Fitness, Fortitude and the Periodic Table of the Elements (or how to get the perfect body with Gin)

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It’s a daily challenge. Showering yourself with enough love to negate the deficit created by your singledom. Who are all those people who write in to Steve Wright’s Sunday Love songs to declare their constantly growing affection? Has anyone REALLY got a partner who paints banners to hang from footbridges or sends flowers to work? I feel lucky if I get a bloody text containing more than 14 vowels.

I have decided throughout the week to be strong. To draw a line. To not allow myself to be the pet cat that got thrown out but is still available to slink around the ankles when circumstances allow. But, bloody hell, it’s hard being hard.  I’ve had to distract myself in a manner of ways.

Firstly, I thought I’d get fit. A few years ago I was finely honed rope of running gristle. I have a photograph where my head looks like a lollipop on the smallest body I’ve had since I was 11. My dad didn’t like it; my friends told me I needed to be careful. I took their advice. That was 2 stone ago. I dropped the running soon after Shocktober ’12 and the day that life imploded. There was nothing to run away from after all, all the shit had arrived. And, Lord knows, I have needed the red wine to get through. But now, I can spend my ‘free time’ (the hour or so I can squeeze out of the day if I speed read Billionaire Boy to one child and set the alarm for 6:30am so I can make the sandwiches in the dark morning kitchen) I can spend this time getting my bikini body back. As that’s obviously a massive priority in my champagne jet-set lifestyle. Those camping trips to Suffolk are just not the same without a chiselled egg-box of a midriff rippling away under the cagoule.

I chose a YouTube video called ’30 Minute Cardio Hell Hole’ or something like that and remembered where my lycra was. I didn’t bother with the sports bra, I gave that to my ex partner’s teenager when I realised that my once ‘Black and White French Art House Film’ minimal spiky runners’ breasts had slowly proved themselves into magnificent basins of dough.

Shall we just say that what then followed, tested both the foundations of this house, my relationship with the couple next door and my pelvic floor. It’s a marvellous thing to have a downstairs toilet. You can bounce off for an assessment service stop during all the 14 second power rests. Power rests. WTF?? Can I point out that jogging like a boxer is not ‘resting’ in my book.

Anyway. I felt great afterwards. Until the next day when I couldn’t even get my own shoes on.

Secondly, in my habit changing week, I read that red wine is very calorific. It is the same as eating a huge greasy fried donut every night. How can that be? it’s a see-through liquid. So unfair. But I’ve heard that Gin and Slimline Tonic is less lard-loading so obviously, I’ve invested heavily in this new way of losing weight. Thank you Aldi. I also bought a bountiful crop of sanitary products.

Oh My Bejesus. What is happening to my undercarriage? (look away now all men and all women under 43) Why the heck does it seem hell bent on creating a scene reminiscent of an 1980’s American Horror Film each month? I’m not changing my mind. I’m not having any more children. It does not need to put on a display worthy of Vegas to remind me of the fleeting fecund possibilities. It’s just a massive hassle. Super Plus? HAHAHAHHAHA. I laugh at your Super Plus. Make a new category. Call it ‘Taggart, There’s Been A Murder’ because that one line (in a Scottish accent – click here for the original) is all I keep saying as I try to deal with this crazy swan-song fountain that my muddled old body is so desperately proffering.

SO, the Gin is helping. It’s been a challenging week. I’m a bit up and down and up and DOWN and UPPPPPP. And I’ve told him to stop contacting me.


And I keep hoping he’s going to contact me.
Hang in there, Alice.




Keeping It Real. 5 Easy Ways to Balance Your Virtual Life (and your kids’)




It doesn’t take a genius to see the correlation between the rapidly increasing virtual nature of our lives and the disassociation, anxiety and difficulties with mental wellbeing that some of our young people are facing. There’s nothing we can do to halt the progress of amazing technology; it will continue be part of our lives and already it is integral to the lives of our children. What we can do, however, is wake up and see that the more that we rely on an interface or ‘cloud’ to provide our entertainment and interactions, the more that we are losing the part of us that makes us truly human – the part that needs to connect to other people and not just to flat glowing glass.

We are on the brink of a whole new era of virtual experiences with the launch of Google Expediations / 3D virtual headsets where you can strap your phone into a headset and experience 360° visual immersion to a host of places around the world and beyond. The idea is that you can now get a classroom of kids to wander along the edge of a volcano in Iceland and a second later you could be in an Indonesian Rainforest looking at primate life. You can go anywhere. You can ‘meet’ other people and ‘go’ with them. We are going to have to be very careful with this. How is anyone going to be content in their slightly damp terrace in Bognor, when they could ‘be’ wandering the boulevards of Cannes and ‘seeing’ the turquoise waters and fluttering palms. But as wonderful as it is, it’s not the truth. And as with all deception there will be a price to pay. And the price we are paying for this, right now, already, is an upcoming generation of people who are not able to deal with each other in a way that serves them well. They are unfulfilled on some level.

And I am suggesting that they need a few anchors, a few more ‘REAL’ experiences and things to touch, hold and feel that will help them to know that real life is real and real life really is better than anything offered on flat glass screen, stuff that will never really belong to them.

1) Write a letter to someone they love. We (well me, the over 40 generation…) we are the last generation of people who had to write on paper to each other. We didn’t have the internet, emails and Skype in our early years. This is why I still have a box of 136 letters from 1995 when I met my ex-husband and he was away gymnastics training in Germany. I still have them. I can still see his handwriting, touch the paper he touched in that studio flat in Heidenheim, and maybe share them with our children one day when they might want to believe that Mum and Dad did start out by seeing all that was wonderful in each other.halfwavinghalfdrowning

There’s an undeniable magic about finding a real letter on your door mat. It is a portal to someone else and it tells you that they have thought of nothing but you for the minutes it took to sit and write it. And post it. How flattering. How human.

2) Buy a photograph album. Go through your phone’s camera roll with the kids. Choose your favourites and get them printed. Make them real things that you can touch, turn the pages over. Take them to grandma’s and look through them together. Sit next to someone on sofa and share the photos. You will find that you chat, interact, laugh. You will have a totally different experience to the FB share experience. Plus you’ll know what to say if you have to answer that question about what you’d rescue in a fire.


3) Feel your music. Touch it. Show the kids a record player, a CD player. Go and find a friend who has a collection of music that you can touch, feel, sort through. Remind yourself, and the children, that once, when you owned an album, you owned it. You had it. You listened to all of it. Buy an old record player if you can, the kids will adore it. Buy weird vinyl from the charity shops. Get to the library for CDs. When your music is all in a cloud there is nothing you can touch, no covers to stroke, it’s not sensual in the way it used to be. Let the kids start collecting CDs. It’s cheap, charity shops have stacks.


4) Have a Pet. A real life to look after. Nothing virtual. Many good lessons for life here.

5) Have a few Games nights. I have to admit that I grew up with no culture of board games. I had enough brothers and sisters for 40/40, Murder In The Dark and 5 a-side so we didn’t really need them and we would definitely have lost all the pieces. But, there’s a recent resurgence in the board game market for a good reason and I’m getting on board. It’s about interaction, following rules, being fair, having fun, sharing, laughing, being a group. It needs no wifi. You can turn it off. Invite a few mates. Get your kids to invite a few. You will not regret it, it’ll be structured by the game and easy. Just get a few snacks in. I totally recommend DIXIT, I hadn’t seen it until this September but it’s brilliant. Creative, beautiful, inter-generational brilliant. It’s big in other countries; I’m amazed it’s not well known here too.

Please let me know what other ways you have found to get a bit of a balance between the virtual and the real. It’s a hugely important mental health issue as we whizz into this crazy future.

Alice x

Some Toys are Better than Others. Some Toys Have a Soul.

halfwavinghalfdrowningOn a personal level I’ve sometimes struggled with the Steiner world I have been immersed in for so much of my parenting life. At times it has felt as though my default choices would have been too crap, too ‘muggle’ and it’s really pissed me off. But like the wise old sage that I am, looking back I am able to say that some of the seemingly bonkers doctrine is possibly correct.

For those of you financially gifted with not having to live in Forest Row, York, Totnes or Kings Langley, you may not have heard of Steiner Schools. It’s an education system a bit similar to some Scandinavian countries where the onset of ‘formal’ learning, decoding abstract concept (ie reading and the use of mathematical symbols) is delayed until the age of 7. The idea is that play is the work of the small child and that being surrounded by natural materials is best for the growing brain. Before my ex-husband’s catastrophic stroke, he was a teacher in a Steiner School and because we had a HUGE fee reduction,  my children went to the school. Of course, the government’s benchmark EYFS targets are not met by children baking bread, learning seasonal songs and walking in the woods, so you have to go private if you’d rather that than phonics and numeracy targets for your 4 year old.

As Steiner parents, we were taught that toys held qualities beyond the immediately obvious. I already knew that Barbie = Bad and Guns = Awful, but what I found a touch mental there was that we were told that toys come with a heritage, a soul, a backstory, a weight.

Something stamped out of a mould in a plastics injection factory in China, and shoved, along with tens of thousands of identical items, into a crate by a shitly-paid minor to be transported to Argos will not, we were told, hold the same soul-connection for our children as a dolly or ball sewn by hand and filled with the love of a person who actually enjoyed its creation.

Don’t vomit. Bear with me. I too thought that this was the Nag Champa muddled propaganda of the wealthy leftie elite, but it has become the truth here in single-mother-disabled-ex-husband-no-money-skintasanything land where anything cheap is usually revered and the boiling of the kettle or flushing of a wee-only lavatory bowl is frowned at for economic reasons.

These dolls pictured, Rosie (whom we lost for 2 years in a box after the stroke and the subsequent 5 desperate survival house moves) and Ella  (bought as the replacement) have stood the test of time. They are so featureless that you can imagine onto their little blank faces whatever you feel yourself; they are always on your emotional plane.  They were made by a person with a needle, time and space to be able to care. They were not stamped out of toxic crap by an infant with a desperate life and filled with nothing but sadness to be shipped to you for a measley sum – a minute fraction of which would impact the child-  the lion’s share going to some shitty company board who have never even travelled to the sweaty tin box where the joyless rubber faces are spewed out of thundering machines.

The toys that are so fixed, so finished, that every plastic gesture is forever frozen can never be anything else. They can’t be transferred. A motorbike in miniature detail can’t be a skier, or a truck, a buggy, a stone, a King Wasp or a cake – it can only be a motorbike. Non-transferable and a touch cold because of it. A bag of large smooth stones is not only free, non toxic and without profit, but it is able to become anything. As the education guru Sir Ken Robinson points out, children are sadly taught ‘out’ of their imaginations, not ‘into’ them, so your tiny ones won’t dislike stones. They will use them in a thousand ways that you can’t even begin to imagine.

Christmas looms; some of my friends are already shopping. If you don’t have much money, I am in your club. I would really, really recommend a lean away from brash plastic battery-filled lounge litter (except Lego, that’s a brilliant product) and a little move towards a soul-filled thing. A dolly (and yes, small boys love them too, my son had Derek the doll) a play frame, a set of wooden blocks – check out the utterly beautiful Myriad online shop, I still stroke their catalogue just to remember those glorious perfect toy filled tiny days.

They are not cheap, toys with souls, but they will become part of your family in a way that Bratz dolls and Nerf Guns probably won’t. And the bonus? the stuff looks so beautiful that you won’t hide it behind the sofa in the evenings when your mates come over. You’ll arrange it and pretend you’re a Scandinavian Goddess mother. Well, that’s what I do.


I’ll leave you with a heartbreakingly beautiful tiny animation to show how the least toy-like toys were sometimes the most powerful symbols of a child’s need to play. The true work of a child.
Ella and some cakes. Or some jewels, or shoes, or bushes, or bees, or mountains…or friends…



The First and Last Foreign Holiday

The first and last foreign holiday

As we approach the influenza season and we all get excited about the joys of jetting off to places where you don’t need to constantly fear the crippling cost of, or argue over the specific setting of the central heating, I thought I would share a couple of snippets of wisdom gleaned from my recent winter family holiday to Lanzarote with my now almost ex-partner and our combined 5 children.
I shall pass on the lessons garnered on this first and probably last, important foreign holiday together:

1) Do not rely on your partner to wake up at the right time for your cheap early flight. Not unless you have specifically talked about it.
They may be relying on you to wake up at the right time.
Because neither of you have specifically talked about it.

2) Do not pay to park at Gatwick’s ‘Purple Parking’ if you live where we do.  It’s roughly the same distance from the departure hall as our house is. About a half hour drive.

3) If you are in a new relationship you may have a different surname to your children. Your children will have a different surname to your partner. He may have a different surname to his own children. You will have a different surname to him.
This can be confusing to check-in people before 7am.

3) When you have the peace and quiet to focus – at the point of booking the seven return flights- no matter what unearthly time that may be, just take a moment to read the actual information rather than totally high-fiving yourself over the price.
There is a reason why the price box on the timetable says £34.99 for a ticket to a sub tropical island off Africa’s West coast when an off-peak return train ticket from East Grinstead to Newcastle is £222.50
And it’s not only due to the time you’ve chosen to fly.
You have not paid for any bags. None. Not even the two massive ones you have just hauled onto the weighy belt thing.
You will now have to fill in a proper paper form with a real pen and pay £60.

4) When reaching security people generally don’t mind if you are desperate and you say you are going to miss your flight and you lift up the tape and queue jump ahead of them.
Unless there’s 7 of you. Then they get a bit angry. Especially when you drop your glass bottle of Rescue Remedy and it smashes right next to their Italian suede loafers.
**Oh God, you’ve dropped your Rescue Remedy**
And they are taking the 120ml of Mac foundation that costs £26 away from you.
And your partner has only seen you, thus far, in darkness without it.

5) No matter how busy you are with your actual normal life in the evening before the holiday flights, do not succumb to the temptation to allow your children pack their own hand luggage. You may find that your son has packed his small collection of antique brass bullets in your handbag. The scanning people don’t like this.

6 ) They also dislike the image of 5 glue-sticks in a row tucked into a small bag. Apparently they look like Semtex. My daughter thought we all might like to do some cutting and sticking. You will have to wait to talk to the floor manager. She doesn’t like light-hearted jokes loosely based on how you’re not actually a terrorist.

7) Remind your son that although his own family love him unconditionally, other people find it hard to listen to requests to go Go-Karting more than once every ten minutes.

8) Also, when booking a cheap flight be aware that the cheap flights often depart from a gate with a number so high that your youngest child may only ever have seen it written down when she found out what age Albus Dumbledore was.
This gate is situated through all the exciting, distracting, shiny shops and then over a bridge which seems only to have the Great Wall of China as a rival in length.
You must be good at running and have no pelvic floor weakness.

8) There will be those flat escalators available to mechanically propel you towards the far off end of the sky bridge, but please note that children running with loose shoe laces (as there was previously no time available to do them up) may find themselves being dragged by one leg into the thin black rubbery slit of the machinery while their siblings scream and / or laugh at them. Dealing with this will make you even later.

9) Throughout the flight remind your son that although his own family love him unconditionally, other people find it hard to listen to requests to go Go-Karting more than once every ten minutes.

10) Definitely pre-book a hire car if you need a 7 seater.

11) Remember that Google maps on your phone won’t necessarily tell you all you need to know about the one way systems in Playa Del Carmen. You may find that an image of your route would not be too dissimilar to the looping pattern made by the broken slinky you tried to untangle last week.

12) If your daughter says she feels sick, don’t ignore her.

13) Other children will refuse to sit on the seat which has been vomited on. Even if you had the wet wipes to deal with it. The refusals will last the full week.

14) Remind your son that although his own family love him unconditionally, even they are finding it hard to listen to requests to go Go-Karting more than once every ten minutes.

15) No matter how brilliant your 2 bed apartment is upon arrival, you may find some creative solutions need to be employed to ensure happiness and fairness among the 5 children. These solutions may result in you sharing a single mattress on the lounge floor with your partner.

16) Always check the proximity of A&E services when making that recommended trip to the isolated beach where no one else goes because it’s 3.5km down an unmade track. When your 15 year old bites straight through her own face in a body-surfing accident exactly 3 minutes after you have sat down for the first time on the beach, you may want to get back into the vehicle and proceed calmly there. Make sure you are firm about who is in the vomit seat this time.

17) Perhaps discuss what your joint ‘new family’ emergency strategies might look like before you need to put them into play. Finding out that one of you needs super quiet and calm while the other needs to whizz around taking immediate action isn’t always conducive to the most harmonious results in a car full of sandy wet children in an unknown location.

18) Remind your son that although his own family love him unconditionally, they will now kill him if they have to listen to a request to go Go-Karting.

But most important of all, enjoy your relaxing break away from it all!


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