Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Fab competition - throwing up involved

Ah heck, just looking at this picture makes me feel ill.  If you read my blogs from Walt Disney World last year, you'll know how I feel about rides.  Yup, I'm the woman who cried (really truly cried) on Expedition Everest.  I'm also the woman who managed to evaporate the entire queue at Chessington World of Adventures by screaming all the way round the Dragon's Apprentice (the roller-coaster for teenies).  Parents snarled and children cried.  One (deeply logical) child announced firmly: 'If that mummy is scared, I'm not doing it!'
Anyhow, James feels entirely quite differently.  He still hasn't forgiven me for not taking him to Florida. He says 'Thorpe Park' and 'Alton Towers' in tones of deep awe, respect and intense yearning.

Which brings me onto this rather neat little competition.  As you know, I don't do many of these but this one is pretty good.  You could win a year's worth of fun at our home-grown theme parks if you're smart (or plain lucky) and can guess where this picture was taken.  Yes, yes, it's blurry - that's part of the sneaky tough bit (rather than my poor photography skills).

I'll give you a clue - it's one of these....(and last time I looked Madame Tussauds didn't have a lot of screaming going on - but hey, it could have changed!). 

Thorpe Park
Chessington World of Adventures
Alton Towers
Warwick Castle
Madame Tussuads
Lego Discovery Centre

Get it right and you will be put into a draw to win a Merlin Annual Pass - this competition isn't going out over a huge number of blogs, so it's really worth having a shot.   But do it quickly as the competition closes on July 31st
If you don't luck out then it might be worth buying The Sun from Saturday.  The paper is giving away 2 for 1 vouchers for more than 700 UK attractions. Check it all out here....

Go on, get guessing!!   Post your answers in the comments below...fingers crossed.....  C'mon, how hard can it be??? 

My summer reading

Time for a book blog methinks. I’ve just been doing an interview with Authors on Show (will post link when it’s live) and one of the questions was ‘what do you read for pleasure?’. Answer: anything and everything really.
I read stupidly fast and so I get through tons of books. Lately it’s been a bit of a mixed bag so I thought I’d share them here. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my thoughts.  And feel free to give me your recommendations too...

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer (Corgi): I was desperate to read this crime thriller as it’s set on Exmoor yet somehow it left me a little cold. The set-up is great – boy writes to paedophile in prison trying to find out where the man buried his uncle – a correspondence begins – and then the murderer escapes. Can’t put my finger on why it didn’t work for me – maybe it became too hurried at the end. Also, I’m intrigued as to which small Exmoor village would have a house number 111 in it (the roads aren’t long enough!).

Never the Bride by Paul Magrs (Headline): Picked this up at Paddington station for the journey home and had a fabulous time with it. Brenda and Effie – two elderly women with monstrously (ho ho) bizarre secrets go bonkers in Whitby. Alexander McCall Smith on acid.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (Faber): a very very smart book indeed. Young student gets embroiled with a strange family as their part-time nanny. Dark secrets but also black humour. Very deftly done. Litfic for those who usually hate litfic.

The Book with No Name by Anonymous (Michael O’Mara Books): this was recommended by my local Waterstones and was apparently a self-published Internet ‘phenomenon’. It’s a caper with vampires, cowboys and a lot of alcohol. I felt it needed a darn good edit.

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Serpent’s Tail): one of those books where you’re shouting at the MC ‘don’t do it!’ pretty much all the way through. Houston down-on-his-luck lawyer saves woman and gets sucked into a nightmare ‘bad town with rot at the top’ scenario. Not really my game and depressing – but it’s well-written.

The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison (Alma Books): a young girl is evacuated to a large Yorkshire house, owned by a couple whose marriage is disintegrating. Great premise but the shifting POVs and rather cold writing distances the reader. This felt more like a true life account than fiction somehow. Everyone dies. House goes to the NT. Gloom, gloom, gloom.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Hodder): Adrian bought me this back from the US and it’s really rather fabulous. Set in the world of travelling circuses in the US Depression, it’s packed with great characters and shocking insights. A great yarn but also one of those books that opens your eyes. Recommended.

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Harper): This was a surprise. The cover shouts ‘thriller’ and it is – but the deeply unpleasant vampires came as a shock. Cracking start and one of those roller-coaster rides that has ‘blockbuster movie’ writ large (the authors have big Hollywood credentials). Did I enjoy it? Hell, yes. A guilty pleasure.

Live to Tell by Lisa Gardner (Orion): I won a copy of this on Twitter and had no expectations whatsoever. Have to say I was blown away. Gardner is an absolutely cracking crime writer – and actually way more than a crime writer. This is thoughtful AND exciting. I’m off to order the earlier books in the series right away.

Last but not least.....

Puppies for Dummies by Sarah Hodgson (Wiley): as you know, we now have the Soul Puppy in the Bonkers House. This came recommended on Twitter and is, I have to say, THE best how-to book on dogs I’ve come across. Now then, Dante, off to your potty place and get busy!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Not the best week in the world

Why is it that things always go pear at precisely the worst possible time? It sometimes feels as if there’s someone up there thinking, way hay, she’s going to be on her own for a week so what can we throw at her?

Adrian was off to the US to check out the breweries of Vermont – by bus. Well it had seemed like a good idea at the time.
‘Hey, you’ll have a lovely peaceful week without me,’ he said at the breakfast table, clearly expecting a flurry of denial.
‘Good point,’ said James. Poor Adrian headed off with his rucksack, looking forlorn.

That evening James gave me a funny look (as in a very funny look).
‘James, stop pulling faces. You’ll get stuck.’
‘I can’t shut my eye,’ he said gurning like a gargoyle.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake.’ I packed him off to bed.

But the next morning he really did look decidedly uneven.

‘Um, I think we’ll just drop by the surgery,’ I said, trying not to sound alarmed.  If he hadn't been eleven, I'd have sworn it was Bell's palsy.
‘I think it's Bell’s palsy,’ said the GP.
‘But he’s only eleven.’
She agreed it was rare and had a chat with the hospital who said we’d better go in ‘to be on the safe side’.

Now that would be fine except, ahem, who was going to look after the soul puppy? My usual stalwarts were all away and of course, Adrian was by now going entirely the wrong way on the interstate out of Boston, so we took him with us.
‘Hey look, it’s gone foggy, isn’t that great? The pup will be fine in the car.’

We barrelled along in thick fog, praying there were no kamikaze sheep around.
‘Mum, he’s been sick,’ said James.
‘Okay, that’s okay,’ I said through gritted teeth. ‘I brought towels and baby wipes. Let’s get him sorted.’
We pulled in, wiped, sluiced and veered out back into the fog.
A mile down the road. ‘He’s been sick again.’

At that precise moment the mobile rang. Could we get to the hospital ASAP for a CT scan? Umm, yes, no problem. Providing, of course, the puppy stopped throwing up and we didn’t plunge headlong into a ditch.

‘Look on the bright side, Mum,’ said James, as the pup hurled up for the fourth time. ‘He wasn’t quite as sick as last time. He’s probably running out of stuff to sick up.’
‘Exactly! It could be much worse. Just think - he could have diarrhoea.’

We spent the next two days at the hospital, making mercy dashes to the car, praying it stayed overcast and gloomy.  The tests showed nothing nasty. It was, said the consultant with a rueful shrug, ‘just a virus probably.’
Would it get better?
‘In 80 percent of cases, yes.’

We didn’t talk about the other 20 percent. The temptation to descend into gloom tugged at me but two days at a children’s assessment centre puts everything into perspective. Watching children being wheeled to surgery or seeing parents hunched over babies lying still and stuffed full of tubes, really does make you grateful for small mercies.
‘Hey Mum, it could be worse,’ said James with a lop-sided smile.
‘Yes, my darling,’ I said hugging him tight. ‘It really could.’
'And the puppy has stopped throwing up too.'
We looked at one another.  'Uh oh.  Return journey coming up.'

But the pup was all spewed out.  So basically we’ve spent the last week curled up on the sofa – me, James, the Soul Puppy and even (on occasions) Asbo Jack. We’ve watched movies and eaten tortilla chips by the bucketload and generally slobbed. Work has had to go hang.

Poor Adrian has been in a frenzy, as you’d imagine – 3000 miles away and without a phone that worked (I did try to warn him). But yesterday he returned (laden with maple syrup, jelly beans and dodgy T-shirts) and James seems a little better. I meanwhile am totally shattered. 

Thursday, 8 July 2010

A few of my favourite things

Since I’ve been moaning about my total lack of grooming and beauty nous, a fair few PRs have taken pity on me. I think it offends their sensibilities to think of someone who has just given up quite so completely. They see me as a challenge.  Or maybe they just feel really really sorry for me.  The good/bad thing about being freelance and working from home in a small rural place is that really there is no-one to notice if I just let it all hang out; if I grow a moustache and my jowls start slapping my shoulders.

But of late I have noticed myself avoiding mirrors and using my forearms to sand down wood. So I did think it was time (maybe) to make just a little effort.

You’ve already read of my adventures in tan-land. Okay, so now I’m back to vampire-white but at least I know that, should I ever find the energy again, I CAN look sunkissed and healthy.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing with lots of beauty products. I wouldn’t normally blog about this kind of thing but, as so many of you seen to like my recommendations on Twitter, I figured I should really do some naming, cheering, blaming and shaming.

So, without further ado – these are the things I really really LOVE.

• iS Clinical Hydra-Cool serum. This stuff is pure magic. I had nasty broken capillaries under my eyes (yes, yes, I know it’s too much alcohol and too little sunscreen). Don’t ask me how but this stuff removed them. Honest, guv. Don’t blame me if it doesn’t work for you but....well, I’m a convert. 

• Origins – Never a Dull Moment skin-brightening face polisher. I mainly love this for the smell. All exotic fruits.  Yum. Basically it’s gritty and exfoliates the face, scrubs off the dead cells etc. Does a good job too. Can’t say that others don’t do it equally well but...hey, you scrub your face AND smell like a fruit daquiri (works for me).

• Aromatherapy Associates Overnight Repair Mask. You probably get it by now – I LOVE their stuff. To bits. Have been a fan of their bath and body oils for years upon years. But their skincare range is a bit of a revelation. It’s all good but this stuff is The Business. I confess I use it like night cream. Smells fab too.

Airbase foundation. Makeup artists use this with a spray gun and I bet the results are stunning (I splash it on with my fingers - be warned, shake it first and be careful - it's very runny). It smells a bit like greasepaint but really does give mega smooth coverage. Would be too heavy for young skins I reckon but for those of us of a certain age....

Mineralogie radiance bronzer. I really like all their mineral makeup range but this is so summery – I know I’m kidding myself but I almost feel like a 20-something festival goer with a sprinkle on my shoulders and over the nose. Yeah, I know, totally utterly deluded.

• love + art orange flower body milk. A new company using organic essential oils in their products. Orange flower is just THE feelgood scent for me and this is light and so uplifting. I keep it on my desk and pop some on my arms every so often for a boost.

• Barielle Shades nail varnish. My recession-busting beauty tip. If you’re feeling fed up (I am an expert, trust me) this is the treat for you. Cheap as chips but brings an instant smile to the face. I’m into uber-sophisticated Belly Dance (beige with a subtle shimmer) on my fingernails and Night Moves (shiny shiny silver) on my toes. Happy, happy.

The jury’s out....

At the moment I am testing Jan Marini Eyelash conditioner. My eyelashes have packed their bags and gone to the Maldives so am trying to lure them back. Apparently it takes about three months, so bear with me...

So totally didn’t do it for me

* L’Occitane’s Brightening Moisture Cream. You wipe it on and two minutes later it rubs off – in big lumps. Maybe that’s the idea but somehow I don’t think so. Perhaps they should relabel it ‘face peeling mask’...

* Daniel Sandler Retexturising Face Primer.  Maybe I'm asking too much but this promises it will neutralise my imperfections while giving foundation a fault-free base.  Hmm, I didn't notice any difference, truth to tell.

What are your absolute must-haves?  The stuff you will still shell out for when times are tough?  And what have you tried which really didn't live up to its hype?  I think my major 'what a waste of money' has to be Creme de la Mer.  Felt like cold cream to me and didn't make one iota of difference.  :(

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Shameless desperation in search of Green & Blacks chocolate hamper

Oh lordy. I’m not remotely a domestic goddess. I rather pride myself on resolutely not doing any cooking or cleaning whatsoever.  So, okay, here in the Bonkers House we all sneeze a lot and tend to wear black but I figure I’m doing my bit towards giving my child a healthy immune system. As a society we are now far too hygienic and it’s compromising our children’s health. Doubtless new research has smacked that on the head but, hey ho *whistles quietly* - it struck a chord with me.

Anyhow, the reason for this rambling is that English Mum, that shining sparkly star of radiant gorgeousness or whatever (hiss, spit) has thrown down the gauntlet with a blessed baking competition. Normally I would, of course, chuckle softly and mutter, ‘I spit on your scones’ but then I read on. The winner gets a hamper of Green and Blacks chocolate.

Not a few measly bars but a sodding great HAMPER.

Not any old crappy chocolate but Green and Blacks – uber chocolate. Chocolate so pure and lovely it doesn’t even contain calories or count towards a sugar rush.

Suddenly I found my inner Nigella barging her way out, unseemingly desperate to slap on a pinny and get hectic in the kitchen.

Now, regular readers might remember the last time I tried getting cosy with the cooker. English Mum was also to blame then and these were the result.

James ate one and I swear his pupils became so huge and black I had him drug-tested. I gave the rest away and got black looks for months afterwards from the good mothers of Dulverton.

So I tried something low-key. Something subtle and sophisticated. A Nigella recipe using G&B’s chocolate of course. Trouble was, I ate a bit more than I should have done so the quantities were a bit off. It also wouldn't come off the baking foil and looked a total disgrace.  But, ye Gods, it tasted like total heaven.

However, I figured I needed something with a little more WOW factor; something that didn’t look like a cow pat. So I thought I’d show you some of my sterling effects on James’ birthdays....

I may be a slummy mummy most of the year but I do pull my finger out for birthdays. There is usually a theme and I confess I would go over the top on occasions (the pirate party had me up until 3am making treasure caskets in lieu of party bags. Yeah, for five year olds - go figure). Anyhow, here are a few of my efforts (don’t look too closely – think exuberant effect rather than precision perfection.
This is the cute one....the dog asleep on the bed one (hmm, sounds familiar)...Yes, that is a pillow, not a chunk of icing I forgot to remove.

Here is the rugby one....complete with iced mud.  So, the figure looks a tad squashed but, hey, he'd just been tackled.

And the Bart Simpson one....yup, that was another serious case of mass poisoning by E-numbers.

And I really was rather proud of the one I did for the climbing wall party.  It's a mountain - geddit? - the ropes are strawberry laces and the figures are really commandos (guns are useful for sticking into icing). The jelly beans are boulders of course (and, ahem, very useful for covering the breaks in the icing).

Here is a gap. The Haunted Castle should be here but sadly Asbo got to it and ate the entire thing – plastic spiders, candles and all.

Soooo.....come on.... pretty please.