Saturday, 31 July 2010

Inside Out Bounty Cake

One of my favourite flavours is coconut and you may have seen on this blog a few weeks back, that I blogged a favourite recipe of mine for coconut cake. Around the same time, I also blogged the recipe for my friend Helen's chocolate cake which I have discovered is both easy and impressive.

I was thinking about cakes - as you do - and I remembered that a favourite dessert I once had on a holiday was coconut ice-cream with a warmish chocolate sauce. And then I thought of Bounty bars - coconut in the middle, chocolate on the outside. It got me thinking - maybe I could make a chocolate coconut cake. So, I set off on a Google search, the results of which were disappointing. Half the recipes stipulated cake mix as an ingredient and I have to be honest, I really don't see the point when I have the basic ingredients to hand.

I therefore set about devising my own cake using both of the above recipes. What I decided on was to have the chocolate cake in the middle, with the addition of some coconut to give it a bit of flavour, and coconut frosting on the outside, kind of like a Bounty inside out, so that's why I've called it Inside Out Bounty Cake! I've never devised my own recipe like this before, so it was fairly ground-breaking for me. I am good at following recipes, not creating them out of nothing.

I set off on this journey on Wednesday after the children went to bed. Unfortunately, after I'd baked the cake, I discovered I had no icing sugar so had to make the icing the next day as I was home alone with the kids and couldn't go to the supermarket. I was a bit dubious at first because I ended up with extra icing with my first piece and it seemed a bit sickly but it has been universally wolfed down and praised by those who have tried it. You only need a small slice so in theory, it lasts ages - unless you have kids who love coconut. Mine do!

Inside Out Bounty Cake

For the cake:
275g/10oz caster sugar
175g/6oz soft tub margarine
3 eggs
175g/6oz natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 tbsp coconut cream (try to use the thick part if it's separated a bit)
200g/7oz self raising flour
50g/2oz cocoa powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g/2oz desiccated coconut

For the icing:
100g/4oz butter, at room temp or slightly softened
300g/10oz icing sugar
4tbsp coconut cream or to taste (NOT creamed coconut - I buy the cream from Waitrose or Booths)

1. Pre-heat oven to 180oC/350oF/gas 4. Grease a 32cm (9in) spring form cake tin. Line the base with non-stick baking paper. Dust the inside of the tin with a little flour, then tap out the excess. (An 8in tin will also work although you may need to adjust cooking time.)
    2. Beat the caster sugar and margarine in a mixing bowl until smooth (I use an electric mixer). Beat in eggs, vanilla essence, yoghurt and coconut cream. Sift in flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda, tip in the desiccated coconut.  Stir until fully combined. Spoon mixture into prepared tin and level the surface.

    3. Bake cake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Put the tin onto a wire rack, and cool for 5 minutes. Turn the cake out onto rack to cool completely.

    4. Make the icing once the cake is completely cool. Mix the butter and icing sugar together and stir in the coconut cream. Beat until smooth. You may need to add a little more icing sugar or coconut cream to get a nice spreading consistency. Swirl over the top and sides of the cooled cake.

    As you can see, I made the icing a teensy bit runny but it did make it soft and nice to eat. There is only one piece of the cake left now but then I took a big chunk of it round to my friend's today. There were 7 children and 3 mummies - most of the kids had at least one piece, if not more!

    What do you think to my experiment then? Leave me a comment if you try the recipe. Happy baking!

    (This is an entry to English Mum's Big July Bake Off, for which the prize is a Green & Black's hamper. Entry details are on the post but entries close today - that's 31st July - so if you want to enter, get baking and snapping pretty quick!)

    Friday, 30 July 2010

    You know you're a Mum when....

    I've picked up this great meme from Christine at Thinly Spread. She decided to write about the things that mark her out as a mother of children. I thought I'd add mine. (Assuming I can find 10 new ones of course!)

    1. You're not grossed out by anything anymore. By the time you become a mother, your dignity has gone anyway, considering the number of people that have surveyed your private parts during pregnancy and birth. And then, unless you are very lucky, within days, you will have been peed, puked and pooed on, sometimes all three at the same time. Actually, newborn nappies are a doddle compared to the ones you get after weaning..... anyhow, you've seen it and done it all by then. Nothing is too gross, nothing can faze you.

    2. You find yourself singing a tune, which at first you don't recognise, and then realise that it's the theme tune from a children's TV programme. And it will not go from your head, however hard you try.

    3. You notice ambulances/police cars/fire engines/diggers/tractors whilst out driving, point them out excitedly and then realise you are alone in your car. Good job no-one else is there to see your embarrassment.

    4. Your fridge looks like this. Party invites, reminders, school dinner menus, certificates, notes from school and nursery, reminders for all sorts of things placed somewhere where you can grab hold of them quickly. Oh, and your little darlings' artwork. Before children arrived in this house, it would have been a surprise if more than 4 things were stuck on it. (Some of those fridge magnets weren't my choice either!)

    5. Tidying your house is akin to painting the Forth Bridge. As soon as you finish at one end, it's time to start again at the other and it's never all tidy and clean at the same time.  Ditto laundry. Ditto ironing, if I did any.

    6. You have random conversations on topics you never thought possible. Recently, I got asked if the baby Jesus only had one hand (too long to explain that one) which was interesting for July. When I explained to the children that my Mum's cat had passed away, they thought she'd gone to Devon, which is where their aunt (my sister) lives, so confusion abounded for about 10 minutes at the end of which, I was crying with laughter.

    7. You have finely honed negotiation skills on a par with the United Nations. Seriously, a group of mothers could deliver world peace. You take no nonsense from your children after the 147th fight over who is going to sit on "your side" of the car. There is no storming off, sulking, ceding to unreasonable demands or walking unwittingly into flashpoints. World statesmen would not stand a chance. You are a formidable, and irresistible, force.

    8. You see a spot/red mark on your child that wasn't there a few hours ago. Immediately, your brain races off on a kind of instant and internal Google search. First, you search "meningitis symptoms" and grab a glass to press on it. It blanches and you exhale, not having realised you've been holding your breath since noticing aforementioned mark. Next, it's "chickenpox" (even if your child has already had it) and your inbuilt family diary flicks back over the last few days to see if you think your child has been near anyone who is or who could be pregnant. You check for other, similar spots. You take their temperature. You dispense Calpol, just in case, even if won't cure spots. You cross your fingers that they will be OK tomorrow and they don't miss school/nursery/their best friend's party they have been looking forward to for yonks.

    9. You well up, or cry at everything. News stories are never the same once you are a mother. You hear of a death or deaths and you can't help thinking "that was someone's son or daughter". You know that someone somewhere is grieving the loss of a child, however old that child was, and you can only imagine the pain that they must be feeling. And that sets you off. On a lighter note, so does the end of most children's films.

    10. Your heart melts when your nearly 4 year old daughter stops what she is doing at music group, comes up to you, wraps her arms around you and says "Mummy, are you very proud of me?" Right at that moment, whatever else she's done that day, she's forgiven and you love her without question. Which you always do anyway; it's just that sometimes, other stuff gets in the way. Your kids can pull up really fast with a few words or a single action, and you are reminded that you ARE a mother, and that you are their world to them. Deep stuff.

    get-attachment-aspx.jpg (409×342)
    So, there you go, there are my 10. Do you like them? I'm not going to tag anyone in particular to pass on this great meme, but feel free to tag yourself and have a go. Place a link in the comments if you want my other readers to find it, and whilst you are at it, why not visit Christine's fantastic original post and leave a comment with your link there too? Get yourself a badge too (see below). Dads, please note - there is a badge for you too on Thinly Spread, so don't consider yourself excluded.

    Monday, 26 July 2010

    Nature - on my doorstep

    I am not and probably never will be one of the world's best photographers. Still, I console myself that I am better than my mother, who used to regularly chop off important parts of a photograph, get fingers in front of lenses or shake the camera at the crucial moment. At least digital cameras mean you don't waste film these days and you get instant feedback on how your picture looks. But generally, I shoot what I see and I'm rarely inspired to go find something to photograph. Spontaneity is definitely my style. I don't plan good photographs, they just happen. I'll never make my fortune from photography.

    When I first read Tara's prompt for this week's Gallery post, I must admit I was stumped. My heart sank because I have skipped the last two due to a lack of inspiration and time as my extensive (ha!) collection didn't run to anything that I could fit into the prompt and I couldn't think of anything to do; nothing hit me in the face. I really wanted to join in this week's prompt, not least because there is a prize for the best entry of a Green and Black's hamper. Incentive enough, I love a good competition! But still, on looking at the prompt, I had no idea what I was going to do.

    And then, that same evening, I was at our neighbours' house across the road. It was their son's 6th birthday party, which had continued into the evening as a barbeque for family and friends. As the sun started to go down, the children were out on the front lawn, playing football and I was watching them idly. I turned my head and looked up. There, on that front lawn, I was greeted with a view that fitted the prompt perfectly. I grabbed my phone and quickly took two pictures. The other people there probably thought I was some kind of lunatic, but here is the best one:
    Shame I can't make this any bigger - my blog layout won't let me!

    Blue skies are always more interesting with a bit of cloud, don't you think? Skies in Lancashire are rarely this gorgeous but there it was. Luminous feathery white clouds brushing with the lightest of touches across a sky that graduates from its daytime shade through to darker shades of cobalt and ultramarine as the sun disappeared over the horizon. Really, this could be anywhere, were it not for the tiny corner of my next door neighbour's roof that I managed to get in shot, and it took my breath away. Here, in front of me, was Nature in all its glory, reminding me that wherever we live, it really is all around us and we don't always have to look that far or that hard to discover it.

    I wonder how many others at the party noticed the sky last Friday evening. Judging by the amount of alcohol that was being consumed, probably very few, but I saw it and there was my photo for the Gallery. Like I said, spontaneous is my style. I hope you like my interpretation of Nature. It's there on our doorsteps, yours and mine. We just have to look harder and notice it more, or it passes us by.

    This is my entry for week 21 of the Gallery on Tara's blog, Sticky Fingers. If you have chance, please visit the page and look at some of the other entries. Hopefully, you'll discover some great new blogs along the way. Give it a go; you are bound to see some great pictures.

    Friday, 23 July 2010

    Dear So and So - tailgaters, teachers and Asda (again) - amongst other things

    Dear So and So...

    Dear 4x4 driver,

    Tailgating on a motorway is not big and it's not clever. Rather, it scares and enrages me, particularly if my children are sat in the back. Haven't you ever heard of leaving a safe distance between you and the car in front? Driving a bigger car than the rest of the population doesn't make you better than the rest of us. You just bought a vehicle with features that you hardly ever use as you spend all your time on roads rather than off-road.

    Get off my back, Kate

    Dear Asda,

    Still no news on the coffee shop at my local branch. We used to have one, you know. You put the kiosk, computer games and DVDs there instead and promised us a new one at some point. I don't really want one of those. I occasionally want a coffee instead. You have an empty unit on the side - can't you put one in there? Don't you know that I go to other supermarkets not far away if I want a drink and get my shopping?

    Yours getting thirstier, Kate

    Dear Supermarket Shopper Mother,

    Those small trolleys don't have seats in them for a reason. That being you aren't supposed to put children in them. So DON'T sit your child in them - it's not only stupid, it's bleeding dangerous. I'm still putting my jaw back after seeing you with a baby that can barely sit unaided placed in one. Let's hope he didn't fall out.

    Use a big trolley next time, Kate

    Dear Weather,

    Enough already with the Jekyll & Hyde stuff you've been serving us up in July. Can we please have something a little more balanced? I don't mind the odd bit of rain if it's going to solve the hosepipe ban but do we have to have several deluges a day where the water runs down the road like a river and we get flash floods? So it rains, I put on a waterproof and half an hour later, I am boiling.

    Please sort it out, Kate

    Dear Reception teaching staff,

    Thanks for putting up with Monkey and 29 other 4-5 year olds since last September. It's your first year teaching the Reception class at school and you did a really fab job. Monkey has loved having you as teachers this year. My little boy is a rough, tough schoolboy now but his progress in his schoolwork has been astounding. Sorry you've got me as a parent again next year!

    Hope you liked the cakes, Mrs C

    Dear Year 1 teaching staff,

    Good luck in September! You're off to a good start tho - Monkey thinks you're great. Long may it continue! Not so sure he'll feel like that once he discovers that you actually have to work in Y1. 

    Just be aware you've got me for the next two years, Mrs C

    Wednesday, 21 July 2010

    OK, OK.....I am officially rubbish at blogging.

    My last post was 4 days ago and I've got nothing in the pipeline. For the second week in a row, I am devoid of inspiration for the Gallery. I've got some ideas in my head but nothing laid down in concrete form that will make any sense to anyone but me. My online brand, if I were to have one, is being neglected. In my defence, it's nearly the end of term and I spent about 5 hours of my child free day yesterday (I get 6.5 hours to myself) making blackcurrant jam!

    However, I hope you've noticed I've made some changes to the blog over the last few days. I've added a whizzy button to get an RSS feed of my blog and you can now also subscribe via email so that you get sent you new posts if that's what floats your boat. And this evening, I found I could add the little buttons at the bottom of the post that allow you to post links to all sorts of random places.

    This is on top of the new commenting system I added last week, and the fancy new layout I found on Blogger's new Template Designer.

    I may not be sharing my wisdom with you, but I've been tinkering away and making me look a bit different and hopefully, this blog will be easier for you to "drive".

    Come back soon when I have real wisdom to share with you. Pretty please. I'll try to make it good, honest.

    Sunday, 18 July 2010

    A quick slow cooker recipe - Creamy Pesto Chicken

    Dawn over at The Moiderer has recently bought a slow cooker and is hunting around for recipes to make in it. I thought I'd try this one as she commented the other day that a chicken dish she tried was a bit dry. It was made with just chicken breast and that might have been a factor. This recipe uses whole chicken breast so, by rights, it should be easier to keep moist whilst cooking. I got it from what is now my slow cooker bible "200 Slow Cooker Recipes" by Sara Lewis. It's actually a variation of her creamy tarragon chicken recipe which I would have liked to try, but Asda, in their infinite wisdom, do not sell fresh tarragon. Grr!

    It only takes 4 hours to cook so may not work for you if you're out all day but is good for a weekend.

    Creamy Pesto Chicken
    Serves 4

    1 tbsp olive oil
    15g/0.5oz butter
    4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    200g/7oz shallots, halved
    1 tbsp plain flour
    4 tbsp white wine
    300ml/0.5 pint chicken stock
    1 tbsp pesto
    3 tbsp double cream
    A few fresh basil leaves

    Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan, add the chicken and fry over a high heat until golden on both sides but not cooked through. Remove from the pain, drain and place in the slow cooker in a single layer.

    Add the shallots to the pan and cook, stirring for 4-5 mins until just beginning to turn golden. Stir in the flour, then gradually mix in the stock and wine. Add the pesto, season and bring to the boil, stirring.

    Pour the sauce over the chicken in the slow cooker, cover with the lid and cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through to the centre. Stir the cream into the sauce. Serve the chicken, drizzled with sauce, topped with a little grated Parmesan and some chopped or small basil leaves.

    (If you want to make the original recipe, substitute vermouth for the wine, 2 sprigs of tarragon for the pesto and some snipped chives for the parmesan).

    This was a lovely recipe. The chicken wasn't dry at all so one for you, Dawn. We ate it with mash and some steamed veg - the recipe says you could have it mixed with some penne pasta. It was very filling but most importantly, none got left. Monkey and Missy Woo gobbled it up but they are big pesto fans anyway. I actually forgot to buy the cream when I was at the supermarket, so I stirred in some Greek yogurt instead and that gave a good creaminess to the sauce. I always have Greek yogurt in the house so I am likely to do that again, as I don't often buy cream and it seems a waste to buy a whole pot for only 3 tablespoons! The sauce is slightly green, which might put you off, but we like pesto in this house so it didn't faze us.

    A definite keeper, this one. Although the easiest way to cook chicken in a slow cooker is to take a whole one, place inside, put the lid on and leave!! But this is a nice and reasonably sophisticated alternative.

    (PS if you have any slow cooker recipes on your blog, please do add the linky to Dawn's page.)

    Friday, 16 July 2010

    Dear So and So

    I thought I'd join in with Kat from 3 Bedroom Bungalow's regular "Dear So and So" feature. It allows you the chance to write letters that otherwise might go unsaid....... Here are mine. Feel free to do your own and link back to Kat's page.

    Dear So and So...

    Dear Sunday Driver,

    Please don't annoy the rest of the driving public by driving on a weekday. Also, driving at the speed of a snail because you are looking for your turning is not only bloody annoying to other road users who wish to get somewhere before the next day, it's ridiculous. You miss your turn? Turn around - takes 30 seconds. You are obviously not in a rush.

    Get a Sat Nav, Kate

    Dear Call Centres,

    Ringing me, an unknown person, and asking "How are you today?" does not mean you are my friend nor make me want to buy any of your products or services. Rather, it pisses me off and just makes me shout "No!" into the receiver and put the phone back down. I'm a busy woman, and I've got TPS.

    Leave me alone, Kate

    Dear Mormon,

    Normally, I love you guys and a polite "no thanks" to your visits suffices. Stopping me in a street that isn't even where my home is, accosting me as I'm trying to deal with one child and collect another from a party, being insistent on talking to me in the middle of the road then offering to come back later does not endear you to me. Unless I go around with my home address attached to my back, there's no way you're going to find me anyway. So there.

    Yours with the upper hand, Kate

    Dear Asda,

    Put a coffee shop in my local store. PLEASE!

    Yours thirstily, Kate

    Dear Monkey,

    Thank you for teaching me a valuable parenting lesson this week. And well done for all your hard work at school this year. Even if you didn't think your quality work was great sometimes, I thought it was. You're a clever boy. Now please can you be an angel in the school holidays?

    Yours hopefully, Mummy

    Wednesday, 14 July 2010

    Growing up - and moving on...

    Missy Woo starts school in September. She keeps thinking she's starting any minute now she's 4. She thought after her birthday, and now because she has her last music group session on Friday and we're potentially going to sports day at school after that, she thinks she's starting school then. I have no doubt that, despite the fact that she'll be one of the youngest in her year group, she's ready for it and will transition fine; which is good because she'll be full time before September is out. My little girl is growing up and moving on. I don't feel sad about that; more pleased for her as she's so excited about it all. When the time comes, I may be a touch emotional about it but I am not anticipating many tears. She virtually kicked me out of the classroom when she went for her settling in session.

    Monkey has spent four afternoons in his new class with his new teacher too. I've watched him grow so much this year and I can't believe the progress he's made. His reading is amazingly fluent and he's apparently a "budding mathematician" according to his school report, which was excellent. He's growing up and moving on too.

    So where does it leave me? To be honest with you, I don't know. I feel like it is time for me to grow up and move on too, but there is no clear path for me. I don't have my life mapped out for me like a school child. It is what I make of it.

    This time of year is no doubt a time when lots of people reflect on this. My life is beginning to feel like I'm growing out of it. I've had a lifestyle based around having babies and pre-school children for the last 5 years and come September, that will be gone. I've had a ball and made lots of new friends, but parts of it are beginning to feel not fit for purpose, as they are part of the life I'm about to leave behind, like I'm shedding a skin or something.

    The trouble is, some parts of that skin are shed easily and left behind. Other parts are more difficult to shed. Some of them are and have been major commitments of time and effort. I've given a lot, but got a lot back too as they have been incredibly rewarding and I've been proud of my achievements. However, recently, I've been wondering if it's still for me. The commitments centre around early parenthood and I'm not in that place any more, plus things are going on that have dented my enthusiasm. My annual pep-talk normally buoys my enthusiasm for a good few months; this time, it's all but gone in a few weeks. Others carry on giving their all for years but I am not sure I want to give as much. The problem I have is I know that doing it half-heartedly is a recipe for disaster and anyway, I don't DO that. Unless there is someone for me to give it all to and I walk away fully, I know eventually I'll just do it myself, and that helps no-one. There was no-one before me for a good while and things suffered. I've put a lot of effort into turning that around and got somewhere but I don't feel as enthusiastic about it any more. And there are lots of (more social) aspects that I'd miss - but that's not a reason to stay on, is it?

    What I'd like to do is take a step back, and reduce that commitment right down, restricting it to the stuff I know I am best at and therefore I enjoy the most. However, as much as I can set those boundaries, will others respect them - or will I be put in a position where gradually, I end up doing as much as before? Or will it be easier just to walk away totally? And in either case, what else can I do? I would be really interested in your thoughts on this matter. I'm being deliberately obtuse about this because this is me thinking aloud about my future with no hard and fast decisions. I don't want people from those circles to read this blog and get wind of my thinking, though anyone reading this that is really close to me is likely to know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm playing this down in terms of what it is so their interest is not piqued.

    As I said above, I'd love your input on my dilemma but also, I'd love you to share any experiences you might have of your moving on stage when your kids were all finally in school. Judging by the fertility rate of the mums in Monkey's class (current tally 1 baby, 2 due in July, 1 due November and twins due Christmas Day), I know that having another baby is one way of approaching it but that's not going to happen to me. 45 really is too late to be starting again. Work is a dilemma too - I need to start earning proper money again soon but at the same time, I don't want to have to use excessive amounts of wrap around care as I'd like to be able to catch up with them at the end of a school day, and the only credible option appears to be to find work in another school. I worked in IT for 22 years until April 2009 but it seems that truly flexible family-friendly options in that line of work are like hens' teeth.

    All thoughts will be gratefully received. I have a lot of thinking, soul searching and researching to do over the summer so that come September, I too am ready to start growing up - and moving on.

    Image: Gregory Szarkiewicz /

    Monday, 12 July 2010

    The Five Fs gets an award!

    I got given an award the other day, by Garry at Blog Up North. The award he's given me is a Blog of Substance award, although I've noticed, in the slightly obsessive way that I do, that the original badge/award is called "A Blog With Substance". To be honest, I am slightly amazed. This blog has only been going for a few months, and I didn't post on it for nearly a month so really, it's only a couple of months old. To be recognised by a fellow blogger of having substance is quite something. Obviously, he sees something I don't although it is his fault I started blogging as I wrote a couple of guest posts for him back in March and started this blog a week or two later after the second one.

    I feel like I am still finding my way in the blogosphere and the blog is evolving as I go. Already, I've noticed that out of the five Fs I claim to blog about, I've blogged about food most, family next, football hardly at all (which is bad considering I've been watching the World Cup), fitness hardly ever, and nothing really fun. In fact, some of my recent posts could be considered quite maudlin and self-pitying and not really fitting into any of these five. But I've enjoyed creating them, and been thrilled with the response I have had from readers. I love the comments, so please, please keep them coming. We all need validation of what we're doing and people commenting positively on my writing really does that for me, and I don't care if it's good or bad, the fact it has generated a comment is enough for me.

    So, thanks go to Garry for seeing something in this blog that makes it worthy of a read. (PS Your cheque's in the post ;) ) A condition of accepting this award is that I must sum up my blogging philosophy in five words. Five words?! Good God, have you read my posts? Five words is almost an impossibility for me! I haven't even thought about this until now. So, I've had a think and killed off some brain cells and come up with this:

    Write it from your heart. 

    My most popular posts - not just my opinion, I'm judging this by the number of page views and comments I've received from readers - have been when I have done just that. I've written some posts and been on the point of not publishing them but have decided to let the readers decide if they are worth bothering about. They've felt too personal to be of interest to others, but they seem to strike a chord.They have given me confidence in my ability to create something that others enjoy reading. I may not always get it right, but I do not expect to; I am learning. And it's my blog so I'll do what I want. ;)

    Anyway, it now falls to me to pass on this award to other blogs of real substance. There are loads I enjoy reading (and I really should update my blogroll) but here we go:

    Mrs M of At Home With Mrs M (great food, and better photography than me)
    Joanne at JAG's Fitness Blog (inspirational, also with some great food)
    Wendy at Very Bored in Catalunya (who rarely fails to make me laugh)
    Christine at Thinly Spread 

    So now they have to:

    1. Thank the blogger who awarded it to them.
    2. Summarise their blogging philosophy in five words (and share it with your readers of course!).
    3. Nominate some other bloggers of substance.

    I could have added lots of blogs. I find new ones to read every day and I'm rubbish at remembering to visit them all so sorry for not mentioning you all. (That's why I love Twitter - follow your favourite bloggers, and they'll let you know when they have published a new post.) Some of my favourite blogs have already nominated so it seems silly to do it all over again. Please don't be offended if your blog is not here. If you like, add a comment to this post, so we can all find you. Hopefully, soon, I'll get round to updating my blogroll too.

    And so, I'm off to bed, clutching my award. I think I might, in the time-honoured tradition of celebs, put it in the downstairs toilet after I've slept with it, nonchalantly but ostentatiously so that people see it are moved to comment on a) the award and b) its placement.

    And whilst I'm here, I'd like to thank my agent......

    Saturday, 10 July 2010

    75 years ago today...

    My Dad was born in Westgate in Kent.

    You can read the post I wrote about my Dad last week here. I don't think there is anything else I can add in tribute to him.

    Happy Birthday, Dad, wherever you are.

    Kate x

    Thursday, 8 July 2010

    The Hat Lady

    I think about you, every now and then. Probably not often enough. You deserve better.

    I first saw you on the platform at Southampton Parkway station. It was early morning, you were waiting for a train, and you were wearing a hat. Not just any hat or a cap - one of those tricorn style hats made fashionable by Diana in the 80s, white with lots of feathers and a bit of netting. I think I sniggered. It looked incongruous for the time and the place; some of your fellow passengers stared at you. They couldn't help it. It looked like you were off to Ascot or somewhere else on the social circuit. I came to know you weren't.

    I soon came to realise that that is what you did every day. You wore hats. In my twenties, I thought it was ridiculous but now I'm older, I understand. Wearing hats gave you pleasure, so wore hats you did.  You had the confidence of maturity not to worry about the opinions of others. You wore hats every day and it marked you out. The regular commuters didn't stare, they were used to seeing you. I didn't see you every day, but every time we got the same train, there you were, with a hat, always slightly over the top, feathery but not outlandish - just different. It stayed on whilst you were on the train. To the regulars, you were the Hat Lady. I didn't know your name. I am not sure anyone did. Long distance commuting is often more sociable but I don't think you ever spoke to anyone.

    And then, one cold December day, I wasn't on the train but at home. I was listening to the radio when there was a newsflash. A crash between two trains at Clapham. Our trains went through Clapham! After a while, as more information became known, I worked out that one of the trains involved was one I could have been on, that stopped at our station. Some of my commuting friends would be on that train. It was impossible to get information quickly as it was before mobile phones were commonplace. I had to go away on business without knowing if they were OK and it became apparent there were many fatalities. The pictures on the news and in the papers were terrible, awful. That particular service was always an old style train and the trains involved just crumpled like concertinas.

    Later that week, I received news of my commuting friends. Lots of them were on different trains, behind or ahead of the crash. Two women that I knew by name died on the train, in the buffet car. The person that told me also said "And remember the Hat Lady? She was a victim too". You had gone. I can't imagine the horror of those moments at the point of impact nor do I know whether anyone suffered. I hope that you didn't. I hope no-one did.

    Dying gave you a name other than Hat Lady. I still don't remember it exactly but I was looking at a list of the victims' names once and I could pick out your name, knowing it was definitely you. It may have been your name but it meant nothing to me and to many others. In my head, you are the Hat Lady, simple as. I can only vaguely remember what you looked like. Over time, you have come to resemble, in my head at least, someone else I know who has broadly the same features as you - slim, dark-haired, smiling.

    A long time has passed since you died. They've even stopped commemorating the anniversary although there is a permanent memorial to the 35 people that died as a result of the disaster overlooking the crash site. I try to mark the date every year in any small way I can because you all deserve to be remembered. Against other tragedies, you feel pushed aside, forgotten. It seems unfair that your deaths seem to have counted for less. Hell, it made me angry when I read they were letting the memorial gardens get overgrown. So wrong and disrespectful - and ironically, by the people that let you down in so many ways and allowed it to happen.

    You would probably be a pensioner now if you hadn't died. I don't know anything about your life, but I can imagine the happy retirement you could have had. Life playing with grandchildren, perhaps. Foreign travels to far-flung places, maybe. All topped off with fantastic hats. I like to think your taste would be more up to date now, but no-one will ever know for sure.

    I knew nothing of your life, and I never spoke to you. I think we may have smiled and nodded once or twice, but that's it. And yet, to me, you are the symbol of the events of 12th December 1988, because of the expression of joie de vivre you exhibited by wearing those hats, plus the pointless and avoidable events that led to your death.

    I think about you, every now and then, Hat Lady. Probably not often enough. As I said, you deserve better. But I know that wherever you are, you're wearing a hat, loving it and brightening the day of those around you.

    (Note: this post was prompted by the 5th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. Every time there is a big commemoration of a terrible event, I think back to Clapham because it was so close to me personally. Events to mark the passing of 20 years were held in Lockerbie, which happened just 9 days afterwards and somewhat overshadowed it, and in Liverpool to commemorate the Hillsborough disaster. And yet, they officially ended the public commemoration of Clapham after a decade. I wonder how the families remember their loved ones now - turning up to a memorial with overgrown gardens down an embankment left to run wild by Network Rail. It feels somehow wrong to me, that their deaths apparently matter less than others. We need to be reminded, both of the events and of those who are no longer with us.

    And if you are too young to remember that day, you can read more about what happened here.)

    This post was submitted to The Boy and Me's ShowOff ShowCase on 30th April 2011. Click the badge to see some other entries.
    ShowOff Showcase

    Wednesday, 7 July 2010

    The Gallery - Holidays

    This is my entry for the Gallery at Sticky Fingers. This week's prompt is Holidays. I struggled a bit with this one, because we haven't really had many holidays as a family because money has been short. In fact, as a family with all four of us, we have only been on one proper family holiday. We've been on short breaks as a family and as a couple, and we took Monkey away to Spain a couple of times when he was a baby but this holiday, in January 2009, was the only time we've been away together on a family holiday.

    We went to the Algarve - Albufeira, to be more precise. There was an ulterior motive in our choice - my in-laws had gone there for 8 weeks and going there meant we have built-in babysitters. We stayed a complex that is partly timeshare so got subjected to the hard sell a bit, but all in all, it was great, apart from the children waking too early most days. The inlaws took them off our hands pretty much every other day, and even allowed us to do a day trip to Seville, a place I'd always wanted to visit, without them in tow. It was freezing there though - quite ironic when it is the hottest city in mainland Europe!

    Whilst we were on holiday, it was my birthday. We went out for lunch as a family and then we went for a walk on the beach with the inlaws. The kids made me this cake. Do you like it?

    (And yes, they got help with the writing - they are clever but not that clever!)

    Saturday, 3 July 2010

    Happy Birthday Missy Woo.

    Today, my little girl turns 4. I can't believe it; half of me feels like it's flown, the other half feels like she's been around forever.

    In order to celebrate her birthday on my blog, I thought I'd share with you four photos depicting her life so far, one from each year.

    In this picture, she's 8 days old. As you can see, she was a big baby. 59cm long, and 9lbs 3oz. After her birth, the delivery suite went mental and I ended up on two drips with a whole team of midwives trying to stop the bleeding that ensued. I actually lost 2 litres - 4 pints - of blood, but it was a minor miracle that I didn't need a blood transfusion. However, I was made to stay lying down for 14 hours afterwards which made for a long day, and Missy almost got forgotten in the melee. Luckily, like here, she slept. And for the first 3 weeks of her life, she rarely wore more than just a nappy, as it was that hot.

    Moving on, this is the second picture I have chosen and it's still one of my favourites of her. It was taken on Christmas Day 2007 and she's holding onto her Iggle Piggle that I had the forethought to buy in October before it sold out everywhere and became the toy to have that year. She's 18 months old here and you can already see the mischief in her eyes. By this time, she was already using lots of words but could she walk? No! She was nearly 2 by the time she started walking. I didn't panic because I know I was a late walker too and her brother wasn't especially early but man, what a pain! Carrying a large baby around was blooming hard.

    And so to the photo of her third year. This is another Christmas time photo, taken by my Mum (which is amazing as she normally cuts heads off). By this time, Missy Woo really could talk the hind legs off a donkey; in fact, speech was the one thing she seemed to work on when she could have been walking. She was still not particularly confident physically by this stage but apart from that, she was great. And she liked to pose, as you can tell.

    And so to the last picture. It's one I took yesterday, at her party. If you don't follow me on Twitter, you won't know that she fell off a slide in someone's garden on Father's Day and has a fractured humerus so the pink thing on her arm is actually a cast.

    I can't believe how grown up she looks now, especially compared to the last picture. The uniform I'm buying her for school is in 5-6 and although some of it is not that big on her, the rest is big, but not massively so; just a bit of growing room. She's bigger than some of the children in Monkey's class; when I took him into school for his settling in sessions last year, the teacher thought she'd gained a new pupil! I think, in part, it's because she acts older than her age and her speech is so advanced. She still makes me hoot with random sayings - she asked me if she could listen to music on my "peapod" and later, she suddenly asked me if Baby Jesus only had one hand!

    So, there she is. Missy Woo is 4 today. Happy Birthday, darling - I hope you have the best birthday and we love you loads.

    My little girl is all growed up, but she'll always be my baby.

    ShowOff ShowCase

    Edit - I've come back to this post to find Blogger has listed its publication date as Sat 3rd July. Which is interesting as Missy Woo's birthday is the 5th! I cannot have written this post on the 3rd because I didn't even have the last picture until Sunday 4th. Go figure. 

    Friday, 2 July 2010

    La Inquisicion

    I've been tagged again, by Garry at Blog Up North,, for one of these meme thingummies called The Inquisition (I called it La Inquisicion because it sounded appropriate, slightly more exotic and we are regular viewers of Revista de La Liga on Sky that has a slot called just that). I have to answer 10 questions, so here goes.

    1. Which (in)famous person (alive or dead) would you like to take out to dinner, where would you go and what would you like to talk about?

    One of my favourite writers is Kahlil Gibran. Some people say that makes me a bit fick, or cheesy, or sommat, but I came across his book The Prophet and was bowled over by the beauty of his words, so it would have to be him. We have the same initials (my maiden name was Giles, as you may have worked out from my last post), and not only that, we have or had the same birthday. We would talk about his works, how he got his ideas for writing and his inspirations. His life in general was pretty interesting too. And for such a special occasion, we'd go to a very special place - El Bulli in Spain, because it will close down soon and is an experience not to be repeated, truly. That would make for a memorable occasion, I'd say!

    2. What is the best gift someone could give you (tangible please)?

    Um, this is tough. There are lots of things I'd like but I survive day to day without them. If I had to say anything, I would have to say a new car. The car, to me, is a sign of independence and having two children, it gives me options that I would never otherwise have to take them places - even our choice of school would be very inconvenient were it not for the fact that we can drive there. My current car is 6 years old, was originally my company car, which I bought at the end of the lease and is definitely showing signs of me living out of it (not literally) with 2 babies, toddlers etc for the last few years.

    3. Where in the world would you most like to live?

    This is the easiest question of the whole lot. My answer is Barcelona. I have been there many times and I always feel at home there, even if I am not fluent in the local language or Spanish. It's a fantastic, breathtaking place and I would just love to live there. It has pretty much everything - city, beach, hills, scenery, fantastic architecture, football and great food. :)

    4. What do you most enjoy cooking?

    I love cooking from scratch. As you might have seen recently, I particularly enjoy cooking curries and cakes. I also love making my own bread but don't always get the time. I became a real bread geek last year when I was doing some preparation for my mini-teach at college, and could bore you all for hours on the subject. I may well be blogging my favourite and simple bread recipe in a blog post near you soon. Keep an eye out for it.

    5. What is your favourite novel?

    Yeah, this one is tough - even if I raved about The Prophet, it's not really a novel as such so I don't think it qualifies. The answer is always the last one you finished and enjoyed reading. I have a wide taste in books - I loved all of Thomas Hardy's books as I found them a challenge but particularly loved Far from The Madding Crowd. I've been making my way through the Inspector Wallander novels by Henning Mankell recently and really love those (although the Swedish language films made knock spots off them!), and last year, I really enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon which I read in 24 hours.

    6. You have your own personal Tardis, where do you go first?

    This has taken me ages to come up with an answer. I decided in the end that I'd like to be at an historic event that was also full of joy. So, I think I'd choose to be in London on VE Day. That must have been one amazing experience after 6 long years of war. Can you imagine the unconfined joy that must have been felt that day?

    7. How old is the inner you? 

    Ooh, good one. Sometimes, I still feel like I'm still in my mid-twenties but at the same time, I am more settled, self-confident and at ease with myself than I was then.

    8. Theatre or Cinema? 

    Cinema. I've done theatre but I can take it or leave it. I am not a big film-goer either but I do like to go occasionally. The children love it so I take them more than I go as an adult.

    9. Would you be famous, with all that means?

    If I was good at something, yes. I believe I am already (in)famous in NCT circles for my largely encyclopaedic knowledge of being a treasurer. One of my NCT friends moved south last year and got involved with the branch that whose area she moved into. I commented on her Facebook status one day and someone else commented that it was so weird seeing me on her Facebook page when she reads my emails "all day long" on NCT groups. I go to conferences and people say "oh YOU'RE Kate" and look at me knowingly. I'm worried.

    But celebrity type fame, no. I couldn't live with the intrusion into my private life. I revel in anonymity.

    10. You are able to learn anything at all, a skill, a language, whatever, what would it be and why?

    I think it would have to be to be able to play tennis well. I am rubbish at games which require good hand-eye coordination - whether that's anything to do with being left-handed or not, I don't know. I love watching tennis but I am crap at it. I would love to be able to do it and do it well.

    Will that do you, oh great Inquisitor?!

    Anyway, in time-honoured fashion, it is now my turn to tag some other lovely bloggers to have a go at this so I will choose:

    Joanna at At Home with Mrs M
    Jen at The King and Eye
    Catherine at How to laugh in the face of it all
    Lisa at MrsLJHall

    But feel free to do it yourself and put a link in the comments box below even if you are not directly tagged by me.
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