Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Disney Planes 2: Fire & Rescue - Our First Cinema Visit

Disney's Planes 2: Fire and Rescue

It was the kids' first ever visit to the cinema today.  We visited the Odeon at the Red Dragon Centre, Cardiff to see Disney's Planes 2: Fire & Rescue.  Not put off in the least by the fact that the film is a sequel and since cousin Georgia had come to stay for a few days and could be roped in as a bouncer / minder, off we trekked.

Now the first film I saw was in the 1960's - Disney's Cinderella with my mum.  I remember it being a truly magical experience.  In those days it was perfectly acceptable for a girl's only life goal to be attending a ball and marrying a prince, no matter how lowly their pedigree.  On this basis, Kate Middleton must have had wall to wall screenings of Disney movies practically from birth.

Planes 2 told the story of world famous air racer, Dusty who discovers that his engine is damaged and he may never race again.  He joins forces with a veteran fire and rescue helicopter, Blade Ranger and his team and together they battle a massive wildfire.  This is a movie about second chances and Dusty learns what it takes to become a true hero.  Incidentally, I believe White Dee is undergoing something of a similar transformation in Celebrity Big Brother, but I digress.  As usual.

We were greeted cordially by a helpful young man who duly rendered my purse lighter to the tune of approximately £40 (one adult, one teen, two under twelves) and then, having taken the precaution of smuggling a couple of bags of sweets in my voluminous and sticky bag (I carried a pot of honey in it during the Vale of Glamorgan Show and the seal broke), I swallowed hard as I paid £9 for two cokes and a bottle of water.

Into the blackness we went.  It was the 13:50 pm showing and the cinema was blissfully uncrowded.  There must have been less than 20 film-goers in there and most of those could only just walk.  We sat through about a half hour of what seemed like endless adverts, trailers and then adverts again! Sadly, Pearl and Dean no longer feature so I didn't have the chance to bellow "pa pa pa pa & etc" with the rest of the audience. Those were days (in my youth) of the Orange Maid Ice Lolly (so orange it glowed in the dark) or, if you were particularly reckless the Strawberry Mivvi lolly which had ice cream in the middle. Popcorn was always Butterkist and the drinks on offer, Kiora.  Eventually the familiar certification screen appeared and we all settled down to watch.

Planes 2 does take a while to get going, although the thumping soundtrack kept spirits up.  And, until the plot thickened, so to speak, we had to put up with my children's usual comedy 'let's drive mum nuts' routine.  I'm sure you will all be familiar with this, but the highlights are, briefly,

*  any drink provided will be drained within the first five minutes
*  any bagged sweets will be the 'wrong' sweets
*  Ieuan will be hungry
*  Caitlin will have a tummy ache but deny needing the toilet
*  After five minutes wrangling in voices hushed to violent hissing, Caitlin will deign to go to the toilet if one of us 'holds her hand' when she's on the seat.
*  Once back in her seat and settled down, Caitlin will announce loudly, a propos of nothing, "I feel lonely"
*  Ieuan will demand to go home immediately.

Still we survived the 100 minutes running time without too much trouble.  The characters, particularly Dusty and Blade are engaging and there are enough comedy characters and the odd adult joke to keep a family interested.  I have to say that cinema and tinnitus aren't a particularly happy combination but the ensuing buzzing was worth introducing the kids to the magic of film.

As we left the cinema, blinking in the bright daylight of the Red Dragon Centre, Ieuan spotted a very small merry-go-round with planes and cars and not daunted by being a tall lad, he tried to prize himself into a plane.  Not willing to cough up the statutory £2 for a minute ride, he was unceremoniously removed by me and the usual pout ensued.  "Mum",  he announced to the swelling throng in the Centre, "you've ruined my life".

That went well then.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Pro Ana (Anorexia) - Parents Need To Know About It

Karen Carpenter (Source:

I've been watching the series "Celebrity Autopsy" on Channel 5 and was particularly struck by the tragic death of Karen Carpenter through causes related to anorexia. Her death was, it was claimed, due to cardiac arrest and a cocktail of various prescription drugs (some not prescribed). Her heart had been irreversibly damaged by her eating disorder.

I've written before about the challenges parents face to address the obesity issue with children. When is it appropriate to tell a child that they are 'fat'? In this house we ration 'bad' foods as much as we can and try to eat a healthy fruit and veg filled diet but it's not easy. Sugar is everywhere and, frankly, rather than bash us all over the head with endless lectures about what we should be eating, our Government would be better off, in my view, setting far more rigid regulations for acceptable sugar content in food and a food labelling system that is printed in a size which those of us who usually forget our reading glasses can actually see.

I was aware, through reading various news publications of internet sites actively promoting anorexia (Pro Ana) and pondering what I would do if the ghastly spectre of this disease were to appear in our house, I did a brief, but startlingly alarming search.

What I found was almost a secret lifestyle club where bloggers write about their 'thinspiration' and egg each other on (probably the wrong phrase) to eat less than 500 calories a day and do ridiculous numbers of stomach crunches (in the many hundreds). There are the 'Pro Ana' rules which clearly state that if you cannot commit to making anorexia the centre of your life, then you are not a true disciple.  

To give you an example, here are a few of them. Just a few - because it really is not a place where you want to spend much time...

*  Ana must be the centre of your life
*  Eat in front of a mirror, naked or in underwear if possible
*  Friends will only get in the way; avoid them until you reach your weight loss goals
*  When you resist the pangs of hunger it means you are not a slave to your body
*  Being thin is more important than anything
*  Bones define who we really are.  Let them show!
*  Thin is perfection;  I'll die trying to achieve it.

You get the gist. Now it is clear that the authors of this nonsense are suffering terribly and deserve our sympathy and compassion. We can argue endlessly about the influence of the Media and our Celebrity Culture.  We have become a selfie nation - obsessed with our own reflections. In Greek mythology, the hunter Narcissus was lured to a pool by Nemesis where he fell in love with his own reflection, and, unable to leave the pool, died. Hence, the term Narcissism - the tragedy being that the sufferer does not realise they are in love with an image.

According to the Los Angeles Times, next April Kim Kardashian will publish a book consisting of 352 pages of selfies.  Today, tattooed Sarah Harding has been less than polite about tattooed Cheryl Fernandez-Versini who has recently been trolled for looking too thin. 'Real Housewives' the length and shallows of the NBC Network are posting pictures of themselves resembling what a previous colleague of mine (male) would refer to in terms of disparagement as a 'rack of lamb'.  It's all image in a desperate attempt to create an identity which ironically is paper thin and transient as this week's diet plan. A triumph, generally, of style over content but a tragedy for those youngsters who buy into the 'dream' that thin is the be all and end all - and a quicker way to fame than getting an education and, if they are really lucky, these days, a decent job at the end of it.

The really worrying thing about the Pro Ana 'manifesto' is that, on first sight, it reads very similar to the instructions for many of the fad diets we willingly consume in the 'celeb' magazines. Drink lots of green tea to curb hunger pangs.Cut your food into small bits. Chew properly. Distract yourself from food. Exercise. Commenters on these blog posts encourage each other, offer support about how to stay on the Ana path. It is a unique, but highly disfunctional social network.

You can see how easy it would be for an  impressionable young person to be drawn into the murky depths because, actually, it's not really about food. At the heart of Pro Ana is the quest for control. If you can't control the other circumstances of your life (and that is one of the inescapable challenges of the human condition), you can, in theory, control the food you put into your body and therefore the way you look. It's you versus your body, you versus your friends and family, you versus life itself.

Those in support of free speech will argue that these websites have every right to exist.  You cannot regulate the content of the internet.  All you can do is make sure there are some territories you avoid - and encourage your children to do the same.  However unsettling these sites and blogs are, at least as parents we can arm ourselves with knowledge, learn the signs, counter the arguments. We can support those who promote a positive body image where that image is based on health, confidence and self acceptance. We can teach our kids that food is fuel for life but also one of life's greatest pleasures if treated with respect. We can teach them that there is a weight at which our bodies function best (and it is not the same for everyone I know). Most importantly, we can teach them that being loved, respected and cherished has absolutely nothing to do with being thin.  

Monday, 11 August 2014

Musings From A Stay At Home Mum

I used to work. In fact, I started work at 16 (Saturday girl in F. W. Woolworths) and left my last job (Practice Director & Head of Marketing for a local law firm) at 43 - that's 27 years' experience of the working world.  But since I became a stay at home mum, it appears this counts for little.  Once you become a stay at home mum (SAHM), you experience subtle shifts in your friendships - particularly if your closest friends still work.  Not only do priorities change but time itself seems to shift.

Irrespective of the fact that full time childcare is bloody hard, albeit endlessly rewarding, work,  it is seen by many mums as a privileged position - and in many ways I can't disagree.  No dreadful early morning commute, no adherence to petty rules and regulations, no mind-numbing office politics.  But the truth is things are mighty different between the routines (and children) of mums who work and those who don't.

Come the holidays, those children who are cared for by child minders seem to experience little change to their routines, save for the precious week or so holiday their parents are able to carve into their schedules (and fleeced nicely by the UK Holiday Industry for doing so). It seems that children who are cared for outside their immediate family develop social skills quicker and benefit from a wider network of friends. These benefits also help the parents who probably get to know each other a little better since their offspring spend much longer periods of time together.

Working mums seem to be able to do more, to fit more into their days, to juggle.  When term ends I am always worried that my kids face a period of social isolation, deprived of their friends - even though I try my hardest to ensure that they meet their buddies over the holidays, I am aware that they usually have only each other for company.  Today in particular I have heard the "I've nobody to play with" refrain from Ieuan over and over again.  It sometimes feels as if I am trying to force their friendships whereas 'minded' children appear better 'networkers' even at this age!

When I used to attend Mother & Toddler Groups (which, hands-up, I found awful), there used to be a row of child minders one side of the church hall with the other side comprising grandmothers and perhaps one or two other SAHMs.  Occasionally, (whisper it) a MAN would appear to the great consternation of the throng and would be duly scrutinized, ostracized, subsequently pitied and possibly given a cup of tea.  The children would run amok, playing in that strange isolation made bearable by sharing a hall with 20 other screaming children, waiting patiently for their reward of a half cup of extremely dilute squash and a biscuit. Needless to say, Ieuan was happier scaling the stacked tables and trying to dismantle the fire extinguisher to the barely muted 'tuts' of the child minders.

Yup. Stay at Home Mums, these days seem to be quite a rare breed.  Particularly women embracing motherhood over the age of 40.    This creates a further divide because the other SAHMs you do meet are, generally much younger than you are.  I can hear you all shouting - "well, what did you expect" and you are right.  The weird thing about being pregnant (at least for me), is that the entire focus is about getting the baby out safe, well and with as little pain as possible. I cannot for the life of me fathom those women who look down on mothers whose children were born by caesarian as if a 'normal' birth is some kind of badge of honour. They rank as low, in my book, as those who judge women who are unable or unwilling to breast feed. My point is  I really had no idea of what was coming. I was not one of those women anxiously researching nurseries for junior.  I had a major panic attack just at the thought of packing my hospital bag for the birth.  If you're feeling the same at the moment, don't worry - a pack of muslin squares, a couple of nappies, a babygro and some ear plugs for you should cover it.  You don't really need an iPod of 'birthing songs' or an Evian spray for your face unless you simply must look moisturised at the height of physical discomfort or when you're high on gas and air.

I also find that friendships with those who do not have children require careful nurturing.  It is easy to vanish into the bosom of your family and their routines and not emerge for weeks, if not months. This is natural to you but incredible rude to them. Something as simple as a visit to the local pub for a couple of hours requires careful planning.  You can forget spontaneity. If you need to pay a babysitter, time with your friends comes at a cost, which can be hard for them to accept (and some may even be offended by this).   And when they visit, noise levels are carefully monitored and God forbid that they may accidentally drop the 'f' bomb in case junior is scarred or repeats it when the grandparents visit.

You can also resign yourself to the fact that many will view you as less intelligent because you do not work. Even surveys rarely have a box for 'stay at home parent'.  You may find 'homemaker' but generally you have to select 'unemployed' as the status option.  Well, sorry, but I don't consider myself 'unemployed'!

Do I want to go back to work?  Eventually perhaps.  Part of me thinks I should just relax more and take every day as it comes because I am very lucky to have the opportunity to raise my kids full time.  But there's a tiny part of me that remembers who I used to be when I worked - and misses her.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Children's Short Story: Moosie-Moo Cow And The Cheesy Moon


Once upon a time, there was a cow called Moosie-Moo who spent her days happily grazing in Poppy Meadow. Her closest friends were a beautiful fluffy rabbit called Honeybun and a wise old owl called Lennon.

Now Moosie-Moo loved to canter, gambol and kick her heels. She'd race raindrops running down the knobbly oak, she'd race beatles through the long lush grass and sometimes, when the sun was high, she'd even race her own shadow.

Summer turned into autumn. The Harvest Moon rose like a huge blue lantern and Moosie-Moo became suddenly sad. “What's wrong?”, asked Honeybun, bouncing like a rubber ball, eyes shining bright in the moonbeams. A rustle high above in the leaves of the knobbly oak announced the arrival of Lennon who settled on his favourite branch, spectacles perched on his beak. He let out a long “twit twooooo”.

Moosie-Moo sighed and stared at the moon. “It's so beautiful”, she said, “I just want to jump right over it”. Honeybun sat back on her haunches in surprise. “But,” said Moosie-Moo, “I can walk and run and roll on my back but I can't fly like Lennon or jump like you”.

Honeybun considered. Lennon closed both his eyes and seemed to sleep. “Well,” she said, “perhaps you should do some training to practise jumping high enough to reach the moon. Why do you want to go to the moon anyway?”. “That's easy”, said Moosie-Moo. “I've heard that there's a cat who plays the violin, a little laughing dog, a dish and spoon who love each other and it's made of lovely, yummy, creamy cheese! It sounds so much fun!”

Next morning the training session began. Honeybun used her great strong paws to dig a pit filled with warm sandy soil and created a finishing line made from her best carrots at the end of Poppy Meadow. “Moosie-Moo”, she instructed, “run as fast as you can and jump! Jump with all your might!”.

So Moosie-Moo ran the length of the meadow and when she saw the pit and the line of carrots she threw herself into the air but her hooves barely rose higher than the tallest blade of grass and she sank firmly into the pit of sandy soil. “Oh dear”. said Honeybun. Over and over again Moosie-Moo raced the length of the meadow, willing her body to rise into the air. “You make it look so easy, Honeybun” she sighed sadly.

As the moon rose that night, the two friends sat together bathing in the soft moonlight. “I bet it's the best, most creamy cheese you could wish for up there”, said Moosie-Moo. “Have a carrot”, said Honeybun, “you'll see better in the dark”. A swish in the trees announced Lennon's arrival, but he remained silent in the dark canopy of leaves above.

“I have heard”, said Honeybun about a magic device made by a cat named paul”. “I think you mean a catapault”, said Moosie-Moo, “I'm too heavy”. Honeybun thought again. “what about going on that tram with pauline”? “I think you mean a trampoline”, said Moosie-Moo, “I don't think it'd get me high enough”.

Now Lennon could keep quiet no longer. He shook his wings and fluffed out his chest. His eyes gleamed in the moonlight. “Moosie-Moo”, he said sternly, “the moon is there for all to enjoy. It would be a shame if you were to take dents out of it by eating its lovely soft cheese!”.

“Well,” said Moosie-Moo, “it seems as if I will never get there in any case. I cannot fly and I cannot jump. All I can do is walk and run and roll on my back”.

“Moosie-Moo”, said Lennon, his glasses sliding even further down his beak, “you can walk in the sunshine and run in the rain, you can roll on your back in the mud. You are tall enough to see right across Poppy Meadow. I have to fly in the air and Honeybun has to hop till she's breathless to see the sun setting on the horizon. And your friends the beatles barely get to see above the grass”.

“I suppose I am being rather ungrateful”, said Moosie-Moo.

“We all have our special talents and skills”, said Lennon. “It's what makes Poppy Meadow the wonderful place that it is.”.

Honeybun twitched her nose, gently placing her paw on her old friend's hoof said, “We'll always be friends whether or not you can jump over the moon”.

“Indeed,” said Lennon. “It's not how high you can jump but what makes your heart jump with joy that matters”.

And with that, he closed his great round eyes and went back to sleep, leaving Moosie-Moo and Honeybun to happily continue moonbathing in the peace of Poppy Meadow.

copyright Linda Hobbis 8/8/14

Monday, 4 August 2014

I Like A Kagool, As a Rule


When I was a child, our holidays were usually either in the homes of our grandparents, in Plymouth, Devon or we'd rent a cottage in one of the beautiful landscapes of the British Isles - the Lakes, Yorkshire or, closer to home, Dolgellau or Aberporth.  

In those days, a theme park was an unheard of proposition.  Going out to play meant zooming up and down the cul-de-sac on a Mini Moulton or a Chopper bicycle.  The most hedonistic experience you could have at the fair ground was going down the log flume whilst consuming a boiling hot doughnut or, possibly, trying to eat candyfloss in a force 10 gale whilst sporting very long hair.  The end result was not dissimilar to one of those troll dolls you could buy - or was it a gonk?  I never did manage to work out the difference.  

But one thing was a reassuring constant.  It always rained.  Always.  Apart from the 'long, hot summer of 1976' which most of us, ahem, mature individuals can recall.  So, the entire family would sport the lovely, crinkly and sweat inducing garment that is the kagool.  Helpfully high visibility, even on the bleakest afternoon up Cader Idris or in the depths of the slate mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog, you could probably spot the Brooks family from space.  We moved like a day-glo orange unit, armed with dad's rucksack, some cracked plastic camping mugs (which, mother is STILL using) and emergency Kendal Mint Cake (a minty, sugar based confection which tasted fabulous, resembled a brick and could probably knock you out if it were thrown at you).  Sandwiches were cheese and tomato (irrespective of the fact that nobody really liked tomato).  Crisps were those Salt 'n' Shake ones which were murder if you suffered from mouth ulcers and, since the tortured minds at Robinsons had not yet conceived the "Fruit Shoot", we had squashy, plastic cartons of Kia Ora which was as orange as our kagools.

I have spent every day so far this holiday in a complete lather about "how to entertain the kids".  I have morphed into an irritable, over-anxious Butlins Red Coat of a mother, bemoaning the fact that every venue seems to require a lengthy drive, satnav, and, of course, at least 50 photographs uploaded to Facebook within 30 minutes of returning home.  (Here we are on the beach.  Here we are eating an ice cream on the beach.  Here we are digging a hole - on the beach).  Guilty as charged, m'lud but I wish it wasn't such a compulsion.

If their Facebook statuses are to be believed, other mums seem to have ferried their offspring the length and breadth of this country's entertainment venues within the first two weeks of the holidays.  They must surely be mainlining Berroca (although it is more likely to be Pinot Grigio).  They've been abseiling, rock climbing, horse riding, baking, crafting, bbq-ing and face painting.  Well, we went to Tescos and let me tell you it was a disaster.  Despite Ieuan managing to hold on to Kevin (his evil minion), Caitlin managed to lose one of her soft toy puppy collection which resulted in two trips to Cogan on one of the hottest day of the year and much wailing and tears (and that was just me).  Then we went to Penarth Headland to some swings with a sea view.  Caitlin fell off the swing so the rest of the afternoon was spent in the Heath Hospital A&E.  (cue the usual muttering from the Husband about us consuming far more than our fair share of NHS resources).

I'm beginning to wonder if I would have been better off bussing them to Alton Towers and straping them onto The Smiler for the afternoon.  We didn't have play centres like Parc or the Zone.  If you got your face painted it was because you'd swiped your mother's Avon lippie while her back was turned.  Everything was much simpler, cheaper and probably safer.

So I think I'm going to buy us all kagools in case of inclement weather and take the kids to visit some of the finest pay and display car parks this country has to offer.  It'll be a thermos, cheese and tomato sarnies and ready salted crisps.

And you know what?  I think they'd be just as happy.  All kids really want is loving attention from their parents.  And all I want is an extremely large glass of rioja!  You can post that on Facebook.