Microwaves and Muddy Boots: 2013 365 Challenge #103

Muddy Boots

Muddy Boots

The children dragged me to the zoo today. I was like a small child when they chose it as their place to go, whining and looking for flaws in the plan:

Mummy: “Aw do we have to go? It’s raining.”

Kids: “We’ll wear our waterproofs.”

Mummy: “It’s cold.”

Kids: “Wear a jacket.”

Mummy: “We could go to the Farm.”

Kids: “We always go to the Farm.”

Mummy (in her head) Yes because it’s five miles away and serves great coffee. The Zoo is twenty miles away and serves UHT milk with its tea.

Watching the Servals

Watching the Servals

So in my new zen of organised calm I packed a picnic, sorted waterproofs, spare clothes, twenty pences for the sheep food, tissues for runny noses and a flask of hot tea. I’m so glad we went. It had mostly stopped raining by the time we arrived but the place was quiet considering it’s still the holidays – I guess because many were deterred by the weather.

It was cold.

Little man kept saying “I’ve got the shudders” (meaning he was shivering). In fact he was full of the horrors of being two today. After lunch, he zipped up his lunch box saying, “I had enough snack,” and then sobbed when I stood up, relieved I could finally go for a wee. “But my hungry,” he bawled as I dragged him to the portacabin containing the Ladies.

We had words.

"I sad cause my boots are muddy"

“I sad cause my boots are muddy”

In the end I gave in and got a fruit pouch out for him.

Then he kept sitting down on the floor in his dejected pose saying things like “I sad that you won’t help me jump,” or “I sad ’cause my boots are muddy.”

Even though it’s annoying, he’s so cute and so aware of his emotions I want to gobble him up in a muddy cuddle.

Little lady was quiet. When I got home she had a temperature so that explained her tears every time Aaron wouldn’t give her a cuddle. I worry about her feelings of rejection when her brother ignores her: it doesn’t bode well for the teenage years.

The only dark cloud on the day was reading an article about how harmful the microwave can be and how it kills the nutrients in food. As I heat the kids’ milk and steam their veg in the microwave it’s left me feeling a bit like a child killer. I really should stop reading such things! Relief came from a lovely friend of mine who regularly debunks the web-rumour posts that I suck in hook and line. Apparently the microwave one is no different, as to the specifics of the article I read (I don’t know about microwaves generally, just the ‘experiment’ in the article). It’s probably still a useful reminder to use the hob more than the microwave where possible.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Did you enjoy your cake? We need to head off now. We’re staying in Sheringham tonight and it’s a bit of a drive. We’ll stop off at Norwich to break the journey.”

Sky pulled a face. “Why do we have to move again? I hate being in the car all the time. You don’t even have a CD player. It’s boring.”

Claire curled her hands into fists beneath the table. “Sorry, Sky. I don’t know if your Mummy told you, but I’m working on an assignment at the moment. Even though it’s lovely looking after you, I still need to work. But don’t worry: as it’s the Easter Holidays I had to juggle accommodation a bit, and we’re staying at the next hostel for a few days.”

The little face hidden beneath wisps of blonde hair grew darker and a tiny rose-bud lip jutted out. Claire no longer found it cute. Searching her brain for memories of what Sheringham had to offer, she came up trumps. “It’s near the sea. If the weather is nice we’ll be able to go to the beach.”

The transformation was instant. Sky’s head rose and her eyes sparkled. “I’ve never been to the seaside. Will there be sand? Like at the big sandpit in the park? Can we make sandcastles?”

Claire had no idea if the beaches at Sheringham were sandy, or the pebbly sort she associated with the British coast. She was pretty sure it would be more impressive than any park sandpit, even if it was covered in seaweed and rocks. Either way, now was not the time for honesty. The café was crowded and so far they had managed to have their coffee and cake without any screaming or tantrums.

“Yes, Sky, I’m sure it’s a sandy beach. I will buy you a bucket and spade as soon as we get there. Now, what do you fancy doing in Norwich? We’ll get a late lunch, as I’m sure you’re all full of cake. Shall we have a look at the iPad and see if there’s anything interesting to do?” Clearly keeping you busy is the best way of ensuring a harmonious holiday.

Claire tapped some words into the iPad and looked at the results. “Castles. Gardens. Museums. Hmmm.” She tabbed over to the map and back to the search engine. Even with her head bent over the table she could sense Sky’s growing impatience. I really should have been more organised. I hadn’t realised Sky would need entertainment as well as accommodation. I’m sure when we were kids our parents chucked us out in the garden and left us to it. When we were home, that is. Maybe siblings are useful for something.

She glanced up at Sky and felt a wave of pity for the girl, who would probably never know the pleasure and pain of brothers and sisters. At least I can make sure these two weeks are fun. Besides, it’s all great stuff for the blog. Chucking yourself off the balcony at an English Heritage Castle is probably not what Coca Cola would want as High Adrenalin activity, but mentioning all these places should help my Google rankings.

Dropping her eyes to the screen again, Claire breathed a sigh of relief. “Right, Sky, change of plan. We’ll go via Great Yarmouth and you can see the sea before bedtime. There’s lots to do in Great Yarmouth. What’s it to be? Sea Life or Merrivale Model Village?”

Sky leaned over and stared at the iPad screen, absorbed in choosing their afternoon activity. Claire tried not to look at the entry prices, knowing Carl wouldn’t consider either one sufficiently exciting to claim on expenses. What do parents do when they have more than one child? I could go to Ragdale Spa for the cost of taking a family of five on a day trip. No wonder Ruth is always complaining about being skint. You’d have to be mad to have kids I reckon.


Sleepy day and Stone Heart: 2013 365 Challenge #95

A gripping tale after a slow start

A gripping tale after a slow start

I spent today – my first day without the kids in a week – stuck in bed with a poorly tummy. I think it was caused by dehydration from the wind and lack of water during my day out with the kids yesterday. I can be prone to dehydration, especially when I’m writing – forgetting to eat and drink because I’m so engrossed – and I end up with a twisted gut and a sore head. Or I might just have girl flu.

Whatever it was, it floored me. I slept until 2pm, after cobbling together yesterday’s rather rubbish Claire installment, then spent the afternoon engrossed in Stone Heart by Charlie Fletcher.

I initially stopped reading the book after the first couple of chapters, as I found the writing style opaque and overly-cryptic and the main protagonist unlikeable. But when I finished Shadow Forest I ran out of things to read and picked it up again. I’m glad I persisted. It is hard to read – especially for a children’s book – but the characters are endearing and develop beautifully. It’s always a challenge when a character starts out annoying and then grows throughout the book. They have to be annoying in order to have room to grow, but it’s hard to read through the early part when you just want to give them a slap.

It turns out there’s a sequel so I shall be looking for that next time I go to the library. So far it’s two out of two for my random charity shop purchases. Just the Wendy Holden to go.

I’m still feeling ropy so my Claire installment today is likely to be a bit shaky. I’m taking her to Hamerton Zoo – it’s near where she and Sky stayed last night and I should be able to write it without any research. Hopefully normal service will resume tomorrow, although I have an obscenely early kids party so will have to get the post written before bedtime!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire stared at the tiger. The massive white head faced away from her, as if ignoring her scrutiny. Then it swung round and seemed to acknowledge her gaze, before its flat eyes slid away and his attention moved on to the other side of the enclosure.

You poor old brute. What a life, sitting on a platform being watched by things you’d rather eat. Like sitting in a cake shop while the Belgium Buns take photographs. She shivered as the timeless eyes swung round to face her again. The tiger looked down his proud nose at Claire and stood, stretching like a domestic cat, before jumping silently off the platform to walk outside. On the far side of the enclosure Claire could see the orange tiger dozing in the sun. Between them was a giant red football. The sign said they spent hours knocking the ball to each other, but clearly not today. I’d give something to see that. I bet you do it when the zoo is closed right? Why perform for these strangers? You’d like us all to sod off, I bet.

“Auntie Claire?” A hand tugged at her jacket, reminding Claire she wasn’t at the zoo alone. Bugger. That’s going to take some getting used to. What if she’d wandered off, or been snatched, while I was communing with tigers? She turned and squatted down so her face was nearer Sky’s. “Yes poppet?”

“Can we go through the Tiger Tunnel? Can we, please?” She pointed through some pampas grass to a man-made tunnel that looked like it had been constructed from shipping containers.

“Sure, sweetheart. Although the tigers are here, darling.” She gestured to the specks of white and orange; all that could be seen of Blizzard and Lady-Belle.

“The map says there are sheep and goats through there though. And camels.”

Sheep and goats? We could have gone to a farm to see them, instead of this wind-swept, freezing zoo. Not camels, though, don’t remember seeing camels at any farm nearby. Claire stood up, ignoring the protesting creak in her knees and back. The hotel bed had done enough damage; she didn’t want to think about it anymore. Bad enough waking in a different bed to the one she’d gone to sleep in. As far as she could work out, Sky must have crawled in with her in the night and she’d crawled out the other side to sleep in the child’s bed.

I hope Musical Beds isn’t going to be a nightly occurrence. It’s hard enough dealing with all that chatter, without a head full of cotton wool and a broken and bruised body.

Claire let the girl drag her into the tunnel, which had been painted a vile sort of green with pictures to alleviate the metal expanse. They stopped at glass windows to search for Maned Wolves and more tigers but saw only scrubby grass and grey skies.

At the end of the tunnel, wooden gates opened into a small grassed area surrounded by animal enclosures: from reindeer on their right, past rheas, alpacas, sheep and goats, to camels far away to their left. They stood for a moment to get their bearings, when a flash of white and a bleating noise announced the arrival of a mob of miniature sheep, which flocked around their feet.

“Look, Claire, we can feed them. Can we, please?” Sky turned her sweetest smile on Claire and she nodded, pushing through the sheep to reach the food dispenser. As she inserted a twenty-pence piece and turned the dial, another flash of colour alerted her to new arrivals. Four short, fat, black goats came leaping across the grass and, before the food was even cupped in her hand, started jumping and head-butting her legs.

Sky shrieked, as the goats shoved her so hard she fell backwards into a muddy puddle. Oh great, Claire groaned. I hope there is somewhere here we can change. Though I don’t know what I’m going to change her into. What was Mum thinking, packing dresses and tights? Did she think we were only going to do little girl things, or did she hope rich Claire would take poor little Sky shopping? Claire swallowed the bitter taste in her mouth before reaching over to scoop her niece out of the gloop and onto a bench. She worried that Sky would shirk from the boisterous goats butting at her hands, demanding food. Instead the girl giggled with glee, seized the tiny horns and pushed the heads away.

Standing there, mud dripping from her pink dress and leggings, with her once-pink coat flapping in the arctic wind and her hair flying behind her in a stream of gold, she looked like a superhero, saving the world from vicious horned beasties. Claire felt a strange sensation in the pit of her tummy as she stood watching her niece. Something warm and almost maternal; something she didn’t remember feeling for another human being before. It felt like pride.


Saturday Every Day: 2013 365 Challenge #82

Mummy daughter craft

Mummy and daughter craft

It has been Saturday in our house for five months. Since hubbie was made redundant last October everyday has felt like the weekend. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes frustrating.

Today was one of the good days. Normally Friday is my day to take the kids to Play and Learn at the local primary school, followed by a trip to the library.

Well, I say normally but I’ve probably done it once this year. Instead I’ve been writing posts first thing and then we have done a different activity like the Farm or zoo. I deliberately finished yesterday’s post before bedtime so I could make up for weeks of being Crap Mum and be Supermummy today. I failed.

Ingenious creation of a caravan

Ingenious creation of a caravan

Before I even made it out of bed I read an email from a reviewer of DW, informing me of a typo on the first page, and it foolishly plunged me into the bog of eternal self-rebuke. Yes, typos happen but not on the first page and not in a self-pub with something to prove. I broke. Darling hubbie ended up with the kids while I cried and cleaned the kitchen floor: What else do you do in a crisis?

I took over at 10am and thought about doing the usual day trip, or even taking the kids to town to buy them new waterproofs, seeing as winter looks set to hang about for a while longer. But it’s Arctic outside today: any ideas of being outdoors vanished in a gust of snow when I poked my head out the front door.

I want this trailer when I go on holiday!

I want this trailer when I go on holiday!

So hubbie and I ended up doing Relay Parenting, as I like to call it. I took the baton until lunch, playing cars and taking the dinosaurs on holiday to a (quickly sketched on paper) seaside resort. Hubbie took them for afternoon milk and video while I snuck upstairs to read for an hour. Then we did Divide & Conquer: he took little one to the tip while I did craft with Amber.

I really enjoyed helping her make a paper shell necklace and an underwater scene complete with sock octopus (thank you Charlie & Lola magazine!)

It felt like a good day.

Until I told Amber how nice it was to do craft with her and it had been a while and she replied “because you’re always working mummy”.

Ah, hello Guilt. Do come in.


Youlgreave turned out to be a cheery little hostel with spacious rooms and a homely feel. The bunks had individual lights and Claire curled into the corner of hers as a mouse might his winter nest. She pulled a paperback from her bag – one of several she had treated herself to at Sheffield station – and let the world slide away.

After what felt like minutes, but was nearer to an hour, her phone chimed to say the sync was complete. Claire sighed and put down the book, her mind still caught up in a world of Games and tributes. She opened her email and scanned the list, hoping for nothing new. When she saw the email from Julia she had to stop herself launching her new phone out the window. I’d forgotten about the bloody challenges. Don’t let a mugging stop you Julia, you carry on regardless, heartless cow.

Reading the email, Claire felt her lungs fill with anger. Callous bitch.


I heard about the accident. If you will wander round like a hoyden, these things will happen. Carl said if anything was stolen you will need to claim on your own insurance due to the event occurring outside office hours.

Please find below your task for this week. As you only saw fit to undertake one activity from my previous list I have not researched any more than this.

Your next assignment will be sent on Thursday owing to the office being closed for the Easter weekend. Carl asked me to inform you that you are still expected to stay in hostels over the bank holiday.



Claire didn’t need to open the link to discover what Julia’s maliciousness had concocted for her. The bitch knows I’m scared of heights. Hang-gliding? She has to be kidding. I’m almost impressed that they want me to resign this badly. Well, tough.

She laughed, her eyes crinkling in mischief. Pulling out an envelope from her bag she retrieved the letter inside and smoothed it flat, before taking a picture with the iPad.

Dear Julia

Please find attached the Doctor’s Note I received, following the severe physical attack I suffered while working for your organisation. I have been advised to avoid any activity which may result in a worsening of my condition. I am sorry to inform you that I am certain Hang-Gliding will fall under that category.

I will notify you when the doctor deems me fit for physical exertion. Until then I will continue in my assignment to the best of my ability.

Kindest regards


Claire stroked the Doctor’s Note before slotting it into the back of her paperback. Best forty-pounds ever spent. Then she tucked her phone and tablet back into her rucksack and curled up in the corner of her bunk, feeling as if she had done Katniss proud in her skirmish with Julia.


Puddle Jumping and Muddy Monsters: 2013 365 Challenge #48

New Olympic Sport - Long Puddle Jump

New Olympic Sport – Long Puddle Jump

The sun made a rare appearance today so, despite having zero energy left after a four-hour Farm visit yesterday, I took the kids to our local zoo while Daddy did DIY. Hamerton Zoo is one of the three or four places we have an annual pass to and it has been worth every penny. I thought the kids would lose interest but not only do different animals make an appearance each time we go the place also has something I hadn’t counted on. Puddles.

After the failed dog-walk yesterday, when little man fell in a puddle and cried all the way home, Daddy promised puddle-jumping today (I blame Peppa Pig) and puddle jumping is what they did. I often think that’s the main reason why they love going to the zoo. I could save myself an hour of driving and just fill the bath with mud, except I love seeing the animals. And there are no puddles like the ones created by a wide open space, poor drainage and major footfall.

Peppa Pig has a lot to answer for...

Peppa Pig has a lot to answer for…

It takes some effort to let the kids get as filthy as they did today. I don’t mind getting muddy if I’m wearing the right gear but I hate wearing waterproofs so my main aim is generally to stay away from the kids and watch from a distance when they’re top-to-top in slurry. I amuse myself by seeing the horrified look on other parents’ faces as their kids want to do what mine are doing. I feel a little bit guilty at the bad example mine set but not when I see someone bring their kid to the zoo in white trainers. I mean, really?

My job is to tell the kids to stay away from other people and occasionally to referee. I cheer from the sidelines with wetwipes and a change of clothes, although today nothing but a full bath the minute we got home would do. Today I amused myself trying to get action shots with Amber’s little camera.

My muddy monsters (picture does not do them justice!)

My muddy monsters (picture does not do them justice!)

It definitely feels like a parenting box ticked and it was a gorgeous sunny day to stand around supping flask-tea while they invented a new Olympic Sport – the Long Puddle Jump.

The chocolate cake in the coffee shop is pretty good too.

As I’ve already written one Claire post from scratch today (albeit a short one) I’m struggling for ideas and words. The combination of a glass of wine and three hours on my feet means I’m more fit for bed than creativity. Hmmm might be another short one today!


Claire walked up to the building and felt the dark mood of the day soar away with the retreating birds. The structure in front of her reared magnificently, every inch a five-star hotel. The whitewashed walls stood proud behind an ornate veranda and when she turned to survey the view her gaze ran down verdant lawn, over woodland thicket and across rolling hills. The house nestled amidst a backdrop of trees: some still resplendent in their evergreen glory, some eagerly awaiting the dressmaker of spring.

Hitching the rucksack further up her shoulder Claire entered the building hoping the interior lived up to first impressions.

Inside, the late evening light poured in through a cupola above the main staircase. Craning her neck to take in the detail Claire decided it wouldn’t look out of place in a Hello Magazine spread extolling the extravagant pads of the rich and famous.

At last, some glamour.

Claire smiled and sighed, releasing the tension that had built up over the long long day. I can’t believe it was only a few hours ago that I was swinging through the trees like some poorly trained circus ape. She felt as if she might have aged a decade since the morning.

Claire followed directions to her private room: she had gone over her daily allowance to book it but, for once, it wasn’t because she wanted the privacy. After the rollercoaster day she would have welcomed the company of a dorm room but there hadn’t been any available. It seemed decadent to rattle round a three-bed room but, as her main intentions were food and sleep, it wasn’t like to be an issue for long.

The grandeur ebbed slightly as she entered the depths of the main house. Unlike some of the places she had stayed in thus far, this hostel seemed faded and in need of some love. At last she inserted the key and opened the door to her room.

“Blimey, what’s that awful smell?”

Claire looked round the room. It seemed okay, wooden bunks, great view. The odd lingering smell was indefinable. A quick spritz of perfume will soon mask that. She looked round again. Where’s the bathroom? Her expectations of an en-suite had been set by previous experience. I have a private room and I still have to go in hunt of the shower? Great. I guess this is more the hostelling I expected when I started. Carl would grin from ear to ear if he could see it.

Through the fading twilight Claire could make out a lake in the distance as she peered through the Georgian window. It’s going to have to wait until tomorrow. I’m too tired to see what delights Hawkshead has to offer. I’m not even sure I’m going to make it to the restaurant.

Slinging her rucksack in the corner Claire bounced on the beds to find the most comfortable one, lay down and was almost instantly asleep.