Monday, 29 October 2012

Fancy winning a slap-up meal? Of course you do...

Forgive me but I'm going to use the C-word.

Christmas.

There are only 56 days to go....sorry if that's come as a bit of a shock but there you go.

There's so much to do before then, and it's not too early to start planning. I don't know about you but I've already been Christmas shopping. I get into a total panic if I don't have most of my presents by the end of October so I always start early...I know, you hate me don't you?  But for most people that's only the start of Christmas planning.  There's all the making arrangements for family visits, juggling time with the in-laws, grandparents and friends, buying tickets for pantomines, mince pie baking, decorating the house and and deciding who you're going to invite for Christmas dinner, and that's before even deciding what to cook!

If you're divorced or separated there's also the stress of deciding where the children spend their time, and what to do when they're not with you. And if you're thinking of looking for love over the Christmas period eHarmony is on hand with advice about relationships and dating.

Yep, it's an expensive and sometimes difficult time of year and comes at a time when many families are already tightening their belts and trying to save money.

So how about a delicious slap-up meal without having to worry about the cost? No, I haven't lost my mind - read on...


I'm very pleased to say I've got a fabulous competition prize to giveaway. The lovely people at eHarmony are offering a 3-course, gourmet meal for 8 people in this easy to enter competition.

The prize is The Full Works menu from the fine food mail-order company Forman & Field and delivered to your door in time for Christmas. It includes smoked salmon, a free range bronze turkey, dauphinoise potatoes, Christmas pudding with brandy butter, chocolate truffles and a bottle of sparkling wine. It sounds amazing and I'd love to win it but unfortunately I can't enter!

If you'd like to be scoffing this delicious meal on Christmas day all you have to do is leave a comment and answer this question:

What would be your ultimate Christmas luxury? Christmas in a hotel? A holiday abroad? Or just someone else cooking the dinner? Go on, do tell...

For an extra entry tweet this message: "I'd love to #win a slap-up #Christmas meal via the @eHarmonyUK competition on @notsupermum "

The winner will be chosen after 6pm on Tuesday 6th November 2012.  Good luck!

***This competition has now closed. The winner is Cagsd! Congratulations ***

Terms and conditions.
1.      Competition is only available to individuals aged 18.
2.      The prize will be sent out within 28 days.
3.      UK entries only.
4.      The prize is The Full Works menu from Forman & Field. 
5.      Cash or credit alternatives will not be offered.
6.      The closing date for the competition is 6pm Tuesday 6th November 2012, entries after that date will not be valid.
7.      My decision is final.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Recipe: easy prawn and pea risotto


When both girls are out and it's just me for dinner, this is the sort of meal I like to make. I've never understood why people think risotto is difficult to make, on the contrary I think it's really easy, it just needs a bit of TLC.

First of all, I had a bit of a root around in the kitchen to see what I had in and as I always have risotto rice in it was just a matter of finding something to put in it. A handful of frozen prawns and peas, a bit of butter, oil and stock and it's suddenly a delicious meal. If you don't fancy prawns a few mushrooms are good in a risotto, or some leftover cooked chicken can be put in. Whatever you fancy!

Prawn and pea risotto

150g arborio or carnaroli rice
a few prawns
some peas
small glass of white wine (optional)
butter
small onion or shallot
one clove of garlic
olive oil
vegetable or chicken stock (about 500ml)
salt and pepper
Serves 2 or one very greedy person

Sorry, some of the amounts are a bit vague, but I just throw in what looks right.

Make up the stock with boiling water and keep on a low light in a pan, it should be hot when added to the risotto.

You need a large shallow pan for this. Melt a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil together in the pan then add the finely chopped onion/shallot. After a minute or so add the garlic, but don't let it brown or it'll taste bitter.

Add the rice to the buttery oil and stir it round until all the grains are covered.

If you're using the wine now is the time to add it. Stir it around a bit until the wine has been absorbed into the rice. Next, start adding the stock a ladle at a time. Make sure each ladleful has been absorbed before adding the next one and keep giving it a good stir from time to time, that's important as it releases the starch which gives risotto that creamy texture.

Don't try to rush a risotto, you'll only get the best results if you add the stock a bit at a time and stir it over a low light. If you cook it on a high flame the stock will evaporate and the rice won't be cooked. Just relax...and gently does it...

It'll take about 20-25 minutes before all the stock is absorbed but again, play it by ear (or taste). You may not need to add all the stock, then again it might need it all. Taste when the grains are starting to look fat but the liquid is a bit creamy. The rice should have a bite to it.

About 2-3 minutes before the end, add the prawns and peas. If you like, add another knob of butter and stir into the hot rice for extra creaminess. Add parmesan if you like it. I don't, so I didn't! Season to taste.

That's it! Serve and enjoy.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The one where I try not to offend single parents


A few days ago I received this comment on this blog's Facebook page, in reply to a post I'd shared.

"I am sorry to put it this way, but I have briefly read through some articles here, such as the holiday and up sizing the family car, and I have to say that for a supporter of single parents, the contents are easily viewed by some single parents as inappropriate, because of content. When presenting articles aimed at single parents, you need to exercise a little politics. A large number of lone parents do not have the income, to indulge in such activities described. This can be viewed as hurtful and offensive."

If I'm honest my first reaction was to be quite stung by it, after all I don't court controversy on here and have only had a couple of negative comments over four years (my favourite was the recent "Ur a dik hed" - It made my day).

Then, after I'd had some time to digest it I was slightly annoyed. Annoyed with the idea that I had somehow offended single parents, and also with the inference that I'm a supporter of single parents in name only.

The main theme of this blog is to share my own experiences and offer help by directing single parents to the right place. Yes okay, I'm not storming Downing Street waving a placard but I like to think it might help some single parents in a small way, and indeed I've had emails and messages to back that up.

The comment also implied that some of the topics covered on here - namely our recent holiday and wanting to upsize our smaller car - were inappropriate. Inappropriate.

Why is a one-week holiday in Wales inappropriate for single parents to read? Single parents have holidays too, in fact I happen to know that some single parents even go abroad!

And while we're at it, let's explode some myths about single parents:

  • not all single parents are destitute;
  • many single parents have careers, or at least decent jobs;
  • there are plenty of us who take holidays, have nice homes, drive a car, buy designer brands, eat in restaurants with proper napkins, drink good quality wine and own an iPad;
  • most are not single parents situation by choice, but still try to make the most of a sometimes difficult situation.

The thing is, there's so much negative rubbish written about 'feckless' single parents and how we are the scourge of society that many people believe it and I for one am sick to death of it. Most single parents are decent, hard-working people trying to provide stable, happy homes for their children despite the odds.

There are plenty of obstacles for single parents to overcome and trying to maintain a work/life balance is often top of that list. The absence of a partner can make it more difficult to fit work around home life, and as I mentioned recently it's the lack of affordable childcare and flexible working which pushes many into part-time, low-paid work. That's not an easy one to overcome and I don't denigrate the hardships many single parents face, in fact I'm also on a low income but somehow we manage.

The bottom line is this: it's my blog and I write about our lifestyle which happens to include annual holidays in Wales. If you're a regular reader you'll also know that I've written plenty of times about our highs and lows as a single parent family, and yes it does have its hardships and they're often emotional rather than practical. If, like me, you don't have a support network of friends and relatives helping out with school pick-ups, babysitting, etc it can be frustrating and downright exhausting. But here's the thing:  there are actually *whispers* some advantages too.  

So, this is a long and rambling way of saying that being a single parent isn't all bad, despite what the Daily Mail would have you believe. 

Oh, and guess what?  We're already planning our holiday for next year. 

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Have you watched it? It's brilliantly done.



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Now, I don't know about you but I assumed the Red Cross worked mostly overseas. No so. Last year, more than one million people in crisis in the UK were helped by British Red Cross. Their help ranges from offering short term care to vulnerable people in their own homes, to giving essential first-aid training, to giving practical support to the emergency services at the sites of major incidents (floods, house fires, road accidents).

The British Red Cross is a volunteer led organisation, and for more information on the British Red Cross and how to apply for a job or volunteer, have a look at their official website.

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Recipe ~ Winter vegetable and barley soup


This is the time of year when I start making soup. There's something about the alchemy of soup-making that really appeals to me - a few humble ingredients can be transformed into something hearty and warming. I had a bowl of barley soup at a cafe this week and it immediately transported me back to my childhood, with my Mum's veg and barley soup and white buttered bread.

Barley has a lovely, unique flavour and I wanted to make a soup using it, so I googled a recipe (and please forgive me but I found this one on the Daily Fail website). I've made a couple of slight changes though, so I'm going to claim it as my own...

On a cold wintry day, after coming home from walking the hound I can't think of anything better than a big, steaming bowl of homemade soup with a chunk of bread, and not only is this soup delicious but it's also really easy to make. I mean, after chopping the veg there are only three steps before you have a pan of scrumptious soup - could it be any easier?

Winter vegetable and barley soup
Serves 4
40g butter
1 leek, washed and sliced
1 stick celery, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced into small pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and diced (also core it if the centre is woody)
1 medium potato, peeled and diced.
2 bay leaves
half tsp dried thyme
50g pearl barley
2pt vegetable or chicken stock
1tsp tomato puree
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

Method
Heat the butter in a pan and add all the veg. Cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes until the veg starts to soften.

Stir in the bay leaves, thyme, barley, stock, salt, pepper and tomato puree. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes until the barley is soft.

Remove the bay leaves and stir in the chopped parsley. Season to taste, serve hot and enjoy.


Silent Sunday


Friday, 19 October 2012

The October garden ~ the messy front garden reveals a very nice surprise

The garden is winding down for the winter, and apart from trying to keep it tidy I don't have anything special planned.

I've done a bit of work in the raised front garden, mainly tidying, a bit of planting and the rest of the time standing back with a cup of tea in hand and trying to decide what to do with such an oddly shaped space.

There were a few shrubs around the edge, including a couple of rose bushes, geraniums, a small row of heathers, a large sedum and a massive, untidy heather, plus a couple of other unknown plants. There's also a clematis plonked in the middle section, but nothing else....just lots of and lots of bark chippings. I'm really undecided what to do with it and the only thing I've decided is I'd like some colour. I'm open to suggestions - what would you do with this space?


As I'm still waiting for inspiration to strike I decided to tidy up some of the shrubs and plant some spring bulbs ready for next year. I cut back a messy heather (which you can see at the front on the right) giving it a haircut as well as a severe pruning, and popped a new hebe in the bed next to it. When the hebe grows bigger I'll probably remove the heather altogether. Cutting the heather back so much revealed more of the ugly manhole cover, but I also planted a lemon thyme at the front and a purple vinca minor to the side, hoping they will grow and cover it over a bit more.

Here's the heather after a short back and sides and the newly planted hebe. The spring bulbs went along the front of the rockery area.


 I had a nice surprise when the former owner came 'round to ask if they could take a cutting from one of the bay trees. One of the bay trees? I have bay trees? Yes apparently I do, behind the clematis (on the bamboo support) there are two overgrown bay trees, which they planted years ago and left to go a bit wild. So, now I have an abundance of bay leave folks, so if anyone fancies some for recipes I'm more than happy to post you a handful. Leave a comment and I'll be in touch!.


I planted another flowering hebe in the back garden, in the flower bed under the living room window. Sorry I didn't get a 'before' photo, but you'll have to take my word that this bed was full of something resembling flowering nettles and unidentified straggly plants. I cut back the row of heathers, and also planted some of my favourites for next year - alliums christophii and purple sensation. I can't wait to see those beauties in flower.

You may have noticed my love of hebes too. In my opinion, hebes are such a hardworking and low maintenance shrub that give structure and colour to a bed. I've already planted 3 new hebes in this garden since we moved in, and there'll be more.

Over the next month there's a huge amount of pruning and digging up to be done in the back garden. I know I said I don't have special plans, but I've been thinking about a flower border...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Take part in the Argos Toy Exchange and help Barnardos

Do your children play with all of their toys? I'm willing to bet that the answer to that is 'no', because most children have discarded, out-of-fashion or just forgotten toys that are cluttering your home and gathering dust. Well, here's a way of not only clearing some of that clutter (just in time for the Christmas intake of new toys!) but also helping Barnardo's the children's charity.

Argos has joined forces with Barnardo’s to launch the Argos Toy Exchange, marking the start of a new partnership to help children and their families. The new initiative encourages parents and children to donate pre-loved toys to raise money for some of the UK’s most disadvantaged children and young people.


From Wednesday 17 October, ‘donation stations’ will be in operation at around 740 Argos stores and 500 Barnardo’s retail stores where members of the public will be able to donate unwanted toys in exchange for a £5 voucher towards the cost of new toys (minimum £35 spend) to be redeemed at Argos by 24 December.

The initiative was launched in London, where celebrity mum and Argos Toy Exchange ambassador, Danielle Lineker, met with children from Northlands Park children’s centre delivered by Barnardo’s, in Basildon, Essex.

Danielle Lineker said: “I’m really proud to be supporting the Argos Toy Exchange. Argos is a destination for most UK mums, including myself, at Christmas and this initiative allows you to not only bring a smile to your children’s faces this year, but many more who need help from Barnardo’s services across the UK. All we’re asking is for people to clear out their toy boxes and bring any unwanted toys into Argos, so they can donate them to a good cause.”

New research by Argos shows that the average UK family has 80 toys but children don’t regularly play with two thirds of them, resulting in a huge 474 million unplayed with toys in homes. A least a third of parents admitted to keeping unwanted toys at home and one in five (19 per cent) even confessed to throwing them away. Each year 13 million toys end up in the dustbin and landfill sites, many of which are in good condition and could be given a new home. In stark contrast, there are 3.6 million children living below the poverty line in the UK, which is almost a third of all children. Many families living in poverty have just £12 per day per person to buy everything they need such as food, heating, clothes, electricity, transport and toys.

All of the toys donated through the Argos Toy Exchange will be passed on to Barnardo’s to be sold in its retail stores. Every penny of profit made in Barnardo’s retail stores then goes directly into their work with some of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people.


To donate toys to the Argos Toy Exchange, visit your local Argos or Barnardo’s store from Wednesday 17 October 2012. Donations will be accepted at stores until Tuesday 27 November 2012.

For more information about the Toy Exchange, visit www.argos.co.uk/toyexchange.

Twitter - #argostoyexchange.


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What's the most important thing you need for a holiday in the UK? Apart from an umbrella that is...

Our summer holiday seems like a distant memory now, but we're already looking forward to our next visit to the holiday cottage we love.  If you're looking for a UK based holiday I can recommend the Llyn Peninsula in Wales, it's a beautiful part of the country and we've been holidaying there for the past 8 years.  I reckon the beaches in that area are amongst the best in the country - and there's so many of them, all beautifully maintained and never crowded.

Our favourite beach, Porth Oer
Of course when you go on a UK holiday the car tends to get packed to the gunnels with stuff. Oh you know the sort of thing: beach tents, bodyboards (for the great waves at Porth Oer), beach umbrella, camping chair (for me to sit in on the beach and read); bulky beach towels; boardgames for rainy days; books; DVDs for the evenings; rain coats (it is Wales after all); food essentials; and that's before we even put the suitcases in!

Unfortunately about this time last year I made a tactical error. After driving spacious family cars for years (always with a big boot which was handy for prams, all the essential baby stuff and my Dad's wheelchair at the time)  I decided to get a smaller car.

My reasoning was good - we didn't need such a big boot anymore, and there's only the three of us, so a smaller car was the way to go although I still had our summer holidays in the back of my mind and the fact that the boot had to be big enough for Tessie, our greyhound, to sit in comfortably.

I suppose my main aim was to reduce costs such as fuel, insurance and road tax and so I was quite pleased when I found a smaller car that fitted my criteria. Well, annoyingly the insurance is the same, I haven't noticed any huge savings with the fuel (mainly because I make a lot of short journeys in any normal week) although the road tax is, thankfully, less than our old car.

But, uh-oh, when it came to our annual trip to Wales I realised my mistake. Even though the boot was a reasonable size it just couldn't accommodate our usual amount of essentials and we ended up having to leave some of it behind. And have you ever tried telling two teenagers that they can't take some of the things they simply 'can't live without'? Yeah, that.

So, before our holiday next year I'll be looking at family cars and dreaming of upsizing again.


A Tessie friendly car boot






Oh, and Tessie will be relieved too. She hates travelling in the new (smaller) car boot and she makes her feelings very obvious. So don't make my mistake: if you're thinking of changing your car remember to take your dog with you and get their approval first.

You don't get that sort of advice on Top Gear do you? You're welcome.



Decorating children's bedrooms



Decorating children's bedrooms is always fun, but since my girls were little home decorating has changed quite a lot. For a start, there's a much bigger range of paint colours and finishes nowadays, a better choice of lighting options and a huge range of wallpaper designs to choose from.

Before the Teenager was  born I decorated her room in a bright yellow with stencilled butterflies around the walls, it took me ages to do but I thought it looked nice. Things have moved on since then and stencils are seen as a bit old-fashioned (and hard work!) so if I was decorating a toddler's room again I'd be using something like these fantastic children's wall murals.


Swirly mural, perfect for Tall Daughter's room

Since moving house a year ago we've I've been busy decorating. The first room I decorated was Tall Daughter's bedroom, and since she's now almost 13 (next month - eek!) she had very specific ideas about how she wanted her room to look. She chose a colour scheme of blue and pink with white furniture, framed photos and lots of cushions. It's a pretty room but just recently she has been asking for a feature wall - something colourful but in keeping with the rest of her room and I think this Swirly mural would be perfect.

Of course, the Teenager has also decided that she also needs a mural. Needs, not wants you understand.  I can't show you the one she likes because so far she's chosen about half a dozen and the list keeps changing.  Suffice to say, there's something there to suit everyone's taste.

 Now, I wonder which mural would look good in my new study...



Monday, 15 October 2012

Make it work for single parents

Make it work for single parents campaign


I'm very proud to be a supporter of Gingerbread, the charity offering support and advice to single parents, and to help launch their new campaign - Make it work for single parents.

There are 2 million single parents in the UK raising over 3 million children, with over half of those parents in work. Single parents often face overwhelming barriers to getting – and keeping – a decent job. Hugely expensive childcare, low pay and a lack of flexible working options can all add up to keep single parents from being able to find work which lets them support their family, not to mention fulfil their own aspirations.  As government cuts take hold and ongoing but misguided media reports of ‘feckless single mums’ and ‘benefits scroungers who don’t want to work’ continue to circulate, the situation for many families is likely to get much worse over the coming years, unless something is done about it.

I know from personal experience how hard it can be to raise children alone and find suitable work. When I first became a single parent in 2003 I was working full-time and had been the 'breadwinner' for some time. My girls were 3 and 6 at the time, and apart from having to pay extra childcare costs - because my ex was no longer available to help out -  I also struggled to just keep things together. Long hours (often not getting home before 6pm), juggling pick-ups from two different childcare providers and simply not seeing enough of my daughters made it very difficult to cope and just one problem (such as the childminder being sick) could quickly spiral into a crisis.

After a few months of struggling to keep it all together I asked my employer if I could reduce my hours or do a job share but they 'couldn't see how it could work' and so I reluctantly took voluntary redundancy when it was offered.   

I'm sure there are single parents who could cope, but for me it was too much of a strain. I knew that the only way I could manage was to work part-time, which inevitably means low pay. I decided to take a job working as a teaching assistant which meant I also worked shorter days and had the same holidays as the girls, but it also meant I was earning less than a third of my previous salary.  

I haven't regretted that decision, as it's allowed me to spend important time with my daughters, but the options available to me at the time were few and far between. 

Gingerbread is launching this campaign aimed at getting the government and employers to take a set of realistic actions that would make it work for single parents – ensuring decent jobs are available, that all working single parents are free from the threat of poverty and that proper support and childcare are available to let single parents share their skills and talents in the workplace. 

They have an ambitious task list for the Government and employers:

1. Make work a guaranteed route out of poverty for single parents
2. Get 250,000 more single parents into work by 2020
3. Employ a different attitude to work and school hours
4. Unlock single parents’ skills and potential.

Read more about it on the Gingerbread website and please join the campaign to make it work for single parents.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Silent-ish Sunday



p.s. If you look really closely you can see me reflected in the owl's eye.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Strictly v X Factor: no contest!

Saturday evening is light entertainment central in our house, and we love nothing more than sitting together and watching tv. And at this time of year we like to settle down to watch Strictly Come Dancing followed by the X Factor.

Last weekend we watched the first two episodes of Strictly and loved them. This year's line up is pretty impressive with two Olympic athletes, a former supermodel, a Bond actor and two pop stars.

And of course there's always one celebrity who looks set to be the butt of the judges' wrath. In previous years it's been Russell Grant (who I actually really liked), Anne Widdecombe and John Sargent, and this year it looked like former Emmerdale actress Lisa Riley was going to be the 'joke' dancer. But wow! Who would have expected this:





What a showstopper!! She's a great dancer with natural rhythm but more than that, she looks like she's having a whole lot of fun. Go Lisa!

We'll be watching again tonight and rooting for her again. Who's your favourite on Strictly?

Oh, and as for the X Factor - after last week's Saturday show (which was so long I almost lost the will to live) and then the usual theatrics at the end of Sunday's voting show we won't be tuning in again.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Teenagers, birthdays and a whopping great anniversary


One of the best things about owning a dog is that you get lots of thinking time.

When I'm out with Tessie, that's my quiet time. My time to reflect on things that are going on at home, at work or even just to think about nothing and relax. A lot of my 'walking' time with Tessie recently has involved walking to the nearby park and sitting on a bench while she runs around - but even so, it's very welcome time to just be still and quiet. Away from the laptop, television and phone....

...and just breathe.

Just recently, I've been doing a lot of thinking about some significant events coming up. Next month both of my girlies have landmark birthdays: Tall Daughter turns 13 (another official teenager, yikes!) and The Teenager will be sweet 16.

Both girls are now very tall and beautiful, and yes I know I'm their mum but they are. Trust me, they just are. They also work hard as school, and have grown into very lovely, kind and thoughtful young women which makes me ridiculously proud of them.

And then in January there's a less happy, but still significant anniversary: it'll be my 10th year as a single parent. Ten years. Ten years?! How the hell did that happen? In all honestly it's quite hard to get my head around, and I'm not even sure how I feel about it. I mean, ten years raising two children on my own - how do you mark such an event?

Should I celebrate it? Well, it is an achievement when all's said and done, but I'm not sure celebrating is exactly right. It's been a time of some jaw-dropping lows, financial hardship and difficult personal circumstances but there's also been plenty of high points too. And there's nothing like realising you've raised two frankly brilliant daughters on your own to make you feel that you've managed to get something right.

So what should I do? I feel it should be marked in some way, but apart from getting outrageously drunk and falling over I'm not sure what else to do. That's where you come in, dear reader, what would be the best way to mark such a thing? Go on, I'm listening...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Groping and sexual intimidation in the office

The current news about the hideous Jimmy Savile and his career as a predatory paedophile is grotesque and appalling, but the real shock is that it seems to have been an open secret in showbiz circles.

There are now a number of people stepping forward, a year after his death, and admitting that not only did they know of his repulsive habit but they felt unable to do anything about it. In addition, many defend their decision to do nothing by saying that they couldn't prove anything or that it was just rumours.

I dare say if a few of them had put their heads together they could have found some real evidence, but sadly that didn't happen. Savile managed to escape conviction because good people stood by and did nothing.

I don't want to dwell too much on Savile because it makes me want to retch, but a new angle on this story has now raised its head and it's one that I feel I can relate to.

There are an increasing number of female celebrities - Vanessa Feltz, Sandi Toksvig and the DJ Liz Kershaw so far  - who have revealed that they were routinely 'groped' by well-known men during the course of their work in the 1980s. Kershaw also mentions that when she complained about it she was asked "Why don't you like it, are you a lesbian?"

I'm not surprised, not surprised at all. I can only speak from my own experience and say that when I started work in 1979 the first office I worked in had an atmosphere where colleagues flirted with each other and there was a bit of fooling around social nights out and Christmas parties. But it was only when I started working in a male dominated industry in the early 80s that I noticed a significant change.

In 1984 I started work as a secretary for the UK arm of a European engineering company.   I was one of about 3 women out of over 100 employees and there were a lot of sexist comments on a daily basis - but for most of the part it was all deemed to be harmless. I realise that might seem crazy to say that but it was different then. You see it wasn't seen as sexist to make comments about a woman's body, or her sexual preferences, it was just regarded as banter. And woe betide you if you complained or even rebuffed the remarks because that's when the accusations of being a lesbian or frigid would start.

Most of the time it was best to ignore it or, my preferred reaction, make a joke out of it.

After a couple of years I took on more responsibility and was promoted to a management role, which was the most senior role held by a woman in that company. I was pretty proud of myself, I was only 23 or 24 and was excited because it meant I would be doing a bit of travelling.  On one of these trips I flew to Germany with one of the directors to meet a major customer and had spent a lot of time preparing for the meeting and getting my presentation ready.

En route to Germany I was taken aback when, on the plane, the director (a married man in his 40s) suggested that we could 'save a bit of money' by sharing a hotel room. When I declined, making the only excuse I could think of "I have a boyfriend", he continued to press me to share promising he wouldn't tell anyone.  When we got to the hotel I found that he had obviously planned it as only one room had  been booked by his secretary. When I insisted on my own room he talked about how much expense I was putting the company to, and I admit I was quite worried. I thought I might lose my job.

To add insult to injury when we arrived for the meeting the next day with the customer  - a major European brand - I was told I couldn't sit in the meeting but would have to sit outside. When I asked why I was told 'we don't allow women in the boardroom unless they're serving coffee'.  So I sat on a chair in the corridor while my director went into the meeting, even though he had to come out at regular intervals to ask me about the customer's account.  Can you imagine that happening these days?

You might think this sort of thing was a one off, but it's wasn't. It was standard fare for that time, but I never once felt able to complain or do very much about it. I was ambitious, I liked my job and I didn't want to make waves in an industry where women in management roles were outnumbered. I was also a confident and strong-willed woman, but I wonder how a less confident woman would have coped.

I should point out that for most of the time I was perfectly able to cope with this 'banter' but occasionally things got out of hand. But the culture at the time was such that women were there for the amusement of men, and had to put up with it - if I had a pound for the times I heard the phrases "It's just the lads letting off some steam", "You should be flattered!" or "It's just a bit of fun" I'd be a rich woman.

It's very easy, in retrospect, to ask why women such as Liz Kershaw didn't do anything more about their workplace harassment but the 80s had different sensibilities. Not only did nobody listen, but the person who complained was usually sidelined or vilified. As is the case with many cases of sexism, the fault was placed with the woman.

This sort of thing was commonplace not so long ago, and for all I know still happens but I think that in general the workplace atmosphere is quite different to what it was then. Men are also much more aware of the laws protecting women from this sort of sexist behaviour and rightly so, and women are much more vocal about what they will accept.

As a mother of two teenage daughters I'd be horrified to think they would have to deal with some of the things I had to deal with but I think - and hope - that times have changed.

Am I being naive or have things changed for the better?


Saturday, 6 October 2012

The one where I consider having an open plan study and loo: the new utility room part 1

When we moved into this house at the end of October last year (yes, we've been here almost a full year so I'll officially have to stop calling it the 'new house') the one thing missing was a utility room. 

Okay, I know a utility room is a luxury and it's not always an option but the washer and dryer were both housed in the garage and my brother didn't want them in there.  He loves his cars (two) and wanted to keep them in there without any other stuff cluttering 'his area of the house'. In fact he said he wanted the garage to be 'as God intended it to be'. Yeah.

So, plans were drawn up for the downstairs look to be extended to incorporate a utility area.



This is how the downstairs look looked before the work started. Perfectly okay and practical, although a teeny tiny bit boring.


The plan was to remove the wall on the left and extend the room into the next door study, which was bigger than really necessary. Having said that, that means my original plan to have a squashy sofa in there - the study, not the loo - has now been shelved.  Not enough room now y'see. Pah.




Not a big job in itself. Move one wall, move the lightpull, sort out the electrics and flooring then redecorate. Easy, right? Well, first of all have a look what was on the other side of that wall. Yikes!

Yes, this is the mess that was my study. Well, one end of it anyway. The other end has my desk and a pile of unpacked boxes from the move. But I can't unpack everything until the utility room is done because only then I can sort out my study. 

So, all of this junk had to find a home before the builders could knock down the wall. (Most of it got thrown - yes, thrown - by my brother into my lovely new guest room...sob.)

Next, the wall came down.

Ooh look....an open plan study/downstairs loo.
It could catch on.

The new wall is up!

Here's the new utility room shell. The wall has been moved and the new one plastered. Oh, and the lightpull is now on the inside of the room. 

In an ideal world, I would have liked complete new floor tiles but the ones that were used were a) wall tiles, not really suitable for floors (too thin) and b) no longer available. Bummer. And to take the old ones up would mean removing the loo and sink unit and it started looking expensive, so we had to find another solution. 

The cheaper solution was to put down some good quality cushion floor - not ideal, but practical - but first the floor levels needed sorting out because the tiles were higher than the rest of the floor. I won't bore you with the details but it took two attempts by the builder to get the floor level and turned into a bigger problem than imagined.

Unfortunately, because this happened I couldn't finish off painting the walls so the flooring went down before the room was painted, but hey ho, it's not the end of the world. 

Of course, the minute the new flooring was down my brother moved the machines in and then dumped everything that was non-car related in there too. So his garage is now a shrine to cars, but the new utility room looks like this. 

I managed to put one mist coat of paint onto the new plaster before the flooring 
went down.  Welcome to Steptoe's Yard.
But I have plans. And those plans include having the two machines stacked on top of each other and a new specially built storage cupboard. I'm also trawling the internet for decorating inspiration and pinning it all on my utility room pinterest board.  


Plus I've bought new cabinet handles, paint, material to (attempt) to make a blind and a storage tin for cleaning products.

I can't wait to get it all finished.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A great big kick up the backside



I'm not feeling very well.

Well to be honest, I haven't been feeling well for a while now. What with colds, flu, sore throats, asthma, bad back, sore knee...it's been one niggling problem after the other.

I kept thinking that I need to do something about improving my health, because I really don't look after myself very well. Then I'd have a cup of tea and a slice of cake and forget about it. As you do.

But now things have got a tiny bit more complicated.

Two weeks ago I had an asthma attack. Then I caught a bad cold. Then last week I started feeling dizzy and nauseous before being diagnosed with labrynthitis (a viral infection, probably residual from the bad cold).

At the end of last week my left leg started to feel sore and over the weekend it started to swell and became very tender. By Monday morning the pain was unbearable and it felt like the veins were going to burst out of my leg, so I went to see the doctor.

He though it might be a deep vein thrombosis, which made me panic ever so slightly.

The next step was to go to hospital and wait 2 hours for an 'emergency' appointment (I wonder how long I would have waited for a non-emergency appointment?) followed by a million questions about my medical history including "Is there a history of clots in your family?" Fnar fnar.

To cut a very long story short and after 3 visits to hospital the news was both good and bad. The good news that it isn't a DVT but the bad news that it is a blood clot but in one of the superficial veins in my leg.

The result is that I now need a 6 week course of daily (DAILY!) injections into my stomach to thin the blood and get rid of the clot.

But the thing is, it could have been much, much worse and that has scared me. Well, more than scared me....it's put the fear of God into me.

And it's more than just a health issue now, it's also a real worry for my daughters - particularly The Teenager who has been very upset by the whole episode.

One thing is certain: I have to make some major lifestyle changes. After years of taking care of my girls and taking my health for granted my body has started letting me down. The fact is, I can't do that anymore, I need to start looking after myself so that I can continue looking after my girls.

In short, I need to get my act together, lose weight and get fit pretty damned fast. The alternative isn't worth thinking about.