Category Archives: Blog Post

Magpie Jack

I hate seagulls you know. Every day at work I watch them pecking at the bins and swooping low over tourists on the waterfront. The greedy little sh&ts. They’ve taken to dive-bombing families having picnics on the grass during the summer months, and I’ll tell you what, the amount of seagull crap I clean off my car on a weekly basis, is getting out of hand.

Don’t get me wrong, I love birds. I regularly watched the swifts and swallows, flying out in unison, over the river, and back to their nests in the brush on the banks. Amazing little things they are. They don’t half get up to some speed. They’re excitable and fun to be around, mind, they tire me out in no time.

There’s at a couple of Herons nesting on the nearby lake, I’ve noticed. Majestic wingspan and when they’re stood still, waiting for the right moment to dart their long necks into the water to catch fish, it’s an incredible sight. I’m yet to get too close.

The city streets are littered with pigeons. Most people see them as a pest, but they’re alright. Sort of salt of the earth, never had it easy, type of bird. If you likened them to humans, they’d be cabbies or bin men or cleaners. They graft and get little acknowledgment or thanks.

It’s the magpies you’ve got to watch. Thieving little gets. Anything shiny, they’ll have it. Always got a shifty look about them and if you’re anything but black and white, you’re highly unlikely to get in with that crowd. May as well be clad in all that North Face gear the youngsters are all wearing. Not saying they’re all robbers like, they just look similar.

Since I learned to fly, I’ve only really made friends with a few pigeons. I suspect word has gotten out because the seagulls seem to have laid off sh£tting all over my car recently. You can never tell if they’re giving you side-eye, because they’re always shifty looking. But yeah, I think the news has ruffled a few feathers.

Funny story. It turns out that when I drink milk, I can actually fly. I don’t really know the ins and outs of it. The first time it happened, I was stood on the back patio admiring the lavender and early evening birdsong with a cup of warm milk in the hand.

I took a sip and before I knew it, I was floating outside the bathroom window. I dropped the cup and floated, slowly back down, my slippered feet safely on the patio flags with he smashed mug.

I loved that mug, it said ‘Best Grandad’ on it.

Like most, I thought I’d had a funny turn, so I cleaned up the bits and took myself to bed. It wasn’t until the following evening that the realization hit me. I was going about my usual routine. I made a warm mug of milk, shoved my feet into my slippers, and stepped out onto the patio to listen to the birds.

Laughing to myself, I took a sip, closed my eyes and breathed deeply. Surrounded by birdsong, blue tits, house sparrows, and wood pigeons – singing their merry tunes, I opened my eyes and came nose to nose with the roof guttering.

This time I held on to the mug, albeit a rubbish ASDA one, and drank more. I floated forward towards the fir trees in the back garden. Another sip and I rose to the chimney stack. One more and I aimed for the patio and a soft landing.

I rushed inside and pulled the milk out of the fridge. I checked the carton over, checked the date, the lid. I must have been drugged, I told myself. This isn’t really happening.

I made another mug of milk, this time cold. Nothing happened. I just downed half a pint of milk for nothing. The next one I nuced in the microwave and yep, there I went. I shot up so quickly, one of my slippers fell off.

Now, a man of my age has accepted that life moves at a slightly slower pace these days. So swooping and darting around my back garden late at night, wasn’t how I expected to spend my evenings. But low and behold, with a cup of warm milk. I can bloody fly.

All of this happened just 6 weeks ago, so I’m just getting started out. I’ve not told anyone because, frankly, I don’t want to be sectioned and have to see out my days in a secure unit of some kind. But, the birds know. They’ve seen me, and this changes everything.

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Domino

If you were the wife of a highly successful, Premier League footballer, and a delivery guy was asking you to sign for a package addressed to an unfamiliar name, of course you’d turn it away.

That’s what was going through my head, as I stood there, suspended in time and space on the 14:12 intercity service. The train was just a few hundred meters from the station. I’ve always been one of those travellers who gets up early. It drives my boyfriend mad. The pilot puts the wheels on the tarmac and I’m already unlocking my seatbelt and making a move for the overhead storage. So impatient.

Holding on to the handrail, I had been willing the train to move faster, as standing in such close proximity to the onboard toilet was making me feel sick. Schoolgirl error, I should’ve moved back to the other end of the coach.

That random conversation with my boyfriend about a minor, actually humorous incident at work had stuck in my mind. Like when I can’t figure out the next step on my daily sudoku and I zone out, staring into the distance. My mind often snaps back to random snippets of conversation.

That one time an old boss lost his rag in the car because I claimed my favourite song of all time happened to be the same as his. He said I was wrong, I was just trying to fit in and be cool, I should have the confidence to be myself. There was an awful silence in the car while the song rang out on the radio. It’s still my favourite song.

Another conversation my brain likes to regurgitate, was with my Dad. He’d asked me to go Christmas shopping with him, in particular for a jewelry charm for my stepmother, to mark the birth of her first grandchild. Sounds pretty normal, apart from the fact I’m a mum of three. Apparently my children didn’t count. That one stung, so I kind of understand why that stick out. But the package story?

I think I remember the heat on my face at this point, or maybe the shunt first.

The guy stood next to me had a black Nike backpack on both shoulders. Two-strappin’ as my fourteen year old would say. I remember this clearly because I liked it and Googled to see how much they are.

He flew toward me from the train coach door, the backpack connecting with my face with such force, I was told afterward that it broke my nose. I’ll probably never know what he was carrying, but it felt like bricks.

The impact started a sort of domino effect as I reeled backward into someone else, eager to depart the packed train. Next came the shattering of glass, and then, the darkness.

The crumbs on the worktop slowly came into focus. A sudden pang of embarrassment. I should’ve done a better job of cleaning up before Joyce got here. I doubt she’ll judge me given that she’s here to help, not hinder.

“Is there anything you want me to jot down, anything at all” Joyce asked patiently. I shook my head. She began to gather up her notebook and papers, I could feel her pity as she smiled and patted my arm.

“We can try again next week. Remember, there are no rules here. All at your own pace, in the meantime, try to write down any thoughts or notes you might want to chat about and I’ll see you on Thursday, same time?”

“Sure” I replied, and added an absentminded “Thanks, Joyce”.

The woman was being paid to sit and listen to me talk about the trauma. Trauma, God I hate that word. Incident is another one that gives me goosebumps now. So does survivor. I sat with my guilt, in comfortable silence, long after Joan had left. A blank notebook in front of me. Physically unable to pick up the pen and write down the thoughts racing about in my head.

It’s like I’m waiting for the swell to calm. I keep picturing Niagara Falls. The memories, pictures, sounds, feelings, all flowing rapidly over the edge, fighting for position. I’m up there on the edge, amongst it all when I want to be upstream, where the water flows quietly.

I picture myself standing on the riverbank, the sun warm on my face. I close my eyes. I can hear the water running by and I am calm. I can stand there all day.

Until the heat gets more intense, it’s burning. I open my eyes, look down at the water. At a package floating by, tied with string, no, wires. Lots of wires. The sun stings my face, I cover my face with my hands, they’re covered in blood and then, the darkness.

 

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The Cottage

I always loved coming here as a kid, when the gardens alone offered hours of adventures with my brother. I’m almost 40 and now the cottage signifies getting older and loneliness.

I don’t visit anywhere near as much as I should, this also adds guilt on to the list of overwhelmingly negative feelings I have attached to this place. It’s a ball ache to get to, but it’s worth it. Like something straight out of a wartime drama, the cottage sits in more than 10 acres of National Trust land, the nearest neighbour is a good thirty-minute walk away, and that’s exactly how Nanna likes it.

On bank holiday weekends the roads to the cottage are packed with day-trippers, same for Christmas and throughout the summer holidays. That’s bought me a fair bit of leeway over the years.

Apparently, because I don’t have a family of my own to care for, I’ve no real excuse for not stopping by more frequently than once every six months. God forbid my busy work schedule, socialising and pouring over the Sunday papers should get in the way of tea, cake, and a lambasting of my continued singledom.

Yep, Nanna doesn’t mince her words. I’m personally responsible for letting her down on the great-grandchild front, despite the fact my brother has twin girls. I literally can’t win. Yet I know I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t make the trip at least a couple of times a year to check-in on the old bird.

I pull up at the main gate and press the buzzer, “Hi Nanna, it’s me.” I call into the grey box. “Well, it’s about time” comes the curt reply, and the gate slowly swings open. Sheesh, maybe I should’ve left if another month or two. Rolling my eyes in the safety of my own car, I make the short journey up to the cottage.

The gardens are stunning. She may be pushing 85, but she’s damn sprightly with a lawnmower and pruning shears! I remember the rose buses like those from Alice in Wonderland, one plant red, the next one white. My brother chasing me through the knee-high hedgerows like the Mad Hatter. Nanna was carefree then. She was never angry or bad-tempered. She’d often clip a rose especially for me, and slide it through my ponytail. Now, she’s more akin to the Queen of Hearts if I so much as admire a petal.

I park the car, switch my phone over onto silent, she can’t abide any kind of beeping noises, and taking a phone call would be considered terrible rude. Leaning over to the rear seats, I pick up a parcel and the fresh pastries and brace myself.

“Nanna, it’s lovely to see you, you look well.” I greet her. She’s stood in the kitchen doorway, surrounded by dozens of potted herbs and spring wildflowers. “What on earth are you wearing?” she bats back. And so it begins.

Sat at the patio table, I notice she looks old. I mean, she is, but it seems like life is taking its toll. When I saw her back in October, she was preparing for harvest, pumped up that her crop would be her best yet and she’d have enough to share with the groundsmen and their families. With Spring, Nanna looked tired and drawn. Like she’d not slept.

The light around the side of the cottage is the most beautiful. Dappled by the trees, the sun streams through onto the patio until late evening, making it the perfect spot to enjoy the peace and quiet. Today, the Spring sunshine only illuminated my brother’s fears, Nanna was beginning to struggle. He’d asked if I would bring my visit forward, and now I knew why.

“Have you managed to bag yourself a handsome chap yet then Maureen? I’m not getting any younger you know. This place should be full of life and laughter again, I want to be here long enough to see your little ones running about on the lawns.” That was the second time she’d called me by my mum’s name. I didn’t correct her, I played along.

“Ahh Nanna, I’m so busy with work that I don’t have time to date a man. And besides, you’ve done too good a job proving we don’t really need men to be happy. Just look at this place, it’s blooming more than ever, all thanks to you.” I leaned forward, smiling.

“Now you listen to me. I always did my fair share when Pop was alive. We were a team, I could never replace him. You’ve got to get yourself a team Maureen, you’ll be much happier.”

Peering over her glasses with a stern look, she continued: “All this work and no family, it isn’t good for you. What if you end up going doo-lally-tap, you’ll be all alone, like me.

“You deserve better Beth, don’t end up on your own, you hear. Make that a priority on your busy schedule.” She took a sip of tea and busied herself buttering a scone.

She knew. She knew her memory was slipping, her coordination slower than before. Even since before Christmas, there was a noticeable change.

“We’re going to have to make all the arrangements soon. I think it’s time you took over the cottage. I’ve spoken to the solicitors….” She was still talking but I was too stunned to hear the words.

“Nanna, why would…. Nanna where are you going?” I looked at her, panicked. Nanna was born here. 6th September 1914. The old tin bath used as a water butt at the bottom of the garden was the one she was dunked in twice a week as a child, in front of the fire by her mother.

As a toddler she had ‘brothers and sisters’ from the cities as evacuation brought scores of children from inner cities to the peace and tranquility of the countryside. Her parents were kind, hard-working people. Her father worked the land for the local country house and her mother a cook, before the children came. The cottage was lined with more than 100 years of family history, births, marriages, and deaths. Nanna had lived alone since Pop succumbed to cancer almost 15 years ago.

“Listen, don’t try and play me for a fool. I know I’m not as able as before. I’m getting clumsy. It’s harder to get up in the mornings. I know when I’m beat, and it’s time I moved on.” She said matter of factly.

“Nanna, don’t be daft. This is your home. Where are you going exactly.” I almost laughed, but knew better of it.

“I’m going to die, probably within the next month or two. I don’t want this place to slip. I’ll expect you’ll have to give notice on your fancy apartment, so we’ll call today 4 weeks notice.” She nodded.

 

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Open Your Eyes

Painting my bedroom ceiling blue was such a good idea. Waking up on even the dullest of days, I’m met with a cerulean blue skyscape which matches the calm waters of exotic holiday destinations I pine for.

I forgot to take my mascara off again. Reaching over to my bedside table, I pick up my phone and see the barrage of late-night texts from the girls. F&ck, that was a belting night out. My hair, still half curled, feels matted with cigarette smoke and shots residue. Laughing to myself, I sit up in bed and trawl through the pics and videos of us arsing about with a stag do of lads dressed up as superheroes.

Ahh, there’s that fit one who said I laugh like Daffy Duck. Cheeky ba&tard. He was right like, but still. When the manic laugh comes out, that’s when I know I’m pi$$ed. Haha. He said he liked my freckles. Weird, no one else has ever said that before. Definitely not dressed as Batman anyway. Fun times, should’ve snogged him, I just wasn’t sure if he was actually the groom to be and I won’t make that mistake again.

Mad to think of all the hilarious times we’ve had in just a small part of town. That time a bloke just picked Leah up, lashed her over his shoulder, and ran the full length of the street, proper Tarzan style. Her bag flew open, spewing make-up, coins, tampons, keys, the lot down the street. To this day, we still don’t know who he was or why he did it. We just cried laughing at her little head, bobbing down the street screaming “save me!”

I scooch back down under the covers and go for a full-body, cat-like stretch. It’s going to be a good day. Through the drapes, the sky is looking as blue as my ceiling which means my plans to wear the Vogue power suit, have gone out of the window. Too stuffy.

Looking around the walls for inspiration, my hectic studio creeps into the boundaries of my bedroom, stark in comparison. Having never fully grown out of the need to stick posters on my walls, my designing space is a riot of colour, cut-outs, and posters I have picked up at the cinema and vintage shops.

My favourites are the transport ones. We’re all commuters, one way or another. I love reimagining the 1920’s and 1940’s posters with modern fashion on the trams and old fashion motor cars.

Back when summer holidays meant a week-long visit to the coast, rather than a two-week break in Tahiti, travel was such a different concept. Long hemlines and long train journeys through the urban landscape to appreciate vast expanses of the sky at the seaside, were the norm. Beachside villas and country retreats brought about the same levels of excitement about shopping for a holiday wardrobe as we still get now. Something about packing makes me stupidly excitable.

No rest, nor holidays for the wicked just yet, there’s a collection to finish and meetings to attend. A bright, warm Monday morning calls for a splash of colour I think. Throwing back the blankets, I tiptoe on the cold floor to my walk-through wardrobe and trace my fingers along the rails. Oh there it is. The bright red, full length, wrap-around skirt with the white flower pattern. I first wore it for a play in sixth-form and tracking it down had been like a sequence from an adventure film. Call me Indiana James. Today it was the skirts time to shine.

Heading for the shower, with a spring in my step and Aretha on the record player, it was going to be a good day.

 

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Let’s Take A Walk

I used to call it the ghetto. It’s a mix of social housing, those bought out and modernised and those with identical front doors and garden gates, making sure everyone knows who’s on their arse and who has risen above it after years of graft. It’s a reproduction of a blueprint that makes up vast swathes of the city landscape. There’s no money here. People get by.

Kids still play kirby here, extra points for lobbing the ball over a moving car. On Fridays, the street is dotted with purple bins. Walking one end to the other requires slalom skills to avoid the debris and dog crap.

There’s a blossom tree, about 50 doors down, right in the middle. It battles against the Spring showers and dusts pink petals over the pavement every spring, they’re prettiest when it rains. Light and dark. The best kind of litter.

The puppy with the big chocolate button eyes, caged in the front yard. Now a 2-year-old dancing around its own muck, still in the same front yard he’s outgrown. He used to whine for you to stroke him whenever you passed by the gate. Now he barks, consistently until you’re out of sight.

When he comes over, he parks at the side of the house. No doubt wanting to avoid embarrassment should anyone recognise his car. My parents park across the street, in front of the privately-owned house, with the double extension, high gates, and security floodlights that illuminate our bedrooms at night. My dads gleaming white, 4×4 more at home on the opposite side of the road.

The top-end, or bottom end depending on how long you’ve lived here, is a shit show. The back of the betting shop, chippy, and pharmacy. An alleyway consistently fly-tipped with broken beds, sofas, and ripped bin bags. The sunbed shop, beauty salon, and mini market, under the art deco style canopy, smell like hair stray, burned skin, ale. The extra-large council bin outside always smells like grease.

The kids who hang around the shops mimic adults. They’ve already grown up in many ways. Hardened to life. Head to toe in the latest North Face. Mini bags slung across their bodies, smoking, spitting, swearing. They’re about 8, maybe 9 at most. Full of pent up aggression. Stealing from the mini-market because they know they can get away with it. Barred for a couple of days until the other, local cashier comes on and lets them away with it again. It’s only a can of Coke, or a packet of crisps. Barring them lasts a day or two.

Behind the chippy and the betting shop is the very last house in the street. It’s been bought by two developers in the time I’ve lived here. The first one renovated it by hand. From wedding the 30ft long driveway, to replastering and fitting new windows throughout, he did it on his own. I’d stop and say hi sometimes, tell him the transformation was looking great.

It went on the market at the same time kids jemmied the new PVC door open. They smashed the windows, started a fire in the living room. Pulled the plaster off the walls, exposing the electrics. Eventually the top floor window fell out, framing the weeds that grew again in the front garden. I often wonder what the developer felt like, seeing his hard work destroyed and vandalised, just as he was set to sell and move on.

Kids leave bikes in the front gardens. Lost baby shoes and dummies are propped on the fence posts in the hope of a reunion. Primary age kids walk and cycle alone to school on the next block.

On the opposite side, about 20 houses up lives a lady and my cat. My cat had a litter of kittens at home and once she had nurtured them, my cat bogged off down the road to charm the Whiskas out of my neighbour.

I know all of this because the neighbour kindly knocked on my door and told me she had adopted my cat, renamed her Sasha, and moved her into a very comfortable bed from John Lewis. Occasionally I catch the cat, who I refuse to call Sasha, pissing in my back garden.

I moved here because the house is close enough for us to all walk to and from school every day, It’s also a short walk for my eldest daughter to see her dad regularly too. When I moved in I was 9 months pregnant and the house was in a sorry state. Unable to see my feet and stand any longer than 30 minutes, I relied heavily on my parents to help make the shell a home.

For the first few weeks, we all slept in our own beds, but in one room. It felt like incubation as my body completed the last of the preparations before my son was born. I didn’t want to move out of that room, having the girls close was a huge comfort when it felt like everything around us was in disarray.

Another gift from this house in the ghetto was a life long, real friendship. I may have only been here for 5 years, but my friendship with Kate, just 50 odd doors down has spanned 25 years. Never knowing that when we met in senior school, we’d be mums, neighbors, and Friday night kitchen disco dancing queens, all this time later. She’s a blessing, her kids are amazing and I’m so lucky to have her and her mum next door but one.

Speaking of blessings. Denise lives two doors up. She’s a nursery nurse at the children’s hospital nursery. Caring for and educating the children of health care professionals. Denise has a family of her own. Her partner of more than 25 years lives in a house in the next road. They have their own space but share a life together. Denise always knocks on my door with Christmas, birthday and Easter treats for the kids. For absolutely no reason other than she is the kindest soul.

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The sun comes up in the mornings and illuminates a pyramid gable end of the house out the back. A satellite dish the only blot on the golden bricks. I look forward to this and in the summer months I can time it along with when the bin truck comes on Fridays to collect the purple bins dotted along the street. It’s home.

 

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Homeschooling – Take Two

It’s day 34 for us and I’ve made a real effort to get back into the swing of things after the Easter break. Here’s what I’ve got lined up for the kids this week and some handy links if you want to give any of the activities a go. 

I gave the kids (and myself) the Easter break off homeschooling.

I won’t lie, it’s pretty exhausting trying to source new ideas and activities every single day, especially if you have kids of different ages. Now that we know lockdown is being extended until at least 7th May, I realised I was going to have to up my game.

Having created back garden artworks, livingroom motorways, made our own pizzas, did PE with Joe and worked on our footy skills, it was time to get back to English and Maths. I have three kids, aged 14, 8 and 5. All the previous activities we’ve done can be found here. 

 

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Luckily, the 14-year-old has a full online learning program which is monitored by her teachers. She’s also a complete legend and I know I can trust her to crack on. Which leaves me the task of organising fun/educational stuff for the younger two.

They have an hour a day of TT Rockstar, Mathletics and Purple Mash, which again is monitored by the school. Aside from that, it’s up to me. The purpose of these worksheets – the majority of which I have ‘borrowed’ from Pinterest, is to do something fun together. It’s quality time. It’s family learning.

So, to keep me off the chocolate and the kids’ brains stimulated, these are the sheet work ideas I’ve come up with, plus a couple of handy online learning sites to break them up.

Read All About It

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Independent learning is an important step for all kids. I’ve devised this idea that my 8-year-old is a reporter and she’s to fill her newspaper front page with an exciting story and picture. Once I’ve explained what she needs to do, and the time frame, I know this is something she can get on with while I do some maths with her little brother. The exercise covers handwriting, research and a little bit of art.

World Wide Word Search

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I’ve made a word search for both of the kids. 8-year-old Cleo will focus on countries of the world while the little dude gets the months of the year, something he’s still not quite got in the right order yet. Cleo will also fill out an additional sheet with a fact about each of the 12 countries. Something she can use her Ipad for.

What’s The Time Mr. Wolf

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Parenting fail o clock! Well, they’re still young but, time is something my eldest daughter didn’t grasp until much later than most, and she’s pretty good with maths. So I’m making an effort to start early with the younger two.

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We’re making a spinning clock together (a la this one above from Mum in the Mad House blog) and we’ll fill in these super easy sheets with terminology such as: quarter past, half past, quarter to and the hour. They’ll number them, cut them out and add them to a bigger display. I’ll then routinely ask them what time it is throughout the day. I’ve bought them both a Lego watch each to wear too. Get them on Amazon, here.

Dollar Bills Y’all

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Money is another concept that took a little while to catch on in our house. Well, they’re all bloody fantastic at spending it, less so at appreciating its value (not unlike myself, ooh shoes).

I’ll use these basic sheets to lay-out the coins in order (how I’ll chuckle when they ask why we don’t have a £20 or £50 note!) and then move on to some good, old fashioned money questions: If you have £1 and you buy 3 x 10p sweets, how much change will you have? Playing shop at home is equally effective!

Aquatic Maths

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I hate, actually hate those sheets of sums in long rows that the kids are given at school. They’re so uninspiring. With times tables taken care of online, I’ve tried to be a bit more creative with Logan’s sums and drawn them into either fish or octopus shapes. I made some Sudoku puzzles for Cleo to get to grips with. More ideas welcome.

Eggsperiments

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Awwww man, I love a bit of science! I told the kids I could make square eggs. They think I’m nuts but it’s a really easy and fun science experiment you can do at home. Providing you have eggs! Give em a boil, peel them and while they’re still warm, stick them in a square container or box (use the Youtube Kids app here to learn how to make an easy card/paper box). Once they’ve cooled, they take on the form/shape of the box! SCIENCE!

The sheet I’ve drawn out gives the kids a space to write down or draw what we did, what we think will happen and what was the result.

The Jolly Post Girl/Boy

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We’re really lucky to have two besties living just around the corner from us and as part of our daily 30 min bike/scooter/rollerskate exercise, we’re going to play The Jolly Postman/boy/girl. The kids are missing their friends and while they know they must abide by social distancing rules, they can write and draw letters and pictures to post to each other. Exercise, English and Art! Winner. You can buy The Jolly Postman book here. It’s a classic.

Lockdown Locks

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Bit of fun for all the family this one. We’ll be lining up all our fave Lego figures and seeing what we can style a new hairstyle out of. We’re hearing great things about grapes, raspberries, playdough, Blue Tac, mashed potatoes, Nutella and more.

Feed The Birds

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As part of our daily 30 mins government-approved exercise, we pass a whole load of pine trees and so we’re planning a little nature activity too. Collecting a few up on our next route, we’ll be slathering them in peanut butter, dipping them in birdseed and lashing a ribbon around the top to make bird feeders. Ta dah!

BBC Bitesize Daily

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This week sees the launch of BBC Bitesize Daily. A handy 20-minute programme, covering a number of different subjects for kids of all ages – each day. On days when I’ve failed to prepare any worksheets or maybe they’d rather be out in the garden playing, 20 mins and pen and paper isn’t a big ask. Check it out here. 

Pinterest

21 September Pinterest

Pinterest is a free website/app which essentially details all the cool stuff on the internet. It’s an online project book/pinboard/mood board. Simply type in key stage 1/2/3 worksheets, fun art ideas, spellings, how to teach the 7 times table, whatever and the internet shall reply. It’s visually more fun that just googling and you’ll be surprised at just how many ideas there are.

How are you getting through lockdown with your little ones? Any bright ideas to make learning more fun? Drop me a line, like, please, share your ideas! I can’t help but think the kids aren’t going back to school any time soon! KateJamesBlogs@gmail.com

Good luck everyone, have fun and enjoy. Plus, there’s always gin. 

 

 

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Oh The Places You’ll Go

On NYE 2018 I made a resolution to spend at least 30 days of the brand, spanking new year out of the country. It’s March 2020 and I still haven’t achieved it, however, if I could jet off right now…

I travelled 12,000 miles around the world when I was 8 weeks old. My mum flew us from Australia to Liverpool to meet the family. My Aussie passport stamped, I arrived in the city for the first time in 1983. Since then I’ve been back to my native Sydney, walked the streets of NYC, tanned on the beaches of Turkey, Greece, Spain, Germany, watched shooting stars streak across the Nevada desert, sipped cocktails in Hong Kong, explored wartime history in France, chased dreams in New York, done the Disney thing twice over and made London, the northeast of England and Cumbria my temporary homes.

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It’s not bad going for someone who started a family at 22. Travelling with kids makes things slightly more complicated, but not impossible. In her first 18 months of life, my eldest daughter boarded no less than 17 Ryanair flights (I know, tantamount to child abuse) as we nipped over to France to see my folks.

She was the token 1 year old getting me all kinds of disapproving looks on a long haul flight to Las Vegas. Only to sleep for 8 hours and behave like a freaking angel for the rest of the flight! The little one clocked up some miles in Manhattan at just 2, saw the Statue of Liberty and a love of Ghostbusters was born early on. She’s hung out on the Four Seasons fairways in Portugal, she’s paddled in the warm water at Padstow. In short, we’ve had some amazing adventures.

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Travel took a back seat when the other two little legends came along. I’ve never been a jet setter but we did okay. Now I trawl through Instagram accounts of families who have sold everything to go travelling around the world together with their young kids, educating them on everything from religion to languages, science, and nature, a truly 4d experience. The only reason I’ve regretted not buying a house is that I can’t sell it and bugger off to globe-trot. Sake!

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That old adage – If I won the lottery, or came into some money, the very first thing I would do is pack us up and get on a flight. Right now it’s near impossible to go to the corner shop without being questioned by the police.

But, there’s a big old world out there, waiting to come to life from the travel magazine pages and websites. This is my ‘stage one’ itinerary.

Around the world with Katie James, if you will.

Casablanca, Morocco

Leave the tourists in Marakesh and head north to Casablanca for incredible Moorish and European art deco architecture. 20 degrees in Spring, a fresh Atlantic breeze and phenomenal photo opportunities. I’m going straight in for a culture shock on my first stop and I think the romance of Casablanca is a great start.

Petra, Jordan

I loved Indiana Jones growing up and a visit to the lost city of Petra, Jordan could be the highlight of my worldwide trip. The ancient Al Khazneh temple, which was carved out of sandstone is at the top of my list at this 2000-year-old ancient city. Worn in Nikes, Canon, spare batteries and lensed sunglasses is all I need to roam free and step back in time here.

Rome, Italy

I’m 37 and I’ve never been to Italy! How has this happened? I’m going to visit Rome in the Autumn time to see the starling murmurations – which are annoying as hell to locals, but a sight to behold for those interested in more than just the ancient tourist attractions. COViD-19 foiled my plan to visit a couple of weeks ago, but there’s an Air BNB roof terrace and an Aperol with my name on out there, somewhere.

Venice, Italy

The floating city! Since that epic sinking sequence in Bond film, Casino Royale, Venice has held a special place in my heart. People have told me the water is stinking, the streets are always crowded and it’s like 8 euro for a coffee. Yeah but, the city floats! Planning a trip to arrive around the time of the Venice Film Festive would be pretty epic too.

Athens, Greece

I bloody love Disney’s Hercules. I loved learning about ancient Greece at school and there’s something about ancient civilisations and mythology that has to be felt. The textbooks just never did it justice. You can’t be a massive Nike fan and not want to visit Athens. Guaranteed to be humming the Hercules soundtrack the whole time.

Chennai, India

Bit of a random one. I’m a big sports fan. I always loved watching international cricket as it happens. The Ashes of 2005 was the one, got me through my first pregnancy. I adored Nasser Hussain (don’t ask, it was the way he wore the cap I think.) Anyway, he’s from Chennai in India and having read his autobiography, I just always wanted to go!

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Oh Colombo, a port city, much like my own (adopted) home of Liverpool. The Sri Lankan capital has experienced many international influences from dutch, to Portuguese, British and of course, independence. A trip out of the metropolis to The Last Kindom in Kandy is a must too.

Osaka, Japan

Me and my eldest kid are huge comic con and cosplay fans and so a stop in Japan was vital. Tokyo might seem the obvious choice and how I loved Lost In Translation. But Osaka is the one for me. The cherry blossom trees at Osaka Castle, and the contrast of the bustling Dotonbori, the food and the retro gaming – the perfect way to absorb the culture.

Sanya, China

I had the pleasure of working with the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race as it set sail from Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock. The race involves a stop in Sanya, China, a place that I’d never heard of before but once you’ve caught a glimpse of its stunning beaches (Sanya Bay, wow) and incredible cultural monuments, you have to go!

Palmerston Island, Cook Islands

I read the amazing history of Palmerston Island in The Sunday Times magazine, probably about 5 years ago. Everyone who lives on this tiny atoll can trace their image back to a man from Leicester. Yep, Leicester. William Masters arrived on this coral reef enclosed island in1863 with two wives and the rest they say is history.

Tahiti, French Polynesia

Okay, this pit stop is pure because of an Eddie Murphy line in a 90’s cop film. Nope, not Beverley Hills Cop, but Metro. ‘Naked in Tahiti’ in a rubbish English accent – along with the black sand beaches, lagoons and love of artist, Gaugin, I could take a week off to get naked in Tahiti. The island is also in the shape of figure 8, which is kind of special to me.

Cusco, Peru

Continuing my love of ancient ruins. 15th-century citadel, Machu Picchu is most definitely on the travel list for me. Nearby Cusco is the gateway to The Scared Valley. From a bustling tourist center to the tiny Andean villages, experiencing ‘The Road to Eldorado’ style Inca trail is something I’d love to do with my kids.

Miami, USA

Miami! Will Smith made it sound so amazing! The art deco hotel fronts, skating along South Pointe Pier, a lazy day on Lauderdale beach. Lunch at Boia De, cocktails at The Broken Shaker and back to the airport. Stay just long enough to capture some incredible photos and we’re off again.

New Orleans, USA

My sister and I are life-long Scooby Doo fans and there’s no finer episodes than the ones set in spooky New Orleans. Cut to 2020 and the recent season 2 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina channeled the Mardi Gras style so perfectly, that it reignited a flame to want to visit. Plus, The Princess and The Frog has us all wanting to check out the Louisiana Bayou tour!

Niagara Falls, Canada

You don’t want to know how much time I have sat and watched the Niagara Falls live stream from on top of the Sheraton Falls hotel. Seriously, I have a problem. I’ve wanted to board the Maiden of the Mist since I was about 9. Fascinated by the stories of people attempting to go over the magnificent falls in barrels etc has had me captivated for too long.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Sticking with Canada, hiking doesn’t get much better of fulfilling around Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cape Breton Highlands is the place to be for a wild adventure, then it’s back into the 4km long boardwalk of the Halifax waterfront to feast on amazing seafood. I interviewed a lady who was sailing on the QM2, which en route to New York, was stopping in Halifax. She raved about it and now I want to see if for myself.

Liverpool, UK

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It has to be said, sailing back into Liverpool has to be one of the most exhilarating experiences, even as an adopted Scouser. The Royal Liver Building standing tall and proud on the waterfront, those iconic Liver Birds keeping watch. Sometimes the best thing about travelling, is coming home.

Maybe I’ll buy a boat with that lottery win?

Where would you go? Send me your itinerary katejamesblogs@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

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We’re All In This Together

We’ve been social distancing for 13 days today and I’ll admit, the wheels have fallen off a bit. With a 5, 8 and 14-year-old to entertain, it was never going to be easy! 

Two weeks in and today has been the laziest Sunday of them all. We’re bored, I’m tired and I have brand new respect for all educators, this shit is exhausting. That said, we’ve crammed in quite a few fun activities and having a garden and sunshine has played a major factor in our harmonious isolation.

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The weather has turned cooler this weekend and being inside the house, rapidly draining the electricity has taken its toll on us all, in just 24 hours. A reminder of how lucky we are, along with the arrival of my first delivered Sunday Times in months, we’ve had a big tidy up, we’ve made some snacks and we’re currently drawing portraits.

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Monday brings routine again. We’re back starting our day with PE with Joe Wicks, The Body Coach at 9am. Then it’s breakfast, showers dressed and ready to start home school at 10:30. At 1:30pm we stop for lunch, tidy up and then it’s free time. No Ipads or tech til 4pm. Tea is at 5:30pm, bed at 7:30pm for the little ones. Repeat.

Here are a few activities and tips for getting your hands on crafty/fun stuff without breaking the bank:

Picasso Painting

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I found some old wallpaper and wrapping paper and instead of trying to contain the mini artists at the kitchen table (it always ends up being trailed into the living room carpet or flicked up the fridge) I hung the paper over the garden wall and washing line and encouraged the kids to flick and chuck the paint. They loved it! More arty ideas here. 

Garden Circuits 

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I’m definitely loving PE with Joe more than the kids. Making the most of the garden, I set them a circuit challenge including simple things like jumping and skipping, stepping stones and collecting coloured flags (tea towels) from different places. This works on the washing line too, give them a sheet with a colour or pattern sequence on it and peg them out. Fastest wins.

Garden/Kitchen Bingo

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I made the kids some Bingo cards for the Garden. They had to find stuff like the slide, a blue peg, a tree stump, a flower, and a spider. Until they actually pointed out a spider (caused a fair bit of drama this one) I refused to declare a winner. Good fun. You can do this in the kitchen too.

Master Chef

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Getting the kids involved with cooking is usually a massive ball ache but now that there’s excess time and we’re gonna have to start making our own bread, it’s a great boredom buster. We managed to get our hands on some strong flower and yeast and so we had a crack at making our own pizzas. Ballsed up the dough but it was edible. In or around Liverpool? Get your kit delivered from Baytree Catering here.

Masking Tape Motorways

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I set this up for my little boy but it turns out the girls were willing to ‘play cars’ too! Get yourself a roll of tape, doesn’t have to be masking tape, anything will do and mark out a big old spaghetti junction on your floor. Masking tape is super easy to pull back up too. Then all your need is a car or two, or lego or hot wheels or whatever. I taped our roads up over the sofa, under the coffee table, and around a bookcase to mix things up a bit. This tape from Amazon looks ace. 

Catwalk Creations

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I stocked my little three drawer freezer up the week before last, and to make the most of the space I took everything out of the boxes. This was handy when looking for crafting bits. The kids decided to make robots from all the bits and bobs and then made them catwalk down the garden path making for some fun boomerang videos!

Diva Make Overs

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My eldest is a dab hand with a set of makeup brushes and has gotten the kids involved in some brilliant diva makeovers. Face paint, makeup, nail varnish, hair accessories have all helped to break up the monotony this weekend. Convinced my boy will end up on Drag Race!

Hope some of these ideas will prove useful. Please feel free to send me yours too, looks like we’re in this for the long haul! katejamesblogs@gmail.com 

 

 

 

 

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On The Box

TV is a window into the world we’re no longer allowed to play in. Thank god for Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Cartoon Network. I’m all about that Cupcake & Dino life. 

I don’t really watch tv. Well, I don’t watch anything regularly. Soaps and reality tv shows don’t interest me. In fact, I’ve just realised I’ve seen more episodes of The Amazing World of Gumball and Apple & Onion than anything even remotely grown up.

That was until life as we knew it was blown out of the water and we were all banned from going outside for three weeks. Yes, I know we’re officially ‘allowed’ one 30 minute window for exercise, but that still leaves 23.5 hours in the day to fill. Good old telly.

I still don’t watch anything on mainstream TV. Cartoon Network is my go-to. It’s mindless, it’s fun, it totally counts as a ‘family activity’ and who doesn’t love watching UniKitty lose her shit at Puppycorn and Hawkadile for 114th time an episode?

When the kids go to bed, I’ve taken on some recommendations in the form of films and series. Here’s 7 films and series I’m watching on lockdown while awaiting the second season of The Umbrella Academy;

Ozark

Netflix series which first aired in 2017. Starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. Jason plays Marty, a financial advisor who gets into some shit money laundering for a Mexican drug cartel. It’s really good. I’m 5 episodes into season one, with seasons 2 and 3 now available on Netflix too. Give it a whirl.

Pretty Woman

I know, I know. It’s ancient, it’s corny af, but it had the power to pull a bunch of us together on social media on Wednesday night to watch it and reminisce together. Work it baby! 30 years since it’s release, we were all singing and quoting along. You can rent it for £2.49 on Amazon.

Indian Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark

The hilarious Joe Heenan @joeheenan started #RaidersTweet on Twitter last week and got a shed load of strangers together to watch this absolute classic. Having tried for years to get my kids into this franchise, my 14-year-old finally sat up and paid attention when she saw young Harrison Ford in his three-piece tweed! What a style icon Marion is! Get it on Amazon Prime.

The Split

Season two of this BBC drama had me on a countdown for almost 12 months. The story follows a highly successful divorce lawyer, Hannah, her crumbling marriage, her affair with the hot, blonde America, her sisters and mum. It’s London, pre-pandemic and a woman who is in love with two men. Get season 1 and 2 on the BBC Iplayer. Brilliant drama.

Casual

I binge-watched all three seasons of Casual on Amazon Prime Video before the pandemic became a thing. It stars Tommy Dewey and Michaela Watkins as brother and sister Alex and Valerie. From their messed up childhood to raising a teen, dating, sex, relationships, the adorable Leon and the LA life. Addictive stuff.

Metro

Metro, starring Eddie Murphy and Michael Rapaport first hit cinema screens in 1997 and I love it as much today as I did then. Eddie plays another smart-mouthed cop, a la Beverley Hills cop, but this time he’s a negotiator who’s pissed off a jewellery thief. It’s got some great stunts. Another £2.49 effort on Amazon that’s worth a watch.

True Detective

I appreciate that I’m WAY behind the times when it comes to this Sky series. I’ve heard so many people rave about the first series that I’m going to treat myself to it and feast on the heady mash-up of Hollywood giants, McConaughey and Harrelson in the coming weeks. Let me get three seasons of Ozark done first! If you want to stream it, you can get it on Now TV.

What are you watching to get by? What are you thoughts on binge-watching a long-awaited series as opposed to resorting to an episode a day/week? like back in the good old days? Were those days really that good? Drop me a line with your recommendations katejamesblogs@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Life Jim, But Not As We Know It

Following on from my previous blog post, A Whole New World, I did indeed make it to my first day in the new job. And in an instant, it was gone. 

I started my new job, met the fab new team and received a warm welcome to the office. It was something of a baptism of fire as clients began reacting to the news that a global pandemic had been announced. The boss gave the small team the option to work from home as it emerged that traveling by public transport and working in close proximity was aiding the virus growth.

We had a team lunch, tried to keep spirits high while all churning over the breaking news. Major shops closing, high profile cases being reported, death tolls in China, Italy, Spain and then at 5pm, instead of rushing home, we waited and watched the first UK government live press conference.

On Monday 16th March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the nation that COViD-19 had been declared a pandemic and the UK was about to take drastic measures to stop the spread among the elderly and infirm. There were tears, I felt for these girls I’d met just a few hours ago, and my boss. Caring, worried about her staff and clients as well as her own family. We went home with a plan to give clients more support than ever before.

On Tuesday, I brought my children home. My daughters and I have a vascular disease. We’re not at increased risk of contracting COViD-19, but my middle daughter had lung surgery a little while back, and I wasn’t taking any risks. Tuesday 17th March became day one of Social Distancing for us as a family.

On Wednesday 18th March, I was let go from my new job. Contract terminated with immediate effect as I was still in the probation period. I don’t blame my boss at all. It’s a scary time for everyone in business and at this early stage, the support package from the government hadn’t been announced. She assured me that once this was over, there would be a role for me.

On Thursday 26th March, we made a poster, with a rainbow on it and a message of thanks to those on the front line, our incredible NHS workers. At 8pm we stood on our front doorstep and we applauded and cheered as a way to give thanks to those making huge sacrifices for us. It won’t ever be enough.

It’s now Sunday 29th March 2020. We’ve adjusted to life, for now. My mum and step-dad, friends Michelle, Kate and Paul have become our lifeline, delivering shopping, helping with school work for the kids and my brother and sister have kept our spirits up thanks to Whatsapp. The Ble Room podcast, which I’ve contributed to for a year this month, has also kept me sane, utilising Skype to catch up with the lads and chat all things Everton and COViD-19 of course. Houseparty is a great app. Get it.

It’s day 13 and while we’re having a lazy Sunday. Tomorrow we’ll be starting a new routine. 9am PE with Joe, 10:30 – 1:30 school work, no Ipads or tech until 4pm. Everyone is helping to prep lunch and tea. There will be baths and bed and movie night on the projector thanks to Disney+ and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

I don’t know what’s to come. The prospect of it scares and excites me in equal measure. One thing I do know is that I don’t want to go back to ‘normal’. I’ve learned some serious lessons these last couple of weeks, and I’ve no doubt there are more to come. For me, going back isn’t an option.

I hope you and yours are safe and well.

To every single key worker and volunteer, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for everything you’re doing, you are incredible. 

 

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