Half Term Happenings: South Bank

Half Term at SouthbankIt’s half term: are you climbing the walls yet?

I took a trip to South Bank in London a couple of weeks ago to seek out the best of the holiday activities this February to help us chase the boredom away. If you’ve never been here with your children before you really should – there’s a wonderful programme of events with activities from children 0+, so there’s really something for everyone!

Here’s my pick of what’s going on at Southbank:

Children take over the Southbank Centre for two weeks in February for the spectacular Imagine Children’s Festival (9-22 February). Catch readings from authors like Russell Brand and Judith Kerr and celebrate Alice in Wonderland’s 150th Anniversary with dancing, dressing up and croquet. Under 5’s can join in with Baby Yoga, Move & Shake and two shows from Half Moon Young People’s Theatre.

See London like never before – from a duck, with London Duck Tours!Start on a road tour of the City of Westminster, taking in sights like the Houses of Parliament, Coca-Cola London Eye and Big Ben before slipping into the Thames to see the city from the water. All this on a historic vehicle used for the D-day landings in 1944.

Get involved at IWM London for a free family printing activity. Have a go at drawing your favourite piece of art from the current exhibition – Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War – and transfer your design into a print you can keep. Print it: Truth and Memory is on from 14-22 February.

Wallace and Gromit/Chicken Run fan? Take part in the Aardman Messy Time for the Very Young (17-19 February), a programme of workshops atBFI Southbank, that truly do offer something for everyone. With activities from age 0 to 14 you can choose from Claymation, film making, messy play or creative crafts.

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Gillray’s, London Marriott County Hall, achieved what I thought was almost impossible: it’s a wonderful lunch (or dinner) destination for both children and their discerning parents. Spotting three families dining on our last trip here, the kids will love the ream of colouring-in sheets they’re presented with, the special kids eat free menu (proper food only: not an orange fish finger in sight) and the wonderfully friendly staff. Adults won’t be able to get enough of the gorgeous steaks, exemplary wine list and riverside location. Gillray’s really is a star on the South Bank.

Have a budding Marine Biologist in your family? Dive in and be wowed by the fascinating creatures of the deep at the SEA LIFE London Aquarium.  Fun for all, get as close as you dare to Sand Tiger Sharks, Black Tips and Grey Reefs – without getting wet!

Thank you ever so much for everyone at Southbank for inviting me down – you can see the original article over on their website

The Redundant Life

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My job, my lovely lovely job in the brilliantly wonderful ad agency has gone.

It has moved down to London without me, like a 23 year old bright eyed graduate leaving home with stars in her eyes. Along with the rest of my lovely lovely team’s jobs, it’s migrated down the M1 to the big city for bigger and better things.

Obviously I, the mum of two children who are well and truly happily based 40 miles north of London, have not moved with my job. Remember when I left my previous job in London to spend more time with those children? Yep. I had to say goodbye once again.

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In a not-so poetic metaphor: redundancy is rubbish. This is the first time it’s happened to me and it’s been well and truly awful. Seven of us in total have been left without jobs in the department move and in truth it’s been a very sad situation. I loved my job, enjoyed going to work very much, saw my colleagues as friends and confidantes and to have that taken away quite swiftly was a bit shocking. As one of my work buddies put it (though she brilliantly illustrated this through the medium of unicorns so it was obviously heaps better) you go through the different stages of redundancy; you’re gutted, then angry, then you accept the news, return to being sad, and then move on to being mind-numbingly drunk.

Only I missed out on the drunk part because I had a stinking cold. WHY ME, WORLD?!

My team left a week ago and I had my final day in the London office last Thursday, having agreed to work from home to help manage the new staff bed-in for a couple more weeks. But it’s difficult, it’s hard. I miss my work friends, I don’t have a job to go to when this one ends and I’ve never been in this situation before. I am a fan of routine, I like knowing where I’m working, when I’m working, where I’ll be in six months (as much as I can, anyway). Not knowing makes me nervous. Not earning makes me nervous. Kids need shoes and all that.

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I have, however, enjoyed being a bit more present in the children’s lives. Being able to dawdle on the school run and chat with the other mums rather than scoot straight off to the office has been lovely. Taking Hux to pre-school (I was always at work for the 9.15 start) is amazing. Not having to plan my free time down to the second is pretty cool. I have freedom for the first time in a long time.

It’s a shame you can’t use freedom to buy your groceries, eh?!

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I know I will be OK, I always am. I work hard and I will find work again, whether it’s freelance or in a new agency, I have faith that a combination of my career history, work ethic and the universe will make sure the next step is a good one. Until then, here’s to that freedom.

And if anyone needs a freelance digital guru you know where to look (here! here! here!).

How To Fight A Cold The Single Mum Way

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I’ve had one of those colds. You’ll know – the ones that go on and on and on and on (and on and on and on). It started a fortnight ago, knocking both Hux and I down. Then I thought it got better that weekend but it didn’t (which is definitely the reason why I couldn’t handle my cocktails…) and I was eventually completely and utterly KO’d, unable to do anything but whine by the next Friday. I even missed a very very important work night out because I just couldn’t face a night of Prosecco.

I know. Poor me.

The work stress has been cranked up to ten this week which is probably a big part of the reason why I just can’t shift this effing lurgy and, in all honesty, I am really not good at being ill. I feel tired, useless, slow and all-round miserable which manifests itself in a self-perpetuating cycle of self-pity. I HAD A FLU JAB, THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN.

In my desperation I’ve been reading blogs in an effort to feel better (seems legit) and lo! One of my favourites had a piece all about my exact problem: how to cure your cold, featuring advice from people on Twitter and Instagram. Only I read it and realised that literally none of this advice applied to me; there is literally no ‘get better from flu’ advice that helps when you are the sole carer of two tiny humans demanding attention, love and food from you. And how inconvenient this is.

Seriously though there’s no harder time when it comes to single parenting than being ill and having to be a responsible adult. It’s tough and the support system you take for granted when in a relationship just isn’t there; I can’t exactly ask my ex-husband to cancel all his weekend plans and drive 60 miles to come and give me a hand. Wouldn’t be very strong independent woman of me now, would it?

And so we cope. This is how.

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Get as much sleep as you can
Ahahahahahah. Are you joking? You can bet your bottom dollar the one time you’re ill is going to be the one time your kids get up at a truly ungodly hour. Yay… In absence of sleep I choose caffeine or guarana. Healthy it is not, but I can sleep next year. Or in 2017. WHATEVER.

Eat lots of vitamin-filled foods
Saturday: Green juice, KFC lunch followed by curry and a beer because nothing else was working on the sore throat so why not?.

Sunday: American pancakes with bacon followed by more curry and enough chamomile tea to make me feel nauseous/virtuous (it’s about the same point).

A handful of satsumas cos Vitamin C.

So I won’t win any awards for this weekend’s food but at least I got us all out the house (drive thru!) and involved in some cooking. Plus there was so much goodness in Saturday’s green juice I basically don’t need to eat any vegetables for at least another couple of weeks. Bosh.

I force fed the children grapes so they don’t get scabies.

Watch your favourite feel-good TV shows
Like Monsters Inc, Toy Story, Shrek, Horrid Henry and Thomas The Tank Engine. Yeah, those.

Relax
Again, AHAHAHA.

Instead I say: charge up all your devices. The last time I had a phone upgrade I cleverly kept my old iPhone (GENIUS move which was well worth the £100 or so I would’ve got for it), which now lives in my bedside drawer for such emergencies as Single Mum Flu. Once charged it entertains the littlest child whilst the iPad entertains the big one. Model parenting it ain’t but when your head is pounding more than a bad hangover and you just need 30 minutes to lie down in silence it does the job. Thank-you Apple (and CBeebies. And Netflix. And Frozen).

When they’re bored of the devices I like to get the messiest, busiest toys out and let them go wild for a special treat – this weekend it was the Playdoh and I let them mix the colours together. To be honest it was past its best anyway but they literally had three hours of blissful fun playing with it.

For my entertainment and so I wouldn’t lose the will to live I washed my sheets and cooked a really easy curry (when you have two little people it’s impossible to spend much time resting on the sofa anyway). Took my mind off feeling like death and meant we all had something to eat that day – bonus.

Take a long relaxing bath
Or fill the bath for your children and quickly get in it before they realise. You’ll have five minutes tops, probably shouldn’t light candles and won’t have time for a DIY skin-boosting facial but hey, at least you’ll be clean.

And there you have it. Your recipe for health. I can guarantee you won’t feel much better, but at least you’ve tried, eh?

MTT: Fluffy American Pancakes With Maple Bacon

Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple BaconPancakes were very much A Thing for my brother and I growing up. I remember my mum making them, not just for pancake day but for special treats and to eat as Crepes Suzette at their ever so grown-up dinner parties. My brother and I loved them – we ate them very plainly with only caster sugar, still do – and it was one of the first things I learned how to cook myself.

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Pancake-eating as a kid is one of my favourite memories – sprinkling sugar on those bad boys, rolling them up and stuffing them in my mouth with greasy fingers. I’d always order pancakes as a special treat at the John Lewis Café and any excuse to eat them, including Shrove Tuesday, was an occasion to look forward to. IMG_2313

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My pancake tastes have now diversified to include these Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple Bacon and my love for them originated as all good obsessions do: at a restaurant. Somewhere in Shoreditch, perhaps The Hoxton, and probably for about 12 quid. I was immediately hooked on the combo of soft and crunchy, sweet and salty and decided to re-create them at home myself.

Sidenote: zoom over here for a more diet-friendly Paleo version

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I straight away sought out maple syrup and though my eyes watered at the price the expensive stuff is well worth it (and currently 50% off at Ocado) as the other kind is a not-so-tasty synthetic imitation. I also always make sure I have streaky bacon in the fridge for this recipe which always crisps up much better than thicker back bacon. Smoked is my preference but whatever floats your boat.

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These pancakes have become something of a tradition in our house, we eat them every other weekend and I just can’t. Get. Enough. The maple syrup creates a wonderful sweet/salt symphony when added to the bacon and the pancakes fluff up beautifully to compliment its crisp bite.

Basically – YUM.

Don't burn yo bacon! Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple Bacon

I always use tin foil to protect my baking tray when preparing this bacon; burnt on sugar syrup is fun to scrub off for no-one – I learned this the hard way. And make sure your baking powder is as fresh as possible, this really makes a difference when it comes to the fluff factor of your pancakes. 
Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple Bacon Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple BaconThe original recipe (and best I’ve ever found) comes from the BBC recipe site. I haven’t really changed much about it because it’s always been perfect.

FYI my new breakfast crush is buttermilk fried-chicken with pancakes and maple butter as seen for brunch at Breddos Tacos‘ pop-up at Trip Space last summer. Give me six months and I’ll have mastered it. Epic.

5.0 from 3 reviews
MTT: Fluffy American Pancakes With Maple Bacon
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
In my family this recipe yields six pancakes - we have two each - so you may want to double it!
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Ingredients
  • Streaky bacon - we have 3 rashers per person.
  • Real maple syrup
  • 135g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 large pinch sea salt
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 130ml milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (allowed to cool slightly)
  • Butter for cooking
Instructions
  1. Heat your oven to 200 degrees C, and spread your bacon on a tin foil-lined baking tray. Brush generously with maple syrup. Put in the oven as soon as it's reached temperature for around 12-15 minutes.
  2. Pop the flour, baking powder, salt and caster sugar into a large bowl. In a separate bowl lightly whisk together the milk and egg, then whisk in the melted butter.
  3. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and beat using a whisk until you have a smooth batter. The texture you want from this is a lot thicker than you might be used to with french crepes. Let the batter stand for a few minutes.
  4. Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter. When it's melted, add the batter: I use a dessert spoon and measure out approximately two per pancake. It will seem very thick but this is how it should be. Wait until the top of the pancake begins to bubble, then turn it over and cook until both sides are golden brown and the pancake has risen to about 1cm (½in) thick.
  5. Repeat until all the batter is used up. You can keep the pancakes warm in a low oven, but they taste best fresh out the pan.
  6. Serve with the crispy bacon topped with maple syrup.

 

 

Becoming Mum

There hasn’t been a lightbulb moment or a bolt from above. But there was a second today when, all of a sudden, I thought – this motherhood thing isn’t hard anymore.

It’s taken a couple of years (OR MAYBE ALMOST-FIVE) but I can now truly and honestly say that I think I am a mother. I have finally – FINALLY – got used to it. I’m used to the responsibility, the relentlessness, even the sleep deprivation.

OK, that’s a lie, I think the sleep deprivation is something you never get used to.

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I really don’t mind saying that four and a half years ago the reality of having children hit me in the face like a big wet fish. A big rotten wet fish that smelled like baby poo, never slept and made my nipples hurt. The worst kind of fish, basically.

Because the truth is that babies are hard. Really hard. Unlike the shiny happy view that the media and Hollywood give us of parenthood (weird, because Hollywood/the media is so truthful about everything else, right?) it really isn’t like that. You don’t look like Katherine Heigel right after you’ve given birth and you probably won’t even look as attractive as a pregnant Arnold Schwarchnegger in the nine months preceding, either. From the word go it’s vomity tiring struggle: you’re the one that throws up for almost a year and then baby arrives and teaches you the wonder of posset (I’m not referencing the dessert here). It is, quite literally, a bit sick.

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In all honesty for me the first two years were a blur. And then Hux arrived: repeat, rinse etc. OH GOSH the tiredness.

But now – but now. It’s all coming together.

You can have actual conversations with both the children. You can reason with them about why it’s not wise to put things in their ear canal – they probably won’t listen, but at least you can try. When they get up at 5.30am you can ask them nicely to go back to sleep and they actually do it. They say adorably gorgeous things that you can bore all your friends with and you can proudly display their attempts at writing their first words over Social Media. Elfie told me the other day that I was “the most special mummy I have ever met” and Hux says “I love you” totally unprompted. It’s pretty cool.

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Don’t be fooled, it still isn’t easy. But I always think about that saying: “the days are long but the years are short”. Soon Hux will smell like a combination of cheesy feet and Lynx and Elfie will dye her hair black and think I’m hugely uncool. So I need to make the most of Hux wanting to share my pillow and Elfie creeping in at 5am to kiss my forehead.

Believe me, you’ll get there. It might take five years but once you become a mum it really is the best.

Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Woman, But At Least We Have Karma

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Sometimes you just have one of those weeks. Those weeks when you feel you’re tired and unmotivated, nothing goes right, you hate all your clothes and you just want to crawl back into bed and sleep your weird mind-funk off for a couple of days. Maybe only to be woken by someone bringing you sausage rolls or cheese toasties. And as we’re in fantasy land I’d like to specify Jamie Dornan to be the one bringing me baked goods, if you please.

I realised I was having one of those weeks by Wednesday this week: I’d ugly-cried at Call The Midwife (seriously took me hours to get over that episode), the jacket of Rachael’s new book, a random advert I don’t remember and the finale of The Office (ALL THE EMOTIONS). I’d diagnosed myself with manflu on Monday having been flat-out knackered with a sniffle all weekend and dosed myself up on chamomile tea and sympathy. My productivity was low which is always the worst feeling for me and I felt like I couldn’t even put an outfit together (the horror…).

Jamie Dornan never appeared, FYI.

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I generally felt out of sorts and not myself – blaming January with its freezing skies and miserable commuters – until Mother Nature reminded me that HEY, I can eff up your week just cos you’re a WOMAN. And so I switched my blame from January to my bloody bloody hormones.

I’m fairly lucky with my womanly ways, as it goes. I remember being a teenager, listening to songs about love and passion and the cruel cruel world and just having all these FEELINGS. These teenage feelings that nobody really knew what to do with, least of all me. Back then it was all so new – the hormones, the boyfriends, the dealing with life – there was soooo much dramatic teenage turmoil that usually ended in screeching at my mum and wailing on my bathroom floor about how life wasn’t fair (sorry mum).

Now when I feel a bit hormonal there’s more grown-up situation of tucking yourself into bed nice and early to watch an uplifting film (my go-to is 500 Days of Summer for happy or sad situations), treating yourself to a glass of wine at the weekend or browsing TED Talks to re-ignite your inspiration. There’s more geeing yourself up by listening to Bruno Mars, cooking a lovely dinner and browsing ASOS.

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The grown-up version of hormonal turmoil is much more pleasant, it has to be said.

But it’s times like this that really re-affirms my faith in the universe. I know I’ve mentioned this before and I still feel a bit ridiculous writing this down – 19 year old me thought ‘Karma’ was nothing but the title of a Culture Club song – but since I started my singleton journey 2 years ago I have really felt the universe looking after me when I’m feeling a little bit rubbish.

It’s the little things. Sian, my lovely manicurist, giving me 3 extra stamps on my loyalty card because she knew I was having a hard day. An odd man at Costa telling me my cold-ravaged hands were beautiful (all down to you, Sian). The man at the tapas place around the corner from work giving me 10% off and sneaking me a free glass of wine. Winning a £50 voucher for Boden, one of my favourite shops. Sam at Ena Salon inviting me in for a haircut and making me feel (and look!) so good that I left walking on air.

Seriously, if you need a re-style please go and see him. Sam is hands down the best stylist I’ve ever been to and the blow-dry he gave me this time around was nothing short of magical. It made me feel like a million dollars. Look at all these smug selfies I took after visiting him!

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It’s more than that though – karma is how other people react to you when you’re having a slightly rough time. It’s how you react to other people when they’re experiencing the same. It’s when you know you haven’t been the best person you can be and something external to you recognising that – a broken egg shell at the supermarket or a rude shop assistant.

Bear with me on this, I think ‘Karma’ may be the only religion I’ve ever believed in.

Today is Friday so I have declared that The Week of Funk will be officially over. Bring back my productivity, my excitement, my ability to get dressed. Hormones are SO 2014…