Festival fashion 2014

When it comes to preparing for all kinds of weather,  regular festival-goers have it sorted. Headgear and footwear are the important things to get right – especially if you are camping in the mud all weekend and washing, let alone spending ages in front of the mirror is not an option.  Rather than carrying too much stuff around, veteran FGs choose an outfit that works in any weather. Most importantly they have a hat or some other form of head-covering to keep off either sun or rain while on their bottom halves they sport a combination which would be strange in any other setting – shorts and wellies. The idea being I guess, you can get your legs tanned while keeping your feet dry. Flower head-dresses and face-paints are always in. Last year – at Cornbury anyway – tails were the thing – yes furry tails dangling between your legs – they had little purpose (high fashion indeed) but I fear it will never catch on in Notting Hill. This year they were no longer selling like hot cakes – but these feather head-dresses were all the rage – they look fabulous but be warned they are not cheap so if you want it to last beyond the weekend you might want something else to protect your head if it rains!

Cornbury, Oxfordshire 2014

Festival gear Cornbury

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Regent's Park

No words.

This idea comes from Mocha Beanie Mummy. To see other Silent Sunday posts or add your own go to Cosmic Girlie



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Best places to cool off in London

Summer in the city.

It can be glorious, if you know where to head to. Here are some of my favourite places:

Somerset House, W1. Free admission.

Fountains at Somerset House

Fantastic place to combine a visit to the water exhibition in the original cellars of Somerset House – very cool and afterwards enjoy running among the fountains in the courtyard. Families spend the day here and even bring towels and swimsuits and set up camp round the edges. There’s always an interesting exhibition on – at the moment Beryl Bainbridge’s paintings – fascinating insight into this writer’s life.

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park. Free admission

This is the fountain that is not a fountain, but more of a man-made stream. It’s beautiful to look at, but also meant to be enjoyed. Sit on the grass with your feet in the icy water – or walk along the bed of this circular granite waterway.  There’s been a great deal of sniping and criticism over the years about it being  too expensive to build – and too slippery and slimy for kids to run in. But I think it’s fantastic. Of course you need to be sensible – it’s never a good idea to run in water – water on surfaces can be slippery. But if you are supervising young kids properly – on a hot day there’s nowhere better to be. It is in a tourist hot-spot so can get crowded. But if it does seem too much you are right on the Serpentine, either sit and picnic under a tree nearby or there are always the rowing boats.

Serpentine Lido

Serpentine Lido –  family ticket £10 (includes up to four children)

This has a grassy children’s area and large paddling pool as well as a roped off area of the Serpentine itself with a jetty where you can swim with older children. You pay to get in and can use both facilities but you may not want to take a baby or toddler into the Serpentine itself – you are swimming in a lake – not a swimming pool!

Waterpark,  Kensington Memorial park,  W11

Kensington Memorial Park, St Mark’s Road, W11. Free admission

It doesn’t look that promising from the road, but walk to the far end and keep left and you will find two newly spruced up kids’ playgrounds for toddlers and older children – and a water park with rubberised flooring and all kinds of  fountains, water “canons”, tipping buckets and wheels and so on.  You need swimsuits and towels and bare feet. Be warned the water is freezing – it does have to be a very hot day – but children love it. And there is a cafe nearby selling ice-creams – or hot drinks if the kids do need warming up.

I hope these ideas will help you all keep the temperature down – and I will be updating this if I find any other cool places to hang out on a sweltering day. But do add other lidos, outdoor pools or fountains you’ve tried out. I’d love to broaden my horizons!

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Home tutoring – fair or foul?


Paying for extra tuition to get your child into the best secondary school or university – or to improve their school grades – is a tricky one for me. I say this as someone who has reached the position very slowly over recent years,  that the only way to make education fair for everyone in this country is to abolish all private schools (this is despite my love and admiration for my many privately educated friends – and husband). This way everyone would simply go to their local school and all the money and middle-class pushiness would be fairly distributed to make all schools the best they can be. Not a commonly held position in the salons of Notting Hill I suspect.  And perhaps a subject for another day because this post is about tuition. But you see the similarity – does it create a fair level playing field if some children are tutored and others are not? Those with the money will do better – whether they are the brightest or not. Some then get the advantage of going to a “better” school – others will get better grades , and so better jobs or places at better universities.  They will earn more money and so on and so forth.

The conundrum of course for all “pinko” parents (my nickname from my very own public school boy husband) is whether to allow their personal principles to affect their children’s lives and particularly their education. It’s one that has wrong-footed many a Labour politician –  but thankfully I am a mere journalist, so will not be held to the same scrutiny by anyone but myself.

The thing is – and yes I do feel I need an excuse – my daughter has hearing problems – and as a result has got a little behind in maths. I admit it would not be her natural subject anyway (it’s certainly not mine) but because of this I have been asking friends about good local tutors for more than a year. Then a few months ago,  I was approached by Tutorfair who wanted to talk to me about a very different approach to tutoring.

I would not normally go via an agency – why pay a fee on top of what could already be £30 to £60 an hour? But with my pinko tendencies, I was immediately hooked by Tutorfair’s USP : for every student who pays – a child who can’t gets free tutoring.

Yes, really.  What a great idea. It’s the underlying principle of the agency and the scheme works through Tutorfair’s partnership with inner city schools. The class teachers pick out the students and the tutors from Tutorfair go in and give these pupils one to one teaching – for nothing.

It’s clear that all students benefit from one on one teaching – but this is about helping children who are struggling with a subject or school generally.  It’s about helping them learn, making their normal work seem easier and more managable and perhaps preventing them being turned off school all together.  Because I think sometimes, when children say ‘this is boring,’ they really mean, ‘it’s too hard and I can’t get my head round it.’

So it’s a great principle-  but doesn’t that mean it will cost more than a tutor from another agency? No, apparently not because the booking process is via their website so they say they can afford to take smaller commissions. OK then – but do they have the best tutors ? Well teachers and tutors are a caring lot and apparently the whole charity element attracts the most passionate and dedicated types who are hot on social responsibility. I have to say they have some impressive people on their books with a huge range of talents and experiences: from university students, who are still completing their degrees or masters, to former teachers, to those who have made professional tutoring a career and have decades of experience.

The website allows you to search by subject – science and languages as well as Maths and English – or for a particular purpose whether prep school entrance exams or A level tuition. Many of the tutors have a short video profile you can view to give you a better idea of what they’re like – though some of them do seem understandably self-conscious!

Tutorfair then offered me a free lesson and the pick of any tutor I wanted to put them to the test. I chose TomL : I liked his photo, he looked kind (yes, I know it’s not Plenty More Fish or Plenty of Fish or whatever) and I felt his educational background with a first in Maths from Oxford, along many other qualifications, would probably just about allow him to deal with Year 5 Maths and a slightly freaked out 10 year old! My only slight concern was that I still had to use their website to book – because it’s a key part of how they work. I’m naturally lazy about these things – odd for a blogger I know – and more used to shoving grubby notes in people’s hands at the end of a lesson – a bit more Steptoe and Son in approach.  But in fact it was very straight-forward and saves you having to double park and run to a cash machine – not that I would ever do that obviously. So no worries there.

Tom himself was, or should I say, is, gentle calm and patient – exactly what my daughter needs – and is not remotely intellectually intimidating – though clearly ridiculously clever. In fact,  we like him so much, he is now going to be Amelie’s permanent tutor. I did a quick check with her after the lesson – as the pupil/teacher dynamic is important as well as the tutor’s qualifications and experience – but I was already pretty sure he was just right for her and she agreed. And of course that means that another child somewhere will get a free lesson.



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Silent Sunday

Dog show

No words.

This idea comes from Mocha Beanie Mummy. To see other Silent Sunday posts or add your own go to Cosmic Girlie


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Is it true that… hamsters can talk?

Bath time – a quiet time at the end of the day for the children to relax, chat, unwind and – after a bit of nagging –  wash their faces with a flannel.

And yet the reality is the chat usually becomes hostile debate –  and the flannels weapons of war; used to slap each others legs , or thrown hard into the water to create a displacement that soaks the floor and the school uniforms they’ve dropped there, still clean and meant for the next day.

Rarely is the 10 minute bathtime competed without either cries of indignation or screams for help.

Yesterday was no different.

“Mummy Mummy Mummy,” my son yelled urgently.

I ran in. He was scowling and red in the face. She,  reclining back, arms folded with the hint of a smirk. Threat level?  Not even amber.

What is it?

“Is it… is it that Cinnamon (the hamster) told Amelie ‘I don’t like Alexander’? he spluttered.

” Is it … that hamsters can’t talk?” I replied to Alexander ( he is 7 after all and usually fairly on the ball!)

Amelie (aged 10) chuckled.

“Amelie! What a naughty girl. You know hamsters can’t talk – what on earth are you on about?”

” Oh they can. And Cinnamon did tell me that – in hammy language!” And she flourished her fingers to impersonate the hamster’s whiskers – demonstrating, I presume, how she communicates with animals!

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Silent Sunday

Portobello hats

No words.

This idea comes from Mocha Beanie Mummy. To see other Silent Sunday posts or add your own go to Cosmic Girlie


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I’m crucifying my brother

Back to school today and the Easter holidays are behind us, but not entirely forgotten. I just went into the children’s bedroom to find my 10 year old daughter trying to force a toy golf club down the neck of her little brother’s sweat shirt and out the bottom. That could have been categorised as “odd but harmless”,  had he not been wearing it at the time! He was wriggling –  and alternately giggling and screaming.

What strange and unusual punishment is this you may ask? Surely there can be no justification for hurting your sibling with a plastic golf club or anything else. But you do not know my children.

Seeing my aghast expression, the 10 year old cheerily asks me:

” What’s the problem? I’m trying to crucify him.”

” Well stop it for goodness sake -!”

“But we’re acting out the Easter story,” she protests, ” and he won’t die.”

I suggest it’s bed-time. My youngest holds his arms out and yells  - not unreasonably perhaps




The Easter story  is always the one that gets us into trouble. Not the question of whether it’s possible to rise from the dead – the children ( now 10 and 7 and at a church school) accept that without question. No – our problems are always around the crucifixion and the delight of all churches it seems, to get children in their congregations to act it out on Good Friday.

It wasn’t so long ago that my daughter – now playing the Roman soldier and Pontius Pilate all in one – was crying because she found out rather too late that she was not to play “baby Jesus” in church but Jesus on the cross. She was 6!

Down the hall they are at it again – two golf clubs this time and apparently a bit more cooperation from Jesus.

Nevertheless I feel I should intervene.

Jesus is being dragged along the bedroom floor to shouts of Crucify Him, but self preservation takes over as he stands up and tells his sister:

“Now you’re Judas. You betrayed me. Go kill yourself.”

Maybe all this re-enactment of the bible can be taken too far?

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Inspired by 35,864 Marathon runners

London marathon home straight

After living in London for 20 years, last night I finally decided to go and watch the Marathon – live. It was a random decision after I flipped open a route map and realised the route went past my husband’s workplace – perhaps affording us good views (in the event we stood on the road in Wapping!) The clincher was that his cousin was running in it. And – despite by general lack of interest in almost all sports – now I’m so glad we went.

Marathon in WappingWapping is a good place to watch as it turns out – because you can see the runners heading off to Canary Wharf on one side of the road and then heading back on the other side. So you get two chances to see your relative or indeed Mo Farah – see him here – in the distance!?Mo Farah London Marathon

The runners on our side of the road who were 50 minutes or so behind him at this point clapped as he headed back past them.

I was asked by some athletes we were chatting to, whether watching it made me want to run next year. I laughed hysterically. I doubt I could run one mile, let alone 26. When I used to row, I celebrated when I sprained my ankle because, despite the pain,  it meant I was unable to do the running part of the fitness programme for a year. I’m one of those people whose feet fly out the back in little windmill movements when I pick up speed. And in today’s heat? I was praying no-one would have a heart attack. No – it was lovely to stand in the sun and watch, take some selfies  and tick it off as something we had experienced. But as for trying it myself – nothing could be further from my mind.

But then we headed across town to the finish line.

Marathon medal 2014First we saw cousin Penny who’d made such excellent time she was already cooling down or warming up and was wearing her rather impressive medal. Hmm. Maybe it would be quite a nice thing to do… No Jane,  you have more of a chance of winning the British Bakeoff than completing the course. Get a grip.

We say our goodbyes and head across to the finish line proper – except it’s shrouded in red netting.  marathon no viewingApparently  you can’t go and watch your friends and family cross the line or run the home straight unless you are lucky enough to get a charity seat. Or you are a VIP ( ie corporate type). I was kind of outraged about this – and the unnecessary measure of putting the netting up so you couldn’t even catch a glimpse,  let alone get close. Seemed against the spirit of democracy to me. In fact if I was Scottish the pettiness of it would be enough for me to vote for independence (which I generally think a rather sad and bad idea).

Anyway I was chatting to a few military types on the gate of one of these ticket only grandstands and they agreed it didn’t seem right. In fact they didn’t know that was the set up until they got there. And shhhh don’t tell anyone, but as it was late in the day and many had left already, they let the three children put their heads round and take a quick look at the home straight.

Marathon home straightAnd this was where it kicked in. Seeing these people on their last legs – some in their sixties and seventies – Chicken London Marathon some sweltering in their ridiculously sweaty animal costumes – some just not fit enough – some limping or walking – or holding hands in solidarity –  but all absolutely bloody determined to cross that finish line. And it was then ladies and gentlemen that I thought what an incredibly inspiring day, what inspiring people and yes if anyone had asked me and handed me a pair of trainers at that moment I would have put them on and pledged to start training at that very moment for next year.London Marathon holding hands

Luckily for me and the NHS noone did – but congratulations to every person who set off on the run today – even if you were taken ill and unable to complete it – the spirit was there. And each of you – whatever your reasons for running – is  an inspiration to the rest of us.

Post script.

One of the runners who completed the course collapsed and has since died.  Robert Berry was running for the National Osteoporosis Society which had helped his mother who has the condition.  He was 42 . His just giving page has raised £17,000 for the charity so far.  He was one of the 35,864 who so inspired us yesterday.


London marathon finish line








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Silent Sunday

St James Park

No words.

This idea comes from Mocha Beanie Mummy. To see other Silent Sunday posts or add your own go to Cosmic Girlie


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Is Frozen the best Disney film ever ?


Frozen, loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, The Snow Queen, is now the biggest grossing animated film of all time. Its global profits of more than 1.7 billion dollars now dwarf those of Toy Story. And as if that’s not enough, it’s also won two Oscars for best animation and best song and a BAFTA.

After five years hard work by its creators at Disney though, it has to be said it deserves its success. The story is of two sisters Anna and Elsa. They are princesses, naturally, in the kingdom of Arundelle and might expect to  lead a happy and privileged life. But Elsa has special powers – she can turn things – and people – to ice and snow.

As children, Elsa accidentally knocks Anna out with an ice blast and from then on she keeps her distance  in fear of hurting her again. Anna has no memory of the incident – her memory has been wiped by trolls  (now is not the time to find this unlikely – it’s a fairy story!) and cannot understand why Elsa avoids her.

As they get older though Elsa’s powers only increase – and she is told by her parents to stay in the castle and try to control her feelings so she cannot do any harm! Good advice to any teenager I would say.

But the King and Queen sadly die on a sea voyage and three years later Elsa comes of age and is expected to become Queen. At this point things really hot up – or should I say freeze over. I won’t spoil things,  but suffice to say it doesn’t go well and Elsa flees the kingdom and creates her own ice castle at the top of the mountains. The rest of the film follows Anna’s attempts to bring her sister back home – with the help of her too good to be true fiance and another potential love interest, Kristoff the ice seller, his reindeer Sven and Olaf the snowman.

Although Frozen is based on a fairy tale , the story has plenty of moral undertone : be a little bit wary about love at first sight being one theme of the film. Although, there should perhaps also be a warning – should you ever go mountain climbing, don’t do any of the things you see Anna and her friends doing!

We were lucky enough to be invited to a singalong screening of the film a few weeks ago and were perhaps among the very few there who were seeing the film for the first time. It meant the children weren’t quite ready to sing along – but such is the catchiness of the main Oscar-winning song,  by the end credits they were in full voice. And they have been singing along to the Youtube clips ever since.

Songs aside, we all really enjoyed the film and it was an added treat to meet the directors, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck afterwards and hear firsthand what inspired them to make Frozen and what a painstaking art form animation is – even in the digital age.

This is definitely a Disney film that stands up to watching over and over again – but do watch out for the scarily catchy theme tune!

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Sibling rivalry

Big sister looking down crossly at little brother’s homework folder: “Do you get 10 out of 10 ALL the time?”

Little brother: “Actually it’s 12 out of 12.”

Half an hour later, revenge of sorts as big sister looks for inspiration in her English homework on comparatives.

“Is the comparative of important, more important?” she asks.

“That’s right,” I say.

“Good. What do you think of my sentence: Obama is more important than my brother.”



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