Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas to you!

It's Christmas Eve.

The presents have been wrapped, the tree has been decorated and the food has been bought and is ready to be cooked tomorrow.  

That means that the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Merry Christmas for our very own red-nosed greyhound.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Featured: How to be a cool mum - without embarrassing your kids

This is a guest post

No one wants to admit it, but being cool is something that most mums aspire to. Unfortunately, it’s a very fine line to tread: if you seem like you’re trying too hard, it could end up backfiring and turn you into an embarrassing spectacle rather than a suave and charming role model.

Luckily, being cool isn’t rocket science. You just have to be yourself, try not to try too hard and follow a few of these tips.

Keep your distance
Savoir Peplum Leather JacketYou might think that making suggestive comments about handsome celebs will make you seem like ‘one of the girls’, but it’s more likely to leave your children red faced. One crucial step to becoming a cool mum is acknowledging that gap between yourself and your children, no matter how grown up they are.

Become a dedicated follower of fashion
In your quest to become cool, spare a thought for poor dad. One survey has revealed that most teenagers are embarrassed by their fathers. Bad fashion sense is one of the main reasons, so make sure you don’t fall into the same trap. Although you shouldn’t dress too young for your age, it’s worth throwing in a few stylish pieces: try an on-trend leather jacket or some Ugg boots. Pay attention to this season’s trends - even if you wouldn't wear them, throwing this knowledge into a casual conversation is sure to impress.

Forget about Facebook
It doesn’t matter how cool you are, adding your child on Facebook is a sure-fire way to embarrass them. Telling them off for swearing, posting their baby photos and sharing your own observations will probably leave your kids exasperated. Give them their own cyberspace and pick your battles.

One of the coolest things you can do as a parent is to listen to and respect your children. They should feel like they can come to you with any problem, without being judged or shouted at. Take their opinions into consideration when it comes to quality time, too: listen to their recommendations for venues to visit and you’ll soon find that they look forward to spending time with you.

The Ultimate Christmas Eve for Kids and Families - featured post

This is a featured post 

It’s not until you have children yourself that you remember just how special Christmas Eve can be. You may be transported back to your time as a child yourself, sitting around the Christmas tree watching a festive movie with your parents, or baking gingerbread men to decorate with icing and sweets. Whatever you may have done as a child, when your own children come along, it’s time to dig out those traditions once again, or make your own. After all, the excitement of Christmas doesn’t start on Christmas morning – there’s plenty of room for festive family fun before then, too!

Here are some ideas to make Christmas Eve as special as possible so that, when it comes to bedtime, your children are thoroughly excited and ready for the morning to come!

Make some Reindeer Food
After all, they get peckish too and it’s only Rudolph that ever usually gets a look in! Make a sachet of reindeer food with your little ones that they could sprinkle in the back garden ready for when the reindeers arrive. A mix of edible glitter and oats usually makes a wholesome, yet twinkly, treat.

Laugh and Learn Dance and Play PuppyChristmas Eve Gifts
Many families choose to incorporate gift giving into their Christmas Eve routine. A package that includes some new festive pyjamas, a Christmas movie or festive book and some snuggly slippers, would be perfect. Alternatively, you could let the children open one gift from beneath the tree just before they go to bed – something cuteand cuddly like the Dance & Play Puppy that they could take to bed with them, or something practical like a warming dressing gown would go down a storm.

Christmas Eve Movie Marathon
The kids have broken up from school and, unless you’ve had some decent snowfall, the weather outside isn’t delightful. Instead, create some fun indoors with a festive movie marathon. Let your kids choose a couple of favourite films, wrap yourselves up in a snuggly blanket and settle down to enjoy some films that will help to get you all into the spirit of things.

Make Festive Snacks
Whether you’re watching festive movies or not, you’re bound to need some snacks to keep the energy up! Festive popcorn with a sprinkling of cinnamon, or some homemade gingerbread that can be decorated by the youngsters, usually go down a treat.

Christmas Eve is all about fun as a family – make the most out of the festive period and remember that the excitement doesn’t all have to be just on the one day!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Recipe: Chicken, bean and chorizo stew

I'm always looking for new recipes to tempt my girls, especially The Teenager who has a list as long as your arm of the foods she won't eat. Tall Daughter is more adventurous, but trying to find something all three of us will eat is a challenge. So I was intrigued when Oven Pride invited me to take part in a recipe challenge and to try and cook up a storm in the kitchen. By coincidence, my kitchen often looks like a tornado has passed through by the time I've finished cooking.

So I've gone all Nigella again (no, stop it!) and improvised on a recipe sent to me by the lovely Oven Pride people, along with a kit containing everything I needed to get cooking including a gorgeous red casserole dish.

The dish was delivered by Royal Mail while I was at work, so the postman very kindly left a note to say he'd left the parcel behind the garden gate. Unfortunately, the garden gate was locked so he hurled the parcel - containing the cast iron dish - over the 6ft high gate. I found the dented  box on the other side, but due to some sterling packaging the dish was completely safe inside. I'm seriously considering recommending him for the shot-put in the 2016 Olympics.

Anyway, I had the dish and the recipe so all I needed to do was crack on with it.

Chicken, bean and chorizo stew
Serves 3-4
4 chicken breasts, thighs or legs as you prefer
can of cannelini beans, drained
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
100g chorizo, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp paprika
200ml vegetable stock
sea salt and pepper to season
dried mixed herbs

Prepare all the veg before you start cooking, it just makes it easier to bung them all in the pot in one go.

Put a tbsp olive oil in a pan or casserole dish. Cook the onions in the oil for 3-4 minutes, then add the crushed garlic, chorizo and paprika. Cook for a further 2 mins, stirring occasionally.  Add the tomato puree, carrot, peppers and potatoes and stir into the flavoured oil. Add the stock, beans and chopped tomatoes.

At this point you can either keep the pot bubbling on the hob, or transfer it to the oven to cook for 30-40 minutes.  Rub the chicken breast with oil and season, place into a roasting tin and roast for 30 mins. Once the chicken is cooked I cut it into smaller pieces and put them into the stew for the last 10 minutes, but next time I might just cook them in the stew from the beginning so they pick up more of the lovely spicy chorizo flavour.

Check the stew from time to time, add a little more stock if needed but not too much - you want it to be quite thick.

Dish up the bean stew, pop the chicken breast on top and serve. Simples.

Of course, after all this cooking the oven and hob could do with a clean. Don't judge me, but I have an aversion to cleaning the oven. Luckily for me, my brother (who shares a house with us) came home from sea this week and he actually likes cleaning the oven. He's a bit of a clean freak, and he even has all the tins in his food cupboard facing the same way. Weird. And seeing as it hasn't been cleaned since the last time he was home *cough* I've left a very subtle hint for him in the kitchen. He won't be able to resist.

Disclosure: I was supplied with a recipe kit and cleaning products for this post by Oven Pride, but all words and opinions are mine, all mine.

Saturday, 30 November 2013



Thanksgiving holiday took place in America this week - always the last Thursday in November if my memory serves - and although it's not something we celebrate in this country, I always like to pause and reflect on the things that I'm thankful for.

There are always some obvious things, but what about the everyday stuff that we so often take for granted? A warm bed, enough food in the cupboards, books and music to keep us entertained, a comfortable home. It's so easy for forget those everyday comforts and focus on the bigger picture, but imagine what life would be like without them.

It's also a good time to turn some of our grumbles into positives - for instance, I've been having a good moan this week about the daily commute to my new job. Instead, I should  be grateful for the chance to start afresh in a new job, with new challenges and the opportunity to build a new future for us as a family.

I'm grateful for my daughters, of course, and how they are blossoming into truly wonderful people. They're growing, maturing and finding their feet and I like what they're becoming. Independent, thoughtful girls who make me very proud. They've had their fair share of upsets and disappointments over the years but they've handled them well and, more importantly, have learned from those experiences.

I'm thankful for my friends. I don't have huge numbers but the ones I have are the amazing. I've relied heavily on my friends this year, and they've been amazingly supportive. I'm very lucky to have them.

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Men we shouldn't fancy but do ~ Zac Efron

Creative Commons credit
I've taken a bit of a departure from the usual 'men we shouldn't fancy' types to admit that I have a bit of a crush on the rather delicious Zac Efron.

Yep, I know what you're thinking. Totally inappropriate. Way too young. Cradle-snatcher.

I know, I know....but admit it, he's gorgeous isn't he? And in my defence, he's 26 now so it's not exactly indecent. Well, maybe just a little bit...

When my girls were younger they were big fans of the High School Musical films and I always thought he was a good actor. No, seriously I did!

But now he's a bit older and he's making films for an adult audience I couldn't help noticing, erm, how very attractive he is. (My daughters will be cringeing if they read this, sorry girls!)

And I know he's had a bit of a rough time lately, so if he's looking for someone to take him under their wing *cough* I'm offering my services.

Do you have an unsuitable crush? Who do you fancy that may surprise us? I'm all ears...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Living with teenagers part 3: the perfect punishment and a word from Jack Dee

Here's a very belated third installment of the Living with Teenagers series. There's more great advice here from parents who've been there and survived, including possibly the best punishment for teens ever!

Sonya Cisco blogs at The Ramblings of a formerly Roll'n'Roll Mum and is mum to a teen, a tween and toddler.

Owning a teenager is both brilliant and terrifying. Mine is seventeen, and it is brilliant to be able to have proper grown up conversations with her. Sometimes I even swear in front of her, because she is old enough, but then tell her off if she uses the same word in front of me, cos you know, respect and that. Plus I do love to say 'Do as I say, and not as I do' at every opportunity, because it annoys her. And annoying teenagers is great fun, as is embarrassing them.

I have days where I am so proud of the wonderful person she has become, and days where I wonder how someone so seemingly grown up still has such a messy bedroom or is incapable of making a sandwich. There is a sweet melancholy to these years too, because I know my hands on, under my roof parenting of her is nearing its end. I cannot imagine my house without her, but can't wait to watch her spread her wings and see how far she flies. I cry at university prospectus, both with pride and sorrow.

As for tips. I have only this one- if looking for a punishment threat that actually works- suggest you will put a password on the wifi - nothing strikes fear into a teenagers heart as much as the fear of no internet!

Gailann Houston blogs at MummaG. She's a single mum to two children, a 13 year old daughter and a 2 year old son.

Every child is different and you may have birthed an angel but this is my experience of living with a teen. ‘Teen’ is an infection that lasts 7 years and effects all humans. Living with a teen is not easy, and let me warn you there may be times when you wish your little prince/princess was invisible and on mute. It doesn’t happen overnight but creeps in one scary habit after another.

If like me you have a girl teen you must permanently attach a camera to your arm and be prepared to click at every new outfit or accessory. Whatever you do be expected to listen to every word they say in detail, even if the last question you asked fell on deaf ears, because they were engrossed in a ‘live or die’ what’s app conversation with the people they just spent the last 6 hours in school with. Don’t expect to have any spare change; you are now a walking bank, a chauffeur and a chef for all the friends that will undoubtedly set up home on your sofa.

Remember to converse with your teens even if the only response you get is a grunted alright, because the one time you don’t ask how their day went you will not hear the end of it. One moment your teen will be as needy as a toddler, the next they will want you out of ‘their space.’

You are basically conducting a science experiment where the variables change more times than you can count and you just have to adapt to the current formula. In other words just try not to stress too much when the time comes. Go with the flow and know that your little prince/princess is still in there somewhere!

Libby Hill blogs at Smarttalkers and has some advice for parents of younger children who are dreading the teenage years.

No-one can prepare you for the change from polite, respectful pre-teen to the sulky, argumentative individuals they become. Remember it's normal, all parents will be going through the same, they're probably not admitting it though!

Teenagers all think parents know nothing, it's not personal or reflective of your ability or skills. They all think it's so different nowadays so that you have no idea about their life (they can't imagine you young!)  They are going through  a huge transition  so understanding and patience is essential. Communication is key and don't forget that listening is half of this process.

Don't beat yourself up if you have lost your cool, you are only human tomorrow is another day. Apologise and move on. Separate the behaviour from  the person. You still love them, just dislike some of the behaviour.

Good luck.....it doesn't last forever!


And finally, a short clip from  Jack Dee's new DVD 'So What'.  I love his humour, and his take on teenagers is just about spot on. I saw the longer version of this, but here's a little taster:

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Big changes ahead!

Creative Commons image

Good grief it's been a BUSY few weeks!

I've hardly had time to update the blog, and I've let things slide a little bit on the social media front too - but I have good reason...

I recently wrote about how I'd made a major decision after months of unhappiness, and the decision was to resign from my job.

I'd been there for 8.5 years, most of it happily, but for the past year or so had felt far less contented. I think it's fair to say that a large part of my recent bout of depression was linked to that and so I decided it was time to leave.

Of course it's a much bigger decision to leave a steady, permanent job when you're over fifty as I am. The job market shrinks quite remarkably once you hit that mid-century as most employers immediately think you're past it, and anyway why would they want to employ someone who's going to retire in a few years time?

But the thing is nowadays people are having to retire at much later ages, and for me that means working until I'm 66 (unless I win the lottery or meet a rich man who wants to look after me) which is another 13 years of work. I inwardly groaned as I wrote that last sentence.

So, I've been busy casting my net far and wide to find a new job....and I landed one! I'm leaving the world of education to work for a fantastic children's charity - a job offer that came completely out of the blue. (I'll write more about how it happened in a later post).

I start on Monday, and I'm feeling nervous and excited all at once. Nervous because it's something new for me and I'm going to be a bit out of my comfort zone initially (okay, quite a lot if I'm honest) and excited for the same reasons - I need to prove to myself that I can do the job even though it's going to be a massive challenge.

I must admit to have already had pangs of nostalgia about working with the children in school and also about the ten minute commute (add another hour on for the new job) but I needed to shake things up a bit and take a risk. It may well come crashing down about my ears, but what the hell - sometimes you have to take a chance to see what's what.

The decision to resign wasn't one I took lightly but I think it has already been worth it. Almost immediately I felt a massive change - I felt happier, like the weight of despair has lifted completely, and I can already sense some of my old confidence coming back. Time will tell of course but in the meantime, wish me luck!

Have you made any risky decisions that paid off? Left a comfortable job for a new one? Or done something else that, on paper, sounds crazy? Do tell...

p.s. Oh, and even though I haven't blogged very much I was very pleased to be contacted by the BBC News Magazine recently to write an open letter to my girls about sexting - click here to see my letter along with a few others.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas advertising

I could be wrong (I am occasionally...) but this is the first year I've noticed Christmas advertising starting the day after Bonfire Night.

I just can't remember it happening last year, or the year before although the advertising has become increasingly invasive over the past few years. But this year, as soon as the last fireworks were out of the sky, we started seeing Christmas ads on TV...and not just one or two, but end-to-end ads telling us how much money we have to spend to have a good time. On the 6th November?! It's just ridiculous.

And before anyone shouts "Bah Humbug!" at me, it's not that I don't like Christmas because I do. I also like John Lewis. A lot. In fact I love their fabulous store in Liverpool so much I often refer to it as my spiritual home and in all honesty I think their Christmas ads are lovely, really festive and usually a great choice of songs (The Smiths' one was the best) but it's only the 13th November for crying out load and I'm already sick to the teeth of watching it. And when I heard someone on TV refer to the John Lewis Christmas ad as being "a bit like the Queen's speech" it made me want to bang my head on the table, and I'm not even a monarchist.

For me, the lead up to big day - which is, after all, only one day - is all about listening to carols, playing my favourite Christmas CDs, decorating the tree (although not too early!), eating warm mince pies with a glass of sherry, watching endless Christmas films, visiting old friends and neighbours, and spending time with the people who are important to us.

And this year we're going to visit the Christmas markets in Manchester for the first time, and I'm hoping to appeal to my daughters' better nature and get them to come to a Christmas Carol concert with me - something they haven't wanted to do for years.

I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the commercial message that Christmas can only be enjoyed if we spend huge amounts of money on each other. In these times of austerity, when foodbanks are becoming increasingly busy, utility bills are reaching outrageous amounts,  and everyone is counting every penny the notion that we have to splash out - and there are plenty of people who use credit cards to fund their Christmas spending - feels wrong.

There's something very jarring about watching the news footage of the devastation in the Phillipines and then a few minutes later being subjected to wall-to-wall Christmas advertising. The contrast in fortunes is obscene.

We're planning to have a good Christmas, but we'll do it without getting into debt. The house will be decorated, we'll all be well-fed, and my girls will get their presents - not a silly amount, but a few that I know they'll like. Like most people I have a strict budget to keep to and we'll stick to it. And somewhere in there we'll even find time to remember what the season is supposed to be about.

I'm sorry John Lewis et al, but this year I'm opting out.

If you're thinking of donating food to a foodbank this Christmas, you can find the nearest one to you here.

You can donate to the Phillipines Typhoon appeal here.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The early Christmas bird catches all the festive worms ~ featured post

Christmas time is creeping closer and you know what that means… time to run those Christmas errands so that when the 25th is upon us you’ll be able to enjoy the festivities!

As parents there are a multitude of tasks and chores that we have to perform before the big day arrives, why leave everything to the last minute? Here is a list of the chores that you can complete before Christmas and why you should finish them before the festivities begin.

Planning Ahead
Deciding what it is exactly that you should do to prepare for Christmas can be a difficult task in itself, but as parents it’s our duty to persevere so that we can enjoy the festivities as much as our children do.

When you’re deciding which tasks to prioritise in order to prepare for Christmas you should ask yourself two questions; what MUST I get done at least 10 days before Christmas and what would I like to get done in the same time?

By asking yourself these questions you can essentially narrow down the chores or tasks that are important to complete early and the tasks that you would like to complete early but don’t have to as they are less of a priority.

Three Simple Tasks

1. Christmas Food
The traditional Christmas dinner is considered to be one of the most important parts of Christmas – this means that you should stock up on your frozen food and dried or packaged goodies before the Christmas rush ensuring that you have everything you need for the big day.

2. Purchasing Presents
It’s undeniable that if your family are not able to make it to your Christmas celebrations, it can be one of the worst scenarios, but we also know of one worse. Not being able to purchase the presents that your children want but believe they need can be one of the most frustrating scenarios for a parent to encounter.
Not only will your child be sorely disappointed due to the fact that they haven’t received the gift that they wanted, as a parent we also tend to blame ourselves for any unhappiness that the child suffers; to prevent this from happening we suggest that you hit the shops as early as you can.

3. Week of Wrapping
One of the most tedious tasks and often the most complex is the wrapping of gifts. Depending upon the amount of gifts that you have purchased and the number of people that you have provided presents for, this process could last you an entire week. It’s because of the extensive amount of time that is spent wrapping that we suggest you complete this task in advance to prevent boredom during the festive period.

There are a number of reasons as to why it’s better for you and for your family if you complete these tasks as early as possible, but there are some reasons that are more important than others. Christmas is a time when the family come together to celebrate not only what they already have, but what they have given each other and the time that they can spend with one another.

If you are not completing these tasks early for yourself so that you can enjoy the celebrations and let your hair down, you should do it for your children. Spend the spare time with your children, play
festive games with them, watch their nativity play or just help them colour in a picture. There is nothing you will regret more in life as a parent than wasting the time that you were given to spend with your children.

By spending this time with your children you can guarantee the best and most enjoyable Christmas with your family, and also your friends.

However, keep in mind that although you are the mother, it is not your job to complete every job possible. Mothers have it hard enough as it is without having to complete 102 tasks too – rope your partner in to your plans as it means that all tasks will be completed twice as fast.

Author: Simon Calvin works at UK Christmas World, so he understands just how busy the festive period can be. When Simon isn’t playing Santa he can be found motivating the rest of the team and making sure his own household is ready for Christmas.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Review: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3

We were lucky enough to be sent a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 to review this month.

It was our first experience of using a Samsung tablet and we've been mightily impressed. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 is a 7" WiFi tablet with 8GB of memory. The memory can be expanded to 64GB by using the micro SD card and connecting to a compatible computer via a USB port.

It runs on the Google Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system, which might mean something to you but means nothing at all to me.  If that's the sort of thing you like to know, you can see the specifications here but I'm just going to tell you what we thought of it.

Both of my daughters have been using it since it arrived and they've enjoyed using some of the apps. The Teenager has been using the Youtube app to watch music videos and Tall Daughter has been personalising the Flipboard app to follow blogs and read celebrity news. She's also been busy using Learning Hub to download (free) Spanish and French apps to help with her homework.

Pretty much anything you need in a tablet is there, and once connected to WiFi they can browse the internet, play games, listen to music or watch videos to their hearts' content. It's a really handy size, ideal for smaller hands, and I've found it a very useful second tablet to have around the house which means I can use our other one for chatting on twitter more important stuff.

What we like:

It's compact and lightweight and easy to hold. Is it possible to say it's quite good-looking? Because that's how I want to describe it.
The screen appears bright and clear, colours are vivid and it's user friendly. Even I knew how to use it straight out of the box, which is impressive let me tell you.
The camera is high-res and we have used it to take some good quality photos and videos.
It has all the usual apps you would expect from a tablet.
The battery life is good which is vague, I know, but we used it for several hours before needing to recharge it.
The price (£159.99).

In a nutshell: we like it. I think its beauty is the low price (relatively speaking) compared to other tablets which could make it an ideal Christmas present.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 is available at Currys. To see their full range of tablets click here.

Tongue in chic: how to give your bedroom a makeover in five easy steps

I don't know about you, but I didn't know Carpetright sold beds. You neither? Well, here's a featured post with details of their range of metal bed frames.


With our bedrooms being the one area of the home that is kept as a secret solace to relax in, finding ways to make it chic and downright fashionable are essential.

Here we look at five steps you can take to create a chic bedroom, using a metal bed frame as the main feature.

1. Be Central
Spatial restrictions often dictate where we can place large pieces of furniture, like the bed, but choosing a central position can be really beneficial.

Place your bed centrally in the room to really make a feature of it or frame it between windows, fireplaces and other features in the room. A Carpetright metal bed frame looks stunning as a focal point, especially when it sits centrally along a wall.

Tucson bed frame

2. Choose a Theme
The idea of ‘chic’ covers many different avenues and ideas, so you need to pick a theme before you begin decorating.

If you opt for traditional, then dress your bed with lots of scatter cushions and layered fabrics (you’ll want a combination of thin sheets and drapes and thicker blankets). For a modern style, opt for a simpler combination of duvets and blankets or throws in striking colours and patterns.

3. Keep it Clear
Chic styles are clean and clear so make sure your bedroom isn’t bogged down with clutter. Keep colours light and bright – a combination of white and pale tones works well – and opt for a few choice accessories such as a small bedside table and single tone rug.

Remember to keep this style going through the bed by opting for bed linen that uses one or two complementary colours and keeping cushions and throws simple and elegant.

Rochelle metal bed frame
Rochelle metal bed

4. Be Pretty as a Picture
While modern chic styles revolve around minimalism it is important to remember that accessories add warmth to a room. Keep your trinkets minimal but add photographs or artwork to the walls to introduce character.

Black and white photography can convey this sense of style better than colour but you might also want to experiment with sepia prints. Sketched artwork and water colours also offer a soft and sensuous stylistic element which is perfect. Place artwork above the bed to draw more attention here.

5. Light and Dark
While light colours are a key component of chic room designs, that doesn’t mean there is no room for colour. Use a combination of light and dark to add stunning depth to your room, introducing darker shades through accessories such as bed linen.

Rosette bed frame

Monday, 21 October 2013

The History of Portmeirion Pottery

Portmeirion village

Portmeirion – the company, not the village – is a British pottery company, based in the Staffordshire city of Stoke-on-Trent, part of the aptly named “Potteries Urban Area”.

The much-loved company has been going for more than fifty years now, and so, in celebration of this fact (and because we just really like the stuff), we have decided to write a little summary of their history. Read ‘em and learn, potters!

Portmeirion – The Early Days
The company was founded way back in 1960, the year of JFK, Elvis, and Hitchcock’s Psycho. Susan Williams-Ellis, the pottery designer and daughter of Portmeirion Village’s architect, and her husband, Euan Cooper-Willis, took over A. E. Gray Ltd., a small firm specialising in the decoration of pottery.

Williams-Ellis had already been working with A. E. Gray for some time at this point, commissioning designs to be sold in Portmeirion’s (this time the village) gift shop. These designs all bore the stamp “Gray’s Pottery Portmeirionware”.

The next year, they purchased another company, Kirkhams Ltd., who had the capacity to manufacture as well as decorate. Combining the two businesses, Williams-Ellis and Cooper-Willis brought Portmeirion Potteries into the world.

Portmeirion – The Beginnings of Growth

Portmeirion pottery - TotemIn 1963, Susan put out “Totem” – a cylindrical piece, decorated with a bold and abstract pattern. This was to be the catalyst for Portmeirion’s success, putting them on the map at the front of popular design.

By the middle of the swinging ‘60s, Williams-Ellis had already picked up a reputation for putting out striking, memorable designs, creating the renowned and respected “Magic City” in 1966, and then the follow-up “Magic Garden” four years after that.

In 1972, Williams-Ellis was to create and launch the most famous and recognisable of all Portmeirion Pottery’s designs, one which is still made today in the same floral pattern – the Botanic Garden range. Arguably the most successful of these was the Portmeirion Botanic Blue pottery, which was to inspire even more success from the company over the following years.

Portmeirion – In Recent Years

Recently, more people have been offering up their own unique takes on the famous brand, such as interior designer and author Sophie Conran, giving us beautiful pieces like “Crazy Daisy”.

Portmeirion pottery - Crazy Daisy
Portmeirion Pottery has expanded in the last few years – following the fall into administration of both Spode and Royal Worcester in November 2008, Portmeirion Potteries Ltd. purchased both brands, on 23rd April, 2009.

This purchase did not include any of their manufacturing capabilities; it focused solely on the brand name and the designs. The manufacture of Portmeirion pottery continues to take place purely in Stoke-on-Trent, bringing Spode back into the UK from the Far East. Since the acquisition, the company name has been changed to Portmeirion Group.

This is a featured post from Portmeirion Pottery

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Life is fragile

I don't know about you but I'm guilty of taking life for granted. We all make plans for tomorrow, next week, a summer holiday next year, a visit to friends sometime soon and it doesn't occur to us that life might have other plans for us.

Then something happens that makes you take stock.

Yesterday I heard of the very premature death of a dear friend. He was 50, which by anyone's standards is a disgustingly early age to go. A man with a huge personality, full of life, love and humanity and one of life's good guys. I'm still trying to come to terms with his death, and wondering how his young family will cope with their loss.

It's at times like this that we realise how fragile and fleeting life is and how, despite our best-laid plans, there are only a limited number of tomorrows.

Last week after months of unhappiness I made a major decision, something that will mean a significant change for me and my girls, and something I'll be able to write about quite soon. Last week I was full of doubts about whether I'd done the right thing.

Now those doubts have gone and I'm sure it was the right thing to do because, quite simply, life's too short to be unhappy.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Decorating your baby's first bedroom ~ guest post

Your baby is on its way and it is an exciting time for everyone involved. But there are a number of preparations that need to be done before the big arrival such as buying all the clothes, bottles and getting a nappy supply together. You should also start thinking about decorating the baby’s bedroom for when he or she is ready to move from the Moses basket to the crib. This can be a fun experience and one which you can enjoy as a little project whilst you are waiting for the birth.

Colour Scheme

The first decision you should make when decorating is the colour scheme that you want to go for. If you know the sex of the baby, this can be a little easier, but you may not want to go for the traditional baby pink or blue. Why not try a light yellow colour for a girl or a light shade of orange for a boy. If you want to keep the sex a surprise, then choose a neutral colour such as cream, as you can always accessorise with gender specific colours once the baby has arrived.

Once you have decided on a colour scheme then make sure that you do not go overboard as this could overwhelm the room and the baby. Keep the shades light and try to team them with white or cream so that the room has a soft feel.


There are a few necessities that you should invest in first such as a crib, a chest of draws for all the baby’s clothes and nappies, as well as a changing table as you will definitely be using this a lot. Try not to buy too much as if you only have a small room you will find it difficult to fit all the items in. The last thing you want is at 2am when you have finally got your little one settled, to walk into a piece of furniture and wake them up again.

You may find that furniture is easier to come by than you first thought and you could actually save yourself a huge amount of money with freebies. Family members who have resigned on the idea of having any more children so have a Moses basket or your old crib from when you were a baby could still be in great condition. With a lick of paint you could create a new looking piece of furniture, so make sure you ask around before you go furniture shopping.


Once the walls are painted and the furniture has been erected from its flat pack state, the really fun part is next. Adding little touches around the room can make the bedroom personal to your new addition and your family. For instance, add stickers to the walls of animals and pictures which the baby can look at. Bright colours are great for these types of decorations as it will stimulate the baby’s brain.

You could also add pictures of your family to the walls so that the faces become familiar and comforting. A lovely touch is to have a photo on canvas which you can hang up. This could be of you and your partner with the new born, or perhaps a family photo. This will become something the baby is familiar with, and as the child grows they will want to keep it as a comforting picture.

Soft Extras

We all know that babies are delicate and therefore adding soft extras throughout the room can create a snug room that the boy or girl will find easy to rest in. Soft toys, blankets and furniture covers are ideal to create this look. For instance, once the baby starts crawling there will be no stopping them, so covering the legs of furniture could prevent injuries.

This post was written by Amy Bennett who thoroughly enjoyed decorating a bedroom for her triplets last year. She ordered a canvas from Custom Canvas and was amazed with their swift delivery and the great quality of the product.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Born to Read: how you can help the UK's poorest children to read

Some of my daughters' favourite books

My girls are both teenagers now, but I still keep hold of many of the books they enjoyed when they were little. Like many parents, I read books to them from a very early age and some of the hardboard books they enjoyed as toddlers are now slightly chewed and dog-eared but all the more loved because of it.

Now that they're older, they still read a lot. Tall Daughter loves to read fiction and likes to read in bed. The Teenager is less keen on fiction but enjoys biographies, although now she's studying for her A Levels her reading is mainly text books.

Sadly, not all children in the UK can enjoy reading in the same way because shockingly 1 in 4 children leave primary school without being able to read properly.

I know from my own experience working in a primary school that the children who are encouraged to read at home are usually the ones who do well in school. It makes perfect sense. If a child can read well, it unlocks their potential. Almost every other lesson at school involves some level of reading and if they can't read....well, they struggle.

The first two years of primary school are crucial in developing reading and writing skills, and most of the children who fall behind even at this early stage never catch up. By the time they reach secondary school they're already at a disadvantage which translates into lower exam results and later on, lower job prospects.

By failing behind with reading at primary age, children can be limited for the rest of their lives and crucially, are unable to pass on a love of reading to their own children, which creates a cycle of poverty that is difficult to break out of.

Save the Children are trying to break that cycle by launching their Born to Read campaign.

They want to help disadvantaged children to unlock their potential by helping them to get to grips with literacy skills in the early primary years. And what's more we can all help - read about how you can become a change maker and really make a difference to a child.

You can read about other ways you can help over on Thinly Spread.

Together we can make a difference.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Wherever you go, there you are

Creative Commons - Flickr
Things are improving.

I'm feeling stronger. Not in a Popeye kind of way, but in an emotional health sort of way. The very dark despair that was there a few weeks ago has lifted, and I'm now feeling more optimistic about life again, although that's a scary word to use - optimistic. I don't want to tempt fate or anything, but yes it does seem like the right word to use.

I'm still not out of the woods, but compared to a couple of months ago I'm much improved, and the way forward I noticed recently is making itself much clearer to me now.

I've been working hard to improve where my head is at without resorting to prescribed anti-depressants and for a while I thought I was going to have to relent and ask my GP for them again, but just recently that feeling has subsided and I'm happy to keep taking the St. Johns Wort and combine it with relaxation, trying to get some decent sleep - although my sleep patterns are still disrupted - and talking and being more open about how I'm feeling. That has helped, but I've been reading a little about mindfulness and will be giving that a go too.

I wouldn't wish depression on anyone because apart from the actual experience of dealing with it it's also a very misunderstood illness.

I'm sure that when some people hear the words 'mental illness' they immediately focus on the 'mental' part of it, with images of straight-jackets and asylums flashing through their minds. A combination of ignorance and embarrassment means that many people dismiss depression as self-indulgent self-pity. If someone breaks their leg, or has a heart attack,  it would be obvious to everyone that it takes time to recover from it, but recovering from depression isn't afforded the same amount of patience. It's a shame, because more people than you'd think actually struggle with it and don't speak out because of the misconceptions.

If you know someone who seems 'down in the dumps' or is finding life difficult at the moment, please let them know that you care, and offer a bit of support - maybe listening to them while they talk, or helping in a more practical way, but mainly just being there for them. It could make all the difference.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Have you planned your retirement?

Image credit: Flickr

While it can be very easy to worry about your retirement, it’s one of those things that can be better solved by tackling it straight on and planning well in advance. Whilst it can be easy to stress, giving yourself as much time as possible will be more beneficial in the long run, as you can plan more effectively.

Choosing your potential home is also a major factor, whilst you will always need to plan out your money. Likewise, don't forget to find time to enjoy yourself. If you take time to remember the benefits and free time involved in retirement, it might help you worry a little less too!


First of all, you need somewhere suitable to live. Your current home or apartment may not be right for your retirement. If you live in a flat, stairs can often be a problem whilst family homes can simply be too big to manage. Likewise, you should consider the safety and security of where you live as you get older.

Instead, a retirement apartment could easily be recommended. This offers enough space to be comfortable, yet in a secure area where additional health assistance is available.


Money will also be important, as it's one of the features that arguably define retirement. You'll be living off of your pensions and savings, so it helps to plan ahead and work out a budget.

Similarly, if you're looking for ways to generate additional money, you may want to look into saving more and other additional schemes. Equity release, for instance, can be used to generate money from your home. This can be useful if you want additional money to last your retirement or simply want to sell the house to get cash for a more appropriate retirement property.

Things to Do

Finally, don't forget that retirement is also a prime opportunity to enjoy yourself. If you're stuck for ideas, it helps to do a little bit of research. If you can get online, look at the tweets from McCarthy & Stone often highlight potential activities, useful links and competitions worth entering. Similar sources and feeds can also keep you updated on the latest news so that you’re never left behind.

Additionally, don't forget the power of a local community. Not only can you make close friends within your area but there is also the potential to keep an eye on local events and join group activities and outings. This should help make any retirement much more fun.

Don't forget that, as important as it is to sort out the important factors, you need to remember to enjoy yourself too. After all, retirement is about living life, so always make room to relax and do the things you want to do when you can.

This is a featured post.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Men we shouldn't fancy but do ~ The Hairy Bikers

A couple of years ago I wrote a couple of posts about men who, on paper, don't appear to be fanciable (e.g. Eddie Izzard and Jack Black). They're not traditionally handsome, or have an amazing physique, but there's just something about them that is very, very attractive, or at least I think so anyway. I suppose what I'm saying is that they have fantastic personalities.

FINAL HB Great Curries_CROP
 The Hairy Bikers website
I've always liked the Hairy Bikers, and apart from enjoying their cookery programmes and their books they both seem like really lovely blokes. Really decent, good-humoured, would do anything for a friend sort of blokes, and I bet they're great fun at parties. But I have to admit to having a bit of a crush on Si - there's a touch of the Viking about him, and that's always an attractive quality in a man. Did I ever tell you about my boyfriend known as The Viking from years back? A great big hunk of a man he was. Oh, happy days...

I've had this post in draft for months, and only remembered about it when I saw Dave Myers dancing on the new series of Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend.

Awww, you've got to love Dave - he's not the world's most natural dancer by any means, but my God he's having a go and by all accounts he's having a great time too. Who cares what the judges say: vote for Dave!

Anyway, here's the link of him with his partner Karen Hauer strutting his stuff on Strictly last weekend. Bless.

Go on, who do you have a secret crush on?

A new kitchen blind, indecision and some wet paint ~ a review of Hillarys

The kitchen has been my least favourite room in the house since we moved in, mainly because the walls were dark green and the roller blind on the window was a manky beige with a big brown stain across the centre. I know, you're jealous aren't you?

Kitchen with dark green walls and no blind

So it's been in need of an update since we moved in and because it is quite a big project (the ceiling lighting also needs to be changed) it's been on the back burner for a while, but a few weeks ago I decided to try and spruce it up a bit.

The first thing to go was the the roller blind which was so disgusting I didn't take a photo, and because we live on a quiet lane and don't get many passers-by I reckoned we could live without a blind until the kitchen was decorated.

Then I tried out a few tester pots on the walls to try and find a colour that would brighten up the room and also go with the cream kitchen cabinets. I also looked at some window blinds, but because the kitchen window is quite big I would have had to buy a larger length and cut it down to size. I've done that with other windows and it's easy enough to do (although you have to cut very carefully) but the cut edge always looks unfinished and messy.

As luck would have it, I was contacted by Hillarys to see if I'd like to review one of their products. Would I? Yes, I most certainly would. And sure enough a few days later a very nice man called Steve came to show me their range of designs and wide selection of fabrics and fittings. While he did the measuring I made a cup of tea and dithered over the choice available.

Hillary's Blind sample bookTo be honest, I took quite a long time to decide on the type (Venetian, vertical, roller or Roman?) Or possibly a wood-effect venetian blind (which would have been my brother's choice, but he was away at sea so didn't get any say.)  Oh, and then I spotted the range of shutters - gorgeous!

I was genuinely surprised by the range available, which made it quite hard to make a decision but I have to admire Steve's patience because I changed my mind more than once (even when he was filling out the order form) yet he didn't bat an eyelid. We also arranged a time and date for two weeks time when he would come back to fit the blind

All I had to do in the meantime was paint the kitchen. Easy, right? Well no,.....I couldn't decide on the colour, and changed my mind a couple of times (are you sensing a pattern?)  Eventually, I decided on a cheery green colour - Melon Sorbet from the Dulux range - and painted the wall on the morning Steve was due back to do the fitting. Yes, I waited until that very morning to do the painting. What can I say, I'm embarrassed.

When he turned up - early, as it happens - the wall was still a bit wet and he wasn't sure if he could do the fitting but said he'd put the brackets up and come back later that day. At this point I was feeling pretty stupid and kicking myself for leaving it so late to do the painting, but somehow Steve not only managed to get the brackets fitted but he also put the blind up too. Given that the paint was still a bit wet, which made it awkward, he still managed to fit the blind in less than 30 minutes with no mess. I was officially impressed. 

Hillary's Blinds

I'm really happy with it. It looks great and really finishes off the whole room. And hats off to Steve for his patience and dexterity!

Disclosure: The roller blind was supplied and fitted by Hillary's for the purposes of this review, although I was genuinely impressed with the service and all words, opinions and photos are my own.

Monday, 30 September 2013

A visit to Cadbury World and a brief encounter with Augustus Gloop

When we were invited to visit Cadbury World recently it took us about ten seconds to reply and say YES! We're big chocolate fans, particularly Tall Daughter who dressed in a purple outfit for the trip, so much is her devotion to the dark stuff (chocolate, not Guinness.)

We live in the North-west so it was a good 2 hour drive to get there, and the first thing we noticed as we left the M5 is that some of the roundabouts and junctions en-route didn't have any brown 'Cadbury World' signposts. it meant we took a couple of wrong turns before arrived, although we loved driving through Bourneville, the pretty village built by the Cadbury family for their workers.

We had pre-booked tickets for the 11.40am tour, and it was already quite busy and when we were leaving a couple of hours later it was crazy busy in the foyer so I would definitely recommend booking ahead. If you do have to wait and the weather's nice and you have small children, you can make use of the outdoor play area which looked great. Unfortunately, I visited with three teenagers (my own two, and one of their friends) and despite my encouragement they wouldn't use it. Teenagers, eh?

You can also visit the Essence Emporium, a mini-show with a chance to 'make' your own chocolate flavour, although The Teenager was disappointed that she didn't get to do anything herself - you're asked which flavour you'd like (from a choice of four)  and it's added to melted chocolate and put into a small cup with a spoon.

As we waited to start the tour, I jokingly said that I'd like to have chocolate thrown at me from time to time, and I wasn't far off because we did have chocolate thrust at us on three occasions throughout the tour, which can only be a good thing. We were also quite excited to spot Augustus Gloop  in the queue, or at least his doppelganger. All that was missing was the lederhosen.

The tour itself is self-guided, so you go at your own pace, and it's really very interesting in parts. We enjoyed learning about the origins of chocolate, and how John Cadbury started selling it from his tea shop. I loved learning about the history of Cadbury and their philanthropy. We also enjoyed watching clips about how the different chocolates are made - Creme Eggs, Easter eggs, etc - but it's a shame we didn't see any of it in person. It's not the same on a screen.

The part of the tour that took us through a small section of the factory seemed like a lost opportunity - the idea of watching already boxed bars of chocolate rolling off conveyor belts wasn't very exciting. Much better though, was when we reached the demonstration area with real human chocolatiers, who were making fancy chocolate boats, shoes and Halloween products. Watching skilled people at close range is always a treat, and this was no different. There's also a chance to write your name in chocolate, and who doesn't want to do that?

I particularly enjoyed the Advertising Avenue with old posters and clips of Cadbury's TV adverts, although this should have been a much bigger part of the tour (doesn't everyone remember the songs and slogans from their favourite ads?) and there was no reference to possibly the best ever Cadbury's ad 'Everyone's a fruit and nut case'. No worries though, because I sang it for the rest of the tour much to my daughters' delight. Or maybe not.

The Cadabra ride was definitely not teenager-friendly (three teenagers in a cocoa bean car = lots of guffaws) but it did make us laugh, and the interactive play zone floor where you get to splat chocolate looked like fun but they didn't join in.

Finally, at the end of the tour you emerge into the Cadbury's shop where there's plenty to choose from and some of the prices are pretty good, although their 'Factory Shop' had exactly the same prices as the main shop!

We thought the tour was much better suited to families with younger children as there seemed to be lots of activities to keep them amused, but not so much for teenagers. Having said that, we all enjoyed it. All three teenagers said they'd had a good day so that's great, and we did have some laughs. Thank you to Cadbury World for inviting us.

Oh, and we were also sent some Cadbury Pebbles to review which caused a bit of a kerfuffle chez notSupermum. Three people and only two bags to review, which meant we had to share! 

Anyway, they're like Mini Eggs but bigger and flatter....in fact they're shaped a bit like a pebble, fancy that! We liked them, and they come in a resealable bag although why anyone would have any left to reseal is a mystery to me.

Disclosure: we were sent a family ticket for Cadbury World (normal cost £45.80) for the purpose of this review and our travel costs were reimbursed. All words, photos and opinions are my own.

Friday, 27 September 2013

I used to be someone else

So, I went back to see my GP today for an update, and to see if I was considered 'fit for work'. Fit for work, what a laugh. Quite honestly I don't really feel fit for anything at the moment and thought for a second he was going to refer me to the knacker's yard to be seen off.

The main problem is I'm still feeling emotionally wobbly. That's probably the best description I can think of. There has been a slight - very slight - improvement this week, and perhaps the St. John's Wort is starting to kick in, but I still feel like I'm 'on the edge' emotionally. I hear a song on the radio that triggers some memory or another? Sobbing. Watch a dramatic TV programme? More sobbing. Catch sight of a photo of lost love ones, or happier times? Heaving, face-dissolving sobs. It's not pretty at all. 

I never used to be like this you know, I was always in control. Once upon a time I would have been called stoic or even gutsy. Sadly no more.  Now I'm more likely to be called a mess, and I keep wanting to shout "But I used be someone else, someone happier" at the people who have never met the happier me. There are some people who I've met in the last 8-10 years who've only ever met this weaker, diluted version of my former self.

The thing that has shocked me most about all of this is how it seems to stem from the beginning of summer when, after years of being bullied, I finally stood up to them. Something changed that day, I snapped. Once I'd decided I couldn't take another 10 years of it I took some legal advice, which helped enormously and I honestly felt like I'd taken some control back. I felt elated at the time, was proud of myself and it felt like a fresh start.

But not long after that, I started to crumble. Was it because, after so long of being on edge, I allowed myself to relax? Is that what happened, the fa├žade crumbled? Maybe.

So now as I take baby steps back to a stronger position (I very nearly put 'normality' then, but I'm not even sure what that is anymore) I'm very conscious of a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, pressure to return to my former self and get on with it. It's almost an unspoken 'pull yourself together' pressure and is cleverly disguised in the form of support. That's why earlier on today, after having had a good morning and thinking I could sense the first signs of progress, I was soon sent spinning back to square one. Well, maybe not square one but if this was a game of snakes and ladders I just slid down a medium sized anaconda.

It does feel a bit like two steps forward and one step back at the moment, although the overwhelming fug of despair is starting to dissipate ever so slightly . I've also had the hint of a lifeline, a possibility that might help with a situation that's been making me very unhappy. It's very early days though, and I don't want to jinx it by saying anything optimistic (perish the thought) but....well, I think I can see a way forward. Perhaps. Maybe. Touch wood.

Wow, can't believe I actually just said that. A way forward. That's BIG.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Down the lane

We live down a quiet lane, just off a busier road. The houses were built in a row on what used to be the grounds of a large house, and the sandstone wall that was once part of their garden runs down the lane on a parallel with the houses. 

Just in front of the wall is a short strip of land, and each house owns the piece facing their house. Yesterday I took a stroll down the lane to see what was growing.

I'm joining up again with the award-winning Mammasaurus, who has her very own gardening linky. Have a stroll over there and see some gorgeous gardens.

Mammasaurus - How Does Your Garden Grow?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Book club reviews, summer reading and a book giveaway

In January a friend started a new book club and asked me to join. I jumped at the chance because I although I enjoy reading I'd really got out of the habit and had loads of unread books on the shelves. (I'm a sucker for a book shop - I can't leave without 2 or 3 books that will still be unopened months later.)

So, it was about time to get reading again and I've really enjoyed being part of the group. I reviewed our first choice here, but here's a long overdue review of some of the other books we tackled over the past few months.

The Good Father by Noah Hawley.
The Good FatherPaul Allen is a doctor and leads a comfortable life. He has a young family with his second wife and a son from his first marriage. One evening while watching news coverage of the assassination of an aspiring presidential candidate, he answers a knock at the door to find the American secret service who tell him it that his son has been arrested for the crime.

Paul Allen embarks on a crusade to prove his son's innocence whilst trying to figure out how much of it is down to his own failings as a parent and whether it's too late to become a good father now.

Our success as parents, and whether we are good enough, is something that can keep us awake at night and this is about one father's examination of his role as a parent.  I absolutely loved this book. It's a haunting, thought-provoking and beautifully written story that had me gripped until the very end.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes
Arthur Braxton runs away from school and hides out in a derelict public swimming baths called the Oracle. When he finds a naked women swimming in the pool he falls hopelessly in love and his life is changed forever.

Described  as 'a modern urban fairy tale' this is an unflinching and often disturbing look at the people who inhabit the mysterious world Arthur stumbles upon. It's not always an easy read, but you are rewarded with a deeply moving story of how love can redeem us all. The end of the story is a sublime piece of writing and had me blubbing like a good 'un.

It's worth noting that this has become the benchmark by which our book club rates our books. Since reading, we have referred back to it more than any of the others, and its lasting influence is a testament to the impact it had on us.

16181775The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Professor Don Tillman is a professor of genetics and leads a very ordered life and it soon becomes apparent to the reader that he's well advanced on the Asperger's scale. As he approaches his fortieth birthday, he decides it's time to look for a wife.

What follows is both genuinely funny and extremely moving. I loved it and by the end of the book I was more than a little bit in love with Prof Tillman :)

The Rosie Project is a very easy read, and hugely enjoyable.

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
Synopsis: Ben and Helen Armstead have reached breaking point. Once a privileged and loving couple, it takes just one afternoon - and a single act of recklessness - for Ben to deal the final blow to their marriage. Separated from her husband, Helen takes a job in PR and discovers she has a rare gift: she can convince arrogant men to admit their mistakes. But Helen finds that the capacity for forgiveness is far harder to apply to her personal one.

This was my least favourite of our book club choices. I had high hopes for it (Dee is a Pulitzer prize winner) but it all went right over my head. The characters weren't interesting or likeable, and I was still waiting for something to happen at the end. It didn't.  It was all a bit meh. 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Nick Dunne comes home from work on his 5th anniversary to find his wife Amy has disappeared. The police suspect Nick and their investigations reveal a side of Nick that he strenuously denies. But what has happened to Amy? And just what is Nick hiding?

Okay, so you've probably heard the hype about this book, after all it's one of the biggest selling books of the year and is about to be made into a film. But is it any good?

Well, yes it is. It's a cracking read and by the time I was halfway through I didn't want to put it down and I can't remember the last time that happened. But, but, but....the end of the book was not quite what I expected, although that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just that I loved the rest of it so much I would have preferred to have had a different conclusion. But yes, read it.

I read these books on holiday:

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron
I love anything by late, great Nora Ephron - films, books, articles, anything. I enjoyed her book I Feel Bad About My Neck so much that I decided to take this one on holiday with me.  I think it's fair to say she's more of a woman's writer but Ephron's style is so witty, so funny and so utterly charming that you'll be chuckling along whoever you are.  I loved this, and although it's funny it's made all the more poignant by the fact she wrote it when she knew she was dying. The last couple of pages are unbearably moving.

One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Rayner
An early morning commuter train, a man collapses, the train is stopped and an ambulance is called.  Karen, Anna and Lou, the main characters of this book are brought together by this one incident. How it affects their lives and their friendship is the focus of the book and the characters are likeable and real and you want to get to know them. 

I picked this up in a charity shop and thought it looked good, and I'm pleased to say my 75p was well spent. This was a great holiday book:  easy to read and very enjoyable.

The Bookman’s TaleThe Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett
I was sent this book to review by the publisher, Alma Books.

Peter Byerly is a young American antiquarian bookseller who relocates to England after the death of his wife. On a visit to a bookshop, he opens an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, and is shocked when a portrait of his wife tumbles out of its pages. The watercolour is clearly Victorian, yet the resemblance is uncanny and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins. As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

Part historical novel, part mystery story and part love story this book is quite an unusual read. I read it on the beach, which seems odd given it's romp through dusty books and historical characters. It's a very interesting book, and the author shifts smoothly between the three time periods and the characters and tells a very satisfying story with all the loose ends well tied. 

l'll be honest, there are so many names mentioned throughout the book (some real historical figures and other fictional ones) that I sometimes got a bit confused about who was who. But still, a very enjoyable read and what's more I have two copies to giveaway! Just leave a comment (with your twitter or email address) if you'd like a chance to win one and I'll pick two names when the draw closes next week on Wednesday 2nd October. Please check the terms and conditions for guidelines. Good luck!

Terms and conditions:  The draw will close at 8pm on Wednesday 2nd October 2013. UK entries only. There is no cash alternative and the prizes cannot be transferred. I will randomly select the winners from the entries provided and my decision is final. If the winners do not respond with their details within 7 days I reserve the right to select a new winner.