18 November 2015

90 Secs with a Solicitor on Divorce, Separation, Mediation + Children.

Every now and then I’m asked to talk about something specific on the blog that turns out to be really worthwhile and today is one of those days! 

Peacock and Co. Solicitors got in touch to tell us about their 90 Seconds with a Solicitor series …. where they’ve laid out commonly asked questions and given their expert legal advice as answers.  

Although they naturally cover all the usual services, it makes sense to stick within Family Law and what would be appropriate to here.   

The Solicitor whose pragmatic wisdom we are blessed with today is Caroline Mills, a Partner in the firm and it’s really impressive how much information she can impart in 90 seconds!

When you’re thinking about separating or divorcing and children are involved, things aren’t always straightforward so it’s easy to go round in circles for a while and even when you’re apart, or have been for a long time, a little help from a skilled professional can go a long way.

In the 90 Seconds with Caroline Mills on …. Divorce, she recommends planning, if possible, to separate at the appropriate time in the tax year and suggests considering a forensic accountant if you think your spouse isn’t disclosing all his / her assets.  Plus she talks about what happens with regards to any monies you expect to inherit after your divorce.

In 90 Seconds with Caroline Mills on … Mediation, she explains how you are now required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting before an application can be made to the courts if you are in dispute with your ex-partner and how mediation with a neutral third party can be a beneficial option for resolving difficulties over finances or contact with the children.   

She also discusses parental rights in 90 Seconds with Caroline Mills on… Children: Life After The Break Up – regarding who has their say on the big decisions like medical treatment, schooling and holidays and the latest one is on … How to Deal with Christmas when you are Separating or Divorcing, where she imparts some brilliant and sensitive advice about how best to deal with everyone’s needs during the festive period.

Caroline Mills, Partner at Peacock and Co. Solicitors
Caroline is a trained Collaborative Lawyer and Family Law Mediator and she and Peacock & Co are members of Resolution, a group of independent family lawyers who follow a Code of Practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems. They are based in south London but are happy to represent people from further afield.

In the meanwhile, please feel free to check out their website which is full of fabulous information posted for free and I hope it is of benefit to those of you who starting out on the road of separation, or are even further along it and need to know where you all reasonably stand.

All the questions, answers and contact details can be found in their NEWS section HERE.  

You’re welcome XX

16 November 2015

When Worlds Collide - Jeremey Vine, #Strictly and Me.

Sometimes I dream I am dancing a Waltz.

It's something I learned as a young girl and the 'conscious co-operation' that Robert Holden talks about in his book 'Happiness Now' is something that never leaves you. It is a delight and it is something that my soul misses, even all these years later.

My sister, some special friends and I used to trek up to the local Bill and Ann Legge School of Ballroom and Latin American Dance a good few times a week and, to the disconcertation of our parents, we were all always thrashing out Jives to Abba's Waterloo in our living rooms, Quicksteps in the kitchens and Sambas, Rumbas and Cha Cha Chas wherever we could get away with them.  None of us ever got to grips with the Tango or a Foxtrot, but we could follow anyone who could lead us and even though none of us competed, we all managed to get to a few medals of attainment.

ballroom dancing, latin american dancing, strictly come dancing, strictly,
My dancing certificates still proudly kept in a safe place!

One by one, as the older girls amongst us went on to senior school, homework sadly took its place.

However, just before we'd all left, the best boy in our class (and there were remarkably few) would ask me to Waltz with him.  He and his partner were very ambitious with their dancing and had loads of private lessons.  Bearing in mind how young we all were, the rest of us didn't really appreciate them forever showing off their skillz, but for that particular dance, he would often choose to whizz me around the studio floor instead of her and despite it being a struggle to keep up, it was worth it, because, for that short time, perhaps once a week, I would feel like a Dancing Queen!

Then he'd dump me again, obvs. 

But my he's not the man in my dreams.  That's someone who is not always recognizable.  Once it was a man I used to know and with whom there's never been any romantic involvement.  It's nearly twenty years since we've had any contact and we never discussed dancing, so it's an odd thing (although he is very George Clooney like so my subconscious is clearly switched on!) and yet, still, the magical memories come back.          

Nowadays, I must settle for having introduced the children to Strictly Come Dancing and we Waltz around at home really rather badly, but it's fun. 

Which brings me to another part of my life that's decidedly in the present.  You may remember me recently revealing a quite longstanding but confidential crush on Jeremy Vine, the lunch-time presenter on Radio 2. Although I was a bit miffed when he took over from Jimmy Young yonks ago, he quickly won me round with his wit and amazing devil's advocate during debates on his show.  He clearly loves his music and I admire a clever man, so he has honestly been very good company while I've been a Stay-at-Home mum and it's a joy to be able to continue listening to the station since starting my new job.    

But can you imagine how startling it was when these two secret worlds of mine recently collided?  Once the news was released about Jeremy Vine joining this season's Strictly as one of their celebrity contenstants, I went into a panic, fearing my fairly harmless feelings were going to lurch quite seriously in one direction or another! 

I needn't have worried though.  It turns out he's really very gangly - to the extent Craig Revel Horwood, the harshest of the judges, said it was like a lotto for where his limbs would land last week and, another one, Bruno, compared him to being like Woody from Toy Story as he was dressed in a cowboy outfit!

Admittedly, when the boys and I watched the film in tribute the next day, we found it difficult to disagree, but we have enjoyed watching him do his best nevertheless.

Unfortunately, this week was his last.  He took an enormous amount of flack in characteristically good spirit and was massively popular.  He received a standing ovation from everyone present as he thanked everyone involved and his partner praised his dedication, passion and love of dancing.  His good grace refelected very well on him and he was described as 'An awesome bloke' by Anita, one of his fellow competitors.  

jeremy vine, strictly, woody, toy story, strictly come dancing,
His accidental Woody impersonation, his response to a member of the public missing the point and he has his partner embarking on a Waltz.
But he never stood a chance.

So it comes as some relief that my worlds will no longer collide, causing an inordinate amount of wincing and we can all go back to normal. 

Len has already threatned to pickle his walnuts, Darcey will always give Craig daggers for ever single one of his scores and we will continue to wonder what on earth Claudia Winkleman is going to come out with next!  Her irreverence is making Tess irrelevant.  

And at home, we will be treated to a running commentary from the youngest.  He will make notes of everyone's scores, and recall who gave them what last time.  I will rave about every single exquisite dress and keep saying how they should get rid of the gimmicks and just get on with the dancing.  

The eldest will be inspired.  He will learn to love to Waltz and, all being well, it won't be just in his dreams. 

5 November 2015

Ruddy Glitter and Ruddy Glue.

It all happened quite spontaneously.

There was a mountain of various bits of cardboard cr*p behind the kitchen door - empty egg cartons, kitchen roll holders, shoe boxes and a few of the students' empty ruddy Pringles crisps tubes. (The children aren't allowed them - have you seen the ingredients on those things?!).

And within minutes of me expressing a desire to shift some of it to the recycling bin, there was ruddy glitter and ruddy glue, ruddy everywhere.

Am I the only woman in the world who hates craft?

The eldest had been given a school project to make a Space Landscape.  Even we could cope with that scope, it would be reasonable to have thought - espcially with the six weeks notice we'd been given, which meant we couldn't even get out of it by whining about not being given enough time.


So we'd been collecting cardboard cr*p all this time, very little of which he wished to use when the time came to get our craft on.

Suddenly, pale blue felt was required, together with coloured card and acrylic paints, stuff that can't be found in this house, sorry.

We argued about what constitutes craters and (him) why a loo roll holder (which we hadn't collected) was better that a kitchen roll one, but it was his call and it all had to fit inside one shoe box, so why couldn't I recycle the rest?!

He had quite a set, but brilliant, idea in his mind but neither of the poor boys realise their mother is cr*p at craft.  The only thing I'm capable of sticking on is a smile and some fake bonhomie.  We paint and draw and colour, but that's my limit and, on this particular occasion, we were supposed to be going swimming.

We never made it.

But we did make this without any major falling out or forking out on stuff which will enforce further craft hell in future.

craft, space craft, rocket,
Ruddy craft. His space project. 
It's amazing what you can find when you put your mind to it, isn't it?  We sourced unused star stickers for reward charts (which tells you a bit about their behaviour lately!) and cut up a black sparkly gift bag.  We used UHU and sellotape instead of what probably should have been a Pritt stick (because we don't own one, so shoot me now) and found a make-your-own-sock-puppet pack that had never been opened (surprise!) which shed glitter all over the place, but gave us something to gather up and glue down to make some sky.

There was some weird alien looking tissue paper that had come with someone's shoes one day, which I'd kept, knowing we had this coming up and we nicked some play-doh legs off something or other.

And, naturally, as soon as we'd got cracking, the youngest decided he wanted to torture me too, because he needed to make a rocket and a landscape as well.  Simultaneously, obviously, and to the same spec. with identical materials.,

We never made that either.

If we'd planned it, instead of putting it off and, perhaps, done it on the protected dining table instead of getting glitter within the grooves of the kitchen floor (which isn't such a bad look to be honest!) and been more patient with each other, because we weren't rushing to get on with what we'd originally said we were going to do, then they might have enjoyed it so much they'd want to do it again.

So all's well that ends well!

It was fun, but not that much fun ;)

2 November 2015

A Tale of Two Funerals.

I don't like to talk about dying on the blog, but there are two conversations that recently resonated with me.

The first was overheard in one of our local shops, where the main man there was showing his colleague some important looking papers he was drawing up.  It turned out these were his Funeral Plan!

He'd, apparently, been to two funerals recently - one which was the full works - a horse drawn carriage, a classy coffin and sophisticated send off, while the other was the bare minumum allowed legally - his friend's body picked up from the local mortuary by his son, popped in a box in the back of a jeep and taken up to the crematorium himself.  

The latter had obviously upset him a great deal and he started to tell me about how expensive it is to die nowadays!

The difference between these two funerals, he went on to explain, was a pre-paid funeral plan and he was taking one out, so that he could get a decent send off and not lumber his own children with the rapidly rising costs involved or, indeed, limit the way he would like to go.

The other conversation that I overheard took place in Downton Abbey (something I'm terribly new to, so please excuse my being vague) on a Sunday night, where the solid Mr. Carson was (I think!) talking about his master whose ulcer had burst all over the dining table and he was telling his new wife how 'Life is short and death is sure.'

So when I was asked to feature the infographic below which features the simply staggering cost of a funeral in the UK - something that has increased by a massive 92.3% in the last decade, it felt the right thing to do.

Sometimes life is trying to tell us something, even if it's about dying!

pre-paid funeral plan, funeral plan, sunlife,
The cost of dying in the UK, with Northern Ireland the lowest, London, the highest. 
The average cost of a funeral in the UK is £3693, but it's set to rise to £4620 by 2020.

Long live local shops though and the conversations that can occur!

Even though it's a sensitive subject and difficult to bring up, arranging for our wishes to be met in a funeral plan ahead of the event itself, not to mention covering their costs, can surely be a comfort and make things easier for those who are left behind.

Disclosure -  this is a collaborative post, but all words are true and my own, obvs.

24 October 2015

Where to go in Half Term - 2 for 1 Tickets to the Family Travel Show.

I am delighted to be able to offer two advance tickets to the Family Travel Show (details above) for only £8.00!

It's a brand new event and the only one dedicated to family holidays. 

Entrance for children under 16 is free so, aside from it being an inexpensive day out, it looks like a wonderful opportunity to educate and inspire us all. 

And who doesn't love a holiday or to travel?  

There's a complimentary creche for children aged between 17 weeks and 8 years old which will enable parents to wander freely, knowing their little ones are being cared for and having a great time. It will be run by Esprit Ski, the ‘Number 1 Family Ski Company’ and high ratios, excellent security procedures and a fully experienced child care team are assured. 

But I'll be dragging mine round with me.  Maybe.  Because there's so much I want them to see and do.    

There's :

The biggest collection of specialist family travel operators under one roof.

Over 50 FREE Show Talks - in three different theatres - Family Travel Talks, Around the World and Incredible Holidays. 

Young Travellers Photography Competition & Exhibition.

National Geographic Traveller Explorers’ Corner.

Lonely Planet Kids

And we all will want us to end up doing something like this:

The Family Travel Show will be full of exciting competitions, prize draws and huge discounts, with exhibitors from all over the world.  It promises to be fantastic fun, full of practical advice and ideas for travelling with children of all ages and we're determined to win something special.  We don't mind what it would be!

Mostly, though, it's a perfect opportunity for the children to learn about what a fascinating planet we live on and discover the possibilities of exploring it.  We can't wait to visit and hope to see you there!     
You can find out much more at www.familytravelshow.com 

The Family Travel Show takes place in London’s Olympia on 31st October – 1st November 2015.  To claim 2 for 1 advance tickets just quote OSM on-line or or call 0844 209 7360.  They're £12 on the door, under 16s are free. (Calls cost 10p per minute plus network extras).

21 October 2015

The NCT, Single Parents and Me.

NCT, babblelive, NCT annual conference, keynote speaker,
That's little old me - unable to see over the lectern!
I was recently asked to share my experiences of being a single parent at the Annual National Childbirth Trust (NCT) Conference and suggest ways in which they can better support us.  Little did I realise this would render me a Keynote Speaker in their programme and up on the main stage right at the outset of the day!

I thought it was ironic - because they are trying to shed their middle class image, whilst I have always been trying to claim one for single parents since beginning this blog and although it seemed a good idea in principle - as it's something I can yack about until the cows come home - the thought of standing in front of several hundred people was enough to wake me in the middle of the night for the duration of the few weeks between naively readily agreeing and the due date.

But once I was there, it was an important enough occasion and job in hand to just get on with it and even though my nerves were making it impossible to see my notes and I couldn't see over the lectern and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done in a life that has never been short of adventures, it simply had to be done.

NCT, babblelive, NCT annual conference, Daniel Craig,
I would talk about that time with Daniel Craig ...
The introduction said I would talk about the time I slept with Daniel Craig, which we figured would get their attention and, picking up the baton from a Stay at Home Dad, it made sense to run with it.  

I asked our audience - mainly NCT Practitioners and Volunteers - to consider why it is that our society views such men as heroes, whereas Stay at Home Mums aren't seen the same way.

And I pointed out how should such men, or indeed any men, happen to be Single Fathers, how they are automatically elevated to Superhero status, but the term 'Single Mother' conjures up a totally different image.

The people at the front were nodding along and, unbeknown to them, they kept me going.  Not that I could really see.  With my glasses off, the audience was clear but my notes were indecipherable, yet with them on, it was vice versa.  I was in a right old faff, truly quite jittery and really trying not to let it show!

So, ploughing on bravely, I blamed the media and suggested that the stigma surrounding single mums is the first thing which needs addressing, plus I added the teenagers making up less than 2% single parents statistic, which always surprises everyone.

Then I got personal, revealing how my ex-husband and I had led separate lives since he 'couldnt stand the f***ing sucking sound' of me breastfeeding our baby, that the first night we'd spent together in a couple of years had resulted in our second son and that I'd had to throw him out whilst only a few months pregnant.

NCT, babblelive, NCT annual conference, single parenting,
More than a few months pregnant - about to pop!  A single mum at 44.
I put it to them that lone parents come in all shapes and sizes.  Some can be married or in partnerships on the outside, but behind closed doors it's another matter.  Others have partners working away (but they generally are privy to financial and emotional support that most single parents aren't) and only relatively few - but it's a number that's rising - choose to have children that way.

I explained reaching out via my blog, how I discovered and featured other single mums - older, professional ones like me - all as far removed as it's possible to be from the way we've too often been portrayed and I very much regret it slipping my mind to mention the ladies (and men) who have been widowed, who also do a sterling job of raising their children single-handedly.

Another favourite statistic about our average age - nationally - being 38, got a powerful reaction and I made it clear that none of us finds it easy.  We're either on 24/7 and never-endingly knackered, which isn't really in the interests of the children, or we're missing out on up to 50% of their childhood.

I confessed that no matter which way we may be doing things, it's hard, it hurts and the loneliness can be crippling.

Plus, our aspirations for ourselves as well as for our youngsters don't change just because our circumstances have.

So what did I feel they can do to help?

Having given this matter some thought prior to the event, I mooted a campaign called 'Look Out for Lone Parents' - using the expression in its double sense.

And if, per chance, any might actually be out of the house attending one of the famous NCT ante or post natal groups, said it would be perfect if other members might be encouraged to offer them some normal solidarity instead of treating them like pariahs, because as experience goes, friends on the ground can be much more effective than Facebook ones - particularly where older siblings are concerned.

NCT local networks have been providing a framework for firm friendships for over fifty years now so there is incredible scope within them.  They can be a lifeline for lots of parents, regarldess of their personal situation and it makes sense to make the most of them.    

NCT, babblelive, NCT annual conference, Keynote Speakers,
Honoured to be speaking alongside Tim Atkinson, Author and Emily Slater, Maternal Mental Health Campaigner.
Protecting their mental health is paramount (and the person speaking after me went into this in more depth and in general, sharing shocking stories - including her own failed suicide attempts - about those who suffer PND), so easing pressures wherever possible - even in the smallest of ways, can make a massive difference.  Meeting up for coffee, alternating a school run, or inviting them and / or their children over for tea - helps them feel less abandoned, ashamed or alone and this benefits the whole family in the long run.

It was time to wrap up then, so I finished with it being a sad truth that the Superhero status isn't applied to any of the single mothers I've met on or off line, yet they are the bravest, strongest, smartest people I know and they deserve as much support and as little stigma as their male counterparts.

So that was it - the gist anyway.  It was quite an ordeal, being unaccustomed to presenting and it took me about a week to recover, but I was glad of such a huge opportunity and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

I was treated brilliantly and there wasn't a hint of any middle class militancy.  On the contrary - everyone involved was thoughful, sensitive and kind - possibly, again, as far removed as it's possible to be from the way they've too often been portrayed.

But it didn't feel ironic, it felt inspiring and inclusive and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for trying to make things easier for people following the lone parent path.

The NCT is a national charity.  Their mission is to be an advocate, guide and friend for as many parents as possible through their First 1,000 Days.  You can tweet them at @NCTcharity and / or find out more about them HERE.   

12 October 2015

My Son's New Girlfriend (Age Six).

The 6yo on his way to school - where he found his new girlfriend!
The youngest has a new girlfriend.  She's in his class at the school he's just switched to and he is smitten.  This one has something 'special' about her.

The first time he fell in love, he was only three.  A vision of an angel appeared from behind a big cushion on a soft play surface at a local playgroup - all long fair hair and huge blue eyes.  I watched his eyes follow her and widen with awe and delight before he blushed.  He loved her.  That instantaenously.

And then he forgot about her.

Number two was when he started in Reception.  He shared his news with the same excited stare, about how pretty she was - red ringlets this time and what fun she was to be with at break times.      

Until they moved on.

And now we're on number three.  She seems to holds her own, let's say 'unique,' attraction to him, something that will hopefully remain specific to six year olds.  

Him:  'Mummy, I've got a new girlfriend.'

Me:  'That's wonderful darling.  What's she like?

Him:  'She's really beautiful mummy.'

Me:  'Oh, that's so lovely sweetheart.  Tell me all about her.  What's her best bit?'

(Would it be her stunning blonde mane held back with gorgeous headbands that emphasise her big brown eyes?  That she's playful, kind and / or clever?  Er, no.)

He glazed over before gleefully revealing why they are a match made in Heaven.

Him: 'She farts!'
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