Monday, November 30, 2015

I don't have to explain myself to you

I don't have to explain myself to you but I have a blog so I can.

I'm with you on the over commercialisation of Christmas. What was a 2 day peaceful retreat with your close family and a single gift has become a festival of weeks, with sales and black Fridays and cyber Mondays and pressure to all have fun and lots of it, usually at vast expense.

The pressure to have food and to buy quite literally so much that you will be binning  80% of it the day after boxing day (especially if you are the sort of person who slavishly abides by sell by dates)

The pressure to not only buy more than you can afford, not only to fill your house with relatives, friends and enforced jollity, but the pressure to do it all NOW...

if not sooner.

I have put up my Christmas tree. I did it on Sunday, Sunday 29th November (coincidentally the first Sunday in advent. I don't have to explain myself to you, but I will. Since DD was born, in the first week of December we have always put up the tree before her birthday, it seemed fun to have the extra decoration for her celebration and once she was old enough to appreciate it she loved it too.

DD enjoys decorating the tree and now, finally just as she turns 16 she can reach to the top to add the star (for many years only the bottom 2 feet was decorated by her!)

This year was no exception, she will celebrate soon as a busy family the weekends are our 'together' time. This weekend we spent that time putting up the tree for her celebration.

Is it too early? For you it may be, so don't put up your tree. For us it is just the right time, and our tree looks lovely. And no, we don't take it down early, it will be there until 12th night and we will mourn its passing. I can't help thinking soon I might be that mad woman that keeps the decorations up all year round, these dark dreary days need some extra sparkle.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Branded Power Pack Review

A fabulous thing to review and tell you about today!

I was asked to take a look at some branded battery power packs. What is that? I hear you ask, (you at the back - I definitely heard you) well they are extra power packs for your phone or tablet, a small portable extra bit of a boost for when your phone or other device starts to fail (in my case usually around about 4pm) Anyone who knows me knows I am a keen tweeter. OK obsessive tweeter. And that I love festivals and camping. So I am an expert in being away from a plug socket with a failing phone and fear of ...*horror* missing pictures what someone had for lunch!

When I go to blogging events I see all the big name bloggers, and the cool kids have business cards, I don't and I felt sad, I also secretly wondered if they would be useful, after all people might use them, but once they are given out, then what? stuffed in a pocket? lost in a handbag? recycled? So I decided to get some pencils printed with my blog name, pencils! Pretty old school but a useful thing, someone might hang on to a pencil. personalised pencils

But pencils pale into insignificance in this modern age of wonders where you can brand a power pack! Yes gentle reader, just imagine, you can have a power pack branded with your own face (some how I imagine FudgeCrumpet would like that) or your blog logo, which is what I went for for the purposes of the review.

I was offered the power packs to review from USB Makers . Based in Hertfordshire, USB Makers UK is the UK's leading suppliers of custom branded memory sticks printed with a company logo and pre-loaded with data. USB Makers is part of the Disc Maker Ltd group. And now they have power packs too!

They have a great range of power packs from wooden engraved versions (!) to simpler white plastic ones. I opted for the Venice style (which would retail at £11.40 each for 10 or £7.40 each for 25) and they are rather excellent. They look clean and swish, they are small enough to fit into a handbag or pocket, and have a suitably short charging cable which can't get tangled! The print quality is excellent, my logo appeared crisp and the text easy to read. I found that a fully charged power pack gave my Samsung S4 about 30% extra charge. A good amount, and enough of a boost to keep me tweeting all day.

They would certainly be used and therefore kept, and there is enough space to include plenty of details. They would make great gifts for people that you work with regularly, big clients or even people you hope to work with in the future. A perfect gift for a brand but also for a blogger (or YouTuber etc) to give out at Christmas, they would also make fun wedding favours, or as a 'save the date' or even teen party bag gifts. In fact you could go berserk and have some printed up with a family photo as a Christmas gift for relatives, they are light and easy to post.

USBMakers Personalised Power Pack

Depending how flash you are you could carry a couple of spares to hand to people that have suddenly lost charge on a phone! Imagine how awesome you'd look just casually handing over a branded power pack and saying "Here, have a charge on me, no keep it, it's fine"

USBMakers Personalised Power Pack
USBMakers Personalised Power Pack

And the best bit? The delivery time from ordering is incredibly fast! So if you have an event coming up it's probably not to late to order now (unless it's tonight). Many of the power packs can be personalised for you and in your hands within 24 hours!  If you are self employed they will be tax deductible too!

Disclosure I was sent five power packs for the purposes of the review, obviously as I have a teen daughter, I now only have 4. I'm giving one away via the rafflecopter thingy below. (UK only for entries as I have to pay postage - thanks)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 27, 2015

I've never seen Star Wars

I have of course, seen Star Wars, many times in fact, but I thought I'd borrow the title of the radio show to tell you a few things it might surprise you that I've never done. Maybe you will convince me I should have tried them, maybe you will tell me I've had a lucky escape.

I've never been to Ikea. I'm well aware that Ikea exists and I have once or twice bought things online, but I've never been to a store. I've never really seen the point if I'm honest. I've read they are mazes. They will be full of furniture, which I really don't need, and they have a cafe, but so does Waitrose. My nearest Ikea is 50 miles away and it seems like a bit of a pilgrimage. Not to mention the whole driving almost into London thing. So, I've never set foot in an Ikea store.

I've never watched Titanic the movie. I know all about it, I can quote bits, but I've never watched it. It didn't appeal when it was released and doesn't now. Sentimental sap wrapped around a disaster. No thanks. I'll take to Poseidon Adventure anyway. 

I've never stood on Lego. I am sure it's painful, I joke about it along with everyone else, and I have stood on an upturned electric plug. Having Charcot-Marie-Tooth means my nerves don't work so the pain is very delayed, I'm not sure if my experience of pain differs to the 'norm' too so maybe I can never really know what it would be like to step on Lego. The reason I have never stepped on Lego is that DD never had any when she was very little and by the time she did get some at about age 9 she was tidy enough to always clear up. So Lego. I've never known the pain.

I have never gone out for breakfast. Do check this post for further information!

If, as on the show, I had to do any of these things, would I? Hmmm tricky, I might be tempted to go out for breakfast I suppose, but Ikea? Lego? Titanic?  No, I think I'll give them a miss thanks!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Letter to my younger self - would I write one?

People write open letters to their younger selves and share them online. Have I done one yet? I don't think so, and the main reason is that I hate spoilers. I'm not sure my 16 year old self (or my 8 year old or my 12 year old or even my 30 year old) needs to know any of the things that will happen to her.
old photo lido
Look how cute young me is - she should stay spoiler-free I think
DD suggested that I tell her "don't worry about being bullied about walking funny or being terrible at sport as it turns out that at 36 you'll be diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, so you are disabled not useless" but I think finding that out at 36 was a blessing really, if I'd known that at 16 would my choices in life have changed? Maybe I wouldn't have been so brave to explore the pyramids in Egypt in my 20s, and maybe my choices in having a child (the simply gorgeous DD) would have been different knowing I carried a hereditary mutant gene that affects the nerves and thus balance and strength throughout the body.

camel riding egypt
Camel Riding at Giza

I think I might tell 8 year old me not to panic for years about nuclear war, that the 'how to survive a nuclear winter' warnings never became needed (not yet at least) and that working out if you could get home to your parents in 4 minutes was just an unnecessary worry that spoiled times that should be fun, I think I would tell 8 year old me that the government were scaremongering idiots and to just enjoy the long hot summer holidays, because one day you have to go out to work and that's no fun.
old photograph
Innocence of youth

I wouldn't tell 13 year old me that I would not marry a young teen heart throb (no, not even one of the Bay City Rollers)  but would in fact settle down to live happily for  30 years plus with a man 20 years my senior, I'm fairly sure 13 year old me would be horrified, and probably worried too. 13 year old me also wanted 6 children and I'm not sure telling her that it turns out having one perfect child is just what she needed and will love, would cheer her either.

I wondered if I should tell 19 year old me to get the tattoo! You wanted it and yet you acted so sensible, worrying it would be something you'd wish you had never had. You mentally argued for weeks before deciding to 'wait' and wait you did - until you were 40! But if I'd had my first tattoo in my teens I wouldn't have stopped, I would have lots of tattoos now and less canvas left to work with, and more importantly I wouldn't have been able to take 5 year old DD with me to see me get my 'sewn on' tattoo (as opposed to a temporary 'stick on' tattoo, a type I wore frequently before I had the permanent one. And that memory of mother and daughter, ink and blood, giggles and muffled swears is a memory I treasure.

A similar great memory is the first festival I ever went to - again with DD (and a friend and her daughter) not the drug and booze filled weekend of youth, but a hilarious time to be silly and let our hair down in a field, to discover the horror of festival toilets in the company of a 7 year old is the best fun! no, I don't think younger me needs to be prompted to go to festivals earlier than that.

tiger face paint
DD at a festival
 There's no point in upsetting young me with tales of who dies and when, I don't think anyone I've loved has died with things I would like to say to them left unsaid. Maybe I could tell young me not to worry about my parents, that they hang around being just as odd as usual until DD is at least 16, but then I'd have to mention the lack of 6 children, so maybe not.
family group
My mum and me
I certainly wouldn't warn young me of any internet perils! DD has been bridesmaid for a woman I met online, and we have viisted another friend, Mimi in California, twice since I started chatting to her years ago on an internet forum. I have so many online frineds, I think young me will enjoy discovering the fun of meeting new people that way, she always was a little shy.
bride and bridesmaid
DD taking her bridemaid role seriously

Is it a case of  je ne regrette rien? I think I'm lucky. I am 50. I have had an interesting life, a fun one. I have a house, family, I've travelled, owned dogs, had tattoos, and a child. I hope the next 50 years are as enjoyable.
Meeting Larry the wolf boy in the Californian Freak Show while visiting Mimi

So, Dear Young Me, enjoy yourself, you have so much excitement ahead. (oh but ask someone to buy you shares in Apple for your 15th birthday - trust me on that one)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wordy Wednesday with Rachel Ward

Good morning gentle reader, I hope you have forgiven me for the lack of a Wordy Wednesday post last week, caused purely by my bad planning. Luckily this week is a lovely treat so it should make up for it. I would like to introduce the lovely Rachel Ward.
Rachel Ward’s first book, Numbers, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, has sold to 26 countries and been optioned for film. She has had five novels published by Chicken House in the UK, and is currently writing a science fiction thriller for young adults and a detective novel for adults.
Such an illustrious history already, and yet despite that she agreed to answer my (often silly) questions:

Why did you start writing?  Just to see if I could. I used to listen to the Afternoon Play on Radio 4 every afternoon in the car when I collected my kids from school, and I wondered if I could write one. I did, but it was rubbish. Still, it got me started. I wrote some short stories and then two books for younger readers before striking lucky with my book for teens, Numbers, which was published in 2009.

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing? Redbush tea first thing, decaf or half-caf coffee in the morning, Diet Coke in the afternoon. I drink my Coke in a wine glass (ooh, classy) so I’m sure my neighbours think I’m an alcoholic although I am, in fact, teetotal. (4th thing – silence.)

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes? I try to write every day that I am at home, at least 1000 words a day, although I don’t beat myself up if I don’t achieve that. I write mostly in the morning, 9ish to 12ish, but if I haven’t written enough or I’m mad keen to continue I’ll have another writing session at the end of the afternoon.

Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?
Yes. I had a part-time job with my local Council to start with, but became a full-time writer nearly 4 years ago. I’m able to do this because my books sell widely abroad – foreign sales are a huge boon to a writer and I am very lucky that my UK publisher, Chicken House, are brilliant at selling foreign rights.

What are your favourite biscuits? Dark chocolate ginger biscuits, although I am also partial to a garibaldi. Both excellent choices!

Tea or Coffee? Yes please.

Where do you do most of your writing? At my desk in the sitting room. It’s by the front window so I don’t feel too cut off from the world.

What book are you reading at the moment? I’m reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, with a view to then reading Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid. I found both in a hospital shop and they seemed to be saying, ‘Read me.’

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore? I use Facebook and Twitter an awful lot. I used to love chatting with my friends in the office, so FB and Twitter are a substitute for that. I don’t believe they have helped sales very much (but who knows?), but I enjoy them.

If you could genetically cross an animal with a fruit or vegetable what would you choose and why? I'm currently keen on a Broad Bean Beetle, I'm not sure why...squishy though..  I’m going with a Pumpkin Cat which would look very Bagpuss-like.

If money was no object what would you buy your favourite person for Christmas? If money, morality and ethics were no object I would buy my husband a new heart. He’s currently living in hospital waiting for a transplant. You can’t buy good health, though, and we are utterly dependent on the NHS and on people thinking about organ donation and talking about it with their families. If they haven’t already, perhaps your lovely readers might consider registering on the organ donor register. I’m asking selfishly, of course, but there are thousands of people waiting for kidneys, lungs, livers, etc. and those who make the decision to donate are absolute heroes. 

I'm sure I speak for all my readers when I wish you and your husband the very best, and while not wanting to wish ill on anyone one else, I hope that he is matched to a heart soon. 

Numbers "Since her mother's death, fifteen-year-old Jem has kept a secret. When her eyes meet someone else's, a number pops into her head - the date on which they will die. Knowing that nothing lasts forever, Jem avoids relationships, but when she meets a boy called Spider, and they plan a day out together, her life takes a new twist and turn. Waiting for the London Eye, she sees everyone in the queue has the same number - something terrible is going to happen."

Feel free to grab this badge code for your blog and share the Wordy Wednesday love.
Tattooed Mummy's Wordy Wednesday

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Lunch sex chat with the teen

This lunchtime we (DH and I ) decided to tell DD (aka 'the teen') that we had decided that after she starts sixth form college, for various reasons, we plan to give her the child benefit payments direct.

For those that wonder, that equates to about £20 a week and the reasons include ; having to buy her own clothes (as no school uniform), travel expenses, some extra freedom, learning to budget, experiencing the world of pay packets whilst not having to necessarily get a job (surely A levels are a full time job already?)

And that led onto my DH saying " so you won't have to sell your body" and while he meant it in jest it led nicely into a sex talk with the teen.

She told us that some girls had sex a lot, with all the boys, for no real reason. I calmly told her that her body was her body and I in no way wanted to police it, but in my experience she should be careful, that antibiotics were no longer the instant cure they once were and that boys and girls that had sex with anyone, without protection, were at risk. She agreed and said that most young people she knew didn't bother with protection. And that 'friends with benefits' was a common theme.

I feel scared for a generation that is so secure in medicine that infections and pregnancy are now seen as minor inconvenience and easily fixable, especially as this week is HIV testing week.

I told DD quite frankly that if all girls wanted was a satisfactory orgasm then a rampant rabbit was really all they needed. DH choked on his roast pork and stayed silent.

DD left the table, and DH and I continued to talk. I said that I had no regrets to waiting until I was 19 to have sex, that having a six month relationship before that happened was a good thing, that laughter and safety in a relationship were far far more important than 'just sex' great or not.

Copyright: elleemme / 123RF Stock Photo
So my list of things that are important in a relationship follow:

  • Sex is great fun but it's way more fun with someone you are comfortable with, friends with.
  • If a guy ejaculates before he's ready and you are friends you can laugh and hug and it's all ok. Friendship sex helps boys too.
  • If you don't like something your partner is doing and you are friends you can tell them and they will listen and do what you like because they like you as well as fancy you.
  • If you have no clue what you are doing you can talk about it it if you are friends and that's OK.
  • Friends can have the best sex. Because they can talk, ask and refuse without fear.
I'm not dismissing sex for the fun of sex, but for teens  moving into the world of sex I think it's good to be able to feel safe, to be able to talk.

I'm not sure if I'm an embarrassing mum or a cool mum. To me I'm just a mum. But I remember being a teen with the loves and lusts and fears of a teen, I want DD to feel happy, and special and safe.

Yesterday I asked DD if she needed the 'sex talk' ....I misheard her answer and thought she said "I've already done it" I replied "Oh, bit late then, still, if there's anything you need to know - ask" she burst out laughing and said "This is why my friends think you are so cool, you don't fly off the handle with WHAT!! you just talk to me"

Talk to your teens. Love them. Be a parent. Be a friend too.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Science toys for cool kids

When I was at Blog On Winchester blogging event last month I discovered the company Trends UK. They are the UKs number one science toy supplier.

As a toy company that seems to have some pretty cool toys! We met and slightly fell in love with the Roboraptor, which as his name suggests is a robot dinosaur of the raptor variety. He has various personality settings and could change from hunting mode to your best friend!
We also loved the funky haired Elektrokidz who shake their mop tops to any music they hear. A great addition to a teen bedroom or the top of a sound system, I imagine a tiny disco of various colours all wiggling about to the latest One Direction song or rocking out to some drum and base.

But while I loved the robot toys it was the science stuff on the website that really grabbed my attention. Great gifts like telescopes, metal detectors and microscopes. I'm a bit of a science geek and I know I would have loved to have had the tools to explore the world around me when I was younger, I think I made do with a magnifying glass.

Trends bring together some excellent brands, and have a chemistry section too. I still fancy having my own chemistry lab!

But I think for retro goodness alone, and huge 'dad appeal' the Haynes section of the website might be the winner. Airfix Spitfires, model engines, just brilliant! Find out how an engine works and build one, perfect for a tinker of a winter's afternoon in the shed.

Trends also have lots of great spy gadgets. So for the budding MI5 employee or the sneaky preteen there is plenty to choose from, night stealth goggles, door alarms and listening devices.

It's a great site with new toys arriving daily so it's well worth bookmarking and checking regularly. They even have science-y time-y wime-y Dr Who cybernetics labs!

Disclosure - Trends UK gave me the weird dancing music loving Elektrokid as a gift :-) But I wrote this post.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

When I worked in a cafe, a memory

Just a memory.

When I was in my early 20s I had a job as a waitress and server at a café on the beach. These days maybe I’d have the grand tile of Barista, as I did use the coffee machine and could make frothy milk and hot chocolates with the best of them, but then I was a waitress.

In the early days I was constantly burned, from the tiny splashes of scalding water from the steam machine, and from the drips from the boiling water. My hands, initially covered in small blisters gradually hardened so that after a month I could splosh hot tea across them and barely wince, leaving no scars. I became tough.

In the first week on the job my boss explained we didn’t have a ‘lunch hour’ but rather a ‘break’, during which time we could eat a meal (free) from the menu, but it transpired the choices were actually very limited and to a maximum price of about £4. In reality it meant I had sausage, beans and chips most days, one sausage only, and I was always hungry. Lunch lasted 20 minutes, any longer and he’d want to know why it was taking you so long.

Hours were 8am until closing, which could be anywhere up until 7pm. Pay was good though, well above the minimum wage.

I enjoyed meeting the regular customers, took pride in remembering their orders and favourites. I learned to rotate the cakes so that if you had a cake early in the day it would be one of yesterday’s. I learned to clean cabinets, counters and coffee machines, to flush the pipes well so no one was poisoned. I learned to find work to do in quiet times so that I wasn’t shouted at. I polished shining tables and refilled salt and vinegar dispensers. I swept the steps.

I filled the ‘Mr Whippy’ style ice cream machine with the industrial ‘gloop’ that when frozen became ice cream. I learned to fill a cone so that the ice cream stood tall and held a flake. I swirled the ice creams I made for the excited children with a flourish, added sauce and sprinkles and watched as they left to run to the beach, arms dripping with vanilla streaks.

I stood all day, I waited tables and learned to carry three fully laden plates along my arm. I learned how to pile dirty plates so that a tray could carry the detritus of 10 patrons. Tea pots, jugs, cups, plates, all scooped and stacked and taken back to the bustling kitchen to the dishwasher.

In the middle of the summer I sunburned my chest very badly. Wearing a low cut top while waiting tables outside on the hottest week of the year, no sun cream (I was young, no one wore sun cream) was not the brightest plan and I had blisters on my skins for a while.

At the end of the summer, tougher, and tired, I left. The tips were not split and I never saw any of the ones I earned. Am I bitter? No not really, it was life, a summers job where I earned good money and was expected to work hard for it. I learned a lot. And I paid the rent.

The café is still there. Sometimes I pop in for a coffee. I’m always nice to the staff.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

An Archers post - look away now if you don't listen to The Archers

Rob. We all hate him, I've blogged before about his bullying, controlling, and often blatant abusive behaviour.

He continues to cheat and lie and bully not just in his personal life with Helen, where he tells her what to wear, what to eat, when to rest, when to use her phone, when to read, when to work, when to have sex, when to not interfere with his life, whether she can star in the Ambridge panto (spoiler - no Helen, think of Henry!), and on and on; but also in his dealings with others, where he lies about being out at a cricket match so he can appear the hero of the hour, where he lies about his job so that his polish workers get the blame for his mistakes, where he lies about ditches and sluices during the great Ambridge flood, where he hurts hunt saboteurs yet ensures he is seen as the victim (and most of us feel he somehow switched semen samples to escape his now unwanted child with his previous wife) fact I wouldn't put it past him to have killed Scruff.

Picture from the simply brilliant twitter feed of @ThePlarchers

And yet

And yet I fear that my initial hope that he would be unmasked as the villain he is at Christmas time (when surely he would finally snap when Helen dared question his choice of bread sauce over cranberry, causing her to have a terrible 'fall' or accidental bump into a kitchen cupboard door) is not going to happen. I suspect that the arrival of his parents, whom he has made clear he is not keen to see, may reveal another darker tale. Maybe we will discover that Rob was a bullied child, made to feel small and useless by a bullying father while a weak mother allowed it to continue and now he lives with the ring of his fathers words in his mind

"Useless boy, never make a cricketer, can't even hit a ball, pathetic"

"Scared of a dog, idiot boy, I might as well have a girl"

"School reports no surprise, fool. Doesn't study enough, no friends, hopeless"

"Will never amount to anything"

"Wet the bed til you were 11, pansy"

"Can't even manage to clear a ditch properly, waste of space"

"Pregnant? Ha! I'd be amazed if it was yours you simpleton, no lead in your weak pencil"

and suddenly the worst thing will happen, we will feel sorry for him! Sorry for Rob!! Helen will see what his parents are like and will faun all over him worse than ever, he will then either a) continue as before with Helen making allowances for his appalling treatment of her or b) (and this would be worse still) he will go for counselling and be cured and become lovely and live in Ambridge with Helen happily every after.

It's a horror story. You read it here first...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Gift Guide for men! (and ladies that like things men for everyone really)

It was brought to my attention that a previous gift guide for handmade items was a little heavy on girly things. Jewelly and flowery fripperies and the like. So I promised a less girly list, for the less girly (such as me) and for the truly blokey.

So here are some gifts ideas.

How about the stunning and unusual Jord Wooden watch? I can vouch for their beauty (and their ability  to keep time - important in a watch!) and I often get comments on the interesting concept of a wooden time piece. Available in a variety of woods and styles, with the straps sized for your arm prior to shipping. I blogged about them here.

And one of my favourite websites, Flamingo gifts. I personally adore the quirky items they stock and think that these would make perfect gifts for men anyone.

Movie Night Beer Glass

Ninja Mug
Squirrel Keyring and key holder
I'll be honest - I'm in love with the squirrel! Absolute genius and functional too.

Or how about something from Not On The High Street, a company I've used before that always surprises me with ingenious and unusual things. I rather like these for example...

Marshmallow Toasting Kit
Smartphone projector and speaker set
But don't ignore some other sites that look like they are designed for kids, I'm thinking especially of Wicked Uncle who have some wicked gifts for the young at heart, things like...

Zombie Playing cards (with survival tips)
Hulk Smash Nightlight (what's not to love)
And the Great Gift Company has some great things too, from small stocking fillers to big main gifts like ...

Portable Turntable for your retro vinyl
or the rather fun

Twister Picnic Blanket
and if all else fails and you resort to socks, don't make them boring socks! Check out the Sock Shop for such gems as super hero socks (complete with capes!) or even X-ray socks.

Sockshop for wild (and ordinary if you insist) socks