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?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Quentin Blake - Hospital Art

I think everyone feels the same about hospitals – the smell, the memories, the sounds – it’s not somewhere you look forward to visiting on the whole, yet everyone, at some stage, has to.  

I don’t know about you but my hospital birthing room was fairly plain. Battleship grey walls, off-putting blinking machines and a bed which I remember eyeing suspiciously knowing what would be happening in there before long.

Labour took much longer than I’d expected – an hour after admission and I was disappointed when my baby still hadn’t put in an appearance. Optimistic? A tad. I remember that the only thing on the wall was an agonisingly slow-moving clock – and this had my complete, undivided, obsessive attention.

Hospital walls are pretty grim in most cases. Uniformly grey and peeling, they may as well paint bars on them and be done with it. Which is why I think this exhibition by Quentin Blake is the most fabulous idea. Four hospitals in the UK and France commissioned him to produce therapeutic art for various units (mental health, eating disorders, health and social care, and maternity), with unsurprising positive results.

From the series Mothers and Babies Underwater (c) Quentin Blake

The maternity series, the largest of the projects, contains more than 50 illustrations and in Blake’s words is a way of saying ‘it’s going to be alright in a minute’. Well, I certainly could have done with a bit of that at the crucial moment. I think I may have been expecting too much from the scented candle and hypnobirthing CD.

The exhibition is currently on tour - the itinerary's below. It's not clear what happens to the art afterwards but I really hope it ends up back in the hospitals where patients can continue to have something cheerful to look at.

The Foundling Museum, London     12 January - 15 April 2012
Paisley Museum, Renfrewshire     27 April - 24 June 2012
Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle     7 July - 14 October 2012
Kirkby Gallery, Knowsley     29 October 2012 - 13 January 2013 (tbc)
Bankfield Museum, Halifax     2 February - 13 April 2013 (tbc)
Bodelwyddan Castle, Denbighshire     20 April - 14 July 2013 (tbc)
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry     27 July - 3 November 2013 (tbc)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A boy's education is not more valuable than a girl's

Publicity is funny thing. Today I (literally) bumped into ‘that bloke’ from TOWIE. You know the one – orange skin, buff, shocking dress sense? That doesn’t narrow it down enough? Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.

Anyway, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that he and his tribe are of the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ variety and keep Heat in business. People like Bob Diamond must envy this immunity to damaging exposure.

But aside from good and bad publicity there’s also ‘distracted’ publicity, successfully grabbing people’s attention, but probably not making enough of a connection to the real point. Let me explain. At the moment there is a fair amount of discussion in the media about the fact that, according to a recent survey, the Famous Five books are UK adults’ top childhood reads. Also high up on the list are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Black Beauty and Winnie the Pooh.

Winnie the pooh
 Cue heated discussions. The list of books is flawed. They are typical Guardian readers’ choices. Blyton’s books are racist/sexist (Heard this before? Yawn). I love the Famous Five but The Secret Seven were much better. Etc etc.

So, loads of publicity and discussion – fantastic! But what for exactly? While Plan UK, who conducted the survey, have succeeded in prompting us to think about our childhood favourites (and anything to promote reading I’m 100% for) the whole point of the exercise was really to draw attention to their initiative to help girls around the world who are currently excluded from learning to read and write because a boy’s education is seen to be of more value. Instead they are taken out of school to work - or forced into marriage when they are far too young. So the charity has launched the Education for Girls Facebook App where you can buy a virtual book for just £3 and help fund schooling for the 75 million girls worldwide who are affected. 

Now, I'm all for discussing the relative merits of Matilda vs Anne of Green Gables (and I'd love to hear your own childhood favourites) but please visit Plan UK's Facebook page too. It's important. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Fishy vs Frisky

Yesterday I googled ‘Can you feed a baby sardines?’

I google a lot of random questions like this. Ever since I was told under no circumstances to give Little Bean egg before she was one year old, just as I had the spoon poised full of scrambled. I’d assumed this was the perfect weaning food but apparently not. (When she was first born I spent hours during midnight feeds googling 'reflux' and 'breastfeeding positions' and 'how to swaddle'. As a new mum, the internet was my lifeline - Mumsnet, Babycentre, Netmums, even Yahoo Answers had an opinion and by sifting through the forum crazies I usually got to an answer I was happy with.)

So my random search gave me a list of possibles and I hurriedly clicked on the first. It took me to a blog called ‘Sardines in a Can’ which, I might add, is most certainly not a recognised authority on child nutrition. However, the very witty blogger has acknowledged that spurious searches end up on her blog. Apparently her three most popular google searches are:

  1. Can I feed sardines to my baby?
  2. Potassium content of raisins
  3. Puddle dog

And as she feels sorry for the misguided souls who have inadvertently landed on her blog about her family’s roadtrip she has made a valiant attempt to answer the above questions. Isn't that good of her? I’ve decided that based on this I really like this blogger and will be following her ‘musings’ from now on.

My own most popular searches are from internet users with a very different agenda. A few weeks ago I wrote about Ellen Degeneres’ hilarious video reading from Fifty Shades of Grey. The blog title? Mummy porn. As you can imagine the bounce rate for people who land on that page is fairly high. Once the seedy searchers realise my booky/parenting blog is not quite so saucy they hotfoot it out of here to get their kicks elsewhere. Ah well, you can’t please everyone.

What are your weirdest/most popular searches? Or have you ever ended up on completely the wrong site by accident?