Sunday, 16 February 2020

UNFAIR

Hands up a writer who has always been treated fairly and with respect? I said hands up? Oh that's right - there are none.

This is a blog I have long put off writing because I felt like 1. Don't be a moany bitch and 2. It is just how it is - SUCK IT UP.

No longer. I'm enraged. So much so I shouldn't be writing this. But it's time people were held accountable for their actions. On Friday - during my counselling course I talked about why my job makes me miserable at times. We - my trainee counsellor and I - worked through why I feel so alive and happy in writers' rooms and why I feel so miserable and alone when I get notes. It is simply this - because when I get notes I have no voice. I am expected to do as I am told or risk losing my job. So we keep quiet, we don't rock boats because the first person to lose out is US.

You don't think that happens? Let me tell you a story....

A few summers ago I was working on a show where from the very start I explained the story in my ep didn't work. The way they wanted to tell it gave no decent character arc and was just bizarre. I said this over and over at every draft and we went from pillar to post on this ep. I went to the director's meeting and we didn't EVEN OPEN MY SCRIPT.  (This is a meeting where normally you just chat through the ep with all involved and cross your 't's and dot your 'i's). The Exec boss lay back, kicked his feet up on the desk and said 'I think we've missed a trick. Let's have XYZ.' Which was what I had said ALL ALONG. The then series producer (who in my mind should have been the exec of the show) looked at me palms in the air - as if to say, I know, I'm sorry. It meant an entire re-write of the A and B stories - within 48 hours. Because a man couldn't make up his mind. I did it of course, but I complained to my agent and he asked for a re-brief fee. From that moment on - according to an insider on the show: CM your card was marked.'

The following year - I do another ep and low and behold - we go round in merry circles on a story again. I have to park the grief of my step-sister dying to adhere to their schedule. Just before half term with my kids I get 10 pages of notes - a B story entirely to be re-written. (As an aside this was because the Exec producer didn't want to clear all the music in the story - my question: then why have a story that is a singing competition if you don't want to have to deal with music compliance??). The replacement story was one an assistant came up with in ten minutes. I slave over this all week. But guess what? There was a crucial factor I was unaware of at the time:  The story hadn't been cleared by the big wig producer. It would NEVER have worked - because it featured the same two lead characters in the previous ep.  I did not know this. Did anyone hold their hand up and say 'oh sorry we got you to waste your time for a whole week working on a story that was NEVER going to fly?' Nope! So I go the director's meeting where we all sit round discussing my script and I fight for my story - like an idiot. A total fool. It was never going to be used anyway. I keep thinking - this is my fault. I am a shit writer and this is shit because of me. I get told - with 24 hours to go - to re-write it all again.  A total new story. I (now know) a direct quote that the Exec producer said to staff: 'She will not be getting the money again like last year.' He rang me and basically told me that if I didn't do their new story they would take the script 'in house.'  (This means they get someone else to write it meaning you lose your credit on the show and potential earnings).  Blackmail.  No apology for the mess up, no sense that if he had done his job correctly and focused on the script and not led me a merry dance just because he could - we wouldn't be here. So I did it. I worked my ass off on this - due to their mistake - and I didn't ask for a penny more. The Exec producer gallingly said 'we've not wasted time.' Really? What do you think I've been doing for 3 months - pissing in the wind???

By the end of this I felt utterly burnt out. I was depressed, grieving, devastated that no-one was sticking up for me - that I was labelled as 'trouble' just because I wondered why my story was being up-ended. I lost my voice. Speaking up for myself - and asking WHY ARE WE DOING THIS - had left me pegged as a person who didn't just take the notes and silently suffer. Only because one kind person decided to tell me the truth of what went on in the background did I get through this time.

I thought about giving up writing. I felt so so gutted to have gone from being one of the first writers they called to work on the show to being someone they would probably never work with again. I couldn't sleep. I suffered with anxiety. I thought: if I lose this job - where will the next one come from? People forget that we are all human beings - we aren't machines just churning out words. We take our work and writing personally - and it is hard to divorce yourself from criticism - even if notes are just 'suggestions.'  In the end, I realised that  I would NEVER work with this Exec producer again - even if they asked me. It simply wasn't worth it. So he fails at his job and yet is still in it. Me? I never heard from them again... You tell me - is that fair? Oh and I quizzed other writers on the show and at least 3 had similar experiences to me....

And this is just one story I have. I know so many more from so many other writers. Invited to story conferences only to be binned the week after. Promised anther episode and then their calls not returned. Axed mid draft even though the previous drafts went well. Axed with no warning. Scripts polished by another writer despite having been on a show for 20 years. After writing on a show for 20 years axed midway through their very last episode. No thank you gift or card for their 2 decades worth of work. Bullying notes from big wigs above - that don't actually make sense (some are just frustrated wannabe writers who don't have the balls to do it themselves). Re-written because the show runner's ego is so great they want to write every ep of the show giving  no one else a voice. Going to pitch an idea at an Indie to having it stolen by said Indie. Having your idea stolen - even when you are a successful writer. I know of one female producer that has so far stolen 3 projects from writers. She is still working. Lauded even. Given notes at 5pm on a Friday as the script ed dashes off leaving you a weekend to solve all the problems - alone. Being scared to voice an opinion because when you do you will be seen as trouble and you will be axed. Ask any writer have they had a bad experience and they will give you TEN.

Yesterday chatting to a good friend who is a writer - he described the job as feeling bi-polar.  One minute you get a great commission - the next ten pages of notes basically saying: give up and start again. He said something so true: when we get rejected, or taken off scripts, or re-written or umpteen pages of brutal contradictory notes - we simply have to pick ourselves up and still have faith in ourselves. We have to show such resilience. There is no other industry where I know the worker is punished for speaking out or for simply asking to be treated fairly.

So as I read about tragic cases of people feeling so alone they take their lives - which in the public eye is a whole other world of pain and intrusion - I think of all the writers I know who sit alone over their laptops and have to find resilience when they feel like they are on the floor. It is time writers were treated better. It is time they were treated fairly. It costs nothing to take responsibility for your own mistakes, to support someone who essentially works alone and to show kindness.

As a postscript I'd add that I'm desperately lucky too: I worked with incredible people on a soap for 5 years who I loved; I've brilliant supportive agents and I'm currently working with the best folk of my life. I've got mentors to turn to and fellow writers who are utter legends and are there to pick me up when I am down. For those folk I'm eternally grateful. Without them, I'd be doing something else...







Monday, 10 February 2020

Reasons not to have a midlife crisis:

1.  It means you are admitting to being middle aged - which in itself is basic.

2. Because it's all so fucking cliched isn't it? I mean - what is so wrong with being middle aged? OF COURSE we all wish we were 24 again and romancing Timothee Chalamet - (as an aside - THIS article on his Oscar look is EVERYTHING) but in reality - your 20s sucked. You were only getting going on the career ladder, no one took you seriously; you met people at parties and discussed The Power of Now or whatever self-help book you were reading at the time and thought you sounded deep; you had dates with all the wrong boys that you were so sure were right and you paid a fortune in rent. You shared houses or flats with people who left plates in their beds and blocked the toilet and who had loud sex with men they had met that very evening and you panicked they would bring crabs to the house...  Also - friendships were torturous as everyone paired off and started inviting you to their weddings and you had to have lots of wedding outfits - most of which lasted longer than the date you brought to the said wedding. Remember - was it fun? YES - but you were so busy worrying about money/boys/career that you forgot to have fun. so no - not that much fun.

3. The grass my friend - it aint greener. It looks it. Oh yes that grass, it looks sexy and lush and wouldn't it be nice to lie on that grass and roll down that hill and just stroke it? But then, that grass would also get old and wither and start nagging you to cut it and all of a sudden you realise - SHIT - I have the same grass I had before - and I thought this grass it was all new and exciting. It is. Until it isn't.

4. There was a time dancing on the tables looked hot. That time was 1997. Just stop it.

5. You know what is so great about middle age - NOT CARING what people think. Because firstly - you can't see their facial expressions without your glasses ANYWAY and secondly - it feels so great to be YOU and be alive. Because lots aren't. So just being alive is pretty bloody great.

6. Getting a dog is the best way ever to have a mid life crisis gracefully. A new child that doesn't involve heavy sanitary pads, leaking breasts and stretch marks.

7. That ex that you think you should still be with? Get a grip. For example -  I think back to my first love. He was great. I mean the best - what was not to love about running off to Berlin aged 17 and being shown the broken down wall, the frothing beers, the cool night clubs, the funky flea markets and the candle-lit smoky restaurants? I was in awe. I still thank my lucky stars that I had all that - but would this work in my life today? Not a snowball's chance in hell because I am no longer 17. I am twice that and then some. What rocked my boat then isn't going to rock my boat now - and things end for a reason. Meanwhile 3 of my exes are dead. Perhaps I am the black widow... One died of a horrible cancer, one drowned in a boating accident and one from alcohol related illness. So frankly if your lips locked mine - get a health check. Or write a will....

8. Because the best is yet to come. Over Christmas a friend told me that her parents said - if you just get through this sticky phase when your parents get old, your kids become teens and work is FULL ON - then you hit a glorious sweet spot when your kids all leave home and you and your spouse get to gad about and become young lovers all over again. I can't wait. Husband doesn't know it yet but I plan on a trip across the USA and learning the tango and going to Paris for lunch. Because we can. There are adventures to be had. I intend to have them.

9. Because all that marathon running and tough muddering is just running away from the inevitable. We all die. We do. It's shit and often painful and shocking - but we have to do it. So why run? Why not sit down, turn your face towards the sun and eat the goddamn cake?

10. Next week I am going with my good friend M to see all 3 of the Before trilogy films. Sunset, Sunrise and Midnight. I feel like I grew up with them - I was at college or roughly there for Sunset, older but pre kids for Sunrise and married with kids for Midnight. I related to them all hugely. I know I will cry because I am no longer the girl that will tell her funny stories to to a boy walking through Vienna.... It is SO intoxicating to be seen as witty and alluring - and so freakin' alive! But I was that girl -  no wait,  I am that girl - and my husband - he still likes my stories (even though he tells me to 'focus' and 'what is the point of this story?' and 'does it have an ending?'). So - as wonderful as it was to be those ages and to have those moments - I'm also really grateful to be here - where I am now. I wish I could tell my 20 year old self - it will be ok. It really will. Oh and you will have the best children in the world - beyond your wildest dreams.

If Gwyneth Paltrow can be excited about her 50s, then hell, so can I. I mean our lives are so similar. Except I don't steam my vagina. (Yet). Last night I booked a trip to Amsterdam with one of my dearest mates for her 50th this August. I'm getting a dog. I'm still getting in cold water every weekend. My chest still stands up without a bra. I mean - what more can I ask for? I aint rich, but I do what I love and I'm also studying to keep my brain active and my options open. I'm working with the best people I have ever had the good fortune to meet/work with and I feel more passionately than ever that women in their mid life need to be seen. Hey, I don't get cat-called in the street any more, I definitely do not turn heads - but I'm still able to throw on lipstick look at myself in the mirror and say - you still know how to have fun. Just wait for my 50th my dear mates - because I am planning it already. Yes, it involves costumes. You may have to come as a movie character. You have 3 years to prepare. So you have no excuse.

So my advice - that you didn't ask for? Ditch the mid life crisis. Look at what you have rather than what you have not. Celebrate all you have learnt. Make a fun plan. Get a tattoo. Buy those crazy trainers. Have those impossible dreams. Make that Old Fashioned. Because it is still all for the taking - and we are all still young. Hashtag - still got it. Hell YES.







Friday, 27 December 2019

Goodbye 2019

And so we put 2019 to bed....

Last night we played musical beds. (Standard in CM house). Husband has the worst cold ever and my daughter is also getting over a cough so we quarantined them to our room. My Mum in the guest room. My son in his cabin bed. I slept in my 9 year old's bedroom and I lay there and gazed at her spanking new desk, her football trophies, her abundance of stuffed animals and I wished so hard that life could stay this sweet. Soon this will all go and be replaced with cool teenage stuff and I will forever mourn her simple, colourful, 'optimistic outlook' (yes that this what the colour is called - it is VERY optimistic and aqua) painted room.

More than ever I try and hold time. Grateful for every day here. How can we be seeing in 2020? I mean, isn't it like 2003 or something? I CAN'T be THAT OLD. So as I say goodbye to 2019 as usual I wanted to mull over the year - what I have learnt, what I have lost, what I have loved, what I have achieved. Because isn't that the point of the end of year interminable days between Xmas and New years - to look back and then wipe that slate clean; new year, new you and all that jazz?

So how was it? I'm not gonna lie - February was brutal. I have never known a more painful time. I've used the trios we do at college as therapy to overcome the after affects and I'm emerging stronger now, if somewhat bruised. When someone your age dies, it feels like the world has got the order wrong. How can someone so young, so full of life, suddenly be gone? Death leaves behind unanswered questions, unspoken ties broken and yet we must pick up the pieces and move on. At college I was told a phrase: 'We are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, a new found love, or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we, that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are forever.'

Ok, I'll get more cheery. Bear with me. Then came house refurb and I GROSSLY underestimated how much head space that took up. Having been dicked around about work - I found I had time on my hands and looking back - I am SO grateful I had it. My 'house ideas' book looked like the one the killer scribbles all over in Se7en. Insane amount of planning and choosing and oh my god, I LIVED on eBay. I have never known such a thrill - sourcing items from all over the place. Cinema chairs from here, old cabinet to put the sink on from there, old puffer fish light fitting from a miserable woman in Surrey. Days went by in a flash, finding ovens, taps, fridges etc. We only moved out for a mere 3.5 weeks and when we returned, upstairs had been completely gutted and everywhere was filled with rubble and dust. I couldn't breathe; I hated walking over the uneven floors and I dreamt of carpet on a nightly basis. Somehow, when we painted the WHOLE house ourselves (4 coats baby!) it started to come together. People kept saying how I must be loving it - when all I could think was - this is HELL. Until the floors came and then carpet and finally the kitchen doors were made and in and suddenly, it was done. I sat back and loved my home. All that sweat and OCD fixation on detail was worth it. I cried when my builders left - because I missed them. Paul, Gary, James, Darryl and Jack were the highlights of my year. Gary - a carpenter genius, helped me solve every problem and had the best design ideas I could have dreamt of. James and I chatted Love Island every day. Darryl asked me: 'any jobs you need doing?' Heaven. If you want details: Paul Hobbs builders. THE BEST.

Then summer was over and yet my outdoor swimming continued - albeit without my wetsuit.  ( Due to a mere 15 litres of paint spilling in our car - thanks Selco - and all over said wetsuit). It was easily the best bit of my year. Total bliss. I have never known such joy as getting into 6 degree water. The water stings, my shoulders ache, my feet are blocks of ice and then... its wonderful. Afterwards, my body feels like it has been through an epidural and I can't feel my feet for about 2 hours, but it is honestly worth it. On reflection this year has really been about embracing difficulties until out of the blue, they become inexplicably wonderful. Thank you Katy for being my swim partner in crime - the sight of you in a bobble hat swimming towards swans shouting FUCKKKKKKKKKKK - This is NOT EVEN FUNNY - still makes me smile.

My son became a teenager and I attended a 50th the same weekend. To combat the feeling of being wildly over the hill, I bonded with the Uni students serving drinks and discussed their love lives - me being all down with the kids and that. Until their free-pouring meant the only thing I was down with, was falling into a privet hedge and flailing like a beetle until I was rescued and poured into a cab by my tolerant husband.

I found that the best pleasure in life is a dog walk. So, after promising our daughter we would get a dog: 'when we move house; when we get planning; after the refurb is done;' we have run out of excuses and our first purchase of 2020 will be a fox red lab.... Stay tuned for the woman who has never had a dog - surviving puppy school....

College: just a joy. We studied all the theories of counselling and I got to learn what a total feck-up I am... before you laugh - er, so are you. We all are. That's what makes people fascinating. I learned why I behave as I do; why it is ok to let people go from your life if they are not supportive and true friends; what narcissists really are; Freud's theories; attachment theories; transactional analysis; Drivers (mine: being perfect); CBT and NATs; Carl Rogers' theories; Erikson's life stages and the triangle of insight. I love love love it. Not so much the studying, but the privilege of hearing other people's stories and working out why they behave as they do. The best thing about my course is that not only do you have to do the work - essays, presentations etc - but you have to do the work ON YOU. I leave class every week thinking 'how am I fucking up my children on a daily basis?' In one journal I wrote about conquering my OCD then realised I had spent the morning tidying the house rom top to bottom before writing. As I said, I'm a work in progress...

What else? Oh yes, I learnt to say NO. I'll never work again for producers that treat you like a dancing monkey. If you screw up and send a writer the wrong story, and they spend their entire half term neglecting their kids to write a new version - only for it to be a total waste of time as it is the wrong version - then admit your mistake! I'm not prepared any more to spend my days going in circles; being treated badly and for it to be seen as acceptable. There is something very 'bad boyfriend I can't quit' about various aspects of writing - and frankly, I'd rather stack shelves at Waitrose than have to put up with it. I may end up poor, but I'll be emotionally richer and for me, that's more important. But the projects planned in 2020 are my most favourite-is yet so here's hoping they go well.

So as I move into this new decade, I think my new mantra is about simplicity. Getting outdoors and into cold water. Eating well and getting sleep. Caring about the planet and about each other. Yes, I am a becoming a bloody hippy... But truly, a little kindness goes a long way. So my aim for this decade, is just to be here as we approach the next one. (DV).

To those that still dip in here to CM - I send love and thanks. I wish you all peace, health and happiness in 2020. Make it count. Keep her lit!

Love CM xx




Tuesday, 3 December 2019

The Alternative (cheaper) Gift Guide

So it's here. My mucker Jason Yarrow has called it - and we are in Christmas  2019 build up. It's unavoidable: the John Lewis advert, the school Xmas fair, Waitrose shelves threatening to topple with the sheer weight of Panattones...  Call me Scrooge if you must - but the whole enforced festivities have me running to the hills. As if the end of year wasn't stressful enough, without all this mad consumerism and sudden rush to see EVERYONE YOU HAVE EVER KNOWN because dear god if you don't, you may Cinders like, disappear by the stroke of NYE midnight...




As an aside, I ended up accidently in Westfield the other week - don't ask, but it involved taking my Mum to see Loose Women. (Bonus - I did see Gareth Thomas speak and he is simply a hero - anyway, I digress). It was horrific - everything wrong in the world in one giant throbbing over-lit overpriced nightmare. I'd rather have a smear test every day for the rest of my life than enter it again...



So, with all this bah humbugness, what gifts do I suggest dear reader?

Firstly, I'll admit - I do love a good gift guide. The Spike is a goody (and not extortionate) and I also love to check in to Goopy Gwyneth's because - shock - I do think she has a sense of humour -  suggesting a trip to space, a joint roller and a brass fire extinguisher all on the same page. But in all this gift giving malarky - have we lost sight of what Xmas is all about? A friend who came for dinner on Friday said 'aren't you tired of stuff?' I couldn't agree more...

This year I had to pack up my entire house, shove it into a non-water tight shed and one room while the rest was demolished/gutted/refurbed. It gave me that wonderful opportunity of a massive clear out and frankly it was thrilling.  I did a LOT of Marie Kondo-ing: 'does this bring me joy?' Bad bits: how on earth did I ever fit into my wedding dress?? (The skirt had gone mouldy, out it went. Corset - made clearly for a tiny fairy - stayed). Good bits: I found cards from my recently deceased step-sister that made me weep....  Anyway, it made me see how much we accumulate and how much we really need. I spent '95-'96 travelling the world with a backpack and it proved to me how we can survive with so much less than we think we need. Buddhist monks are allowed just 8 items and I think they have a point. Have a clear out, donate items to charity instead of putting them all on Ebay. When someone finds that bizarre hand-mirror with lights that show up spots coming a month from now or that kite you never got round to using but have had since you were 8, you will make their day...

So what can you give at Xmas? Well for one thing - your time. Who wouldn't want someone to offer to babysit their kids/ clean their car/ cook a meal/ house sit/ walk the dog? Or sign up to help the homeless this Xmas - Crisis are always looking for volunteers, or you can donate. I know someone who does this every single Christmas and she told me it can change a person's life completely, to just be treated with respect and comfort at such a vulnerable time of the year.




One of the most beautiful Xmas gifts I ever was given was a white box, with pretty cloth red ribbon containing home-made meringues. Now sadly I cannot bake (here are some ideas if you can) - but anything home-made is a winner this Xmas. I plan to make a wreath with my daughter, using foliage in the garden and then give it to my dear neighbour.  Here is a wreath making guide - it is honestly simple. You can get the base on ebay for a mere £3, some twine £2 and then get thee to a forest, Chop some ferns and holly and maybe get the odd ribbon or pine cone and you are away!



Another idea is to get a photo framed that means something to the person you love. One year I gave my Mum a framed pic of her with my then one year old son and she wept. All our best moments seem to be stored on a phone or some USB stick. Get them out - remember a moment. Live it all again.



Ok a favourite of mine - BOOKS. Don't even think about going into a bookshop unless it is an independent like the gorgeous one in West Hampstead. You can always pop into an Oxfam bookshop and buy some gems - giving to charity at the same time. I have never, ever been upset to get a book, no matter old, new dogeared, doodled upon. I won't try to suggest any because we all have different tastes - but an old favourite of mine is : She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. I also love a book called  'Surviving Survival' about the human spirit and what we can endure, when we have survived the worst that can be thrown at us... Every year an old school chum of mine Gareth reads A Christmas Carol. Inspired by him, I read it on Sunday. If it doesn't have you feeling festive - I don't know what will. Buy an old copy of it, add a bottle of wine/port and who won't love that as a gift?

Socks. I know I know, not the most exciting - but our washing machine eats the feckers, so we are always desperate for them. I also love to skulk around working from home in these beauties - cheap as chips - from Decathalon.



There is a not a woman alive that I know, that hates getting a candle. These from Jo Malone are spenny but support charities.  (Look on google for more charity candles... there are tonnes).



Talking of charities, Choose Love is solely to help Refugees - so buying from them, you really are buying someone hot food, basic sanitary goods or even a tent to shelter in. Well worth supporting... It's a difficult time of year to know which charity to support - we all have lost someone to cancer, we all see the homeless on the short walk from Euston to Kings Cross, we all watch the adverts where children are dying because they have no fresh water to drink. Ask someone to donate to one, instead of gifting you something you don't need. Do you really need another perfume/pair of shoes/dodgy blusher?

On to lighter subjects -  I googled 'cheap gifts' and this came up. Lord.



You may wonder what I'm asking for this xmas - a pair of gloves. That's it. Gloves that mean I can get into 7 degree water every Saturday without feeling like my hands have been cut off. Of course I'd love a Dry Robe - but they are pricey...  And it feels against my rule of: NO MORE STUFF. But it is like a big blanket and when you swim in icy waters it is SO BRRRRRRRRRRRR. Step away CM - Xmas isn't about YOU.


For me, Xmas is about food, family and fun. With that in mind, I bring you the tasty treats that any living soul would appreciate at Xmas:

1. M and S shortbread. It is a fiver folks and it is is HEAVEN. Heaven I tell you. I've already chomped through one and have hidden one at the back of the tall cupboard. If anyone in my family sniffs it before Xmas I will murder them.

2.  I LOVE these hibiscus flowers. Under a tenner and make all festive fizz fabulous. Just drop one in and watch it flower...



3. How can you not love Lindor?  Call me a basic bitch if you will, but who is laughing as they chomp down on those on Xmas morning? Or a toblerone. Always a toblerone.

4. Get thee to Aldi and get these beauties: THE best cracker ever. You can thank me on Boxing Day.  While I'm on Aldi - their London Gin, according to my husband, who knows his shit about liquor - is as good as Tanquery he reckons and a mere £14.



5. Let me say it here - 2020 is the year of the Toastie. My kids love my old Breville Daisy toaster - not sure you can still buy it... But there is a Breville here for £21... A toastie solves all hangovers. Or, if everyone is starving and you cannot be arsed to cook - a toastie. Seriously. Get amongst it.



6. Cheese. The best bit of Xmas, I find, is the cheeseboard. Just as you feel ruined by a dinner and worried that you will spend the rest of your life python like, unable to digest the bugger, out comes the cheese board. Suddenly you jump up, ready for all the festive 'games' and eating like you have never seen food. No cheeseboard is complete without Comte, an overripe Brie, Goats (Chèvre Blanc), an Epoisse, Blue stilton, Manchego, Morbier and Wensleydale with cranberries... You will need some decent crackers (YES to digestives in case you were wondering) and quince. And a shed load of gaviscon no doubt...



7. Finally booze. No Xmas should be without it, unless you abstain. In which case I salute you. It takes the edge off all that 'family bonding time' with people you avoid all year. I myself see it as an excuse to indulge in an old fashioned, (my fav drink) and so for me, you can't go wrong with a bottle of Woodforde bourbon. Husband always gets this for me, then drinks most of it  - so I am certain he owes me one already from last year.  Aldi do a fabulous Prosecco - if you don't believe me here is one review - and I have read more... Eco friendly to boot.  Port is a must. I think this is an epically good one.  Or M and S do a half decent one and it is always on offer (at least every time I go in I get offered a thimble full - which is a winter warmer I always appreciate). I always think a festive tipple is in store, if like me you are hosting a few for drinks on Xmas morning...  I am debating expresso martinis (yum) or fizz with any of these . Here are some suggestions to mull on...

So that's it. If you don't have the time to make stuff - I've been there (full time job at Enders, 2 small kids and 13 Babble articles to write meant I didn't have time to pee back in the day) - then gifts I also think are fabulous are - fire lighters, that little thing that snuffs out candles, (did I mention candles?) any kind of mitten and a jaunty scarf. Something colourful from Zara costing no more than £20.  Like this . Or Ordinary products - they are CHEAP and AMAZING. I need a whole blog post to discuss the wonders of 'Buffet' alone.  Try them. Takes years off. (Not that I think we need to all look younger - kick that bloody idea to touch for a start. But we do all appreciate help after a big night, no?).

I'll be back with my end of 2019 round up - excited for 2020. Jaysus. It was a mere second ago I was at my dear friend Caroline's on millennium eve, so drunk I ended up walking into her Dad's bedroom in confusion (so many times he used a bicycle to barricade the door). So you filthy animals, have a great #Buildup19 and if in doubt - keep it simple. People love you for who you are, not what you give. Not the size of your house, not the amount of money you spend on a party, but for the joy only you can bring.

Seasons greetings. CM x



























Wednesday, 25 September 2019

House refurb part 1: The joys of a shower...

I'm not a morning person. Never have been, never will be. Best not to speak to me until I've had a shower and a cup of builders. Then, only then, am I vaguely human. When my buddy Est and I travelled the world, our flatmate Katy in New Zealand refused to wake me - she said I was so scary in the mornings. Monstrous is how she described me and I think she was being kind. Now when I wake my 8 year old Sproglette, and she groans and turns away,  spitting venom about having to get up - I realise I have passed on the 'hating mornings gene.'

Anyway,  when we bought our crumbling cottage back in 2017, I knew that we wouldn't have a shower.  How bad could it be I reasoned? I mean, a bath is lovely - right? Well of course it is... but every day? A bath doesn't give you the same jolt into wakefulness that a shower does. It doesn't make you feel fresh, alive, ready for the day. Baths are for sinking into on an evening; leisurely soaking troubles away - the exact opposite of how one is feeling when they are rushing to get out the door in the morning, with everyone wearing matching shoes and hopefully still speaking...

Why else did I not love our bathroom? Well it was old lady bathroom. You couldn't swing a cat in it. Don't believe me? Here you go. Photo exhibit number 1. The bathroom as pictured when we first viewed the house:



Inviting isn't it with that 30 year old floor? I thought: well, how long can it take to get planning permission? Turns rather a long time... We first saw the house in October 2016, moved in October 2017 and got planning...... February 2019..... That is a LOT of baths. Husband couldn't really fit in it so took to going to the gym... 

Then this was it the day we moved out (for a mere 3 and a half weeks while the builders gutted the house upstairs - leaving only one remaining wall) - 





Gorgeous isn't it? So I fantasised about a shower for a LONG time. Every time I had to go away with work or stay at friends' houses, I stood in the shower and just thought - this is SUCH a lovely thing, having hot water pour on you. It's energising, calming and comforting all at once. Rinsing your hair without using a crappy leaking shower hose felt divine. It also made me think A LOT about the kind of bathroom I wanted: the vibe was kind of New York bathroom, but without all the chinz. I wanted it to feel clean, relaxing, inviting. I also had a limited budget - because it turns out that refurbishing your ENTIRE house, well it aint cheap. So I embraced that limited budget - I positively thrived on it - by spending my days scouring eBay and being inspired by all things Pinterest.  I found a teak unit I loved, picked it up and bought new legs for it. I sourced taps from here, shower from there... So here we go (with hind site I maybe should have used some fancy filter or given the place a deep clean first - but I'm not a fancy lifestyle blogger, so here it is, as is):








Dull bit: Unit is vintage (Ebay), Radiator (brand new, again Ebay), oyster candles (a gift). Spider plant called Darryl (after one of my builders) is from Woods, and my prints by Lu West. Mirror (Ebay again) and lamp lights (Lampsy). Plant pot from Home Sense, Shower from Rubber Duck bathrooms,  Toilet and shower doors and tray from Drench (but I would advise caution using Drench - they take FOREVER and never let you know when there are going to be delays...). Wall mounted taps from a local bathroom store but you can get here. Tiles: Chiltern Tiles who were MILES cheaper than Topps tiles etc and knew exactly what I wanted. I actually can't remember where I got the sink but think again - eBay. My life really has been on eBay. I WISH there was a job sourcing stuff for folk because I am a genius at it these days... 

Every day I get in this shower and think - I am SO grateful to have a shower... I think it is ALMOST making me appreciate mornings again, but not quite...

Finally on the subject of bathrooms... I wanted my guests to have an ensuite. (I don't want one myself - husband has an aversion to anything toilet related so refused one point blank. As he was happy for me to choose everything pretty much in the house, I agreed to this one small point). So for the guests I went for fun. And what says fun more than a feck tonne of foxes?? Also my daughter has a fox toy called er... Foxy - that she loves. We get foxes in the garden and well, I kinda like the cheeky scamps. So I threw in a darker colour for the panelling - (love me a bit of panelling and stiffkey blue) and some rope accessories - and voila! The only gutting thing is the shower in the guest ensuite is actually better than ours... So, what are you waiting for - come visit! 







And I can guarantee a life size parrot in your bedroom. Meet Gary (named after my lovely builder who is frankly a god):




Because every house needs a parrot is what I say....  Do pop in....

CM XX












Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Scrap that, Blood is thicker than water...

My children have no blood relative cousins. My husband has a brother in Australia who has no children and I am an only child, meaning my kids are cousin-less. Having grown up knowing the wonderful relationship you can have with your family members of similar ages, having the best of best cousins myself,  I have always wanted the same experience for my kids. I was delighted therefore to create that dynamic with people - who maybe felt for the fact I am an only, or cherished the relationship they had with me - so my kids were not really aware what a 'blood relative' or 'real cousin' even was. They had them. Simple as that.

But there will always be that person - who will tell them, who will remind them, that the relationship is false: like Santa or the tooth fairy - something great to believe in, but not strictly a truth. This year, more than any other has taught me one thing: no matter what you believe you have created, nurtured, cared for and invested in - others will not. That when the chips are down, one thing matters only: are you blood?

I've never seen life this way. Raised every weekend by my Mum's ex-boyfriend (whom I lived with from the age of 11 until I finished Uni) - I decided pretty damn early in life that family could be chosen. That being an only kid, who never felt she was her parents' priority - it was ok, because I could carve out family when it wasn't really there. Never living with my Dad, not having the classic 2.4 and all the trimmings - well, who cares, when you can throw your love at others and make it stick. Breathe life into the word family - in whole other areas, to find that love you are so desperate for.

And up until this year, I would have said, I did a damn good job of it.  But suddenly - in a single moment, standing in the queue at an airport - I realised that my construct of family - well, it was potentially all in my head. Perhaps how I saw a relationship - was in fact only in my imagination. I scrolled through texts and whats apps and our whole history to work out if I had in fact gone mad.... A friend described the effect on me as 'gaslighting.' To say it knocked me for six is an understatement.

Since then I have pondered on what I mean to others and also, what do they mean to me? Being an only kid I have never had a sibling to rely on, someone to charge ahead, forge the pathway for me. Someone to look up to, or to guide. Perhaps my love of company (husband says I am 'energised' by seeing people, whereas he is drained) is based on the fact that as an only child of divorced busy parents - I was often alone. The bonus of this, is I have never struggled to make friends and find it easy to engage with others. So for me, friendship, well, it is family. I choose friends sparingly and once I'm in - I'm there 100%. Thus the majority of my mates I have known 20/30 plus years...

And yet, if anything were to happen to me, I can imagine people turning to my soul mate buddies and thinking 'oh you just lost a friend... big deal.' It isn't like losing a blood relative.... Because we seem to measure love, commitment and importance on that simple fact - being related. Yet, my life is littered with people who mean the absolute world to me - who I literally would do anything for and who have supported me through thick and thin - and they aren't blood. I sent This article by Elizabeth Day to several friends because it was a love letter to friendship - the most underrated and unsung of loves of our life.

This year I lost someone dear to me. She introduced me to Prince on her weekly mix tapes...Taught me how to dress at a time when I thought long kilts and polo necks were cool.  We used to sit on the doorstep in our PJs and play albums loudly during the long summer holidays. She was the first person to get me drunk. (I still can't even smell Martini Bianco without wanting to wretch).  We would sit up late watching scary movies trying (and failing) to recreate McDonald's thickshakes. She showed me The Exorcist and I duly vommed. (Regan had nothing on me). We had each others' backs during the dark teenage years... covering for one another and sympathising when we fought with our respective mothers... Her daughter was flower girl at my wedding, sat in between my new husband and I through the reception. I flew home to celebrate her daughter's 2nd birthday. She wrote my children birthday cards from 'cousins X Y and Z.'  I knew her for 35 years, lived with her on weekends for almost 10 and yet I had members of my own family who never once said: 'I'm sorry for your loss.' I guess because she and I weren't related... we weren't blood. So my grief, it seems isn't valid.

Perhaps a less sensitive person would take this on the chin. But I am not that person. My friend H wisely said: "you have to ask yourself why this matters so much to you." My answer: I am the girl with 3 sets of keys and 3 homes as a teen. I am the girl who sought out family... I am the one who never believed that blood was thicker than water.  I am that lonely only. So whilst I thought that by 45 I had managed to contain all my demons -  suddenly they have come flying out of the woodwork.... A pandora's box opened, the contents mocking me and all I believed in. All I thought I knew. All I guess I had hoped for.

So this much I know is true: blood will always be seen as thicker than water. No matter how much you want it to be different.

















Tuesday, 29 January 2019

How to plan the ideal holiday...

So hands up who is over January and winter already? As I type, it is meant to snow... So I find myself on instagram, looking at exotic climes where Gwynnie et al have visited over Xmas. It puts me in the mood for fantastic family holiday.... 

But dear god, there is so much planning involved... 

If you want that holiday to be a truly wonderful experience for everyone, it means planning as early as you can. Not only does this extend the holiday feeling for longer - and give you something to look forward to... But it also means that you can find the ideal accommodation, flights that leave and return when you want them to - rather than ending up signing up for some last minute package deal in the depths of nowhere in desperation... Plus the more planning you do, you know exactly what you can do once you arrive in your intended destination. You don't spend the first few days on your phone frantically looking up 'places of interest' and 'great restaurants.' 

With that in mind - I've assembled some useful tips for planning the ideal family holiday. You're welcome!

Research

Even if you already know you want to look at a particular destination - for example if you have your heart set on researching holidays in Menorca, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t research the rest of your holiday in full. If you have decided on exactly where you are going, and possibly what type of accommodation you are going to stay in, there are still plenty of other things to think about

Not only this, but researching a family holiday is fun, and it’s something that everyone can get involved with. Give the children a job each to do and send them off to do research if they are old enough to do this themselves (for example, you might give the task of searching for excellent restaurants to one child, and family activities to another). If they are too young to look for themselves, then have them with you when you are looking so that they can give an opinion and explain why they think something is a good idea or not.


Since you are all going on this amazing family holiday, it’s important that you all have a say. Finding things you all want to do is important. For example my husband likes a bit of culture and hates lying on a beach all day (well he is Australian) whereas that is my dream holiday... My kids want a pool they can splash in all day... I want to be in the sea all the time. So finding somewhere that has a town/city beach and pool can be a challenge....


Think About Previous Holidays

Yes, get out all the old photos and look through - maybe make a list. What worked on that holiday but didn't on another? Was the beach close? Did you like the food? Was the hotel room spotless or did you spend most of the holiday cleaning? Thinking about any previous holidays you have been on and using those as the basis for this new one can be a real help when planning. The previous holidays don’t even have to have been taken in the same place as where you are thinking of going this time - it is more that you remember what bits where ideal and would therefore like to have in your next holiday...


We all remember the holiday where the beach wasn't 1 kilometre from the hotel - it was more like 11 miles - and all uphill.... Or the holiday where having two rooms - one for the kids - gave so much extra space we swore we would never do a 'family' room again.... Thinking of other holidays you have been on, and determining what you enjoyed about them – and what you didn’t enjoy – will give you a good basis for working out what you want to do, and perhaps even where you want to go. If you liked the sunshine of somewhere you went before, and therefore want a beach holiday, but didn’t like the long transfer from the airport to your villa or hotel, then you know you need to search for a resort that is closer to the airport (although not so close that you get woken by planes flying overhead every night!)


Making a list of the pros and cons of your previous holidays and then ensure that the one you’re booking fits in with your ideals.


Think About Your Family

When it comes to working out the best family holiday you can have, as tempting as it is to just think about your tan lines and how many margaritas you can sink by the pool - but it is your family – as a whole – that you really need to consider.... That means keeping the wee ones happy. What looks glamorous and inviting for a couple doesn't always work for kids... So you need to think about what is going to suit them best, and ensure that no matter what destination, what type of accommodation, what cuisine you will find when you get there, no matter how good (or bad - eek!) the weather, that somehow your children will get as much out of the holiday as you...


Things to think about include:
  • Food allergies and intolerances
  • Ages
  • Likes and dislikes (frankly my kids have lists longer than Santa's)
  • Any medical conditions or disabilities


Making sure that these factors, is considered before you book your holiday or start planning it will make it much easier to determine what you want, and will ensure that everyone is feels completely included from the start.


Try Something Different

We all know folk who book the same holiday year after year - which is perfectly understandable - after all, then you know what you are getting. I can see the sense in going back - you had fun before, so why not do it all again? Because, there is a whole world to explore people! However, I for one, know that with children, if they are happy - I'm happy, so it is tempting to go to places we know well - because it is a heck of a thing to get wrong! If you really love the city or town you are heading to, why not try a different style of accommodation, for example, and opt for self-catering instead of all inclusive? That way you can dance to your own tune... Or go for something entirely different and then compare the two holidays - that way you live and learn. Having been to Sardinia twice - I certainly know which resort I would head back to and which one I wouldn't send my worst enemy to... As much as I love it, every time summer rolls round I think to myself - why not try somewhere new?



Create A Countdown

After you have booked your holiday and paid your deposit - yes it's real - you are going! You might then think that the only thing you really need to countdown to is the date you need to pay the balance (marked in big red X's on the calendar) and perhaps when you should start packing... (Tip - it is NEVER too soon...)


Make it all much more exciting by having a countdown that the kids will love too. Start at about 10 weeks to go and create a chart that the weeks can be ticked off on, perhaps every Monday morning. Within that chart can be instructions such as ‘find your passport’ (always one my husband leaves to the last minute) or ‘buy a new swimming cozzie.' That way you won't find yourself the day before the holiday, rummaging under beds and in drawers for 'my googles, I can't go without them' or summer shoes that 'are definitely in the wardrobe somewhere.' We've all been there when the stress of packing almost makes you not want to go... By getting the kids involved, it takes the pressure off you too - win/win!


Try The Food

Although it won’t be exactly the same as the food you have on your holiday, it’s a good idea to get everyone used to the cuisine in your destination by trying it in advance in local restaurants. Because, if like me, you have fussy kids - better the devil you know... If you’re going to Spain you can go for tapas, for example, or if you’re heading to Italy you can make sure everyone understands Italian food is more than just a super size double crust pizza.  

So the best tip of all - plan ahead! If you are spending a lump of cash on a once a year trip, then it pays to spend some extra time doing research. Then when you arrive you simply can lie back, relax and enjoy... cocktail in hand.

Bon voyage!