Facebook!

As I wandered my way home from work this evening, I realised that I do post quite regularly. However, I often this through Facebook for my shorter ranty not proper bloggy stuff! 

Just a note to my followers on WordPress that if you are interested in following my mini rants on subjects like chickens in the dog bed, hop on over to https://Facebook.com/4kidsandachicken.  

 

Giveaway! A copy of the Coal House signed by the author Wayne Barton.

A few months back, I did a review of The Coal House by Wayne Barton. It is his debut novel, although he is a well known author and sports journalist (he has his own Wikipedia entry people!).

As it happens the debut went rather well. Since then, Wayne has been sending me new novel manuscripts faster than I can read them! He is now planning the release of his next novel Mablethorpe, in July. I am going to be honest, I haven’t read the manuscript yet. However, if it’s anything like The Coal House, it will be well worth a read.

In anticipation of the launch of Mablethorpe, Wayne has kindly offered one of my lovely readers a personally signed copy of The Coal House. I have included here my original review. To enter the competition, please click on the link below.

Click Here to Enter

Original Review

I know, I can hear it all now. She has 4 kids, 4 chicken, 2 dwarf Russian Hamsters, a cat, a husband and a job. Does she have no home to go to? Why on earth would she review a book? We always knew she was a bit mad but…etc…etc…!I will tell you why. The author said to me, would you like a free copy of my book in return for telling anyone who will listen what you genuinely thought of it. I thought about it for 30 seconds or so and concluded the following:

1. I like free stuff (what parent doesn’t, I mean kids don’t come cheap!).

2. I like books.

3. I find it hard to keep my uncensored opinion to myself whether someone wants to hear it or not (hence the bloggy thing)

4. I have kids. I don’t have time to browse WH Smiths thriller section while enjoying a latte and shortbread. Book shopping with kids is pretty tricky. Basically, if someone tells me what a book is about and whether it’s good or not, I find it pretty helpful. It’s about time I re-paid the favour.

Books

Pre-kids, I would read one to two thriller novels a week. Any spare moment was spent devouring literature. The majority of weight in my holiday suitcases was usually, to the bemusement of many a customs officer, novels for me to spend hours reading wherever we went. Post kids, well, I probably don’t need to expand! Needless to say, where once I would have read pretty much anything on the basis that within a couple of days, I would be on to something new, I am now very selective. My reading is now limited to a short time on the train on my working days, and ten minutes in bed, or possibly on the sofa if I don’t make it as far as bed, before I fall asleep with my book on my face (unless it’s a very good one!). I now only read novels which I expect to really enjoy, as I can expect to be in the company of that novel for at least a month.

The Coal House, by WS Barton

Llandudno, North Wales, and the surrounding countryside, is a beautiful part of the world. It is one in which I am privileged to spend time with my family, as it is the area from which my husband’s family originate.

This part of North Wales is home to breathtaking scenery, and on a summers day, is a beautiful place to spend seaside time with the kids. There is a Victorian pier with traditional and not so traditional activities. Surrounded by high hills, there is a funicular railway as well as a cable car and dry toboggan run. On a winters day, when the pier is closed due to crashing waves and strong winds, it is truly exhilarating for adults and children alike.

As with any such place, when the weather turns, or the mist rolls in, there can come a sense of haunting isolation despite the presence of others. My family experienced the drastic change when we went up the Great Orme eating ice cream on the ride up, and shivering uncontrollably in thick fog on the way back down in September last year.

It is against this backdrop that the debut novel of WS Barton is set. When I was asked to consider reading and reviewing his debut novel, one of the attractions was that it was set against a familiar backdrop, and one which I knew would undoubtedly give a real sense of atmosphere to any thriller.

This novel opens with some brief detail about the past and present of the two main characters, Finn and Clara. Perhaps it is only my perception, as there is no particular reason for it, but there was a penetrating sense of something approaching loneliness and almost foreboding from the first page. This sense remains throughout the novel, and maybe this is the reason that it is such an intriguing read.

The descriptions of the landscapes, people and history are all extremely plausible. The illustrative language conjures up a near perfect imagine of the area and its wilderness and enchantment as I know it myself. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an airy fairy novel about landscapes. The fact is that the very success of the authors endeavours to capture the essence of this part of North Wales means that you find yourself transported into the story. I started to find it hard to escape, and it is as if I was right there in Ty Glo with Finn.

How you feel about this depends on how you feel about finding yourself really afraid! As a seasoned thriller reader, I feel a bit fed up when the plot unravels too quickly leaving the last third of the novel as the kind of ‘mopping up at the end’ bit. That is definitely not the case with The Coal House. In fact, having delivered his chilling tale with fast paced twists and totally unexpected turns, WS Barton almost slaps you in the face with the final chapter. I found myself a bit stunned when the novel abruptly ended. The tale moved so quickly, I didn’t really have the opportunity to concoct my own theories about what may or may not be the final outcome. What I will say is that I never saw THAT coming!

So, as a reader, Would I change anything? I felt that I wanted to know more about the supporting characters, particularly the purveyors of the Percy Arms. I also wanted more time at Ty Glo, particularly with the events which unfold there beyond what happens to Finn directly. It is perhaps a little strong to call these criticisms, and they would perhaps be better described as unanswered curiosities. No doubt, WS Barton chose to leave it as he did. My only other comment would be that I wanted it to be longer. I wanted to know more. I suppose I didn’t want it to end when it did!

I shall tell you no more. I recommend reading this novel but with the following caveat. I do not recommend reading it when you are in the house alone, and I do not recommend reading it before bed. I will not go up the Great Orme again, and look at the view, without experiencing a tingling feeling in the hairs on my neck!

If I had to sum up this book in one sentence, I suppose it would be this. ‘It scared the b’Jesus out of me, but I still came back for more.’ The choice is yours.

The Un-Yummy Mummy

Www.4kidsandachicken.com

For more information on The Coal House, please go to http://waynebartonbooks.com

10 Must read truths about paddling pools!

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and you think it’s a really great idea to buy the little darlings a paddling pool. After all, as the picture on the box shows, it can only enhance your family life. Frankly, if the picture on the box is anything to go by, you would be parentally negligent not to buy them a paddling pool. The little darlings will happily play in the water while you sit nearby, on guard of course, but supping vino and catching up on that novel you have been meaning to read for the last year or so. What better way to pass a sunny family day.

Parents, I am afraid I need to break it to you. It is all a lie. A wicked, sales generating lie. I will tell you the truth about the paddling pool (I do not sell paddling pools, obvs.).

  1. It doesn’t matter what time you fill the pool. This is England people. The water in any decently sized paddling pool will never warm up. Not even in August. It will always be cold enough to pose a risk to a brass monkey.
  2. You will not actually get any peace at all. You will spend at least half an hour digging out last years now too small swim stuff and squeezing the little darlings into them, all the time telling them to stop making such a fuss, of course it still fits. (*Mental note, trip to supermarket for new swim stuff). By the time you have wrestled them all into the ill fitting lycra, they will be crying as they are tired, hot and hungry. Cue pom bears and squash.
  3. Now you have reached the water entry stage. Do not pour the chilled wine parents. It is simply not going to pan out as you hope. Put the novel away.
  4. The little darlings will launch themselves into the ice cold water. They will giggle and shriek with delight, and you may think my warnings are ill conceived. They aren’t, I promise. Within 5 minutes some smart arsed little darling will start kicking water at the others. This will result in floods of tears and calls for towels.
  5. Having dried the affected faces and yelled at the little darling responsible not to do it again, you can settle back down in your chair.
  6. The picture on the paddling pool box shows crystal clear water. Get real people. It has been 10 minutes. One of the little darlings will have done at least a sneaky wee in the pool.
  7. You should be thankful for the ones that wee in the pool.The ones that insist that you accompany their dripping little bodies to the loo, turning your kitchen floor into a lethally slippery path of doom are far worse. I am not even going to get into the wet lycra wrestle that’s required to allow them to use the loo.
  8. As a result of number 1 (climate conditions), within minutes, the little darlings will be shivering uncontrollably. Upon questioning, they will deny and feeling of cold (despite their inability to speak properly due to the fact they are shivering so hard). At some point one of the little darlings will give in and request to be dried and changed. Just as you have finished the process, they will see the others in the pool and change their minds. You will have to undress them, and redress them in their wet swimming gear (that will be another wrestle with wet lycra then).
  9. When you finally order the little darlings out for fear of hypothermia, you can expect around 30 minutes of screaming. Your dry sun-warmed skin can expect to be assaulted by drips and splashes from sopping lycra as you peel it from ice cold screaming flesh.
  10. Finally, the little darlings are in bed. Where you might normally sit down in relief with a glass of vino, you instead must now go and empty the pool. Aside from the safety risk posed by water in the garden, you should know that the picture on the box is frankly complete shit. What the pool will actually look like after 5 minutes of use, is this:

IMG_0134 (3)

(PS. If you have a fitbit, and have been wearing it throughout the paddling pool experience, it may by now have exploded/switched itself off for preservation. No human is expected to endure this.)

HELP! My 65 yo male neighbour is photographing my kids!

We are lucky enough to have a large, if a little ramshackle, garden. We moved in 4 years ago, and have been gradually been snipping away at the overgrowth. 

Finally, 4 years on, we have cleared a little bit of woodland at the bottom, and started constructing a climbing frame. We have been ambitious with it, but we are doing all the work ourselves with 4 small kids. It’s lovely for the kids, as we can’t see it from the house, so it’s a sort of really private kiddy den. We had planned on setting up a Walkie talkie system so that they could call if there was any problem.

As we have been working on the project, we have met the neighbours in the 2 houses behind us. They all seem really nice. One of them has been really chatty and friendly. He is in his 60’s, says he spent his life in the army and is married to an ex prison officer (though we have never seen her). He comes across as lonely, and at any sign of activity in the woods, he pops over the fence to start a chat.

He gave me a lovely cookbook which he got at a car boot, and in return I gave him some of our fresh hens eggs. He spends time chatting to all of the neighbours, and knows everyone’s business. I had him pegged as a friendly if slightly intrusive neighbour. I suppose it would only be the last 6-8 weeks that we have started talking to him. His garden backs directly onto the woodland, and he can see the kids play equipment and talk to them from his garden. Because of the trees, we cannot see his house, garden or the play equipment from our house or main garden. 

To be honest, I was most concerned about getting complaints about the kids playing noisily on their climbing frame at 6am on a Sunday. Our neighbour said it didn’t bother him which was a relief.

Today, I went into the woods to water some trees which I have planted. The girls, 4 and 2 came with me. I left them in the woods going down the slide, as I made my way up the garden watering plants as I went. As I finished and approached the house, the girls came running out of the woods. The 4 year old announced that this particular neighbour had taken their photo ‘because they were so pretty’. 

To be honest, my heart reached my throat and I had to swallow it again. Since then, I have been agonising over it. There are so very many innocent explanations, and I can see that. What is worrying me is that he waited until I had left the woods, and he had clearly flattered them into having their photo taken. The 4 year old was beaming with pride that she was so pretty as to warrant a picture. What worries me more is why on earth this man would want a photo of my girls. It was apparently taken with a proper camera, not a phone or iPad.

What do you think, and how would you deal with it? All advice gratefully received!  IMG_1370

What’s your view on the ‘Junior kids strike’?

  

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36149850

In the occasional moments of internet freedom between child and household chores as well as work, I have been intrigued to read about the ‘Let our Kids be Kids’ campaign. 

My eldest is aged 6 and in year 1. He hates school. He hates it with a passion which causes me alarm. He is reasonably bright but is not meeting his full potential by any stretch of the imagination. My view? He is 6 years old. 6 years ago, he was struggling to work out how to attach himself to my boob and drink milk from it, having excelled in his biological instinct to push his way out of my body in the first place. Now, he is being asked to spend hours at a time sitting on a patterned carpet answering questions about castles, spelling and shapes. Joined up writing is his nemesis. Frankly, if he and I came across Biff, Chip and Kipper crossing the road while in the car, I think my foot might accidentally slip onto the accelerator rather than the brake. 

I know that girls and boys are different as I have 2 of each. My girls love to read and spend time concentrating. My boys love to spend time running riot outside and learning practical things like that water only runs downhill and not uphill. 

What baffles me is that this has not in any way been factored into our curriculum. If my eldest boy is tested next year, he will do badly. This is not because he is not capable, but because he is too busy wanting to learn about his world and this earth to want to read what others have written about it. He just wants to be and do. My daughter (my second child) will be different when her time comes. 

I grew up in Northern Ireland where your post primary school education was determined by your 11 plus results. This blighted my childhood as although ultimately I did well, I spent most of not all my primary school years preparing for this one exam. 7 years preparation for two days 

The pressure on a primary school child was so great, it has never left me. I have only just seen this campaign, but I must say, it has my full support. Let my boy come round to learning in his own way. Support and nurture his talents, and help him with the things he finds more difficult. Whatever you do, don’t test his abilities aged only 6, and judge him on that going forwards. Don’t try to justify it as assessing the need for ongoing support. If those who have the power are listening at all, please just let our children live, grow, explore their world and be children. With a likely life expectancy in the future only increasing, let’s leave these babies to their play. 
After all, life is long enough to fit it all in. 

#Letourkidsbekids

Trolley rage – Who is in the wrong? 

  Am I doing something wrong? 

Today was one of those days where nothing quite went to plan. By 5pm, I still hadn’t made it to the supermarket, and the list of everyday essentials we had run out of was growing by the second. 

Having dropped the boys at grandmas for a quick play, I dashed to the shops with the girls. Needing to fit a weekly shop into a trolley dash I popped Emily (2) in the trolley seat, and put Lucy (4) standing in the end of the trolley. Off we raced ‘beeper'(self scanner) being fought over all the way. As I threw food into the trolley, the girls giggled and chatted between themselves. I have to admit that this was one of the easiest shopping trips I have been on in recent years. I was actually quite enjoying myself. The girls asked for apple juice, and so we beeped it together and put it in the trolley. Then a treat of trifle, some milk, yoghurts. I was really pleased about how quickly we were covering the shop. As we headed off down the bread aisle, Lucy touched a stand with special offer bread items on it. There was a lady on the other side of the stand who glared at me, obviously affronted.

I assumed Lucy had nudged what she was looking at, and apologised on her behalf. We carried on, the girls trying to spot our normal loaf. Suddenly a voice shrieked from behind me. It was the lady from the end of the aisle. “I am sorry, but don’t you think that is absolutely disgusting?!” I quickly looked around, but was unable to find the source of her disgust. She repeated it again “That is totally disgusting!”. She carried on, and pointed directly at Lucy who was standing in the end of the trolley “Letting that child stand in a trolley where people put their food! “.  The voice in my head muttered something about the fact that it didn’t worry me as I take my food home and eat it off a plate. Biting my tongue, I simply stated that I didn’t see it as a problem. She rudely informed me that it was indeed a problem. She herself had raised 5 children and would never have dreamed of doing anything so disgusting. I think I must have thought rather than said out loud how sorry I was to hear that she had not only bred once, but 5 times, as she carried on with her abuse and insults unhindered. Bearing in mind I had two small children in the trolley, I decided to brush her off and carry on selecting the bread with the girls.

As the lady eventually departed, Lucy said to me, “Mummy, why was that lady talking to you?”. I replied, “Oh she is just some batty old lady”. At that moment, a man came along behind me and announced that she was not indeed a batty old lady, she was his wife. By this time, I was becoming stressed about getting back to collect the boys before grandma’s  goodwill ran out. I offered him my commiserations for the fact that she was his wife, to which he responded that everyone knew it was totally disgusting to let a child stand in a trolley. Slightly less bolshy than his wife, he then scuttled off. As he did, another family came past, one child in the seat and one in the trolley, Dad moving quickly. I finished the last few aisles in reasonable time, and got back to pick up the boys and get home for pyjama time. 

The more I thought about it, the more irritated I became. There are lots of disgusting things that kids do in supermarkets. I know because between my 4, they have pretty much covered them all. These include:

  1. – Filling their nappies with leaky pooh. Now that is unhygienic (cue purchase of large box of baby wipes).

– Taking bites out of the fruit and then putting it back (don’t worry, if I see it, I buy it!)

– Punching holes the meat packets ( yes, again I buy it!)

– Licking the freezer doors (weird, I know!)

– Not quite making it to the loo for a wee.

Now I do not condone any of these things, but these are behaviours by my kids which I have felt embarrassed about. Standing in a trolley, however, is not something which had crossed my radar. Had I not put the second child in the trolley, my shop would have taken at least double the time, time I really didn’t have. 

As I sit here, I am wondering I am I right or wrong. Obviously there were other parents in the supermarket at the same time as me doing the same thing, so at least I don’t feel like I am totally alone. I do feel a bit shaken though. Is this something which shoppers as a whole find inappropriate? Do you do it? 

Mummy, what are we doing today?

You have been up for 2 hours, made an endless round of breakfasts, sorted out the arguments over whether it should be Dennis the Menace or Team Umi Zumi on TV, boiled the kettle at least 6 times for a cup of tea you have yet to make….and then they ask the dreaded question.

On a day when we don’t have any of our regular classes on, the answer is usually googling, or scratching around to find the copy of the Grapevine magazine I grabbed last time we were at Mums and Tots. Up until recently, we had a fairly full schedule of regular activities. The trouble is, though, that as the little darlings grow, they get bored of what was once the best Mums and Tots, or toddler dance class. For me, making sure the twins don’t get bored is a major must. Unless fully entertained, they start to amuse themselves by causing as much trouble as they can find, acting as a duo and laughing to themselves at their own cleverness. 

This summer will see the release of a free app called Club Hub UK. It is intended to allow you to locate children’s clubs and activities around the U.K. You will be able to input your location, your child or children’s  ages and interests to view results related to them. 

Our family activities will be changing a lot from July as the twins are starting pre-school. If this app delivers what it promises, then I know that I will be a regular user!

I will let you all know when it has been launched. In the meantime, if you would like to check out Club Hub UK’s own pages for more info, the links are below. 

Twitter: twitter.com/clubhubuk

Facebook: facebook.com/clubhubapp/

Instagram: instagram.com/clubhubuk

Website: club-hub-app.com

Keeping up appearances.

I have always been pretty houseproud. It is an unshakable throwback to my upbringing. Obviously when I first moved away from home, I lived in a complete slummy shit pit for a year or two out of a combination of sheer laziness and late teenage rebellion, but after that, I settled down.

The values instilled in me through an Irish childhood were firm and unfaltering. Your house should be kept so that if anyone dropped by unexpectedly, you were never embarrassed to show them in. There was always a packet of “posh” biscuits in cupboard for visitors, and any laundry hanging where it could be seen should be in no way compromising. As my husband and I set up home together, I reckoned I was doing rather well at the whole ‘homekeeping’ thing (obvs just copying my Mum). I set the rules, and hubby and I followed them.

The only blip was when my mother in law came to stay. I returned once from a shopping trip to find that she had kindly hung out the washing on the line. This included my underwear. As we lived in a garden flat, this left open the possibility that at least 4 separate households may have seen my undies. Much to the bemusement of my husband and his mother, I screamed, wailed, and vowed to leave the county, so impossible would it be to live down the shame.

We moved (not, I hasten to add as a result of the undies issue), and I had my first child. Aside from some initial difficulties relating to working our how to remove vomit and pooh stains without shrinkage, the home was kept passable, and we were generally presentable. Then my second child arrived. Obviously I had to juggle even harder, but the house was presentable, biscuits were usually in stock, and visitors could always safely be ushered in.

Then, I had twins. When I gave birth to the twins, my other children were aged 3 and 1. No longer were my days spent working part time, keeping the house tidy, cooking meals, and hosting well catered play dates. Instead the house seemed to spiral into some kind of home from hell.

The twins arrived, and  my days thereafter were spent slouched  on the sofa, boobs hanging out, and twins latched (or not!) in various ridiculous positions in a desperate on my part to attempt to tandem breastfeed. There was no part of my person the baby vom missed. Even if they tandem fed, they did not tandem pooh. They did that in relay, just to keep me on my toes. Meanwhile, the 1 and 3  year old tested the limits of their new found freedom. Favourite games included tossing the entire contents of their bedrooms over the banisters, climbing in and out through the kitchen window using a variety of climbing materials, and drawing on the walls with whatever came to hand. The cereals were re-located in an easy toddler reach cupboard, and the kids just helped themselves, obviously decorating the house in shreddies as they went. Toys were strewn high and low, and laundry piled up in every corner of the house. Microwave meals were the primary food source, and tears were frequent. The antics of the older two gained momentum as they fought harder to gain attention, positive or negative.

I dreaded the doorbell ringing, even though what I wanted most was some company and understanding. When the doorbell did start ringing, I was horrified. Opening it a crack, I would peer out, twin under each arm, boobs a dangling, hoping that the caller would not insist upon coming in. They did insist upon coming in. All of them.

I confess that I was entirely taken by surprise. I was not immediately labelled a social pariah due to the squalid conditions, mountains of laundry and lack of any biscuits, let alone “posh” ones. No-one even mentioned the boob thing. Instead, my friends set about working out where everything was kept, making tea and coffee, sticking on loads of laundry and tidying toys. So great was my exhaustion, and relief at the help, that I just let it happen, while quietly telling myself that I had probably irreparably failed on some deep social level.

As the children grew, it got gradually easier. Play dates were arranged, although the house was always far from pristine. It turns out no-one cared that much, or in fact at all. Most friends brought their own biscuits as they knew that even if I had made it to the shops, the kids would probably have long since eaten any snacks I had bought. One day, during a particularly difficult time, a friend dropped by to hand me a bag. In it was a pizza, garlic bread, bottle of wine, chocolate, and some baby food puréed for the twins. Never has a gift been so gratefully received, and frankly, never will it be forgotten. That night, I cried at the fact that I had such bloody wonderful friends.

Another friend realised my struggle in getting all 4 dressed and out for the school run, so kindly collected Patch and delivered him to school every day. This saved me literally around an hour a day getting everyone up, dressed, coated, booted, prammed and to school.

The older kids are 6 and 4, and the twins are now 2 1/2. I am now able to help others out. I take friends kids after school and at weekends (frankly, once you have 4 very small people, a few extra don’t make much difference). I insist on making my friends meals at any given opportunity, often much to their bemusement. If I can help them out, I will, although it feels like I will never be able to repay the loyalty I was shown.

What I can’t do is keep the house clean and tidy, and the laundry under control. The thing is, although it does cause me some stress, it is nothing like it used to be. I have learned that true friends do not judge you by the state of your home, or even your “posh” biscuits (although they apparently help!) They are your friend because you are yourself.

Last week, my husband and I were off work with the kids, and decided to undertake a major gardening project with the help of a mini digger, stump grinder, and some friends (gluttons for punishment and all that!). It was fun, but fucking hell was it messy. Obviously it rained for the first 3 days. The kids fell in mud, we fell in mud, there was more mud than I have ever seen, and most of it seemed to be inside my house. The kids went through at least 10 changes of clothes each per day, and helped themselves to food if I didn’t meet their demands quickly enough. The result was a scene of complete devastation. As I surveyed the damage late one afternoon, concluding that it was probably easier just to move house than to try and tackle the mess, I saw a brush whizzing past me round the kitchen with one of my friends attached. Next I saw the dishwasher open, and dishes start clinking into it at a rate of knots. Momentarily, it was like a scene from a Disney movie. Then I realised that my friends, despite having given up their day to help work in my garden, were not just going home. They were cleaning.

This gave me the impetus I needed to join in. It did take a good hour and a half, but between us, we got the place looking clean and tidy before crashing on the sofa with a bottle of wine (or 2, or 3!). As we did so, I felt so truly blessed to have such amazing friends. Of course I am still houseproud, but I have come to accept that I cannot do it all. I have 4 small children and work part time. My house is a bit of a shambles, but I know that my real friends will not judge me by that.

The moral of this little tale? Parenting is really tough. Some people will have nice clean houses, nice clean kids, and look like they are in  control. Good for them. If you are not one of them, so what?!? No-one is going to refuse a cup of coffee and a playdate because you have a backlog of laundry or your floor is not swept. They will probably be thinking “Thank fuck someone else finds it as hard as me!”.