A visit to West Midlands Safari Park

It’s been many years since I went to West Midlands Safari Park and, in truth, I don’t remember anything about the animals. I do remember going on a rollercoaster with my Dad, who was a big scaredy cat and said “Jesus Christ” at the end of the going forward bit, just before the coaster started going backwards to do a loop the loop in reverse.

I’ve asked the husband if we can go over the years, but he always refused on the basis that the monkeys might rip his car to pieces. So when my sister mentioned taking my toddler nephew, I jumped at the chance to join in and offered to be the designated driver.

There aren’t any monkeys on the loose these days – precisely for the reason husband feared – they were pulling windscreen wipers, bumpers and aerials from cars. But there is a wide range of animals, many of whom you can feed through your car window.

First things first – tickets aren’t cheap. You’re charged per person rather than per vehicle. It’s £25 per adult, £20 for children aged 3 to 15 years, and under 3s are free. On the plus side, after your visit, you’ll receive an email with a code for a return free visit within 6 months, which makes it an appealing prospect if you can get back there for round two. As with everything in these weird Covid times you can’t just rock up on the day; you need to pre-book tickets online – even your free return visit.

We arrived at around 11am after a pit stop for a McDonalds breakfast and the queues were already quite long as people snaked towards the ticket booths to show their proof of purchase. You get the option to purchase a box of food at the same time as your ticket purchase online, and this is handed over to you at the ticket booth, with some handwipes. If you plan on feeding the animals all the way round DEFINITELY take more hand wipes and gel. Some of them are a bit slobbery and you’ll be wanting to sanitise after being licked by a huge giraffe tongue!

The Park is split into sections with animals specific to that area. Not going to lie, the first time I put a hand full of food out of my window and an eland approached, I squealed. They’re just so big and so close up and so keen to eat! But you get more used to it as you drive round the 4 mile route. Obviously in the carnivore section you have to keep your windows firmly closed, unless you want to become lion feed.

There are lots of rangers in vehicles all around the park; they’re there for the safety of both the visitors and the animals. They also drive around the park in the right places, and encouraging them to move so that visitors get to see them. And sometimes they need to get them out of the middle of a traffic jam!

We were lucky enough that a ranger had just disturbed the lions as we drive through the carnivore enclosure. It was incredible to watch this male just wander in front of my car!

The elephants aren’t allowed to wander freely – probably in case they inadvertently trample your car – but you can pull up really close to them.

It took around 2 hours to drive the whole way around – a mix of busy traffic at the beginning (which thinned out), driving slowly so as not to scare the animals, and spending more time in different areas in order to get close to our favourites.

It was super cute to watch my nephew seeing things he’d never seen before.

It was crazy to see the giraffes just wandering amongst the cars! I was thrilled to feed them on the way in and on the way out (the giraffe area straddles both the entrance and exit). Giraffes are my favourite anyway, but just wow!

After the safari we then parked the car up to go into the theme park side. This comprises of gift shops and places to eat, smaller animal exhibitions including penguins and reptiles, Land of the Living Dinosaurs, and fairground rides which are an additional cost on top of the entrance fee.

Unfortunately by that time it was raining heavily which wasn’t conducive to fully enjoying the outdoor sections, so we’re saving that for our return visit next year.

The opening hours are variable now with the darker nights and in the lead up to Christmas, but you can check availability and book tickets here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Who votes against free school meals for children living in poverty?

The Tory party, that’s who.

The news today that, in a House of Commons vote, there was an overwhelming majority AGAINST providing free school meals for children who need them over the upcoming school holidays is absolutely abhorrent.

The irony of awarding footballer Marcus Rashford an MBE for his services to supporting the food needs of school children living in poverty, only to then refuse his call to extend provisions is hypocrisy at its finest.

The sheer audacity of MPs who are supposed to have the best interests of school children at heart voting no, including:

  • Minister for School Standard Nick Gibb
  • Children’s Minister Vicky Ford
  • Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock

Then again, when the leader of our country himself, that self serving out of touch prat Boris Johnson, votes against looking after youngsters who will be going hungry through no fault of their own, what can you expect?

Far from this descending into name calling, insulting and absolute incredulity at the unfeeling, uncaring and downright hateful government, I’m going to make this into something more positive. I’m going to suggest ways that you and I can help.

Donate to Fare Share

FareShare is a charity dedicated not only to helping those in need access food, they’re also working to reduce food waste. Double whammy of goodness. They take surplus food from across the industry and distribute it to food charities, breakfast clubs, homeless shelters and more. This isn’t about giving out the scraps that are left at the end of the day, but identifying good quality items which still have plenty of value in terms of nutrition but which retail stores can’t or won’t sell.

You can find out more about FareShare here.

If you’d like to support FareShare and the work they do, you can make a one off financial donation, or set up a monthly direct debit. I’ve set up a £10 per month donation this morning which was quick and easy, and will provide 40 meals to people who need them.

Trussell Trust

The Trussell Trust have a countrywide network of food banks supplying food parcels to those in need. They accept both financial and food donations. To donate food, find your local branch and check their opening hours online. They also have collection points in some local supermarkets.

Write to your local MP

Yes it may seem old fashioned, and yes it may seem futile, but there is still strength in letting your local MP know how you feel. They are supposed to represent their constituents, so they need feedback from those constituents to let them know they’re performing very badly. It may not make a difference, but I guarantee you’ll feel better for saying something.

Educate your peers around the issue

I’ve seen too many comments blaming parents who live on benefits, parents who can’t be bothered to get a job, parents who have kids they can’t afford, and parents who spend their money on cigarettes and big TVs instead of prioritising their children’s appetites. Of course there will always be people who abuse the system and don’t put the needs of their children first. But don’t tarnish everyone with the same brush. There are parents who work damn hard in poorly paid jobs and can’t make ends meet because the cost of living is too high in comparison to the minimum wage. There are parents who may have lost their jobs – with those numbers due to increase with the way the government is poorly handling the Covid pandemic. There are families in which one parent may have died, or left the household.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is – the end result is hungry children who don’t have the personal power or wherewithal to conjure up food for their empty tummies. None of it is the fault of children.

Remember also, as I posted about 2 years ago, that charities exist because of a government failure or unwillingness to provide financial support. You can try and place lame wherever you like, but ultimately a government has a responsibility to look after its citizens.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Just checking in…

Hello! How is your pandemic life going? Remember back when it all started, around March, and we talked about things being back to normal in 6 months? How naïve we were, eh? I planned on keeping a few days annual leave back in case I could get some winter sun in the Canary Islands. Ha!

So, we’re now in tiered lockdown, and there are lots of different thoughts on why that is. Some blame students and young people who haven’t followed the rules, others blame minority groups and worshipping congregations, many blame Eat Out to Help Out which literally encouraged people to visit hospitality venues, who are now bearing the brunt of tiered lockdown as their opening hours are curtailed.

I blame the government. They’ve handled it appallingly, acted too late, made allowances for their own ministers setting bad examples and generally presented the appearance of headless chickens. We know that it can, and has, been handled better. Just look at New Zealand.

A while ago I posted about my pandemic life so far, so I thought I’d do an update!

Blogging

I stupidly let my domain and hosting expire, which means my site has been MIA since mid September. In truth it was because I wanted to leave GoDaddy but didn’t know who to go with and then, by the time I’d decided, they (GoDaddy) wanted to charge me $149 to reinstate my site! So I’ve spent a good few hours calling them thieving gits, asking to speak to a manager (I was such a Karen!) and then, once they waived the charge, more hours with online support who told me lots of conflicting things until finally it was resolved. Hurrah! My main issue with GoDaddy was not wanting to pay 2 years up front, which they were trying to bill me for, but it turns out you can now pay monthly so I’m still with them for now. My whole blog needs an overhaul and tidy up and new theme, and I did consider just ditching it altogether as I’ve posted about 5 times in the past year, but ultimately I enjoy knowing it’s here for me when I feel the need, and I don’t want to lose 5 years of writing.

Campervanning

Earlier this year it seems like the worst time EVER to have bought a campervan, as we couldn’t go anywhere, but once restrictions were lifted somewhat our Bodhi Bongo actually saved our summer. We managed to get away 6 times in 9 weeks; mainly weekends away but also a couple of longer trips to Dorset and Devon, which I’ll be blogging about. In the absence of being able to have our usual Summer overseas holidays this year it’s been an absolute godsend and, dare I say it, I haven’t missed getting out of the country. I know I’m privileged to have been able to still make something good out of a crappy year in terms of holidays and getting away from it all, and I’m super grateful.

Watching

A couple of new box sets have come my way since I last posted. The first being Entourage, which first aired in 2004 – never say I don’t have my finger on the pulse of popular entertainment! The good thing is that it means there are a whole 8 seasons to chew through, with no breaks or waiting for the next episode to be released, which is THE BEST way to indulge in a show. It’s good fun spotting all the LA landmarks and reminiscing about our trips there over the years.

The second is Selling Sunset, which is a recent addition to Netflix from the same people who created The Hills (which I used to be obsessed with). We’re one season down, with two to go, and OMG what a bunch of bitches those realtors are (including the guys). And OMG 2, how the other half live? Spending $10 million on a house? Crazy!

Working from home

I am now firmly ensconced in working from home territory, and can’t imagine having to go to the office every day. I love slowly easing myself into the morning, not having to rush, no road rage as I clock watch when I’m stuck in traffic. I don’t feel at all disconnected, because I have A LOT of meetings and my manager is very good at making sure we all know what’s going on – we have weekly team meetings, fortnightly one to ones and chat over Teams or individual catch up calls. I guess part of it is that I had only been in my job for 6 weeks when we went into lockdown, so I hadn’t really had time to build any attachment to the workplace, or a desk, or even the people, really. I think, even when the threat of Covid has gone away, my company will adopt new ways of working. We’ve all proven we can be incredibly productive without the need for a physical desk, and obviously it will save them money in terms of office space too.

I do feel that it’s making the transition into autumn – which I usually struggle massively with – easier as well, thanks to no cold mornings or driving in the dark.

Emotions

Like many people my emotions around Covid are very up and down. I do worry that the situation has made me more introverted. I’m so used to the way things are now that it feels normal, which is concerning. I have a very small circle of people I speak to on the phone – mainly family (does anyone actually speak to friends anymore? Isn’t it all just texts, Whatsapp and social channels?), and I don’t leave the house very often either. I’m strangely OK with all of that, which is also a worry. Facebook enables me to feel like I still know what’s going on with my friends’ lives, even though I’ve barely seen any of them this year. Technology definitely makes being separated much easier.

That’s not to say I don’t also have wobblies and feel overwhelmed! There are still days when it all feels too much, and never ending. I think winter may be a big test because, while I say not leaving the house is a good thing, dark mornings and nights and grey days are likely to be less enjoyable than the sunshine and open windows and lunch in the garden I enjoyed for much of the WFH summer.

How about you? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to and how you’re coping with all this crazy. Hit me up in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A visit to Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock

Bridgnorth is a town in Shropshire which I’ve long been aware of. It isn’t very far from where I live now or where I grew up, maybe 30 miles, and I think my Dad started or finished a boat race on the River Severn there when I was a kid. I was convinced I’d been there in adult life, until we went there recently and I clearly hadn’t.

With 2020 being a funny old year (to say the least), exploring more of the UK has been on the agenda when it comes to a change of scenery. We didn’t venture out until mid July, hoping that the initial hoards of thoughtless marauding idiots who thought lockdown meant carry on as normal and social distancing was not talking to your friends on Facebook would have dissipated by then.

Bridgnorth has a high town and a low town, separated by the River Severn and literally doing what it says on the tin – lower town is low (duh) whilst high town is elevated on sandstone cliffs with views over the river and beyond. The two are connected by a funicular railway – the steepest in the country, if you’re interested – but we avoided that due to touching of surfaces and breathing of other people’s air, and took one of the multiple (steep!) sets of steps up and then back down again.

We parked by the river, which runs a wide and sludgy greeny brown between High Town and Low Town. It wasn’t the prettiest on a grey day, but having been cooped up for so long just the sight of water in nature was a pleasure!

We walked up the hill towards Lavington’s Hole, which dates back to 1646 and the Civil War. Parliamentary forces dug through the rock in an attempt to burrow under St Mary’s Church, where the Royalists kept their gunpowder and blow up the church. The tunnel was never completed, and you can’t enter it due to safety reasons, but it’s an interesting little area with other caves that have been carved out for dwellings over the years, and some nice gardens.

In High Town you’ll find some high street shops, a marketplace (there was a market on when we visited on a Saturday afternoon), the church of St Mary Magdalene, and the castle grounds and gardens. There isn’t much left of the castle now, and what does exist looks like it could fall over any minute (I’m sure it couldn’t, not casting aspersions on the safety of the town!), but it’s very pleasant to wander round and take in the views.

There’s some nice architecture to look at; some lovely Georgian styles, beamed buildings, teeny tiny front doors and cute front door knockers, and many people seem to have a lot of pride in where they live, with pretty gardens, pots and hanging baskets.

We didn’t stop for lunch as we had other plans, so probably spent no more than a couple of hours there, but it’s always nice to get out and about somewhere new, even if you I didn’t know it was new to you me until you I got there!

Next stop was the medieval market town of Much Wenlock, where we set up camp for our first ever campervan overnighter! (more on that another time). We were staying a 5 minute walk from the town, so went for a little wander (and in search of a pub!) Unfortunately the pub we had our eye on was closed until August thanks to our beastly enemy Covid, and Much Wenlock itself seemed to be in hibernation despite it only being 4pm. Being a city dweller it’s easy to forget that small towns and villages aren’t always open!

The town itself is quaint, with a history spanning over 800 years. Unfortunately the church was closed (Covid), and the priory was closed (Covid) so we couldn’t do much else than have a wander round and look at the outside of stuff.

Look how quaint the police station is?

And I was intrigued by Bastard Hall!

It’s so easy to neglect places that are relatively on your own doorstep in favour of travelling further afield, but this year has certainly given me a new appreciation for the UK and seeing more of it.

Have you visited anywhere close to home that’s new to you this summer?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A lockdown birthday

My husband had a big birthday in June. Although we were hopeful things would have a semblance of normality by the time it came around, it soon became clear it would be a lockdown birthday.

Not one to let circumstance get in the way of plans, I still wanted to make it into a celebration.

I had a think about the kind of thing we might have done for his birthday had we been able to, and the kind of things he enjoys, and a plan started to form.

Had the tourism industry not ground to a halt we’d no doubt have been out of the country. We’d talked about various destinations, always coming back to our favourite place in Greece, but luckily we hadn’t booked anything so didn’t have to go through the arduous process of getting refunds on flights and accommodation. So my first thought was to recreate some kind of holiday vibe in our holiday, with a paddling pool, some sand, sunloungers, etc.

The long term forecast suggested that the UK weather would rain on my parade, so I needed an alternative.

That alternative was an indoor festival!

Husband loves music; he’s forever watching Youtube videos, playing records and listening to Spotify. We’ve been to many festivals together over the years so I decided to try to recreate it at home, but inside, so it didn’t matter if it rained.

First things first, I needed a venue. We’d already been talking about, and looking at, pop up tents to use alongside our campervan for storage when we stay overnight, so I bought that. Then I got decorations – bunting, balloons, etc from Poundland, and a custom banner from an eBay seller.

I also bought blow up guitars and microphones so we could sing along with the festival bands!

We already had camping chairs from our daytrip to the Cosford Air Show a couple of years back, and the Christmas fairy lights were perfect for a bit of sparkle.

Keeping it secret was a bit of a challenge. Husband was furloughed at this point, so he was at home all the time when all of the deliveries came. Luckily for me he doesn’t really pay much attention to what’s going on around him, especially if he’s engrossed in a film, so I was able to sneak things in and store them in my wardrobe.

In the lead up to his birthday he was pretty grouchy, and made me promise not to do anything stupid like organise a Zoom party or video messages from our friends. So I was starting to think maybe I’d made a mistake. But you can’t let a birthday go uncelebrated, can you?

The night before his birthday I went upstairs to colour my hair, and simultaneously blew up all the balloons ready for the morning, strung up the banner and untangled the bunting. I woke early on the Friday and told him I needed to do a few birthday things downstairs, which obviously made him suspicious, especially when I had to go into the garage for the chairs and fairy lights!

I’m happy to say that, after the initial shock and surprise (it’s not every day you come downstairs to your lounge to find a ruddy great tent in the middle of it!) he loved it. A combination of the effort I’d made, and the experience, meant it was a good one.

I’d wrapped his presents and put them all on the dining table as a merch stand, written out an itinerary (I’d found loads of gig footage online from places we’ve been like Download Festival, and Call of the Wild), gave him pizza and whiskey for breakfast (festival staples) and then we settled in and watched some “live” music.

In the evening, in a nod to our favourite place in Greece, I recreated a Greek experience. I’d found a local restaurant who agreed that I could send a taxi to collect the food, and ordered our favourite kleftiko, plus stifado and souvlaki. I set the table with all the little Greek touches – oil and vinegar, toothpicks in a little pot, a carafe of wine and bread in a basket. I even ordered an inflatable palm tree, and a parrot (there’s one we see every day when we visit Stoupa).

After that it was back to the festival tent, which we loved so much we decided to sleep in! No slumming it for us though, we got mattresses down from upstairs and slept in absolute comfort until Timfest was over the next day.

Top tips for a Covid birthday celebration

Although the official lockdown is now over (apart from in some localised areas) things are far from back to normal. If you can’t have the celebration you would usually have with friends and family, I wholly recommend thinking outside the box like I did and doing something alternative.

Think of something the birthday boy/girl really loves. Maybe it’s going to the cinema, or a football match, or on a bar crawl.

Recreate elements of that at home or in your garden – choose some films, or a replay of a great football game, or pub background noise.

Pay attention to the small things and the details – cinema tickets, half time pies, or their favourite drinks. Create different areas for the different parts of the experience – waiting in the foyer at the cinema, the coach on the way to the game, or different pub settings.

It may all sound a bit cheesy, but you’d be surprised how much fun it is to plan, and hopefully how grateful the birthday recipient is.

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What HAVEN’T you done during Covid-19?

Remember at the beginning of lockdown, when everyone apart from key workers (or heroes as we should call them) was either working from home or furloughed and considering how they would be spending all their extra time? Bold claims such as learning a new language, decorating their home, and getting in shape flooded my Twitter timeline – either from individuals full of naive enthusiasm, or experts suggesting ways to cope.

Fast forward a few weeks, and it’s quite clear that this is a really strange period, that isn’t the ‘paid holiday’ that many people thought it might be. Advice about how to improve your life has been taken over by advice on how to ‘just’ survive. Getting through, coming out of the other side, protecting and preserving mental health however we can has become way more important.

Some people have thrived, some have struggled, and there are sad stories in the press about some people not making it. Those who have taken their own life because they couldn’t handle the pressure, the loneliness and the not knowing.

So, in this post, I’m laying it bare about the things I haven’t done whilst I’ve been working from home. Admittedly, by not being furloughed, I haven’t had heaps more time in my life, but working from home means I have ditched the commute, late afternoon meetings and doing anything at weekends, so there has been extra time knocking about!

Sorting out the utility room

Its been almost 2.5 years since our house renovations were complete, leaving us a utility room upstairs for our washer, dryer and storage. The furthest I ever got was putting up two big shoe racks. Our laundry basket is too small; the decorating is a mix of missing, raw plaster and 90s wallpaper and it’s just a disaster zone! About 6 weeks ago I bought a clothes rail for hanging drying clothes. It’s still in the packaging. It has, however, moved from the downstairs hall to upstairs, so yay for small victories.

Sorting out my spice cupboard

This sounds kind of middle class (which I definitely am not) until I break it down to laziness. I have no idea what jars of dried spices and herbs lurk in the overflowing narrow cupboard in the kitchen. Opening it is a sport in itself; who knows what will hit you or the floor once you unleash the protective door barrier. Heaven forbid I actually look in there to find something if I’m trying a new recipe. Why would I? I’ll just buy another glass jar, shove everything else back, and precariously position the new neighbour in a too small space hanging over the edge.

I did start the job a couple of weeks back when I was looking for some parsley. It quickly became a chore so I decanted a couple of half empty jars into one, then put it all back. One for a rainy day, maybe!

Blogging

The rate at which I post (sporadically at best) says everything there is to say on this point I think!

Exercising

I’m not an exercise person; it’s fair to say I’m very sedentary (not proud of it, but I’m nothing if not honest). I’ve seen lots of pics of people going on long country walks on routes they never knew existed near to their home. Now that restrictions have been lifted people are heading further afield to hills, woods and coastlines (I disagree with this somewhat, but that’s another story). I never even took advantage of the government approved one hour outside the house! I blame this on having a garden and therefore freely accessing fresh air. It’s not to do with being lazy. At all.

Reading

“I’ll use this extra time to read more” I told myself. I’ve actually only read 6 books (that isn’t a lot for someone who reads as quickly as I do). Some days I just can’t get into a book. Some days I’ve tried to read and my mind wanders. Some days I’ve just wasted days playing crappy games on my phone and then feeling annoyed with myself afterwards! But reading should always be loved and not forced, so if I’m not feeling I’m not going to push myself to.

Sorting out my pension

I have a few different pension pots sitting around, which I keep meaning to combine into one. It’s annoying that every time you change job you get another one set up – it would be so much better if you just had one for life that followed you around to your different employers. Everyone knows that sorting these things generally takes lots of phonecalls, being placed on hold, and time that you just don’t have in a busy office. I really should use a quiet home to multi-task whilst also cracking on with my day job.

It looks like I’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future, so all that could change (it won’t). I may come out the other side feeling productive and accomplished (I won’t). But in these strange times just getting through it is enough.

What haven’t you done since the world changed in March? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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My pandemic life – the story so far

Hey! How is everyone? Hopefully you’re in good health and staying safe, wherever you are in the world.

I’ve read a few insight posts into people’s life during lockdown, and I find them quite fascinating, so thought I’d do my own. It will act as a diary entry when all this is nothing but a distant memory!

Working

I’ve been working from home for 7 weeks now. I was only 6 weeks into my new job at the time, so still fairly new to everything anyway. My employer acted really quickly – one day they were setting everyone up with the tech to work from home for a one day trial, and we just never came out of it. It wasn’t a huge change for me, as my role isn’t 100% office based anyway, but still a new way of working with everyone completely remote and only available by phone or video call. There have been frustrations as people try to adapt, but on the whole it’s worked out pretty well. I’m super lucky that I can carry out my role from home, and also that my employer doesn’t intend to furlough anyone, so I am grateful.

The husband is now furloughed, this is his third week, and there are times when I’m a bit jealous as he watches a film and I’m in the middle of another Teams meeting, but I just need to keep remembering that I’m fortunate!

Truth be told I’m thankful of the structure that WFH brings me. It means I still have to get up early every morning for our daily department call, I can’t have afternoon naps, and I don’t have a load of excess time to fill. When I was made redundant a couple of years back I had a lot of time on my hands, and that was much more difficult.

Eating and drinking

Eating out is one of my pleasures in life – not necessarily fancy restaurants, just good traditional pub food, bars and eateries. We eat out at least once a week, and it’s a highlight. So that’s been a big change for us. Our local indian takeaway closed after about 3 weeks due to Coronavirus, but luckily we’ve found another even nicer one. Chinese takeaway is out of bounds due to the husband’s gluten intolerance, but we do have a local restaurant that does Malaysian and Thai dishes which are gluten free, so that’s stepped into the breach.

Outside of that we’ve been doing burgers at home on the barbecue (thanks to the good weather), and truth be told Mr G cooks a better burger than any I’ve ever had in a bar or fast food place.

We bought an airfryer just before lockdown, which does the most amazing fries and, surprisingly, steak! So a weekly steak night has become a thing, with peppercorn or blue cheese sauce, and the added indulgence of truffle oil fries.

I seem to have slipped into a bit of a “we deserve it” mentality so there has been pate, multiple types of cheese and crackers and all the crisps – the kind of thing usually reserved for Christmas! But food is a big pleaser for us, so in the absence of other things, it’s worth it to make us happy.

Gluten related rather than lockdown related I have a list of things I want to try that the husband can eat, including cheese scones and flatbreads (we didn’t eat cheese scones before he was GF, so I’m not sure why they’re on my list now!) I made black pudding scotch eggs for the first time yesterday (we had to order gluten free black pudding online from the Bury Black Pudding Company – it’s really worth it if you’re a fan).

As for drinking, well I’m drinking too much and too often, and that’s that!

Reading

My first thought when I have time to myself is that I’ll fill it with books, but so far I’ve only read three.

RSVP by Helen Warner
A chick lit book with a bit of a difference. 4 different main female characters whose lives intertwine, and not always in a positive happy way. It was a nice read, not too fluffy!

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter
This was a (requested) Christmas present, but I saved it for a time that was worthy, if that makes sense (I do that with much anticipated books). So, a few weeks ago, on one of the first Sundays it was warm enough to sit in the garden, I read it cover to cover.
I’ve been a big fan of Dawn for years, from her early television days, and read another of her books The Cows on holiday last year. I really enjoyed it, although didn’t like the characters as much as in The Cows which had a bit of an effect. Dawn is a fab writer though; I look forward to reading more of hers in the future.

Sisters by Rosamund Lupton
An oldie published back in 2010, which I picked up in Poundland. A psychological thriller and murder mystery all in one with a really great twist at the end I did not see coming. I read it cover to cover in one sitting (the best way to read a book, I find) which is testament to it’s un-put-downability.

Watching

I’m not a huge film and TV watcher, because I get distracted fairly easily! That said, there have been a few things recently that have really captivated me, and meant I didn’t reach for my phone once!

Gangs of London
A new 9 part series following a criminal family and their dealings – both legal and illegal. Very brutal and violent (with a couple of hide behind the cushion moments), but a brilliant watch.

After Life Season 2
I was so glad to see that this had made a comeback, after the absolutely brilliant first series. I wasn’t sure how it would fare, in view of how the last season ended, but it was as funny, heartwarming, heart wrenching, and tear inducing as season 1. I laughed, I cried, I snotted. Absolute brilliance and realism from Ricky Gervais.

Upright
This is a new series from Tim Minchin, about a man trying to drive across Australia with a piano. He ends up with an unexpected companion along the way and the 8 half hour episodes follows their journey – literally and emotionally. It was another laugh/cry/do both at the same time series, and I highly recommend you put it on your list (we binge watch it in one night).

Goodfellas
I have spent most of my adult life thinking I’ve watched this film, and agreeing with people in conversation about how great it is. We watched it yesterday afternoon, and it turns out I have never seen it! I thought I had because I’ve seen some of the iconic scenes, but for the main I had no recollection so it was all very exciting and new! Now I can genuinely say it’s a really great film. Never have I seen a film with Robert De Niro that wasn’t fantastic.

Shopping

I’ve settled into a similar routine of shopping once a week, which is unusual for me as I’ve always been a little and often type person (I go to the supermarket about 3 times a week with a basket rather than once a week with a trolley). Now though I’m trying to limit my outings, for obvious reasons. I’m also shopping for my mother in law, who is 80, and her next door neighbours/long time friends who are also in their 80s, and one of them has cancer. So off I go with my 3 lists – first to Lidl, then to Asda, then to a local shop for any bits that I couldn’t get at the supermarket. Mother in Law is a Daily Mail reader, so it’s with gritted teeth that I’ve been picking that up for her, and then delivering the shopping to both houses by leaving it on the doorstep.

None of them have left the house since mid-March, and I know it’s getting to them, but I’d rather them be safe than risk popping out for a loaf of bread.

Gardening

When lockdown started, one of the first things I was upset about was that my garden wouldn’t be full of pretties this year! Yes, I know it’s petty, but my garden is my hobby and knowing we’d be spending a lot of time at home meant I wanted it looking as nice as possible. On the plus side, the local shop I go to once a week also stocks a plethora of plants and I’ve picked stuff up from the supermarket during my weekly shop too, so I’ve been able to pot petunias, fuschias, geraniums and more. It’s a small thing, but it brings me joy, especially as we won’t be getting away on holiday anytime soon.

We bought a fire pit right at the beginning of lockdown too, so it’s been good to spend evenings outdoors with the warmth of the fire.

I’ve also worked on a small project that’s been brewing for ages, which I’ll share soon.

Things I’m missing

Family, obviously! It’s been a godsend being able to video call them, especially seeing my nephew as he’s started to crawl, but nothing makes up for a physical hug.

Afternoons in the pub with friends. You know the type; sunny days, overcrowded beer gardens, a buzz in the air, rounds of drinks, trays covered in booze and overflowing ashtrays. Who knows when we’ll be able to socialise that way again?

Holidays. Unusually we hadn’t booked anything prior to the virus hitting the UK, so haven’t had to cancel anything, but not knowing how things will progress for the rest of the year leaves uncertainty about whether we’ll be able to get away. I don’t think there’ll be any overseas travel this year, certainly not in the summer anyway, but hopefully we’ll be able to get away in the UK.

Our campervan! Strictly speaking I can’t really say I miss this, as we haven’t yet camped out in it, but I miss the freedom it would have given us. We’d certainly have used it at least a couple of times so far already this year with the unseasonable good Spring weather we’ve had. On both bank holidays we’ve reversed it up to our garden gate and used it as a little get away space for drinks, naps and even eating a takeaway but we’re yet to use it to its full potential.

Again it’s trivial compared to what many families have been going through, but I think in such a strange and uncertain time all feelings and emotions are valid.

Things I haven’t missed

Wearing a bra! 6 and a half weeks without one!

Wearing make up. Same timescale as above. Just goes to show that all that talk about women wearing make up for themselves is rubbish! I’ve never been the kind of person who won’t leave the house without make up, and because I’m not going anywhere apart from to the supermarket and delivering groceries I just haven’t bothered. Now it’s been so long I can’t help but feel I’ll look stranger with it than without!

Hairdressers. I’m scared of hairdressers and haven’t been to one in about 13 years. I was feeling a bit bored by my appearance so I gave myself a 6 inch chop and some layers through the front.

So, how’s everyone else getting on? Has your routine changed much? I’d love to know!

And thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Charities worth supporting during Coronavirus

Hey! It’s been an age. Life has changed. Last time I posted I was talking about my husband being gluten intolerant. Since then pasta has become more rare than gold, toilet paper was being traded on the black market and pubs are closed. Finding restaurants with a good GF menu has become pointless, but we are glad that toilet habits have changed to conserve that much needed loo roll!

I digress. This ‘situation’, whilst bringing out the worst in some people, has also seen some magnificent shows of benevolence, charity and generosity.

Whilst all charities are worthwhile in terms of the fact they’re there to do good (at least you would hope), there are certain ones that I think are really worthwhile right now, in terms of the benefits they can deliver to people who are suffering as a direct result of Coronavirus.

Trussell Trust / food banks

With people being furloughed, illegally made redundant or having no income if they’re self employed, the demand for support from foodbanks will be higher than ever before (and it was already too high for a western country). With social distancing and rules around reduced movement and travel it may not be so easy to physically donate food stuffs and supplies to your local food bank collection point, so a donation of money will enable them to speak to suppliers, order exactly what they need, and help those who need support.

Make a one off donation here.

Mental health charities

Physical health is obviously, and understandably, at the forefront of people’s minds right now, but mental health will also be a big player. Whether it’s those with already poor mental health or those whose mental health will deteriorate due to circumstance – whether financial or social – it’s quite possible there will be a mental health crisis when we all get back to “normal”. And in the meantime, call lines need financial support to stay operational to support those who may be facing financial ruin, stuck in 4 walls, have no-one else to turn to, or working on the frontline and struggling with everyday life and what’s expected of them.

Click here to donate to Mind.

Click here to donate to CALM – a movement against suicide

Domestic violence charities

It makes absolute horrific sense that domestic violence cases will increase during this time; people will be at home together more, unable to leave the house to escape conflict, and the additional pressures of everything going on (not an excuse) will lead to increased levels of aggression and, in some cases, death. Labour MP Jess Phillips is a vocal supporter of the need for more DV assistance, and heads up the APPG on Domestic Violence and Abuse (All Party Parliamentary Group – basically about the subject regardless of your political party). Jess stands up in parliament and reads out the names of women who have been killed by their partners to give them an identity rather than being a statistic (I know DV affects men too, before anyone says anything). Videos from previous readings show ridiculously low numbers of MPs in attendance, but that’s one for another day.

You may want to look for domestic violence charities in your local area, but there are country wide ones which would welcome your support and apply it where needed too. (worth noting that mental health charities also deal with DV cases for both genders)

Donate to Women’s Aid

Donate to Refuge

Donate to Mankind – specifically for male domestic abuse victims

Donate to Men’s Advice Line – a free phone support for men affected by DV

Last but by no mean’s least – our NHS workers

Where do I start? Can you even imagine? I have friends who work frontline in the NHS and they’re petrified to do their jobs, petrified to be at home with their family in case they infect them. I have friends working in other areas of the NHS who have been deployed to frontline and are outside of their usual comfort zone.

It doesn’t mater if you’re a receptionist, a doctor, a paramedic or a cleaner, our NHS are wonderful right now. They’re doing jobs most of us wouldn’t want to do. And for all the claps and the rainbows in windows and the appreciation, the NHS needs cold hard cash. Whether it’s to subsidise their salary, feed them a hot meal, pay their parking fines (don’t get me started) or get them much needed PPE which the government has failed to provide (don’t get me started, part 2!) then all cash donations to the NHS are welcomed right now.

Side note to say – they shouldn’t be necessary because the NHS is supposed to be government funded and accessible by all parts of our society. The NHS is NOT a charity. But in times of need we pull together and protect those who protect us, and then (hopefully) we hold the government to account later.

Again, there will be lots of local places you can donate, including local restaurants who are supplying hot meals whilst their restaurants are closed by the government and organisations who are working on PPE – donate here. Always check the legitimacy of Just Giving accounts and the like, but do support locally while you can.

Finally an honourable mention to War Veteran Captain Tom Moore who, at 99 years old, decided to raise money for the NHS by walking the length of his garden 100 times before his 100th birthday at the end of April. He hoped to raise half a million, but is currently at over a staggering £8 million. For a man who should be enjoying his retirement to be busting his ass when our government are being so shit (sorry, I’m bitter) is incredible, and just shows the WW2 war spirit he obviously had when serving our country.

Captain Moore, if I was wearing a hat I would take it off to you.

In the meantime I will be donating to Tom’s 100th birthday walk, and you could too by clicking here!

In addition, it’s Tom’s 100th birthday on 30th April so there’s a campaign to get birthday cards for him on social media – whichever channels you use, tagged #MakeACardForTom Do get involved and make a real hero very happy!

Everyone stay safe! Take care of yourselves, and each other (wasn’t that Jerry Springer’s by-line?

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My husband is gluten intolerant

It’s recently become apparent that my husband is gluten intolerant. He’s always been a bit “loose of bowel” shall we say (sorry if TMI!) but we thought that was just him. More recently we started noticing patterns of stomach troubles when we’d eaten something particularly wheat heavy (fajitas, pasta bakes) and I suggested it may be wheat related. A few other symptoms later and I started to read more into it. I became convinced he had coeliac disease.

He went to the doctor with his symptoms, and she immediately said he’d need to be tested for coeliac. He was keen to start cutting out gluten immediately. But all of the resources say you shouldn’t do that until you have a diagnosis. You need gluten in your diet in order for your body to react to it so you can get an accurate test result, as advised by Coeliac UK and all other health organisations.

The good news is, he isn’t coeliac

The bad news is that the nurse who gave him his results was completely dismissive of all the symptoms he has. She pretty much sent him on his way. He’s going to book a follow up appointment with a doctor to discuss further. Meanwhile, we have self-diagnosed him as having Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance (NCGI). I know self diagnosis isn’t ideal, but it’s all we have right now. We’ve come to this conclusion because he’s cut gluten out completely and is already feeling heaps better. So there has to be something going on.

The thing about NCGI (and coeliac) is that it’s untreatable with medication. That means a diagnosis doesn’t really benefit you in any way. All you can do is cut gluten out of your diet.

There are two aspects to finding our you’re gluten intolerant

One is the practical side of things (cutting out gluten containing foods – more stuff than you would realise), and the other is the emotional side. The husband is, understandably, struggling somewhat. He keeps realising things he won’t be able to eat from this point forward and I guess, in a way, he’s in mourning. Food is a big part of our lives, as is eating out, so there’s a lot to think about.

Since this all started I’ve gone into research overdrive. I figure that the more information I have, the better I’m armed to deal with this for both of us. I do the food shopping and the cooking, so non gluten containing ingredients are my responsibility. While the husband is dealing with the emotional side of things, I can be the practical person working out what all of this means and – more importantly – how we’re going to face it with as little impact as possible. For people living together any kind of food intolerance is obviously going to impact both/all of them; both in and out of the home.

My advice if your husband is gluten intolerant

(Or your wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, housemate, mother, brother, sister – you get the idea) is to do your research. Find out as much as possible about gluten containing foods. Look for gluten free replacements where available. Most supermarkets will have a gluten free section in their dried, refrigerated and freezer sections. The choice is much much better than it used to be. Decide how you’re going to tackle it as a household. For example, we’ve both switched to GF bread, purely because I don’t eat a lot of bread anyway. It doesn’t make sense to have two types in the house and, more importantly, I don’t want to contaminate things like butter and the toaster with GF containing breadcrumbs.

I have pretty much deglutened (not a word, but you know what I mean) our house, just to avoid accidental consumption by the husband while he’s getting to grips with it all. Soups – a lunchtime staple for him – have been carefully checked to make sure they’re ok (many tinned soups contain wheat flour, so his daily choice has been severely curtailed). Condiments have been cleared out – if it’s got gluten in, it has no place in our cupboards. My supermarket shopping trips now consist of avidly reading labels for suitability (helpfully, all allergens are shown in bold in the ingredients list, so there’s no need to read every single thing in detail).

Personally I’m taking this as an opportunity to be more food aware…

…and also as a little bit of a challenge (that sounds like I’m getting enjoyment from it, which obviously I’m not). I’m determined that he won’t miss out on some of his favourites just because of the dreaded G. There’ll be things I’m going to cook from scratch where previously we may have bought pre-prepared or takeaway. While he comes to terms with it all, I’m on hand with a GF version wherever possible. It’s a learning curve, but we’re in it together.

I’d love to hear from you if your husband is gluten intolerant (or you, a loved one, etc!) Going forward I’ll be sharing my GF finds and tips with you as well.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Thinking about my Dad

It’s been 3 years, 4 months and 8 days since my Dad died. I don’t count the days and weeks, but a quick mental calculation when I started planning this post was easy enough.

3 years, 4 months and 8 days is a long time. Try imagining 3 years into the future. Its impossible. Or think about the past 3 years. I’ve started and finished jobs, moved house and been to new countries. All things I would have discussed at length with my Dad.

So why this post, after 3 years and 4 months and 8 days? It’s not like I don’t think about my Dad daily. But sometimes, like at the moment, I think about him intensely. Almost all consumingly.

It’s all circumstantial, I know

I’ve been job hunting and interviewing and I know I would have had pre-interview prep talks with him, and post interview dissections of how it all went. He’d have been super excited that I got my job offer and a pay rise. So there’s that.

I also saw a Facebook memory of when I got my Dad tattoo, while he was still alive, so he would get chance to see it (he was pretty underwhelmed, tbh, Dad wasn’t a tattoo lover!)

My Dad tattoo

There’s also the presentation I had to do in my current job about my life (sounds a bit weird eh?) All staff have to do a 5 minute session about their background, childhood, family, likes and dislikes. I guess it’s to help you know and understand your colleagues better. I thought I’d get away with it, being on a 3 month contract. But I thought wrong.

Anyway, I’ve known since before Christmas that I had to do this presentation, although I didn’t finalise it until the night before it was due (what can I say, I work better under pressure!) I’d been mentally planning it for a while. And I knew I had to include a section about my Dad, and his illness, the late diagnosis, and his scuppered plans for an assisted death if that’s the route he wanted to go down. It’s such a big part of my life and who I am that I couldn’t not acknowledge it. It was also an opportunity to bring the Dignity in Dying message to a captive audience.

I was surprised by how emotional I got telling my Dad’s story in front of what is, essentially, a group of strangers. My voice cracked, I had to fight back tears and I didn’t remember all the things I wanted to say, but I had people come up to me afterwards and say they agreed that a change in the law is needed, and other people who shared memories of their own parents when they were alive. It was good and bad, and happy and sad all at once.

It’s just a mindset

You may have read my posts on grief and talking about death, and this is neither. It’s just a mindset. A mentality. A thought process and awareness that I’m going through.

Not that I didn’t already know it, but it’s been a deep and intense reminder that my Dad’s death changed my life; not just through him not being here anymore, but through the impact he had and continues to have on me consciously and subconsciously.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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