John Lewis versus Sainsburys – battle of the Christmas advert 2015!

I remember last year well. My belly was swollen with child, my Boy was not yet 3 and, therefore, still rather sweet than otherwise, Christmas music was playing on every speaker and the John Lewis Christmas advert with the penguin was on repeat on my laptop for The Boy’s amusement.  Not so this year. We’ve watched the ‘Man in the Moon’ just twice and then he completely lost interest and hasn’t mentioned it since.  Yesterday we were notified of the new Sainsbury’s ad and, oh dear John Lewis, you’ve lost your crown. Mog the cat in all her CGI glory, thankfully resurrected for Christmas 2015 – walking tree and all.

It’s only 10.30am but we’ve probably seen it five or six times this morning already and the only reason we’re not still watching the damn thing is because I wrestled my laptop back off The Boy in order to write this post!

In my humble opinion JL is flogging a bit of a dead horse. OK, so it’s a girl this year, not a boy, and it’s a Man on the Moon, not a penguin, but there’s still a child with an imaginary friend, a saccharine Ellie Goulding-style cover version of a golden oldie, a touching sentimental act and lots of Christmas sparkle. I have no issue with sparkle (I’m not a Grinch or anything) but I felt like this year’s ad was just a tired remake of the 2014 one, with some rather clunky product placement to boot (check out the scene with the scooter) whereas the Sainsbury’s ad was something completely new and different – from John Lewis and from their own, rather excellent, 2014 offering.

I’ve embedded all four of the adverts below so you can compare and contrast for yourself, but I think you’ll agree the Mog one has something special about it in the same way Monty the penguin did last year. Plus, yaknow, it gets The Boy’s seal of approval. Think the penguin still wins overall, though – I just had to view all the vids to get the embed code and I was made to watch Monty the Penguin twice more before I could finish. So Sainsburys may have won this year, but JL win over the last two. Can’t say fairer than that. But next year, John Lewis – you’re going to have to bring it.



Monty the Penguin – still our favourite. What do you think?


Review: Cosmic Kids Yoga Youtube Channel

Cosmic Kids Yoga website
I may have mentioned once or twice than The Boy, like many (most?) three year olds is a tiny bundle of seriously high-energy, wired over-tiredness, a ticking time bomb of half-understood emotion and high spirits just waiting for a thwarting of his will to completely lose.his.shit.  Preschool have suggested some strategies, The Man and I have done our research and read up a few parenting books and tried all kinds of different ways to help him regulate his emotions and behaviour. Banning television has helped, to a point, and I thought mindfulness might be a useful skill for him to learn, but when I tried it we actually ended up with our biggest meltdown ever – turns out the difficulty of teaching your own children anything starts pretty early.

Anyway, one day I was doing my early-morning yoga (Erin Motz 30 day yoga if you want to look it up) and, as usual, the kids were fascinated: using me as a tunnel, bridge and all-round climbing frame (yippee). Having spotted some childrens’ yoga on the menu I asked The Boy if he’d like to have a go at one and he jumped at the chance.  We had a few trial and error fails (awful American accents, patronising instructors etc) but then I lit upon Cosmic Kids Yoga Youtube and I knew we were onto a winner.

The instructor, Jaime, is warm, friendly, straightforward and English – actually based in South Oxfordshire! Her enthusiasm is never failing, her approach is beautifully aimed at younger yogis without being condescending and, for a free-to-view channel, the production values are extremely high, with lovely animations and high-resolution viewing. They even have two age-group categories so there are film-based sessions for older kids (like this Harry Potter one below) and animal stories for 3-6 year olds.

The Boy, not known for his long attention span or focus, frequently does two or three of these in a row (that’s half an hour to 45 minutes of peace and quiet!) and even, occasionally watches the Cosmic Kids Zen Den, which focuses on mindfulness and meditation.

I love the way there is a wind down session at the end when Jaime helps kids deal with big emotions like fear or worry , and even discusses listening, focusing and concentration – all Big Topics, Chez Oxfordshire.

I really cannot recommend Cosmic Kids Yoga highly enough. I have not been asked to review them, I have received no money for doing so. I just think they’re the bee’s pyjamas, the dog’s knees, the cat’s bollocks and I had to do a review.

Review – Made by Raspberry Tart and friends

South Oxfordshire is something of a crafters’ heaven. More than anywhere else I’ve lived it is teeming with gorgeous little fabric and yarn shops, quilting groups, stitch and bitch sessions, yarn bombing and all sorts.  I’m not sure which came first – the crafters or the craft shops, but the two now exist in a blissful symbiosis of supply and demand.

For the disparate crafter, like myself, there’s the holy triumverate of Masons in Abingdon, a set of three shops spread throughout the town selling variously: fabric and yarn, fabric and notions and ribbons, cake decorating and papercraft items.  Lady Sew and Sew is a lush fabric warehouse in Henley – a quilter’s paradise of fabrics – and for the quilter in search of support, Village Fabrics in Wallingford has the most knowledgeable and helpful staff, and they don’t do a hard sell on you. It also runs lots of great classes and groups.

Wallingford also has the lovely Poppycraft – a papercraft shop – but sadly said goodbye last year to Wool and Willow, the only yarn supplier in South Oxfordshire I’ve come across other than Masons.  Luckily for the community there has been a wonderful upsweep of creativity-based shops in Wallingford with three opening in the same week.  I really must review the pottery cafe and local-vendor start-up-pop-up-shop thing, but for now let me focus on the fabby Made by Raspberry Tart and friends.20150722_121425

As I’m sure you’ll agree, ‘Made by Raspberry Tart and friends’ is certainly an intriguing name, but it makes more sense when you understand that it is a shop set up by a one-woman enterprise who sells clothing and other textiles under the name of Raspberry Tart. The shop, however, is not just a showroom for her handmade items, but also a wonderful community enterprise, encouraging other small-time, local craftspeople to contribute items for sale.

This not only allows a stress-free sales outlet for various enthusiasts, but ensures that the products in Made (as the locals are already calling it) are as varied as they are unique. From leather satchels to felt scotty-dog door stops, button jewellery to funky little cookie cutter pin-cushions this is a one-stop shop for those in search of presents for the hard-to-buy-for.  Luckily this includes crafters to some extent as it even has a small selection of yarns and needles. Hurrah! 20150722_122035

We are blessed, in this part of the county, to have so many lovely crafty shops within easy reach and I’ll certainly be doing a more fulsome review of some of those mentioned above (I especially need to check out Lady Sew and Sew as Christmas approaches – have you seen my Pinterest board recently? It’s very, eh-hem, festive).  Perhaps, if we keep our fingers very tightly crossed, we’ll become a destination shopping location for the crafty-at-heart and even more shops and events will flourish. One can only hope…

The Tiger Who Came To Tea – a modern metaphor

A critical analysis of ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ as a commentary on social and familial dysfunction

The Tiger Who Came To Tea was one of my top favourite books as a child and now my son is as fond of it as I was, but it’s a strange experience to re-read, as an adult, something you knew inside out and back to front as a child.  Everything that seemed so obvious, straightforward and normal when I was three strikes worrying notes as a grown-up and I began to question the true story behind the story.

tigertoteaFor a start the tale seems to be told less from the point of view of Sophie, the little girl (as you’d expect from a children’s book) and more from the POV of the mother.  Straight away this makes me question the motives behind the story – is it a true depiction of events, or is she embroidering the situation to draw her daughter into her fantasy life and aid her in the deception of her husband, the ‘Daddy’ of the story? My instinctive understanding of the book from this new perspective is that ‘Mummy’ has some kind of mental health or addiction issue, possibly drugs or alcohol.

Firstly she seems to need to run through a list of the possible menfolk who may or may not be at the door unexpectedly – does she have debtors calling? Is she selling favours? Does she owe the milkman and the grocer money? This is a possibility that seems to be borne out by the ‘Tiger’ supposedly drinking all the water in the taps – perhaps the bills have gone unpaid and the water’s been switched off.

tigertotea2The Tiger is obviously the excuse ‘Mummy’ has cooked up to excuse her shoddy housekeeping and other misdemeanours to ‘Daddy’ and when you read that this Tiger has apparently drunk all of Daddy’s beer, the reason for her behaviour comes clear. She has a burgeoning alcohol addiction, as so many middle-class, middle-aged women do.  Why? I hear you ask – well the answer to that is apparent if you only look at the illustrations. The first portrayal of Daddy shows him wearing some very snazzy tartan trousers and standing with his hip jutting out and his keys held limply in one dangling hand. Yes. Daddy is a closeted gay.

So let me re-narrate The Tiger Who Came To Tea as I posit it really happened…

Mummy finds herself trapped in a dreary domestic drudgery to a man who does not find her attractive and to whom she is merely a beard.  She has one precious child, but not the three she always dreamed of and in her loneliness turns to alcohol to see her through the day. She drinks one of her husband’s beers, then another, then another until they’re all gone. Sneaking out of the back door she also smokes a quick spliff she bought off the grocer’s boy, then comes back in to find Sophie has laid the table for tea.

The munchies start to hit and she’s ravenous but how to explain her behaviour to Sophie? There’s only one thing for it.  She quickly spins a story inspired by the repeatedly ringing doorbell.  Ignoring the milkman and grocer’s boy – both trying to claim the money they’re owed – Mummy pretends there’s a Tiger at the door and he wants to have tea with them. Taking the part of the Tiger, Mummy devours the sandwiches, the buns, the biscuits and the cake. Her throat raw from the spliff, she gulps down all the milk in the milk jug and all the tea in the teapot.

Mummy seizes this opportunity to make excuses for the lack of any supper for Daddy and the paucity of food in the ‘fridge and pantry, caused by her neglect of the grocer’s bills.  The kitchen is a complete mess and Daddy is due home any minute, so Mummy hurries Sophie into her nightdress without washing her or brushing her hair and they both go down to tell Daddy all about the ‘Tiger’ who had eaten all the food and drunk all the drink.

Daddy sighs inwardly, but knows the true reason for Mummy’s neglect and disreputable behaviour and knows that it is him to blame really. He takes them out to dinner and, perhaps, he gently talks to Mummy about her ishoos, because this book thankfully has a happy ending – a tale of redemption and optimism if you will, because the next day Mummy pulls her act together and went shopping and on the final page it states that the Tiger, obviously a metaphor for Mummy’s descent into alcoholism, never came for tea again.

Or perhaps Judith Kerr just wanted an excuse to paint a big, friendly tiger eating cakes. Go figure.

Just in case it isn’t absolutely, screamingly obvious – this post is intended as totally tongue-in-cheek, inspired by the lovely surrealism of one of my favourite childhood books. If you enjoyed this style of post, then why not try ‘Another Day For Me‘ – a critical analysis of Nick Cope’s song of the same name.

Top 10 gifts to buy for a new baby

My sister’s boyfriend’s sister (convoluted connection I know) is due her first baby any day now and I was getting my brain picked for suggestions of really good presents for her and for the baby.  Seemed like a good topic for another lovely ‘list’ blog post so here we go – some of my top picks for babies! (And not forgetting something for the new mums, here are some really excellent ideas just for them.)giftsforababy1 – Ewan the sleep sheep – A cuddly sheep that lights up with a soft red glow and plays a range of soothing heartbeat-themed white noise tracks.  Not only has this been such a hit in our house that we have one for each child and The Boy still uses his, but the customer service is truly fabulous – speedy, helpful, good sense of humour! My number 1 top pick!

2 – Summer infant light projectors – these come in a great selection of animals and bugs, from ladybirds and butterflies to frogs and elephants. They play a twinkly tune and send stars onto the ceiling in a range of colours. As with Ewan this has a wide age appeal. The Boy uses it to keep monsters at bay, The Girl gets a sensory kick from lying in a dark room and watching the stars – never seen so many kicks! Amazon sell them for £14.99 (at time of publication) and if you click through from here you can help me keep this blog running at no extra cost to you!

3 – Bandanas – these cute little neck scarves might seem like a pointless fashion accessory but trust me – baby drool is the most slimy, soggifying substance known to humankind and one of these little fleece-backed beauties stops their clothes getting wet and prevents a sore, chafed chest. They’ll be dribbling before you know it! Plus they look utterly adorable and can be bought at bargainous prices.

4 – New clothes – always nice even if the baby is well stocked with hand-me-downs, but aim for 6 months and onwards as, not only will the outfit get more wear, but chances are there are a million 0-6 month clothes already.  If you don’t know what to buy then may I suggest dungarees? They’re gorgeous on all babies and eminently practical, especially once they start crawling and you need a grab handle!

5 – Something personalised with baby’s name, be it a blanket, doorplate or book it’s a special present that the parents won’t have bought. Especially good for subsequent babies.

6 – Cloth books or ‘That’s not my…’ touch and feel books.  The Girl is only 4 months old and already loves to examine these so they come in sooner than you might think. Black and white books are great for small babies as they love the high contrast images.

7 – Cuddly toys are always lovely, but be aware that these may be in rich supply and the parents may curse you forever. If you’re going to do it, though, make it a jellycat toy. All the children I know who have special cuddly friends it’s a jellycat friend.  The bunnies and monkeys seem to be especially popular, in our house at least. Super soft and with lovely beanie bottoms.

8 – A playmat. We always make these in our house, or have been given beautiful handmade ones with ribbon tags for little fingers to explore, but you can buy them and they are a baby essential until they start crawling.  Not only do they make a safe, clean (easily washable) surface to place a stationary bubba, but I’ve seen some fabulous photos of babies taken on a playmat once a month from newborn as they grow and you can use the images on the playmat as a reference to track their growth – just lovely.

9 – Hooded towels – not only are these great for snuggly post-bath cuddles (watch out for the obligatory nappy-free wee on your lap) but babies look super cute in these. Love this duckie one.

10 – Childproof cutlery and/or crockery.  These will be needed before you know it and will go on being useful for years, plus (unlike the wretched cuddly toys) you can’t really have too many, as it’s always handy to have one to wash and one to ‘wear’, and that’s before you even factor in having their little friends over for lunch!

I have received no remuneration of any kind, not even free products, for this article. All brands and items mentioned or linked have either been tried and tested at our cost or I just randomly Googled something that would demonstrate what I meant!

The List

Top ten DVD box sets to watch whilst breastfeeding…or whenever

As a breastfeeding mum I watch a lot of television – probably more than I’m proud of.  I should be reading improving books or something, but honestly, I just haven’t the brain power for it!  It’s also something that The Man and I do for pleasure.  Even before we had children we loved to cuddle up together and watch DVDs together.  So if you like light-hearted, funny, touching and intelligent television – or lovely escapist song-and-dance numbers – then here are a few suggestions that might tickle your fancy!

– Modern Family – an American mockumentary about three generations of a very modern family – with step, half and same-sex relations and all the comic turns that ensue. A sort of twist on the British Outnumbered.

– Gavin & Stacey – the kind of television series the UK does best. Funny and ridiculous, a little bit rude, with touching moments of pathos that only serve as a counterpoint to the comedy. Also the best, most realistic representation of a wedding I’ve seen on TV. We watched this on honeymoon and the theme tune is the song I sing to calm my children – and even to bring one back to life, but that’s a story for a different day

– Gilmore Girls – the fastest paced comedy drama I’ve seen with dialogue so witty and speedy I swear I’m still missing some of it six or seven viewings on! With a lovely take on family, small-town life and growing up this is an eternal feelgood watch. Especially interesting as a mother to see both sides of the mother/daughter relationships.

– Outnumbered – a fab English series about a family of five where the writers set up comic situations then just let the kids ad-lib their own lines which leads to some really authentic family dialogue and unforgettably funny lines.  It’s also a scary insight into what my life is likely to be when The Boy and Girl are older as the Boy’s parallels with ‘Ben’ are already terrifying…

– Coupling – written by Steven Moffat (of Dr Who fame) this comedy series about six thirty-somethings in the ’90s is kind of an English ‘Friends’, only much much funnier.  The Man and I bonded watching this nearly eleven years ago and it hasn’t lost any of its funny in the interim. Many of the jokes have, in fact, passed into family lexicon.

– West Wing – If you haven’t heard of this then I may have to wonder what hole you’ve been hiding in all these years, however if you haven’t watched it then I can understand. An American political drama? I wasn’t terribly interested either, but then I watched one and I was hooked. Yes, it’s gritty and political and a lot of it went over my head, but it’s so clever and witty with moments of pure comedy that you can kind of glide over the bits you don’t understand.  Allison Janney and Martin Sheen are just glorious.

– Glee – An absurd teen highschool drama series, but has fabulous covers of contemporary pop and musical numbers complete with dancing.  If you like musicals and escapism, as I do, then do watch this…at least for the first couple of series.

– Nashville – A more grown-up version of Glee, basically. With country music. Which I love. And some very sexy men. Perfick

– Smash – Another grown-up version of Glee, only with wonderful original musical numbers amongst the contemporary pop covers and the very very sexy Jack Davenport (of Coupling, only now a confident grown-up rather than a blithering manchild) playing the director.

– Call the Midwife – based on the autobiography of a midwife and district nurse working in the East London district of Poplar this is a touching and occasionally funny series with fascinating insights into a life that is within living memory and yet so unlike modern life.  Especially interesting for birth geeks like me

Time to reconnect – a review of 101 things for kids to do outside

So The Boy has been driving me a little crazy lately.  Maybe it’s the new addition, maybe it’s the reduced attention he’s been getting. Maybe he’s just three, who knows?  His behaviour has been off the charts horrible some days.

101thingsI was hunting around for some ideas and I came across this book I was sent to review a while ago. (For more on why that review was so long coming can I refer you back to a previous post “Through the clouds“) So the book is called 101 Things For Kids To Do Outside. It’s £10.49 and is written by Dawn Isaac, a mum and blogger (virtual fist-bump Dawn) and advisor to CBeebies Mr Bloom’s Nursery – a big claim to fame in this household!

So, as the title would suggest, it’s 101 things for kids to do outdoors.  It’s the kind of book you might buy hopefully then be disappointed by the actual contents which suggest the blindingly obvious but it’s actually pretty inspiring. OK, you might not find every project suitable for your kids, but there’s enough there to suit most inclinations and reading it should certainly give you more energy and ideas for things to do with your small fry.

I’ve earmarked a few of the ideas that will hopefully appeal to my highly energetic three year old. The ‘Bear Hunt’ using teddy bears hidden round the garden or park sounds like a potential win, as does the scavenger hunt and all kinds of ‘tag’ and water balloon games. Some of the more art based stuff may have to wait until he’s a bit older and the build and use your own bird hide may have to wait until he’s a different child – the kind who can sit still! I’m particularly excited about the snow lanterns project, but first we’ll need some snow…

Anyway. I have a few bright ideas to keep the little man occupied and hopefully have some fun with him at the same time.  Thank you Dawn. It’s so tough being an interactive parent (as opposed to one who sits on the sofa in PJs gibbering quietly over a cold cup of tea) so a little inspiration is definitely worth £10.49!

101 Things For Kids To Do Outside can be purchased from Amazon by clicking here or you can patronise your wonderful local independent bookstore.

Surprisingly not-hellish: Review of The Treehouse soft play, Didcot

So I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was going to write a no-holds-barred expose of soft play hell, based on a couple of experiences I had had. They’re loud, drafty or hot, smell peculiar and often seem unclean.  Children run rampant and feral and the whole experience feels like a hyper-coloured scene out of Lord of the Flies.

So my heart sank somewhat when, due to the ‘inclement’ (read: fucking miserable) weather, The Man proposed we ran the fidgets out of The Boy at a softplay in Didcot they’d been to before.  I reluctantly agreed to go along as The Girl was on day two of a feeding frenzy that left me with no free hands and a desperate need to get out of the house in an attempt to save some of my last remaining sanity.

20150613_153312Unlike many softplays, The Treehouse is not housed in a large industrial unit facility, but rather an old converted retail property, so it’s more ‘bijou’ (as estate agents like to have it) than your standard soft play.  This works in its favour in that it’s not as drafty, is less overwhelming for children who lack in confidence and it’s easier to keep an eye on your progeny whilst you enjoy a nice coffee.

The costs are reasonable and flat-rate, as in: they don’t bump the prices up on high days, holidays and weekends.  There’s a decent coffee shop with reasonable prices, comfortable seating for adults (including some nice squishy sofas) and the loos are spacious and very clean which is a huuuuge tick in their favour as far as I’m concerned.

The equipment is fun and well padded and the whole place seems very clean. None of that worrying suspicion that a teenager on their Saturday job may not have spotted or cleaned up a lurking puddle of wee somewhere that I have experienced at other venues.  In fact the staff seemed older and more responsible altogether, and very clear on safety and hygiene. When my nudity-loving Boy attempted to shed his socks and go on the run a member of staff was on him before The Man could put his coffee down and, whilst it was a bit disconcerting to have a staff member swoop in and pick up my child without checking with me first, I do appreciate their vigilance to maintain hygiene (and their fitness – The Boy is a fast runner).

The Man worked his way round the outside of a Bakewell tart and a coffee whilst I sat in a daze and fed the milk beast – I mean my daughter.  All this time The Boy ran around in a happy mania, well entertained, and unable to escape as the staff operated a strict sign-in/sign-out system with a staff-operated lock on the gate.  Even more handily The Treehouse is situated close to a big Sainsburys and a number of other high street favourites, which means you can hit the shops after a session – or even sign your little darling up for an hour’s ‘Drop and shop’ which sounds like an excellent idea.

Even better, for the technologically minded or self-employed amongst us, they have free WiFi, so you can take your laptop/phone/tablet along and make the most of your free time.

The only downside? It’s maybe a bit loud and airless, but quite frankly what do you expect with a screaming horde of under-tens having a whale of a time. Take some headphones and block it out, it’s still better than listening to a bored three year old whingeing!

Highly recommended.

The Treehouse Play Centre can be found at:
Off Broadway and High Street,
OX11 8AE


So The Boy likes to hop out of bed repeatedly of an evening, as – I believe – many (most?) children do. In fact I do remember doing this myself on many occasions (apologies Mater, only now do I realise my sins) though it seemed entirely reasonable at the time.

The Man and I tried a few tactics for dealing with this, from Supernanny’s patented “Back to bed, darling” (the ‘darling’ usually uttered through tightly gritted teeth), to sitting in the room with him and a wonderful childrens’ meditation CD called Calm Kids, Bedtime Meditations For Kids.  All of these were, ultimately successful, but only in conjunction with one, critical, crucial, vital element: that of complete and utter exhaustion.

Yes, turns out when your three year old is totally knackered they will actually go to sleep in their own bed… after 20 minutes or so of pratting about.  Some days this is about the only reason I can get myself to leave the house, because the boy needs at least two good walks a day.

In fact, having a young child is so much like owning a dog that I thought I’d write out a list of the similarities – please chip in if I’ve forgotten anything:
– needs regular exercising
– often have to clean up their excrement
– runs off indiscriminately after something exciting
– is safer on a lead
– responds well to treat training/bribery
– likes to unravel loo rolls
– steals food
– will eat all day if allowed
– likes to chew and slobber on stuff
– can often be seen running off with your shoes
– steals toys from other dogs/children

In fact I may just re-christen The Boy ‘Andrex’ after his TV doppleganger…

So my current bedtime tactic actually starts much earlier in the day when I begin my arduous task of wearing out a human being who, despite being less than half my size, has about 100 times more energy.

Not to diss the Meditation CD, it’s fantastic and helps him to wind down – Christiane Kerr, who narrates it, has such a soothing voice it’s nearly knocked me out once or twice! We’ve had far fewer midnight wakings and associated bad dreams since he’s been listening to it, but it doesn’t send him off to sleep unless he’s physically worn out first.

I’m tempted to put him in a harness and strap him to the washing line in a lungeing rein arrangement, then crack a whip behind him. Has the added benefit of helping dry the washing more quickly.