Sunday, 23 July 2017

DIY SOS: Holidays, House Guests & Home Improvements

Nursery has finished for the summer. This heralds a welcome reprieve from early starts, a break from routine, and 'quality time' with my only child. But with it comes having to face facts: my house is in no fit condition to have play dates in, and so the holidays are going to be time for replacing picnics with plastering, days out with decorating, and fun with new furniture.

I've been looking forward to the summer holidays more than ever this year as my 3 year old is getting ever closer to big school. I like the break from that early morning chaos of getting a little person out of the front door with their shoes on the correct feet and preferably without too many tears (from either of us).

A lot of the friends he's made are moving on to big school this September but we have another full year of pre-school before starting primary, so the next 12 months will hopefully be chance to make some little friends that might see him through to Reception.

It seems like only five minutes ago he was learning to walk and talk, and he wasn't interested in 'friends'. Now he's asking for play dates - something which I've always managed to avoid because I didn't do the whole baby group circuit and join a gang of mummy friends.

So, sweating with panic at the idea of potentially having strangers in my house, I've realised I need to do the house up, sharpish. Don't get me wrong, I'm not someone who seeks the approval of strangers (or friends for that matter!) but I can count on one hand the amount of people who visit my home - and even fewer the amount of people who I'm comfortable with witnessing me in my 'natural habitat' as David Attenborough would say.

I've got some big ground floor projects to concentrate on this summer: an expensive plastering job to save up for, new flooring, and finally trying to get some semblance of furniture that complements each other.

Got my work cut out

I inherited some great original teak mid century furniture that I want to drag into the garden and renovate in the good weather. I also want to move away from IKEA stuff which can look a bit cheap and studenty (I remember the days when my entire flat was birch veneer errthang and it was great at the time but can really date), in favour of mixing and matching my old G-Plan with some more 'grown up' homestyle oak furniture and - dare I say it - try and scale down the sheer volume of toys all over the house or at least find a proper home for everything.

So far a lot of people hours have been dedicated to sourcing a slimline sideboard and maybe a console table, and I haven't even begun to think about the walls yet - framed prints, picture shelves, artwork - there's potentially days worth of googling there. And plants - I've got to get plants!

Googling inspo for days: Pinterest (above) and The Bedstation

It probably sounds a massive overreaction to the prospect of a simple play date but as someone who's lived with anxiety for an number of years now, this isn't an unusual feeling for me. And if there's one thing past experience has taught me, it's that I can almost guarantee that once it's all done nobody will want to come anyway!

Friday, 21 July 2017

My Top 5 Barbies from the 1980s

Barbie: shaping innocent young lives with unattainable and unnecessary images of beauty and lifestyle ideals since 1959. But back in the days of Dynasty, big hair and convertible sports cars, I was a keen childhood fan of Barbies, as much as the next little girl.

Here's my Top 5 from the 1980s

Crystal Barbie

In fifth place we have Crystal Barbie with some massive bling earrings that you could take in and out. Amaze. But otherwise underwhelming eveningwear, once you remove the stunning metallic/hologramesque stole. I also had Ken. He had white slip-on shoes. Oozing style. White Ken was only ever pictured with White Barbie and 'Ken of Colour' (I don't know what they called him - hopefully just "Ken" cause that was his name - and good luck if you EVER saw him on a shelf in real life) with what Mattel obvs thought was his appropriate companion.

Sweetheart Barbie

Straight in at number 4, we have the classic Love Heart Barbie. Lovely use of chiffon, adorable sweetheart neckline. Incredible puff sleeves. Very 'girl next door'. Except she's still Barbie, not Claire from Stockport or Laura from Milton Keynes.

Dream Glow Barbie

In third place and with commendable use of a great Science x Fashion collaboration is a GLOW IN THE FUCKING DARK BARBIE.

Peaches n Cream Barbie

Coming in a close second is Peaches n Cream Barbie which you might remember came with a little spinner so you could choose how to style her amazing multiway creation in what I consider to be the world's classiest colour scheme. Although technically the peach wasn't actually accompanied by any cream - just a sort of crystal effect bodice.

Magic Moves Barbie

And in first place, technology meets glamour as the winner is Magic Moves Barbie - flick the flesh coloured switch on her back and both her arms MOVE. Elsa from Frozen (that basic) has nothing on this timeless classic. If this doesn't make you want to take out finance for extensive cosmetic surgery just so you can go as Magic Moves Barbie to a fancy dress party then frankly you have no soul.

Who was your fave Barbie? Were you more of a Sindy fan? Or did you manage to avoid them altogether?

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Horse Riding Lessons for Kids - Yay or Neigh?

My 3 year old son has said he wants horse riding lessons.

That's a lie. He didn't ask for that. He asked to go on a horsey like Mike the Knight, but the scouser in me immediately went into 'give your angel the werld' mode and interpreted it as a course of proper riding tuition.

I have to say I'm hesitant. As a child myself, I had riding lessons and I have vivid memories of my dumpy pony stopping to chew nettles, weeing, and refusing to break into a canter. In reflection, I think 'Smoky' was in fact my spirit animal.

On one occasion, when Smoky didn't keep up with the other junior riders, he got a smack on the bum from the instructor and bucked. His hind hooves probably only left a few inches off the ground but it was enough for me to feel like an apache stunt rider in an old black and white western. It made me nervous and put me off.

Shortly after, my mum announced I was allergic to horsehair and that I'd be discontinuing my lessons. I don't know if the real reason was that I wasn't enjoying it any more and she didn't want me to feel like a failure, or whether she was sick of administering copious amounts of piriton every Saturday morning.

Me and a Horse, who obviously shared the same hairdresser

Fast forward many, many years later and the last time I got up close and personal with horses was on a visit to Redwings horse sanctuary who have centres in Essex, Norfolk, Angus in Scotland, and Oxhill on the outskirts of the Cotswolds.

Spoiler alert: I didn't sneeze once.

Instead, it was an opportunity to introduce my son to horses, ponies and donkeys in an environment where they are cared for by professionals, nurtured, fed a balanced horse diet (and believe me there's a lot behind the science of that bit than I ever realised), given veterinary treatment, and rehabilitated.

The staff there will answer your questions about the horses - one wore a permanent hood because of liver damage that made him overly sensitive to light (the horse, not the staff member) - and this was absolutely fascinating to a little boy who is usually so vehicle mad that he doesn't give animals that much thought.

I was so surprised to hear him ask to ride a horse that I don't want to discourage it, and more importantly I don't want him to be afraid of horses and ponies. We already do nursery four days a week, toddler theatre school (not as pretentious as it sounds, I promise), and football. Is 3 too young for horse riding? I just don't know. If you or your kids are new or experienced riders then I'd love to hear from you - help a mother out!


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

This Is The Week That Was #21

My car broke down.

It broke down weeks ago. On the way home from the nursery run, it rolled rather abruptly to a halt, leaving me just enough time to pull in safely and park it up on a nearby street and walk home.

It's. Still. There.

Now's not exactly the time for me to be forking out money fixing constant mechanical problems, so I've left it - very much dead and gathering summer dust - while I work out what to do with my car (and by 'car', I mean 'life').

Fortunately I haven't quite reached the depths of despair that Scarlet Wonderland talks about in her latest blog post charting the Four Stages of Life After Payday but there have certainly been a few 'Why am I like this?' moments along the way!

It's ever such a first world problem isn't it, having to 'make do' without your car? So I've been trying to remain upbeat; after all, adapting to any kind of adversity is a good thing, right? At any rate, I'm lucky enough to live under a mile away from nursery so we just walk every day.

But when I pan out a little bit, I begin to feel a bit miffed at not being able to easily go further afield. I miss my independence and I've missed out on blogging opportunities (yes, believe it or not even a knobhead like me gets fancy invites sometimes), not to mention not being able to commit to family and friends. I'm not even going to attempt to list all of the things I had hoped to do throughout July because it'll just make me feel rotten.

So while a lot of my plans are merely pencilled in at the moment, and I've had to do a lot of explaining to people that I can't say for definite when I'll be driving again, I've at least got some dates in the diary that are definite and am looking forward to and can focus on, optimistically.

'One Night in Rio' - Unlock Liverpool's Brazilian Carnival Party

Unlock Liverpool know how to throw a good knees up, and I loved their Suicide Squad themed bash at Halloween. This year, following on from the city's amazing Brazilica weekend, I've got tickets to their Brazilian Carnival event at Playground next month.

I won't be going full 'feathers and sequinned bikini' myself but I am looking forward to the samba show, petal shower, and generally getting to do something a bit bloody different on a night out. I might stretch to a bit of glitter and face gems. No promises!

I spoke to the Unlock Liverpool team (they're fab and cute) and have been giving away tickets on social media but if you missed out and fancy coming along I think you can still get your hands on the remaining tickets here.

Pirate Festival at the Albert Dock

One event I do want to dress up to the nines for is the annual pirate festival.

I enjoyed it so much last year that I swore I was going to go in costume this September. As it is now only six weeks away, though, and so far I have only accumulated a compass for an outfit, I'm not sure if I can make this happen. So watch this space!

Festival of the Dead

This is a national event that I hadn't heard of until a friend suggested it. Apparently not linked to the traditional Dia de Muertos festivities, it reaches Liverpool a few weeks before Halloween and promises to be a massive candy skull and flower garland extravaganza.

With a bit of luck I'll have either sorted my car problem out - or become more accustomed to living without one - sooner rather than later, as I did have some nice ideas for road trips with my 3 year old where public transport just won't cut the mustard.

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Endless Quest for a Grown Up Bedroom

I'm in need of a grown up bedroom. Don't get me wrong, I'm not still rocking the My Little Pony duvet cover of my childhood, but nearly four years into motherhood I've realised that what I crave is an elegant sanctuary of my own.

My days of night feeds and sitting on the edge of my bed with my eyes half closed winding a dozing baby for hours on end are over. Some of it, through rose tinted specs, you tend to miss. But at the time there was little room for sentimentality... nor for anything else.

Hell bent on doing everything cautiously, as new parents so often do, we slept in the same room for over 18 months. The splashes of milk on furniture and a bottle warmer dominating the bedside table are now thankfully a thing of the past as he settled into his own room well (when it was finally decorated!).

Even after the joy of finally having a cot-free adult bedroom, the baby (by now a boisterous toddler) claimed the whole house as his territory. Toy tractors lined the bath, bouncy balls squirreled away inside slippers, chocolatey handprints along the length of the banister, Duplo in the washing basket, and crayon adorning any blank wall (nothing compared to The Day of The Sharpie - which I still haven't come to terms with yet).

Just some respite in one room from the chaos elsewhere would be a dream, and I've decided upon the main things I need to make this a reality...

A Glamorous Dressing Table

A little while ago I wrote about the idea of a Mum Cave and since then I haven't been able to stop thinking about getting a dressing table which is surely a necessity for any elegant sanctuary? I'm not a very 'girly' person - no florals or pink hues in my house, only geoprints and porridge colours with the occasional splash of ochre. But I've always wanted a dressing table.

I'd lay out my Mason & Pearson hairbrush, my bottles of Chanel (parfum not EDT, peasants) and choose one of those fancy illuminated dressing table mirrors like Hollywood starlets from the old black and white movies (which is basically my eternal benchmark for glamour).

It would be a strictly Playmobil free zone. The toy tractors may not trundle along the dressing table, and little fingers may not be dipped into expensive lotions and potions.

Statement Lighting

I remember as a child I desperately wanted a chandelier in my bedroom. I think I'd caught one too many snippets of my mum watching Dynasty and The Colbys - because I was also very determined that I should have my own pair of mint green satin pyjamas too, as though I was an heiress to an oil fortune rather than the daughter of a perfectly ordinary couple from Liverpool.

Stairway to Heaven: My idol Alexis, played by Joan Collins, in the Carrington Mansion

So desperate for a chandelier was I, that I nearly wrote to Jim'll Fix It, to ask Jim'll (which I thought was his name - y'know, like Mr J. Fixit?) for a chandelier and would you believe - some other brat beat me to it! In hindsight, knowing what we know now, the prospect of having Saville in your childhood bedroom is absolutely horrifying, and I hope the little girl who got the chandelier was and is OK.

Besides, unless you are one or the Carringtons from Dynasty, chandeliers are super naff. But any improvement my current studentesque paper light shade would be a start, so my quest for grown up bedroom lighting continues.

Hair, Fashion & Home Décor Goals: The Ladies of Dynasty

A Fresh, Comfy Bed

Talking of super naff, I've been toying with the idea of getting one of those TV beds. My bedroom has nearly always been a television free retreat, but I have to admit that these days I like nothing more than lying in bed catching up on my boxsets on the iPad aka The Sleepy Parent's Best Friend.

The iPad also comes in handy for those unexpected early starts when my son is full of beans and I could swear blind my head only hit the pillow five minutes ago. I can unlock the passcode and find the latest episode of Paw Patrol with my eyes closed.

We've unexpectedly started frequently co-sleeping and as much as I love it, with him comes several story books, up to a dozen small vehicles in bed at any one time, and what feels like as many limbs as a sackful of squids.

My room  Vs  The room that Pinterest tells me not to worry about

So while we may have moved on from the night feeds and nappy changes, my bed is still very much the child-focussed heart of the house. It's lovely, but it'll be even lovelier when I improve it with new bedding, a new mattress for a better night's sleep, or maybe graduate to a super kingsize to put some distance between me and Squid Boy.

Wish me luck!

Striking Stories: 30 James Street and History Walks with my Dad

There is nobody better to wander round Liverpool with than my Dad. At every corner, he'll tell you a story. From bank robberies to dead horses, from the Beatles to the Blitz. Stories that'll make you laugh and stories that'll make you cry. And all, to me at any rate, really interesting.

The other week, as we were walking along the Strand approaching the White Star Building (now the 30 James Street hotel - and between you and me I would've loved the new owners to have actually called it The White Star Hotel or even Albion House Hotel) home to the famous shipping line's headquarters, my Dad started dropping some knowledge on me.

If you're from Liverpool, or familiar with some of the world class architecture around the Pier Head and the 'Three Graces' (the Liver Building, the Cunard Building, and the Port of Liverpool Building) then you'll no doubt recognise the stunning Grade II listed building that I'm talking about.

Signature Living: 30 James Street

What you may or may not also know is that it was from the balcony of this building that the White Star Line officials read out news of the Titanic disaster to an assembled crowd below. A world away from news going viral on Twitter and across the globe in seconds. Reportedly they were afraid for their own safety and refused to go out into the street to read out the telegrams. Given that nearly 100 perished crew members alone were from Liverpool, it is likely that there were relatives demanding answers outside Albion House. I daresay the climate was the same in Southampton where the Titanic set sail from - although I'd sooner take my chances there than up against a Scouse widow with mouths to feed.

So anyway, as we're strolling along, my Dad said "Eyar, they used to have a match strike plate here - let's see if they've still got it". So we went to have a nose, because I wasn't altogether sure what he was talking about but I always like his little nuggets of information.

The beautiful shipping headquarters made of red brick and white Portland Stone (which earned it the nickname 'the streaky bacon building') was designed by the same architect as Scotland Yard in London. Many years ago, its impressive stone was becoming increasingly marked by smokers striking matches for their cigs and pipes, so White Star installed a striking plate to preserve their fancy stone work.

Cor, strike a light

It was a shame to see the plate itself wasn't still there (maybe to discourage smoking in doorways? That would be understandable) because I think it's a nice little bit of history - and I don't know what the deal is with this rusty effect sign - a shiny brass one fitting with the stature of the building would be more appropriate.

If you don't know by now, by the way, you'll soon learn: I'm a stickler for authenticity and historical accuracy!

My Dad suggested we go inside for more of a look round, as he promised me the former first class lounge and ticket office - if it hadn't been meddled with too much - featured rivet work just like on a ship. Honestly, he doesn't forget the slightest detail this man. Ask him to tell you my middle name or when my birthday is though and that's a different story!

Instead the ground floor offices, which had been left empty and unloved for years had been refurbished in a bright and airy function room. Complete with rivets.

Riveting stuff: The former White Star Line first class ticket hall at 30 James Street

The hotel is a popular wedding venue now, but there weren't any functions taking place when we popped our heads in so we had chance for a little wander round inside. It was a lovely peek into maritime history and my Dad was pleased to see the space being used these days after lying empty for so long although we both had our own ideas about what would improve it even more.

They've got a posh bar and apparently a spa which I didn't even know about, and a rooftop terrace which maybe I'll get round to checking out one day. I wouldn't mind a kip in one of the Titanic themed rooms, as long as there isn't an angry mob out on the street below.

Of course, the White Star Line didn't mean posh weddings or first class lounges to my family; my Dad's Dad (already 13 years old and soon to go to sea himself when the Titanic sank) sailed on the SS Ceramic, the first new White Star ship to set sail after the famous disaster. He died in his early 50s, as a load falling from a ship hit him in the head, causing a blood clot. The shipping line's doctor insisted it was heart failure, and - unlike the Titanic families - his widow and mother of 7 (my Grandmother) received no compensation. This was really quite common in those days. Remember that next time the Daily Mail try and describe something as "health and safety gone mad".

Perhaps his Dad was on his mind.

As we left the grand reception area to make our way back round to the front door onto James Street, my Dad noticed a velvet chaise longue in the lobby. "My Dad died on one of those, just like that" he said, quite matter-of-factly "in the parlour in the old house".

I told you; at every corner he'll tell you a story.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

There's a Place: A Visit to The Beatles Story at The Albert Dock

The Beatles Story at the Albert Dock is the ultimate sightseeing destination for fans of the Fab Four from all over the globe. With the greatest permanent exhibition anywhere in the world dedicated to the life and times of The Four Lads Who Shook The World, it's a must see for visitors to Liverpool and locals alike.

So as part of my 'Who Do You Think You Are'  history trip with my Dad, it made sense to go and visit The Beatles Story to find out more about the group who played the soundtrack to his teenage years growing up in Liverpool in the 1960s.

I've got to admit here that despite having passed The Beatles Story I don't know how many times, I'd never actually been in before! I always assumed it was mostly for Japanese tourists and foreign exchange students. Besides, I thought my Dad had told me everything I needed to know about the Merseybeat era. Of course, there was so much more to it than that...

We arrived at the Albert Dock and made our way to The Beatles Story underground entrance. There's an audio guide on headphones for everyone on arrival, which is available in different languages (handy for the Japanese visitors and all those French kids!) but I chose my own personal guide - my Dad!

Now, between you and me, my favourite Beatles era is their formative years and not the later stuff. If I had a time machine, it'd be this era that I'd want to go back to and experience first-hand. Directly influenced by my Mum and Dad, who first saw the Beatles live in 1961, it's these early rock n roll years that I'm most keen on - and The Beatles Story did not disappoint.

Clockwise from left: Dad asks Cilla for "Two for the cloaky there, gerl", a younger me outside the former Iron Door in the 80s, and footage of The Beatles playing inside the original Cavern

I'd always grown up knowing that the original underground venues like the Civil Service Club, the Iron Door and The Cavern on Mathew Street were no longer there, but even my own nights out dancing and drinking in other cellar pubs and clubs had never quite fit the image in my minds eye of my parents' stories or the black and white footage of the real Cavern.

The recreation of The Cavern at The Beatles Story was really good - I got a real feel for the original, just how my Dad had always described it. He added extra details like where my mum and her friends would sit on a night out, how Cilla Black would work in the 'Cloaky' and what she was like, and the smell of the urinals that would always overflow at the back of the venue - thankfully that isn't included in the admission price!

The highlight for me was part of the attraction that may well have been of very little interest to anyone else. And with it goes a little family story...

It was at the airport that my Dad would sometimes find big stars like the Beatles sitting around in his office away from fans and the crowds of passengers in the regular departure lounges. This allowed him to take lots of photographs and then get them signed by them on their future visits through the airport.

Not a bad day's work: My dad in the foreground (left) with his camera, having forged his own press pass to get onto the tarmac, and trying to avoid his boss who is looking for him!

He got lots of signed photos for my mum (I couldn't get my hands on any for the purposes of this blog - she said she's about 75% certain she hasn't thrown them out, but couldn't be sure without going in the loft to have a look and she couldn't be arsed) and for friends and family, and he also sold some to local music magazine, Merseybeat.

My Dad had described perfectly the look and smell of their offices, from the old-fashioned frosted glass doors like in old detective movies, to the ashtrays on the desks. Despite the absence of fag ash, I was delighted to come across the recreation of the Merseybeat office in The Beatles Story. It was like all my Dad's stories coming to life.

Memory Lane: Dad in the recreated Merseybeat Magazine office at The Beatles Story

Fans of The Beatles' later work and solo careers will love all of the memorabilia, photographs, and artwork there is to offer, John Lennon's spectacular grand piano, and footage from Shea Stadium to India, followed by the Fab4 Café and t-shirts galore in the gift shop.

But for me, the early 60s and the musical snapshot of life when my Dad was growing up and meeting my Mum was magical.

If you're visiting Liverpool or if you're a local who's never been before, check out The Beatles Story online where you can book your tickets and plan your visit.

Thanks ever so much to Dave and the Team at The Beatles Story for having my Dad and I along as guests for the day.
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