Thursday 21 July 2011

Only 6 long weeks to go

How can you tell it's the end of the school year and the start of summer holidays? By the number of wine bottles in the recycling tub.

My children seem to have been possessed by satan's small pygmie brothers. Never have I known such vile, vile tempers. And part of me wants to say, 'Poor ickle things, so tired after their long term and whole school year. They're just so exhausted, that's why they're behaving like intolerable little beasts.'

But the other part of me just wants to say: 'Argh!!!! Big frickin deal. So you've been at school for a year playing with playdo and turning egg boxes into volcanoes. A year broken up with three weeks of half terms and five weeks of other holidays and you're about to have six sodding weeks of holiday. During which point you will fight and bicker and break things and mess and nag and whine and spend my money and just generally drive me demented. Meanwhile I have worked hard earning money, running the house, picking up after you, feeding you, playing countless boring games, breaking up fights, driving you all over the place and trying to stay sane. And you're the ones that are tired and bad tempered???'

We've just reached a crescendo in our house. This follows a week during which I got so fed up with all the bickering, mardiness, completely not listening to anything I say-ness, back chat and general little shitdom, that I actually banned their DS games for a month. This coincides with us going on holiday, flying for 4 hours and transferring a further two. The DS games would be very useful for this. Now I have shot myself in the foot and am basically punishing myself. Fool. Think before you punish.

Back to tonight's crescendo. Having eaten their fill at a party, they came home and immediately demanded food. Again. So they had bowls of cereal and cheese strings and other random crap that they selected instead of taking me up on the offer of toast or sandwiches. They then settled down to watch a 30 minute programme before bed time. Not once during this time was any mention made of being hungry. The minute I said, 'Right, time to go to bed', the wails of hunger and starvation started up.

I said no. Emphatically so. I pointed out that this was a delaying tactic and that they'd had plenty of time to eat. Now it was too late. Well call Childline because the show they put on about how they were starving was pretty spectacular. Until I lost it and explained very loudly in graphic detail what the children of Somalia are currently going through and if they wanted to know what starving felt like, I could arrange it for them by buying a one way ticket to East Africa.

And that is why another bottle will be added to our recycling tub this evening. Did I mention we're going away on Monday for two weeks where they have all day kids clubs? Bring. It. On.

Monday 18 July 2011

Not with a bang but a whimper

Apologies to TS Eliot for stealing his line, but that is exactly how this week feels to me. You see, in exactly one week's time I will be going on holiday. And while I'm away, sunning my buns in Turkey, the 1st of August will stealthily arrive. I won't have a clue what day of the week it is, as is the way when you're far from a computer, calendar and relentless daily schedule.

But the 1st of August is a big day. It's the day I officially hand over ownership of my business. And while I will do a bit of covering work for the new owner in late August, this is in effect my last official week on the job.

Selling my business was absolutely the right thing to do. My passion for PR has gone (I'm not convinced it was ever really red hot enough to call it a passion) and it's always good to leave the party before you've had enough.

But my business has defined me for the last five years. It has filled almost every hour that I haven't spent looking after the kids (apart from the hours I blog and that time I sailed over the ocean). I grew it from nothing. I learnt as I went. It was scary and fun and exhausting and pride-inducing.

It meant I could go to to dinner parties and people would say: 'What do you do?' and I could say: 'I run my own business.' It felt great. I had a sense of purpose. I won awards. I could give comment as an industry expert. I made a living AND got to see my children. And that was my original goal in setting it up.

I know it isn't a global empire or a multi-million pound concern. But it's what has made me 'Me' for the last five years. And all of a sudden it's going to be gone. I feel as though I'm losing a part of my identity. Even more sad, I feel as though the clients I have worked with for many years (some of them for all five of the last years) are much more than just clients. They're friends. I have a real, genuine, vested interest in how well they do. And it feels like I'm breaking up with all of them.

I want to hold a giant party for all the people I've worked with over the last five years - the clients, the suppliers, the freelancers, the journalists, the bloggers, the network of business mums - and say: 'Hey, it's been a blast! Thank you for working with me. I'm so glad our paths have crossed.'

But I won't. I've done my hand overs. I need to say my good byes. They'll be quiet. Professional. That's how they should be. It doesn't stop me from wanting to throw a party, quaffing champagne and slices of cake like you would if you were leaving a job for new horizons.

No, I shall simply slip moorings quietly and head out in search of new adventures. I've done it once, I know I can do it again. Whatever 'it' might be.

Farewell Peekaboo - you've been a good little ship.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Gallery: Travel - and why travelling with kids doesn’t have to be hard work

Tara Cain at Sticky Fingers has given us Travel as the category for this week's Gallery.  I decided that this would be a good opportunity to tell you about one of the MOST successful experiences we've had travelling with our children. Couldn't limit it to one pic though.
Our family holidays have largely fallen into two categories – travelling abroad to stay with far flung family or going somewhere that offers an all inclusive meal plan plus kids club so that my husband and I get a break from the 24/7 job of being a parent.

However, this Easter, we decided to go to a self-catering gîte in the French countryside. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t classify being in the countryside, cooking, cleaning and looking after children a holiday. It too closely resembles my everyday life.

But I really wanted to explore a bit more of France and figured that we’d probably have better weather there than at home and as long as it wasn’t hugely expensive, we could still have a ‘proper’ holiday in the summer holidays.

I have worked with child friendly holiday family specialists Tots to Travel for five years, but have yet to go on one of their holidays. But this year I decided it was high time I sampled what I'd been promoting for years (please note, I paid for this holiday, it wasn't a freebie so I'm reviewing this as a real customer).

After browsing the website, I found the perfect spot in Belle Gites, a cluster of five family friendly gîtes in Charente Maritime, where there would be other children to keep my two sons (7 and 5) entertained. And it offered home cooked meals, was near places I wanted to visit and was very affordable.

The courtyard at Belle Gites
My holiday decision was reaffirmed with the smooth booking process and excellent customer service. I wanted to stay for one night more than the allotted 7 nights, and that was efficiently arranged. Within minutes of booking, I received a call from the home owner who gave me even more information on the property, what to bring, how to get there and what we could expect the weather to be like. A great personal touch – it felt like we were going to stay with friends, rather than on an anonymous holiday complex.

We opted to go by ferry to Caen and drive the five hours to the Charente Maritime where the property was situated, rather than flying into La Rochelle which was the alternative. It was an easy journey on fast, mostly traffic free toll roads.

Small boys enjoying pain au chocolat on the ferry
On arrival, the kids thought Christmas had come early when they saw everything that was waiting for them to play with. In the courtyard there was table football, ping pong, basketball, darts, deck quoits, skittles, board games, countless bikes of all sizes and much more. But that was just the start. 
Just some of the kit available for us to use
The huge grounds also had a heated swimming pool with plenty of swimming toys, a zip wire, volley ball court, full size football pitch, mini tennis/badminton court, pirate ship sandpit, climbing frame, swings, trampoline, Little Tikes houses and ride ons, and a pet corner with chickens that the children could feed.
The lovely pool - which we swam in despite it only being April
Full size football pitch and volleyball/tennis

Kids climbing frame and trampoline

Perfect for toddlers - sandpit and playhouses
 Within minutes of arrival, our children had gone exploring, leaving us to check out our property, complete with welcome basket of essential foods and wine. We’d gone for Gîte Safran, one of five gîtes on site all clustered around the central courtyard. It had two beautifully decorated bedrooms (one double, one twin), with a bathroom between the two, and an open plan kitchen, dining room and sitting room all tastefully furnished and scrupulously clean. It was set back from the other gîtes, but had outside tables for al fresco dining on both sides – one overlooking the swimming pool and grounds, the other the courtyard – giving us privacy yet still being very sociable.

Gite Safran

Our hosts Michelle and Paul were immediately welcoming and introduced their children Sol and Safia to our boys. We also met the one other family staying in one of the other gîtes with their three boys.

Our lovely hosts
With a troop of small boys to charge around with, dens to build and intricate games of goodies vs baddies to play, we didn’t see our children for the next few days, except when their grumbling tummies brought them back for our al fresco lunches of crusty bread, creamy cheese and salty ham. This left my husband and I free to lounge next to the pool in the unseasonably warm high twenties temperatures, or take turns going for long bike rides through the undulating fields and vineyards.

A game of goodies v baddies going on in the trees

On his way to the den in the woods with treasure

We’d chosen the gîtes partly because of the location. Just a five minute bike ride to the local village for fresh bread and croissants, 10 minute drive to St Jean d’Angely, named as one of France’s 100 most beautiful villages, 10 minutes to Saintes with its ancient Roman ruins, 20 minutes from Cognac with fabulous tours of Cognac houses, 25 minutes to the beach and 45 minutes to La Rochelle with its cosmopolitan vibe.

The harbour fort at La Rochelle

La Rochelle Port
We visited all of these places and while the children enjoyed them, they would have preferred to stay at Belle Gites every single day. And it’s easy to understand why. The sleepy French village with its quiet country lanes made it safe enough for them to ride their bikes unaccompanied by an adult. They could explore the acres of woodland playing imaginative games. They had complete freedom to run wild and returned home each evening filthy, exhausted but utterly happy. As parents, we could genuinely relax, knowing they were safe and having the time of their lives.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, with a daily average of around 25C. Had the weather been less kind, there is plenty to do indoors nearby like visiting the Atlantys Swimming Complex or The Aquarium in La Rochelle.

Hosts Michelle and Paul offer BBQ evenings, giving the guests a chance to know each other while eating delicious home cooked food. They also hold weekly football games with the local French residents, and guests are invited to take part. If you want a night out, they offer babysitting, a mini kids club in which they do arts & crafts, video nights for children complete with popcorn, and while we were there, they put on a fantastic Easter egg hunt. On our last night, they even set up a tent in the grounds for our and their children to have a camp out.

The Easter egg hunt (real and chocolate eggs were found!)

The football match with the locals

The kids got to camp out on the last night for added fun

My preconceived notions about spending my entire holiday cooking and cleaning were unfounded. Meals in France need to be nothing more than a smorgasbord of cheese, hams, breads, olives and fresh tomatoes – no cooking required. While our children are slightly older, even parents of babies and toddlers could easily have a relaxing break thanks to the layout of the gîtes, the services on offer and the extensive kit provided.

I’m a complete convert. We all returned home relaxed, refreshed, sun-kissed and in love with France.

While not all self-catering options are created equal, all those on the Tots to Travel website have been personally visited and vetted to ensure that they are safe for children, relaxing for parents and generally fabulous. Our toughest decision is where to go next with them – France, Spain, Italy or Portugal.


  • Cost of accommodation: in Easter £640 for a week. Goes up to £875 per week in summer.
  • Travel: Brittany Ferries - £371 return trip. Alternatively fly to La Rochelle (45 minutes drive from the Gites) on FlyBe, Jet2 or EasyJet
  • Tolls: Approximately €40 each way
  • Cognac tours: Try Hennessey which includes a boat trip or Remy Martin which includes a train ride
  • Saintes: visit the Roman amphitheatre with children – little boys in particular will enjoy pretending to be gladiators in the ring
  • Travel tip: we stayed overnight in Caen on our return due to an early start with the ferry. It would also be possible to leave at 2am and drive overnight, letting children sleep and get to the ferry in time. Alternatively, if driving up a day in advance, stop at the war cemeteries and D-Day landing beaches for some history.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Crazy idea of the day

A few posts back I said that I had sold my business and was now looking for the next thing to do. Yesterday while chatting to some lovely inspiring people, they were asking me what I was going to do next. I said I had no idea and that I felt as though I needed to try out a different job every week. Before you know it, we came up with a master plan:

I attempt to get a different job every week for a year (or at least several months). I would then blog about the experience, possibly turn it into a book and before you know it, they'd be making a film and I'd be a millionaire. Well that's sort of how the conversation went.

But now I'm toying with the idea. It's mad. I'd make no money. It would probably cost me money. Juggling child care would be a nightmare. Getting the jobs would be a bigger nightmare. Doing the jobs would be the biggest nightmare of all. Could I be a policeman? Plumber? Investment banker?

I wouldn't have a clue what to do and would probably spend most of my time bricking myself. Imagine having a new first day at the office every week. Nuts right?

But it could be a fantastic adventure. And I'm a bit of a fan of crazy adventures. Plus it would be a great way of learning about what I want to be when I'm big.  I read a quote today that said: One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure that it's worth watching.  This would make for very interesting viewing.

What do you all think? Crazy but do it. Or crazy you have officially lost the plot mad lady.

Monday 4 July 2011

Should I go incognito?

For a long time now, I've been wishing that this blog was anonymous. I want to be able to write things as they occur to me, without thinking of the social ramifications of what might happen if I wrote about them. And it sort of brings into question why I blog in the first place.

I love that I have this blog as a record of what has gone on in my life for the last 3 years. Even now, I read some of the posts from 2008 and realise how much my life has changed since then. What will it be like in another 10 or 20 years. So that's partly why I write it. To capture life in a diary. And sure, I could do that privately, but it's so much more fun to get other people's view on something you're experiencing, whether they agree or disagree. It's like having a global sounding board.

I also write it because I love to write. I had a conversation this weekend with two girlfriends (and I apologise to those girlfriends for referencing it here because I know they are uncomfortable with me regaling things that we might have discussed, even if they are not referenced by name. Another reason anonymity is good) and basically they, like many, many people, they don't understand why I blog. I think it's universally perceived as odd. A little weird. And during this conversation, I said that whenever I do anything I am constantly thinking in my head about how I would write about it.

That makes me sound awful. What about living in the now and enjoying life as it happens, instead of thinking about how you'll report back on it? It is truly messed up. But I can't help it. It's the way my brain works. As I see a beautiful sunset, I'm thinking about the words I might use to describe it. And if I see crazy people in London holding 'free hugs' signs, I'm thinking about how I might weave that into a blog post or story. (Dammit, I just used that one up.)

I don't necessarily want to be like this. I just am. Some people paint. Some take pictures. Others knit or bake or add up rows of numbers or jump off bridges attached to pieces of bungee cord. Different things make different people tick. I write about life as it happens around me. I write it in my head and if I don't get it out, my brain might quite literally explode.

And I wish I could write about it exactly as I feel it, instead of tempering it so as not to offend anyone or reveal to much or be too public (some might say I already am). Hence the reason I'd like to stop Home Office Mum and start fresh with a new blog where no-one knows who I am.

But there are downsides to that. It's nice to know that people read your blog. Call it massively narcissistic, but it feels great to know that someone somewhere in the world has read what I've written. I've got 41 people who subscribe to my blog. That's probably a paltry number by most standards, but that is 41 people who have actively decided to click and subscribe to my ramblings. To start afresh is hard. What about all the friendships I've made with bloggers? How do I let them know where I've gone to? Do I let them know or is that entirely defeating the object of the exercise of anonymity?

I'm in PR for God's sake. I know what it takes to build up a brand. And while my teeny tiny pathetic piece of blog real estate doesn't justify the word brand, it still has three years of history and credibility behind it. Starting afresh and anonymous just makes those three years disappear.

I'm in a quandary. Perhaps I shall leave this blog as it is and simply attempt to put all those words in my head into a different format. Like a book. Or perhaps I should use the anonymous blog I have already created but not posted to yet, to write about the occasional thing that I really need to get off my brain without anyone being the wiser. I can rant with impunity. Oh the heady freedom.

So fellow bloggers, WWYD?