Monday, 28 July 2014

My 5 WTF Commonwealth Sports

What is that mascot even about?


I have however been made to watch a lot of sport against my will this evening, so consider this post a product of my ever-amounting rage at  the torture-fest that is organised sporting events interrupting the television schedule/normal life.

You're welcome.

1. Squash.

I have just spent more time than anyone should have watching this on the TV.  Two people, in a box, hitting a ball off a wall.  Isn't this just the very same game you used to play when you'd been inside a bit too long in the summer holidays, driving the adults insane.  Your mum would lose the plot with you and shout at you to 'Get Out!', and you'd traipse woefully to the garden, tennis ball in hand.

You'd spend virtually hours playing this game by yourself outside, because this was the week your best pal was on holiday, or it was the last week of the holidays and everyone was completely fed up, so you'd take it out on the harling stone outside your neighbours' house, which would no doubt bring them running out to tell you to bugger off even further up the street to bother someone else.

Why are grown people playing it now?

2. Swimming

Okay, I am impressed by fast swimming.  I'm not a big swimmer, so I am always impressed by something I can't do.  But what I am not impressed by are the varying strokes.  There's nothing more odd than watching grown, muscly, beautiful-bodied men doing the Butterfly stroke.

Why?  Why are we making them do this?  They look crazy.  And also, hello!  It makes them go slower!

People do some funny things for money in this world, but this swimming oddly in a stroke that serves no real purpose has to be up there with one of the weirdest.

3. Lawn Bowls

Right. Lawn bowls.  This is the game I am imagining I'm going to get into when I'm old.  Why?  Because, basically, it's an excuse to join one of those wee clubs where there'll be other older folk and more importantly, there will be a licensed and cheap bar, selling nips and a dash for £1.50 and packets of peanuts.

Which I am going to propose is the only reason Lawn Bowls is really still alive as a sport today.  I think it's probably one of the world's best-kept secrets - Lawn Bowls = cheap drinking on the sly, which is why Scotland's Commonwealth Games opened with it.  Like a sly wink to the guy behind the cheap veneer bar.

4. Tandem Biking

I caught this the other day.  Kudos to the sports people who are taking part in this - it is equal parts brave and talented to be able to work as a team like that, whizzing around the track at speed on a very thin, tiny, tandem bike.  Especially as part of the deal is that one of you is visually impaired.  Hats off to the men and women who compete in this sport.

My only qualm is - the person at the back has to put their nose on the person in front's bum!

It must be a streamlining thing or something (they were all doing it), but it does look pretty funny.  Definitely a 'bum' deal...(geddit?)

5.Table Tennis

The tagline for this sport is 'Agility. Precision. Focus.' and I am in no way disputing that this is what you do in fact need to be a successful Table Tennis player.

But when I was at school, Table Tennis was the lazy bastard approach to P.E.  Nobody took it seriously.  Indeed, our teacher was so annoyed by our lack of interest in physical exercise by 4th year, and the amount of girls who managed to pull out of the class every week, that she began to just let us mooch about beside the Table Tennis table for a quiet life.  Where we did nothing.  No precision, agility OR focus there, let me tell you.

The only other place I ever saw Table Tennis being played in real life and not in Forrest Gump, was at our local Youth Club in the early 90's.  By two wee boys who battered a ruined ping pong ball with those table tennis bats, which were so old, the foam had been either picked (or chewed?) off, or the very glue that had held them together had failed and the foam was just flapping about.  It never struck me that when someone was buying the resources for anywhere that they would add 'table tennis equipment' to the list, so again, I am a bit surprised that this has ended up as a sport that lots of people compete at.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Shouldering Some Weight


It's a Man's World...

Being a woman in an all-male environment is tough.

I was brought up in an all-female house.  My mum, my sister and me - so it was always going to be hard to live amongst the guys.

We weren't 'typical' females though.  Oh no.

Part of the deal about being in an all-female house is that there are no stereotypical 'male' and 'female' roles.  Indeed, our mantra in our house was always, and I mean ALWAYS 'I'm just as good as any guy and I can do it too.'

And we did.

We took out the bins, we put up shelves, we all helped to paint our rooms when we moved house, we were shown by my mum how to lay carpet, how to do basic DIY and how to craft, hang a mirror, fix a leaking tap.  The things I know about cars, machinery and basic medical problems are so innate - it's as common knowledge in our family as how to breathe.

I wouldn't thinks twice about stuff like 'female safety', or 'female roles' or any of that utter bullshit.  I kept myself safe as a person, never thought about how my vagina might make me more vulnerable or how it might stop me from changing a light bulb.  My problems were never really exclusively female.  Until I started dabbling in the adult world.

It never clicked on for me until quite late on - as a young woman I worked three jobs, walked home on my own at night and drank pints of lager because I bloody liked them, and never had a quandry about it.

When I started to live with my boyfriend (who is now my husband), I never broke on any of these things.  I still carried on, business as usual - indeed he looked to me to hang the shelves, fix the washing machine and cut the grass, purely because he didn't know how.  And he would never have been pig-headed enough to claim he did.

He knew the difference between taking the bags from me because I was a woman and just taking his share of the load because he is bigger and stronger than me.  But he would never dream of patronising or hindering my motivation.  If he had we would never have ended up together.

But sadly, not all are like him.

As is the case with a lot of girls and women who have grown up in all-female homes, I began to crave a more male environment.  For some reason I was more comfortable here.  Whether I was hankering for missed male moments or I just simply didn't register with more feminine groups of girls, that is subjective.

In these male environments, I was more comfortable, yes.  But it was here that I also found my challenges and my anger.

I took jobs in bars, and as a physically small, yet surprisingly strong person, I took great joy in exercising my ability to lift full beer kegs around the cellar, or carry boxes of beer up from the cellar and across the bar, in front of my male colleagues, who would only lift half of what I forced myself to carry.

Why did I do this?

I guess I was trying to prove myself.

It is especially tough, as a small, young-looking female, to pull weight with the guys if you can't, well, you know, pull weight with the guys.

So I made sure I could.  And I did.

I also put up with a lot of sexist banter, drunken flattery from older male customers and some pretty lewd comments.  And never thought twice about it really - those were guys.  This was how they acted, right?

I never fit in with girly groups.  My language was always too coarse, I didn't paint my nails (and have no interest in doing so), I use make-up in the most minimal of ways and I find skirts and heels too impractical for the stuff that I have to do every day.  The stuff that I like to do every day.

Yet, I had a yearning to be female too: to be utterly feminine.

I wasn't bad looking - I got a fair bit of male attention - and I enjoyed the sweetness of flirting with the opposite sex. Some guys liked me for my looks. Some, or so they told me anyway, liked my take on the world and loved to talk with me for hours about Philosophy or Art or Literature.  I enjoyed flaunting my female charms and was utterly aware of how to use them.

I also craved female friendships, without really being comfortable in them.  I agonised as much over my relationships with supposed 'friends' who used to never call me back, or openly giggled about me behind my back, or were just  plain mean in front of my face for no discernible reason.

I began to hate female friendships - I found them to be hard work, completely nonsensical in places and found that the undertones were too stressful to maintain; girls have an entirely different way of working and a lot is purely based on subtext, which I neither enjoyed nor embraced.  I liked hanging out with guys - there was never anything too deep or superficial.  For some reason, the majority of dudes just can't even read subtext, which was fine by me.

But here lay the problem.

There was a very strong line between being a strong, powerful female who could huckle grown men out of bars and the sweet lady who would giggle coquettishly at terrible jokes told by potential romancers.

There was an even stronger line between the girl who sat and talked about boys that they fancied with their friends and the girls who hung out with all the guys - apparently girls like that get a name.

And it wasn't nice.

But I didn't even fit the mold of a 'slut'.  So, go figure.

I was literally in no-man's land.

The amount of times I used to cry when I was around 19 or 20, having not fit in with the latest group of girls.

I'd sit with Dave, in my bedroom, comedically sobbing 'Why does nobody like me?  I never fit in!' while he just shook his head and patted my back.

It was awkward.

  I thought I'd found my group at college, but they were really too dramatic (not surprising really - it was a drama course!), then at University I was bowled over by everyone's openness - but again I was slightly too old, I wasn't living in halls, so I didn't get that  group bond. I spent my nights working or hanging out with my flatmates who were my oldest and bestest friends, and I already had a boyfriend, which at that stage in my life was apparently akin to being married off.  The majority being fresh out of school, a lot of them hadn't even kissed a guy, let alone lived with them.  I was already an oddity.

The one time I met a really nice guy in my Uni class and he invited me out for lunch afterwards, he was more than a bit put out when  brought my boyfriend.  I naively didn't realise he was chatting me up - I thought he was trying to be my friend.  I was actually a bit gutted - especially when he slipped off halfway through drinks and then never spoke to me ever again, even in class.

Fast forward around ten years and a shed load of life experience and here I am, the only female in a house full of dudes.  And never has my femininity been more of an issue.

As a mother of two boys and a wife to a pretty laid back and feminist husband, I have had to defend myself over and over again.

Not only have I had to prove myself continuously, but I have to be this strong, powerful female all the time.  I am no longer the young girl shifting ten times her body weight in beer kegs any more, but I certainly feel a lot of weight on my shoulders.

I carry the weight of showing my sons how to be good, honest and equality-aware men.

I carry the weight of proving myself as a working mother.

I carry the weight of challenging stereotypes every goddamned day in front of my children, who are constantly fed all kinds of stereotypocal pish through various channels; the books they read, the cartoons they watch, the colour of the toys they play with and that they see other children play with.  It is my job, and my husband's job to show them that there is no stereotype.  That in this man's world, we can challenge and question and argue and be right and true and honest.  And that it's okay to be strong and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being weak.  And that we can be weak.  And hard.

And that my husband isn't weak for supporting me in this.  And that it's his own idea!

Is he 'under the thumb'?  I must be pushy, a bit of a pain in the ass, a bit too outspoken, a bit

I will carry these weights my whole life.

Ye gads, that load is heavy sometimes.

With age has also come some sort of settlement within myself.  I am no longer fraught when I realise that some girly acquaintances have gotten together over a bottle of wine without me.  I'm safely out of the game, and that's cool by me - it's usually more bother than it's worth anyway.  Nowadays I save myself for old friends and vintage banter - folk who don't care if I speak about the things I speak about, or the fact that I don't like to watch docu-soaps and prefer a nice cold lager or malt whisky over pink wine.

I suppose sometimes I do yearn for close female companionship.  In reality, I really just want a girly friend to hook up with now and again to shoot the shit with.  No matter what anyone says, being female in a house full of guys is hard going sometimes.  and yes, you do need some affirmation from your own kind in some form.

Being Female is a unique and awesome experience.  It is a constant fight, in the sub-texts, in the borders and in the mainstreams of everyday life.  It's proof to your sisters, your brothers and your elders that you have indeed got this.

It's a tough gig.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Starting School Essentials

Got a wee one about to start school?  Here's a heads up on what you are going to need...

1. The Pencil Case

This is actually my own pencil case.  Too cool for school!

The pencil case is kind of a big deal.  In the sea of uniforms and matching gym bags, the pencil case is the one piece of kit which, placed on your desk, is the symbol of you.  When I was wee, a lot of though went into the pencil case and what to put in it.  In the first year however, it's not so much about personality and being equipped as a kind of right of passage into school-child times.

What I discovered was, that Tom rarely needed his pencil case in Primary 1.  School provided a pot of pencils for him, as well as rubbers, coloured pencils and sharpeners.  So it wouldn't have been a big deal if he hadn't had one - he didn't get homework until just before the Christmas holidays!

What he really appreciated was the special trip he and Granny took to get his special pencil case for his special first day at school.

It's all about preparation.  And the pencil case is a huge part of that.  The pencil case is one of the symbols of growing up, in this respect.

2. The Lunch Box

My own lunch box at school was very 80's - pink and covered in My Little Pony, and impossible to get open.  It was also extremely sturdy and big enough to fit everything - including a drink - in.  Which is all you are looking for in a lunch box.

If your new school is anything like our school, they will be promoting healthy eating, and are also on a course to make you very aware of what your kid does or does not eat from the various goodies you send.  A good lunch box for P1 will be:
  • Wipe clean - you have no idea how many messy crisps and juice and yoghurt can get inside a box which spends all day getting thrown around!
  • Sturdy - you need to be able to keep food intact until it gets eaten
  • Easy to open and close - it saves a lot of worry and frustration on your child's part
  • Big enough for everything to be inside - Tom couldn't always fit his drink in his and went thirsty all day once because he forgot to pick up his juice and was too shy to say to his teacher!

3. The Coat

Bear rocks the cheap version of the school coat, which is much preferable to the goddamn school coat.

We had to buy a goddamn school coat.  I hated the goddamn school coat.  Initially it looked like a good buy - waterproof, fleece lined and not too expensive.  But everyone else in P1 bought the goddamn coat too.  Which proved to be a bit of a nightmare.

The amount of times we ended up coming home with someone else's coat, or no coat at all because someone had gone home with Tom's coat was just ridiculous.  No amount of name tagging could have stopped it either - I had name tags all over that goddamn coat and the little children never really took the time to read. As you do.

Do yourselves a favour - don't buy the goddamn school coat.  Buy a school coat by all means - but make sure it is something fit for purpose (waterproof, a bit cosy, neat), but keep it cheap.  And don't let it be a coat which you will worry about getting dirty either - the amount of times it will end up in the washing machine in a week...ahrgh...don't get me started...!

4. Naming Stuff

Ah yes.  Definitely remember to stock up on lots of labels with your child's name on, or alternately, a really good labelling pen.  If you are anything like me, you will pat yourself on the back for getting a shed-ton of embroidered labels and spend a lot of time lovingly sewing them into various items of school clothing.

For about an hour.

Then you will begin to realise that name labels are actually a bit of a pain in the ass, and although they do mean that your kid can always read his or her name on their stuff very clearly, they are taking a crazy amount of time to sew on.

Invest in some iron-on labels and a Sharpie - much less time-consuming and definitely easier.  Especially when you get to the stage where you realise you missed that all-important expensive school jumper, or gym shoes.

5. Extra Gym Shoes, Needle and Thread, Hemming Tape...

Yep - who knew?  Extra gym shoes is something I would recommend.  Tom attends after school club, where he needs gym shoes to be able to attend games in the gym hall.  But he is not allowed to take the ones from his gym bag.  He has also attended various extra activities where he requires gym shoes to participate, but again, for some unknown reason, is not allowed to get the ones he already keeps at school.


Needle and thread are a must - buttons that pop off, ripped tie hems, holes in schoolbags - I would just add late-night sleep-deprived sewing to your new list of skills.

And hemming tape.  Where would I be without hemming tape?  In late-night sewing hell I tell you!  It lifts hems, it seals holes in knees, it sorts out odd flaps of fabric on the bottom of trousers.  It's actual magic on a roll!

6. The Water Bottle

OOh!  Flashy!

The kids at Tom's school are actively encouraged to take in their own water bottle.  Tom is terrible at remembering to drink throughout the day, so this is actually a pretty good thing - if his peers are doing it, he is doing it too, and that is all kinds of good.

We got Tom a bottle with his name already on it, which is a great idea.  His teacher allows them to fill it from the water fountain.  And it looks super cool too.

7. The Bag

I am Iron Man!
Ah, the school bag!  The school note delivery system from hell!  Every damn day, I open the mystical portal to yet another note from the school gods, proclaiming yet another crazy fun day or reason to hand in yet more money I don't have for things which make no sense...grumble...

The bag should be small enough for a wee person to carry without it dragging on the ground when they walk, but big enough to fit a jumper, homework folder, water bottle and pencil case in. And a post bag full of mail.

Okay, I joke about the mail.

Kind of.

Do get one big enough though, or school will do untold things with otherwise clean jumpers involving dirty lunchboxes full of rubbish, which will just make you scream at the end of yet another long day.

8. Envelopes

Maybe open a seperate bank account for mystical school stuff that appears for seemingly no discernible reason.
Nobody told me about the sheer amount of admin that comes with having a kid at school.  Seriously - I could and should, have a job in admin after the amount I get through in a week.  There is always a form to fill out, a task to complete, a gymnastics class to pay for or another round of lunch money to send in.  Envelopes are very, VERY important.

9. The Noticeboard and calendar

No, i can't explain the comedy note on my board.  It makes me laugh though!
You will not believe the amount of stuff you will have to remember - so a decent organisation system is definitely something to invest in.  We are a bit old school in this house, and really love  good old-fashioned calendar and noticeboard.  It's so easy to forget what's on, or forget to even note it on the calendar, so *whoosh*, up it goes on the noticeboard until we get a chance to work it all out.  There's always crazy stuff, like special jumper day, show and tell, inset days and parents-jumping-through-endless-hoops-for-no-apparent-reason days; but please keep a note of them.  They might seem crazy and unimportant to you, but to your child, they are super important.

10. A Sense Of Humour

School is great, it really is.  But there will be a point where the teacher demands that your child must donate something to the school beginning with the letter C (actually happened!), your son will end up in the medical room more times in a week than he does in the actual classroom (clumsy bugger that he is) and yes, the jumper will come home in a lunchbox full of mashed up crisps and yoghurt.  If it comes home at all.

You will have to sit through some pretty awful school performances (in order to see the back of your own child's head behind all of the pushy parents with the super-expensive cameras) and you will find yourself marching into the school office with the forgotten lunch box for the third time in a week.

Just make sure you're not the parent who forgets that it's non-uniform day.

(ssssshhhhhh!  That was totally not me.  Maybe.)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Bad Art

My youngest son asked me to make Jake out of Hama beads.  I wish I'd got a photo or a video of the sheer disappointment he displayed when I presented him with my finished version.

I showed him it on its own first.  He screamed.

He shouted.

'That's not RIGHT!'

I, quite chuffed with my results, was a bit sad.  It had taken me BLOODY AGES.

Then he brought me through his Jake walkie-talkie as a comparison.

Okay....I get his point....

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Starting School: No Worries!

This time last year, I was choosing my first ever school uniform for Thomas.  At 4 years old, he had always been a big lad for his age, but in his uniform, he looked too small.

Too small for school, too small for a classroom with 24 other kids in it.

Too small for going to packed lunches and after-school club.

Too small to have to make his own friends in the playground.

Too small to learn how to do his own tie and not forget which one was his coat at the end of the day.

His voice was high and he still pronounced some of his words incorrectly.

He still sometimes put his shoes on the wrong feet.

He still went to the toilet and left the door wide open because he was 'too scared' to close it.

Thomas has suffered from Glue Ear too - a condition which means that his attention span isn't always up to par, especially in a classroom situation where he has to focus even more on instruction.  Glue Ear has seen him frustrated, and also sometimes come off as rude or cheeky, which he really isn't - it's just that sometimes he mishears or hasn't heard at all.  And this worried me a lot.

I understood him.  I understood when he was frustrated.  I knew he wasn't cheeky or rude or ignoring anyone on purpose (well, most of the time!) and I knew when he was being a little bugger.  He had previously attended a small, private nursery, where the teachers had time to get to know him well, and had watched him grow up.  They knew when he was in a good mood, when he was being belligerent, when he was tired and when he needed to be cut some slack.

How would a teacher, who didn't really know him, who had to deal with 24 other children and their individual needs interpret my little boy?

I knew as much as anyone that first impressions count - and I was terrified that my wee boy would be labelled or judged straight off the bat as someone who didn't listen, or who was misbehaved - and stuff like that sticks with a kid.

Not to mention all the other worries: would he make a friend, be able to keep up with everyone, be able to ask for the toilet if he needed to go, be able to sit still in class, be able to do what he is told and just be a good lad?

I think every parent goes through this

There's something about putting your child into uniform that changes things.  You fear that they will change completely, that they will no longer be your little baby any more.  That they will just become another face in a sea of faces.

Many tears are shed by parents in the run up and on the first day of school.  The feeling you get when you take them into a classroom for the first time and see their name on their peg.  The lump in your throat when you have to leave them for that first playtime, take the first school photos, watch them file into line before going into the classroom without you for the first time...

It was tough.

That feeling that your baby, the one that you have obsessed and watched over for the last five years, the one whose poop colour you have stringently documented from birth, who you rocked to sleep in the middle of the night, who you read stories to every night (but not the scary ones, they are 'too scary mummy!'), the one you breastfed, expressed milk for, weaned, agonised over which nursery to send him to, chose out his first walking shoes, tried so hard to make sure he had access to everything that could nurture his development, who crawls into your bed in the middle of the night because he is scared...the feeling of him maybe not needing you any more is huge!

The feeling of him being swept up and swallowed by all of these other people - the teachers, the lollipop man, the dinner ladies, the p.e teachers, the after-school club workers; suddenly you feel like you are laying this little soul, who is a part of you and a product of you, out for judgement and ownership by others.

You put him into this little uniform, and make him look like all of the others, and you put him into a classroom and suddenly...suddenly...there he is...on his own...left to use all of the tools that you really hope that you equipped him with.

Don't panic.

This is how I felt last year when I sent Tom off to school.

But really, it's not so dramatic.

Really - it's been an amazing year.  And I promise you; it's not the end, but rather the continuation of your adventure together.

But with more tools in your backpack.

Thomas is still my baby (shh!  He'll always be my baby!)

He is still scared of the dark.

He still needs help to get his shoes right sometimes.

He still pronounces some words wrong.

He still has some crazy toilet habits!

And he still occasionally slips into our bed in the middle of the night.

And he loves school.

Yes, the first few weeks were a bit odd.  Yes, he did have some tears at times - some kids didn't want to play 'his game' in the playground, he struggled with his tie which made him anxious, he didn't always enjoy the school lunch that was served up to him, but when all is said and done - he dealt with it all himself.

Without me there to fuss and fret, he made some new friends.  He worked out who he did and didn't like.  He asked me to show him how to tie his tie (which he can now do) and you know what - he didn't starve.  He worked out what he didn't like and ate what he did.

The awesome thing about school too is the amount of times someone tells you how great your kid is.  There is no better feeling than checking out your son's first attempt at spelling or getting a note home from the teacher saying how good his reading is, or, even better, attending a parent's night, where the teacher says she would happily have 25 of your son in her classroom.

That's right - a wee person that you made!

Watching your kid run off into the sunrise at the start of a school day as he forgets to say goodbye because he is so eager to go is one of the most bitter-sweet feelings in the world - but so relieving and really great.

So, try not to cry too much on that first day of school.  Don't spend the night before fretting and worrying - you are all going to have a great time.

This is not the end.  This is just a continuation of the already-amazing things that happen when you have kids.

A new chapter of firsts.

This summer is already so different.

This summer is:

First real bike ride (without me pushing!)

First wobbly tooth

First summer holiday where we could stay up later

First late night party

First project

First chapter book (one of many this summer :) )

First school trip

Things are easier, because he is more mature, more reasonable and more settled within himself.

I am so proud of my well-rounded and happy wee guy.

We still have our moments - he is still a baby yet, but we are getting there.
I am really excited to see what next year brings.  And more importantly - he can't wait either!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Digestive Art

Fancy an easy and no-fuss bit of baking time with the kids, but can't be bothered with the mess and fuss of a full-blown cake mix extravaganza?

Fancy letting the kids indulge in their own creativity while you 'supervise' and get to eat the proceeds?

Why not try some Digestive Art?

You will need:

1 pack of cheap-ass digestive biscuits (the cheaper they are, the more you get in a pack, the more time that the kids will be 'creating' thus leaving you in peace to indulge in some 'you' time!)

1 pack of writing icing in quite a few colours

Some sprinkles

A bowl of melted chocolate (or 2 if you are feeling like some white chocolate and some milk chocolate!)



First, we put two marshmallows between two digestives and blipped them in the microwave for 10 whole seconds.  This made the marshmallows nice and squishy, providing a nice sticky centre (and the kids feel like they are 'baking', ha ha!)

Next, I loaded my 'baked' goods onto a plate, laid down some tissue and let them loose with some melted in the microwave hot chocolate.

They dipped, and wrote with the icing and covered the biscuits in sprinkles.

Busy, busy, busy!

Oh, the concentration!

yum yum yum!
Ok, I might have made one too - it was pretty fun!

M is for Mum!  My biscuit!

I have to say, this has been one of my favourite activities of the holidays so far - I sat around surfing the net, watching some comedy shows and kicked back while my children made me some delicious sugary treats!

Happy days!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Farmer Parr's Animal World Blackpool

Looking for something to do with the kids around Blackpool that won't break the bank, but still provide anamazing day out?

We were!

I love Blackpool a lot, but we were finding it rather difficult to find something for a 5 year old and a 3 year old to do, which wasn't going to cost us a fortune.

The piers are great, but the arcades, plus food, rides etc would have killed us, plus the entertainment factor would have only lasted half a day.

The refurbishment at Blackpool Tower looks amazing, but as it would have cost close to £80 just to get into the circus and view the Tower Top, it was kind of out of the ballpark figure of what we were able to spend.

The zoo was also a contender, but again, with soaring prices, we had to give it a side swoop - it was just too much after what we had already spent on food, toys and various other little bits and bobs.

Years ago, my family would have headed to one of the arcades and spent some change in the machines, getting a few hours of entertainment and perhaps some prizes out of it.  Nowadays, I look at the grabbing machines and realise that all they are going to grab is your cash - fast and hard, with no return.

We needed somewhere where the kids could be themselves, where we wouldn't be pestered to spend more money than we really had and where we could possibly take a picnic, whilst doing something we wouldn't normally do - Farmer Parr's was the perfect answer!

Situated North of Blackpool, close to Fleetwood, Farmer Parr's Animal World is a curiosity of a place.  A wee mish-mash of some really fabulous things - a few we really weren't expecting, and which turned out to be a lovely surprise.

Farmer Parr's is a bit like your typical farm park - it has goats, sheep, reptiles, ducks, chickens and small animals in a petting area.

There are lovely picnic benches, where you are very welcome to sit with your own picnic, or some food from the on-site cafe, and a Tractor Ride too.

There's a lovely wee park for the kids to let off some steam, and a really great small animal show, where you are introduced to some of the animals, and Farmer Parr himself is on hand to chat to children and adults alike, which is a great addition to the whole thing - this guy seems to be a character!  He is full of homely Northern banter and really great with the kids.

What we didn't realise though, are all the wee initiatives going on in the park - there's fundraising for various charities, and Farmer Parr's even houses The Fylde Country Life Heritage Centre in a deceptively huge space - over 10000 feet! - where you could wander around for hours quite happily, taking in some very interesting, mesmerising displays.

Not only is the Centre set out in mock scenes such as a butcher, dairy, houses, wash house, baker etc, but it also houses some massive examples of old farmyard machinery!  The boys loved it!

Farmer Parr's also hosts a part of Autism Initiatives, which sees people who have autism or other learning disabilities able to volunteer on the farm, helping with animals and doing some work around the farm itself.  This is an amazing idea, and something which totally added to the overall experience - the volunteers were very good at helping out during the Pony Riding sessions and Animal Handling sessions, helping visitors to get closer to the animals, which would have been impossible otherwise; a win-win situation for everyone!

Farmer Parr's is also raising money for a charity in order to build a wheelchair friendly garden in the farm too!  How awesome is that?  There are lots of really good things going on here, making a refreshing change from other money-grabbing tourist stuff in the area.

We had an amazing day!  Highly recommended.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Paper Clouds Apparel

Have you heard about the amazing work that Paper Clouds Apparel do in America?

It's such an amazing idea that I need to share with you all.

Not only do they sell some pretty cool tee shirts BUT they employ artists with special needs to create the art that goes on them.  Check it out HERE

Here's a little bit about the work that Paper Clouds do:

OUR PURPOSE: Paper Clouds Apparel was formed to showcase the creative minds and artistic abilities of individuals with special needs while raising funds to provide financial support for special needs schools and organizations. We achieve this goal by selling t-shirts, hats and totes featuring artwork designed by individuals with special needs. Paper Clouds Apparel also hires individuals with special needs to package all of our sensory-friendly clothing. Fifty percent of the net proceeds from the sale of all merchandise is given to the cause we are promoting in each campaign.

Paper Clouds Apparel also use the creation of said designs to employ these very creative folk and give them some kind of revenue, which they may otherwise struggle to earn due to their particular limitations, whether that is Apraxia, learning difficulties or anything else which they struggle with.

I don't know if any of you follow The Crumb Diaries, but if not, you should!  You will be blown away by Logan and his whole family's general awesomeness.

Logan is a remarkably funny and lovely young man who has Apraxia and some other un-diagnosable learning difficulties.  I've been following his journey for a couple of years now and there's never been a day where his mom, Al hasn't made me giggle through her warm, funny and sincere observations of life with Logan, who is your typical teenage boy.  She is a very smart and savvy lady, who is well aware of the difficulties Logan faces not only in his day to day life, but those that challenge him in the future also.

She has documented her life with Logan so honestly - and we have followed them through everything: her hopes, fears and most recently, Logan's graduation, and Prom, where he went on a date (swit swoo!) and donned his cap with the rest of his class, who gave him a standing ovation!

I'm sure everyone who reads her posts on Facebook cheers along with her - 'Challenged, NOT limited!'  Follow her on Facebook HERE

Everyone should have an Al in their corner!

And I am sure, as every Mum knows, a mum needs folk in her corner too - and Paper Clouds are doing just that for Logan.

They are giving him part ownership in the company where he will carry on designing tee shirts for them!  Amazing!  How awesome for Logan, having just been offered a job after graduating high school. A job which challenges him and pays him money!  And that he has a say in!  And they are offering double ownership if we can get their Facebook likes to 50000, so get Liking Here!

What an amazing initiative.  It would be amazing to see something similar in the UK which gives people with special needs the ability to work like this.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

My 5 Repeatable Comedy Box Set Favourites

Who doesn't love a good comedy box set?  Something that you can relax, kick back and have a good giggle with at the end of yet another long day?

It's very hard to find the perfect comedy - it has to be something funny with a touch of human emotion, not too serious but with a grain of realistic amounts of crazy and let's face it, full of truth.  A lot of stuff is funny because it's true.

A difficult concoction to master.

So here's 5 of my absolute favourites, which I think stand the test of time and true comedy.

1. Everybody Loves Raymond.

This one is the top of my list.  Why?  It's a sure-fire way to get me giggling from my belly.  It's warm, honest, funny and totally typifies marriage and the familial relationships that so often come with it.

I love it because it's side-splitting hilarious , yet has moments where it tugs at the heart-strings and lifts you right back up again.

I remember watching Raymond through my first pregnancy - there was nothing like catching it first thing in the morning after yet another uncomfortable sleepless night.

I watched it when my eldest son was admitted to hospital when he was 3 years old with a bad bout of tonsillitis - it lightened the mood considerably after being stuck in a side-room with  a cranky, ill toddler.

And now, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can watch it on YouTube any time I want!

From Debra's never-ending despair at living in such close proximity to her calamitous in-laws, to poor Robert always trying to get one over on his younger, more successful brother with a multitude of practised, pained expressions, Everybody Loves Raymond is perfect viewing for anyone who has had to weave their way through the complicated craziness of family life

It's hard to choose a favourite, as I'm lucky enough to still be finding ones I haven't seen yet, but one that sticks out is the one where Marie makes a sculpture that looks like a vagina after discovering that she has a talent for art.  Hilariously, it takes a visit from a nun before Marie realises what she has created, while the whole family look on in horror and embarrassment.

I think Everybody really does Love Raymond - it's impossible not to!

2. Still Game

A very close second favourite of mine is Still Game.  True, honest, Scottish humour - no-nonsense and completely realistic of the way Scottish people can use terrible insults as terms of endearment with their closest friends.  Anyone who has lived in a scheme, or who has elderly relatives or has experienced first hand, the sharp, wry Scottish banter can relate to the escapades of Jack, Victor, Winston et al.

One of the saddest days of my life was when Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill fell out and stopped making Still Game.  Maybe that's part of the magic - there's not enough to get fed up of them or to wear down the humour, but I've watched every episode so often, my box set is starting to wear out!

Thankfully rumour has it that they are going to be/have started making some stuff again - including taking Still Game live on stage!  I'm hoping they will be on T.V soon!

Best enjoyed with a pint of beer, at any time of year, but particularly around Christmas time for some reason.

Favourite Episode?

So, so, soooo SO hard to choose, but I think it has to be the one where Tam has a baby.  Or the one where Jack and Victor go to Canada.  Or the one where they sail down the Clyde for Victor's birthday...or the one where Winston moves to Finport....don't make me choose!

3. Frasier

Ah, it's so clever isn't it?  Nothing makes me feel more intellectual than when I am guffawing at a clever pun or laughing at yet another intricate and completely perfect plot-line that results in a series of beautifully orchestrated mishaps involving Frasier and his family.

Despite all the practice at upper-class lifestyles and 'fame', the crux of the matter is, that Frasier is really just a down-to-earth guy with some good values and some good morals.

The reason that this show got so many seasons is due to the hard work of some pretty super-talented writers and some very talented actors, who hit the comedy nail on the head every single time.
The plot lines never got old either - rather than perpetuate Niles's lust for Daphne, we got to see progress in them finally getting together and having a baby.  We see Martin move on from his accident and grief over the loss of his wife, and into a new relationship that provides him with vim and vigour, and Frasier?

Well, by the end of the last season it's as if Frasier has never really changed - he's still single and desperately seeking love.  As he reflects at the end of his time in Seattle, we could argue that although nothing has changed for him, his experiences have changed him immensely, which is one of the best bits about the series - there's always a deeper, emotional meaning.

Favourite episode? - This is tough.  I've seen them all so many times (we have most of the box sets!) but my favourite one has to be the episode where Patrick Stewart plays a man who really fancies Frasier, wooing him with gifts, and inviting him to a super-posh party, where he discovers that Sir Patrick's character isn't just being a good friend.

Once again it's comedy at it's finest - like a fine-tuned slapstick.

Watch it, you will cry with laughter! An amazing piece of writing, perfectly acted out.

4. Archer

"Lana...? Lana...?



"Danger zone..."

If you've never seen Archer, you are seriously missing out.  Animated, yes it is, but it's a classy kind of animated.

Oddly un-cartoony (yep, that's a word) for a cartoon, Archer is the awesome spy series you've been waiting for.

Archer is a horrible person with a penchant for cute animals and a soft spot for babies.  His mother is the head of Isis, the espionage company he works for.

How do I explain the brilliance of Archer?  I can't.  It's a mish-mash of crazy characters, hilarious antics, clones, robots, space-pirates and various cocktails.

Kenny Loggins, Burt Reynolds, Seth Rogen and Patrick Stewart have all lent their voices to some pretty brilliant cameos too.

It's completely my sense of humour, it hits way below the belt a lot of the time, but it will always be on my hit list.  It definitely has the re-watchability factor too, and has added a lot of new phrases and referencing to my repertoire.

5.The Inbetweeners

The show that I can totally relate to, even though I am no longer 17 years old.  We all remember being there - on the verge of adulthood, a whole world of responsibility before us, yet not quite within our grasp.  The whole yearning to be all grown-up and sensible, while completely mis-interpreting what it actually means to be old and sensible.

The Inbetweeners only ran for three oh-so-short seasons, but it was so popular that it merited not one, but two films.

There's something about this whole coming-of-age scenario that proves to be successful - this particular stage of life, perched on the cusp of adulthood yields a dearth of embarrassing moments, humiliating scenes and comedic errors - as proved by other similar franchises, such our friends in the American Pie movies.

Favourite Episode? - It has to be the one where they go to Thorpe Park, mainly because Will is as big a geek about rollercoasters as I am.

Banter.  Pure banter.

What's your favourite comedy series?  Do you like to watch over and over, or are you always seeking something new?

Think these are funny? Read about that time my husband spewed on my face here!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Nickelodeon Land at Blackpool Pleasure Beach: An Amazing Day Out (part 2)

If you missed it, find the first instalment of our trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach by clicking the link HERE

Nickelodeon Land
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
The kids had a blast at Nickelodeon land.  They've been watching Nick Jnr on Tv for weeks now, and every time the advert comes on for Pleasure Beach and all the rides, they go crazy!

It was great for them to finally get to go to the place they've been lusting after all this time!

Nickelodeon Land was completed and opened in 2011 after the closure of Beaver Creek in 2010 in order to modernise the children's ride area.

Initially I was very sceptical - I grew up with Beaver Creek and I am not a huge fan of big brand commercialisation as far as children's stuff is concerned.  I was also worried about two of my favourite woodies - The Rollercoaster and The Zipper Dipper.  What would happen to them?  I needn't have feared though - both coasters have been refurbished (albeit in some pretty garish colours!) and restored and, importantly, incorporated into the new re-theme, which has given them both a new lease of life, thankfully.

The Rollercoaster in it's new guise as Nickelodeon Streak in sunny orange!

The Zipper Dipper, now renamed the Blue Flyer - still running beautifully
Both coasters are what I like to class as 'bridging coasters' - namely because these are the coasters that I grew up riding and the ones that got me into my whole theme park geekery.

I used to ride the Zipper Dipper so often, that the man knew my name (and often gave me a 'one last ride' very sneakily at the end of my tickets).  When I was wee, there was nothing more thrilling.  Until I was finally tall enough to get aboard The Rollercoaster!

I revelled in taking my boys on The Blue Flyer this year - they were both big enough.  Ethan even put his hands in the air!

Waiting at the air gates!

The look of contentment!

Ethan's first rollercoaster - he's still working it all out

Hands in the air!
It was so exciting!  That smell too - there's nothing like the smell of rollercoaster grease!

Next on the cards?  The Dora The Explorer ride, a fairly chilled, non-threatening mini covered boat ride which explores the world while playing some pretty annoying music.

Typical Dora stuff, you know?

For some reason, despite the inoffensive and completely boring nature of this ride (it's slow - and did I mention the SONG?) and the fact that actually, it's a pretty cute little pretty kind of ride, there was nothing we could do to convince Ethan.

He was terrified.

Pretty butterfly wall

I don't wanna!

No!  Don't make me look at it!

Hey, Ethan! You like happy sunny sunshine?

No!  Don't make me look!

But we are all so happy and friendly!

I don't trust you, creepy panda guy!
I can't explain it.  This is the same boy who giggled like a lunatic during the Diego Balloon ride (which spin FAST!)

And he quite happily spoke to, hugged and danced with UNKNOWN PEOPLE IN COSTUMES!!!

Hell, he'll even kiss a dead guy...

I have no idea why he didn't like Dora though!

Nick Land was awesome and we did spend the majority of our time here.  The Speedy Pass allowed me or Dave to nip off and do the bigger rides, like Infusion and The Big One which was amazing.

I'd been waiting all year for my ride on The Big One, and on that gloriously sunny day, she did not disappoint!  I would love to partake in September in the Walk The Big One event that Pleasure Beach are hosting.  It's definitely on my to do list! 

In my list of favourite man-made creations, the Big One is top!  She was a smooth and powerful beast on this day and the sunshine just made that first dive more enjoyable.  I've been on so often, that I know every dip and curve of the track - and I always pose for the on-ride camera!

Back at Nick land, the kids were flying through the rides.  They loved the Wonderpets ride that bounced gently up and down, and which they could ride on their own

And the Pirate Boats were Ethan's favourites - going forwards and backwards quite quickly, he was desperate for lots of repeat rides!

 The Spongebob Submarine Ride was high on the boys' list too!

And the Fairy Taxi Spin which had their own steering wheels and air-powered lifting controls that the kids could use to make the Taxi go up and down at will, were really cool too.

Our Taxi awaits!

Ethan and I in the back

Tom and Dave driving!  Help!

Taxi to the clouds please!
We did venture out of Nick Land in to the surroundng areas - I was keen to see what had changed and what had not.  Sadly, Spongebob's Splash Bash was being repainted today, and my favourite Teacups appeared to be out of commission too (hopefully not forever - I had a pang of fear when I saw them roped off).  I was pleasantly surprised to see that a new Learning Garden has been installed, a lovely, peaceful break from the thrills and spills of the busy park.

Bradley Beaver lives!

How nice!  It was great to see a couple of families with young babies just chilling out in the garden on a day like this.

Infusion was a bit rough today - I'm unsure if it's where I sat on the ride, but my head and neck got completely battered!  I wasn't keen for a repeat experience of this looped rollercoaster today!

 Next was the new Wallace and Gromit ride.  Built as a replacement for Gold Mine, it had a lot to live up to!  The boys were initially a bit worried about going on as it's a dark ride, but once we convinced them it would be fine, they really enjoyed it.  Well, Thomas did - Ethan hid his face the whole way around!  Watch out for the the end - there's a rather, er, LARGE surprise!  Hee hee!  I don't want to say what it is and spoil it for anyone - but Tom cacked his pants and it made me (and him ) laugh a lot at his reaction!

We HAD to go on the Grand Prix.  Just had to.  The queue was very large, as always for this old favourite, but the boys didn't mind - the prospect of driving a real petrol car around a track (albeit with some guidance from an adult) was too much of a lure!  I even saw adults going on this themselves!  

River caves were on our hit list too!  After getting wet on the Rugrats Lost River log flume in Nick Land, we headed straight over to the Caves to get another (smaller) soaking.  River Caves was looking very swish indeed after some much-needed refurbishment, and the original features have been updated and added to with some new ones.

A trip to the water fountains just in time for a display was well-timed.  I'd nipped to the loo and when I came back the boys were even wetter!  Dave was showing them how to duck under the water shoots!  Cheeky daddy!

They were also having some chill time outside Trauma Towers.

 The Chinese Water Maze was good for a wee run around too!  Tom is daft on Mazes and it was hard to stop him from running off and getting lost!  You have to be quick to keep up with these boys!

Eating at The Pleasure Beach is a must - there are so many awesome restaurants and take away joints, all at a reasonable price.  There's a huge variation too - from Oyster Bars with chamapagne, to deals on cream teas and cake at smaller cafes and all-you-can-eat pizza restaurants, you will be spoiled for choice!
We opted for some Pizza, Pasta and Salad at Big Pizza Kitchen on the edge of Nickelodeon Land at Lunchtime - mainly because you can eat as much as you like, the pizza is yummy and the staff are all very friendly.

yum yum yum!

We were knackered by the end of our day - we'd been in the park from 10a.m!  Before we left, Dave and I had met one of our fabulous friends who lives down in Blackpool, and he offered to stay with the kids while we rode something together.

What does it have to be on a sunny day like this?

Well, thank goodness for Speedy Pass!  Straight to the front of another queued out ride!

 Of course, it had to be none other than Valhalla!  It gets you so wet that many often leave it until last.  I've wrung out my t-shirt many a time after riding this, and today was no different!

Another ride recently been done up inside, it was the best I'd ever seen it.  All of the special effects gloriously roared away to the best of their ability, causing the whole boat to 'oooh and aaaah' with delight and fear.  It was amazing.  A Viking's last journey, you are dispatched on the fast-moving boat by staff very quickly and carefully, as they hoover up water from your feet.  The boats are always absolutely soaking when you get in - a sure sign of what's coming.  Everyone wears plastic ponchos which can be bought for £1, but over the years, I have realised how futile it is!  If I'm feeling like I really need one, I'll grab one out of a bin (there are always bins stuffed to the gunnels with discarded ponchos) and reuse it.  I did this time to protect my bag and camera, which it did a good job of, but the rest of me?

A wee bit drookit!

 Our poor friend did a good job of amusing the kids while we were away!  I think he was quite keen to hand them back though!

We couldn't leave without a souveneir.  What I really wanted was a Pleasure Beach hoodie, or a mug.  Something a bit grown-up, y'know?  I love memorabilia.

What did we end up with?

Two Spongebob Squarepants cuddly toys.

Ah, kids!

Ah well - maybe next time!  We'll definitely be making it sooner rather than later.

Thanks for an amazing day Blackpool Pleasure Beach!

*Disclaimer - We were gifted very kindly some wristbands for Blackpool Pleasure Beach in order to check out the park for ourselves.  We were not expected to give a good review and any opinions are my own. I highly recommend this park over any other in the UK!  

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