12 December, 2016


It's the run up to Christmas and, for us, that means couriers delivering parcels. More specifically, it means couriers delivering parcels to our house when we're out. Instead of leaving the parcel with a neighbour when we're out, we find that the drivers more often than not just dump the parcel on our mat in plain view to anyone passing by. Not good.

However, we have had a couple of good experiences recently:

  • UPS left a parcel with our local collection point, which was our local corner shop. We hadn't come across this before, but it turns out that UPS have local collection points where they will leave your parcel if you're not in. This means that they don't have to re-deliver, and the parcel is held somewhere safe until you pick it up. Perfect.
  • But DPD go one step further. On the morning of delivery, we received an email giving us a one-hour time slot. We were told who our driver was (including a photo of him) and we could track his route as he made his journey towards us, which meant that eventually we knew the 15-minute time slot during which he would deliver to us. I had some reservations about what this meant for the driver (lack of autonomy, pressure to deliver exactly when expected, etc.) but in terms of customer service, it was great!

29 November, 2016

FREE book promotion for 'Six Months in Paris'

My novel, 'Six Months in Paris', will be FREE on Amazon from Friday 2 until Tuesday 6 December.

It is a light, fun read, perfect for helping you through these cold winter days. Here's the blurb for it:

Anna Chaliss has her life all mapped out…or so she thinks.

Taking a gap year before university, Anna heads off to Paris for six months to work as an au pair. A nice French family. Two lovely girls. A beautiful house in the suburbs. What could be better?

But things don’t quite turn out as planned. Instead of having the time of her life, Anna finds herself on a voyage of self-discovery which changes her future irrevocably.

28 November, 2016

London weekend

We followed our usual annual tradition last weekend of visiting London to do a bit of Christmas shopping and to look at the lights. We wondered whether we might give this outing a miss this year, but the children were insistent...

We had a productive but very long and tiring day. It is astonishing how many people there are walking up and down Oxford Street at this time of year -- it's almost impossible to move, unless you employ the rather crafty tactic of heading down side streets and trekking along back streets, which we did.

Other things that I found surprising were:

  • The length of the queues for the ladies' loos in John Lewis. We waited the best part of fifteen minutes to reach the front.
  • The crowds of young women who seemed desperate to shop in Pink for underwear. My daughters love it, but I really can't see the attraction -- the clothing is definitely not my style.
  • The fact that North Ealing tube station could be completely closed for the whole day due to a shortage of trains on the Piccadilly Line. I mean, is that an appropriate way to manage the capital's public transport system?!
On the plus side:
  • We found a lovely cafe close to Oxford Street for lunch.The Everbean appeared to be independent, was tastefully decorated, had very friendly staff, and served unusual and delicious food (avocado on toast for us!).
  • We enjoyed looking at the lights in Covent Garden, despite the huge crowds.
  • We wound up at an ASK for supper. It was predictable, but pleasant, and we were able to pay using our Tesco vouchers (always a bonus!).

14 November, 2016


We had a rather truncated family last week, as my other half was out of the country on business.

However, the kids and I completed the week successfully, despite the multifarious demands of work, school, freelancing and home. We also managed a fun, albeit very local weekend.

On Saturday we popped into Abingdon and had lunch at The Mousehole Cafe. This place has actually been open for over a year and we've been meaning to go for ages. It is very pleasant -- situated in the basement of the town hall with very friendly staff and a small range of freshly-made food. We had sandwiches and cakes and very much enjoyed our lunch. In the evening we watched the film "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason". My husband and I saw this years ago when it first came out, but the kids haven't seen it before. They enjoyed it -- and it certainly was a bit of entertaining fun.

On Sunday, we got some fresh air, going for a walk along the Thames path. We do this route quite often and always enjoy it. The walk was very muddy this time, though, due to Saturday's heavy rain. We wound up in one of the local Costas for a hot chocolate, which was a pleasant treat.

The other member of our family arrived back from the airport on Sunday evening, tired and bearing gifts. It was lovely to see him again -- and now we are no longer truncated!

08 November, 2016

Fireworks and family

We had a fun time last weekend.

On Saturday evening we celebrated Guy Fawkes by attending the show organised by the Abingdon Scouts at Long Furlong Community Centre. It was a good event -- the fireworks themselves were very impressive; there were burgers, hot dogs and drinks for sale; and the organisation was good with well managed and quick ticket sales at the gate. The only thing that we missed was a bonfire, which is always good for keeping warm while waiting and looks very impressive too.

On the Sunday we went to London to visit 'the Irish cousins', who were over for just a couple of days. Given that we live far apart, our kids rarely see their Irish cousins, and so they had been hassling us for a while to set something up. There's a large age gap -- ours are teenagers, while the cousins are a toddler and a pre-schooler, but they seem to get on really well and enjoy one another's company, which is great. We had a lovely lunch at Toulous in London. We eat here fairly regularly and can recommend it if you're looking for casual, not-too-expensive dining in North London. The menu is good and wide ranging, the staff are welcoming, and it is very child friendly.

30 October, 2016

Half term fun

It was half term last week and we had some great family fun. Here are some of the things that we got up to:
  • We visited Waddesdon Manor and really enjoyed wandering around the grounds in the autumn sunshine, playing on the adventure playground (the kids!) and having tea in the courtyard restaurant.
  • We followed our time-honoured tradition of visiting Waterperry Gardens and doing the pumpkin hunt. The kids are really far too old for this now, but we've done it for years and they don't seem to want to let the tradition drop just yet -- plus it's a great excuse for a yummy treat in the tearoom!
  • We went to see The Pantaloons' latest play -- Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde -- at the Cornerstone Theatre in Didcot. It was rather different from previous plays that we have seen by this company -- much less comic, which isn't surprising given the subject matter -- but still very good.
  • Some of us went to see the latest Marvel creation -- Dr Strange. We really enjoyed the film. It wasn't quite all action -- there was a passing reference to some 'deeper' issues (for example, how do you cope if you lose the ability to do the one thing that gives your life meaning), which made it a bit more interesting, plus the cinematography was enthralling (views of Nepal and Hong Hong) and the special effects impressive. Tilda Swinton was also great!
  • We popped into Oxford and wandered around Christ Church Meadow, which was very beautiful. We followed this with a browse through the books and a coffee at Blackwell's.
  • We made our Christmas pudding and mincemeat. This is another time-honoured tradition -- a job that we have done during October with the kids since they were tiny. Now they are old enough that they can do the making themselves without any assistance from us! We use recipes that have been in the family for several generations and it's a great way to kick off the festive season.
  • The kids carved a pumpkin -- we always have a lighted pumpkin on the dining table at Halloween.
It's been quite a busy half term. Now it's time to go back to school and relax!

11 October, 2016

The Making of Us

I have just finished reading 'The Making of Us' by Lisa Jewell, which I really enjoyed.

The basic plot involves three young people -- Lydia, Dean and Robyn. All three were conceived from the sperm of the same sperm donor and, as the story unfolds, each learns that they are a sperm donor child. Furthermore, they each learn, via registering with the Donor Sibling Registry, that they have siblings. They are very curious about this and, in the end, they arrange to meet one another.

Despite the fact that they are all very different personality-wise, when the three meet, they immediately connect on a deep, emotional level. It is as if something was always missing from their lives and now they have found it. They are at ease and relaxed in one another's company, right from the word go. Their common heritage appears to override everything else.

It was this part of the book that I found really interesting -- the immediate connection despite the enormous personality differences and the absence of contact previously. I don't know whether that is true to life for donor siblings, but it is rather different from my experience of (non-donor) family. Having grown up in a very difficult family, shared inheritance -- the genetic connection -- doesn't mean a great deal to me. What matters from my perspective is that someone is a good, decent person who shares my values and understands my way of thinking. That may be a family member but, equally, it may not. There's no hard-and-fast rule: it all depends on your own personal experience, I think.