15 Things I Want My 7 Year Old Daughter To Know

Our cat eating Barbie

Molly our cat protests at the impossible standard of physical perfection demanded of women which contributes to epidemic cultural body dysmorphia and continued gender inequality…

The Biscuit Thief is turning 7 on… wait for it… 12.12.12. YES she is my magic, alien, mystical baby. In preparation for this milestone, I have been thinking about all the things she is now ready to know:

1. It is awesome that you get yourself dressed for school now, but it’s always good to include pants on the inside of your leggings.

2. An apple is a kind of fruit and a mac is a kind of lightweight coat that keeps the rain off.

3. It is not funny to say “cock” in front of granny even though it appears to make daddy laugh.

4. Barbie is not representative of women. Anywhere. In any way. And the cat was right. (See photo)

5. No, it is not acceptable that, as a woman, you are likely to be paid less than your male counterparts doing the same work. The fight for equality goes on and I’m sorry we still haven’t fixed that for you.

6. The one hour kazoo concert you gave was… unforgettable…and  mummy is REALLY SORRY that she can’t remember where she hid put your kazoo afterwards.

7. Disneyland is closed.

8. The ‘F’word is not ‘fanny’.

9. Shreddies are not really “knitted by nannas”.

10. The Tooth Fairy can do all that stuff because a) she’s magic and b) she’s a woman.

11. The feisty, determined, rule-breaking, wildness in you that is so hard to parent sometimes, is exactly what will make you an awesome adult.

12. It is not going to be possible to meet Rapunzel. She’s a fictional character.

13. There isn’t really such a time as ‘Gin O’Clock’.

14 . Mummy and daddy are not perfect, but we love you very much.

15. Actually, mummy is perfect.

What are you throwing on the bonfire tonight?

Photo by Janne Karaste

Today in the UK, we celebrate blowing things up. Or nearly blowing things up.

Bonfire Night is so quintessentially punk; a bit edgy, transgressive at its very roots. Is tonight the closest we British get to wildness? Fireworks are a bit Malcolm McLaren, a bit KLF aren’t they? I don’t whether I am more awed by the pretty lights or the way ‘poor’ councils such as mine (Brent) will still plunder their paltry budgets and basically shoot wads of cash into the ether.  I’ve never been clear whether we are celebrating Guy Fawkes’ gall or his failure? That’s the beauty of a fire festival; it can be both destructive and creative depending on how you look at it.

If I could build a bonfire this year it would be (highly dangerous as our postage stamp-sized garden is fence-to-fence wooden decking) made up of the year’s disappointments: several lottery scratch cards unpeeled to reveal their worthless core; rejection letters from employers and publishers; the packaging from knickers bought in a hopeful size-too-small; unopened jubilee bunting. But from the ashes, I would begin again, freer than before.

What are you throwing on the pyre tonight?

5 Half Term Projects That Cost Less Than A Sausage

[This is a reposting of a blog I did for the Spring Half Term but with a Halloween update… enjoy!]

I’m really looking forward to half term week with my 6 year-old Biscuit-thief, and I’m determined not to watch Cbeebies even once, however much I miss it.

This is my top five list of things we’ll be doing that cost under £1! Yes! These activities cost less than a sausage and yet, are somehow priceless.

1. Do a mind control experiment

I seriously LOVE this experiment and can still remember doing it when I was 7. IT CHANGED MY LIFE and is the best possible way to teach children the power of positive thinking. Literally, mind blowing.

You will need:

  • A packet of cress seeds
  • Some kitchen towel
  • Three trays/old ice cream containers or similar
  • Three labels/stickers
  • Some thoughts
  • Some words

Pad the bottom of each container with kitchen towel then, with a measuring jug, pour equal amounts of water into each tray – just enough to dampen the towel, not soak it. Then, sprinkle roughly the same amount of cress seeds on top of the dampend kitchen towel in each tray.

Make three labels; one that says something nice like “love”, one that says something horrible like “hate” and leave the third blank. Put one label on each tray. Place the trays side-by-side so that they get equal amounts of light and heat.

Now, here’s the important bit: over the next week, encourage your Biscuit-thief to say or think really lovely things towards the LOVE tray. They can say and think equally mean things about the HATE tray and have to ignore the third tray. Every day, they need to pour equal amounts of water into each tray to keep the seeds moist whilst thinking and saying lovely or mean things to the relevant seeds.

You and they will FREAK OUT when, by the end of half term, the LOVE tray of seeds has grown faster with thicker stems than the seeds in the poor little HATE tray. It’s a bizarre, brilliant life lesson courtesy of cress. And watch the penny drop as your sproglets realize the damage they are doing when they call you a smelly fart head.

 2. Colour code the week

On Monday morning, decide with your sproglet what the colour theme of each day will be for example, Monday = Red, Tuesday = Yellow etc. Whatever you do that day, from the clothes you both wear to the food you all eat, there must be an emphasis on that colour.  They can count how many red cars, how many people they see wearing red jumpers etc on that day. The screams when they see a purple car on purple day… you have no idea. Not only will you realize that very few of us can really get away with that pastel orange Top Shop are trying to sell us, it’s also brilliant when the kids get to Friday and realize they have to eat lots of greens. Crafty eh?

3. Play Boredom Bingo

Boredom Bingo
Play Boredom Bingo this half term!

My 6 year-old is never happier than when she has a clipboard and pen in her hand. Maybe she’s going to be a polling officer or telly-offy type person when she grows up. I worry about her love of bureaucracy, it’s as if I’ve taught her NOTHING. Anyway, she makes lists in connection with whatever we’re doing. For example, on a trip to our local corner shop, the Biscuit-thief will make a list of ‘expected sightings’ to tick off like:

  • A woman crying
  • Some dog poo
  • Someone hugging a hoodie
  • An abandoned mattress
  • A really cocky urban fox

Apart from the fact that we REALLY MUST MOVE house, an average trip is transformed from boring milk run to fascinating detective trail. If she spots all five things, she has to shout, “BOREDOM BINGO” at the top of her lungs and wins a kiss from mummy. I really must copyright Boredom Bingo.

4. Make a sculpture from your tears

This is genius because you can turn your nervous breakdown into a science experiment:

You need:

  • A jam jar with a lid
  • Some string
  • A spoon
  • Some water
  • Some salt
  • Some tears

Make a small hole in the lid of the jam jar and put a piece of thickish string through it, tying a knot at the top so it can’t fall through the lid. Fill the jar with warmish water and add a few table spoons of salt. Mix with a spoon and let the salt dissolve. Every time you or your sproglets cry over half term, catch a few of the tears in the jam jar to add to the salt mix. Place the lid with the string onto the jam jar and behold as over the week, the salt clusters around the string to form a gorgeous, crystalline gem. The size of the crystal will depend on how many tears have been shed. BRILLIANT.

5. Make an Ancestor Tree

There is almost nothing that makes the Biscuit Thief happier than full permission to CUT THINGS UP or HUNT FOR STICKS. This timely Halloweeny activity is perfectly suited to her forager tendencies. First you need to find a nice big tree branch. If you can’t find a real one, draw a tree on a large bit of paper with lots of branches sticking out. Then you need to print off pictures of as many of your relations as you can, as far back as you can go, and stick them onto your tree or hang their photos from the branches of your stick. Even if you don’t have photos or much knowledge about your relations, it is amazing to jot down the family myths and stories you have inherited on post-it notes, and stick them all over the tree. It is a great way to engage your sproglets with their roots, bringing an element of storytelling and rembrance to this magical time of year. Obviously, you may need to edit the stories to be ‘age appropriate’. I’m not going to mention Aunty Stella’s over-fondness of gin to the Biscuit Thief just yet.

Forget the Yummy Mummy: What About the Laddy Daddy?

Primrose Hill Russian Tea Room BliniThere was a piece in the Guardian last week in defence of the ‘yummy mummies’ accused of causing the downfall of a blini-selling tea-room, Trojka, in North London’s Primrose Hill. I have tried to trace the original story and actually, it’s rather unclear who made the original ‘yummy mummy’ comment but it appears to be attributable to another Primrose Hill cafe owner, Amit Jain.

Whatever the truth of the original story is, the subsequent emphasis on the ‘yummy mummy’ angle highlights the fact that, if things rhyme or alliterate, IT’S REALLY HANDY FOR JOURNALISTS!  It’s especially useful if you can dismiss or target large groups of women gathering together with one sweeping derisory phrase such as ‘yummy mummies’, ‘pram faces’,  ‘lipstick lesbians’ or  ‘witches’. Ok, so they don’t all rhyme or alliterate, but there does seem to be a witch-hunt mentality behind all this. So, before we get to witness a huge bonfire consisting of melting Bugaboo prams at this year’s Primrose Hill fireworks display, let’s just hold on a second. Here is my letter to the PUMPs (People Upset with the Mummies of Primrose Hill):

Dear PUMPs,

I understand that it is VERY LIKELY INDEED that the terrible fate which has befallen your High Street is more likely to have been caused by a group of lactating women than, for example, world recession or triple rent increases. Yep, definitely a bunch of ladies, especially those breeders with muffin tops and leaky boobs who should not really be seen in public until they have ‘got their body back’. But come on PUMPs, if you are going to blame an entire substrata of society for ruining your world, you must GET YOUR LINGUISTIC  CATEGORISATION OF PARENTAL GROUPS SHITE TOGETHER! It’s a bit like botany; you’ve got your Daisy family, and then all sorts of sub Daisy…

Are you sure, for example, it was not in fact the LADDY DADDIES  who destroyed your business? It is the laddy daddy who blocks your doorway, not only with an SUV-sized pram , but also an actual SUV every Sunday. This happens because their yummy mummy wife abandons her ‘domestic duties’ every weekend in favour of having a pedicure and getting her chakras realigned by that buff yoga master who wears tiny pants at Tri Yoga. Yes, it’s because of the laddy daddies, those hipster fathers with their Converse clad feet and G-Star jeans, who idle away so many hours over one Gluten-free muffin while perusing the Sunday papers and ignoring their kids, that you have thought on many occasions about homicide.  Perhaps Primrose Hill cafes are closing because the laddy daddy (unlike the yummy mummy) never notices when their hemp-clothed offspring Tarquin and Rainbow have failed, yet again, to stop the family’s Cockapoo from shitting under the table.

Or are the Zappa Pappa’s to blame? These carefully bearded men-with-children who are still  intent on pursuing the career of a Rock God are not to be confused with DJ Dad (carefully bald) whose children were conceived at a rave in Brighton years ago to the sound of Sean Ryder’s twisted melon. Their kids, Tiger and Wilderness, pop Smarties like pills and wait for the blue ones to kick in before ramming other customers with their scooters in a repetitive manner while DJ Dad orders a fry up.

LET’S BE CLEAR. Was it the Wanker Bankers? The Trad Dads? The Tubby Hubbies? WHO IS REALLY TO BLAME FOR THERE BEING NO MORE BLINIS IN PRIMROSE HILL? Or is it, like Freud always said, really mummy’s fault?

Love Me x

(A slummy mummy who can’t afford one of your lavishly iced cupcakes anyway)

Top Ten Spookiest Places in Britain: A Pass the Brown Trousers Guide

Smelling SaltsI am of a delicate disposition. Utterly invertebrate. Had I been born in a different era, I would have been a wan-faced, smelling-salt fainter type prone to swooning into the arms of that blonde bloke from Downton Abbey. Instead, in this robust moment in women’s history, I am a secret scaredy-cat fortified by coffee whose daughters take the piss relentlessly.

After the Dementors in Harry Potter reduced me to tears, my girls prescribed me some serious jitter therapy; a trip to Harry Potter World where I learned that Dementors are in fact just rubbish bags on a piece of string dangled about by an intern.

Although I am semi-cured of my wibbly-wobblyitis, I still have a love/shit-my-pants relationship with this time of year and occasions such as Samhain, Halloween, All Saint’s Day and Bonfire Night. Many of the festivals taking place over the next few weeks are, at heart, celebrations about finding light in the darkness of winter as well as being a time to honour those no longer with us. In short, it’s spook season and I spend quite a lot of it hiding behind the sofa, peeping between the fingers of my 6 year old.

However, I’m feeling brave, and in the spirit of not being a lily-livered, malingering pant-wetter, here is a list of the spookiest most atmospheric places in Britain I can think of. They have either sent chills down my spine, filled me with awe or caused me worry wind. What would you add to the list?

A Pass the Brown Trousers Guide to Britain 

1. Glastonbury Abbey

Even more than the Tor or Chalice Well, an autumn afternoon spent at Glastonbury Abbey in the South West of England is a magical experience. An original church was built here in around 63AD and the detailed archeological findings on the site take you through the whole tumultuous history of Britain through myth, legend and artifact. You can almost feel the legendary ghost monks rubbing up against you in their sackcloth and oiling their baldy heads.  There is nothing like an old ruin to give you the chills. (Insert ageist, sexist joke about Joan Collins here, think better of it and decide to leave it out). http://www.glastonburyabbey.com/arthur.php

2. The British Museum’s Enlightenment Room is filled with intriguing artifacts but the most compelling were once the property of Dr. John Dee, occult magician and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Dee’s black obsidian mirror and wax discs covered with magical and alchemical symbols make fascinating viewing. After getting the willies here, you can then nip up to the Egyptian mummy exhibit or go see some shrunken heads. Awesome. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_mla/d/dr_dees_mirror.aspx

3. The Rosslyn Chapel located 7 miles south of Edinburgh is a medieval church at the centre of many grail novels, Knights Templar tales and mysteries. Whatever the truth behind the legends, there is no doubt that, even when crowded with visitors, the wall-to-wall carvings of the building are totally engrossing. I don’t know quite what it was that gave me the shivers here; the atmosphere, the freezing weather or the thought of Dan Brown’s I-could-buy-an-island bank balance. http://www.rosslynchapel.org.uk/

4. Highgate Cemetery This stunning Gothic/Victorian graveyard covers miles of land in North London and is the burial place of Karl Marx, Christina Rossetti and Max Wall among others. It’s particularly atmospheric at dusk and on cold autumn days when stone angels peek through mounds of red ivy and golden leaves. My old primary school is located opposite the entrance on Swain’s Lane and, as a child, I was terrified of the huge willow tree that spewed out over the cemetery wall, it’s long gnarled branches beckoning like the bony fingers of the dead. No wonder I wet myself on the trampoline. http://www.highgate-cemetery.org/index.php/home

5. The Whispering Knights in Warwickshire are four Neolithic dolmen dated to around 4000 BC. Set against a sunset, the weathered stones actually look like knights huddled together conspiring and there is almost nothing scarier than rocks that look real people. Just say “no” to animated granite.

6. St Enodoc Church This church in Trebetherick, Cornwall was buried under sand dunes from the 16th-19th centuries and is said to be the location of a cave where the hermit St Enodoc lived. The building still has the appearance of being engulfed by the land and with a vast sea view behind, it is a memorable and rather eerie place according to my mate Charlotte. I’ve never been. The idea of being engulfed by sandunes is too much.

7. Wayland Smithy located near the White Horse of Uffington in Oxfordshire is a Neolithic tomb associated with the Saxon god of blacksmiths. Gnarly trees, crumbling stones and gory archeological findings make this one of the most knee-knocking ancient sites I have ever got the fear in. It puts the “oo” in spooky. http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/wayland.htm

8. London’s Ghost Stations ~ London’s underground tube network includes several disused railway stations which invoke bygone eras and ghosts of the past. A quick Google search will guide you to ones you can still catch glimpses of such as the old open air platform at Highgate now overgrown with ivy and buddleia. One of the scariest things is the smell of urine in the abandoned tunnel between Muswell Hill and Highgate. http://www.abandonedstations.org.uk/

9. The German Military Underground Hospital in Guernsey in the Channel Islands was built by slave workers during the Nazi occupation of the Island in 1940. It is an icy, concrete hell of echoing eeriness constructed during an appalling time in European history. With such desperately unhappy foundations, it is unsurprising that a tour still gives most visitors the heebeegeebies for weeks after. Grim.

10. Willy Wilcock’s Hole on the Cornish coast is one of the many of the dark craggy caves in this area associated with ghostly pirate ships, phantom sea folk and distressed damsels whose cries are carried on the howling coastal wind. Luckily, the name Willy Wilcock helps me to laugh in the face of my phobia of ghostly gammy-legged, halitosis-ridden pirates that possibly only Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow could cure. Also, for smuggly, piratey, contrabandy atmosphere par excellence, I’ve got to mention the little fishing village of Polperro where my brother -in-law once dropped his trousers in public. Magic. http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/cornwall/folklore/willy-wilcocks-hole.html

I’d love to hear what you would add to my list.

Now, what was that noise?

The Secret Map of Motherhood

Map of EuropeSome days I am not big enough for this. This unexpected battleground of “Please will you…” and “Eat this…” and “Where is my?” and “Don’t forget to…” and all before 8am.

Some mornings, I plan the whole route in my head; the Overland train to West Hampstead, West Hampstead to St Pancras, then the Eurostar to the solar plexus of Europe, Paris. From there, anywhere. Within hours I could be curled up in the boot of Italy or reading by a fire in a log cabin that overlooks a freshwater lake or dipping my white toes in the Black Sea, salt on my lips. Because some days, that is where motherhood sends me; to a hidden corner of an imaginary map of freedom I hold in my head like the teenage heart holds a kiss.

Some mornings, I plot my escape all the way back from school to my front door. But with each step, the colours of my Ordnance Survey drain away like anaesthesia. I pass a canopy of spider’s webs strung from window sill to boundary wall, a patchwork of flattened paper cups, spittle and shit, and then I am home again. What keeps me coming back to be the punch bag of my daughter’s growing. Is it duty? Is it love? Sometimes, on days when I am not big enough, I am not sure; but I always do, and I always will.

Take Me As I Am: Do you write ‘mother’ on your CV?

Tightrope Walker

More lady tightrope walkers required

You know that horrible twist of self-loathing you feel when you’re doing something you don’t really believe in? That sickening sense of the brick in the belly, the invisible snake that tightens around your throat and stops you from swallowing? Well I had it yesterday. Why?

Because I was writing my CV. My curriculum vitae should be my ticket to paid employment, my calling card. This mysterious document is meant to be a summary of my ‘relevant’ experience and skills; a list of the things that make me employable. Forty-four years whittled down to two sides of A4. And I’m livid.

Curriculum vitae is a Latin phrase which roughly translates as ‘the course of [my] life’ but what I just wrote on that ridiculous document is a load of piddling pish. It has nothing to do with who I really am or indeed, the course of my life. My CV does not mention the thing that really moulded me, the thing that gave me inner steel, forced me to perform immeasurable feats on little-to-no sleep, to be impulsively creative, a multi-limbed juggler of good and bad like Kali. I cannot say on my CV, ‘I am as real and persistent as a wasp in your pants’, but I am. It doesn’t say that I am a mother.

The thing that set the throat snake unravelling this morning was the moment I found myself trying to justify long periods of ‘absence’ in my working life. Gaps that mess up the linear trajectory of work experience that the majority of employers expect. I found myself writing apologetically that I had taken ‘career breaks’ around the births of my two daughters. I did not write in big, bold letters ‘Mother’ the same way I wrote ‘PR Manager’ or ‘Copywriter’. And the more I didn’t write ‘Mother’ in big, bold letters to explain the years 1996-1998 and 2005-2009, the more furious I felt.

There are no gaps in the ‘course of my life’, but there have been long periods of time when I have chosen something else over economic independence, my children.  Oh, how naive I have been to think this is allowed! Those gaps on my CV loom like huge, gaping mouths; monstrous voids where it is assumed I was brain-dead and milk-sodden, capable of nothing but talking goo goo la la and doing laundry. Women who have had children know that motherhood IS work. Motherhood is difficult work, it is valuable work. Some of us are shit at it, and if we could, we’d fire ourselves. When I’m working I feel like I’m letting my children down, and when I’m not ’employed’, I hear Emily Davison whispering in my ear about horses. Why does it feel like motherhood is a dirty secret we have to hide when we need to rejoin the sodding linear, patriarchal world of paid employment?

During those ‘gap’ years, those ‘lost’ years, those ‘breaks’, mothers learn a fuck of a lot of perfectly valid skills. We learn the depths and the limits of what it is to be human, resilience, sacrifice, persistence and grace in the face of many small defeats against nits and greens. The physical pain of labour is an agony that catapults you out of your body and your old life into an unknown place you both fear and desire. Mothers know how it feels to face their own mortality and have someone wholly dependent on their every breath. We tightrope walk between the old and the new, shapeshifting, crawling between all the roles we must play.  We can make 50p packets of pasta interesting, magically turn leaves and sticks into games that last for hours and placate, console, smile, enthuse, teach, nurture and heal even when we feel like we’re dying inside.

I  have worked, yes WORKED damned hard every day of those ‘gaps’ at bringing two daughters into the world who will hopefully contribute to this planet, not just take from it when they become women. I learned to love, to love, to love beyond measure and then love some more even on those tough days when I couldn’t feel my own heart. And I did all this for absolutely no renumeration. Imagine what I’d do if you paid me! I say the world needs more jugglers, tightrope walkers and magicians; the last time I looked, the old model of a single-track career path of ever-increasing pay and hierarchy until retirement ain’t working out for too many of us.

How about this dear reader of my CV: How about you don’t ask me where I have been all this time and I won’t ask you why so little has really changed after all these years? How about you take me as I am, caesarean scars and all.