30 March 2012

Modern Life is Rubbish

Well, not all of it, obviously. I'm not advocating we go and set up camp in the woods. I like my flushing toilet too much for that... and Come Dine With Me. I'd hate to miss that.

What I can't stand is being contacted by or having to contact any call centre.

When they call you it's always a bad time. The poor sap on the other end of the line asks how you are. They don't care. I'd prefer it if they said 'I'm from British Whatever and I'm calling about increasing your monthly direct debit'. They don't do this. They first ask you to confirm who you are. 'BUT YOU RANG MEEEEE!' I cry, trying not to shout. Failing.

The worst calls are from energy suppliers asking why you left them. My answer is 'because you keep ringing me'. I try to be polite, I honestly do. But it's hard. The conversation usually ends with me calming down and kindly asking them to remove me from their list. This never works.

It's even worse when you try to contact these behemoth corporations. We moved house twice last year. That's two lots of moving house type phone calls. This process reduced me to tears. If you don't have your account number you may as well not bother calling, as I found to my annoyance.

Why can't my call be answered by a person, when that person is ready to answer? I'm paying for the call, I just want to talk to a person. I don't want to be told that they are currently experiencing a high volume of calls and I'm being held in a queue. That's not good customer service, that's just pants.

Automated answering service:
"Hello, you're through to British Whatever. Listen carefully to the following options..."

None of the 17 options are any good to me whatsoever.

Me, crying:

It's not all doom and gloom. I do have a sneaky top tip for getting through to a person. Crying and shouting at the machine does nothing. When you're given the list of options, pretend you're a new customer and you'll get through to a jolly person in no time. I did this once when I wanted to change my Sky package and saved myself 40 minutes.


26 March 2012

Recipe for Chocolate Cupcakes with a Salted Butter Fudge Frosting

My friend, Jen, reminded me today that I never used to bake. I've only really been a wannabe domestic goddess for a few months. Now I made cookies, cakes and soda bread on a regular basis. I have two willing assistants too. Presley and Cash love to measure all of the ingredients (and taste each one while my back is turned). They love mixing and rolling and cutting and shaping and - of course - licking the spoon.

I'd rather my children ate something home made instead of shop bought (if they're having a sweet treat). We're getting there.

Today I made these amazing chocolate cakes. I adapted the recipe from 200 Cupcakes by Joanna Farrow. The cake underneath is dark and quite simply chocolatey, and the frosting is rich and sweet with a hint of salt (from the butter). They are grown-up cupcakes that your children will enjoy too.

Chocolate Cupcakes with a Salted Butter Fudge Frosting

125g butter
150g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
100g self-raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Preheat over to 180c/Gas mark 4. 
  • Put 12 cases in a cake tin.
  • Use the all-in-one method and mix all the ingredients until the mixture turns pale and fluffy. I used my hand-held electric mixer.
  • Spoon into the cases and bake for 20 minutes.
100g milk chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp milk
50g butter
75g icing sugar
  • Gently heat the chocolate, milk and butter in a pan, stirring until the chocolate and butter has melted.
  • Remove from the heat and vigorously stir in the icing sugar.
  • Spread over the cakes while they and the frosting are both still warm.


21 March 2012

Sunset over the Thames

As always, nature has all the best colours.

This photograph was taken with my iPhone, but I'm really pleased with it.

This is my entry for Tara's Gallery. I'm looking forward to my Google Reader being full of colour today.


19 March 2012

My Small Stuff

One of my favourite bloggers, Is there a Plan B?, wrote a beautiful post this week called The Small Stuff.

Sometimes we spend far too much of our precious time preoccupied with the big stuff. Of course this is important, but what really matters is the small stuff.

Here is my small stuff. There is a lot of it. It makes me happy. This is the tip of the iceberg.

The first cup of tea of the day. Cuddles with my children. Sweet peas. Holding hands. Coloured glass.

Robert Downey Jr, Robert Pattinson and David Tennant. Fitting everything in the dishwasher. Blossom. Daffodils. My kitchen table.

Keeping on top of the laundry. Washing drying on the line. Getting into a freshly made bed. Tia Maria and Diet Coke. Diet Coke. Christmas. Sprouts. Jumper dresses.

Chit-chat before bed with my boys. The Smartest Giant in Town. The Snail and the Whale. Panda and Gander: Tutti Frutti. Numtums. Tree Fu Magic.

The smile on Presley's face when he counts to 100. Baking soda bread and eating it with butter. Decorating cakes. Licking the spoon. Being pleased with something I've written. Owls and dragonflies.

Only Connect, Desperate Housewives, Come Dine With Me, BBC4. Singing along to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Garden birds. Knowing I have tickets for the Olympics.

Amanda and John, Paul and Dez, Liz, Lisa, Valerie. Wuthering Heights. Jane Eyre. Sea otters. Dugongs. Giraffes. Duplo. Rowland Rivron. Squirrel nutcrackers.

Carrots with red-pepper hummous, Chocolate Philadelphia, jacket potato with cheese and salad. My Mum's Yorkshire pudding. Chorizo, pimento stuffed olives, Applewood cheese.

Tim Minchin, Sean Lock, Christopher Guest films. Peonies, forsythia, honeysuckle, lavender. Lemon flavour anything. Twirling ribbon between my fingers. Rosy cheeks. Down in the Jungle.

Cats. Sharpening pencils. Rebecca. Caitlin Moran. A clean house. Roses and castles art. Klimt. Rolf Harris. John Lewis. Salad bars. Paul Weller's hair. Rockeries. Swimming.

The smell of bonfire night. Cash pretending there are lions and tigers in the bedroom. Ron Sexsmith, The Flaming Lips, kd lang, Midlake. Making lists. Still quoting from The Youngs Ones and Blackadder after thirty years.

Father Ted. The Magic Flute. New socks. Orange. Laughing. Elizabeth Arden hand cream. Liz Earle cleanser. Notebooks. Singapore noodles. Salted caramels. MC Heapey.

The Smiths, Prefab Sprout, ABC, Heaven 17, Japan, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, Orange Juice, The Communards. People who collect jugs or teapots. People who smile a lot. BPP biros.

My iPhone. Comfortable shoes. BOGOF's, sales and bargains. How organised my Google Reader is these days. Blood Brothers. Double entry bookkeeping. Microsoft Excel.

Reading about children's names. Knowing what I would call my next four children (if I was having any more children). Minky Monkey and Big Teddy. Saying 'but it's not google' in my head every time I see bing.com.

Going to bed super early because I've got a great book to read. Staying up late with my husband, drinking, talking, laughing and queuing up songs on Spotify. Getting the guitar out. Getting through 'Sweet Child of Mine' or 'Don't Stop Me Now' at karaoke without laughing. Scarves.

The smell of rain on a hot day. Sunshine. Sydney. Central Otago. Barcelona. Manhattan. Looking at maps. Downward dogs. The Lemonheads. Tapas. Live music. The Ray Mears sketch on Shooting Stars.

What's your small stuff?


18 March 2012

Give up Clothes for Good

I wore these Carvela shoes on a hot date with my husband. It was in the early days of our relationship, before we were married.

During the day we had filled a skip with my late father's stuff. I looked towards the sky and said 'sorry, Dad' every time I lobbed something in. That evening we had booked into a nice hotel. We washed away the dust of the day and got ready to go out. I was wearing a black top and skirt, finished off with stockings and my pretty new £60 shoes. As I said, our relationship was still very new.

We strolled a short distance from the hotel to a lovely Thai restaurant. We had a fun, flirty evening. As we set off to walk back to the hotel my feet started to hurt. I suspect Andy thought I was making a fuss, but I insisted we got a taxi back to the hotel. Yes, it was embarrassing to take a taxi such a short distance, but my  toes were covered in blisters.

I can not begin to describe the relief when I took the sodding shoes off in the hotel reception. We then drank far too much red wine and gate-crashed a wedding reception. We managed to dance the night away, with me in my stocking feet.

The Carvela shoes were put back in their box and were never worn again.


In April I will be taking my hardly worn shoes to my local TK Maxx store to be bagged and tagged and sent to Cancer Research to sell in one of their shops to raise money for childhood cancers. The Give Up Clothes For Good campaign is being supported by the Tots100 with a blogging carnival.

If you would like to join in please consider yourself tagged. Simply write a post about a much-loved item of quality clothing that you are willing to give up for charity. Include the links above and maybe embed this YouTube video too. Then email your post to me: sandy [at] tots100.co.uk.


12 March 2012

Dad's Glasses

There, nestled in an old ice-cream tub, are my dad's reading glasses. They've been there for nearly six years. After he died I tidied them away, along with some familiar bits and pieces from his work bench.

We've moved house four times since then, but we've only just opened the box marked 'Dad's Workshop'. I'd been ignoring it, along with the boxes marked 'Sell - Ebay' and 'S clothes (too small)'. We've only been in our current (forever) home for eleven months, but the unpacking ground to a halt within a few weeks of moving in. Every now and then - when we need to make some space in the garage - we open a few boxes. After the thrill of unearthing our karaoke DVD's, we moved on to the difficult stuff.

I took out each unusual tool, spring, wheel or ancient box and held it in my hands for a few seconds. Trying to feel something. To remember. I could smell stale cigarette smoke, methylated spirits and watch oil. This combination has always been enough to make me nauseous. Still I touched each item, hoping to get a piece of my daddy back. When I held his glasses I felt overwhelming loss. 

I miss him.

I wiped away big splashy teardrops and carefully put dad's glasses back in the ice-cream tub, on top of his tools. One day I'll put everything into a proper display case, so my boys can see what their grandad did. I'll tell them that my daddy made the clock on our mantelpiece. Not now. Not yet. Now I've put dad's glasses back in a box in the garage. Buried them under the spare bits of carpet and empty boxes. I've tucked away my grief and will keep it for another day.


5 March 2012

New on CBeebies

We were invited to a screening of two new CBeebies programmes, Andy's Wild Adventures and Tree Fu Tom, as part of the channel's tenth birthday celebrations.

It was a massive thrill for my sons to meet CBeebies presenter, Andy Day, at the screening. He, along with Kay Benbow (controller of CBeebies), talked about a wonderful new programme, Andy's Wild Adventures.

Andy's Wild Adventures was made in conjunction with the BBC's Natural History Unit and stars Andy as a zookeeper. He and his furry sidekick, Kip, travel in the Kipmobile to visit animals in the wild. During filming Andy said he was covered in water, mud, ice and fungus - and more mud. The programme gives more than a passing nod to the late Johnny Morris and Animal Magic (my favourite programme when I was growing up in the 70's).

Presley and Cash LOVE Andy's Wild Adventures and have been watching it avidly since it was first broadcast a couple of weeks ago. They pretend to be Andy and Kip in the Kipmobile. It must have been surreal for Andy to watch my children pretending to be him, but we could tell he was genuinely pleased at how well-received the show has been.

This is the official introduction to Tree Fu Tom.

"Former Doctor Who stars David Tennant and Sophie Aldred voice the lead characters Tom (Aldred) and Twigs (Tennant) in the new multi-platform fantasy action adventure series, Tree Fu Tom coming to CBeebies in March.

Aimed at four to six year olds, Tree Fu Tom is set in an enchanted world where movement creates magic. Tom appears to be a normal eight-year-old boy but putting on his magic belt and performing a special sequence of magic action-movements (known as Tree Fu) transforms him into a tiny but mighty magical super-hero.

Using a Tree Fu spell, Tom is transported into a wondrous enchanted kingdom in a tree called Treetopolis, inhabited by sprites, bugs and naughty fungi – the ‘Mushas’. Here he meets his faithful sidekick Twigs, a silly and energetic Acorn Sprite.

Tom and Twigs are inseparable as they become embroiled in amazing, action-packed adventures, which always lead to trouble, impending disaster and catastrophe. When events run beyond their control it is only with help from the audience performing Tree Fu moves, that Tom can create spectacular Big World Magic and save the day!

All of the Tree Fu magic moves that children are encouraged to copy are developed from therapeutic techniques that are used to help children with movement disorders like Dyspraxia, but are designed to assist and enhance the development of all participating children at a crucial time in their growth."

I spoke to the producer of Tree Fu Tom, Dan, who told me that this new show has been five years in the making and was developed to help children to move. All of the children at the screening joined in with the magic movements and my boys are very excited to see more episodes.

Tree Fu Tom starts today at 5.25 on CBeebies.

Disclosure: The BBC provided coffee and pastries on the day, but nothing else! We paid our own travel. Just so you know. I write about CBeebies because I like it. It is gentle and well thought out. It keeps my boys occupied, entertained and educated while I cook the tea every afternoon.



2 March 2012

Review: Singin' in the Rain at the Palace Theatre, London

Warning: there may be an abundance of superlatives in this review and you can expect a few stars!

Singin' in the Rain is the story of the move in Hollywood from silent films to talking pictures. It follows movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont and is based on the wonderful 1952 musical film of the same name. I've lost count of the number of times I've watched this film, so I was keen to see the stage version. All the songs from the film are there, including 'Make 'Em Laugh', Good morning', 'You were made for me', 'You are my lucky star', 'Would You', 'Moses' and the legendary title song.

The cast are fantastic. Gene Kelly's shoes are hard to fill, but Adam Cooper (the adult Billy in the film Billy Elliot) does an brilliant job playing the all-singing, all-dancing leading man. I couldn't take my eyes of him. His movement is effortless, but I wondered whether he was holding something back in his performance. Perhaps he was pacing himself.

Scarlett Strallen plays the Debbie Reynold's role of Kathy Selden beautifully. She lights up the stage and is warm and engaging.

The funny best friend, Cosmo Brown, is played with panache by Daniel Crossley. It must be wonderful as an actor to hear a full house laughing heartily at your performance. He's a ball of energy.

One character I was looking forward to seeing is Lina Lamont. Katherine Kinglsey stands out as the selfish leading lady from noo yoik. Her piercing shriek of a voice is spot on, but she needs to be careful not to go over the top. All together now... 'I can't stand him'!

There were a couple of well-known faces on the stage. Both Michael Brandon and Sandra Dickinson were fabulous. All of the other actors were super. They looked like they were enjoying themselves and this helped me to enjoy the show too.

The scenes from the films in the show were excellent. They were projected onto screens on the set and fitted perfectly. Singin' in the Rain is a very funny musical. The whole show is entertaining. You get a lot for your money as the production lasts for two and a half hours.

The song and dance routines are amazing. The film translates well to the stage and the big Hollywood routines are very well done. The most exciting sections were at the end of the first half and the finale. I loved the staging of the the title number 'Singin' in the Rain'. The reprise at the end with the whole cast is spectacular too. Yes, there is rain on stage! The theatre smells like a swimming pool, but it's worth it. I'll give you fair warning though, if you're sat in the first few rows in the stalls you may get splashed!

Wow, just wow. Singin' in the Rain is superb from start to finish. We loved it. Five stars out of five.

I was given a couple of tickets to review the new production of Singin' in the Rain at the Palace Theatre, London, by Superbreak. If you want to visit London, this production is listed in the London Guide

 Image credit

1 March 2012


Did you breathe a little more deeply today, knowing that it was March and spring was in the air?

I love this time of year, when the flowers burst open. This daffodil is hiding a little moth.

How lovely to be able to spend time in the garden.

With apologies for the poor quality of these photographs, but these were taken on a long zoom from my kitchen window.

Can you see a little blue and yellow head peeping out from the nesting box?

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