Things (not) to put on your sister’s face

Hurrah – The Mater has flown in on a half-term mission of mercy bringing food and changing nappies, Gods bless her.  However this does mean I ought to be off, being sociable, or at the very least clearing out the airing cupboard or some other such useful, yet tedious task that I can only do when she’s here to entertain the troops.  This being said I didn’t want to leave the blog untouched just as I am getting into the swing of things again, so I decided a quick list was in order.  The following is a list of items that The Boy has placed (or attempted to place, before being noticed and stopped) in, on or over his sister’s face since she arrived in the family just two months ago:

– a blanket
– a pillow (ffs!)
– his pyjamas
– a stuffed tiger, a stuffed dog, a stuffed cat… (notice a theme here?)20150528_101034
– a rattley rabbit
– a spoon
– his finger
– his face
– his derriere
– a shark slipper with flashy eyes
– a sparkly ‘Frozen’ hairbrush
– a plastic viking helmet
– a laundry dosing ball

And the kicker is, none of this was meant maliciously. He’s just trying to engage with her (apparently she wants to be Hiccup from How to train your dragon, for example, or making her into Elsa from Frozen), so all I can do is sternly repeat the refrain “do not put anything on your sister’s face”.

Another Day For Me

Both The Boy and I were humming a merry tune as we went about our various business this morning.  The culprit was, as it usually is in this house (especially since we banned TV and all its associated irritating ear-wormy theme tunes), a Nick Cope tune – Another Day For Me.

PiratesBreakfast_front_1600x1600_RGB-2The main theme of this catchy little tune is based around the multitude of cups of tea drunk by the singer during the day (Nick, if you’re reading this – think you might have a problem mate).  The Boy particularly likes the line about having to go to the toilet “because of all the cups of tea”*.  I find a rather deeper meaning in it and want to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that, despite also having written songs about the baby having done a poo and a nose in the middle of his face, Cope is not completely unaware of the subtext present in his music, albeit more evident to the parents of his target audience than the children themselves.

Depending on your point of view it can be seen as a reflection of the mundanity of everyday life.  As a (currently) stay at home mum of two, consumed by laundry, cooking and tidying, it certainly reflects the reality of my day to day life. I find myself humming the perky little hook “it’s just another day for me” as I peg out nappies, sweep up crumbs, wipe up baby sick, make another meal…

And yet… it’s upbeat, perky – as I already mentioned, and the final verse has the line “I think it’s been a good day” so perhaps a truer interpretation of this song is to take a more Buddhist approach to life. Live in the moment. Appreciate the little things.

Or maybe Nick Cope just really really likes tea…

*yesterday I caught The Boy with trousers down as he sang along to this bit of the song and asked him what he was doing. Apparently he was “just havin’ a wee wiv Nick Cope”. I really do wonder what goes on in his head sometimes.

“Another Day For Me” is the first track on Nick Cope’s latest album “The Pirate’s Breakfast”.  The CD can be purchased by clicking through this link. Nick Cope is an Oxford-based singer-songwriter who creates music for children that doesn’t drive adults loopy.  We’ll probably do a whole post on him at some point so I won’t drivel on too much right now, but if you have children and the chance to see him live then you really really should.

The great TV ban – or why I cut off my nose to spite my own face

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I recently had a baby.  Nine weeks ago our daughter came into this world and has made our lives richer in so many ways and (so far) our three year old son is also one of her fan club.

But (and there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?) he has not been unaffected by her arrival.  For several weeks previous to the birth, and in the nine weeks since, he has been horrifically violent – to almost everyone but the baby.

Now, a good part of this is undoubtedly just being three. The sheer ‘three-ness’ of a three year can be horrifying in itself (if you’ve had one, you’ll understand what I mean. It is an animal unlike any other).  However, a good part of it was just so unlike his usually sweet nature that we, and his preschool, were taken aback. Biting, hitting with objects, pushing, shouting – he was like a mini Hulk.  Preschool blithely put it down to the impending arrival of his sister, but I wasn’t so sure.

Last week I suddenly decided that he had been watching too much TV. We spent a few days at my parents’ house, which made it easier to break the habit because it was a different environment and there were more people to help entertain him and when we got home I decided to make it a blanket ban through the week.  He didn’t go easily. Whingeing is already down to a fine art, as is nagging and determined-ness, but fortunately he hasn’t quite mastered all the ins and outs of the TV and as long as I leave it tuned to a radio station he’s stuffed!

Playing with Brio

Playing with Brio

Within a week his behaviour had calmed down. He rediscovered his beloved Brio (and associated cheap knock-offs). He found it easier to get to sleep at night and was more likely to use his words instead of lashing out.  I’m not sure why the TV had such a profound effect on him, it’s not like he was watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or anything – I really doubt Mr Bloom and the veggies could incite a toddler to violence (not the same for parents, but that’s another post entirely!) but it is possible that all that passive mental stimulation got him worked up without tiring him mentally and definitely without tiring him physically.  I’ll have to do some reading up, but he has never watched so much TV as he did whilst I was exhausted from pregnancy and after Modom arrived, we may have kept using the digital babysitter more than was good for him.

We’re blessed, where we live, to have all sorts of outdoor entertainments within easy reach – most of them free. From several good playgrounds to a splash park, toddler groups, parks and open spaces and a steam railway to wooded walks, forest school, minibeasts, art groups and messy play. I am glad the weather is mild (mostly) and dry (on the whole) as I am  trying to make the most of these opportunities to wear out his body and his brain at the same time.  If the weather is really foul we either waterproof up and brave it anyway (baby in sling to keep warm) or try and do something ‘improving’ at home, like baking or colouring or pretend play.  It’s hard bloody work, but that’s why childminders get paid – because actively engaging with children like this is a fulltime job.

So, although I am now relied upon for entertainment far more than previously – and just as I have another small person needing my attentions – I am still glad that we have reduced the part TV plays in our life down to one or two special programmes at the weekend – which we all sit down and watch together.  I hated seeing my boy hitting and hurting others, very little makes you feel as ashamed as that, except, possibly, knowing it was parking them in front of the telly that exacerbated it.

Lesson learned… until next time. Because if there’s one thing we can be sure of as parents, it’s that we’re learning just as much as our children are, just maybe not as fast!

Wittenham Clumps

The clumps are something of a local legend. Whenever the sun is out, whenever someone wants to run the steam out of a hyper child, or walk a dog, or show visiting family the sights of the area then it is recommended they visit the clumps.

Previously known by such suggestive names such as Mother Dunch’s Buttocks or the Berkshire Bubs the (now much more boringly titled) Wittenham Clumps are two hills, crested with woodlands and surrounded by fields and more woodland and cared for by the Earth Trust.  From the top you can see across half of Oxfordshire, from the Benson weir to the Didcot cooling towers, Dorchester Abbey to Culham fusion reactor.

We, along with seemingly half of the local towns and villages, spent our mild and sunny May bank holiday morning hiking up and along the Clumps, exploring the wooded areas and hunting for geocaches.  Ponies trekked past, red kites wheeled overhead, buttercups, cowslips and birdseye speedwell peppered the grass with bright-coloured flowers and the sound of families spending time together in the sunshine drifted across the air.

Wittenham clumpsIn the late summer the hedgerows are laden with blackberries and elderberries.  Even hazelnuts and apples can be found growing wild if you look in the right places.  There are benches to sit on, enclosed woodland where it’s safe to let smaller children roam, and all sorts of tunnels and dens to be discovered by intrepid small people.  Kite flying takes on an added dimension by starting off at such a height and the parking is blessedly free of charge (although slightly limited).

This is definitely one of our top picks for free family fun and exploring the Oxfordshire outdoors.

Good GCSE results? Aiming for Cambridge or Oxford? Here’s what you need to do now!

Is your child proudly clutching excellent GCSE results of mostly As and A*s? Congratulations, and not just to you for so patiently supporting a hard-working Year 11. Having achieved top grades, that student is showing potential for a top-rated university, but you might be wondering what to do next. If you’re beginning to dream of Oxbridge (that’s a conflation of Oxford and Cambridge by the way), though, note that success will take some preparation. So, here are some things you can do to maximise your child’s chances after the big hug and the celebratory shopping trip:

1. Get ready

Be clear about the time scale. While the Oxbridge application process is more

straight-forward than most parents think, it’s best to start engaging with it early. DC

will have to include either Oxford or Cambridge (you cannot apply to both) in the

standard UCAS form and submit it by October of Year 13. This means she has to

make her course choice months before students only aiming for other universities do.

2. Time to prepare

If DC still feels hazy about Oxbridge, you want to have a little university talk even

earlier, ideally before the start of Year 12. Just like when you had that talk about

the birds and the bees, you may discover lots of misconceptions. Try to explain that

universities differ in more than just location or nightlife: top ones teach subjects

at greater depth, appeal to top employers and suit keen, rapid learners. Studying at

Oxbridge is not about going somewhere posh.

3. Do your research

Next, both of you may want to study a prospectus or two. Encourage DC to look

beyond school subjects or other familiar courses, which are often vastly over-
subscribed. By doing this in good time, you can ensure that your student’s A-level

subjects fit the course requirements or suit more than one course. Sixth formers can

usually still switch A-levels in the first weeks of Year12.

4. Read around

Oxbridge wants readers, but school work in the sixth form can be a seemingly endless

slog. So, DC needs to start supplementing school text books and website pages with a

few challenging books in the holidays. Try to ensure she has a library card or a clutch

of book tokens. Teachers, librarians and bookshop staff will be happy to suggest age-
appropriate titles.

5. Go in depth

A student keen to show interest in her chosen course may then want to look for

articles by a subject expert or watch a related online lecture. DC will find links to

both in my tweets @oxbridgentrance.

6. Get a life!

Applicants are no longer expected to shine at music or sport, but being able to

combine school work with a course-related hobby or demanding volunteer job still

goes down well. It can also build verbal skills for the last stage of the admissions

process, the Oxbridge interview. If DC’s school does not have a volunteering

scheme, try

7. To road trip or not to road trip?

Should you go on a family outing to Oxford or Cambridge? Yes, if DC loves stylish

old buildings. Other students may need reassurance that Oxbridge life is actually quite

modern. So, being dragged through cobbled streets (colleges are not always open

to visitors) can be a turn-off. Your student may prefer one of the free, lively student

events listed on the Oxford or Cambridge website. Most include both a guided tour

and some application advice.


This is pretty much all you can do to lay the groundwork for success at this early stage.

The most contested courses and the pre-interview tests required for some courses may

need some extra preparation, but not until next year. Meanwhile, keep an eye on progress,

but try not to obsess about Oxbridge, as it will only make your student nervous. Instead,

you want to praise and enjoy those great GCSE results. Best of luck!

Elfi Pallis is the author of OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES . She also blogs Oxbridge advice at

and tweets links to course-related articles or online lectures @oxbridgentrance.!/oxbridgentrance

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Smartphones to video stream live footage to emergency services during emergency calls


Wow – not only is this a fabulous idea, but was also instigated by the husband of one of our lovely Mumsnet Local Editors. If you’re an Oxfordshire health professional or emergency service who would be interested in trialling this new service then please click through to their blog as they are looking for people to get involved in testing.

Originally posted on 999eye's Blog:

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My interview with Theatrical Director Richard Lewis


Mumsnet Berks interviews Richard Lewis, theatrical director of Peppa Pig & The Octonauts

Originally posted on Mumsnet Local Berkshire:


Octonauts Live has been adapted and directed by Richard Lewis, a man with a multitude of exciting projects under his belt including Peppa Pig Live and Lazy Town. I was given the opportunity to ask Richard Lewis some questions about Octonauts Live and all about directing theatrical versions of popular children’s TV shows and I think you’ll agree it makes very interesting reading. I can’t wait to see Octonauts Live! Mumsnet Berkshire is running a competition. You can WIN free tickets to go and see Octonauts Live! Details at the end!


Adaptor and Director OF OCTONAUTS LIVE UK TOUR 2014 – 15


A brand new children’s stage show from the producers of Peppa Pig Live!

Back in January when you were interviewed by the Telegraph about the production of Peppa Pig, you mentioned that most popular children’s TV programmes want…

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When Mumsnet Essex met with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg & Justine Roberts (Mumsnet CEO)


Because Amanda from Mumsnet Essex went to this meeting and we didn’t, so we thought we’d just let her tell the story!

Originally posted on Mumsnet Essex:


On Monday 30th June 2014, I was invited to head into London to discuss the new Flexible Working Rights with Mumsnet & Nick Clegg.

Up until now, the right to request flexible working hours has only been available for carers, or people who look after children.

This has now been extended to all employees.

Tuesday’s extension of the right to request the chance to work flexibly means more than 20 million employees can now benefit.

Flexible working helps people balance their work with responsibilities, keeping more people in long term employment and enabling companies to keep hold of top talent.

It is expected the new right will be of particular interest to older workers who want to work differently as they approach retirement and to young people entering the labour market who may want take up additional training or learning while they work.

As part of the right, employees can…

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Top Tips Tuesday – 5 ways to avoid tech shopping disasters

I don’t know about you, but I find nothing more stressful than trying to find the perfect piece of electronic technology to suit my purposes. Sod the “eleventh hour dress for your best friend’s wedding” – getting the right smart phone/smart TV/smart box is the most anxiety inducing activity I can think of: where everything is smart except – seemingly – you!

Oh no, wait, I tell a lie. There is just one more stressful thing than shopping for technology – talking my parents through shopping for technology. My dad is looking for a new phone at the moment. Just kill me now!

Maybe I should refer him to Richard Aster of My Gadget Hound – the personal shoppers with a difference who have kindly contributed this week’s Top Tips Tuesday on how to avoid those tech disasters. Just follow a few simple rules, says Richard, and you can make the right decisions.

My Gadget Hound is a tech personal shopping consultancy and is the only one of its kind in the UK.

1 – Take your time

OK, so time is exactly what you’ve not got a lot of, but there’s not much substitute for putting in the hours when it comes to researching what’s right for you. Apps promise to do all sorts of things, but there isn’t one clever enough to isolate a product that fits all your needs, nor one that can weigh up those vital ‘pro and con’ lists on the review sites.

2 – Get a Which? Subscription

This can pay for itself in no time if you’re a regular purchaser of consumer electronics or household items. Which? runs independent testing and post honest reviews online, but you can only access them in full if you’re a subscriber. Plus its print magazine (included in subscription) is particularly good at laying out all the options on one page, not to mention a good read full of money-saving tips. is another good review site you can trust for some electronic items – we read it a lot!

3 – Learn when to stop

While our ‘take your time’ advice holds up to a point, you need to learn where to draw the line. There is always another web review, another good-looking deal on eBay, another banner advert to click on. And new models come out literally every day. Value your time and consider the opportunity cost of your shopping research. What’s an hour of your life worth to you? What do you pay your cleaner or gardener for 10 hours of work? If you’re not saving at least that much money with those extra 10 hours of research, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Or pay a personal shopper…

4 Keep track

Tech items usually have incredibly boring, unimaginative names. Lots of numbers and letters. They’re never going to stick in your mind. So create bookmark folders for each item you are considering as you go along. Put links to reviews, specs and retail deals in that folder. Otherwise you WILL curse when you can’t remember the name of that cool Samsung UE558000 TV you came across right in the beginning.

5 – Take to Twitter

Companies and retailers are very good at putting reams of text online. They’re terrible at answering an actual tech question only you’ve thought of. That only changes when they’re caught ignoring you in public. So use Twitter – it’s a godsend for consumers. Tweet them relentlessly till you get your answer. Same if your item lets you down and they fob you off with excuses. Don’t be shy – see the recent tweets from @mygadgethound to @nokia for a good example of how to get what you’re owed!


My Gadget Hound is the UK’s only personal shopper for technology. Based in Witney, it offers a worldwide recommendation service via phone or email. It also complains and fights on behalf of consumers whose products let them down.



01993 700 454

Review – a visit to the Regal Picturehouse in Henley Upon Thames

A trip to the cinema – especially as a family – is a rare treat for us.  It is mostly budget that restricts us, as we love watching films together, but for How To Train Your Dragon 2 we made an exception.
We saw the first HTTYD film just after our son was born and now, two and a half years later, it is easily our most-watched DVD, with everyone able to quote large tracts of dialogue and the toddler terrorist often plays games of make believe where he is Hiccup and our poor black cat is Toothless.  It is not hard to imagine, therefore, how keen we were to see the new sequel Regalpicturehouseand, even better, found that it was to be aired a week before general release at a cinema we had always wanted to visit.

The Regal Picturehouse in Henley-Upon-Thames is a traditional-feeling cinema.  As you go in there’s a foyer with a wide curving staircase leading up to the bar and ticket desk. The smell of sweets and popcorn hangs in the air, and the whole place has a sense of event that is rather lacking in the large multiplexes.  We had also hoped that the smaller screens and more intimate rooms would be less intimidating to the toddler terrorist who has only been to a couple of films before.

Image of the toddler at the cinema

The toddler terrorist – enjoying his popcorn before it all went wrong…

The seats were plush and comfortable, the 3D glasses provided were a mere 70p each (cheaper than some places) and came in terrorist-size – there was even a stack of booster seats available for those lacking in stature.  The staff were friendly, very helpful, and numerous enough that we weren’t kept waiting for anything.  We got settled in with our popcorn and glasses and waiting with heady anticipation for the first sight of Hiccup riding his Toothless… and that’s where it all went wrong.


The toddler has always been pretty fearless. Countless people have commented upon it. Lately, though, something has changed. “Please Mummy, I want to go out” started during the trailers. I took him out, then back in again when the husband assured me Hiccup had arrived. “Please Mummy, please Daddy, we go out? We go home? I scared Hiccup and Toothless.”

Not being a draconian parent I complied with his request and took him out, hoping to reassure him and return to the film before missing too much.  Trying very hard not to think of the money spent on this trip, and how it was a week’s worth of groceries, I bent down and chatted with him, but it soon became clear that he didn’t want to rejoin Daddy and see the film.

It is at this point that the Regal won my heart entirely and made me decide to write this review.  A young woman, who I assume was some kind of manager, came over to chat to us, spoke very kindly to my toddler, and offered to get him some colouring in to do. I nearly wept with relief. OK, I wouldn’t get to see the film, but at least the toddler terrorist would be happily occupied whilst Daddy got to see the film.  The manager flicked through a large A4 folder of printed out colouring in sheets and laid down an enormous tray of crayons, felt tips and pencils in every colour.  Toddler terrorist was in heaven.

As it happened Daddy shortly afterwards gave up on trying to watch the film, so I guess we’’ll just have to wait until the DVD comes out to find out what happened after the first 15 minutes – and miss the 3D rendering entirely. We were two bitterly disappointed grown-ups who perhaps should have known better, but we’ll know better another time (when we’ve saved up enough money). We’ll leave the toddler terrorist with Granny and go back to the Regal Picturehouse in Henley.


No compensation was received in return for this review. The venue did not invite us along for review. This is an entirely spontaneous spot review because we received exceptional service.