The Perfect Notebook

As part of my grown-up job and business, I have been researching notebooks, perfect and glorious notebooks. I am hatching plans and gathering notebooks from the four corners of the earth – but more on that another time. Anyway, I was going to write a post about my quest until I read this wonderful post by Aunty Emily who says it all for me. She sums up the importance of finding the right notebook perfectly and truly writes from the heart – a heart I share. Maybe you do too.
Reblogged with permission.


I’m finding it hard to say goodbye to my last notebook. I realise now he might have been just perfect for me:


Stitches on the outside – I love that you can see how he’s made. That thought bubble was so full of promise – asking to be filled but with no false claims. He’s aged well and I like him better for it. Aged by ideas, meetings, hopes, achievements, workshops, figures, prayers and to do lists. My life in simple ticks and now all so shabby chic. I added the Charles Rennie Mackintosh turquoise rose paperclip.. okay it might be just a swirl but I like to think of it as art in stationery form. I need to show you inside too – secret stripes!:


He was with me on my first writers retreat. He held on to me during my first appearance in the Edinburgh Book Festival – I held him…

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Children’s TV? I’m a bit of an expert.

Children’s TV has been part of my life for over a year now.

I should rephrase. Modern day children’s TV has been part of my life for over a year now and I am on a journey of rediscovery.

I loved it as a kid… Play School, Words and Pictures, Moon Cat, Ivor the Engine, Chocablock, Pigeon Street, Sesame Street, Friday Film Special, the Broom Cupboard, Going Live. Anyone? For someone who grew up in a little village in the middle of the North Yorkshire countryside, there wasn’t much else to do. Apart from feeding grass to the chickens who seemed to live in a caravan up the road, playing out on our bikes and the fortnightly visit of the mobile library van… TV was our favourite form of entertainment and our only country-bumpkin-connection to the outside world where, evidently, big yellow birds roller-skated, Trevor and Simon swung their pants and Jemima was always favoured over poor old Hamble.

Play School

The Play School toys: Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty, Big Ted and Hamble.


But, as many will remember, there wasn’t much of it in those days, just a few hours in the day dedicated to kids and spread sparingly over the four existing channels. My sister and I treasured it so that we’d race inside, dumping bikes and even friends as we rushed to the sofa to see which letters and number Big Bird and Mr Snuffleupagus would bring to us today.

To say I was an early telly addict would be an accurate deduction. In fact, it would also be accurate to say that this was the reason why I went to work in the TV industry. TV was such a beacon of light in my little life that it seemed natural to go in search of the wonder, the smoke and the mirrors the minute my world got a little bigger. In fact, I remember saying, very arrogantly, to my sister as we watched an intrepid Blue Peter presenter abseil down the face of BBC TV Centre, “I can’t wait to work there”. She rolled her eyes and said, “How do you know that’s where you’ll end up?” She hated Blue Peter. So when I went to my first pitching meeting there I couldn’t help but call her from reception. “Guess where I am?” I said. It was a grown-up sisterly ner-ner-neh-ner-ner.

Cut to a few years later and I’m having a career break from TV, concentrating on looking after our little girl and loving every minute of it. And do you know what? The world of children’s TV these days is even more of a wonder, not only because I now know how bloomin’ hard the people behind the scenes work but because of the variety and just how engaging and non-patronising it is. And I learn as a parent… I have to confess, I do actually watch most of it. It’s not just something that’s on in the background for the little lady’s benefit only – I genuinely enjoy it. And it’s not just me; I even caught 14 year-old step-daughter, Sunflower, alone in the living room rewinding Rastamouse so she could learn the words to the theme tune. And Justin and Mr Tumble have taught me more Makaton sign language than I can shake a spotty bag at. It even helped me communicate to a deaf shop assistant in Marks and Spencer the other day. I felt very pleased with myself for signing ‘thank you’ – although, disappointingly, I didn’t manage to work ‘giraffe’ into the conversation.

Now, after a year of Cbeebies and a spattering of Milkshake, the repeats are starting to kick in, but we’re still entertained and, like Daddy Pig, I’m starting to be a bit of an expert. I say things like, ‘Oh, this is the episode where Sarah and Duck go bobsledding with Scarf Lady…’ and no-one in the house bats an eyelid.

Other favourites have to be Old Jack’s Boat with the lulling story-telling cosiness of cuddly Wombly Bernard Cribbins; Charlie and Lola with their fabulous episode titles such as, “I am Extremely Absolutely Boiling” and “I Slightly Want to go Home”; even Topsy and Tim have a certain annoying charm as they take me back to the books I used to read as a kid.

Topsy and Tim

And my all time favourite character? Scarf lady’s sarcastic Mancunian bag in the wonderful Sarah and Duck.

Scarf Lady's Bag

I also have massive respect for the continuity presenters. I think our favourites have to be the ever-smiley Cat, Andy and Alex. The new arrival of Aneta had us all wondering to start with (what’s her accent?) but it turns out she’s popped across from the Cbeebies Poland channel – I didn’t even know there was one!

But I do worry that Andy’s going to get found out with all his moonlighting. How much longer can he hold down a job in the safari park, one at the national museum and a career singing, dancing and rapping badly in the Cbeebies studio? And if Hatti and Mr Pickles only knew what he got up to when they’re not looking I think his adventure days would be numbered.

I could go on about Cbeebies for so much more but, as my friend said to me the other day, ‘You watch faaaaaaar too much TV’. She’s right. But I’d like to think it’d help with my career when I return. ‘Think of it as research’, I tell myself. The prospect of working in Children’s TV is looking more and more attractive.

It’s not all sweetness and light mind you: the squeaky, farty Pontpines; Mr Maker’s manic manner and obsession with googly eyes; Tofu Tom, as I call him; and Peter Rabbit’s mid-episode power ballads that would have Beatrix Potter turning in her grave… But all in all our kids have got it good. So in order to leave on a high, fellow parents, I leave you with a few interesting gems, ponderings and queries about the wonders of children’s TV. Please feel free to bring any answers or add any factoids that will have me reaching for my IMDB app. Baby Girl and I haven’t graduated to CBBC or CITV yet, but I’m sure there will be more to discover on our journey through telly wonder. Now if I can only find the remote, we really ought to go out for a walk to feed the ducks and splash in some muddy puddles. 

Did you know…

  • Mrs Patmore from Downton Abbey does the voice for Scarf Lady in Sarah and Duck.
  • In the Peter Rabbit credits there is the role of ‘Fur Groomer’. Anybody?!
  • Pui from Show Me Show Me used to be Po in Teletubbies.
  • Jason Donovan provides the voice for Pops and sings the title music for Boj.
  • The wonderful blogger, writer and science communicator, Aunty Emily, writes for Nina and the Neurons – you should follow her.

Nina and the Neurons

  • As well as Gigglebiz, Justin’s House, Something Special and Tiny Tumble (have I missed any?) Justin Fletcher does voices in Timmy Time and The Tweenies (Jake and Doodles, apparently).
  • The real name of Old Jack’s dog, Salty, is Scuzz (poor thing) and is owned by the guy who plays Ernie the fisherman in Old Jack’s Boat.
  • Driver Dan on The Story Train is voiced by vocal genius Peter Serafinowicz. Although, I can’t watch an episode without picturing him as a zombie in Shaun of the Dead.

Have you noticed…

  • I Can Cook’s Katy never does the washing up herself? She just sings about it as the kids do all the hard work. My kids are indignant about that. I think she’s quite clever.
  • …Rastamouse and all the boy mice look like they’ve forgotten their trousers? All the girls wear skirts and dresses, but even President Wensleydale sticks with just a hat and shirt. Must be hot in Mouseland.RastamousePresident Wensleydale

Can you tell me…

  • Has anyone actually been able to fathom the names of the Numtums? The names are so obscure, I can’t make them out in the title sequence song. Why don’t they just call them by the numbers that are emblazoned on their tummies?
  • In Nina and The Neurons, I get why Felix, Luke, Belle and Bud have their names – they are relevant to the senses they represent – but what does Olly have to do with the sense of hearing? Maybe Aunty Emily can help me on that one.
  • Why are Mrs Duck, Tiddles the Tortoise, Stephen the Stick Insect, Goldie the Goldfish and Polly Parrot pets and not anthropomorphic characters like Peppa Pig, Pedro Pony etc? And how does the Doctor Hamster the Vet tell the difference?

Well that’s all we’ve got time for today. It’s time to go. We hope you had fun. Come back and play another day.

Ten worms wriggling, waving, goodbye!

SAD in Scotland but Sunny in my Kitchen

Here’s one from the archives as I dust off the ol’ light box again. How are you feelin’? As the nights draw in I hope you’re cozy and not down.

Suddenly Mum

Summer in Scotland is well and truly over. In fact it ended about 2 days after it began in this funny old land that is Scot, where mist is rain and sunshine is witchcraft. OK, perhaps I exaggerate, but many would agree that Scotland does not have the most dependable of climes. Four seasons regularly happen in one day and it has been known to snow in June and well… snow in December too.

You wouldn’t think there’s much of a difference between my home land of England my adopted abode of Scotland but you’d be wrong. I now see why the Scottish schools break up for summer in June rather than in July like they do in England. Summer arrives earlier and ends very quickly in Scotland. Granted, we do have the advantage of long days in the summertime – you can be watching the 10 o’clock news when…

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Bounce & Rhyme, Bump & Grind and Motherhood’s Raw Sting.

Oh how sweet and simple. Such a delight. Baby Girl and I ventured to Bounce and Rhyme at our local library for the first time two weeks ago. I have to think really carefully before I open my mouth when I say ‘Bounce and Rhyme’ because for some reason my naughty brain insists on calling it ‘Bump and Grind’, which is something altogether different.

So there, in the children’s section of the library, on the alphabet carpet and next to the fire engine book box sat mums and tots ready for the arrival of Karyl and her bag of bells.

Karyl is an amazing older lady who has a fantastic knack of remembering all the babies’ names. She’s a librarian like any other during the week but for half an hour on a Monday afternoon she’s the lovely lady with the songs, the smiles and the magical bag of jingles.

I was actually quite nervous at first. How on earth was I going to know all the words to the songs? Was I going to feel stupid and awkward? But I needn’t have worried. It was a very laid back affair and the other mums sang with unexpected gusto so my blank spots were easily covered.

I’d not sung nursery rhymes for years, not since my own childhood. But wow, did the memories and the lyrics come flooding back! The Wheels on the Bus, Hickory Dickory Dock, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The tumbled from the tip of my tongue as if they’d been waiting there to leap out for the past 30 years, finally free again.

As we sang I got to thinking how bonkers and positively baffling some of these songs actually are. They raise so many questions, the majority of which Wikipedia makes only a half-hearted stab at answering with most explanations touching on ancient political scandals. My questions have included: why is Humpty Dumpty depicted as an egg when there’s no actual reference to him being one in the song? What is a hickory, a dickory or a dock for that matter? Why on earth do we sing to our children about a violent goose who flings people down the stairs for not saying their prayers? And who was Wee Willy Winky and would you really want him knocking at your child’s bedroom window to check if they’re in their bed?

The questions get even more bizarre when comparing my husband’s French versions of songs to the English ones. For example, why, when it is clearly Old MacDonald who has a farm, does John the Baptist happen to have one in France when most people will agree that ol’ JtB was probably a vegetarian and was highly unlikely to have farmed cows and chickens not to mention the cloven-hoofed pig?

And then there were a few Scottish songs that baffled me that day – something about Coulter’s Candy plumping up a thin girl who’s described as a bag of bones? It was a new one to me and I wasn’t too sure whether post-millennial children should be being encouraged to scoff sugary treats to ‘get a double chin’ but, hey, the tune was catchy.

And herein lies the magic: Baby Girl absolutely loved the action songs and her gorgeous newly-found baby chuckle burst out of her little lungs on a number of occasions making my heart soar. We could have been singing about the ins and outs of the stock exchange for all she cared but so long as there were actions and great melodies she would have been happy. And after 30 short, sweet minutes our time was nearly over and it was time to sing the Goodbye Song. This song involves going around the circle and singing each child’s name as the previous child invites them out to play. I could see now why Karyl was so good at remembering everyone’s names. I was concentrating so hard on getting the other children’s names right as the song’s focus slowly progressed around the circle towards us that a lapse in concentration saw me tripping over my words and choking back some tears.

It wasn’t the beauty of the song or the daintiness of the bells. It was something that creeps up on me now and again. As we’d been singing and jingling, the library’s fancy flat screen TV behind Karyl had been displaying BBC News 24. As the child before us was about to ‘ask us out to play’ at the end of this simple pleasure of Bounce and Rhyme, I glanced up and saw the heartbreaking image of a Syrian mother cradling her deceased child, swaddled in white grave clothes in amongst a row of other lost sons and daughters.

My voice cracked, I lost my flow and I was struck to the core. Instead of seeing a far-removed news image of suffering, framed in BBC red… I saw the grief. I felt the stab. The tears came from deep down. Nobody ever tells you that this motherhood thing comes with such a fizzing bag of emotion. It brings an awful (in the old sense of the word as well as the new) connection to other people’s children, mothers, their suffering, their grief; such a raw empathy that threatens to consume you if you let it. I’ve a feeling this doesn’t go away so it’s something I want to use and channel rather than quell, if only I knew how to harness it and help.

And there on the alphabet carpet next to the fire engine book box I squeezed Baby Girl a little closer and thanked God for my simple, protected life full of little pleasures like Karyl, her amazing memory, her bag of bells and the joy of a few silly songs that no-one could remember the meanings of.

Later on, when we were home, I stumbled upon a wee Glasgow charity of mums who have harnessed and are helping. They’re very new, but very real and their name? It’s perfect: Because I am a Mother. They stirred their stumps to help mums in Scotland and Africa by selling low-cost baby items to mums in Glasgow to then help mums, especially in childbirth, in Africa. I don’t know them but they are an inspiration. And so… as I hum The Wheels on the Bus one more time as I type… I look to stir my own stumps in some way. Perhaps you’d like to take a look at what they’re doing too? I’m sure there are many other places like this across the world but I’m sure there’s room for one or two more. Mums are great like that. I’m still learning.

Click the image to read their story.

Click the image to read their story.


Model Husband and Beauty Queen Mum – No pressure.

I wrote this post pre-baby. Thought I’d get it up on the blog now I’ve managed to raid my mum’s scrap book!

A few weeks ago I had a meltdown in a boobtube-trouser-suit-onesie from Sainsburys. The tags were still on and I was looking at myself in our landing mirror, pretty pleased with myself. I didn’t think it was a bad purchase really. Granted, I was possibly egged on by the many encouraging pictures of Gok Wan in the changing rooms. I bought the thing in a vain attempt to add some pizzazz to my wardrobe. ‘What do you think?’ I asked my husband, hoping for some Gok-esque reply of ‘Yeah girlfriend!’ He looked up from his desk in the study and said nothing at all as I gave him different angles and poses in the doorway to trigger some sort of response. Not a dickybird. He was obviously speechless – and not the good sort of dumb, I don’t think. I promptly burst into tears.

The question he later told me he was searching for was, ‘What shoes would you wear with that?’ But it was too late, I was now at the snot bubbles stage and the glamour, imagined or otherwise, had totally disappeared into a blur of sobs.

I’m rubbish at buying clothes. The promise they give on the hanger or in the changing room seem to disappear the minute I get them home when they seem to take on an identity which is ‘just another one of my style disasters’.

To give you a little background I have grown up a little sensitive about clothes. My mother was a beauty queen of Poulton-Le-Fylde 1967 and later, in the 70s appeared in Cosmo encouraging women to join the RAF.

Miss Poulton-Le-Flyde

The RAF ad was pretty ground-breaking for its time and the image is so romantic. She’s sitting in the RAF officers’ mess room writing a letter to her fiancé (my dad) and wearing the silver watch he gave her.

My Mum in Cosmo

‘Uncle Tom later ran over that watch with his tractor’ my dad still laments and mum brushes off the publicity as just something she did in her youth as part of her 5 year service in the RAF. I still find it wildly romantic though, despite the crushed watch.

The second prong of my style pressure comes in the form of one ultra-cool model husband who looks hot in a kilt or suit, or even in his pyjamas. He goes for the classic but quality understatement when I go more for the comfort and slouch factor. God only knows how we got together but we did!

Yummy Hubby

Yummy Hubby

Even in a kilt.

Even in a kilt.

And then there’s me. I have a Village Day fancy dress prize certificate from when I was 5 years old. Yes, in 1984 I was judged to be the “prettiest” in the pre-school year section.



I’m not sure what to make of the inverted commas around the word ‘prettiest’, but I think this is what I was dressed as:


I think it was the wings and bonce bobblers that did it. Oh well I’ll take all I can get.

Anyway… back to the Onesie meltdown. When the tears had cleared, hubby promised to take me shopping to give me some encouragement. And you know what, he was better than Gok Wan any day. He was patient and kind. He picked out clothes that were oh so comfortable: simple Gap tops and Converse trainers, tweed jackets and Dune brogues. Quality but classic. And the irony was… it’s just the sort of clothes I would have gone for anyway if I hadn’t been trying so hard,

So there you go. It turns out that my problem in the changing rooms and in the supermarkets was that I go for the fashion of the day. I’m 33. I should know better. So it seems that ‘Classic’ is the way forward from now on. I’m most comfortable in the classic casual look and hubby seems to like it too. I reckon we’re a good match after all.

His and Hers

His and Hers

Baby Massage: Chilled Baby, Frazzled Mum

I’m not one to jump at every single service, club and group out there for Baby. For one thing I find it hard to get dressed in time for most of them. But now that the Scottish summer holidays are finished and Big Sisters 1 and 2 are back at school, Baby and I are venturing into the wonderful world of maternity leave fun to see what we can find.

I only want to do one or two things a week so I settled on what I thought would be an easy one to start with: Baby Massage. That sounds nice and relaxing for both of us, I thought, it’s just up the road and it doesn’t start at the crack of dawn. Let’s give it a go.

Before the Baby Massage was an option I’d been popping along to the ‘Baby Club’, which provided taster sessions for various clubs and services available in our area like cooking for baby, language development, safety in the home. We’d even attended a First Aid session where the mature, male Glaswegian tutor kept giggling when he said the word ‘latex’ (referring to his Resusci Annie doll, thankfully) and then had me in tears (and I don’t think it was the hormones) when he told us the story about the day he saved the life of his neighbours’ baby daughter.

Anyway, at these sessions were two very capable mums with older babies who made me feel a little intimidated and welcome all at the same time. They really seemed to have it together and at the end of each session would swing their babies into a sling and were down the road before I’d even bundled mine into her pram. Each week they’d invite me along to the new café I’d been so desperately trying to check out, but with big sisters still on holiday and on a trial run in the house by themselves for an hour, I always wanted to get home sooner rather than later, just to be on the safe side. I was sure these mums thought I was making excuses.

So… when the option of baby massage came along, just before the beginning of term, I decided Baby Club would have to take a back seat.

Monday morning arrived, we got up, dressed, fed and out, across the park to the venue. We arrived bang on time, I parked the pram next to the many others already lined up in the lobby, took Baby out of the pram and went to the door – the windows of which were covered in posters…

You know that moment when you take a deep breath and go into an unknown room and all eyes turn to you and you wonder if you’re really late or whether you’ve got the wrong room? Well, that.

I was pretty certain I had the right room. There were about 12 other women all sitting on the floor with their babies lying in front of them on changing mats and towels.

“Sorry, am I late for the baby massage?” I said, knowing I wasn’t. “The letter said 11:45.”

“Well we like to be ready and start at 11:45” [Heavy sigh… baby mat thrown my way].

Gulp. I was in trouble and had the job of reassuring the other two mums who came in after me, receiving similar treatment.

We eventually settled into the class and before you knew it, Baby Girl was farting with sonorous prowess. She was definitely relaxing. I was just keeping my head down, swearing to make it on time… no, early next time.

Cut to next time and isn’t it always the case that the nappy needs changing just before you leave the house? As we finally left, clean bum-and-all, I picked up the pace. There was no way I was going to be late.

I slalomed through the dog muck – I’m not catching anything else on the buggy wheels again; zoomed past our wonderful library; saw the dog walker with seven crazy dogs, or was it eight – she always seems to have lost one? And I waved frantically to the confident sling mums on the other side of the road who were leaving the Baby Club.

“Hello!” I squeaked as my voice cracked, you know the way it does when you’re trying to be cool, but your voice box lets you down, “Off to massage class!”

I parked up the buggy – more space this time. Yessss! And entered a room with a choice of mats and just a few mums. I feel very smug, but can hardly breathe. Baby’s smiling and cooing, but I can feel my heart in my ears. The scary lady isn’t so scary this time and brings us all a cup of cold water. Phew!

The massage began and Baby Girl was loving it. We got as far as the legs and she wanted a feed. Fair enough. She ate as her eyes rolled and I watched as the other babies and the demonstration-dolly got their tummy and arms smoothed and soothed.

The walk home across the park was less of a power walk, more a relaxing stroll and when we got home I crashed on the sofa, wondering if I could ever keep this up. Then it struck me. This is when I get to relax. Baby Girl had dropped off in her pram and boy did she sleep and sleep after we got in. She was away in the land of nod for a good 3 hours and I had a very chilled afternoon. It was utter bliss and I felt the tiredness ebb away. I even got a cup of tea at the right temperature and as I sipped I thought… maybe I will go back next week after all.

My New Office

Well. I’m back. I’ve had a baby girl (bish-bash-bosh) and got the girls back to school after a long and hot Scottish summer holiday. Time now to get blogging again. And I think I’ve found my new office… Fancy joining me for a cuppa?…


Bi-Lingual Baby!


I am afraid to answer the phone in my own home. I let it ring for at least four rings in the hope that hubby will answer first. I’m not worried about debt collectors or threatening calls… No. Noting like that. I’m just scared because people might speak French at me.

There was obviously a reason why Mrs Lewis came storming across the quad towards me at school that day back in 1996. She was a teacher on a mission, enraged that I hadn’t chosen to study French at A-Level; indignant that I wasn’t contributing to her course quota. I can still remember her steely blue eyes, far too close for comfort, imploring me to take her subject. Thankfully she was speaking in English so I received every word loud and clear. And that afternoon I buckled and swapped from my last-minute choice of Geography back to my original flirtation with French.

In the end, after two years of struggling and studying I didn’t do as well as I probably would have done in Geography but I attained a reputable French Grade C and felt considerably fluent, at least with my course mates when suggesting going to get our lunch in Tesco anyway.  

Cut to 17 years later and I am thankful for the tenacity of Mrs Lewis. When my husband and I first met he hadn’t been in the country for very long and couldn’t speak English at all. Our first conversation (way before the dating years) consisted of sign language and a lot of polite smiling and nodding. 10 years on and he’s pretty much fluent – his English learnt completely from the university of life, from full submersion in Scotland and now throwing in a few ochs, wees and ayes for good measure.

And now it’s my turn for some submersion in French. We’re trying to make our home and especially the girls as bilingual as possible so I’m dredging up all my French and trying to apply it to as many scenarios as possible. The girls are dredging too. When the eldest first started primary school, French was the only language she spoke and she needed a classroom interpreter to help her adapt to English. Now it all seems to have melted away. She can’t (or rather won’t) speak a word of the French and English, complete with Scottish accent, is most definitely her principal way of communicating – that and text speak. But I think she understands more French than she lets on. As for her little sister, she gives us a blank look when we roll out the ooh la-las.

And now that we’re expecting a new addition to the family in May, we’ve reinforced the serious decision that Daddy will only speak French and I will only speak English in the house so the little one, hopefully, will grow up bi-lingual and hopefully her big sisters will be able to catch up too. As for my French, the listening and understanding should improve but as for the speaking… maybe I’ll have to leave that for pillow-talk time or maybe even if I become brave enough to answer the phone.

If you want to know more about the techniques for successfully raising a bi-lingual child, I found this site really helpful…  

Raising Bi-Lingual Children: The First Five Steps to Success