Little Waitrose at John Lewis Watford – win £150 of vouchers

25 Jul

John Lewis Watford

There are few shops that I can say hold memories for me. (Or at least pleasant ones – my mum will remember the unfortunate incident in Cresta Cards that cleared the shop.) As a child I remember wandering around the John Lewis (or Trewins as it was in Watford in those days) haberdashery department marveling at the rainbow walls of cotton reels. John Lewis was where my big brother had his first grown-up job. I shopped for my wedding list there and then three years later was back buying for my first baby and wondering who could afford a Silver Cross pram. I shall resist any mention of the Royal Baby … And, of course, there was many a time I got my boobs out in the baby department.

For both old-timers like me and the yet-to-be-converted, the great news is that the John Lewis store at Intu Watford (formerly the Harlequin Centre) has just got even better. Not only are there 4 glorious floors of whatever you fancy to peruse – you can now tickle your taste buds at the same time because John Lewis’ tastiest family member, Little Waitrose, has moved in with its big brother. 5,500 square feet of John Lewis has been converted into the new Little Waitrose space giving you the chance to shop for your favourites whilst enjoying everything John Lewis has to offer.

Convenience is all. Little Waitrose is the ideal place to choose something for dinner, pick up a snack or top up your regular food shop. Alongside fruit, vegetables and deli products you can find fresh meat and fish counters and a bakery. Get some flowers if you need to say sorry to someone. Choose from the wide range of wines and beers if you want to celebrate something. And for the more mundane days when not much is happening and you’ve been neither insulting nor successful, you’ll find store cupboard essentials from washing powder to cereal. Why go anywhere else? Happy days.

To celebrate the arrival of Little Waitrose at John Lewis in Watford I’m giving you the chance to win a fabulous £150 worth of John Lewis vouchers (which can be spent in any John Lewis, Waitrose and Little Waitrose or online). For your chance to win please see below. Good luck and happy shopping and eating – both at the same time, marvellous!

TO ENTER
To enter please scroll down and leave a comment telling me how you’d spend the vouchers. Of course, if you don’t want to tell me and just want to say “hello” that’s fine – I’m just being a nosey-bones. Either way, you’ll be entered to win.

THE RULES
Entries from the UK only. Just one entry per person. No entries accepted after 5pm (GMT) on August 31st, 2013. The winner will be chosen completely at random and will be announced here on September 1st as well as contacted individually. If the winner doesn’t respond within 5 days then an alternative winner will be chosen.

Disclosure: A big thanks to the John Lewis Partnership for giving me the opportunity to offer these vouchers.

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Vicky Arlidge: From nappies to neeps

21 Jul

Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum?

Vicky Arlidge, a St Albans composer and musician, takes her one-woman comedy show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month. Here she talks to me about her journey from teaching toddler music classes to gearing up to raise laughs at the world’s largest arts festival.

When Vicky Arlidge posted a performance of her song Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? online she didn’t expect it to receive over 10,000 hits worldwide. It was the start of a new direction in Vicky’s career, transforming her from composer, music teacher and musician to stand-up musical comedian complete with ukulele and keyboard.

Vicky is now looking to bring her observational comedy about the frustrations of being a mum and wife to a wider audience.

“I could be giving it all up,” she laughs nervously when asked to picture the scenario when her Edinburgh Fringe Festival run is over: “It goes terribly wrong, I get no audiences, I get terrible reviews and no one’s interested”.

With her hair neatly clipped to one side, Vicky appears unassuming – your everyday mum on the school run. But on stage her incisive wit and ability to make her audience squirm in recognition is far from ordinary. An accomplished musician, Vicky has over 20 years’ experience of composing for theatre, television and film as well as performing and teaching music. In 2008 she set up Pitter Patter Music to provide music classes for babies and toddlers in St Albans – you could say she is used to a tough audience.

“I’m not the funniest person I know”, says Vicky. ”The only difference between me and everyone else is that I’m the one who’s got up on stage, I’m stupid enough to do that.”

With songs such as Raucous Raunchy Sex Or A Nice Cup of Tea, The School Run Madrigal Vicky describes being a mother as an essential part of her comedy: “Fifty per cent of my comedy is about being a mum”. Vicky has hit a winning formula judging by her recent sell-out preview show in St Albans. Still glowing, Vicky looks back on it as one of her “best audiences ever”.

Vicky discovered her talent for musical comedy when she set out to write a pop song after a testing day.  “I was a full-time mum,” she says, “getting really frustrated at not doing anything creative – just changing nappies and dealing with tantrums all day long and going a bit nuts.” That pop song turned into Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? When it became an internet hit, Vicky realised that she missed the buzz of having an audience: “I never thought I’d be a musical comedian, it never entered my head until I was 40-whatever. I just fell into it.”

She started going to what she half-seriously describes as “dodgy comedy clubs”, the training ground for new comedians. Forcing Vicky to learn “from the hardest audience”, they proved to be very different from the musical world Vicky was used to. Why didn’t the bad gigs put her off? “Because I’m very stubborn and determined,” she says firmly. Her tone softens and she adds: “It makes you feel so great, just to laugh. To make a whole room of people laugh is a great feeling.”

Vicky’s humorous take on everyday life has led to her being compared to Victoria Wood. “I’m really flattered,” Vicky smiles. “She’s funny but very funny in a homely way. She has an unmacho humour that appeals to women.” Vicky readily acknowledges that a large part of her own audience is women. But this doesn’t mean her comedy is tame. There is a naughty glint in her eye when she admits her tendency to slip a few bad words into her songs.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a daunting prospect for all comedians, particularly first-timers. The average audience for a show is just three people. Taking part is an expensive business and requires a vast amount of preparation. But with that comes the hope of being discovered and exposed to a nationwide audience.

“It feels like a rite of passage,” Vicky says. “If you want to be a comedian you have to go to Edinburgh. You do it for what happens around Edinburgh. You take yourself more seriously and other people start to take you more seriously.”

Despite being nervous about what Edinburgh holds, Vicky is enjoying every minute: “It’s just the laughter I think,” she says. “I love writing the songs, the creativity. I’d love it if I could give up the day job and write silly songs all day and make people laugh at night – that would be perfect.”

Vicky’s show Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? runs from August 2nd-10th at the C venues – C Nova, Edinburgh. Tickets are available here.

Review: Horrible Science – Blood, Bones & Body Bits

14 Jul

Horrible science

My 4-year-old is at an age where she finds bodily functions and their associated sights, sounds and smells hilarious. Completely normal and, coming from a family where being proffered a finger to pull is perfectly acceptable, I’ve done nothing to discourage it. When the opportunity to review Galt Toys’ Horrible Science: Blood, Bones & Body Bits kit came up I knew she would be rubbing her hands together in gruesome glee.

Blood, Bones & Body Bits is a collection of science experiments – “Horribly fantastic bodily experiments!” – in a box. Aimed at children 5 years and up, I knew it would mean a lot of participation on my part. But this is a good thing. Not only could I try to control the mess (in true over-bearing parent style), it also meant that it was going to be an educational experience for me.

The ‘Lab Notebook’ accompanying the kit is excellent. It is informative, clear, funny and, best of all, I could make my 4-year-old believe I knew what I was talking about. I’m no scientist (I was afraid of Bunsen burners at school) but reading out the booklet – simplifying it in places if necessary – made me sound like Mrs Einstein. The ‘Horrible Science’ style of the booklet would be a great read for older children. Unfortunately, much of the humour was lost on my daughter but it certainly made it more digestible (excuse the bodily pun) for me.

Helpfully, the instructions alert you to which of the experiments are most messy. If you’ve not got lots of time I recommend you tackle some of the quicker, less messy experiments like the ‘Bottom-Burp Machine’ or ‘Gruesome Guts’. This kit isn’t for the mess averse. If you deploy your best control-freakery it will still beat you. Take the ‘Bulging Bag of Brains’ experiment: I guffawed when I read the warning that “spilled brains can be very difficult to clear up”. How hard can it be not to drop a bag of porridge on the floor? Ask the 4-year-old who decided that she just didn’t want to hold the bag any more …

Science experiment

Brains – runnier than I expected.

To avoid disappointment, check which of the experiments need leaving overnight before you promise instant ‘Rubber Bones’ or ‘Amazing Real-Size Brain’. And before you start an experiment it’s a must to check you have all the necessaries. The kit provides most of the equipment you need and anything extra can generally be found around the house (vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and such like). But do check. Turns out rolled porridge oats aren’t as effective as instant oats when you’re trying to recreate grey matter. Who would’ve thought? Ahem.

Not every experiment worked for us. Trying to squeeze beads through a lubricated plastic tube to demonstrate the digestive process was more a lesson in constipation – not quite the intended result but educational nonetheless! There was some trial and error on mummy’s part trying to make the balloon function as a ‘Bottom-Burp Machine’ but my daughter won’t forget the effect of adding “just a little bit more” vinegar to bicarbonate of soda. Boom! A good lesson in how experiments are not about always getting it right first time – with science mistakes can lead to discoveries.

Science experiment

Squeezing out a poo. Or not, in this case.

Did we learn anything from Blood, Bones & Body Bits? Absolutely. My daughter may not remember all the intricacies of biology that the kit makes a good stab at teaching but she has learnt how fun science can be. For me, I had the opportunity to ‘teach’ science with all the props and knowledge provided in one convenient box – something I couldn’t have done by myself. Easy mummy brownie points and lots of laughs along the way. Bring on the quantum physics …

Thank you to the lovely people at Galt Toys who sent this product to me free of charge and expected nothing in return other than an objective review. Horrible Science: Blood, Bones & Body Bits retails at around £15.99.

Massages: a whole lot of stress

20 Jun

Relaxation

The purpose of a massage is to relax the body’s tissues. Ideally, it should also relax the mind. I recently indulged in an 80-minute Balinese massage (yes, 80 minutes – there was a promotion on) and, as the therapist covered me with a white sheet and washed my feet as if she were preparing a corpse, I had plenty of time to contemplate how I really felt about the whole experience. Am I in a minority in finding massages to be wholly unrelaxing?

Being required to lie on your front with your face poking through what looks like a gnome’s padded toilet seat is bad enough. But to be forced to contemplate the same square foot of floor beneath you for a significant amount of time (in my case at least 40 minutes) is quite something. If I could relax in these situations then I would close my eyes and drift off to a desert island, but unfortunately I got to know that piece of floor in intimate detail. I wondered whether it was real or laminate. If the former, where had it begun its formative tree years? (And when did it branch out into floor work?) I speculated on the purpose of the bowl of pot pourri placed on the floor directly under my face. Was it there to waft a delicious scent (it didn’t) or to catch my dribble? If the latter then that was considerate as dribbling was inevitable, unsure as I was as to whether it was acceptable to move an inch and wipe away the said dribble before it rehydrated the pot pourri.

Spas. Not just for chavs. Obviously.

Spas. Not just for chavs. Obviously.

Of course, focusing on a specific point is a key part of meditation. But far from inducing a meditative state and quieting my mind, for me such focus flips two fingers at self-awareness and snaps the handbrake off of a runaway train of thought. The worries of the world, big and small, race unstoppably through my mind with no distinction between the significant and the insignificant.

What is the masseuse thinking? Oh, her toe nails looks nice. Would she rather be doing Balinese massage in Bali? Does she miss her family? And (oh god!) what is she thinking about the mound of flesh on the table in front of her? A mound that when slapped onto a flat surface cannot possibly look attractive. Hold on, surely she must be grateful though that I’m not a fat, sweaty, sunburnt, hairy man? At least I’ve shaved my legs up to the knee. I’ve not had a Hollywood wax but I have given a nod to the gorse land in my native England. Is she going to flip if she has to listen to one more day of this piped Indonesian-style muzak? Would Bon Jovi bring some relief?

And talking of relief … She found that spot that stimulates the urge for a wee (in extreme cases the need to break wind). Gosh, it happens every time. Whilst the rest of my muscles have terrible trouble relaxing, my pelvic floors always manage to bag the best spot on the beach and kick back sipping pina coladas. I must concentrate on another part of my body. I must concentrate on another part of my body. Bugger. “Excuse me,” I say, raising my head with its imprint of the gnome’s toilet seat, “please can I just pop to the toilet?” The masseuse gives me a pitying look and I resist the urge to qualify my request with the statement: “I have had two children, you know”.

Remember, remember the … errrrrr …. did I switch the gas off?

28 May

Toddler me

As a mum I spend rather too much time lamenting how quickly time passes. Memories ought to document these fleeting years, but, whilst I remember events, I struggle to conjure up memories that make me feel the recent past. It seems as if my memories of my children have been lost in the blur that has been the 4 years since they entered this world.

I had begun to believe that I had a case of advanced and irreversible baby brain. It was therefore a surprise when I started to experience moments of clarity from my own childhood. That feels odd when you can barely remember what you had for breakfast. Little things that I see, little things that my kids do more and more frequently trigger a portal into my formative years.

As we sit as a family on the sofa I am transported back to always being the one to get the middle seat (on what in those days was called a ‘settee’) between my older brother and sister. Tiny fingers on brown velour in the early days (the 70s) then bigger fingers on floral patterns as my parents transitioned from the 80s to the early 90s. To my left, my brother, capable of emitting endless noxious gases (he still is) and smelling of muddy football pitches. To my right my big sister, a grown-up in my eyes yet still demanding that I scratch her arms whilst she watches Top of the Pops.

At the gym on a Saturday morning I look down over the swimming lessons. I remember such lessons well, but what I picture above all is swimming in old pyjamas (I can even remember which ones). I had expected times to have moved on but apparently swimming in pyjamas wasn’t peculiar to the 1980s. It is clearly on the list of things a British schoolchild must endure along with country dancing and learning the recorder. I found swimming lessons traumatic enough but wrap me in waterlogged material and you’ve a recipe for vivid recollection. The smell of chlorine, rubber swimming hats and verruca socks wafts back under my nose. The roof of the poorly lit public bath looms above my head while I wait my turn to try to pick an unfeasibly large black brick up off the pool floor, eyes shut and fully clad in 100% polyester. Fumbling, billowing and, in the main, unsuccessful.

Insights into your own past can of course help you to empathise with the present. Tempting as it is to get irritated by my daughter’s compulsion to collect things and become obsessively protective of them, I am transported back to a time when I was immensely proud of my rubber collection: a plastic sweet jar full of novelty rubbers mainly collected on school trips. Most clear in my mind is the rubber in the shape of a t-shirt which came in a box designed to look like a washing powder packet. I can still invoke its chemical scent – strong enough to induce a sneeze. The joy of setting the collection out, showing it to friends, yet never letting it near a smudge of pencil.

When I despair at my kids’ reluctance to share I suddenly remember how painful it felt when a friend chose Paulette Poodle from my Fabuland collection before I had a chance to. That’s how darned big and important little things can seem when you’re a child. Counting your teddies and religiously wishing each and every one of them goodnight (in order of course) is not necessarily a sign of the early onset of OCD.

I am longing to create for my children memories that they can conjure up in 30 or 40 years’ time and feel, smell and taste their childhood. “Do you remember when we went to … ?” “Do you remember how Mum used to …?” Most important of all, I want those memories to make them feel warm and nostalgic in the same way I do when I catch those flashes of my own smaller, pudgier and easier to please self.

Review: Walkers Hoops and Crosses

8 May

crisp snacks

My kids like eating crisps but, in my well-meaning motherly way, I’d rather they didn’t. They think happy thoughts; I think tooth decay and the obesity epidemic. Yet I’m a firm believer in not denying food stuffs that err on the naughtier side as long as it’s in moderation and stops my kids from developing a forbidden fruit complex. It was with excitement and some trepidation then that I let a new crisp product through my door and into the mouths of my kids.

Walkers Hoops and Crosses are a new baked corn snack aimed at children but also at parents like me who are keen to have their guilt allayed by the promise of wholegrains (a wholesome 56% in the case of Hoops and Crosses). Apparently some kids don’t get enough wholegrain – unlike my offspring who are able to consume their own body weight in Cheerios. If you’re less than 4 foot tall and easily seduced by something in a shiny packet then it might as well be a snack that gives a nod to the dark side of healthy. Hoops and Crosses are free from artificial colours and preservatives and are only 85 calories a bag – tick, tick, tick.

Walkers Hoops and Crosses

Monkey not always included. 😦

My 4-year-old and 2-year-old didn’t need much persuasion to give Hoops and Crosses a go, particularly as they’re shaped like … hoops and crosses. (Novelty factor – tick!) We got our grubby mitts on the Roast Beef flavour and, once we’d discussed that not every packet comes with a toy monkey (thanks Walkers!), the packet was almost evenly divided between brother and sister. Sister was full of praise: “yummy”, “they taste like carrots” (errrr …) and “no, NO, they’re mine!” Her brother doesn’t say much yet but I assume his silence was evidence of both happiness and a rather full mouth.

Walkers Hoops and Crosses

You can even eat them out of shoes.

After wrestling the packet from the children, I also tried a few. I couldn’t taste roast beef, although I rarely can in a non-meat format. I wouldn’t buy Hoops and Crosses to eat myself but I can see why my kids enjoyed them.  They are also pleasantly free of the voluminous (and luminous) crumb dust that other well-known children’s snacks emit – the death knell of many a white t-shirt. I’m not overly convinced though by the flavours that Walkers have chosen: roast beef, prawn cocktail and salt and vinegar. I would have preferred the blander classics like cheese and ready salted. After all, kids relish bland, as evidenced by the roaring trade in those tasteless little ricecakes.

Would I buy Hoops and Crosses again? Yes. I’m not sure they will replace our beloved Pom-Bears (another product that proves that kids like shapes as much as, if not more than, taste) but Hoops and Crosses will be an appealing alternative. If my kids will on occasion insist on turning their noses up at fruit in favour of crisps then I say “hooray” for a snack that will force a little element of something good into them.  And who am I to argue with this face?

Eating crisps 

This is a sponsored post for Walkers crisps and I received the products pictured as well as compensation for writing this review. However, all opinions are my own and I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

Saturday is Caption Day!

20 Apr

It has been a while since I’ve gone all linkified on a Saturday. Maybe it’s the sunshine that’s made me go a little bit wild this weekend. Thank you to Butterfly World for the photo below. My son, however, clearly isn’t thanking anyone. Captions please! (And for more photos do head over to the lovely Mammasaurus’ blog for all the #SatCap entries ….)

Butterfly World St Albans

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