Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Essential New Baby Quiz - Are You Ready?

You've bought the cot, washed the teeny tiny baby grows in Fairy non-bio and read What to Expect When You're Expecting from cover-to-cover but are you really ready for the joys of parenthood?


Having been there and bought the vomit-stained t-shirt, I have put together 10 questions to help you find out.


Enjoy! And if you like, please share with your soon-to-be-parent and parent friends. They could probably do with a laugh. Thank you.


Test 1: Taking a pregnancy test

Women:

1.     Pick up pregnancy test.
2.    Select other random items such as wine, condoms and WD40 to confuse cashier.
3.     Take test.
4.     Stare unblinking into middle distance for ten minutes.
5.     Prepare dinner.

Men:

1.     Carry on as usual until you hear a shriek.
2.     Stare unblinking into middle distance for next 18 years.

Test 2: Two weeks before the birth

Women:

11. Carefully pack overnight bag with essential items for you and baby. 
22. Re-pack overnight bag, marvelling at your preparedness and forward-thinking.
33. Erase all memory of overnight bag.

Men:

11. Step over partner’s overnight bag in hallway.
22. Go to partner’s drawers.
33. Put oldest or most inappropriate (red and black is good) underwear into a Tesco carrier bag.
44. Take to hospital.    

Test 3: Birth Day

Women:

11. Put on an outfit you might wear when you are bedridden with Norovirus.
22. Eat some very out-of-date food.
33. Use largest mixing bowl as a portable vomit urn.
44. Attempt to dry shave legs and make important telephone calls between disabling stomach cramps.
5. Ask partner to drive you to a destination 10-minutes away.
6. Try not to vomit, defecate, or punch anyone during the journey.

Test 4: Prepare for the magical time at home following your little one’s birth by:

1. Not opening the curtains, putting out any kind of bin for two weeks, filling your hallway with empty cardboard boxes.
2. Sleeping for only 40-minutes a night.
3. Throwing a party inviting all your closest friends, relatives, neighbours and some people you have never spoken to ever from work. Do not give a start time.

Test 5: Operating a Baby Car Seat 

1. You can simulate the precision required to connect the buckles of a baby’s car seat into locking position by asking NASA if you can practise the pilot-controlled Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) docking procedure.   

Time allowed before deep space meltdown: two minutes.

Test 6: Technology

Are you ready to share your cutting-edge gadgets with a small child? 

1. Mobile phones – alternate between dunking in toilet water and orange juice every three days. Delete all your contacts apart from your manager’s mobile number. Call this repeatedly. If someone answers, rustle paper and make ‘ba ba’ noises until they swear and hang up. 


2. Tablets – Remove all protective covering. Smear with honey and bodily fluids.

Download apps of singing vegetables at a £1-a-go. Do not stop until you reach your overdraft limit. 

3. DVD players – break off all small doors. Jam jigsaw pieces and sausage rolls into hole where door used to be.

4. Favourite DVDs  and CDs –  decorate with felt tip. Now use them as ice skates.    

Test 7: Train Journeys  

You can recreate the awkwardness of getting a small child in a buggy onto public transport by placing a chimp in a supermarket trolley.

1. Pick the train time you want to get. Don’t get this. Or the next one. Watch the one after that pull away.

2. On train, put your chimp and trolley directly in the path of anyone entering or exiting train.

3. Make train journey without chimp eating ticket, cramming face between headrests or becoming the focus of everyone in the carriage.  

Test 8: Childhood Illness

If you are an ‘I haven’t been to the Doctor since I was a nipper’ type of person, you’re about to get reacquainted; Kids are one-stop-disease-shops. 

Points to remember:


1. Expect a contagion outbreak every other day. From the common cold to thread worm, kids’ illnesses are the gifts that keep on giving.  

2. Despite brand new immune systems, a child with Chicken Pox will usually be back to their bouncy self in two to three days. You, however, will be flat out for two weeks, mentally divvying up your possessions between friends and family in between death throws.

Test 9: Lifts

Think calling a lift is easy? This is how toddlers like to roll:

1. Call the lift.
2. Press the button ten times until it jams.
3. Call the other lift. 
4. Wait until doors open, bounce through gap and ricochet off walls.
5. Press lift intercom.
6. Ask Security if they are Buzz Lightyear.
7. Grin, point at or poke adult of your choice for duration of journey.

Test 10: Questions

The good thing is you have about three years before children can articulate. 

It is essential you use this time to research the bigger religious, political and social questions because very soon you will have your own mini Jeremy Paxman shadowing you barking ‘Come on’ every minute of every day.  

Common themes include:

Death: what is it?

Sex: what is it?

God: what is it?

Prepare for any answer you give to be followed by ‘why?’ and any subsequent discussion to end with ‘because it just does’.  

Right, any questions?

Thursday, 22 May 2014

£70-a-week food shop – Are you having a giraffe?

‘Phrrrrt!’ was the noise I made when Ed Miliband claimed he spent £70 on his weekly shop. Out of touch? Just a Lidl.    

The average food bill for a family four is estimated at around £100 a week. As a family of two adults and a small child our weekly grocery shopping regularly hits around the £100 mark.  Not to mention top up trips to Little Tesco.

While a friend of mine with three children under 10 said she was struggling to bring in her weekly shop at under an eye-watering £185.

Ed’s guestimate would be about right if it related to just food, the trouble is there is so much more to a food shop.

A quick review of my receipt yesterday revealed several unexpected items in the bagging area including, a bottle of Southern Comfort (but it has cherry in it), a six pack of nice ‘n’ spicy Nik Naks (they were on offer) and a strawberry chapstick. ('Pur-lease Mummy, I love straw-bees').   

Asda is a particularly dangerous when it comes to picking up every day essentials. 

I go in for a Toastie loaf and come out with two deck chairs and a Godzilla onesie.   

So how do you stick to your shopping guns?

Here’s a few tips for saving lolly on your weekly trolley. 

Vouchers – You know all those wafty bits of paper they hand you when you get your change, some of them are actually fairly decent offers.  Anything from £6 off your next £40 shop (£6 that’s like two bales of toilet rolls!) to bonus club card points, it’s all money, use them!

Shop online – I am a shopper’s dream. No list, just time on my hands and a vague idea that I need to buy some sustenance.  Stop! Shop online - no distractions, no impulse purchases and no kid bribes.

Some supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Waitrose offer free delivery slots if you spend a certain amount.  

Meal planning – I am guilty of being a one meal shopper. Yes it’s yawnsome but you’d be amazed by how much you save by planning next week’s meals in advance. 

Meal planning reduces random trips to the supermarket and is a great way to make meals stretch. So if you’re having a chicken roast on Sunday, use the leftovers to make a chicken casserole or chicken goujans the next day. 

Less meat - As my Dad always barked when I was little: 'Eat the meat!'

Meat is the priciest part of the meal. Plan a few meat-free meals every week, such as pasta, jacket potatoes or home made pizza.

‘Whoops’ aisle – Elbows ready! The Whoops aisle is the place for items that’s just about to go out of date or where packaging is slightly damaged.  There are lots of bargains to be had and you can always pop stuff in the freezer to have another day.  Check out Kate Barrett’s blog – who rustles up gourmet meals for just a few pence: http://domesticgoddessingonashoestring.blogspot.co.uk/

Do you have any ideas for frugal food shopping?

Let me know on here or on Twitter @melissablamey




Thursday, 1 May 2014

Peaches didn’t die of a heroin overdose but a broken heart

The headline that Peaches might have succumbed the same way as her mum, of a heroin overdose, struck more of a chord with me than I would imagine.

Yes, I was shocked as anyone at Peaches sudden passing but to discover that it might be in the same way as Paula died says much more about Peaches’ state of mind.

To her thousands of Twitter followers Peaches was a beacon of light, living out the perfect young mum existence, raising two boys, mashing vegetables, walking her dogs, painting Easter eggs. But beneath the veil of wholesome, home-spun fun, life might have been quite different.   

What I have learnt is that becoming a mother doesn't necessarily erase the loss of losing a mother.

I didn't lose my mum to such rock-and-roll circumstances as a heroin overdose but to common, household-name, cancer.

Loss of a parent at any age is visceral and raw but for children and young adults it seems  particularly destructive, leaving many forever weakened and fragile by that loss. 

It’s scary to admit that when I became a mother myself, it helped, but it didn’t heal. In some ways it made the absence more apparent.

In the early days I would see new mums with their mums everywhere. Steering them through the down times, the sleepless nights, the sore bits, the days when they didn’t have time to shower.    

I was fortunate to have a lovely supportive partner. But when I find myself huffing into a paper bag outside Sainsbury’s to stave off another panic attack I wonder, is this me or what happened to mum still?

You see sometimes on the really dark days (luckily these are few and far between), I resonate with those people who are brave enough to square- up to the unknown and slip into a drugged sleep.

I suspect there is nothing afterwards but maybe, just maybe I would get to see my mum again.
  
I imagine sharing a Guinness with her on a sunny Autumn day.  She would probably bark at me 14 years’ worth of stiff talking to.  

Asking why I didn't leave ‘so and so’ sooner, why I still highlight my hair (you’re almost 40), why I wrote such a verbose inscription on her grave (grief does funny things) and, importantly, why I gave away her car boot treasure.

My mum died aged 49 and like many people whose parents have died I expect to die at the stroke of midnight on the same day.  I also think that despite the warnings I am pursuing the same path.

There are many steps I could do to avoid breast cancer and yet here I am, blithely drinking my daily allowance of alcohol, not exercising and rarely checking for lumps and bumps.

Perhaps Peaches was on a sabotage mission too?

In trying to recreate the idyllic childhood she had had and taking thoughtful well planned steps to avoid inflicting pain she felt, history repeated itself anyway.
  
Consciously I want to avoid the same route as my mum’s death; sub-consciously I suspect there's something darkly comforting suspecting it might be the same.

Whether the cause of Peaches’ death proves to be true or not, I hope that wherever she is she’s at peace. Or enjoying a natter and cold Guinness with Paula.

Good night sweet girl. 

@melissablamey







Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Food Bank Bucks

If, like me, you are still rubbing your tummy like a happy Samiad after a glut of indulgence over Christmas then perhaps it’s timely to think about food banks in Bucks.

This was my 39th Christmas and despite the joy of being able to share it with my little family, something ugly crept in and gnawed at its glittery edges.

Maybe it’s the downturn, maybe it’s growing older but this year I was acutely aware of the grubby consumer Grinch pawing at my purse.     

Supermarkets, stuffing their aisles with goodies to eat from September, adverts touting sales before Christmas day, Easter eggs on sale from 1st January, all before the pounding of weight watchers and gym membership started.

It’s like we’re on a giant fun fair ride whose only aim is to shake as much change out of you as possible.   

The ‘Pig Goes Pop’ game my 4-year-old received for her birthday has become a cheap plastic reminder of what we have become.  

Born, consume, pop.

Each day the need in Britain grows for food banks.

Unemployment, escalating energy bills and rising food costs are pushing more people than ever before to the financial brink and into food poverty. 

Hunger is horrible.  Or, at least, so I am told.  

I am fortunate enough to only know hunger through choice. True hunger ebbs and flows.  First you feel shaky and weak, then pain which fades until all you feel is hollow and tired.                 

Speaking to Kate Vale, Food Bank Coordinator of One Can Trust - a Bucks-based charity that provides free emergency food parcels - there are around 12,000 children in Bucks living in income poverty.

This translates to approximately one in five children in High Wycombe going to bed hungry.

Sadly, the demand for short-term emergency food parcels in the area is growing. Latest figures from One Can Trust show that number of food parcels issued in 2011 was 225; in 2013 this figure rose to 3,347.

In order to use a food bank you must be referred by a registered agency, such as a healthcare practice, social services or a homeless centre.

Donations, from schools, supermarkets, companies and individuals are delivered to the Big Yellow Self-Storage centre on the London Road. The food is then checked (it must be within use by date), sorted and packed by volunteers for delivery to those in need in the area.

There are around 100 volunteers who generously give up their time to help One Can Trust pack and distribute the food parcels; however, there is always need for more.

I know there are wider term issues to consider here.

I appreciate that food banks are a quick fix, a sticking plaster for something fundamentally wrong with the system - whether that’s cutting people’s benefits, rising unemployment or something else – but we and the Government can’t ignore the rise in food banks.      

I hope to give up my time soon. If you can give up one or two hours a week or offer food donations contact One Can Trust here http://onecantrust.org.uk/contact-us/ or call 07731 789313.
  


    

Monday, 9 December 2013

The road to Mandeville is strewn with sick

It's a major boob when people involved in a car accident at the entrance of Wycombe hospital are forced to travel 45-minutes to their nearest A&E for treatment.

Wycombe has a population in excess of 133,000 and yet for some ludicrous reason the decision was taken to shut our A&E two years ago.     

This means anyone injured or seriously ill must be transported by ambulance or car to Wexham Park Hospital in Slough or Stoke Mandeville – both a toe curling, over hill and dale, 45-minutes away.
Official NHS statistics show that dispensing with our A&E has increased the number of people waiting for treatment for over four hours by five times at both Wexham and Stoke Mandeville hospital.
Perhaps even more scary (and as yet to be documented – surprise!) is the inevitable rise in deaths and babies born in lay-bys that the closure has undoubtedly caused.
Road to Hell
Last month my partner developed a kidney stone.  His second one this year, I am familiar with the routine.  
It starts with vigorous back rubbing, followed by some moves like Jagger then the cushion-biting death throws kick in.  
I realised that my plan to drop my daughter at nursery before hot footing him over to Stoke Mandeville was dashed when Jagger put in an early appearance.

Ushering Matt and my four-year old daughter into the car I started the long, winding journey to Stoke Mandeville in morning rush hour.
We weren't even clear of Prestwood when the guttural man-screaming started.
Trying to save my daughter post-traumatic stress therapy I tried to reassure her that Daddy just 'had a tummy bug' and cranked the volume of 100 giggly wriggly toddler songs as loud as it would go.

Approaching the main roundabout in Great Missenden the vomiting started.
Overcome with pain (kidney stones are the male equivalent of giving birth apparently *raises eyebrow* - but that’s another blog) Matt started to throw up out of the passenger window.

The first round exploded onto a sulk of schoolchildren waiting for their bus. The second lot - and if this is you, I can only apologise – hit a cyclist head on - all to the cheery strains of ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’.     
     
When we finally arrived at Stoke Mandeville I abandoned my sick-soaked partner at the entrance to deliver my daughter (albeit with a five-mile stare) to nursery.

Later that morning I then made the journey again to collect a much more subdued Matt from A&E.
Rambling from the effects of Tramadol, Matt muttered something about being called back in for a scan but that it was likely to be sometime in the next 48 hours.
Sure enough as soon as we arrived home in High Wycombe there was a message from the hospital asking Matt to come back for his scan. That was journey number three.
Annoying? Yes (especially if you're in tremendous pain or a passer-by being sicked on). Life-threatening? No. 
But what of those poor Wycombe folk critically injured, seriously ill or in labour? What happens then? A 45-minute journey is simply too long.

Any fool can see that shuttling patients cross-country won't cut costs (hello - fuel!?) or help a patient’s outcome – at best they might throw up on pedestrians, at worse, they might not make it at all.
Something needs to be done.
What do you think? 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Would you live in a murder home?

Having worked in the house-building industry for over a decade I am always intrigued to hear what becomes of ‘stigmatised’ homes – these are properties which may be shunned by buyers because of their association with negative events, including suicide, murder or paranormal activity. 
Last week it was revealed that the cottage where Mark Bridger murdered five-year old April Jones was to be put up for rent again after the Local Authority allegedly refused to buy it and knock it down.
But with April’s abduction and murder still raw in everyone’s mind, who would want to rent a property knowing it was the site of such a horrific crime?
Homes where particularly shocking and emotive crimes have taken place are frequently demolished - partly out of respect for the family and also to allow a grieving community to move on. Not to mention prevent the site becoming a haunt for ghoulish souvenir collectors or 'terror tourists'. 

Who could forget the iron-mongered sign of 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester that became synonymous with serial killers Fred and Rosemary West?
Dubbed as the ‘house of horrors’, the world’s press focused on this unremarkable terraced home as it gave up the remains of nine victims, including their own daughter.
In view of the media attention and recognising that very few would want to live in a house with such a notorious past, in October 1996 Gloucester City Council had the house and adjoining property demolished. In its place an innocuous footpath was laid to the city centre.
More recently the home in Derby where six children tragically died in a fire caused by their parents Mick and Mairead Philpott was demolished. The plan is to build more housing on the site.
Whilst the home where 12-year old Tia Sharp was murdered by her grandmother’s partner, Stuart Hazell, was also knocked down to give way for new homes.
Buyer Beware
But what happens to less well known homes where dark events take place? Once the police tape is removed, a slap of fresh paint and back on the market for an unsuspecting buyer to snap up?
Well until very recently this appears to be the case. Guidance stated that it was up to the vendor to decide whether to disclose details.
However, under new guidelines introduced earlier this year by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) agents, sellers and landlords must now disclose all manner of skeletons in the closet - ranging from ASBO neighbours to whether the home has been the location of a serious crime.
For me personally, houses don’t commit crimes, people do. However whilst I would have no problem living in a house where someone died of natural causes, if the home had been the scene of a particularly grizzly crime, I would definitely have reservations. 
How would you feel about living in a home with a horrible history? 

Perhaps you have even lived in a stigmatised property or know someone who has?
I am currently researching stigmatised homes and people's experiences of buying/renting and living in them. 

If you would like to contribute, please let me know below or email me direct at melissa_blamey@hotmail.co.uk



Monday, 30 September 2013

Funerals - An inadequate way to say goodbye?

Nothing sharpens your focus on what’s important in life than a friend or relatives’ funeral.
I expect anyone who has lived in Buckinghamshire for any length of time will be familiar with the sweeping drive up to Chilterns Crematorium.
Last week I attended the funeral of my dear old neighbour, Stan.
At 89, Stan passed away of a heart attack whilst under observation for an un-heart related illness in hospital. So although it was expected, there was still a bit of shock value to his passing, he’d have liked that. 
A former soldier and about as cockney as they come, Stan was a genuine character of our cul-de-sac.
I’ll personally remember him for his great sense of humour and kindness – he walked my aging shih tzu every day for years - only ever accepting a fiver on a friday for a beer as payment.
He also once nursed my ailing fairground goldfish back to health in an orange bucket - which he found hilarious as it took us ages to actually spot the fish.
He was a colourful eccentric, leaving Christmas lights on all year round and driving every morning (choke fully open) to get his morning paper. 
His porch was like Blackpool grockle shop. Covered with all manner of tantalising trinkets, from dangling plastic spiders to odd flower pot men fashioned out of old wood and pots. The poor district nurses popping in at night must have had the bejeebers scared out of them.
Living directly opposite, he’d watch me dither about every Tuesday evening, playing ‘wheelie bin bingo’ before hollering out the right colour.Stan also seemed to know the Wycombe District Council’s Wheelie Bin rota by heart.
And he was always right, even on Bank Holidays.
The Funeral Format
Sitting in silence, save for a few muffled sobs, as the curtain symbolically closed around Stan’s casket I couldn’t help feel the inadequacy of the British funeral.
No reflection of Stan’s daughter’s heartfelt eulogy or his granddaughter’s poignant reading of the poem ‘Stand Down Soldier’, there was something amiss in the format.  And perhaps that’s exactly what it is, a funeral format.
It’s a great leveler to know that life will probably come down to a 20-minute presentation about your achievements, two songs (one likely to be Wind Beneath my Wings) and a finger buffet at the local boozer.
The truth is that unless you verbalise or put in writing your last wishes no one is actually going to know what you want.
Having had that conversation my partner, I now know he wishes to be buried like a dog. 
This came about through the death of my neighbour’s beloved German shepherd, Maggie, several years ago.   
'Baggins' as she was affectionately known, died suddenly of a heart attack whilst out trotting on her daily walk.
No warning, no illness, no injection in the paw, just here one moment then crossing over the rainbow bridge the next.
Hearing the news and knowing what Baggins meant to her owners, a number of us gathered at their home. Her body, still warm, lay in the back of their car; there had been no time to get to the vets.
Although in shock there was an air of a job to be done.  Almost without speaking, the men folk (very Downton-esque, I know) went to the bottom of the garden and started to dig.
They dug for hours in the cold Autumn drizzle. Huge mounds of earth piling up each side. In the end the hole was deep and wide enough for a human. 

Wrapped in her old blanket, they carefully laid Baggins down in her muddy forever bed. The first few spades of earth were cast by her owner before the rest joined in.
This gesture changed my partner’s view of funerals forever. Upon his passing he wants the same treatment. And despite it probably being a jail-able offense, I understand.
There’s something beautiful and cathartic about digging the final resting place for someone you love.
It's dirty, it's hard work and above all it's real.
Forget sanitised funerals, pan piped Eva Cassidy songs and finger buffets, let’s get stuck in.    
What do you think? I'd love to know.