Thursday 13 June 2013

The Bounty Mutiny

Besides the fact that this has to be one of the most cleverly named campaigns I've ever heard of, I'm 100% behind the Bounty Mutiny. My own relationship with Bounty was far from spectacular. I signed up in a haze of new motherly excitement and originally thought it would be a great idea for the photos and birth details to automatically be sent out to friends and relatives. This would free my husband up from laboriously writing out text messages and instead allow him to help me important things. Like nappy changing.

So I signed up, and inputted my details. It was a week or two later when I looked into it more closely and realised that the email would also be a hard sell tactic to all recipients. So I tried to delete the email addresses and close the account. There were many hours of technical faults and error pages before I finally gave up. I'd read in the small print that if a mother changed her mind on the day, she only had to tell the photographer and the emails would not be sent out. Easy. Like labour, right? Although, as it turned out neither was all that straightforward. Though labour certainly didn't raise my blood pressure as much.

Within hours of the photographer having visited the ward (to be fair she was very nice) and after I'd asked her not once but THREE times NOT to send the emails out, we got call from my husband's grandmother. After the congratulations she apologised profusely and said she was so sorry but she wasn't going to be buying any of the pics we'd sent to her. 'What pics!' I roared down the phone. My cool had most certainly been lost by this point. It turned out Bounty had been very free and easy with my private details and I may as well have saved my breath.

Of course I complained (usually emails stabbed out on my phone during midnight feeds). Then when I didn't get a response I complained again. And then again. Eventually someone did get back to me but the email was so brief and dismissive I briefly started scheming on how feasible it was to send them regular instalments of my newborn's nappy contents.

After one more 'I'm not happy about this' email (during which my family members received another 'please buy a picture' email) I gave up. I really had other more important things to worry about at that stage.

And my experience is nothing. There are stories of reps on the maternity wards who are hounding parents whose babies are ill, in danger or have even died.

This isn't acceptable. And if your experience was anything like mine, I'd urge you to read more and tweet about it. It'll only change if enough of us share our experience.

Sunday 3 February 2013

What to get for a birthday?

I recently checked my diary for upcoming birthday/anniversary/special occasions in February so I could try, just this once, to be organised and have thoughtful cards or presents ready.

I counted 18. And that's when I stopped counting. What happened? I used to have my family (immediate only) and a couple of friends. Now my friends have significant others - and these other halves have the gall to have birthdays too. And that's not all. Many of my friends also now have offspring, whose birthdays have also had to go in the diary. To make it worse, some of my friends have had more than one kid, though luckily those with three or more are usually too busy to be sociable so they're off the list.

I've tried everything to get this under control. If I find a good card, I buy it in bulk (people tend to be too polite - or forgetful - to let me know it's the third time running they've got the same card).

If I see the perfect gift for someone, I buy it. Even if their birthday has just been, I'll keep it for the following year. This does sometimes backfire though as I often forget about the gift, so panic around the birthday and  buy them something else, only to find the first gift a week later. My husband says this is part of my charm. And then he pops another pill.

So I'm always on the lookout for 'easy' gifts, those that are thoughtful with a personal touch. Notonthehighstreet is an excellent place to find quirky personal gifts, but if you don't have time to trawl their website, here is another idea. Send the birthday boy or girl a cake. Through the post.

No, I have not been smoking tea leaves again, this is a genuine suggestion. Baker Days have devised beautiful cakes for every occasion that can be easily and safely posted through your letterbox. Genius.
And besides the usual designs for birthdays, Mothers' Day and new homes, there are New Baby cakes, Retirement cakes, Graduation cakes and even Driving Test cakes (maybe wait until you're sure they've passed before you post this one off). There are also Valentine's Day cakes if Tiffany's sold out of bracelets?

I chose a Happy 1st Birthday cake for my friend's little girl. The box arrived the very next day - though I have to admit I didn't open it until the following day as at first I thought it was my contact lens delivery...

Once opened though it was far more exciting than anything from Specsavers. Inside was a lovely little tin containing the cake, beautifully decorated with my chosen jungle motif and a personal message for the little birthday madam. And a lovely finishing touch were the pack of balloons, candles and whistles. The cake was very well packed and in perfect condition. I did have my doubts about a cake being sent through the post, but the box is very sturdy and as it's in a tin too, is well protected.

The cake is not massive. It's meant to be enough for 3-4...maybe I'm greedy but for me it would be more like 2-3)... It's more of a token though and a lovely treat for the recipient - and one or two others if they're in the mood to share. Being just one year old, this particular little birthday girl didn't have much of a choice about sharing as she has an older sister who is canny when it comes to chocolate and sibling equality.

So for me, it's a no brainer. Who doesn't like cake? No one. Who doesn't have time or inspiration? Me. Who wants a birthday present in February? Fine, you're getting a cake. Hope you don't have a greedy postman.

The driving test cake - not as great as a new car but still...

*Baker Days sent me a cake for review purposes but the words and opinion are my own.

Saturday 12 January 2013

A happy bunny (and then not so much)

When I was at primary school I had a friend who was Italian. Her life intrigued me. She was always tanned while even in the mid summer I would remain...let's call it 'ethereal'.

It seemed every time I was at her house they would  be having rabbit for supper. Seemed far more exotic than our own family's weekly roast chicken.
Her older brother was drop dead gorgeous and used to drink whole pints of milk from the fridge because he was 'working out'.
Her family used to talk loudly and animatedly to each other in a language I couldn't understand.
They had a jacuzzi (though I think this was more to do with the family's bank balance than them being Italian. Of course this immediately had me dreaming of mafia connections).
She attended Italian 'Saturday school' and even though she used to moan about it, it sounded fascinating and sophisticated - and I felt sure she was meeting loads of other gorgeous milk-guzzling, rabbit-munching Italian men and keeping them all to herself.

roast rabbit, bunny
She also received a bag of coal every year just after Christmas. Big lumps of black sooty stuff. That the two of us would munch happily on until our teeth were sore or we felt sick.  They were of course coal 'sweets' and a joke 'you've been bad' gift. Apparently, for the first few Christmases, her parents used to tell her it was real coal and once she'd apologised for any bad behaviour over the past year, they'd send a message to Father Christmas who would 'magic' it into something edible. Wily parents.

She told me that in traditional folklore, coal (or sweets if you've been good) are actually delivered by an old woman, Befana, who was hospitable to the Wise Men on their journey to Jesus. She declined the invitation to accompany them because (and this is according to Wikepedia) she was 'too busy with her housework'. Well, priorities and all that. But once they'd left (and presumably the dishwasher had been emptied and the Dyson put through its paces) she changed her mind and tried to catch up. Sadly, she couldn't find them so the poor women is still searching - but kindly remembers to pop in to Italian households on the 5th Jan to make judgement on little people's yearly behaviour.

I wish I could have had some of that coal at Christmas time. Perhaps it would have helped restore some peace in our house. I swear we got a changeling over the holidays and it's only in the past two days that the arms-flailing little dynamo, who required two fully grown adults to change her nappy, has been replaced by the pre-Christmas little angel I know so well.

Apparently it's the change in routine, and if that's true I'm seriously considering changing my ad hoc parenting style. Right now though I'm just happy to be able to get through each day without porridge on the walls and Sudocrem in my hair.

To January! May it be full of smiles and giggles.

Saturday 24 November 2012

The best toyshop in the world

A few weeks ago, we went on a family trip to France along with another couple and their little nine-month-old boy. Two kids under one. In an old French cottage with millions of stairs, exposed fireplaces, and uneven floors. Recipe for disaster? Un petit peu. So it was a different sort of idyll to the holidays of the past. For instance, we did have to be ushered hurriedly out of a museum due to one of the kids projectile vomiting. But that’s a story for another day.

The day after the museum disaster (everyone looked suspiciously at me afterwards – although even I wouldn’t go to such lengths to get out of a WWII bunker tour), we went for a drive to the beach and then a wander round a nearby village, Cassel. Cassel is perched on top of a hilltop and its claim to fame is that it's the very hill that the Grand Old Duke of York marched his 10,000 men up and down.

And it was there on the hilltop that we stumbled upon the shop of dreams - Alice-in-Wonderland, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and Narnia all rolled into one.

It was the vintage-looking racing cars in the window that drew us in to start with. But that was only the beginning. This was hands down the most beautiful toyshop I'd ever seen, stuffed to the ceilings with wooden, handcrafted, brightly painted toys. Spinning tops, kaleidoscopes, mobiles, building blocks – everything was anti-plasticky, American-accented, flashing-lighted tat.

For once, my usually very vocal Little Bean was too overwhelmed with excitement to make a squeak. The two mammas and babes wandered euphorically through the piles of  treasures trying to pick out just one toy each to fit in our already overloaded cars on the return journey (bearing in mind we had already purchased vast quantities of cheese and wine to bring back with us).

The husbands got a bit bored after the toy cars had been thoroughly examined and tested – they were already in a bit of a foul mood having had an unsatisfactory trip across the border to a Belgian monastery to buy beer – the monks’ stash was sold out so we’d left empty-handed.

But they needn't have worried. Dangling from the ceiling, in amongst the hanging mobiles and hand-painted mini aeroplanes, was a wooden sign reading...Biere (for the non-French speakers that means 'beer').
An arrow pointed down a cobbly set of stairs, which our husbands raced down as quickly as if their mother-in-laws were in hot pursuit.

It was a little grotto of beer-lover’s paradise, piled floor to ceiling with specialist French and Belgian beers and cidres. Mr Bean was like a kid in a sweet shop. Or a husband in a beer shop.

So, not only did this er… toyshop provide for both little people as well as their hops-loving parentals, but upstairs, behind a pile of train sets I discovered my own personal paradise, a gourmet coffee bean selection and a mouthwatering display of chocolate truffles. At this stage, if there’d been a stable of unicorns behind the coffee display I wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid. I kept expecting someone to pop out like a jack in the box, shouting 'Carlsberg don't do toyshops but if we did...'

Safe to say the shop did well out of us. We finally settled on a the most hilarious duck for Little Bean, mostly because she became apoplectic whenever it started flapping its silly feet, and treated ourselves to a few goodies too.

Take note Mothercare, ELC and ToysRUs, this is how toyshops should be run. Now get cracking. Before Carlsberg beats you to it.

*Circus toys are actually from this website but it's exactly the kind of thing the shop sold. I was too much in awe to even think of whipping out my camera at the time.

 Moms Who Write and Blog

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Naming toys

I admit it. The first Christmas decoration is up. I didn't mean to. But I bought it this weekend at the Spirit of Christmas fair and because a) I just can't stomach the thought of fighting through the loft to find it's proper home among the other Christmas decor and b) it's only going to have come out again in a few weeks time, I decided that it could live on a random hook in the kitchen. Not really sure why the hook is there now I come to think of it. Note to self: are we missing a picture or calendar or utensil?

Hardly was the little rocking horse up then we decided he had to have a name. Perish the thought any inaminate toy/decoration in our house remain anonymous. Our favourites so far: Acorn (bit predictable), Harry (...the horse, or perhaps after the prince?), Dasher (quite apt for Christmas) or Baileys (after my favourite Christmas drink, or one of them anyway).

When Little Bean came along, we thought deciding on a name for her was tough enough. What we didn't realise was that there'd be countless bunnies, bears, crocodiles, giraffes, frogs, turtles, hedgehogs, dogs, ducks, pandas, kangaroos and pigs that would also require naming. Luckily some of them already came with names (thank heavens for Sophie the giraffe, Winnie-the-Pooh and Eeyore) and others were fairly easy (what else are you going to call a koala but Kylie?) but still we kept on running out of ideas.

After a while we cheated and defaulted to calling everything 'Mr' (Mr Bear, Mr Cow, Mr Crab etc) although after a while I thought this was not only a tad sexist but also potentially confusing - we had more than one Mr Sheep for instance. So we started asking people who'd given us the toys to give them a name - nothing like a bit of delegation to lighten the load... Ha - we thought, we've cracked it, as the competition hotted up to see who could come up with the most original name.

But of course it was never going to be that easy and trying to keep track of who was called Ralph, Lola and Rihanna (don't ask) became a bit of chore. So now I've decided that I'm taking a leaf out of the Harry Potter books and Little Bean's menagerie will now be 'they who shall not be named'. She's started pointing at everything in wonder and saying 'dey' anyway so no doubt she'll decide what she wants to call her bunnies and bears when the time comes. And that means I'm off the hook. Although the little rocking horse is decidedly not. See, more time for me to think up silly jokes. Tis the season, you see. Well, almost, anyway.
Now, who's going to play 'Pin the name on the horse' with me?


Monday 29 October 2012

James Bond inspired travel destinations

There are a lot of spooks about at the moment, what with Halloween... And the new Bond film of course. So to get into the spirit of things (self-congratulatory chortle) I thought this week we should take a look at holiday destinations inspired by Britain’s favourite spy.

Sean Connery Dr No

Dr No


Sun, beaches, a relaxed way of life, this is where holidays were invented. It’s also where the Bond films made their debut, Dr No being the first, and where Ursula Andress became a screen siren after filming ‘that’ bikini scene. Ya man.

You Only Live Twice

Hong Kong

The ultimate of city shopping breaks for adults. And for children, there’s not only a Disneyland but also the very popular Ocean Park, a theme park/zoo where you can see pandas as well as go on rollercoasters. As an added note of trivia, none other than famed children's author Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for this, the fifth of the Bond films. Now you know.

On her Majesty’s Secret Service

Swiss Alps

Skiing, chalets, mulled wine…spies. The best thing about a Swiss skiing trip is that after an energetic day on the slopes, an indulgent cheese fondue is completely justified. And the earlier your kids start skiing the quicker they’ll pick it up and be shooting past you on the way to the black runs. Most resorts offer comprehensive lessons and care for little ones so you can apres ski to your heart's delight.

The Spy Who Loved Me


Although the film starts off in Austria (where the scene ends with Bond falling from the sky and opening a Union Jack parachute as replicated by Her Majesty in the Olympic opening ceremony) most of the rest of the film is set in Egypt. Pyramids, the Nile, and of course the beautiful beaches and fabulous climate makes this a perfect destination any time of year.

Tomorrow Never Dies


Have a bespoke suit or dress made in the tailoring capital of Hoi An, catch a water puppet show in Hanoi, or lazily glide through the floating markets on the Mekong Delta. Vietnam has something for everyone - history, culture, exquisite food and friendly people. You’ll no doubt find it as much of a thrill as Pierce Brosnan did.

Halong Bay Vietnam

Any other Bond trivia you'd like to share?

Monday 22 October 2012

The Monsters' Ball - a Halloween-themed book review

I don’t like it when things go bump in the night. Or in the middle of the day for that matter. As was the case when the postie delivered my copy of Tamara Small and the Monsters’ Ball (not to be confused with the film or anything to do with Lady Gaga).  It landed with an ominous thud…and immediately I felt a creepy chill in the air (although I later discovered this was because the rest of the mail had wedged the post hatch open).

Thankfully Little Bean seems to be less of a wuss than her mother. The dark places under beds are hiding places for toys and her wriggly self rather than monsters, and she has no qualms about going to sleep in a dark room. This is completely opposite to her mother who needed a nightlight until eighteen, and only then did away with it because my uni roommate would have laughed at me.

So back to the book. It starts off scarily. On a dark and windy night, a seemingly nasty hairy monster sneaks up on the heroine, Tamara Small, and spirits her away to a dark and foreboding place. But there things start improving as it turns out to be the annual monsters’ ball and little Tamara has a dance with every dodgy character going. Morals? Face your fears and don’t make a swift judgement on appearances. So far, so Twilight.

If I’m completely honest, I did think the monstery bit at the beginning might frighten the more sensitive souls, but then I forget that I grew up on witches who kept little children in cages (Hansel and Gretel), Grandma-eating wolves (Red Riding Hood), and ‘chiddler’-eating giants (Roald Dahl's BFG).

All in all, I think this is a wonderfully colourful book with a positive outcome for both humans and monsters. A perfect little trick and treat for Halloween in fact - and less scary than a visit to the dentist after all the sweets.


Title: Tamara Small and the Monsters' Ball

Author: Giles Paley-Phillips
Illustrator: Gabriele Antonini
Publisher: Maverick Books

*This book was sent to me for the purpose of review.