29 July 2014

How to Make Curry and The Good Wife Test.

The other day my lovely friend Liza took me on a belated birthday treat to a Jamie Oliver afternoon cookery course and in the space of a few hours we'd knocked up a few dishes and devoured them.

Seeing as I'm crap at making curries but, being half Indian, absolutely adore them, indeed need them, from the vast array on offer I chose the one to make a North Indian Thali, thinking, that learning how to make a few dishes was better than just one.  And it was!

There are only a few of these establishments, presently changing their name over from 'Recipease' to 'Jamie's Cafe,' so that they're more easily associated with the star chef and each of them runs a cookery school.  We're lucky to have one in Brighton - the others are in London (Clapham Junction and Notting Hill).

Liza had already undertaken a sushi making lesson and has been raving about it.  Having been delighted to be one of her guinea pigs shortly afterwards it would be fair to say that it's some of the best I've ever had because it was so fresh and for the £35 it cost to learn it's something certainly worth investing in if you're partial to it.  I ate quite a bit of it when I worked in New York because it was easy to come by and relatively cheap there, but I'm not that bothered either way about it.  Liza, on the other hand was so impressed she has now incorporated it into her new Asian catering business.

Most lessons are 1 1/2 - 2 hours and it's possible to perfect dishes from Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam as well as good old fashioned English dishes such as Beef Wellington, or Italian pastas, risottos and breads, plus there are some Summer Specials currently being run just for kids at just £10 per child.  Check out the full menu of what's available (see what I did there?) HERE. 

But this is the kind of food I can't live without, so here's what we were going to make -

A North Indian Thali.

And here's the chef showing us the way -

At the Recipease / Jamie Oliver's Cafe kitchen, Brighton.

We started with a Chickpea Masala.

75 ml Cooking Oil
1 teaspoon Mustard seeds
½ teaspoon Asafoetida (Hing)
2 medium White onions – finely diced
200 g Chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon freshly grated garlic
½ teaspoon red chilli powder
1 whole Green chilli – finely diced
1 teaspoon Ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Good pinch Sea salt
1 teaspoon Turmeric
1 tin (400g) Chick peas - drained
1 teaspoon castor sugar (optional)
Good handful of Fresh coriander leaves
Garam masala (garnish only)

Most things had been prepared for us but she taught us to plate up our spices individually - as it's easy to add to them but not to take away once they're in the pot!

The method and details for all the other dishes are HERE (with permission).

Always use a base of fresh garlic, ginger and chillis and the transforming ingredient Asafoetida, apparently, as this smoothes out the curry.  My problem has always been that the spices still taste too rough, raw or powdery, so I will be investing in some of this.  Bear in mind, also, that although some of the ingredients were repeated when she demonstrated how to make a traditional Dal (included in the link above) most are really quite pungent so whichever you add or leave out will make a difference.  Adjust to personal taste, obviously.

Before very long at all we had one of these -

Chickpea Masala - try without and with sugar added.

Followed seriously swiftly by a dry Okra curry and a tasty cabbage dish that turned out to be served as a warm salad called Sambharo.  (Again, all recipes and methods on the link above).  Then we had to take The Good Wife Test.

Liza taking The Good Wife Test.

We had prepared some little breads called Puris and left them to rest:

300 g chapatti flour
Pinch sea salt
1 tsp of vegetable oil + extra for shallow 
150-200 ml (approx.) water
(Optional extras on the link above).

In the parts of India where these are made - a mother will decide on whether a lady will become a good wife for her son judged on the height her Puris rise!

If you want to take the test, here's what you do.

- Put the flour and pinch of salt into a bowl (add optional ingredients now if 
  you want to - toasted sesame seeds, chopped dried chilli and chopped coriander) and 
  add the salt and mix
- Mix the water with 1 teaspoon of oil and mix together using your hands or in a 
- Knead to soft dough
- Cover and allow to rest for about 20 minutes
- Rip small balls from the dough about 20 g each ball or as big as you like
- Roll up into neat balls then flatten out using a small rolling pin
- Heat the remaining oil in a wide shallow pan or deep fryer when the oil is hot 
  carefully place the small puri in the oil and cook till golden brown turn over and 
  ensure they are golden brown on both sides
- Drain on a little kitchen paper before eating with your North Indian dishes.

So what did ours turn out like?


Not too shabby at all!  So we celebrated by eating everything we had made, together with the Dal we'd been taught how to do and the meal comes with a cold beer / glass of wine all included in the price of the lesson.  Everything was delicious and having cooked the majority ourselves has given me the confidence to be more adventurous again.

If you don't want to be crap at making curries either and can't get to one of their cookery courses - here's the link again - http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipease/files/3013/6196/8392/North_Indian_Thali.pdf

Thank you to Recipease / Jamie's Cafe, Brighton and my lovely friend Liza for an all round good value, educational, entertaining and fun afternoon.  We'll definitely see you again and the eldest will be choosing one of the kids' summer courses too.

Now I wonder if there's a test to see if a man will make a good husband....

This is not a collaborative post.

16 July 2014

The Truth About Being a Single Parent.

Following on from The Truth About Being an Older Mum it occurred to me recently to do the same about being a single one.

Lots of people find, by choice, they become a single parent, some have it forced on them.  Either way, there's so much you can predict - the practicalities are doubled, your guilt as a parent never leaves you and how the children cope is dependent on how well you can, or not.

There are deeply painful conversations to be had - you all wish things had turned out differently, your children need constant reassurance and protection from you, their suffering is your suffering and, most of the time, you get along just fine, because anything other arrangement is better than one that involves conflict.

But every now and then something unpredictable comes along, something you can't explain to the children sufficiently, something that adds to their already quite normal embarrassment about our circumstances being different to most of their friends' and out of somewhere deep, you have to draw out yet another solution, one that's tougher than the rest, re-inforcing how hard it is to be going it alone.  And it's not always possible:

The Five Year Old was arguing with me.  He was absolutely adamant about something perfectly reasonable, but I wouldn't give in.  I will never give in.

I will never let him go into the Gents' public loos alone.

He and the Nine Year Old come into the Ladies loos with me.  And that's final.

But they need to understand.

Who can blame them?

What does one say to two such young children who want to do what their mates do?  But their mates go in with their Dads, they're told.  They're protected from predators, they're not told.

Until now.  At some point, as excruciating as this conversation is, it's got to be held.  By me.  Like all the difficult ones are.  And I don't mind, it's my job, my privilege to protect my children, to teach them, educate them about matters, but ones like these are super trying.

Those about mums and dads splitting up, living apart, and, in our situation, complicated 'Contact' stuff are all second nature now and although they're far from easy, there's no choice in the matter or those circumstances.  We have to deal with them as best as we can, re-visit them as ages and perspectives change and we get used to having them.

This one conjured up a whole different scenario, having to skirt around the issues, but be as clear as possible without intruding upon their innocence.  It was tough and it's unlikely the matter is closed.  The eldest is a little more accepting because he has the experience of a man (known to the Police it later transpired) secretly beckoning to him in the local library when I once (very briefly, fortunately) popped off to fetch a glass of water before breastfeeding his baby brother, and, as fate would have it, he remembers a girl about his age coming into the Gents loos with her Dad on one of the infrequent times he was actually in one (escorted obvs).

So what do we do?  Aside from checking they're empty first then standing guard, which can only sensibly occur in smaller venues, there really is no option.  What upsets the older one most though, is the dirty looks he gets from the women using the Ladies.  I understand everyone's points of view, but they're my children and, surely, I'm not bringing them in with me for fun?  I tell him that a little awkwardness is a small price to pay for his safety.  He's still relatively small and vulnerable.  Perhaps those who disapprove could re-think their glares and share a sympathetic smile instead?

I tell him that the people who should be locked up for ever aren't and a lot of them live along the south coast, so it's us who end up feeling imprisoned.  But that's way over the head of the Five Year Old.

In fact, it's kind of a relief when the little one returns to being inconsolable over the heartbreaking whole household issue of us all 'really, really, really' wanting a dog, yet, purely for financial reasons, rather than social ones this time, he's not winning that argument either!

What kind of unpredictable or trying conversations do you have with your children?

2 July 2014

A Court Case, a Conference and a Cremation.

Normally when I'm very quiet, people know something is up and some kind souls will message me to ask if I'm OK.

Normally, I'm just coping with stuff and conserving my energy for dealing with it by having early nights and letting time socialising on-line be the thing that needs to give.

Normally, though, there aren't three super-challenging events in the space of seven days, preceded by several weeks building up to them.  Thank you to all of you who showed you care.

It's usually good practice to keep things close to my chest because then I don't have to face them all the time that way, but, sometimes stuff happens and it's just complicated, overwhelming, about the children in a way I don't want to make public or a combination of all three.  Sometimes, I'm just making a lot of noise elsewhere or consoling myself with a quiet coffee or even, perhaps, weeding the garden with extra gusto and wondering how to secure myself a proper job.  Sometimes, other things are a priority.

We lost my lovely Nana.

Some of you will remember me writing about her earlier in the year - 97 1/2, wonderful, loving, supportive, gregarious, bright as a button, so switched on she sussed the childrens' temperaments in an instant, funny, warm and an inspiration.  Her massive heart wore itself out and, very, very sadly, it was her funeral last week.  She would have loved to see so many members of our family come together like we did, the beautiful flowers and hymns and the playing of her gorgeous Il Divo.

This followed hot on the heels of the Britmums Live conference where I'd been Head Butterfly, holding peoples' hands to help them hold their nerves.  It was a great event and an opportunity to spend time with people who I know love me, who knew I was being brave and was grateful to be distracted.  They knew my heart was breaking and they were kind and tender and funny, something appreciated more than anyone can imagine.

Other positive things happened too.  I attended mainly writing sessions and after the one of them, a publisher handed me her card, saying she found me informed and engaging.  Please don't any of you put her right ;) so I will shortly be following up her lead, plus, I was advised that a recent research has found me in the top 10 Most Influential Single Parent Bloggers in the UK - which comes as a surreal surprise seeing as I deliberately don't hang my hat on that hook.

Having said that, however, there are two half-written posts in draft which are centred around being a single mum and as soon as the time comes, it makes sense to accept my fate, and, perhaps, capitalise on their other shocking announcement that now one in four families are headed up by single mums or dads.

Immediately prior to all this my ex-husband had decided to take me to court for increased contact with the children.  He has always been allowed more or less as much as he wants in a supervised environment but has battled against this since the beginning.  I find it infuriating, not to mention utterly inconvenient, hypocritical and a shoddy waste of time and energy, that he doesn't just play ball and build up trusting relationships with them so that the authorities (who are the ones who stipulate it) and I can see that they will be safe, emotionally as well as physically, but he doesn't seem capable of it.

So, instead of resenting any more moments he takes away from me, my life or them, with the inordinate amount of paperwork involved - something he has consistently necessitated for years by not using a solicitor, preferring to exploit me and mine, thereby shooting up costs and depriving the children still further of resources than he already does by refusing to pay any maintenance for them - I decided to take the rather more helpful view that each and every second is spent rightfully defending and protecting our boys, keeping them in an appropriate environment and facilitating their relationship with him in as healthy a way as is possible, but the truth is that it's difficult to ascertain how and what is best for them and I am happy to let the courts decide after their ruling that a further report is required regarding his mental health.

Being a Britmums Butterfly was an honour and a privilege and we, as a team, made it possible for lots of bloggers to meet up en route, or in a coffee shop or bar, ahead of the start of the conference, so that they didn't walk into a room of 700 other people not knowing anyone, if they weren't comfortable doing so.

I like to believe that firm, real life friendships were begun or cemented, the kind where people already know you without always having yet met you, the kind demonstrated to me in the midst of all this, where a sincere hug is given without any words being spoken except, secretly, 'I'm sorry for your loss, your Nana sounded incredible,' so that you can take a moment to accept a caress of comfort, but get on with your work without everyone else knowing your private grief, or 'I'm sorry that your shitty ex is still giving you such a hard time - he's such a tw*t.' And you can take another one to seize some solidarity, allow yourself to laugh and get on with your life.

That's what she would have wanted.

'Night 'Night Nana.

The boys and their Great Nana (1916-2014).

18 June 2014

Being a Britmums Live Butterfly!

Once again, the biggest event in the blogging calendar is looming!  I have polished my wings from last year and will, once again, also, be strutting my stuff as a Britmums Live Butterfly!

This doesn't mean a lot to those of you who know nothing of and couldn't care less about blogging conferences, but for those who do, this is an important annual coming together of like minded people, who are passionate about blogging, want to meet up with their on-line mates and / or perhaps take what we do to the next level, either as a writer or as in viable business propositions in a market where parent bloggers are increasingly respected for their influence.

Strictly speaking, it would not be unreasonable to take for granted that this is not an event for the meek or shy and that most members of this most illustrious group of individuals - who have no worries about sharing their opinions on everything - might not be backwards in coming forwards, but, the truth is, that many of them are not so brave without the barrier of their keyboard / phone / tablet and can actually come quite unstuck when coming face to face with 500 other people just like them!

Cue The Butterflies for people with butterflies - meet the team here and guess who's in charge this year? Yes, little old me.  Less of the old, mind you.  Let's not mention that.

This year's Agenda is better than ever - with a new FOOD stream added to the PRACTICAL, BIZ & INSPIRE ones, the Speakers list looks awesome and I am very much looking forward to a special appearance from the ladies who set up and have made a musical called The Good Enough Mums Club. You must check out a really funny little clip of them HERE..

Also, there are a few WRITING sessions plus a couple of how to take terrific video on a smartphone, which I'll be attending.  There will be a table in each of the rooms with Butterflies on for anyone who's alone but I tell you more and how to get the most out of the conference, regardless of whether you're a newbie or need us Butterflies,on the Britmums site HERE, so do take a look at that too and come and say hello to us all.  We're on our own stand (next to the wine one, no less!) and will be fluttering about ready to give a warm welcome, much needed space or just have a chat in general, only, on this very special occasion, it will be in person! I can't wait to meet you.

22 May 2014

The Pluses and Minuses of our Butlins Bognor Regis Break.

In yesterday's post I introduced our Butlins holiday, my doubting inner snob and some of the facilities our resort offered.

As promised today, here are the pluses and minuses we encountered.

1)  The cost of our break would have been £1864. This price is based on 4 adults and 4 children sharing a Dolphin Interconnecting Room at the Wave Hotel = £233 per person.  There were actually only six of us = £310 per person.  This is a peak school holiday rate and comparatively reasonable, considering everything it includes - 4 nights top notch accommodation, a Premium Dining Package (breakfasts and evening meals) and (mostly) free entertainment and fun facilities.  

2)  The Hotel itself is really quite cool - modern, clean, quiet and classy.  It was also equipped with a Games Room, but not as we know it! Think high tech X-Box, Wii, PS, huge screens and stuff.  Kindles and films are available for hire as well, but we didn't use any of these things.  We were lucky with the weather - however rainy days / early nights with younger children and / or having older ones who are into these things and we may well have. There were individual TVs on each of the childrens' bunk beds plus one each in the two separate bedroom areas, which, again, we didn't get much use out of, but the option was there when we fancied a bit of a breather sitting on our balconies with a quick lager cuppa overlooking the resort and the sea!

3)  The main advantages of choosing to stay in any of their three Hotels rather than the apartments or chalets is one 'Hotel only' exclusive use of Splash Waterworld 'swimming' pool and slides and the afternoon showings of two the evening shows, thereby avoiding jostling with the other 1000 people on site.

4)  Speaking of Splash Waterworld - this is an amazing system of 'flumes' and a 'space bowl' - water slides to you and me, some of which are not for the faint hearted or very young, but there is something for everyone, and we all enjoyed it immensely.  It's included in the holiday cost, is one of the few things that doesn't need booking and you can stay as long as you like.      

5)  The entertainment.  Some of it was brilliant.  Small shows are laid on all day in a special Character Theatre and there is the highlight of the day, a main one every night.  They're always free. There are Billy and Bonnie Bear, really popular Gang Shows and Character Shows (Fireman Sam, Mike the Knight and loads more) and plenty of mixing with the children for autographs and photos.  To see ours laugh so much at 'Cirque de Hilarious' and Scooby Doo was glorious.  They also loved 'Dick and Dom,' who I'd never heard of, but have seen them all over Sky TV since we returned.             

6)  The fairground.  Living in Brighton we have one at the end of the pier, but we rarely go because of the extortionate cost of it.  Here, all the rides are free and we were forced on them revelled in them regularly. The children loved it - especially the one evening it stayed open late which added an extra buzz.    

7)  The optional extras included an Inventive Science Show and an Amazing Animal one at their new Discovery Studio, plus outdoor hair raising high ropes, tall wall climbing, crazy golf, indoor bowling and more.  They are generally £5 per go or Activity / Adrenaline passes that limit the cost to a one off up front free can be purchased.  Again, handy for older kids and you can get the gist in yesterday's post's video

My friend Liza took the eldest ones to one of them, whilst I looked after the little one having a nap and this is what she had to say about it.   ''Steve and Lucy were the stars of this really engaging, cleverly constructed science packed show. It was like siting through a 3 D  fast track tour of the history of the world, illustrated through scientific inventions and fascinating information about the inventors of the day , -  electricity, Cockerell's hovercraft, the first aircraft and the  Wright brothers...but presented in a very engaging way to an audience of 200 ( maximum capacity) 7 plus year olds and their parents. Audience participation was key, and I particularly enjoyed the spoof inventions like the baby mop, a set of 4 absorbent pads you could strap to your baby's arms and knees designed to help you clean as s/he crawled about on the floor, and a similar, but smaller cat mop. Brilliant! pity  I couldn't buy one of those for the dog.....''

8)  The staff are unfailingly cheerful and helpful.  The service is generally sublime. 

1)  It was very busy - nearly 3000 people were there!

2)  This meant a long queue to register on arrival, queues on the water slides, queues for some of the rides and queues for the shows, or ending up sat on the (sticky) floor by the stage - which we preferred to losing an hour at a time just waiting around in the bar areas with the children when there was so much fun to be had elsewhere.  We didn't invest in the 'B-line passes' to jump these queues in order to get good seats - and they still would have meant hanging around, but possibly in rather more comfort.   

3)  Apart from the 'Hotel only' assigned Splash Waterworld time, some of the slides or changing rooms whiffed a bit of urine, which was most off-putting.  Aside from the actual smell, being in a pool with 800 other people can be quite intimidating. There were a lot of large bellies, tattoos too and that was just the women ;) !  It's a peak time of year and I think it could be managed better.  Everything else needs booking and it wouldn't hurt to apply the same principles here.  It would be much less chaotic and, there might be less, erm, 'little accidents.'   I tried not to think about how many people might pee in the pool.

4)  It's also a shame that, for said peak time of year, that the main Master Blaster water slide wasn't working and nor were some of the showers, producing more cold queues that young children simply can't (and shouldn't have to) cope with.  Again, numbers should have been limited to the 'Hotel only' 500 ish, or more of these should be given, thereby automatically taking off the pressure later on in the day for everyone else.  The only snag with the one that we enjoyed was getting the kids up early after a late night, but hey ho, it was worth it!

5)  Some of the food was really disappointing.  It certainly didn't match the standard of our Hotel.  Although some people have raved about 'The Deck,' the one we were automatically assigned to by staying at The Wave, even the children complained about the quality of the sausages and burgers on their section and they weren't over impressed with the adults' either.  I thought this was a shame and offering more healthy options on their stations would have been a prudent move.  It's a kind of huge, up-market food court looking establishment - with a grill corner - that is actually chicken or burgers cooked in an oven and finished on a grill - not what it purports to be, a pasta corner, using sauces from frozen cubes and the omelette corner (for breakfast) uses liquid egg.  It all looks SO good - there is tons of variety and choice - all beautifully displayed, but the quality of ingredients is sadly lacking. 

We also ate at Turner's where the meat was much better but the service was poor.  I heard at least three people say it was their first day.  It was much quieter, without children running around helping themselves to drinks and anything they could, and not really too formal for very young ones.  The peace was a pleasure after the large, airy open noisiness of everywhere else, but we missed our evening show because of the undertrained and thereby inadequate staff.  I think that (better run) independent eateries like this one may well be the way forward for Butlins.  This is the only one at Bognor.

The third establishment we tried was The Shoreline Hotel at the other end of the resort - and this fitted the bill perfectly - a decent range of dishes, better quality ingredients, not too enormous a restaurant, everything presented gorgeously and all self-service, so no time constraints except our own, but we didn't find it until the last night, it having been recommended by a Receptionist at our Hotel, who diplomatically indicated that we weren't the first to find fault with The Deck.  Seeing as this is part of the Butlins group of restaurants it doesn't make sense to be serving superior stuff here to at least one of the others.

We ate breakfasts late and dinners early, avoiding what could easily be deemed to be unnecessarily expensive lunches.  We were advised to take snacks and drinks around with us which worked well and killed some queuing time quite nicely.

6) The Birthday balloons and card we'd arranged for our Hotel room to greet the youngest on our arrival, were not there, not that he missed them, but he didn't get them until half way through the day which didn't have the same effect - especially for me, for the fuss of him I really wanted to make!

7)  We got a bit complacent about booking stuff, easily reserving what we planned for the first day or two whilst we found our way around, having been guided to do so by other Blogger Ambassadors, but by the time we tried to secure our plans from the programme for the last couple of days, we were too late for anything extra.  It wasn't a big hardship as there was still plenty to do but there's only so many times any adult doesn't mind having to accompany the younger ones being thrown around in the Twister!

8)  I think we'd have had quite a different holiday had the weather not been so incredibly kind.  It suited us that the children weren't really interested in the Gang Shows or Character ones which would have meant being inside, more reserving stuff in advance and worrying about trying to get a decent spot in the crowd.  There were lots of kids' clubs and activities inside too, but ours just loved scooting (literally) about the site as free spirits and rarely even saw a Redcoat!

Here's another video where all of us (except the little one who was in a permanently silly mood and made no sense whatsoever!) give our highlights.  It opens with my friend Liza.

I have printed Butlins response to my comments underneath, together with our overall conclusions.

Hi Anya,

I’m glad to hear you were impressed by the holiday, however was concerned to read you were disappointed by the quality of food on offer at The Deck. We receive lots of fantastic feedback for our meals there so I really hope you were able to speak to one of our Guest Catering team as I’m sure they’d have been happy to help put things right for you. I have passed your comments and feedback onto our Guest Catering Manager to look into ways things can be improved for all our Guests.

Thank you for your feedback for our Splash Waterworld team. Although we do have busy times, I was pleased to read you were able to enjoy spending time at our Hotel only swimming session. We want to ensure all our venues are safe and clean so all our guests can enjoy spending them, so I’m really sorry to read your comments and have passed them onto our Splash Manager to make sure things are addressed as soon as possible ready for guests staying with us on our next break.

If you do need any more help or have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know. 

Kind regards,
Butlins Customer Care

This was a good holiday.  The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  Although we were disappointed with the en masse catering in a couple of the establishments, there is no doubt that Butlins has moved on to a degree that no longer deserves its old fashioned image and where they let themselves down they are most definitely moving in the right direction.  My kind will be their kind once this is sorted.

I was grateful not to have to do the cheesy Redcoats thing, but would never have deprived the children of it.  It's a tried and tested formula that really works for younger children who will make some wonderful memories.  It's fair to say that what is on offer for the older ones is actually quite impressive.  

Although it would be tempting to return at a less busy time of year, and a term-time one normally works out better value, there is a wider range of shows and more exclusive entertainment during the school holidays, plus more activities and kids clubs.  

It's really worth keeping an eye on their offers page - www.butlins.com/offers and considering a a day visit, Room only or Bed & Breakfast at the Hotels or Apartments.  The Premium Dining package is about £25 per head per day but there are plenty of places to eat independently of it, including a brand new Diner that's only just opened. 

The Ocean Hotel has a more relaxing vibe and its own Spa (£19 for two hours, best booked before you go) and The Shoreline has a play park for small children next door plus offers breakfast with some of the 'Characters.' We really did love The Wave though.

If we were lucky enough to go again, my inner snob might wobble re the food and the weather, but it wouldn't feel the need to book the nearest resort in case a hasty getaway was required!

Well done Butlins, you've proved your point, that you have, indeed, gone upmarket and that your facilities are for the modern, fussy (ish) family. You're nearly there!

Disclosure - We were provided with the holiday and dining package as part of the Butlins Ambassador programme position.  All words and opinions are our own, obvs. 

20 May 2014

When Your Inner Snob Doesn't Serve You - A Butlins Bognor Regis Break.

Some friends of mine travel all over the world and when they were extolling the virtues of a Butlins Holiday, I couldn't believe it.

Plus there was the observation of the excited clamour for the Butlins Blogger Ambassadors places, amongst other people my age, those who could be considered to be my own kind,  but, still, I remained sceptical.

Then these two things came together during a mutually bemused chatty exchange on the Butlins  stand at the Britmums Live conference last year.  They were eager to impress upon my inner snob that their holidays have gone upmarket, to prove that their facilities are for the modern, fussy family - far removed from their old fashioned image - that my own kind is their kind - and they allocated one of their coveted Ambassadorships to me.  

'Bugger,' was my first thought.  #Bittersweet!

But it would have been rude not to give it a shot - so how did they do?

First of all, let me acknowledge Butlins' progressive thinking by including me as a single mum, let alone one with two sons.  Most holiday companies will choose a conventional married couple, with children of both sexes in order to be able to sell all their wares as easily and effectively as possible. I appreciated this mark of respect to me as an authentic blogger, being judged on what I am capable of, rather than my circumstantial limitations.  They got a big mental tick for that and I also have to admit to taking a little heart from their confidence that a good break would be had by all, despite my genuinely dubious feelings about it.

We booked their newest Hotel, The Wave, at our nearest site Bognor Regis, quite last minute over Easter. Since I got bashed in the head with the side edge of that badminton racquet, driving long distances has been a bit dodgy, but, to be honest, I thought if things really were that bad, we could just come home ...

There are actually only three resorts - Minehead and Skegness being the others, which came as a surprise, considering their national infamy and as I watched other Butlins Blogger Ambassadors posting fun pics on Instagram and Facebook and writing upbeat blog posts from them all, I reserved judgement.  It was important to see stuff for myself.

We were allocated a room that sleeps up to eight people, which seemed a bit of a waste, so were given permission to take along some friends to keep us all company.  This was a great move, but it's where we hit the first snag - the first two we invited (a single girlfriend usually game for a laugh and another single mum with two daughters) refused to come, such was their perception of what being at Butlins would mean, but, tellingly, another friend and her two children who'd been before were all absolutely thrilled to be joining us and counted down the days until our departure so, finally, we were off to a good start.

It's important to plan ahead (which we learned in retrospect).  The email communication is excellent - not spammy, but very thorough, headlined with 'how many sleeps to go.'  They outline the different eateries available (10+), attractions on and off resort, decent directions, a map of the whole place and lots of information about their various 'passes.'

These include a queue jumping one for the shows and pool (which would have to be bought for every member of the family at £20 each out of term time), an Activity one (£14 per person) and an Adrenaline one (£17 per person aged 8+).  We didn't bother with any of them, but wished we'd been a bit more savvy re the last one, once we were there.  Some of the activities for older children are charged at £5 per time and, especially for the older ones, they'd be handy, but because we hadn't booked anything adventurous soon enough, we got away with not having them anyhow.

The web-site is easy to negotiate and there are videos to wind the children up get the children in the mood.  It didn't escape my notice, however, on further investigation, that quite a number of the activities shown on them are those for which there is an extra charge, which is a bit mis-leading.

Not enough emphasis is placed on the Butlins App - which brilliantly outlines the timetables for the whole time you're away, allowing you the essential getting to grips in advance with what you all want to do and see.  Although it doesn't really mean a great deal until you're there and get your bearings, it certainly gives you the edge for booking up as soon as you are able.  For repeat visitors, this would be a godsend.

We were given the Premium Dining package which includes breakfast and evening meal at an assigned restaurant, although you can eat at any of the others as long as, again, you reserve in advance.  We were lucky enough to have been advised to eat at the famous chef Brian Turner's restaurant - the only independent one there, for which vouchers are given towards the (mostly covered) cost, but the thing my friend, Liza, was looking forward to most was trying out lots of different restaurants and she would have liked to have seen a little more info about them. Like most busy mums, we were keen to be catered for!

There were definite pluses and minuses about our break, which I've outlined here in a separate post, but, for now, here's a video with quite a good look around the resort, so you can see for yourselves the kind of things on offer.  There's free entertainment all day on a stage inside the Skyline Pavilion, mainly for younger kids than ours (5, 7, 8 and 9), plus an evening show every night on a separate, grander scale.  One of the things it doesn't show, for obvious reasons, is one of the childrens' highlights and what they had been most impatiently anticipating - Splash Waterworld - a selection of 'swimming' pools and water slides.

As you can see, they remain true to Billy Butlin's original aims and roots and yes they have moved on - but to what degree?  Will it be far enough for my inner snob to cope?  Find out HERE!

Disclosure - We were provided with the holiday and dining package as part of the Butlins Ambassador programme position.  All words and opinion are our own, obvs.

12 May 2014

The Truth about Being an Older Mum.

Channel 5 rang me recently - would I like to comment on whatever-it-was-in-the-news-that-day slating becoming an 'older mum?'  They'd like to send a film crew round about 4pm.

'Sure,' I said.  'But don't you want to know what I'm going to say first....?'

The researcher stopped in her tracks and, as is usually the case, sounded about school age.  She'd thought her work was done, she'd got herself a nice easy little coup and all that was needed now was my address.  But having wasted my time on more than one occasion prior to the possibility of this one, I pressed her.  She tutted and sighed, put on her best patronising, begrudging and 'suppose so' voice, but eventually acquiesced to hearing my opinion, which was words to roughly this effect:

'Behind every first-time older mum is a history of heartbreak, that rarely does anyone set out to have their babies at such a late age as I did (41 and 45), that I wouldn't recommend waiting until early forties, or even late thirties to have children, that I and those of my friends who have had children 'older' without exception wish we'd had them when we were younger, that we all agree we might even have had more and regret running out of time, that we seem to struggle to a greater degree with the broken nights than our younger counterparts do, wishing we'd not trotted out tonnes of miles on treadmills in our twenties.  We can't distinguish between what's peri-menopausal and natural parental exhaustion exacerbated by tantrumming toddlers.  There were no medical complications whatsoever with either of my pregnancies and my miscarriages were more to do with other matters.'

This threw the whippersnapper rather and, within half an hour, the predictable call came - that the film crew was suddenly unavailable.

Funny, that.

It seems I was supposed to bang the drum for older mums.  They had presumed that I would want to wax lyrical about how great it is to be one.  

It is great to be an older mum but only because it's great to be a mum at all.  I'm not against it in principle - I am one - but would I personally advocate planning to be one?  The truth is that, no, I would not.

It's great to be an older mum because it's great to be a mum at all.
Those of us who came to motherhood late feel very, very lucky.  We suffer more separation anxiety than our children ever have or will.  We are definitely more clingy, more likely to spoil our children and we worry.

We worry that we will never live to see our grandchildren.  We worry that we won't be able to get up from the floor when playing trains / cars / Lego.  And we worry when we fail to locate our age-related reading glasses in time for a bedtime story or, more crucially, in order to be able to see properly to cut our kids' toenails - because we *might* have learned that when we try to wing it without our specs, we *might* accidentally stab the eldest's big toe, then with one hand nursing his foot and the other yanking loo roll to stem the blood, we *might* pull a bit too hard, elbowing him in the nose slapstick style and he *might* never forget, let alone forgive, us for also failing to stifle our laughter.

We also worry when we can no longer take them with us to watch whilst our Eyebrow Threader works on us because she's now all over our face and it doesn't do to alarm them like that. We worry about our by-now-acquired-penchant for decent wine and our indecent consumption of it.  And we worry when their three little words whilst we absorb their cuddles are 'You're going wrinkly!'

Although I treasure my travelling days and the life I lived before my children, would I trade it all in to, instead, gain what would be that extra twenty or so years with them?  The truth is that, yes, I would.

Something a teenage researcher organizing a stupid TV stunt could never comprehend.

What are your thoughts on first time older mums?

Thank you to all of you who voted me into the semi-finals of the Writers Category of the #BiB Awards.  You have given me a real lift.  If you'd like to see Older Single Mum in the finals, please find all the details for the next stage HERE!
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