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.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

If the shoe fits

What is it with shoes? She’s only just one and already my daughter is obsessed with them, pulling them out of cupboards, from under beds and even trying to pull them off my feet. And once she’s got hold of them what does she do? Eat them of course, what else? Very hygienic.  Is this preoccupation gender specific or do little boys do this too?

Now, that she’s almost walking, we succumbed and bought her her first pair of ‘proper’ shoes – apparently her sequin trainers and uggs do not pass muster. Already it seems she’s steadier on her feet and the ‘first steps’ seem like they may be a little closer. Let's see what happens....

These aren't the 'proper shoes' but couldn't resist.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Chocolate snobbery

It’s been a good confectionery week for me. I have Green and Black’s cocoa in the cupboard, a box of Hotel Chocolat on my desk at work and a bar of Lindt (seasalt flavour, my favourite in case you're taking notes) in the cupboard. The dentist will be pleased.
My chocolate taste is not usually so upmarket. Last week I vacillated between Snickers bars and Sainsbury's own chocolate digestives. I’d love to know if there are statistics available to prove that chocolate consumption goes up dramatically at this time of the year – I'm sure it's directly correlated to the cold weather rather than my greed - okay, maybe both. There also seems to be a fresh spate of advertising around at the moment – maybe it’s not just my sweet tooth behind my current chocolate craze?

I came across a really bizarre article the other day on a new chocolate bar Cadbury’s is introducing, aimed at women. It’s supposedly low in calories (i.e. small) and you can reseal the packaging so you don’t have to eat the whole thing in one go.

This puzzled me for days… I don’t think the marketing department has realised quite how ridiculous this is. Does anyone ever have only one Twix and save the other for later? Or have one square of chocolate a day? Gillian McKeith excepted of course.

What intrigued me even more is that it is aimed at the female market in an attempt to ‘entice women back’. I wasn’t aware we had left but apparently (despite my personal best efforts) there is a slump in the chocolate market.

When I first thought about gender specific advertising I liked to think it didn’t have an effect on me. I’ll happily indulge in ‘manly’ Yorkies and ‘get some nuts’ Snickers as much as Ferrero Rochers and Aeros. But when I thought about it some more I realised I was kidding myself. I’ll only indulge in a ‘man’ bar if I’m feeling hungry and am compensating for a small lunch or skipped meal.

I only hope that when Crispello makes its debut the advertising won’t be as awful as that Galaxy ad, or as insulting as the ones for Flakes. Women have a sense of humour too, you know. I love the Joan Collins Snickers ad for instance. If you have to make it gender specific raise the bar, please.

Right, must be off. We’ve got a birthday party to go to. Hope there’s chocolate cake… No snickering from the cheap seats. Ok, I'm going now.

Update: And now I've found out it's National Chocolate Week - how well-timed am I?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Too tired to get dressed

This week I've written a guest post for the lovely ladies at Wriggly Rascals. If you remember the days where you used to get to bedtime and realise you had not yet changed out of your pjs, it might be for you. Here's a taster...

I’ve just been to visit a friend of mine who has a five-week-old baby boy. I said I would come around eleven, not too early. Of course, if I think about it rationally, I could have gone round at six a.m. and it wouldn’t have made any difference to her. As you know, the first few weeks of parenthood are a blur and day and night really determine the colour of the sky outside and nothing else. Sleeping, eating, cleaning is one long repetitive cycle and if anyone had come to visit me at 2 a.m. when Little Bean was first born I wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid. And if they’d come bearing food and a cup of tea I would have asked them to move in permanently.

Read the full post here.

They'd also like you to have your say about how you coped by completing this survey.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A dramatic week

It’s been a funny old week.

My other half has been working nights so I am feeling like a single parent.

Despite my remonstrations, Little Bean has started an amorous relationship with the toilet brush.

Someone from Hollyoaks asked me for directions (the interesting bit of this is that someone asked me for directions. I’ve mentioned before that this is rarely in their best interests).

I discovered bulgar wheat is much tastier than it sounds.

And, after eight years at the same company, I handed in my notice.

It was emotional. So, as of 19th October I will be relying on the whims of the freelancing editorial market and perhaps working part time. I will also hopefully be witnessing Little Bean’s first steps - I’m convinced she isn’t yet walking because I’ve been at work and neglecting her motor skill development (ridiculous, I know but there you have it).

So there you go. Get in touch if you have any freelance editing/copywriting work. I’m available. And can somebody on Dragon’s Den please invent a wall-mounted toilet brush?

Update: As it turns out...I have been offered a wonderful part-time position for the most fantastic, dynamic, family-friendly company! 'Put it out there to the universe,' my friend said. I did and the universe was really very generous in return.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Where's Wally and his missus

The other day on entering a trendy north London office, I came across a life-size cardboard cut-out of (Where’s) Wally in the entrance. As Wally and I curiously checked each other out, someone in the very open-plan office chirpily called out (loudly, so everyone else could hear). ‘Oh, look. Which one’s Wally?!’ Then she pointed. At me. It was at this stage that I realised I was dressed in a nautical red-striped top, with my glasses on and there wasn’t much to tell me and the cardboard guy apart.

Annoyingly, the ground refused to open up and swallow me so Wally and I stood there grinning like idiots while everyone had a giggle. Mortifying? Slightly.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m unlikely to be granted front row seats at any fashion show, but it appears that if I’m not to be mistaken for cartoon characters I’m going to need a little help from the professionals. To Topshop!

Well, that was shortlived. It looks like I’ve outgrown Topshop. Has anybody else noticed all the neon that’s around at the moment? Is this because the clocks are due to go back soon and we’re going for a high visibility look? Or is fashion really backtracking to the Eighties?

I quickly decided that looking like a highlighter was not for me so headed home to do some ‘style research’ online. And this is where my wonderful fellow bloggers came up trumps.

There’s the unfairly gorgeous Amanda at the Online Stylist whose bags/shoes/shawls/hair I covet.

Then there’s the style section on Mindful Mum that always inspires me.

And if you’re having one of those days and can’t decide what to wear (and have had it with the other half’s ‘it’s fine’), you can upload a pic of you and your outfit to Avenue 57 where other mum’s will happily comment on your choice and advise (they’re very nice so don’t worry, no one’s going to say your butt looks big in that).

Personally, I’m off to cull my wardrobe of anything that smacks of cartoon characters. Out go spots (Minnie Mouse), anything pink (Peppa Pig) and obviously all stripes.

That leaves me with just black and grey - so I'm either channelling the grim reaper or Kate Moss's rock 'n roll look. No need to comment which, thanks very much, I can work it out myself.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Why Did Nobody Tell Me?

Pre-Little Bean I did my homework. I read every pregnancy manual/website around so I knew when her eyelids would be developing, when to expect indigestion, and how long stage two labour would likely take.

The big day came, everything went (relatively) smoothly. All the carefully curated knowledge I'd assimilated in the preceding nine months was a huge help and I felt decidely smug at being so well prepared.

And then…I came to the shocking realisation that I had done absolutely no reading about post-birth. I didn’t even know which way round a nappy went. This was not good.

Luckily (or unluckily depending on how you look at it) I had lots of reading time, usually in the wee hours when feeding. The pregnancy books were quickly replaced with the most popular baby-rearing books (you know which ones I mean). My plan was to read as many schools of thought as I could and then come to my own conclusions. One of them must suit my/our lifestyle?

Apparently not. My Little Bean had obviously not done her homework either and wasn't giving any of the clear signals indicating hunger, tiredness, over-stimulation etc. that all babies are supposed to. Instead she went from happy baby to manically unhappy baby within a few seconds, with no eye-rubbing, glassy staring, opening of mouth or anything else to give us the slightest inkling what we should be preparing for. We were reactive rather than proactive in my house.

The manuals, I have to say were all pretty useless. I got most of my info from the internet, googling random searches like ‘why won’t my baby go to sleep?’, ‘will I go to hell for giving her a dummy?’, ‘is it acceptable to kick in the shins the next person who tells me theirs slept through the night from week one?’

Tips from other mothers were a godsend, online forums a lifesaver and founts of anecdotal but incredibly useful information. Which is why I highly recommend this book.

Why did Nobody Tell Me Mumsnet

Drawn from the message boards of it’s full of useful tips and observations from other mums sharing their wit, wisdom and frustration. My favourite chapters include 'Drink wine and hide: the art of playdates', 'Don't call it a Twinkle', 'Let them eat dirt', 'Don't buy a Moses basket' and 'If you prefer his brother, take it to the grave'.

My advice for new mums (because as a mum already I am now qualified to dispense uncalled for advice at any given moment) is to save yourself a fortune in baby manuals and rather find your own parenting way through other mum’s input, common sense and trial and error. And if you need a laugh, because let’s face it the only way you can get through parenthood is by hanging on to your sense of humour for all you’re worth, then treat yourself to this book to keep you entertained during the early hours. You’ll soon discover, that no, it’s not just you.

Why did nobody tell me? They just did.

*This book was sent to me by the publishers for review

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

One year milestone

Today is a momentous day in the Bean household. Little Bean is finally an actual age and no longer needs to be quantified in weeks, which her mathematically challenged mother stopped doing when she was about 4 weeks. She is officially one whole year old. 

The past year has been alternatively stressful (especially for my poor washing machine which has never been so overworked) and emotional (me when the aforementioned washing machine briefly broke down).

So, time then to reflect on the year, to think about what we have learnt and what we can improve on in the future.

Is it bollocks. It’s time for me and hubby to crack open the bubbly that has been gathering dust since we got it as a gift a year ago today and toast each other’s brilliance competence at being first-time parents. It's been wild (although this definition has changed slightly since a few years ago), and involved less sleep than any human should be able to survive on. Still, we're here. Little Bean still has all fingers and toes, and seems to be fairly well adjusted. And the only real argument Mr Bean and I have is about where she gets her 'big personality' (i.e. temper) from. Obviously his side of the family. Overall though we're quite pleased with ourselves.

Cheers to us!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Back from holiday

So we are back from a fabulous holiday in Northern France. Despite my fears, the house was not a scam and was actually even more idyllic than I pictured. We were in the proper countryside (with occasional wafts of cow poo to prove it) and it was honestly the most beautiful setting you could imagine.

La Hideaway

The garden was so…French. With a grapevine and gooseberries and a hammock. Although we did take along an unwelcome guest (the Norovirus hitched a lift and generously spread itself around to each of us in turn) we still managed to consume vast quantities of cheese, wine and Toulouse sausages. The weather was glorious (amazing what a little bit of channel separation does for the climate) and on the odd night where there was a bit of a chill in the air, we merely used the indoor fireplace to cook our food – now how’s that for a must-have home appliance.

There’ll be more in the next few days but I thought I’d best point out to followers that I haven’t in fact fallen off the face of the earth. Hope I didn’t miss much?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A French Holiday

For the past two weeks Mr Bean has been talking in a French accent and throwing random French words and phrases into everyday conversations.

Me: What shall we have for dinner?
Him: Ouvrez la fenetre! (Open the window.)

Me: How was your day?
Him: Tournez a gauche. (Turn left.)

Me: Is our car insurance coming up for renewal?
Him: Voulez vous...etc  (Would you like to...etc)

Strangely I haven't yet found it annoying. This is probably why:

We have booked a holiday in a sweet little cottage in France. 

Although the owner has lived up to the stereotype and been particularly blunt and uncommunicative when we’ve asked about local shops, parking etc so am really hoping the cottage really does exist and is not a cobbled together scam. If it is you’ll no doubt see me back on here tonight ranting about it.

There will be cheese. 

Lots of cheese. Fellow tweeter and cheeseholic @Grannyteeth has confirmed this by sending me this photo of the Camembert aisle. Yes, that would be an entire aisle dedicated to one type/genre/species? of cheese.  Not a plasticky dairy item in sight. Cheese nirvana.

There is a hammock. 

I intend to while away many an hour swinging blissfully under the trees reading a book and sipping crisp French wine. Or Champagne. Of course, this particular plan has conveniently erased the fact that I have an almost one-year-old. So in reality we’ll probably have to revise that to ‘I intend to while away many a five-minute interval swinging blissfully…etc.’

We will be in close proximity to the Belgian border.

So if we tire of the French wine and mountains of cheese we have the option of  crossing the border and heading to a Trappist brewery for world-renowned beers, and moules and frites.

Yes, I know. I am going to stop being all smarmy and go sniff out the escargot. A plus tard!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

How to cope with the terrible twos (at one)

This week has been a tricky one. It started off with a carrot cake that flopped and went quite spectacularly downhill from there. I should have seen the cake as an omen of things to come and hibernated for a week. That said it’s all relative of course (I’m sure many others had much grottier weeks) and there have been a few rays of sunshine in the past few days too - I’m concentrating rather obsessively on those!

Little Bean has developed two new traits. One is rather endearing. She shouts ‘hooray’ (or something that sounds very much like it) when she is happy. If this does indeed turn out to be her ‘first’ ‘word’ I hope this is an indication that she will be a happy soul.


Her other new trait is a bit of tantrum throwing. Arched back, whacking everything within reach and getting very upset if you don’t do what she wants. I know how she feels. I wouldn’t mind lashing out sometimes too and throwing my head back and howling. Pity it’s not acceptable at my age actually.

Now, I know I’m not the best at keeping up to date on the baby-rearing manuals but I could have sworn it was generally expected that the terrible ‘twos’ provided such histrionics? Am I to understand that we're expected to deal with the ‘ominous ones’ too? Are there any other phases that the parenting general knowledge osmosis has neglected to inform me of?

Friday, 24 August 2012

Fox's Socks - the morning after

Little Bean has a new favourite. She has moved on from I took the Moon for a Walk and is instead obsessed with lift-the-flaps books, in particular Fox’s Socks. I love that she loves books but I am a little but concerned at the appropriateness of Fox's Socks.

Fox wakes up looking a bit bleary eyed, clearly from a hangover. His clothes are strewn everywhere (as if torn off in the height of passion) and Little Mouse, quite clearly his, shall we say, ‘overnight companion’ has brought him a lovely cup of tea to soothe his aching head.

Fox's Socks Julia Donaldson Axel Scheffler

But Fox seems fixated on finding his socks and so begins a frantic search around the house trying to find the missing items. It appears the raunchy little couple had been very busy the night before as their search takes them all over the house, finding hats in bathrooms, ties in kitchen cupboards and at last, the missing socks, in the grandfather clock and most interestingly in a Jack-in-the-Box in the loft (I’m not judging).

I am now off to reread the Gruffalo and The Snail and the Whale just to make sure I haven’t missed any cheeky nuances. I either need to start censoring her bookshelf. Or throw caution to the wind and start reading her Fifty Shades of Grey.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Travel checklist

We're off on holiday soon so I'm currently trying to make lists of things I need to pack, in the vain hope that this will help me be more organised. Although I love technology, I do find that in the list making stakes it's not doing me any favours.

Granted, thanks to my iPhone, I now no longer need a notebook or diary in which to jot down phone numbers or appointments - everything is contained in this little gadget of calendar and phonebook wizardry . There's a tree or two saved in my lifetime.

But lists? Not so phone friendly. Yes, I have tried using the 'Notes' app but I'm afraid to say I've found it pretty useless. Maybe I'm not particularly dextrous but typing out a list like that takes forever, and even then I end up with a shopping list that looks like this.

This should in fact read: nappies, razors and Dentinox...

So, usually, when I want to make a shopping list/take a message etc, I grab a random piece of paper (usually an envelope or till receipt) and scribble it on there. Often the only writing instrument I can find is a highlighter or unsharpened pencil (or in extreme cases a lipliner) so it takes more than one attempt to write anything legible and I'm still probably the only one who's likely to ever decipher it. Still, there it is.

But do you think I can ever find this random piece of paper again? Of course not.

I briefly considered using one of those clever travel apps that comes with a ready-made checklist that you can customise. But really, do I have the time to faffing around with customising these things? Surely my time would be better spent actually packing. If I have to I can resign myself to buying a forgotten toothpaste or pair of pyjamas while I'm away.

I'd love to hear what you do to make sure you've packed everything. Are you a list user? Do you have any helpful tips on being organised when packing for a holiday?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Kid's party bags - like taking candy from a baby

On the weekend we went to a three-year-old's birthday party. We left with a lovely goodie bag, but by the time we got home it was empty. I’m assuming the goodie bag was intended for Little Bean but as she’s only one I thought she probably wouldn’t miss a few sweeties – I’m not sure flying saucers are advised for under ones? And bubbles are just as fun for adults as for kids. Especially on a long car journey home.

I like these goodie bag ideas for kids. I know they're meant to be a thank you but I also think they work as brilliant compensation for the party coming to end. Here, you can take some of the festivities home with you. The party's not over till you (or your mother) have eaten the leftover slice of cake and the balloon has popped.

What goes into a party bag is obviously up to the parents and there are some interesting variations on content. Do the children just get a balloon to take home? Or do you order personalised cotton party bags and fill them with lego sets? Do you include healthy snacks as well as sweets? And if you're handed a party bag on your way out, do you do a quick recce of the contents before handing it over to your little one?

I'd love to hear your thoughts? Do people go overboard? Or is it lovely to see parents go to so much effort to make the children enjoy their day? What are the craziest or best things you've found in your child's goodie bags?

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

I feel a little silly doing a book review on this one as everyone seems to remember it from their childhood and has their own view of it. That said, I read it for the first time this week so there must be a few others like me who haven’t yet had the tiger round for tea. 

The Tiger Who Came to Tea Judith Kerr

Perhaps too young?

I’ll be honest, Little Bean (11 months and counting) was not a fan. She’s more than a little in love with Hide and Seek Pig at the moment and seems to think a book’s not really worth her time unless it has flaps to open up. Also, although the illustrations are lovely, they’re not quite as bold and beautiful as other more contemporary ones. That said, I suspect that as she grows older this is exactly the kind of kookiness that will result in fits of giggles (almost as much as finding a hen hiding in the picnic basket does now). 

In a nutshell

For those of you who don’t know the story, it goes something like this. Sophie and her mum are just sitting down for tea when there’s a knock at the door. Who can it be? Having established that the milkman and deliveryman have already visited and it’s too early for dad to be home from work, they are still perplexed as to their visitor. Opening the door they are suprisingly nonplussed to discover a tiger on their doorstep and merrily agree to his staying for tea. 

The greedy tiger demolishes all the food on the table and then goes on to ransack the kitchen cupboards. It’s a good thing he lines his stomach actually because he then proceeds to drink all of daddy’s beer (clearly mummy had cleverly hidden her gin). Don’t know about you, but if my hubby got home and I tried to fob him off saying a tiger had drunk all his beer, there’d be words. 

Thirsty too

Still trying to quench his thirst (or maybe trying to stave off a hangover) the tiger then drinks all the water in the taps. Then he says his goodbyes (politely thanking Sophie and her mum) and off he goes. 

Left with no food, no water in which to bathe, Sophie and her mum are finally dumbstruck. Luckily daddy arrives to save the day (yes, there are a few shall we call them ‘traditional’ bits) and whisks them off to the cafĂ© for tea, finished off with ice cream. 

The following day Sophie and her mum pick up some tiger food but alas the wily bun and beer-loving cat probably suspects as much and doesn’t make a return visit. The End.

A children's classic

It’s a simple story and yet I think the reason it’s been so popular for so long (it’s over 40 years since it was first published) is because it captures children’s imaginations by stomping all over the usual boundaries and rules. An animal is allowed at the table. He eats not only his portion but everyone else’s, including all the buns. Baths/hairwashing is avoided. There’s an outing to eat fish and chips (well past usual bedtime), followed up by ice cream. 

Something so ordinary like sitting down to tea, turns into a lovely succession of out-of-the-ordinary treats.
It’s a cheerful story and despite a few un-PC moments, I am sure will delight little ones as they ooh and ah at the audacity of the cheeky tiger, secretly thinking they’d love to get away with half of his mischievous madness. 

So, what’s the morale of the story?

  • Don’t open your door to strangers who might eat you out of house and home.
  • Dressing up like a tiger will score you free beer.
  • Always keep the wine and gin hidden, but the beer on display as a decoy.
  • Always have a tin of tiger food stashed in the cupboard for surprise visits.

Some extra Tigery titbits: 

  • Here’s a fascinating article and interview with the author, Judith Kerr. In it she talks about how she had to leave behind her pink rabbit comforter when escaping Nazi Germany. Her semi-autobiographical trilogy ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ is named after this. 

  • The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been adapted for stage and is currently enjoying a very successful run on the West End, London. See here for further details and to book tickets. It's only on until the 2nd September though so be quick. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Best baby names

Prospective parents, rejoice. The ONS has released a list of the most popular baby names in the UK (see this lovely map Mindful Mum has put together showing where the names are most popular - love a good map).

So, now we all know which names to avoid this year so that our children will not be known in the classroom as Harry4 or Lily8. Or worse just by their surname (fine for secondary school, not so endearing at nursery).

Compared to say, childbirth, naming your child may not seem such a tricky job, but this is your offspring's social future you are playing with. You could unwittingly be adding years of torment and teasing to the poor child's life, so somehow, in between raging pregnancy hormones and sleeplessness and the sheer blind panic of birth, you have to come up with a suitable name that fills the following criteria:

  • Original, but not barking mad
  • Pretty (or manly), but not too much or everyone will be using it
  • Fits with your last name, but not in a weird way (everyone has a peculiarly named child they went to school with, mine was Iona Sidebottom)
Then you have family heritage to take into consideration. Luigi is a perfectly acceptable name for a family with an Italian background, but as there isn’t a drop of carbonara in our bloodline, it might sound a bit pretentious in our household. 

That said, I do love European names: French, Italian, even some of Russian sounding names are lovely. But to be worthy of consideration they’d have to be pronounceable and not sound too bizarre. Here are a few of my favourites:

Top five French names (girls)

  • Aimee
  • Clementine
  • Jessamyn
  • Simone
  • Violet

Top five French names (boys)

  • Sebastian
  • Louie
  • Luc/Luke
  • Javier
  • Emile

Top five Italian names (girls)

  • Chiara
  • Rosa
  • Alegra
  • Elena
  • Gabriella

Top five Italian names (boys)

  • Luca
Actually that was it, the rest all sound like they belong on a pizza menu. Don’t think a freckly Londoner is going to get away with being called Giovanni or Romano.

Top five Russian-y names (girls)

  • Natalia
  • Alexandra
  • Alyssa
  • Eda
  • Anya

Top five Russian-y names (boys)

  • Stefan
  • Ivan
Actually, just the two here as well. The rest are all Vladmirs and Egors. Again, imagine a Geordie introducing himself as Vladmir...?

What do you think? Any good ones I've missed?

Monday, 13 August 2012

Beautiful Blogger Award

I love tea and biscotti. I also love TeaandBiscotti partly because the charming little so and so nominated me for this beautiful Blogger award and made me feel so special. The reason she gave for bestowing this honour?  'Little Magic Beans for her different slant on normal things.' Yes, that sounds like me. A different kind of normal ;)

The idea is that I have to nominate a dozen or so worthy bloggers for the award and then go on to list a few things about me that you, dear reader, would not ordinarily know. So, here goes:

Here are my nominees!

The Gingerbread Mum who likes to 'feed people' (these are my favourite type of people because I like being fed). See her blog for great ideas for making 'proper' food for little people.

StressyMummy who, despite her blog name, actually sounds quite inspirationally on top of things with some wise insights

In a Bun Dance who besides having the best blog name I've come across, always has something interesting and thought-worthy to say.

Mummytravels who, while others have resigned themselves to never again leaving the house, remains completely undaunted by the idea of travelling with a little person. 

A Strong Coffee for her inspired Mischievous Monday linkys.

Just a Normal Mummy because she's not normal at all and is really a wee bit bonkers (another one of my favourite kinds of people).

And here's the 10 random things about me:

  1. I am an exceptionally lazy cook. My husband had to talk me through making mashed potatoes last month. It turned out quite well but really, to have reached my age and not yet made mashed potato…?
  2. I ate mountains of popcorn when I was pregnant but flat out denied it was a craving. My other cravings were red wine and cigarettes – didn’t do the latter but had a few small glasses of cab sav. It was just the ticket to calm the hormonal tornado.
  3. I’m quite tall at 5’10. This is helpful when at concerts or trying to reach things on high shelves. Less so when realising wearing any sort of heel will make you the tallest person in the room. Also coming to terms with the fact that on me ‘knee-length’ dresses and skirts will still be short enough to make me look like hooker.
  4. I love living in the UK because there are far less bugs than in Africa.
  5. I never get dressed just once in the morning, that would be far too easy. A wardrobe crisis ensues every morning at 6:45am sharp. It’s so predictable I would laugh if I wasn’t always running late and didn’t have time to.
  6. I have the navigational skills of a mole on crack. I have no shame in asking strangers for directions - that’s what they’re there for, no?
  7. When I was a kid, my mum used to tell me off for always having my nose in a book and not being more social. Then I hit my teens and took her advice. I think she regretted that.
  8. I am half Austrian although my ‘official’ German is so bad I had to ask the bemused lady at the embassy to fill out my passport application form for me. 
  9. I have run a half marathon – though not on purpose. My friend talked me into doing it with her but then she missed the cut off application date. I’d already started training so carried on. On the day I thought I'd walk most of it but completely surprised myself by running it all. I didn't even get lost.
  10. My daughter’s second name means Star. I like that.

*Thanks to Love All Blogs for the use of the I’m a Beautiful Blogger badge!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Lost in London #FridayReads

Something about this book title The Dog Detectives - Lost in London really appealed to me - ‘lost’ as I've mentioned before is my favourite four letter word after all.

Dog detectives I wasn’t so sure about, but Little Bean seemed perfectly convinced by the Holmesian hounds so I decided to throw caution to the wind and pretend that it was perfectly acceptable for dogs to be wearing shirts and riding bicycles. (I'm realising I have to be more fluid with reality since becoming a mum. Having less sleep does help too I suppose. If the Gruffalo started delivering my mail I probably wouldn't bat an eyelid.)

The premise of the book is this: The legendary ravens have gone missing from the Tower of London - ‘If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall…’and it’s up to Detectives Jack and Deputy Poco Loco to get them back. With some help from the Rat Riddler the two perplexed pups must solve a series of puzzles which lead them all around the sights of London.

There are some lovely, easily identifiable illustrations of iconic landmarks such as the London Eye, St Pauls Cathedral and Big Ben. Little Bean loved the bold colours but this is perfectly suited for older kids too who are keen to learn more about London (perhaps before a visit?) and who can try work out the Rat’s little riddles, the last of which was my favourite:

‘What starts with a T and ends with a T and has T in it?' If you can work it out, the Gruffalo promises to deliver your post too.

The Dog Detectives - Lost in London

*The book was supplied by publishers Maverick Books for the purposes of review

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Westfield events during the Olympics

I’m a West London girl at heart. I had a brief flirtation with the south when I first arrived in the capital but since then I’ve moved from Action Town Acton, to Yummy Mummyville Chiswick to end-of-the-line Ealing Broadway and now to where-the-hell-is-that West Ruislip.

If I move any further out I won’t still be classified as living in London so I’m staying put for now. It’s great here, we’re right on the borders of the proper countryside – with walks, strawberry picking and country pubs all on our doorstep. And when I feel the need for city life and retail therapy it’s also only a 25 minute train journey into Marylebone and a mere 30 minutes on the central line to get to Shepherds Bush and my personal shopping mecca, Westfield.

Westfield Olympics

Ah, Westfield. Excited as I was when I fell pregnant I did wistfully consider all the city-ish things I would have to give up, but as it turns out, shopping is not one of them.

Aside from the fact that they have a shop for every size pay cheque (Tiffany to H&M), Westfield also has the best baby changing facilities, quiet feeding rooms (muted lighting, sliding doors so you don’t have to battle with a buggy) and brilliant children’s play areas which make potential logistical nightmares actually quite pleasant shopping experiences for everyone.

And now Westfield is doing its bit for the Olympics this month. If you haven’t been able to get tickets to the games but want to entertain the kids this summer then they are running FREE activities including live family music, kids arts and crafts, kids character meet and greets and ‘have a go’ sports. See here for a full list of the exciting events including (my personal highlight) a meet and greet with Postman Pat.

And then there are the competitions… If you feel a shopping spree is called for but the purse strings are tied, then you might like to join the #IWasThere challenge, where West London's Westfield battles it out against the new Stratford wannabe - guess my allegiance ;)

Click here to find out more and to sign up to the West London team and put yourself in line to win some wonderful prizes. The athletes shouldn't be having all the fun...

*I’ve partnered with Westfield to provide this information

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Supporting your children at sport - where are the mothers?

Last week I mentioned Derek Redmond’s dramatic finish in which his father leapt from the stands to help his injured son hobble over the finish line. This week another Olympian’s father made the headlines. Bert le Clos’s pride could not have been evident or more touching than in this interview with the BBC. If he was any more puffed up with glee he’d explode.

Gold for Le Clos
What’s interesting about most high profile sportsmen and women is that in 99% of cases the person who is credited with their success is the father. Tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova, motor-racing champion Lewis Hamilton, football legend David Beckham, the young and brilliant Tom Daley  (although his father has sadly passed away he is credited with much of Daley’s success) - in all of these cases there is intense media focus on the supportive father figure and I started to wonder why the mothers so rarely feature? Are they still around? Are there family issues? Are they camera shy?

Of course there are some exceptions but not that many. Off the top of my head I can think of only two: 1) Judy Murray perhaps garners more publicity than her ex-husband and features more prominently in her both her boys’ tennis careers, and 2) Bradley Wiggins’ father was perhaps the opposite to the ideal supportive parent (although paradoxically it’s suggested that this may have spurred Wiggins to be the sporting hero he is now).

So, is it because the dads are stereotypically more inclined to be involved in a child’s sporting achievements while the mothers are working hard behind the scenes making sure everything else runs smoothly (clean clothes, new trainers, nutritional food, polished trophies)? Please tell me this isn't it? Or are the mothers there but less inclined to fight for media attention, happy to step back and allow the ‘man of the house’ to do the talking? What is it that makes a proud father more newsworthy than a proud mother?

I’m not for one minute saying that the support these sportspeople had when growing up needed to come from one or other parent, but I do think it’s interesting that mothers don’t feature as often and I’d like to know why? I suspect mothers share the duties of fetching and carrying to training and lessons and I certainly don’t think they generally lack enthusiasm or discipline when it comes to sports. Where, then, are the mothers? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Olympics - Let the Games Begin

This week's been a bit of a humdinger. Not only has there been sunshine, but there's also been a champagne-fuelled lunch with a famous author, an afternoon birthday tea party and to top it all off a ticket to see the Olympic rehearsal. My weeks aren't usually like this I might add. The only downside is that after the rehearsal it took me over two and half hours to get home. But oh my was it worth it! Seeing as I can't tell you all about the opening ceremony - apparently Danny Boyle has achieved the impossible by silencing Twitter with #savethesurprise - I'll have to focus instead on other crazy events. Here are The Booed, The Dad, and the Ugly.


The Booed…

Anyone else a bit confused about the Olympic Games starting a few days before the opening ceremony? Clearly not half as confused as the North Korean women’s football team. If you haven’t been watching the coverage, their faces were shown on a screen next to the South Korean flag, just before kick-off. As the two countries are technically still at war following the Korean conflict in the fifties, it’s safe to say this didn’t go down well and the team promptly marched off the pitch. Fortunately, they were eventually persuaded to rejoin the game after much apologising (and flag-changing).

The Dad…

I dare you to watch this video, taken at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, without welling up. It is arguably the most emotionally charged Olympic moment in which British 400m sprinter, Derek Redmond, tore his hamstring during the semi-final. His father, watching from the crowds, vaulted out of the stands and onto the track to assist his son in making it over the finish line, long after all the other athletes had finished. Now there’s a lesson in winning.

And the Ugly

I’m not sure the creators of Wenlock, the Olympic mascot policeman figurine intended him to drum up this kind of ‘popularity’ but it’s inspiring a lovely raft of British humour and cynicism if the Amazon reviews are anything to go by: 

Seems the games have already begun.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Lost and found in Stockholm

Compassionate people are rather sneaky, aren't they? There I'll be, minding my own business, losing faith in humanity, keeping one hand firmly on my handbag and the other over Little Bean's ears so she can't hear the language being thrown about by the teens in the park, when a good-deed-doer will come sneaking up out of nowhere, throwing my entirely solid cynicism completely off course.

I know that there are good people out there. People who will go out of their way to do something for someone they don’t know. Just because they’re human and they care. Although I sometimes forget about these people because it either doesn’t happen very often or it’s not newsworthy.

So this random act of kindness from a Swedish policeman really made me smile. When an officer noticed a ‘missing’ poster of a teddy bear, he took two minutes out of his day (he was off-duty the Stockholm police are eager to stress) and put a picture on the force’s Facebook page. After hundreds of ‘Likes’ and widespread media attention, happily the bear was eventually found and reunited with its no-doubt ecstatic owner.

No one’s life was in danger, there’s no political angle or dramatic change of fortune – it was just a simple gesture that meant the world to a little girl and made her happy. And I hope was a lesson her mum to get a back-up teddy in case he decides to go off adventuring again.

Of course there were those cynics who said the police should have been spending their time doing better things, and if the policeman had not been off-duty maybe they would have had a point. But don’t you think that humanising the authorities and building a stronger sense of community potentially has a more direct effect on lowering crime rates than a heavy-handed approach? I definitely think so.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Are mermaids real?

Seriously? No. Afraid not. Even the US government has had to make a public declaration that they are in fact mythical creatures after this TV program on the Discovery Channel prompted public excitement.

According to the National Ocean Service, No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. That's cleared that up then.

Ah, what a shame. Every little girl wants to be a mermaid at some stage – and a princess, and a gymnast, and a teenage mutant ninja turtle if you’re me.

Mermaid swimsuits by 3-Fins. Photo: 3-Fins

And now, a Canadian mum has gone and invented a little something that can make little wannabe merpeople's dreams come true – mermaid tails.

Available in a variety of designs, apparently you are actually able to swim in them. Ariel’s got some competition. Honestly, I think they look quite ridiculous but then again, what do I know? I'm just a mum.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Make your own Olympic torch

Is it just me or is the Olympic torch doing a rather magical job of being seen by just about everyone in the land? Everywhere I look on Twitter, Facebook, other people’s blogs, eBay (£4,000 the going bid in case you're interested), there’s a friend or family member posing proudly with a torch. Even Little Bean’s nursery had a surprise flying visit from the flame du jour. I have to say, I’m feeling more than a little left out. The golden cone has come nowhere near me.

The Olympics are just around the corner (12 days and counting) so as I doubt I’m going to get a chance to see the real thing, I’ve decided I’ll get in on the ‘make your own’ act. 

I’ve been amazed by the crazily creative souls out there making torches out of polystyrene, popcorn and pipecleaners. The mind boggles, the ego plummets. My creative juices all dried up around my 13th birthday (fluttering my eyelashes at boys took up too much energy) so I’m going to partake (steal) a few of these ideas and see if I can pass myself off as a creative whizz too. My friends may know better but I’m sure there are a few unsuspecting souls whose eyes I can pull the wool over.

Here are a few of my favourite ‘make your own Olympic torch’ ideas, though I've Pinterested a few more here

Olympic popcorn torch

Oh, look, the first one I've found is food-related. There's a surprise. Cute little pots of fairly healthy snacky torches. And eeeeaassssyy. Even I can't burn popcorn. Much. Many other beautiful pics and ideas for throwing an Olympic-themed part from A Small Snippet.



Olympic torch (inedible)

Pretty gold holographic paper, red tissue paper, netting and ta-da. They'll never know the difference.  Another bit of crafty brilliance from Knitty Mummy. What's that you say - did she not knit an Olympic torch? No need. Ninety-year-old Muriel is already on it. Really, you should see this. It's impressive.

Olympic torch cupcakes

Here we are, back to food again. Multicoloured buttercream - flaming delicious. Alright, I'll stop. Kudos to Mint Custard for this cupcakey delight.

olympic torch cupcakes

Olympic ice-cream torch

Gone in an instant but cute idea from Make and Takes.

olympic torch ice cream

Anyone else have any creative Olympic gems up their sleeves?  Or are you one of the lucky ones to have seen the hallowed torch itself?

Silent Sunday #silentsunday

Friday, 13 July 2012

Reader Appreciation

Nothing like a bit of Reader Appreciation to make your day. Mother Goutte certainly made mine when she let me know she’d nominated me. So now I’d like to share the love.

The rules of this award are as follows

1. Include the award logo somewhere in your blog.
2. Answer the questions below for fun, if you want to.
3. Nominate 10 to 12 blogs that you enjoy, or you pick the number.
4. Pay the love forward: Provide your nominees with a link to your post and comment on their blog to let them know they've been included and invited to participate.
5. Pay the love back with gratitude and a link to the blogger(s) who nominated you.

What's your favourite colour?

Depends what’s flowering in the garden. At the moment I’m going through a purple lavender phase with some dianthus pink.

What is your favourite animal?

Penguins for sure. Back home in South Africa you can visit a little beach where the penguins roam around happy as can be, swimming in the water with you and running over your towels. Best not to touch them though – they like their space.


What is your favourite non-alcoholic drink?

Non-alcoholic? I don’t understand….

Facebook or Twitter?

Each has its pros and cons but I like the instantaneous of Twitter. Have also recently found Google+ and am thinking Facebook is looking a bit dated in comparison.

Do you prefer giving or getting presents?

Depends on the gift or the receiver/giver. I used to get ridiculously overwrought trying to find the perfect gift and would spend hours researching various options or scouring the shops. Having a baby and has cured this obsession because those hours are no longer available. Also, I now know that booze/cake/flowers are all completely acceptable and appreciated.

Favourite day of the week?

Silly question - obviously Friday. End of week, begin of weekend – what’s not to love!

Favourite flower?

Lisianthus – a less fussy rose. More delicate and rambly.

What is your passion?

Books. My mum used to tell me off for being antisocial because I always had my head buried in one. My dream is to have a my own personal library one day with one of those slide ladders so I can reach everything. There’d be a window seat, and a big golden Labrador to lie at my feet while I read, and a magically self-replenishing glass of merlot at my fingertips.

Well, that’s me in a mini-nutshell. Now for the next round of nominations...

I know these things aren't everyones cup of G&T so feel free to accept the award and that's that. But if you'd like a day off from thinking up a blog post...

I’d like to nominate:

Gourmet Mum
Practically Perfect Mums
All in One Mum
Mushy Pea
Knitty Mummy

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours

About a month ago our neighbours moved out and I’m sorry to say that instead of hugging them goodbye or promising to forward on post, Mr Bean and I pretended we weren’t home and watched gleefully from the upstairs bathroom window as they drove away.

house image

In fact, I doubt they would have noticed if we’d had balloons, a marching band and thrown a party to wish them a happy departure – because they were still roaring at each other as they drove away, drowning out all other sound within a five mile radius. Mr Bean and I were practically bouncing up and down with excitement as we listened to the ringing in our ears peter out and heard the wildlife that had been frightened away by the next door ruckus return to the garden. It has been a long two years.

We love our house. It’s not huge but there’s generally enough space for ourselves and all the paraphernalia that Little Bean has accumulated since she came into the world. We’ve worked hard on our garden and although Alan Titchmarsh wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, it provides us with colour, barbeque space and a few vegetables and we’re proud of it. If only we could tame our neighbours so easily.

The couple living on the one side of us are lovely. They’re friendly and chatty and we give each other lifts, borrow printers, share plant cuttings etc. – regular neighbourly things. They also have conversations at decent decibel levels so we don’t have to wear earmuffs in our own home. Even the couple who lived there before were sweet. The husband, a towering mass of rippling muscles and rugby prowess, often used to pop over in his apron offering us homemade brownies and coconut cake. Yes, eat that stereotype. 

But the house on the other side of us seems to be cursed. Just two weeks after the shouters moved out, a new couple has moved in. We’ve just said hi one time where they took the opportunity to introduce us to their massive Rottweiler. I love dogs, even big ones but I’m afraid Rottweilers are one breed that make me a bit edgy – especially with Little Bean being so little and the garden fences so flimsy. The couple seem nice enough but a few days after they moved in the husband departed for a four month work placement elsewhere. And I realised the earmuffs would need to come out again.

The wife (understandably I suppose) is trying to fill the silence of his absence by blaring pop music all night long - and all day on the weekends. If it was the radio, I might be able to bear it but I think it’s her own iTunes mix on repeat. I’m trying really hard to be sympathetic but if I hear Gary Barlow’s Jubilee song ‘Sing’ sung (see what I did there) one more time I can not be held accountable for my actions. I really should invite her over for dinner sometime but I suspect our music tastes may indicate further underlying differences.(I mustn’t be so mean – this blog is terribly confessional.)

Neeeiiighbours, everybody needs good neeeiighbours

Perhaps Mr Bean and I just have bad luck? In our previous rented accommodation we had a neighbour who used to go outside every single night at 11pm, just as we were drifting off to sleep, and start up his car, which was parked right outside our bedroom window. For about half an hour he used to sit there with the engine running, sometimes revving it. Then he would go back inside and we would finally get to sleep.

One of my friends, had an odd neighbour living downstairs who started off with a chicken in the garden, which then expanded to a whole coop of the cluckers, a duck, and as if that wasn’t enough, a goat. And this is in Surbiton suburbia, not a smallholding in Sussex. 

So, in short, while my door is always open for a neighbourly bag of sugar, you’re going to have to get your own earmuffs. Looks like I'll be needing them for a bit longer. 

Any neighbours from hell stories you'd like to share?