Message in a bottle (making an exhibition of myself)

Spotted in my local library…chances of finding my name – not the most common – on a book leaf in a bottle. I’m still working out the message there for me.


Take a leaf out of my book.  Don’t bottle now.  Bottle it.  Essence.

The artists behind the installation – Straybird – are happy for library visitors to experience and interpret their exhibits in any way that comes. I’ve gone with the bottle.

And there’s this sign on the wall.  The reaction to the items-used-as-bookmarks exhibit is a sign of our times.











Eating up can help combat world hunger #ClearAPlate

When I was a girl my mother used to say “Eat up – there are people dying of hunger who’d kill for your dinner” (or words to that effect). It didn’t make sense to me and I wanted to say (probably did say) well send them mine. Years later and Unilever along with Oxfam are taking up my mothers call and encouraging us to clear our plates. I get it now.

Decades on and the fight against food poverty still rages. I know my mother was referring to people in Africa, I needn’t look so far afield today. In the UK one in 5 struggle to put food on the table. Children go to school hungry. I remembered this when I went to the fridge and spotted the sausages with yesterdays date. I fight the urge to dump them and commit to toss them into a casserole instead.

My parents grew up on farms. Small holdings of stony land and skinny cows. Food wasn’t always plentiful. A bad crop would see to that. My grandmother churned her own butter and it was much in demand. It was sold at the local creamery so little was ‘wasted’ on her kids. My dad knew the manual effort behind putting food on the table. After school he’d spend hours combing the field, picking up stones along the potato trenches to make way for the plough – back breaking work. The story was similar in my mother’s place. When they left their respective homes and came together to live in a town, frequent visits back to aged parents with us in tow meant we were able to see where a lot of our food came from. Before we’d say our goodbyes, the car boot as loaded with new spuds or bags of apples from the small orchard. We got rhubarb stalks in the summer. Sometimes there’d be tomatoes on the vine. Or more likely retrieved from the windowsill where they rested to ripen. In Spring we’d single out a tiny cute chicken -”Grandma, that’s the one we want” so that when we made our pre-Christmas visit we collected our grown up chick, our slain turkey. The bird would be plucked by my father before my mam stuffed and cooked it.  The turkey’s feathered wing was our duster for the year.

Now my kids eat chickens that come from the supermarket. They see them stacked up in the fridge and don’t think much beyond the wrapper. They certainly don’t give them names as I did with our Christmas Turkey. I’ve taken the children to picking farms so they know that gooseberries grow on bushes and raspberries need a flushing out to render them bug-free.  But so much of their diet they can not place. Food that appears on shop shelves and later their plates.Maybe this is one reason there is so much waste – there’s such a distance between provider and consumer.


We can start fighting world hunger today at our dinner tables by clearing our plates.

Share a photo of your empty plate on Facebook or Twitter and use the hashtag #ClearAPlate. Unilever will make a donation on your behalf as part of their Project Sunlight commitment.


No one should struggle to feed their family while food is being wasted.

What a legacy to be able to say that our generation was the one that ends food poverty in the UK. This campaign is a step in the right direction.  Read more about Project Sunlight and see how Unilever in partnership with Oxfam are working to bring this about.

Note:  This post is a response to a call to action at Mumsnet Blogfest 2014.

A birthday well spent

Birthdays are like new note pads – full of promise and expectation. Hey, my sentiments could be on a greeting card. Though they are bubblegum compared to Emerson’s. I received his bon mots from a friend this morning. What a great measure of a good life…

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My daughter woke me up with her personalised greeting in verse. The boy did a drawing. They shopped for me at a local christmas fete on Saturday. It is an annual event and falls days before my birthday so it’s where my gifts come from. She chose well this year.  Cute little wine glass charms. I won’t have to match lipstick shades with glasses anymore. The penguin stays in my purse to be whipped out wherever I drink. He gets his first outing tomorrow night at a BYO Chinese meal with a bunch of fellow scorpions.

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Nobel wishes from friends today….


So I didn’t get the posh dinner. I didn’t get four helpings just for me either. But I did have a wedge of Victoria sponge over coffee with a dear pal and her Irish mother.  We had a good ol’shop too at one of the Mary Portas Living and Giving shops. We all found a gem. I like that a selection has already taken place with these second time around clothes. I’m not overwhelmed. And prices are so good – you can afford to be playful and buy  something a la carte. I couldn’t resist the sparkle.

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I’ve chosen a word to journey with me through the year – THRIVE.  I like it. It puts wings on SURVIVE and LIVE and even I’VE.  I love my birthdays.  I’ve done this one well.

The gift that keeps on giving – Blogfest 2014

Truly one of the highlights on my social calendar, this is my (and mumsnet’s) third blogfest.

Always held in early November, my ticket is a birthday gift. This year to myself.

The fun for me starts as soon as I shut my front door behind me at 7.30am on Saturday. I enjoy having head space, reclaiming a little of my ‘before-kids self”, where I get to buy the weekend papers with all the wonderful supplements and pick up a latte at the station before hopping on the train and tucking in to both.  I don’t have to countdown stops for excited and impatient kids, referee play or hand out snacks and water bottles.

I was most looking forward to hearing from the writers throughout the day.  They dominated the Mumsnet blogfest programme. The social media experts are a draw too. All sages on the stages. Successful now, they are happy to share accounts of their early days, starting out. You hear tales of perseverance and self-belief triumphing over doubt. Talks that are inspirational and aspirational.

There are even some panelists, ordinary bloggers, who’ve been plucked from blogsphere to share their experiences. Delegates in 2013, experts by 2014.

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The blogfest program took in breakfast pastries with registration, later a morning coffee break, a lengthy lunch, afternoon tea and finally the gin drinks reception. So there could have been lots of opportunities to network. And I did try. I was there by myself. It takes me out of my comfort zone to approach a stranger but I guessed we’d have common ground.  So I’d ask what they blogged about  or if they attended last year too. How many holidays do you reckon Mark Warner Holidays have sold was a good ice-breaker. The closest guess gets to take their family on one. I’d read on their site that they carried 50,000 this year and knowing they are in business for over 40 years allowing for a slow start before their reputation soared I went for 1.27m.  Years of guessing how many sweets are in the jar at school fairs was behind my methodical approach.

And though I wasn’t rebuked, and I did get to meet some interesting and friendly folk (Annika for one) there were some who seemed uneasy by my approach. How about mumsnet provide a grown up version of the friendship bench – a zone where lone bloggers can go if they are happy to make and receive introductions.

That said the sessions themselves were great.

There were faces and reputations I instantly knew – Tim Dowling, Suzanne Moore, Francesca Martinez, Nick Hornby, Lynn Barber amongst them. And others I didn’t but felt compelled to look up when i got home. I learnt that Sarah Vine is married to Michael Gove. An unlikely pairing. Or probably not.

Paul Armstrong expertly sped his way through an advanced social media session. And helpfully provided us with a link so we can view it again at our leisure.

I opted for making money from my blog over finding my funny. I had thought you can’t learn how to get laughs – you have it or you don’t but I’m starting to think that’s the way with money making.  The Youtube masterclass was very informative too.

We had only 20 mins of Think Bomb with three speaker Suzanne Moore, Camila Batmanghelidjh and Francesca Martinez imparting their wisdoms. I’d have loved more of this.

With tasty food for lunch I opted for the sweet chilli prawn salad it wasn’t difficult to clean my plate and fulfil the Unilever request (Project Sunlight) to tweet a picture to join the fight against food poverty and food waste.

The lovely people at Mark Warner holidays were dispensing mulled wine. The sweet scent wafting from their stand did the trick and took me back to ski slopes and wooden cabins.


Throughout the year I’ve loved doing their blogger challenges and eagerly await our fourth mission. Completion of all secures me a place in a draw for one of their family holidays #alliwantforchristmas.

Coca Cola weren’t as cryptic and we only had to look at the smart green cans of coke (why not ditch the red and go green – good message in there too!) at their stand to stand a chance to win a prize at their stand. How many calories in their new Coca Cola Life drink? Less calories and less sugar….89 kcals. It’s tasty too. I didn’t spot their winners tweet until today and I was one of those pulled. Lost out on a little Coca Cola hamper.

I had my internet age assigned at TalkTalk. A ten year old! My daughter will be pleased. Twins.

The Power of writing discussion was inspiring. A very generous panel sharing advice and lessons learnt. I’d loved to have heard more from Lynn Barber. She mentioned how she keeps a diary and recommended that we all do. I had my hand up to ask her if she reads over old entries or dips in to her musings for plot lines. We’ll never know! We were a curious audience with lots of questions so I didn’t get to pose mine.

Lucy Porter’s was very funny as our closing key note speaker.

I didn’t delay at the drinks reception. Cold calling wasn’t really the modus operandi here. More a drinks with mates and I’d come alone.

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The gift bags were great. I especially liked my navy shawl and the oil from the Body Shop. I had my reading material for the journey home.- December’s edition of Red magazine and was grateful for the cover from the skimlinks umbrella as I left Kings Place.

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The magic of the day ends when I get home so eager to stretch out my day away, I took the tube to London Bridge to view the poppies. Despite the rain and late hour a steady procession of visitors filed across the road to the Tower to take in the poppy spectacle.  I was glad I’d taken the detour.

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Now back home I reflected on the day. It’s a chance to measure my progress against where I was a year ago. And more importantly a chance to make goals for the year ahead as I wonder what I’ll achieve between now and blogfest15.



The fullness of time

“I want to be the princess” It could have been the protest of an 8-year-old girl but it was the heartfelt lament from an octogenarian.

We were both attending a workshop on “Dreams and the map of the soul”. Our tutor was explaining Jung’s collective unconscious and the role of archetypes and how at different times in our lives we align ourselves to different ones. Maureen spoke about the unwelcome changes that go with old age. She said her spirit is still that of the foxy young woman, the seductress though this is not what her physical body projects as her mobility, skin and hair are effected. Our tutor suggested  she leave the princess behind and connect to the duchess within.

It got me thinking of the extremities of age and how it becomes a cycle for some. My own grandmother got to be the princess again but not on her terms. Ravaged by Alzheimer’s and a stroke she was bed-bound for many years. Roles reversed as her daughter had to feed, wash and dress her. Her bedroom was white and pink with powder puffs and cotton wool balls sat on the window sill. She wore crocheted booties and had soft blankets in pastel shades tucked around her lap. My mother dressed her in pretty bed jackets as she propped her up with pillows or lifted her on to her throne – an armchair from a suite downstairs.

And then I thought of Odette. A Portuguese lady who sat at our table at a wedding this summer. She was known well by the other guests in our grouping  – compatriots like Odette who had come to London from Madeira in the fifties. An attractive lady impeccably groomed, I could picture her as a stunning beauty back in that day. Listening to the other diners  talk about those times you could tell she was a little crazy too. She still is. She was definitely the “something blue” at the wedding. The jokes she told had the table howling. Innuendos and double entendres that left the men blushing.

Though she spoke good English she recited many of her stories in Portuguese. She’d gesture to a younger friend to translate for us. Sometimes all we’d get was a head shake and tut-tuting as the translator refused to collaborate.

When desert was served she fashioned the sweets on her plate in to a phallic sculpture and then relished tucking in.


 She justified her obsession by telling us that it had been 7 years since she had seen a penis. They laughed and told her she was depraved. I saw someone who felt deprived. I heard her regret and resignation. Her surrender. She said on that night she didn’t know it would be her last time. Later she called me aside and opening the clasp on her handbag she took out two crisp £10 notes “for your children”. When I protested she told me she was dying and she’d prefer the money to go on the living. Indignantly she said she had no intention of paying for her own funeral.

Last night I spoke on the phone with my aunt. She sends me magazine clippings on the latest diets or how to combat age spots (rub with the paste of dried orange peel). She attends the gym 3 times a week and takes a Pilate class on two of those visits. She’s 80.

When I asked after her health she said how could she complain with the graveyard in her village filling up with friends.

We are in to November now and it’s coming up to another birthday for me.