(More) Random Acts Of Kindness

typecast, random acts of kindness,
I saw such a cool blog post the other day from "Clara Unravelled".  In return for some kindness she received last year, she has decided to send something crafty (not a fox, I hope) to six random commenters on her blog post.


What a fab idea! This totally fits in with my own personal ethos of "paying it forward".  Now that I have rediscovered my crafting mojo I can join in and send all the crap that I make some crass-stitch (not a typo) or a small knitted project onto other people. 

Do you want a bit of that?  I'm going to send something to Clara for coming up with such a fab idea and I'm going to send something to the first five twenty people to comment on this post (please click through if you're reading elsewhere).  If I get more comments than that I may extend it, depending on how many fabulous (!) things I can make over the next few months.  If I know you well enough I may make something bespoke!

If you are lined up to receive something special, you have to pinky promise to pay it forward yourself.  This doesn't have to be a craft project but maybe spotting something inexpensive that you know someone else will  love like when Liz found these bookmarks and thought of me, or something like Sophie did in the supermarket queue a few weeks back or the kind car park attendant from last September.  You may have to wait a while but that's the beauty of paying it forward - it surprises you when it happens just as much as the recipient.

So get commenting and get thinking!  When you comment let me know your twitter handle or email address too and I'll be in touch for your address and I promise not to look you up on Google maps.

What's In My Handbag (part 3)

I adore the yummy mummy modern style changing bags simply because they excite the organiser in me and I am a self-proclaimed handbag whore.  But the burning question of the day is "What does an anti-Yummy Mummy want or need a Yummy Mummy bag for?"  The answer is "Work!"

pink lining, wheelie case,

I'm currently using a Pink Lining wheelie case for work simply because I need something roomy to hold all my work paraphernalia.  And in a true "What's In Your Handbag" type of post I have listed the contents...

~ Laptop
~ File of documents and session plans
~ Additional paperwork
~ Filofax (natch - my A5 Metropole)
~ Laptop charger
~ Phone charger
~ Flip camera
~ Spare pens
~ External hard drive
~ Wet wipes (don't ask!), deodorant and umbrella

It looks pretty cool, yes?  It's getting loads of "ooohhh, I love it" comments everywhere I go - everyone wants one!  I've already a lover of Pink Lining as they sent me one of their bags to try out as an 'overnight' bag for my trip to Cybermummy back in 2011 where I discovered that the padded bottle holder was just the right size for a bottle of vodka *cough*.  Thereafter it became a favourite travel bag and was even used to cart stuff to the beach and back in Tunisia.

What is in your handbag/work bag/changing bag?  Let me know in the comments. Have you invested in an organiser bag at all or is it just me that's a bit OCD about needing to find things quickly and easily?

Oh and what can I do with that spare shoulder strap?  All suggestions greatly received!


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Disclaimer:  This bag was provided by Pink Lining for the purpose of a review.  Please see my disclosure policy for more details.

My only criticism (because nothing is perfect... well, almost nothing) is that the interior of the case isn't padded at all so the casing of the pull-along handle is very noticeable but it doesn't stop the case doing what it's supposed to.

The cost has been a great source of discussion but the Pink Lining bags are very obviously ones that can be used as a yummy mummy bags way beyond their intended purpose and are built to last.

More details and prices available on the Pink Lining website.

Soundtrack To My Life - Maria

It's a pleasure to host the Soundtrack To My Life of Maria.  She is a Spaniard married to an Englishman and raises a bilingual and bicultural child - something that always fascinates me as my grandfather was German.  She is also a professional translator and shares my love for MiaTui handbags!  For now, over to Maria...



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The Dying Swan 

Not a song per se. I was a ballet girl growing up, I started at three after my grandma saw my reaction when I saw some ballet on the TV, she told my mother I was going to ballet classes even if she had to pay for it. I loved every minute of it.

My parents made me try other sports: sailing, tennis, horse-riding. I always wanted to go back to ballet, my legs even cleverly developed a rash in the winter Atlantic Ocean water so that I didn't have to go to sailing classes on a Saturday morning when I'd rather be doing a 4 hour ballet class (well, we did Spanish dance (zarzuela, flamenco, pasodoble and my regional Galician dance, muiñeira, too). The rash on my legs was totally gone by the time the good summer weather started and we could start going to the beach again, of course! I did grow up by the Atlantic Ocean you see.

Every year in June we would put on a couple of shows (you wouldn't believe the amount of costumes that still exist from them), the big number was the death of the swan, always danced by the same girl, I wanted to be her, I wanted to be the dying swan but would have settled for the Pas de quatre. Of course, it never happened.

Who knew genetics would kick in with such a vengeance. By age 14 I didn't enjoy ballet as much anymore, I didn't have a ballerina figure, I was slim but had marked curves which included rather a lot of boobage. By then the shows stressed me out and I knew I wanted to be a translator, I was definitely no swan.



Los Secretos - Déjame 

Once ballet was out of the way it was time to be a teenager and this was my favourite song to dance to every Saturday.

I think the lyrics are rather self-explanatory: "Leave me, don't play with me anymore, this time I'm serious, you had your chance and you let it go, leave me, don't come back to me, once I was wrong but now all of that has passed and there's nothing left of that love. There's nothing you can do now, because to your side I won't go back."

Feisty? me? Never!!!



Goria Gaynor - I Will Survive 

You can see how this is going, right??

Remember when The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert came out? What do you mean you have never watched this fantastic film? You must! At once! Anyway, it was 1994, so perhaps 1995 by the time I watched it in Spain, although I've just had the feeling I may have watched it in Paris during my year there. Anyway, this song was on it, the movie was so fantastic, I never forgot either. With the years this became the soundtrack to my life, above all in my thirties when twat after twat came and went. No fairy tale told me I had to kiss so many frogs to find the one that wasn't a toad!

I requested (*ahem* ordered) the DJ in our song list to play it at our wedding dance because to me it marked the end of all those failed relationships, of all the heartache, it was one final swear word to the past. I love dancing to it, when the song started playing I was talking to a friend of my husband's who I had never actually met, I quickly uttered my apologies and ran to the dance floor holding my dress up so not to trip (well, that wouldn't have been very ladylike, would it?)



Brandi Carlile - The Story

This song played in an episode of Grey's Anatomy years ago and I fell in love with it straight away, I googled it and I bought it. I never ever pay for anything on iTunes, this is how much I liked it.

Why? That's such a long story. It's a song that describes me, my life in my thirties, my life in general ever since I had a huge accident when I was about to turn 18. You can read the full story on my blog.




Michael Bublé - Sway 

Any version of Sway really but it was Michael Buble's that I used to dance to around the kitchen when I was pregnant. Shortly after she was born, LittleT went through an unsettled period, either me or Mr Tapas (who knows, it's all a blur) remembered some advice about music that the baby hears while in the womb and how it may soothe them when they are born. So I started to dance around the kitchen with my newborn baby while holding her tight with her ear close to my heart, it worked every time. In fact, I used to have the remote control in my hand to make sure I could replay it if necessary.

A few days later she had a whole playlist just for her, of all the songs that would soothe her.

It's funny because I didn't manage to convince my husband to dance to Sway for the first dance at our wedding and yet I spent months dancing to it one year later.




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Maria finishes with "That's it from me, so many other songs have popped into my mind but these are "the five". I hope you like my musical story?"  You can find Maria blogging over at Feisty Tapas and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter

If you want to join in with Soundtrack To My Life you can complete this form and I'll be in touch when your feature is due to go live.  Click on the mix-tape to the right to read all the "Soundtrack To My Life" entries.

The difference between my husband and me when it comes to shoes and bags

My husband owns one bag - a rucksack that he uses as hand luggage when we go abroad.  Any other time he uses his pockets because "that's what they're for" (his words, not mine).  On the other hand, I have an abundance of bags in all colours, shapes and sizes, neatly lined up in the spare room.

My shoes and boots are stored in an old ottoman at the top of the stairs - it's busting at the seams. They are mainly 'classic' designs that I can wear on all occasions.  I have heels that are almost too high to walk in but look amazing, Mary Jane's for work, boots in every length you can imagine, an old comfortable pair of Reeboks, my purple Dr Martens... the list goes on.  I mean, my feet aren't going to grow any more so they are never going to go to waste and doesn't everything come back into fashion at some point? 

cherry red dr marten boots
Kev seems to manage with just a couple of pairs of shoes and a two of pairs of trainers.  He also tends to wear them until they need replacing and doesn't see the need for excessive pairs.  That was until I promised him a slice of the goodness that is shoe-shopping on the Cloggs website (as part of a review).  I've been promising him a pair of cherry red Dr Martens for a long time but he's always remembered how long they take to break in.  

A bit of shoe-love is now apparent in the old man's heart.  He's reminiscing about his skinhead days, so much so that I'm thinking about buying him a pair of braces and a pork pie hat for his birthday.  I wonder how long it will take me to convince him that a man-bag is a good idea too?

What are the men in your life like when it comes to shoes and bags? 



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Disclosure:  I chose a pair of shoes from the Cloggs website for the purpose of a review. Please see my disclosure policy for more details.    

The ordering process on the Cloggs website is really quick and easy.  You create an account, select your shoe colour and size and click the "Add To Basket" button.  Choose the "delivery in 3-4 working days" option and delivery is free.  I was really glad to see that Cloggs stock men's shoes up to size 15 in some styles - my husband and my eldest son are both size 12 and find it difficult to buy shoes sometimes.  


How to get (and keep) your partner through the medium of song, dance and photography

jar of hearts
So you have found the love of your life and you want to spend the rest of your life with him/her.  However, you want to them to remember those special landmark moments for ever and ever and you want to enjoy your 15-minutes worth of fame when the video goes viral across social media networks.

If you have a song in your heart and camcorder to hand, here is the blueprint to happiness.  No pressure whatsoever! 








The Speech

(Yes, that's Tom Fletcher from McFly)


The First Dance

(of course I used Julia's dance - she has the most ingeniously titled blog too!)




The Family Photograph


photo of family generations
Image Credit


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Twenty-odd years ago I got married in a registry office surrounded by the friends and family that mattered the most.  It wasn't a conventional wedding, we didn't have a first dance and flew up the motorway after the meal to take my daughter to hospital for a potentially life-saving operation.  We are still together and heading towards our 25th wedding anniversary.  I have a vision of what our 25th anniversary celebration will include (and yes, it involves dancing) but I suspect that it will be harder (impossible?) to convince my husband to take part than it will to get people to share the results!


The (Un)Friendship Cake

Amanda must really hate me.

A few weeks ago she rang me up and invited me for a coffee and a catch-up.  The hook was that she had a present for me.  Now, Amanda has a hot pink A5 Filofax, unused and unloved, languishing on her desk. I have hinted about adopting it on a number of occasions and actually dared to think that she had finally decided to give it to me.

We met at our usual haunt and she was carrying a rather un-Filofax shaped package with her.  We ordered our coffees and sat down.  She handed me the package.

If I could have raised one eyebrow I would.  It was heavy.  I shook it and she screamed, "DON'T SHAKE HIM!"

Him?  HIM?  What the actual...

herman, friendship cake, unbaked,
I opened the package and was greeted with a mason jar full of some gloopy mixture.  My heart sank.

It was a fucking 'Friendship Cake'.  The type of gift you only give to frenemies.  I have survived almost twenty-two years of parenting without ever accepting ownership of one of these things.  A fact that I'm very proud of.

I sighed a deep sigh and pushed it back across the table.  However, because I had taken the package, I couldn't give him back - it would bring me bad luck.  I had been tricked into accepting him.  

Bitch!

The problem is, I'm also not in the slightest bit superstitious but who ever wants to test that theory?  I wrapped Herman back up and Amanda proceeded to tell me all about how to look after him (a frigging full sheet of instructions - more of that in a minute), how he would grow and how I had to talk to him and sing to him. She even gave me a demonstration in the cafe.

Yes... that face you're making now... that was me too.

herman, friendship cake,
I took Herman home and Kev laughed in my face. He told me to throw it down the sink but  karma and superstition were playing on my mind.  We did tweet out this picture to see what Amanda's reaction was.  She didn't exactly wish bad things on me but she likened killing Herman to murdering one of my own children. 

So I put Herman in a bowl and I covered him with a tea towel leaving him in a warm place.  I followed the instructions.  I didn't talk to him and I didn't sing to him (have you heard me sing?).

Do you want to know why he grows?  Because you  have to add* about eight packs of flour, two-hundred pints of milk and half a ton of sugar.  And you do this twice during his 'lifetime'.  You also have to stir the bloody thing twice a day.  I think this is where the singing is supposed to come in but I 'forgot'.

herman, friendship cake,
Ten days passed.  The bowl housing Herman was a bit of a hazard in the kitchen but we worked around him (Him?  She's got me at it now!).  My whole kitchen smelt like my Dad's home brew kits back in the 1980's.  I was supposed to split it into four - give two away, bake one and that start the whole naffing process again myself.

But I didn't know a single person who I hated enough to pass it on to (Sharon, if you're reading this, you had a lucky escape, believe me).  Everyone I mentioned it to just laughed at me and sent thinly veilled threats if I dared to go near them with an unbaked portion of Herman.  They'd all been stung before.

It's like a baking version of a chain letter or a pyramid scheme but with no benefits to anyone.  The only people left in my life that would be eligible to receive Herman were the girls at work.  I put the bowl to one side whilst I had a search in the cupboard for two empty jars.  I have no idea what happened next but...

Herman... EVERYWHERE! 

Was it an accident or did he jump?  Is it because I didn't sing to him he decided to end it all?  I am free from  guilt and, more importantly, free from the Herman chain. 



*This is a slight exaggeration.  You can find the exact Herman recipe on the Netmums website.  

The Head Honcho Of All The Ponchos

I've been banging on about 'finding the crafter within' again recently and may have mentioned it a few times here *cough* Silent Sunday *ahem* Mother of Purl *cough* but, for once in my life, I've actually finished a few projects.

I mentioned that the next one would be a BIG project as I'd seen the pattern for a poncho that looked a bit unusual (no Clint Eastwood jokes, purleeeeeese).  Because I am me, I decided to use needles and wool that I already had so I wasn't too sure how it would turn out.  What do you think?

poncho, closeup, front and back view

As I've changed the pattern slightly I'll tell you what I did.

The yarn recommended (a tweedy, rough type yarn) wasn't available so I used double chunky because it was on offer at the market.  I only used one strand of wool instead of two as the original pattern suggests.  The make of the wool I used is Byzantium and I used 4 x 200g balls which cost £3.49 each.  I used size 8 needles and a 5mm cable needle that I had hanging around.  The wool is a red, blue and purple mix.

[a new pair of needles usually cost a couple of quid and a pair of cable needles is about £1.50]

The basic pattern:

Cast on 70 stitches

K25, P2, K16, P2, K25
P25, K2, P16, K2, P25
K25, P2, C8B, C8F, P2, K25 *
P25, K2, P16, K2, P25
K25, P2, K16, P2, K25
P25, K2, P16, K2, P25
K25, P2, K16, P2, K25
P25, K2, P16, K2, P25

These 8 rows form your pattern.  Knit this pattern 25 times in total

* C8B = slide 4 stitches onto your cable needle and hold at the back of your work.  Knit the next four then knit the four on the cable needle
* C8F = slide 4 stitches onto your cable needle and hold at the front of your work.  Knit the next four then knit the four on the cable needle.
This process forms the 'plait' in the pattern.

Making up:

Sew one short edge to the end of one long edge as seen below.

poncho

How it knitted up using my method:

The neck of the poncho is very large which means it hangs on your shoulders or off one shoulder.  A great look for some but this doesn't keep your neck very warm.  However it does feel like a huge woolen blanket wrapped around you so great for these chilly evenings.  

What I would change:

If I knitted this again, I would knit the pattern format fewer times which would make a shorter 'point' but also a smaller neckhole.  I'd like to try this with different types of wool too.  I'll let you know how I get on! 



Guinness World Records Officially Amazing Science Live!

Back in November I spent a day with the Guinness World Records team trying to become an official record breaker (I failed *sad face*) and seeing their new augmented reality feature (amazing) on display on a large scale.  They invited me back to see their new science show that's going on tour.  Here's Marco from the GWR team to tell you more.  



Now, you know I don't normally plug events on here so this has to be something special for me to give it a shout out.  I had an brilliant day with the team and you can check if the Officially Amazing Science Live! tour is coming to a town near you (there's a prize draw to win family tickets on that page too... ssshhh I didn't tell you!).  Audience members will be given the opportunity to attempt some world records (I hear they're going to be along the lines of  'How quickly can you duct tape yourself to a wall?' and 'Who has the loudest scream?') just as we were back in November and there's loads of surprises in store too.

Let me know if you manage to get to one of the shows and say "HI" to the team for me. I want to see your photos after too! 

Family Adventure

Planning a family vacation may not sound like a difficult feat initially, but once you start planning out the details of an upcoming vacation, you may realise just how challenging this can be. One of the most significant challenges that parents face when planning a family vacation relates to choosing a destination that offers fun activities for their whole family. Some destinations may be more suitable for certain ages of children than others, for example, but many families have children of various ages. 


Brainstorm Ideas

It is important to understand that the picture-perfect vacation for adults is often different than what your kids may have in mind. Kids may have activities like water sports, mountain climbing, hiking or visiting theme parks in mind while you may want nothing more than to visit the spa or relax on a sun-kissed beach. As a first step in planning an amazing vacation, you should brainstorm some ideas. Gather your crew around the kitchen table, get out a pencil and paper and jot down every idea that is offered. Keep in mind that some ideas may be far-fetched and may even border on ridiculous, but these ideas may give you a great inclination about what types of experiences your kids want to enjoy on their adventure.


Choosing a Destination

Once you have a fairly exhaustive list of activities and experiences that your family wants to enjoy while on your next vacation, take time to search for vacation ideas on the Internet. Many resorts other related venues offer a wide range of activities on-site, so it can be worth your time and effort to research these options first. Look for venues that offer activities and amenities that most closely match your family’s preferences. For example, many beach resorts offer a wide range of water sports activities on-site, but a dude ranch may provide you with horse back riding, trail rides and other experiences. Then, you can further narrow down the options by looking for destinations that are located in a strategic location next to other outdoor adventures. For example, one resort may be located close to an adventure park that offers zip lining, cave tours or family rafting trips. 


Budgeting for your Holiday

While staying in a family-oriented resort may provide you with one way to enjoy a fun-filled family vacation, another more cost effective yet equally fun idea is to spend time outdoors. You can consider packing a tent and sleeping bags in the car and staying in a campground, or you may rent an affordable cabin for a few days. From your campsite or cabin, you may enjoy experiences that you will not have access to at a resort. For example, you can tell ghost stories around a campfire while you roast marshmallows observe wildlife from dawn until dusk and enjoy the opportunity to “rough it” together while you make new memories together. Hiking, fishing, mountain biking and other activities are commonly enjoyed on a camping trip too.

You will want to save money where you can when planning for a holiday, in order to make the most of your experience when you get there. Make sure to do your research online, with thousands of websites offering various holiday deals and family packages to suit your needs. Making sure you get the appropriate travel insurance, (or even life insurance depending on the type of activities your children fancy doing), will give you peace of mind in knowing nothing can affect your holiday that you’re not covered for.


Planning a fun-filled vacation that your whole family will enjoy does require some planning. You can put some of these ideas to use as you plan a vacation that you, your spouse and all of your kids will love. 



This content was provided by Compare The Market..  
For more information about sponsored posts please see my disclosure policy.


Homelessness

Sometimes you want to write about a subject but it never seems to be the right time.  Or there's not a good way to start or finish.  Sometimes you just have to wait and that post will come.

Over many personal posts on this blog I have mentioned, in passing, that I left home at the age of eighteen and then became pregnant with my daughter.  There's always been a slight gap in that story which I have never talked about.  Homelessness.

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After I flounced out of the family home to be with the man I had fallen in love with we realised that we had nowhere to stay.  It was summer and we were resourceful but after a couple of nights dossing on a friend's sofa and the occasional night in the car, the prospect of going it alone didn't seem quite so exciting.  We secured another couple of nights at a friend's house and scoured the local newspaper for a flat that didn't require too much of a deposit and ended up in a bedsit in Blackpool.  The bed pulled down from the wall and there wasn't enough room to swing a cat but we had a roof over our heads.

Due to a number of circumstances that involved a loony landlord who would enter the flat when we were out and him disconnecting the electric because he thought we had been fiddling the meter, we couldn't stay at the flat.  We ended up in a local hotel that doubled as a hostel.  Over the next few weeks we would have to vacate the hotel for a few hours a day, cook our meals on a sandwich toaster and we had a tab at a local cafe which we paid up at the end of each fortnight.  The hostel occupants ranged from single mums to drug addicts, all cooped up in their own small space trying to survive.  Just waiting.  The atmosphere was strained.  We were also no closer to getting our own house because we had no money for a deposit for rented accommodation and there was no authority housing available because our situation wasn't considered urgent.  It was a vicious circle.

We transferred to Preston and ended up in a family hostel which was much more like a community.  We made friends in there who we are still in touch with now.  I ended up in hospital due to complications in my pregnancy and our housing application was rushed through.  We were provided with a two bedroom house not far from the centre of Preston two weeks before I had our baby.

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We were lucky in a way.  It could have been so much worse.  The fact that we knew the hostel facilities were available was always a bonus.  But homelessness is never completely eradicated, no matter where you live.  It may be less apparent in a small village but is a huge problem in cities.


At the beginning of December, I caught a tweet from a blogger friend of mine, Tinuke.  If I remember rightly, she was admonishing herself for not having a nap before going out to work that night.  Knowing that she doesn't normally work nights I inquired as to what she was doing.  We had an interesting conversation about her mission that night which had to be kept fairly under wraps.  She has expanded on that conversation here.

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Last month I ventured down to the City of London to take participate in a street count as a volunteer for Broadway Homelessness and Support Charity. It is a government regulation that each Council should participate in a count of all rough sleepers in order for there to be a national record of how the situation is improving/worsening. 

We got set to count the rough sleepers a little after midnight, everyone was split up into cells with a police person and homeless shelter outreach worker, a grid map of the streets we were to cover and torches to help us peer into nooks and crannies. The rain was pelting it down and my ‘waterproof’ coat was no match for the torrential downpour. I hoped I’d see no one unlucky enough to be caught out in the wind and the cold and thankfully I didn’t. Other teams did though, some groups reporting 5/6 rough sleepers in their allocated grid. 

We had to take names and other personal details from the rough sleepers that night. Some were more forthcoming than others. One man claimed he was not homeless but had chosen to sleep outside that particular night as he had drunk too much and decided it best to sleep in a doorway, I’m not sure if this was embarrassment/pride or possibly even the truth? The outreach worker who I was with had been working for the charity for two decades. He knew the patch like the back of his hands and was full of stories about the many people he had helped out of homelessness and many a woeful tale of those he was unable to help.

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A couple of weeks ago a tweet from CJ de Mooi interested me.  He had started a thread on Reddit questioning why homelessness is still tolerated in the 21st Century.   Whilst it opened a conversation on what is sometimes a taboo subject, it also gave a small insight into how experiences can change our life path.

After reading the thread on Reddit, I approached CJ and asked him if he would write a little more of his story for me to feature here.  Even with his busy schedule, he did so without hesitation which goes to show how passionate he is about wanting to tackle this issue head on.  Here is what he wrote for me.

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Shortly after my 17th birthday I walked out into a rainstorm and began sleeping rough. I was escaping an abusive environment and chose a much preferable alternative but may however have thought twice had I known my homelessness would last almost 3 years. Then again, probably not - I had ensured a decade and a half of torment and would have done anything to get out. 

As someone blessed (or burdened) with a nauseating level of liberal guilt, I had always sympathised with homeless people. I saw them in doorways, under bridges and other places I couldn't comprehend they could have possibly chosen as their homes. When I found myself in the exact same position, it became clear that anyone, from any walk of life, can find himself or herself in the same situation. Most people are actually only one or two pay cheques away from serious financial trouble and a great number of the people on the streets are certainly not there by choice. 


I had come from an affluent and supposedly respectable background but because of an institutionalised refusal to accept that middle class abuse existed, I was pretty much refused any assistance. I attempted to access numerous services but as I had no apparent mental or physical disabilities, no problems with addiction or illness, I was pushed to the bottom of the queue. How bad does it have to be for a scared, vulnerable and alone teenager to be turned away from help? Well, I found out. 

A couple of months in a park in Sheffield, a year in central London and a year and a half on a staircase in Amsterdam station. Those were the exotic locations I slept, sometimes in the stereotyped cardboard box but usually just in my clothes and a coat if I could find one, sometimes from a shelter or charity clothing bin. 

I was lucky in that a chance meeting led to a career and a new start but most people never get such an opportunity. I know how fortunate I was but can never forget what I went through and refuse to sit by while homelessness is still such a national problem and scandal. On December 25th last year, I filled a bag with food and drink and went walking around Covent Garden and the Strand giving out supplies to anyone I found sleeping rough. I'd run out within 45 minutes so restocked and continued to Charing Cross where I found about 25 souls huddled together. Although most gratefully accepted the little assistance I was able to offer, one poor young woman was startlingly different. No more than 30, she was laying on some sheets of cardboard clutching a half empty vodka bottle. I offered her a sandwich but she simply shook her head sadly and replied 'No thanks love, I'm just waiting to die.' 

What sort of society do we have where that is accepted behaviour? I was just out of school and forced into a life for 3 years where I was terrified, always alone and at risk from violence. Tonight, this very night in modern Britain, a child will start sleeping rough for the first time. I simply won't accept that so continue to do what I can in any small way to protect and provide for anyone in the same intolerable position. I've started a Government e-petition which I hope will raise awareness and gain the necessary signatures to be considered. Please sign it so we can move forward with what is a source of national shame in the 21st century. 


What I went through made me the person I am today. Thousands of people unfortunately don't get that chance. End homelessness now!

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You are probably reading this post whilst sat at home, cozied up with your laptop or smart phone.  You may have financial difficulties but at least you have a roof over  your head.  There are many levels of homelessness but that doesn't mean any of them are right.  Do you think that homelessness is a choice or a situation beyond control?  Do you have to have access to the right information and resources to be able to change your situation or is everyone waiting for that lucky break?   Let me know if you've ever experienced homelessness yourself.

If you've read this far may I ask you to sign the petition to show your support.  Offering services and having provision availability is often the first (or only) step needed to create a safe environment.

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Related Links
CJ de Mooi on Twitter
CJ de Mooi website
End Homelessness e-petition 
Broadway Homeless and Support

Soundtrack To My Life - Marianne

This week's Soundtrack To My Life has been created by Marianne, who celebrates three years in the blogging world this month.  After 18 years in Italy, a shift in circumstances meant that she had to return to England where her life changed once again.  Mari describes herself and a Great British Housewife and she is now editor of the Brit Mums Blog.  For now, it's over to Mari.



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Tom Browne - Funkin' for Jamaica

August 1980 - I was 14 sitting in my step sister's room, she had bought David Bowie Ashes to Ashes and I chose this song. The summer was hot, the windows were open and Tom and David were on the record player on repeat until my dad came up a couple of hours later and asked us to change tracks.

Pre-boyfriends when fashion, make up and nail varnish were my new best friends along with good old Smash Hits and NME. I still adore this song today as much as I did back then. Tom Browne's intro on the trumpet is bloody marvelous.

 Love the quote on YouTube: "Over 2 metric tonnes of marijuana went into the making of this video."



Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax


The fact that it was at number 6 in the charts and was then banned by the BBC just made it even more 'Must Have'. Hard choice for 2nd place, I was at college, living away from home with flatmates, it was a time of lager and snakebites, smoking and fiddling our electricity meter as much as we could. We lived off mash potato and we tried our first joints together, followed by eating massive cakes or bags of chocolate when the munchies hit.

My hardest choice as I was really into the music scene then and had been to various gigs; Toyah Wilcox, Depeche Mode, Culture Club,  It was this or Tainted Love.


Vasco Rossi - Vita Spericolata


You can't live in a country for nearly 20 years and not appreciate their music. I moved to Italy at 20 and stayed there until I was 38. I learnt their language, I learnt their culture, I found my best mate out there who hated me the day I returned to the UK. I consider myself half Italian and love them and their country as much as my own.

Vasco Rossi is a larger than life character who doesn't give a shit. He has a gravelly voice and sings lyrics that shout out 'I don't care, I'm going to be me'. He has an enormous following and just watching him here will have you drawn into him. He looks a mess but goddamn cool with it, the kind of guy you'd love to have a few beers with and you know you'd have a right laugh in his company.

I reckon any Italian you ask would have Vasco on their all time favourite list.


Black Eyed Peas - Shut Up


Fast forward to 2003, I knew something was up, I knew it was going to be a big fight but I didn't know it would be The End. My marriage collapsed like a castle made of playing cards when I discovered he was having an affair with our bar maid who also happened to be half my age *ouch*.

Nothing in my life has ever been that hard to pick myself up from, I spent a year desperately grabbing out and not getting anywhere. I drank too much, smoked packets of Marlboro (daily) and basically got by. My breathing was so affected I had to hold my rib cage and force the air down. A complete mess.

Then one evening, it was carnival, I dressed up as a wacky witch and went out to the local bar to get drunk. I was about to go home as I was bored with myself and my misery but this guy caught my eye, 'Come and dance with us' he invited. I thought what the heck? and I tagged along. BEP were playing and I was dancing with this gorgeous looking bloke Half MY Age who was into me - I know I couldn't believe it either.

We spent a couple of months together and without knowing it he cured me, he made me feel sexy again, witty again, wanted again. He made me see there was more to life and he opened my eyes and my heart. He made me smile and dulled the pain.

We didn't fall in love but we shared, we had fun and we respected one another, for that I will always be grateful to him.


The Killers - Mr Brightside


2005 I'm home in the UK, my kids prefer to live in Italy but I cannot go back there.  I use Ryanair monthly at £25 a pop to go over and see them. It's difficult, it's never satisfactory but it's what I have to do. I'm working in central London, loving the London scene. My heart is light and filled with joy. If only I could have my kids with me too life would be perfect but you can't have it all can you?

I meet Paul, I fall in love and he takes me to Festivals. I. Love. Them.

V Festival one year finished with a magnificent performance from The Killers and Mr Brightside. I see all the beautiful qualities our relationship has, how it is so completely different to everything I've ever known before and I know I am home.

One day there will be a 6th song as we are planning to marry but shhhh that's a secret.


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You can find Marianne blogging over at Mari's World (her 'About Me' page is a fascinating read).  You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook and whipping the the Britmums Blog into shape!

If you want to join in with Soundtrack To My Life you can complete this form and I'll be in touch when your feature is due to go live.  Click on the mix-tape to the right to read all the "Soundtrack To My Life" entries.

"Staying Stylish": Vertbaudet's Maternity Fashion Timeline


It can be difficult to feel at all fashionable during your pregnancy; while on the one hand you're bursting with pride and excitement about the new arrival to your family, you'll eventually get to the point where you can't face another shapeless maxi dress, and start to wonder whether there is anything out there that will allow you to maintain your sense of style while your little one is on the way.

To help mothers-to-be in need, Vertbaudet have launched a "maternity timeline", with tips and ideas for outfit solutions throughout your pregnancy. As a children's and maternity clothing specialist with over 40 years of experience in the ultra-chic French market, Vertbaudet know a thing or two about style, and the timeline covers a range of comfortable and attractive options, as well as practical advice, to ensure you have plenty of options to choose from. 

The timeline starts at around 14 weeks, and recommends you start thinking ahead - clothes that will expand as you do, and breathable fabric to keep you from feeling hot and claustrophobic are both high priorities. Clothes you can alter, like a drawstring jacket or a belted dress, allow you to maintain your figure even as it changes. Elasticated waistbands are always recommended during early pregnancy, but Vertbaudet makes sure to remind readers that jeans with stretchy waistbands will not only keep you comfortable, but they'll go with more of your existing outfits and look far more stylish than a dowdy pair of slacks!

Towards the end of pregnancy, Vertbaudet suggests plenty of detailing and gathered fabrics to add layers and textures to your outfit without compromising on comfort. Loose-hanging tops and tunic dresses are particularly ideal, as you can move around in them without much restriction. The timeline even makes some suggestions for overdue parents - although by that point it may well be time to return to the maxi dress!

Vertbaudet's clothes are known for being innovative, using plenty of practical concepts to really tailor them to the wearer - many of their own maternity clothes are also designed to be useful while nursing, so that you can make your clothes last even after pregnancy. The timeline is a fantastic reference, especially for first-timers, but for anybody going through pregnancy it's ideal for ideas and inspiration.



This content was provided by Vertbaudet.  For more information please see my disclosure policy.

My obsession with Patsy Kensit and the Weight Watchers adverts...

At certain times of the year (post-Christmas mainly, but also on the run up to that expected warm weather time of the summer) we find ourselves bombarded with adverts for diet groups all hinting at the need for that perfect body.  Many of these are spearheaded by 'celebrities' (and I use that term loosely) who have had 'amazing results' from using this particular method of dieting or have 'found their sparkle again', which they may well have done but they have also been paid a huge wad of money to front these campaigns.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen a couple of ranty updates (What?  Hush now...) over the past few days...


  

I have a lot of respect for Weight Watchers and other dieting organisations such as Slimming World because they encourage well-being and slow, controlled weightloss.  Nothing faddy.  However, the lovely (and I do like her) Patsy Kensit apparently 'ballooned' in weight but managed to lose 14lb in three months using the WW method.  1lb a week?  That's a bit slow, surely?  Unless you don't actually have any real weight to lose?  

I started a conversation about this via my usual extended ranting outlet a Facebook status update.  You can read it as I've made it public but I'd also like to highlight some of the responses from the conversation.  Liz mentions that, in her experience, online mentions of Weight Watchers are 95% negative at the moment and Kelly suggests that if there were more 'normal' sized people on television Patsy wouldn't be as appealing to the WW marketing team.  Sonya feels demoralised because she has already lost 21lb on the WW diet, has another 7lb to go to reach her goal weight but her goal weight is half a stone more than the weight Patsy 'ballooned' to!

Over on Twitter, during my original rant, one (anon) tweet that was sent to me confirmed that under normal circumstances, Patsy wouldn't be allowed to 'join' WW because she will have had a normal BMI.   Sian suggested that Patsy had may have been chosen because we see her as 'one of the girls' but that idea had backfired.

It's really interesting that everyone who responded to me was keen to point out the failings of this campaign.  Normally when I have an outspoken opinion the conversation is very two-sided with viewpoints on both sides of the fence. 

Wanting to live (and eat) healthily is always at the forefront of my mind.  I'm not good at dieting and yearn for the days when I could eat and drink merrily and not have to worry about shapeshifting.  But I'm older, have had a few medical issues and my metabolism isn't what it used to be.  I find it a chore to go to the gym mixed in with waves of enthusiasm.  But it's a choice.

I'm tired of celebrity DVDs that turn fairly normal-looking fames into lollipop heads (it's always women... never men).  Yes, the weight loss is apparent but they have been filming non-stop with a personal trainer for the purpose of the DVD, not prancing around a living room, gingerly bouncing around an excited puppy and twatting a knee on the corner of the coffee table, whilst worrying about a loose floorboard, the ornaments on the shelf and what the neighbours can actually see through the window. 

Weight gain and loss - and being happy with your own body image - is a very personal emotion.  You have to be happy with your own shape and size and fuck what anyone else thinks.  In the past I have blogged about the Daily Mail's Sidebar of Shame contradicting itself when it comes to the 'ideal' size or shape.  The post, entitled "Fat", is still one of my more popular posts over two years later.  Here's how I concluded the post and my view hasn't changed one iota:


Is there a right size for women to be?  And why isn't there the same obsession abut men's weight?  We know that the average size of a woman has increased over recent years thanks to our style of living yet the extremes are still used as examples.  We have to teach the next generation that it's OK to be YOU, but a healthy you.  We need to teach our kids that there should be no pressure to conform to a particular shape or style - we'e not all the same, after all.  Wouldn't that be boring?


Related Links:




My Love Affair With The London Underground

London Underground, neon,
Today the London Underground celebrates it 150th anniversary.  I fell in love with the Tube system when I visited London for the first time in 1981.  It was the magic of this network of tunnels underneath a city that I wanted to explore.  The names of stations on the maps that would lead me to a world that lay undiscovered by myself but seemed so ordinary to others.

The first time I rode the Underground was an experience in itself.  My dad worked for three days a week in London and it had been decided that myself, my mum and my sister would join him for our half term break.  He drove down with our caravan attached and worked for a couple of days.  The rest of us followed on by train on the Friday.  We pulled into Euston Station and I was given the all important job of planning our Tube route.  Mum knew how excited I was by this.

We were meeting Dad at one of his places of work.  A tube journey and then a bus would deliver us almost to the gates of the factory that he was visiting.  We headed towards Brixton with slight trepidation as it wasn't that long since the recent riots that had dominated the newsreels.  As the train neared Brixton the carriage we were on emptied.  By the time we reached Brixton we were almost alone.  One man sat at the opposite end of the carriage reading a newspaper with a headline splashed across the front leading a story about the riots. I have no idea how my mum felt but I could sense the tension.

We exited the train and started the walk towards the wooden escalator.  The man followed.  He stayed behind us all the way until Mum told us to stop and she pretended to be searching in her handbag for something.  The man overtook us and we were alone again.  We continued the ascent to the main entrance on Brixton Road, always looking over our shoulder.  I can't remember the time of day but I can remember it feeling very unusual that the station was deserted.  We reached the main foyer of the station and the world around us sprang into life again.  People, buses, taxis, noise.  In the hubbub of an unusual and (then) notorious part of the city we strangely felt safe.  We had survived and it had excited me - even at such a young age.  I wanted more experiences.

Over the past couple of years, my blogging adventures have taken me to our capital city more times than in the rest of my life.  Each time the train nears Euston station I get butterflies in my stomach.  The excitement grows, I call up my map of the Underground that is embedded into my brain and start to plan my journey.  I know that I enjoy the Tube journeys because I am not using the system every day and, so far, haven't experienced any problems or delays; I know the novelty would possibly wear off if I relied on it as my main mode of transport.  Or would it?  

Rotunda, Tottenham Court Road tube stationRotunda, Tottenham Court Road tube stationLast time I headed through the maze of tunnels I passed through Tottenham Court Road and had a rush of nostalgia.  The Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic in the Rotunda sent me headlong back to that first visit to London and I remembered seeing it when it was still unfinished.  It remains so unique and I wanted to stay there a while to take proper photographs but I had to move on and attend appointments.  


I think the more regular trips on the Underground have made me want to know more about it and over the last year I have become engrossed in many aspects of the network's history and learnt about other people's geek love of the same.  There was the Look for Longer picture that I blogged about a while back (70 Underground Stations in one picture) for starters which was a great conversation piece.  More recently there have been a couple of books that I have been reading.  Walk The Lines - by Mark Mason who decided to walk the route of each London Underground line, but overground - taking in the sights and history of the city as he went.  And then there's Mind The Gap - by Emily Kearns which is a  book about the history, the present and the future of the Tube.  I have no idea if all these activities are connected but maybe my subconscious has been thinking about this for a while.  Or maybe there has been some clever subliminal promotion focused on those who want to know about it?

I'm just so fascinated by the way in which you can reach any part of London (and beyond) by this labyrinth.  Whilst travelling along in a carriage I see the name of the station that I'm passing through and immediately want to be above ground discovering the history and being a tourist but I also want to stay in the carriage and people-watch and eavesdrop (one of my favourite pastimes).  I am captivated by the people who clamber aboard, settle into their seat, bring out their iPad or Kindle and then one stop later repeat the process in reverse.  I love seeing the mixture of city workers and dwellers alongside the tourists; one group not chatting or making eye contact, the other excitedly discussing their next tourist adventure in a myriad of accents and languages.  I wish that Charles Pearson could have seen his vision come to life and I wonder what he would have thought about the size of the network now?

You can find more Tube Geekery over on Geekalicious where there are some great links for you to follow.


Tottenham Court Road, platform, tunnel
Image Credit  © Jake O'Hara, November 2012


Soundtrack To My Life - Katie Vyktoriah

The privilege of the first Soundtrack To My Life of a new year goes to Katie V (I like that... she sounds like a pop star).  As she mentions in her fifth track choice, she has recently moved back to the US after eleven years in the UK and I know it's been a bit of a culture shock for her.  Also, Katie mentions about finding music properly once she'd grown up and that really resonates with me.  I can share a type YouTube link with someone and take them by surprise but it's all about discovery and appreciation.  And on that note (pun intended...), it's over to Katie.

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Holly Dunn - Daddy's Hands


This is a song that my dad and I used to sing when I was a child. It's about a father being firm when its called for, but gentle most of the time. My dad used to work as a Federal Agent in the US Border Patrol, and we never knew from one day to the next whether he'd come home or not - his job was dangerous.

 When I was around 7 years old, he made me promise that when he died, I would sing this song at his funeral. It was quite a big promise to make, as it made me consider at a very young age that I might lose my dad.

 Luckily for everyone, my dad put in his 20 years and was able to retire to a quiet life in the country in 2008. He now sports the ZZ-Top-esque beard he'd been denied for all those years (federal agents could have a small moustache but no other facial hair). He spends most of his time in a backyard hammock, lazing in the sun or pottering around his workshop building furniture for my mother.



Paper Lace - The Night Chicago Died


My parents were from completely different musical backgrounds. My dad taught us to love and appreciate classic country music, bluegrass and the occasional doo wop hit. My mother loved classic rock and roll and anything with a lot of bass.

 The song I loved the most as a kid was The Night Chicago Died. It told a great story of a shoot-out between the Chicago Police and Al Capone's gang. It was an anthem about a wife and child waiting at home for news of the man of the house - not knowing whether he'd survive and the absolute relief when he walks through the door. The ticking of the clock is one of the most tense moments in any song I've ever heard.

 It manages to stay upbeat and fun despite the really serious subject matter, and of all the great songs my mother used to play when I was a kid, this one sticks out as a definite favourite.

 In fact, when I was 17, I saw an advert for a CD collection of oldies, and it included this son. I spent nearly all of my savings to buy the collection, even though it was only the one song I wanted. I don't regret it.



Pearl Jam - Corduroy


Once I'd grown up and started finding music on my own, I found that I never had a particular genre which stood out to me. I LOVED music. I needed it. I didn't discriminate. Rock, pop, country, rap, metal - I found something to love in all of it.   But one band stood out for me as the one I would ALWAYS love, and who epitomised all I ever loved about music.

 Pearl Jam, as anyone who knows me will attest, is MY band. Since I first found them in the early 90s, I have loved them. I used to skip school on the first day of a new album's release so that I could get their new tunes before anyone else. I would listen to them over and over, alone in my room. Whatever lyrics I couldn't decipher on my own, I would find online and print out so that I could memorise them. I committed them to memory and devoted myself to knowing every fact about them.

 At 19 years old, I went to a tattoo parlour. I didn't know what I wanted to get, but I wanted something. After several hours searching tattoo flash, I finally went to my car, grabbed the single for Alive and asked to be tattooed with the "Alive Guy" logo. I imagined a small version on my ankle. But the artist didn't really listen and instead made it full size on my left calf. Have you ever seen a person tattooed with a giant stick figure? Well look no further!

 This song is my favourite PJ song. The studio version is great, but I'm a sucker for the live versions. In fact, ANY PJ song is better live, which is not something I can say about many bands.



Styx - Mr Roboto


This is my go-to karaoke song. It reminds me of the summer after I first got my driver's license, and I played chauffeur to my little brother, taking him to visit his girlfriend out in the middle of nowhere. We would crank up my copy of Styx Greatest Hits and sing at the tops of our voices.

 Years later, we would go bar hopping together, and I'd get up on stage, three sheets to the wind and belt it out to all the drunken patrons. Bits of the song are call and answer, and my bro would be out in the audience doing his bit to cheer me along, making sure the crowd got involved so that I could feel like a rock star.

Good times.



Lene Marlin - Flown Away


A beautiful and poignant song which will always make me cry, no matter what. Invariably when I think of my adult life, moving from the USA to the UK, getting married, getting divorced, meeting my new partner, having a baby and moving back to the US after 11 years, I will play this song as my soundtrack.

 It is the perfect accompaniment when you wonder if you're in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right person...

 The present like I've never seen it before 
Is this the right place to stay 
Please my wings, fly me away.

 It gives me strength and allows me to feel hopeful about the future.




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Katie blogs at Her Pretty where she blogs about wearing baby vomit as a fashion statement, alongside her pregnancy diary and family updates.  She tweets as @snuggle_bubby and runs the Google+ Mommy Bloggers community and helps to moderate a Google+ Project 365 photo community.

If you want to join in with Soundtrack To My Life you can complete this form and I'll be in touch when your feature is due to go live.  Click on the mix-tape to the right to read all the "Soundtrack To My Life" entries.