and I went on an outing today to a farm. Nothing spectacular, just lots of goats, rabbits, sheep and pigs etc to stroke, a few mini tractors to pedal around on, a bouncy castle (every farm should have one), that sort of thing. But it struck me that it was rather a milestone - it was the first place I'd been to that was specifically for kids. And I hated it. It's the whole dumbing down thing, even to the fact that the cafe served "children's meals" (essentially beans, chips and fishfingers) rather than just small portions of normal food. The interpretation boards were patronising and kiddified, and the whole place was packed with 4-year-olds which really didn't help. Shame, because the goats were lovely, and enjoyed sniffing M's trousers (to much leg-waving excitement).

03 May 2006

Simply the best

I have discovered the ultimate website for neurotic, to-do-list-obsessed YMs (I include myself in this bracket of course). If you've ever wondered how to make deep-cleaning tasks easier, how you could be more photogenic, or how to use a matchbox as a travel sewing kit, then head on over to www.realsimple.com for endless ways to improve your life. There's even a magazine, to help you on your way. I've just spent a happy couple of hours with the mag and a cappuccino in Borders. Not only can I now tell you the best swimsuit designs for your figure (handy hint: black is quite forgiving), I know how to hang mirrors and will be able to make several mean dishes with lemons. My life is complete.

02 May 2006


Not content with writing posts, I've tidied everything up as well, and added some links in the proper places. If you hang on a bit longer I'll do the washing up, put some washing on and mop the floor. It'll be riveting.

01 May 2006


So, M's bigger, I'm wrinklier (and it's definitely not just the result of sitting in the bath for ages), and we have a house. Phew.

Funny, how time suddenly speeds up when you have a baby. I could have *sworn* that it was only a week since I last posted, but I've just checked and it's actually a month. Oh bugger. It's a direct contrast to being pregnant, let me tell you, which actually went on for what felt like years. Decades even. It was interminable.

Anyway, back to the daily grind. Which just gets weirder. Take bank holidays, for example. They used to be great, but now are very annoying. I never thought I'd say this, but they are (apart from the fact that R gets a free day off work). Everything is either (a) shut or (b) open but shuts dead early, and (c) is full of people who should be at work. Except, bizarrely, Fenwicks. To which emporium of delights we hoyed ourselves this afternoon because it was raining, we have a small child and we needed to get out of the house. Strangely the place was deserted, apart from the standard-issue ladies of later years who always staff every counter. I can't quite believe that all of Newcastle has renounced shopping and taken up knitting or visiting art galleries, but you never know.

30 March 2006

The hunt continues

So this finding a house lark is proving to be somewhat trickier than expected. Yes, there are some amazing houses out there, but they all seem to require us to win the lottery, which as we've had one number in the last four weeks isn't looking like something that's going to happen any time soon. Unfortunately. The rest all seem to be either too small, too smelly, or too empty - where on earth do these people keep their books?

But M is becoming very useful at charming middle-aged female estate agents. We're suddenly very memorable if I pop into an office or when I ring up, particularly if she's gurgling adorably in the background. It's amazing how quickly a viewing can be arranged at times. And handily M seems to have the dual purpose of putting off the slightly slimy male variety of estate agent (usually to be found in shiny suit with a lingering smell of aftershave).

The professional editor in me is fuming about most of the house details that I have to read through. If one more house is "warmed by gas central heating" and requires "a detailed internal inspection" to appreciate how "deceptively spacious" it is I am going to scream. It seems that no house in Low Fell is complete without a sun lounge or "atrium", and no house in Whitley Bay is without some sort of "sea view", even if you'd have to be a contortionist with a periscope to see it. Aaaargh. Will somebody somewhere please set up a school for estate agents to tell them how to (a) write and (b) spell?

18 March 2006

That's jazz

To the Sage Gateshead today, for a bit of lunchtime jazz. Sounds very pretentious, but wasn't - bands from the local college were playing, people were milling about chatting goodhumouredly, and M sat and covered herself in yoghurt from head to toe. Nobody batted an eyelid. It's an essential part of listening to music, obviously.

If thrashing arms and legs are a sign of enjoyment, then she quite digs jazz. Maybe I should invest in some black polonecks for her?

13 March 2006

Cake, anyone?

As a newbie YM who attends a fair few coffee mornings/chats over cups of tea with M, I can safely say that any biscuit or cake consumed would be much improved by being placed on one of these... And if you could happen to find a couple of fairy cakes to go on them (why do the Americans call them cupcakes? Just why?) then so much the better.

According to The Guardian, fairy cakes are now all the rage in LA. Marvellous. Ship me over now. But if you could just do something about the awful Liptons Yellow tea bags that are over there, that would be perfect.

12 March 2006

Feeling sick

I am pursued by a trail of vomit, of a feline and baby variety. I'm not sure what I've done to deserve this, but I really wish it would stop. Last time I checked it definitely wasn't in the small print.

More houses today, all of them vastly unsuitable. One 1920s terraced house had two gas fires, and a woman who didn't know if they worked or not, as she was "allergic to gas". A very realistic (but undoubtedly cuddly-toy) dog sat in a basket next to one of the fires, which was rather weird. The next house was artexed to death (every wall and ceiling in the house, in a delightful shade of prison grey-blue), and contained a black onyx dining room table and chair set which wouldn't have looked out of place in a James Bond villain's lair. In fact the lampshades, clock, tv set and sofas could have belonged there too. I know you're supposed to "look past the decor", but it would have cost thousands to put right. So maybe another one that wasn't really for us. The search continues.

11 March 2006

Just a wafer-thin mint?

Not content with the veg strike of the last few days, M has now decided all solid food is the work of the devil (with the exception of dried apricots, rice cakes and toast, which she can hold in her hand and proceed to mush into any available fabric/surface). It's hurting my YM credentials somewhat, given that I've been very good and made half a hundredweight of cubes of organic fruit and veg puree (Annabel Karmel-style, naturally), which are now sat redundantly in the freezer, for no-one to see. If she's not careful, I'll go the whole hog, and give her some chips. With gravy on the side.

House-buying gets more complicated, as plan A to move to the beach has fallen through. But we've seen a really nice place that's too expensive, as is always the way. All we now have to do is explain to the vendor that a low offer is not meant to be insulting to them or the condition of their house, it's simply that we don't have enough money, and are chancing our arms... Think it'll work?

02 March 2006

Poetry, please

"Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir..." has been running through my head all day. It's Patroclus' fault. So I went and looked up the whole thing in a very ancient (well, 1970s) book that I had as a child called "I Like This Poem". M and I have been getting into poetry recently, especially stuff that is silly and has lots of rhymes. She likes the Ning Nang Nong, and a bit of A A Milne. I'm rather partial to Macavity the Mystery Cat. We're both not overly fond of Roger McGough.

01 March 2006

Housey housey

The house madness continues - our offer has been accepted, and raspberry-fuelled summer dress fantasies are go. Obviously as the house we want is at the coast it will be a summer of sea frets and mist-obscured loveliness, while M and I sit indoors, watching endless reruns of ER and bewailing the demise of Anthony Edwards.

All being well, everything will descend into a chaotic mix of estate agents, builders, mortgage advisers and removal men, who will all proceed to suck their teeth and charge us a fortune. Something to look forward to, then.

26 February 2006

Summer lovin

Not content with (a) dealing with 6-month-old M (b) attempting some freelance editing (c) trying to find some spare time to play with nail varnish, we're contemplating moving house. I'm seduced by the idea of somewhere with a garden, so M and I can float around in white dresses picking raspberries in the soft-focus sunshine. Which obviously is what we'll be able to do every day in the summer up here in the frozen north. If anyone can come up with a method of moving Newcastle to California would they please let me know?

23 February 2006

The perfect finish

No 7 Stay Perfect Pink a Dink
No 7 Stay Perfect Chiffon
No 7 Stay Perfect Rose Truffle
No 7 Stay Perfect Pearly Pink
No 7 Stay Perfect Elixir
Bourjois Very Vernis Rose Lounge
Botanics Elderberry
NYC Passionata

As every yummy mummy knows, it's important to have a wide range of nail varnish, preferably with ridiculous names (I especially like Pink a Dink). Unfortunately, I've not had time to put any on for months (see yesterday), and in any case I suspect the endless washing up would play havoc with the finish. Darn. Will have to find some other way to boost YM credentials.

22 February 2006

Time, gentlemen please

One of the least attractive things about motherhood is the lack of time. Or rather lack of free time. There's no lunch breaks, coffee breaks or sneaky fag breaks allowed. And although time might stretch and sag when M is fractious, it runs at double and triple speed for the rest of the day, especially in the evenings. It feels like there is always something still to be done, no matter how many things are crossed off the list. Saturday's newspaper sits on the side, mostly unread (it seems rather pointless now to trawl through the news section), friends are left untelephoned, floors are left uncleaned. The small things take so long, that it's all too easy to discover that it's 11.30pm, time for bed, and the luxury time to paint your toenails or read that magazine has disappeared.

I sloped off last night, minus M, to sit in Starbucks with a coffee and a trashy magazine and find some of my missing luxury time. It felt like only 10 minutes, but it was wonderful.

16 February 2006


I have become a cheapskate, scouring the charity shops for 'new' clothes for M, who will be leaving the 3-6 month sizings in a matter of days. This week saw the ultimate jackpot - a charity shop with a half-price sale. It's maybe more a reflection on how poor the area of the city is (people can't afford to pay a lot, even in a charity shop) rather than a shop which has found itself with too much stock after Christmas. But no matter. I can clothe M for a fiver (and on my last month of maternity pay that's no bad thing), be environmentally friendly and feel good about donating to charity all in one go. It's a jackpot in more ways than one.

15 February 2006

An outing

To the coast today, for a brisk walk along the harbour wall to the lighthouse. Cartwheeling seagulls breezed past as giant ferries rolled through the choppy sea. M slept, while I battled against the wind. Pushchair-makers should bolt on stabilisers for days like these.

13 February 2006


M is 5 months and 10 days old. Once I used to know her exact age in days, weeks, hours even. Now I have to work it out, counting on my fingers like I used to at school, complicated by the fact that I often no longer know what the date is. Befuddlement is a common state of mind in our house.

Over the past few months we've come to a compromise, she and I. She is the centre of my daytime world. I am the recipient of questioning looks, playful laughter and unfiltered love. It seems a fair return for such a small investment.