Final Call…

I’m a big fan of getting to an airport on time early. There. I said it. I detest rushing. I will happily get up in the middle of the night (okay, so maybe it’s only 05:30), birds tweeting, to catch that first flight out of Luton. I’m not saying I would choose to rise that same time every single day, but there’s something exhilarating about watching the sky change colour, as you journey excitedly towards an airport.

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Highway to the danger zone… (okay, Malaga)

I’ve usually amassed about 4 hours sleep the night before because I have packed, unpacked and repacked to remove and replace various pieces of redundant clothing, additional medicines, another bottle of suncream, etc. I have also checked and double checked my alarm is set. Again, no rushing for me. I want my shower, I want my breakfast. Otherwise I’m not fun Mummy.

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Shower-fresh before a flight. Always

Travelling outfit is laid out ready for the whole family, because I physically don’t have it in me at 5am to concern myself with what everyone is wearing. And it would definitely become my concern.

Whatever I choose to wear, it will usually include a wrap-around scarf thing to mummify myself from plane seats (see earlier blog) and trainers with socks. I can’t deal with sandals in an airport –  too many trolley wheels and stampeding feet. I ‘sandalled’ once and at security we were told to remove shoes. Me. Barefoot. Airport floor. (*insert dry heave here*) Hence, always socks.

The packing side of things is a whole other blog (useful, if you’re after packing tips), but for years I avoided buying luggage scales. My bathroom scales were sufficiently accurate, if a little painful to read…

  1. Step on scales to set the display to ‘0.0.’
  2. Swiftly dump case on scales and pray that it doesn’t topple over
  3. Case topples over before registering a proper reading
  4. Repeat steps 1 & 2 until successful (usually 5 or 6 attempts)

As long as I was within a pound or two (weight, not money), I knew I was okay and could feign disbelief to husband at check-in, that official reading was a good 6 or 7 kilos more than my reading at home. “Ah, it must be because of our tiled floor surface.”

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However, those days of blagging extra kilos are long gone. (Even though, for the record,  the kids and my stuff weighs nothing and giant husband’s clothes are far heavier per item. Just saying.)

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Money saving travel outfit option 

One-click Amazon Prime a couple of years ago and I became the proud owner of a proper set of luggage scales which give an accurate digital reading.

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360kg? Sounds about right…

In fairness, and I have got better, (honest Guv) the majority of the weight-bulk in my case is toiletries. I can’t help it – I’m allergic to so much stuff that it’s not worth the risk of local purchases. I tan badly enough as it is. I don’t need an eczema flare-up on top of it.

Plus, holidays are a great excuse to go nuts buying new toiletries and bump up your Boots points. New toothbrushes, new toothpaste, new shower gel, new ‘shooshie’ – we love a shooshie in our house.

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Shooshies. Why? What do you call them?

I know someone who ‘sparks joy’ (that Marie Kondo method) at finishing something, such as a box of cereal or some face cream. For me, I’m all about new and not just around holiday time.

Butter – the peel-off of that paper bit on top – heavenly! And that first butter curl? The best. Just stay away with your toast crumbs please.

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Nutella – I’ll give the gold foil a satisfying stab, but then every single piece of foil needs peeling off. Every last bit.

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Unacceptable

Greek yoghurt – that protective paper film thing confused the hell out of me the first time I bought the product.

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How do you pronounce it?

Milk – Once the lid is off, I am wary of people who don’t fully remove the peel off part. I’m live with people who do similar to tins of sweetcorn and tuna. It pains me.

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The horror of it…

Face/eye cream – a BIG favourite, especially if it comes with a protective lid thingy that makes direct contact with the product. I can eek out at least a week’s worth of usage from lid excess, before even touching the product inside the pot.

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New toothpaste – those first few pumps to get the toothpaste out? That’s what dreams are made of. We are a pump dispenser family, although to save our marriage, I no longer share a dispenser with him. (FYI, He does still have his lid. It was discarded at first use, although it’s sits in the bathroom cupboard. ‘Just in case’.)

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His (on the left) is no longer my problem…

Must go to bed. I’m getting up in 4 hours and am still swapping things in and out of the case.

Happy summer. xxx

P.S. It’s pronounced ‘Fa-yeh’!

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No, really. It is.

You’re Either a Swift or a Swallow…

Ahh, June. Weather gets (marginally) better, pasty white legs come out, fake tan gets badly applied in lieu of a proper spray tan and we can hear cheers of ‘COME ON!!! GO! GO! GO!!!’ at school Sports Day up and down the country.

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Or is that all just applicable to me? (The fake tan at least.)

My kids’ school has ‘Houses’ – the school splits into two and you are a ‘Swift or a ‘Swallow’ (denoted by the tie colour you wear to school.) Watching my two at Sports Day fills me with joy and fear in equal measure.

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Joy…

1. They’re ‘taking part’ and learning about team spirit.

2. They believe the medals are made of real gold. Youngest at least.

3. They know that a pre-midday finish means a going somewhere usually reserved for school holidays that will (hopefully) not be too rammed. Mega Jump here we come!

Fear…

1. If they hurt themselves. (Bag fully stocked with antiseptic spray, water, plasters, foil blanket like the Marathon finishers get given. Okay maybe not in my bag but I have one in my boot. No, I really do.)

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2. I’ll miss capturing the moment on my iPhone because husband keeps texting through to ask, “Well? Well? How are they doing?”

3. That the school will surprise us with a ‘Parents Race’. (I have nightmares about this.)

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If Carlsberg did Sports Day

So after all their ‘relentless’ training (running back and forth in the garden and jumping over ‘three tiles’ in the hallway) , it reminded me of my own Sports Day fifteen.. no, twenty.. shit, thirty-odd years ago.

Like the Swifts and Swallows, you were one of four houses: ‘Pine’ (green, me!), ‘Willow’ (yellow), ‘Rowan’ (red) and ‘Birch’ (blue). We had to wear those bands of coloured material across our chest to denote our competing House colours. We would then all pretend to have broken arms, using the sash as a sling. Crazy kids….

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Simpler times

Even today, given the choice of those four colours, I would till choose green. I stick with what I know. Pine through and through. A bit like my Spurs-mad husband, he would never ‘turn Arsenal’.

But every now and then I like to mess with the balance of my Libran scales and do things out of my comfort zone. Big or small, they (usually) make me feel happy or ‘spark joy’ as Marie Kondo the Folding Queen says…

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Such as:

Food – some people have ‘sticky chop’ night. ‘Fish night’. ‘Pot-luck’ dinner night. For my family, as previously mentioned, Monday night is up-the-bum chicken night. My family look forward to it come rain or ridiculously-sweltering-shine of recent days in London. In light of sweaty weather, last Monday I thought I would serve the chicken with a cold salad. No-one spoke to me for the rest of the evening.

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How she deserves to be served. With rice

Going out-out – Last year, a friend’s husband asked if I wanted in on Guns n’ Roses concert tickets and I immediately said yes. As the date came around I did question my 40+-year-old decision to trek to Hackney Wick on a Friday night, but it was the most amazing concert, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world. On the way back to the station, whilst trying to avoid eye contact with men pee’ing all along the barriers, my fellow giggers asked me if I enjoyed it. Yes, I said, as much fun as last year’s Secret Cinema ‘Dirty Dancing’ event. (I’m no longer invited to the Metallica gig.)

Online shop – It always comes on a Wednesday. Every Tuesday at swimming, I bore my swimming mum friend with what interesting things I can add to my final order. One week, friend didn’t show up and I got paranoid she was avoiding my food interrogation – so I went all gung-ho and swapped my delivery day to Tuesday.  Liberating I tell you. (I just run out of things by Thursday.)

New restaurants – I love food. Literally. Obsessed. So when we go to a new restaurant, I go with a vague idea of what’s on the menu. For those who are diet-restricted, I appreciate that checking beforehand is a necessity, but I love the surprise of a menu and checking out what dishes are going to other tables. when I go out with my Uni girls, one of them always seems to order wrong – it’s fine we’re used to it. There are five of us to basically feed her bits of our meal. She’s like a toddler that won’t eat something, but put it on your plate and she wants it. (Except she’s 41.)

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Diary – if you’re still a paper-diary fan like me, then you fall into one of two camps. Mid-year buyers (freaks) or January buyers (me, completely normal). I can’t be swayed on this.

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Petrol – I had a friend (still my friend 35 years on) whose mum would never let her petrol tank go below half-full. (Or half-empty depending on the type of person that you are.) A shrewd way to operate, sure, but often I quite enjoy that reckless feeling of ‘will I/won’t I make it’. That said, the initial thrill soon disappears when the petrol station you had in mind is closed. Panic sets in and you begin to sweat. “Does the car always judder like this?”

Some handy advice in case you didn’t know…

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… the arrow next to the fuel pump denotes which side your petrol cap is on, particularly handy on a hire car. nB. Not all cars have this, but lots do.

Go on – you know you want to check yours. Or maybe you’re one of those reckless types that parks up regardless and drag the hose the whole way across the back of the car if necessary.

(Sorry, but that’s not for me.)

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes….

I would’ve liked to have called this post ‘Changing Rooms‘, but was worried you’d be hoping for home improvement tips from Handy Andy and Lawrence Lleweyn Bowen.

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Fixing and florals

I’m talking actual changing rooms, in a shop. For the most part, I try to do everything online as I just find it more efficient (and I’m all about efficiency), but from time to time I like to have a ‘shmy‘. Shmy is a wonderful word of yiddish origin (I think), which essentially means ‘to browse, have a looksie, without necessarily having something in mind that you’re looking to buy.’

I’m sure there have been a hundred blog posts about these horrific confined spaces that we voluntarily enter into, but here’s my observational two bobs worth…

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1. The Gathering

Once I’ve lacerated both arms and almost cut off my circulation from holding existing shopping bags, my handbag and potential purchases, I finally make it to the changing room.

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Serious arm damage

I long for the service you get in the States: “Hey, would you like me to go on and start a fitting room for you?” (Yes please, I just may need a reminder of where it is.)

 

2. How Many is Too Many?

Some shops’ changing rooms have a five items or less policy, some take you up to ten. I like the ones where they are completely unmanned and you just stroll right in armed with the entire store’s ‘nueva colección’. Basically stuff you like, stuff you know won’t suit you but someone was wandering around holding it and stuff you want to try because your favourite blogger said it was ‘the’ seasonal piece and it’s sold out everywhere.

The issue with the number tags they allocate against your item is when you start swapping stuff in and out. So, unless Carol Vorderman is manning the changing room, you’re leaving there holding six items, giving back a tag for ten items and there are three excess hangers on the floor, that may or may not have been there previously. (Either way, you’re made to feel like a shoplifter.)

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Scene of the crime

3. Curtain or door?

I must admit I like a door, preferably with a lock. Curtains don’t tend to close all the way and it plays havoc with my OCD, whilst I faff about trying to get it central enough to hide my modesty.

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The one on the right’s killing me

I also like to be positioned near enough to the rail of swap-in potentials. This means you have the ability to do the ‘peek-round-in-your-undies-with-the-curtain-wrapped-round-you’, politely asking staff if they’ll pass you the red top with the frilled sleeves. (And no, you’re not keeping the frayed hem jeans.)

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“Have you got this in a size 10?”

4. Added Extras

A stool, or even better, a chair is a nice touch. A shelf is always useful too. Big fan of the buzzer to alert staff that you need another size or just to ask their opinion without having to do the head poke.

A mirror is a given – preferably a flattering one. And shame on you Selfridges – some of your departments have changing rooms WITHOUT A MIRROR!! I don’t to share a mirror with a Russian model.

Plus, stepping outside is always a risk, especially when you need a particular item in a different size and the person right next to you has the only one left on the shop floor/in the entire country. *prays they abandon it upon exit*

Hooks, double hooks, rails… chuck it all in. The more hanging space the better.

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New Look hook situ, if you’re interested.

5. Order! Order!

The likelihood is, you’re shmying in your active wear and wearing the most unflattering sports bra. (And that’s just the men.) So, if you’ve got a variety of things to try on, strip off and do it properly – the floaty Vitakin dress is never going to look right with gym leggings and a battered pair of Asics poking out the bottom of it.

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Strong look

7. What’s That You Say?

You hear all sorts when you’re in a changing room:

…Crying baby and nappy definitely being changed (yuk) – Primark 

…Click of iPhone camera. Someone definitely taking multiple shots of themselves in different outfits and sending to a friend. I know this for sure as I heard them follow up with a phone call to said friend, demanding an immediate opinion – Topshop

…Teens discussing whether to get the black vest top for £2.99 one or the white one – New Look

…People taking calls and pretending they are at work/just not shopping in general – Zara (for the record I hate their changing rooms – they’re so tiny that your nose is almost against the mirror, so you’ve little choice but to swoosh back the curtain for a proper look in the big mirrors outside.

“I”m busy, Doll. Will call you back in a minute, I just need to finish something.” Me, today, Brent Cross, Fenwick changing room, on phone to husband dearest, taking photos of myself, Whatsapping to stylist friend. Standing, sitting and jumping up and inspecting from every angle. And if I like the item, I will of course take a ‘fresh one’ from the shop floor.

Oh come on, you know you do it too…

You’re a Hard Habit to Break

My family have a ‘whistle’. A code. We do ‘the whistle’ and we know we are in the vicinity of each other in public areas. To be fair, my dad was the originator –  I think it began as a ‘call’ for our cat ‘Tiddles’ when it was time for his ‘Whiskas‘. However, over time it became the family call-sign.

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Here, Kitty Kitty…

It signalled Dad’s return home from work, whereby I would eagerly race downstairs and shake his Evening Standard open in the hope of a Walnut Whip falling out, which was usually on a Friday.  Mid-week I might get a small paper bag selection of a white chocolate fish and chips, a foam banana and a squishy mushroom. Penny sweets = simpler times.

‘The whistle’ has forged its way into my own family, although the kids find it hard to get the exact tone right, especially the youngest who is still struggling with whistling full-stop. A replica high-pitched ‘wooohhhhh-hoooohhhhh’ is sufficient to get the ‘call sign’ out though.

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What’s your call sign?

In a busy shopping centre, or in a public toilet it’s super useful, particularly as I have kids entering the ‘Mum, you’re sooooo embarrassing’ stage:

“Are you still in the toilet, darling? Did you put paper on the seat?”

This vocal check is apparently unacceptable to my eldest whereas ‘the whistle’ is fine and thankfully met with a responding ‘wooh-hooh’, so I least I know she is still in there somewhere.

So that’s how it goes – at busy airports, theme parks, on a packed train, on holiday.

To me, there’s nothing more special that watching a loved one who is unaware that you’re present. I love seeing that instant recognition upon on their faces upon hearing ‘the whistle’ when they click that a key member of their crew is close by.

So this is one of my habits. My ‘thing’ which I brought to the family table. When you live with others you tend to adopt each others ways – my youngest now says ‘anyway’ a lot, as apparently picked up from my use of the word. People have even started to comment that my husband and I have have begun to resemble each other. (His boobs are thankfully smaller than mine.)

I’m not saying I surround myself with a bunch of circus freaks, but all we have our weird ways, habits, nuances. Am listing a few anonymously for fear of losing friends and alienating people….

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See if you can recognise yourself in any of them:

…saluting an ambulance.

…speaking directly to magpies with the whole ‘Hello Mr. Magpie, how’s your wife and kids?’

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Where’s your mates at?

… the need to peruse a menu online before eating anywhere.

…feeling genuinely upset if someone else cleans out the lint drawer of the tumble drier. (ahem…)

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*Must peel away in one swipe for maximum satisfaction*

…the inability to eat a biscuit like a normal person – jam sandwich creams get prized apart, marshmallow teacakes get dissected and my heart goes out to a Tunnocks caramel.

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… having to touch a plane exterior upon boarding. (Okay so that’s me, but you know that from reading previous blogs, so pointless me hiding it.)

…can only buy things in pairs, ensuring you never run out of something. Deodorant, fabric conditioner, Diet Coke, bin liners.

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This is her utility room. Joke… (ish)

…never walking on cracks on the pavement. (Standard. Who DOES that?)

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nB. Not my actual shoes. (Although ideal for crack-avoiding)

…won’t walk under signs. (It ruins your sex life, apparently. Watch people avoid them whilst wandering down a road. It’s hilarious)

…saying ‘Wed – nes – day’ in your head when saying or writing ‘Wednesday’

…no carbs after 7pm. (Definitely not me and I know some of you adopt the 6pm cut-off.)

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…enjoying carrots cooked, boiled, roasted, chopped. But if you grate them, forget it. (Also me.)

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Shouldn’t be allowed

…won’t dip into the new eye cream, moisturiser, whatever is in the pot, until the protective lid bit that has excess product on it has all been used up. (Would you believe it if I said this is me as well?)

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Lid product is life

…if you buy something online and it’s no good, no matter your plans the next day, IT MUST BE RETURNED!!! There are no exceptions even if it means dragging the kids to Brent Cross at 7:30 at night. Yes, even if it’s Zara.

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Photo credit: AAP IMAGES

…morning alarm can’t be set for ‘on the hour’ or ‘half hour’ (Yes. Me)

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Alarm bells ringing…

…will never wear an item of clothing again until it’s thoroughly washed should it have made direct contact with public transport. Nor would I they sit on their lovely, clean bed in said clothes.

Anyway…

Happy Birthday To Ya…

For as long as I can remember, my dad would annually crank up the record player on my birthday for five minutes and thirty-three seconds of pure Stevie Wonder ‘Happy Birthday’ joy. The opening ‘dn-dka-dn-dka-dn-dka-dn-dnka-dn-dn’ synth sounds would contagiously creep their way upstairs and I would awaken to the ‘big drum fill’ preceding Stevie’s warbles.

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Now I’m grown up (sort of), my kids delight in this tradition and blare out the song for me (albeit on Sonos).

But do I love my birthday? It means I’m getting older. Horrific surely? Well, no. Along with Snoop Dogg, Francis Boulle, Danni Minogue and Danny Boyle, I’m a proud October baby, along with some of my closest Libran friends and I’m embracing my forties, always awaiting my yearly Colin the Caterpillar cake.

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If it’s good enough for him…

I have great memories of my birthday parties complete with ‘St Michaels’ marshmallow teacakes and orange squash in a corrugated plastic container, that you pierced with the accompanying straw.

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Did someone say artificial sweetener…?

Little parties turned into bigger parties, evenings in, discos and hiring out pubs. I am still great friends with many of the people I grew up with, including one who loves her June birthday so much, she celebrates annually with a monumental ‘tea party’ at her house. Almost like Glastonbury (albeit less muddy), the old faces would reunite and new faces would be added. Over thirty years later, it’s still an annual pilgrimage and the atmosphere is just as warm and wonderful.

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(AFP/Getty Images)

 

However, I married a man for whom his birthday is a no-go zone. Whilst the kids and I are conveniently booked on a flight to Spain, my other half sees out his birthday at work, with the minimum of fuss made, under the radar, no-one the wiser to this momentous day in August. He then conveniently joins us a day later in the sun.

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(Not my husband.)

Each year I call him at work on his birthday and ask “has the cookie basket and strip-o-gram arrived yet?”  He threatens divorce.

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A couple of years ago for his 40th, I convinced him that he had to be with the fam in Spain on his actual birthday (or I would threaten divorce.) He conceeded and a wonderful (low-key) time was had by all. To keep him on his toes all day, I kept him guessing if I’d really arranged a birthday banner on one of those aerial advertising planes.

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“Heads up at 3pm!”

I have a very dear friend who, on approaching her big 4-0 there was much fanfare and discussion about how it would be best celebrated. This planning began well over a year ago …it’s still going on.

Oh the decisions for the birthday girl or boy about what to do, how to celebrate, the food, the drink, the invites. But what about the pressure for the friends, whereby you are obliged to fulfil at least one, if not all of the following, depending on friendship status:

  1. Facebook post –  totes oblig. You get a notification FFS. All you need to do is a quick ‘Happy birthday x.’ Maybe a private joke, caring message, etc. Just don’t piggyback someone else’s wall message. That’s considered lazy.
  2. Photo upload – if it’s easily accessible, it’s a nice touch, but be wary of friends posting seemingly well-meaning wishes where they look fabulous and you look ropey.
  3. Photo collage – now we’re talking. A random three or four pic selection is all well and good, but you may as well go big or go home. Mosaic nine-grid minimum, black and white plus colour selection and if you’re tech savvy, a video inclusion within the grid is highly acceptable
  4. Duplicate all of the above for Instagram, where it’s acceptable (IMO) to piggyback a wall post and give well wishes.

That’s it surely?

Think again. If you’re dealing with a milestone birthday then drop everything, as there’s even more pre-prep to consider when you get messages like this in your inbox:

Hiiii……!!!!

It’s so-and-so’s birthday coming up in a year so please can you email so-and-so in two days time with the following:

  • A photo of you
  • A photo of you and the birthday girl
  • A photo of you and birthday girl aged five or younger (if you were friends)
  • A photo of you and the birthday girl’s second cousin, twice removed

nB. Photos needs to be landscape, 300DPI minimum, no compressing or genetically modifying.

Thanks. x

P.S. One more request: a poem or message (not too long, not too short) using times New Roman 14 point, saved as a PDF file with a greyscale filter set to a saturation of 39%. xx

P.P.S. Actually really need this by tomorrow afternoon, but the day after is ok if you’re blood-related. x x x

—-

You know it doesn’t make much sense
There ought to be a law against
Anyone who takes offense
At a day in your celebration
‘Cause we all know in our minds
That there ought to be a time
That we can set aside
To show just how much we love you
And I’m sure you would agree
It couldn’t fit more perfectly
Than to have a world party on the day you came to be
Happy birthday to you….

Words and Lyrics by Stevie Wonder (the song, not my blog. Stevie Wonder did not write my blog.)

Happy birthday everyone x x x

 

 

 

Back to the Future

To say that I am film-obsessed is an understatement. Maybe not as much today as in my youth, but I put that down to the loss of Joan Rivers fronting Fashion Police on E! However, this year the Oscars came good for me in the form of Marty McFly. (And the envelope drama at the end, of course.)

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Part of the ‘Be Kind, Rewind’ generation, my childhood bedroom was plastered wall-to-wall with pictures of my heart-throb Michael J. Fox, plus guest appearances from Andrew McCarthy, C. Thomas Howell and Kirk Cameron.

I would sit for hours on my faux-hamburger bean bag, creating imaginary meetings and conversations.

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Hello, old friend

My Guy and Look-In were torn apart for pictures, lyrics to chart hits and snippets of information about celebrities. My filofax, (because apparently I worked and needed a filofax aged 11), was full of notes from friends, acknowledging my fully fledged addiction.

I cut my teeth on shows like Mork & Mindy, Family Ties, Growing Pains and Fresh Prince. I couldn’t get enough of American films too: The OutsidersPretty in PinkCan’t Buy Me Love, Mannequin, plus all the Back to the Futures. Okay, so the third BTTF wasn’t so great but I managed to go to the Premier and that was big news for my 15 year-old-self. Alas, the Fox wasn’t there. His aunt had died.

But if there was a million-dollar question along the lines of “in which year did BTTF3 Premier?”, I would know without hesitation the answer is 1990. I know this because I was 15 in 1990 when I went to the Premier. Great scott – I’m a genius.

That same year, Pretty Woman was released. Not only did I own the same yellow Sony walkman that Julia Roberts had in the bathtub scene, but I also had a Hunza dress, made from that crinkly swimming costume material of her street walker outfit. Admittedly mine was less short and hooker-y, with a satin puff-ball bit at the bottom and black velvet splatters all over it .

 

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I feel I’m truly torn between the old and the new. How can I resist my old favourites when they are aired? Bueno Sera Mrs Campbell, Calamity Jane, The Poseidon Adventure, Tootsie and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – the list goes on. For years, I dreamt of marrying Russ Tamblin until I realised he was Tom Thumb, but then swooned again when I discovered him as Riff in West Side Story.

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“Now I know Tony like I know me…”

I also noted down in my Purple Ronnie diary that if I had a boy (with Michael J. Fox obvs), I would name him Caleb – after one of the seven brothers: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank and Gideon. (nB. This was proudly typed with no help whatsoever from Google.)

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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

 

The feeling of being transported back to something memorable is just the best. Much like a song can remind me of a film, they have also become the soundtrack to my life:

Firstborn (emergency C-section) – ‘I don’t feel like Dancing’ by Scissor Sisters was playing in the operating theatre, so I know the song was released in 2006.

Secondborn (elective C-section) – ‘I Gotta Feelin” by Black Eyed Peas, so I know this was a 2009 release. (I’m great on radio phone-ins for ‘name that year’.)

On my wedding day, I didn’t want a traditional wedding song played as I ‘step-together’d’ down the aisle. I say ‘I’ because if left to husband it would have been ‘Ossie’s Dream‘.

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For me there was only one choice – ‘Moon River‘ from Breakfast at Tiffanys. My great Uncle Harry was the key chorist at Great Portland Street Synagogue and he sang so beautifully as I walked towards the tall, nervous man under the chuppah humming Ossie’s Dream.

A bit like the ‘useless’ knowledge Dev Patel picks up in Slumdog Millionaire, I can’t say that my memory has made me a millionaire, but I’ve checked, and the next episode of Mastermind features a specialist subject of Seinfeld. If they’re running with that, it can’t be long before I get my call to participate…

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“In which year did Michael J Fox’s aunt die?

 

Keeping Up Appearances

 

I read somewhere that if a friend came over and needed to borrow a pair of knickers (because this happens ALOT), you’d have the confidence to allow them to go and grab a pair for themselves. There would be no greying, sagging, holey failures in the drawer. All would be acceptable offerings. (See below pics for reference.)

Aside from the fact that no friend has ever made such a request, I am ready for it should it ever come. No shame in that department, but I admit I can be slovenly. I have my years-old cosy pyjamas that I would be ashamed to open the front door in. I have a favourite gym bra that used to say ‘Panache‘ on the front of it, but now it just says ‘Pan’. And some of my baking trays seriously need replacing.

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But every now and then, you want to put your best foot forward (btw, check your sock drawer too). There is the need to ‘up your game’ for the crowd.

I was at a friends the other night for dinner. So close are we, that I think nothing of the bottle of Highland Spring being present at the table in all its plastic glory. Should I be offended that I’m not considered impress-worthy enough to decant into a fancy LSA jug? Nope. We’re like family.

But if I’m really entertaining, ie. wearing proper shoes instead of my Ugg slippers, then these things are essential:

Fresh towel in downstairs toilet (and a hotel fold of the toilet paper if I’ve got time.)

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Not my loo

Scented candles lit for an hour beforehand. Many consider them a waste of money, but some of my favourites aren’t even the expensive ones. You enjoy drinking your £40 bottle of wine – I’ll enjoy burning my £40 candle. Each to their own I say.

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What else, what else?… Oh yes.

Stainless steel kitchen sink is e-cloth‘d within an inch of it’s life.

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Not my actual sink but I like the symmetry…

Proper salt and pepper grinders come out instead of these…

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Basic. But acceptable on a daily basis

Pickles and olives get decanted from their jars into pretty glass bowls. Might even get the fancy appetiser picks out.

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Posh picks

Crackers get displayed in a rustic bread basket – trust me, it’s necessary:

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I live with people that do this to packaging

And no offence to my plastic water-bottled friend, but for some guests I’m setting the entire wedding list service, double-set cutlery, placemats, napkin holders and all.

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You just count the tines

As my wedding anniversary fast approaches, how I would love to go back in time and do it all again. No, no. I’d keep him (he’s non-refundable) – but I’d do the gift list very differently.

I’d put it down as one of the most enjoyable shopping experiences I’ve ever had. Husband is the other end of the spectrum and has mentally blocked all memory of it, likening it to the day Spurs played Everton in the FA Cup in ’95 and lost 4-1. (Apparently it was a neutral ground fact-fans.)

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It still hurts him

Off we went, hand in hand (ie. me dragging him like a toddler) to John Lewis Oxford Street for store opening, armed with advice from friends who had ‘been there, done that’…

“Just zap everything!”

“Start at the top and work your way down to electricals!”

“Don’t forget luggage!”

The only thing getting husband through the experience was the food tasting appointment at our wedding venue that I’d booked in for later that day.

By the time we had made it to the basement for crockery, he was sulking like a child and had probably run the battery down on his Nokia from playing ‘Snake’.

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Simpler times…

“Do you like the plain white or the one with the gold edging?”

“I don’t care, doll. That set …”(pointing) “...just get that one.”

“That’s a picnic set.” (If ‘FML‘ existed back then I would have said FML.)

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Perfect. For a picnic…

I think I made about four or five return (solo) visits to amend the list – removed the rice cooker, added back the rice cooker, zapped a couple of wine decanters, a Magimix, then swapped it for a Kenwood, ordered the full Le Creuset pan set but friend said it’s ridiculously heavy to cook with daily, removed Le Creuset pan set. I was panless and in a bit of a mess.

We got there in the end and it was fun logging in to see the gift tally in the run up to the wedding. The most memorable gift was from our friends who bought us our pillows…plus one dessert spoon. Fun friends we have.

Most of the list is still going strong and I get real pleasure from using it, especially the good stuff. I have one friend who only recently unwrapped her wedding crockery … over ten years later!!! Madness. Lunacy. Life’s too short. Use it I say.

If people are coming over, sometimes they warrant a change of washing-up brush pads. I don’t think husband can differentiate between the heavy duty and the non-scratch ones. I expect he hears a caveman voice in his head: “one white, one green, both good”.

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Sometimes we have to keep up appearances…

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Not my husband. Or me

…But for the record, I’ve never used the wine decanters and I wish I’d kept the rice cooker.

Prepare to Be Amazed

I was a Brownie. I was a Girl Guide. The whole ethos of ‘be prepared’ definitely made an impact on me, although half the time I think it’s because I just can’t be bothered with the hassle that comes with not being prepared.

Like in the car:

(loud sneeze)

“Mummy!!!! Quick! I need a tissue!!!”

‘Use your sleeve’ some may say but I just don’t need the extra washing so for that reason, tucked in the side door pocket are tissues. Yup, the flat pack of tissues that you think no-one ever buys from Boots. Well I do.

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Like in the kitchen:

If I can make dinner in the morning and have it on a slow cook all day, then when I come through the door late from the kids’ swimming lesson, I don’t need to worry about dinner whilst washing their hair, sorting their homework and unravelling the swimming costumes that have been rolled tighter than a Havana cigar. (* Favourite post-swim recipe at the end of the blog.)

Like on a plane:

Whilst everything goes up into the overhead storage, I keep essentials with me in my seat so that there is little need to stand up (interrupting my prime film viewing). Kindle, iPad, moisturiser, chewing gum (for plane breath) and sucky sweets for the kids upon landing. Oh, and massive cosy scarf that’s been freshly washed. I then mummify myself by wrapping the scarf around as much of my being as possible. I like to imagine other passengers can also see animated flowers wafting off of me as I move around in my seat.

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I actually use Fairy, but their ads don’t have flowers

Like when I go out for the day:

My bag has the usual suspects – keys, wallet, phone, but amongst it all is a Mary Poppins-style bottomless cosmetic bag of wonders, including things like: plasters, stain remover wipes (best things ever), mini perfume atomiser, calpol tablets (kids) and lip balm. In the 80s it was Lipsyl, but today, it’s Eve Lom Kiss Mix.

 

I am what is known as a ‘lip licker‘: yup, it’s a real condition. I always have a pot of this wondrous stuff with me and can’t bear it when people dip their fingers into the pot. For this reason I shove my lips directly into the pot to apply and it seems to deter others from finger-dipping.  (Win-win.)

But my point with this blog (and I don’t want to sound too Carrie Bradshaw), is ‘how organised is too organised’?

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Carrie? Can you help?

I have a friend (no names mentioned but she will know soon enough), who is so insanely organised, that she readies the breakfast stuff for her kids the night before. Bowls are placed on the kitchen table, filled with cereal of choice and then covered, yes, covered, with cling film. It’s “to stop the spiders going in.”

With being prepared, I do get it. I am it. I had to revoke my Costco membership because I was fast becoming their second biggest stockpiler of loo roll. (And the cookie multi-packs.). It was just too dangerous for me to have access to such a place.

A recent trip to Disney indulged every organised bone in my body. Schedules, restaurant bookings, ruck-sack packing for the parks. I was all over it and loved it.  Including ordering disposable ponchos for the ‘wet rides’. Yup, I did that.

Husband is all for being prepared too, although this translates as ‘I’ll leave my coat out on the couch instead of hanging it up, because I’m only going to wear it in the morning.” Oh, ok. I’ll just empty out all of your clothing onto the floor so that you don’t need to ever open a cupboard or drawer ever again. (He’s tempted by this idea, I’m sure.)

And it’s not just my generation – the older generation seem to be on the preparation path. Although in some cases it may be ‘Preparation H‘. So canny is my mother in law, that juices are Nutri Bullet-ed the night before and vitamins are all measured out. I guess she’d be dead by the time she counted them all out in the morning, so fair do’s…

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Only the half of it

My kids are on it too – they see not brushing their teeth in the evening as ‘no big deal’ (whilst I freak out), as the toothpaste is still on the toothbrush for the morning.

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I think the whole point of me wanting to be prepared is an innate sense of not wanting to fail or let someone down. What if my lovely neighbour needed to borrow some sugar or milk …or even sumac?

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Yup. I have that

And if I ever ask if I can come to Costco with you, just say no.


*Post activity dinner where you come through the door too late to fuss with cooking.

Perfect Pot Roast by Ree Drummond, The Frontier Woman.

I cook it all day long in the oven on 100°C with no worries. Leave out the wine and rosemary if you want a ‘lighter’ taste. My family aren’t mash fans so I lightly toast a ciabatta that I’ve sliced in half along the length. Place in a bowl and spoon over the meat and the juices soak into the bread. Am now salivating. Roll on swimming next week.

(I’m midly obsessed with Ree. She’s was a city girl, moved to the country, married a cowboy and now lives on a ranch with her four kids, writing, blogging, cooking and has recently opened a store. I want to go there and meet her. And eat her food. And say yee-har.)

 

A Fine (Holiday) Romance

We were only away for ten days but the washing pile to rival Mount Everest tells a very different story. I know it makes more work for me but I respond well to instructions so if it says ‘wash separately’, I’m abiding by the label’s rules.

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I can’t take credit for this mountain

Swimwear is hand-washed, kids’ toy bunnies/penguins are boil-washed and everyone has a thorough shower and hair wash to rid us of ‘plane smell’.

I managed three films plus half a ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm‘ outbound. Husband watched seven hours of the ‘where our plane is’ channel, mixed with an hour of ‘chatting’ (having therapy) to a pilot who happened to be a passenger. (To be fair on husband, even the crew were told to take their seats because the turbulence was so bad.)

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Are we there yet?

Flying and turbulence doesn’t phase me – maybe that’s why I don’t have a problem with rollercoasters, but I have lots of friends who fear plane journeys. Many of their trips have been booked and then cancelled last-minute because they can’t face the reality of having to board a plane.

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I admit I do have one ritual before boarding the plane – I like to pat it. (The plane. what else did you think I meant?) After boarding at the furthest gate* from the terminal possible, I walk the jetway and casually touch the plane’s exterior as I step aboard. I don’t know why, but I like knowing the ‘bit’ I touched will make contact with the clouds. (I know rayyyt?)

*Briefly back to the gate bit. I just need some reassurance that no-one’s gate is ever within a 2 minute walk from wherever they’re been sitting. And there are always stairs. Or escalators that don’t work. 

This year, my family holidayed in America and aside from the ‘Ice Breakers’, clothing and essential US-drugstore purchases, we came back with something else this year. New numbers in our phones.

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We made friends.

Unheard of. Absurd. Unthinkable.

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What he said

Unless the outbound journey is purposefully taken with another family, we tend to be fairly unsociable on holiday. But this year was different.

Maybe it was because the first part of our trip was to Disney. That part required regimented schedules, timings and finite planning. Not the kind of thing easily done with others. It was all about us – the team. We were in the parks most days by 7am and in bed with delirium by 9pm.

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“Hello, Room Service?”

After four days of (exhausting) fun we were ready to relax in Miami. Maybe it was jet lag? Maybe our guards were down from all the rides and 3D craziness? Before you could say ‘have a nice day’ we were breakfasting, lunching and even ‘dinnering’ with this other family.

It was all moving so fast, so of course there were moments of doubt. Like waiting in reception to go for dinner one night and no sign on of them at the agreed departure time. Perhaps they were bored of us? Maybe their Uber had left for the restaurant already? Were they ‘late types’? We were confused and bewildered.

“You call.”

“No. You call.”

Like the pivotal end scene from a John Hughes movie, they appeared from the lobby. (Cue 80s soundtrack, like Starship or something equally as powerful and uplifting.)

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“He showed.” (Yay Andrew McCarthy for turning up for the date)

Our friends had an early riser in their ranks in the form of a five-year-old, so we were on slightly different morning schedules. We usually passed them just as they were leaving breakfast, but were delighted to hear “got you four sunbeds”. Well, if Carlsberg made holiday friends, I tell you…

The space allowed us to politely nod and chat to other guests getting their morning fill of the great American breakfast. (Mostly Jews getting their fill of bacon. Talking of which…)

My friend’s in-laws were in the same hotel as us and I bumped into the dad by the hot food one sunny morning. I politely chatted whilst he munched crispy sticks of applewood bacon ‘on-the-go’.

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The heroin of bacon

“Wow,” I thought, “he really must love bacon that he can’t even wait until he sits down to eat it.”

I headed out to the terrace and saw the wife, who ushered me over with a big smile. I said how I’d just been chatting to her husband over his plate of treif. The smile disappeared. She was livid and had no idea he was ‘on the bacon’. Whoops…

Me and my new mates even took our new friendship outside of the hotel, heading off on adventures like lifelong buddies.

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On tour

 

So delightfully in tune we were, that a nod and a wink was all that was required to understand that easily pilfered items like bagels, cookies and mini breakfast cereal packets were to be lifted for ‘daytime sustenance’.

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Frosted Flakes were super popular

Oh the fun we had. We created ‘in’ jokes and hashtags and social media’d the crap out of the holiday.

But after all’s said and done and the cases have been put back in the loft, is it ever really the same once you’re back on home ground?

Of course not.

For a start they’re called ‘Frosties’ and we don’t eat bacon at home.

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They’re grrrrrreat!

Happy New Year. x x x

 

 

 

Hotel, Motel, Whatcha Gonna Do Today?

All of a sudden it’s nearing the close of 2016 and I’m in full-on packing mode, casually ignoring the husband’s jeers of ‘#early panic’ and sticking with ‘#organised’.

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Not my actual case. I would NEVER put it on my bed

In any case, I spy him opening his airline app to see if he can check in online yet.

“Kids! Come here!”

“What is it, Daddy?”

“Look! These are our seats on the plane. It’s called an ‘A380’.”

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Kids just want to know who gets the window seat

This ‘checking’ thing is coupled with regular monitoring of ‘Flight Radar 24‘, a plane tracking app. He and his mate (the only two known subscribers) have spent many an evening verifying a particular plane coming in to land.

But enough about the flight, I’m all about the hotel. No cooking, no cleaning, no washing, no bed-making. Did I mention no cooking?

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For me, it’s the hotel smell upon arrival. I love that foyer ‘whiff’ you get – fresh flowers, furniture polish and the aroma of 24-hour efficiency that wafts around the place.

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Reej. Bev. Wilt. It really is. (Never been, but love to)

We choose our accommodation carefully based on the three R’s:

  • RESEARCH
  • RECOMMENDATION
  • REALLY BIG BEDS
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RIP Andrew Sachs

I married a man whose nickname could be Hightower (‘Police Academy’) and whilst he isn’t black (couldn’t be further skin-toned from it), he is very tall. Therefore, at home I sleep in the lap of super-king luxury, so if the hotel hasn’t got super-king or queen or whatever the local equivalent is, I’m not taking this shit lying down.

Call me a snob, but I’m a very light sleeper and I’m hoping for more than forty winks on holiday.

After years of experience, I have learned not to unpack once shown to our room. It’s all very ‘end of the Sound of Music’ where kids and I must remain silent and almost out of sight, leaving husband to shake his head in mock-disappointment at the original room they offer us.

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Stay quiet children…

I used to get embarrassed, but now I let him get on with it if it means a free upgrade from the original room opposite the lift. He blags well:

Disney World – fourth time on The Haunted Mansion:

“Mate, help us out, we came here this morning for our fast-pass slot but the ride was closed for maintenance. We’re flying back this evening and it’s the only ride we’ve not yet done.” (All aboard for the fifth time.)

Driving aimlessly round Manchester Square, London

Very late for dinner with friends and nowhere to park. Drops me off at restaurant. Arrives at restaurant 3 minutes later.

“Where on earth did you manage to park?”

“Don’t worry about it, Doll.”

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There was actually a film crew. He put this on the windscreen

Once finally in the room, I check ‘hanger quality’. I’m not a fan of hole-in-the-rod ones (as if I’d steal them?) or fiddly clamp ones.

I’m almost tempted to try my mother-in-law’s time-saving method of packing everything on a hanger. (I said ‘almost’.)

So, whilst I am doing all the unpacking, husband goes into James Bond mode.

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No. Not that.

I mean the safe.

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Birthday, house alarm or anniversary for the code?

This is his priority and he takes it seriously. I’ve barely walked into the room when I am ordered to shed all valuables and put them in the safe with the passports.

Once I’ve unpacked the clothes it’s onto the bathroom; an almost lengthier unpacking process with my lotion and potion-loving family. After I’ve established that the hair-dryer is a complete waste of time and inspected my face in the giant back-lit magnifying mirror, I stow away the handy sewing kits and shower caps as ‘going home presents’. (No interest in the body lotion – far too allergic.)

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Will just go curly then…

I don’t even need to glance at the bed to know that we will need more pillows. Always more pillows. ‘Hello housekeeping?’

Next, I like to find most useful/accessible plug point and claim it as my own. There’s usually only one unless we unplug the useless lamp in the corner too.

So, what about the rest of the family whilst I’m doing all of this hard work?

Well, the kids are trying on the free slippers and maintenance are on the way up to sort out the tv for my husband. We may make it out of the room by lunchtime…

Happy holidays and thank you for all of your blog support this year. It means loads. x x x


Here’s a fun festive recipe to round things off for the year:

Rice Krispmas Puds

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Noms

Ingredients:

100g Rice Krispies

5 or 6 full-size Mars bars

3oz unsalted butter

Red, green and white ready-to-roll icing

Method:

Chop the Mars bars up and melt with the butter in a microwave for 3-4 mins on medium.

Stir melted Mars into bowl of Rice Krispies and mix.

Roll into golf-sized balls. Add a Malteaser in the middle of a few of them (yassssssss!) – finders wins prizes! (Ensure you actually have prizes.)

Top with a white circle of icing (snow), red balls (berries) and green sprigs (holly).