Sunday, 14 July 2019

WIGS, MAKE-UP & SEQUINS...


Work and home life has been full-on the last few months not leaving me much time to blog! It's such a unique job with so many challenges in an extremely niche market but it's definitely the most interesting, fun and rewarding job I've ever done. Things change at a rapid pace, the circus moves from town to town and you have to be on your toes and adaptable at all times, which isn't always the easiest thing to do when you have three children. 

My employers are extremely accommodating and I work flexibly to be able to meet the demands of both my job and family life. I have always been blessed to work for people who respect the need to be able to work flexibly and in by supporting my ability to work in this way, have always got the best out of me as an employee. It doesn't mean I don't still feel guilty when I leave at 3pm to do the school run, but they know later on I'll be on line answering DM's, emails and posting on social media. 

I met the lovely Anna Whitehouse a few years back whilst in a queue for the loo at the Cheltenham Literature Festival (apart from there wasn't a queue she was just taking a moment to check messages and I didn't turn the doorknob enough so stood there like a fool!) I have followed and admired her 'Flex Appeal' campaign for years and find it incredulous that employers in this day and age don't embrace flexible working, not just for women with families but just as importantly for men too who want to be present to raise their families. 

I did have a horrible moment a few years back when our whole pub adventure came to an end and I was faced with having to find a job. To find anything part-time or flexible is nigh-on impossible and I feel it's often something afforded to loyal employees rather than new ones. I believe the key to any businesses success is finding the right people, the one's who fit into an organisation's ethos and amibitions and are prepared to show up and work hard. So don't be put off by going for full-time jobs or jobs that don't mention flexible working, find out if they are interested in you as if they are they will listen to you and I hope would accommodate your needs. 

Saturday, 29 June 2019

FATHERS DAY FOSSIL HUNTING...


A simple Father's Day this year of fossil hunting in a local quarry with the boys. Instead of doing a Sunday lunch I thought steak sandwiches cooked al fresco would make a nice treat, so took the single hob gas stove with us to cook them on. Simply cooked with lashings of garlic butter and served in a lightly toasted ciabatta with a pint of beer. 


We found slow worms hiding from the drizzle and plenty of pyramidal orchids - or are these early purple (I can never remember!)




We watched onimously as the dark clouds rolled up the valley, until the drizzle reached us!






Happy Father's Day...

Saturday, 18 May 2019

EXAM STRESS...


I remember exams only too well and am not one of those people with a photographic memory that can retain a lot of facts and figures, I learn through doing so I found school a challenge. That said I chose subjects I enjoyed and the ones that had more course work over exam based grades. I was one of the first few years of GSCE's and I guess they suited me more. I am incredibly frustrated with how exam based GCSE's are now becoming, and how much harder they are than when I studied for them. I am sure my son has done more or less the same for GCSE English than I did for A-level English!

My eldest took GCSE statistics last summer, so all he has to do is get four more GCSE's at grade 5 or above to go on to A-levels or whatever he decides to do, so I'm just hoping he has done enough! This photo isn't of my eldest I hasten to add, it's number two son, who was more stressed about his end of year exams in year eight than his older brother was about his GCSE's!

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

WILD GARLIC SCOTCH EGGS...


Went a bit mad for Wild Garlic Scotch eggs this season. Easy to make and the wild garlic just adds a little something extra when wrapped around the egg and chopped into the sausage meat. Perfect for picnic adventures. 



Saturday, 27 April 2019

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION...


I posted a picture of my son's birthday cake on Instagram this week and received some lovely compliments and lots of likes. I always try and create a special and unique cake for the boys birthdays  but they are never expensive as necessity really is the mother of all invention. 


I am always worried trying to think of an original idea but no matter how early I start thinking the idea doesn't often come to me until the day before, I guess my brain just works better under pressure!



This year we made a plain chocolate sponge, nothing fancy, and iced it all over with chocolate buttercream. Then the main idea - a treehouse, an idea that seemed simple but I tried three versions before one actually worked. I got the main stick from a hazel that we chopped down in the garden and then cut up a fruit crate to use as a base, and made the treehouse from an old wicker basket that had broken. A bit of moss, a swing made from a lego tyre and a ladder made from cardboard completed the treehouse. 


The 'icing on the cake' was a number thirteen laser cut from wood from The Bespoke Workshop, that was simple especially for a child that didn't want too much fuss but certainly appreciated the effort! 

Saturday, 13 April 2019

{AD:GIFTED} WHICH CAME FIRST THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?


We were invited by Simpsons Fish & Chips in Cheltenham (they also have a shop in Stroud too) to sample a fish and chip supper followed by their Easter Special - the deep fried Cadbury's creme egg. Yes you heard that right, the much-loved creme egg, but with a Simpson's twist!

Simpsons Fish & Chips is situated outside the town centre and dare I say in the less glamorous part of Cheltenham. However this has not stopped this dynamic business that only opened in 2009 build up quite a reputation and attract locals and tourists alike to enjoy their award-winning fish & chips - they won the coveted 'Best Fish & Chip Takeaway in Britain' award in 2016.

In Cheltenham the takeaway has an adjoining restaurant serving fish and chip dishes throughout the week. We ventured in on a Saturday teatime, slightly daunted by the amount of football traffic we passed (Simpsons is situated not far from Cheltenham Town Football ground), but it was easy to park and not too busy inside. We arrived at the same time as some groups, a large family group occupied one table with parents and grandparents passing around babies, another table had a large group of children who guessing by their attire had been to the football match and were all gathering for tea. The relaxed environment and babble of excited children being treated to a fish and chip supper made for a lovely atmosphere.

Mel greeted us with a big smile, wearing the Simpsons retro uniform of MAC Ruby Woo red lipstick and headscarf and quickly seated us with menus. We sat in a diner style booth and hungrily eyed the menu, choosing fish goujons from the children's menu, a chicken burger, haddock and homemade fishcakes all with the promise of an unlimited supply of chips.


Despite the restaurant being full our food arrived quickly, something fairly obvious when the kitchen is the takeaway kitchen, but when dining with children it's something I do appreciate and never take for granted. The portion sizes were generous and food delicious, my homemade fishcakes were perfect and accompanied with homemade tartare sauce. The chips were spot on and in my humble opinion the perfect chip shop chip, not too crispy and made from seasonal potatoes so they actually taste of potato! The haddock lay across the whole of the plate and was not shared - a certain sign that it was good and not one of us could manage any more chips!


For the finale and the bit that we were most looking forward too, the deep fried creme eggs. Mel presented them to us in an egg cup accompanied by vanilla ice cream. Probably not the most attractive looking dish covered and misshapen in batter, but we overlooked that and quickly sliced the top off and scooped out the chocolatey gooey insides as if we were eating a boiled egg. The youngest boy was not too keen on the batter, but luckily for him, I was there to step in and mop up any bits he couldn't manage in an act of pure selflessness! They really are quite something to eat and very unusual but for novelty value and family entertainment I would highly recommend the whole experience, we have certainly been talking about it ever since and am sure they'll feature in the six-year old's stories when he goes back to school - although I'm not sure what the teachers will make of it or even believe him!



Deep fried creme eggs are available for a limited time over Easter - find out more information here www.simpsonsfishandchips.com and do book if you want to eat in the restaurant, it is really popular.

Disclosure: we were invited as a family for supper and to try the deep fried creme eggs in Simpsons Fish & Chip restaurant, Cheltenham in return for this review. The review, however, is entirely our own words and opinions. 

FINDING A SENSE OF BELONGING...


I’m not very good at making friends and am terribly self conscious and awkward. Social situations in general make me nervous but something most curious has happened since I arrived at the circus. 


I started working there at probably one of my most difficult times when I was feeling really low, with no confidence and was facing a lot of challenges in life. Circus people treat you for who you are, there is no pretence, no delusions of grandeur, you are simply accepted and everyone is the same. 


I was in awe of this new family who were unlike anything I had experienced before and they all swept me up, accepted who I was - warts and all and provided me with a place where I could be me, without being judged, and flourish by doing what I do best. 


The older (& wiser!) I get the more I believe everything happens for a reason and I think that it’s no coincidence that I came to the circus when I did. I absolutely adore working there and being a small cog in a truly huge wheel, it doesn’t feel like work, in fact some of our most stressful times bring us closer together as we laugh through our woes. Anyway I digress, what I wanted to say is that after 18 months working these I found myself in a period of reflection at the company party the other night and I realised that I didn’t feel like the awkward new girl anymore, I felt at home, I had a sense of belonging and was surrounded by the most amazing, wonderful and ever-so slightly bonkers people in the world and I felt truly blessed. For the first time I don't feel that I have to pretend to be something I'm not. 


Some people who know how much I adore the circus warned me about working at Giffords Circus would loose its magic but actually there is more magic behind the scenes than you see in the ring. The circus is a mini metaphor of life, people come and go, some stay a season, some remain in your life longer, but you make the most of all the little moments and opportunities as you don’t know when they might happen again. This is so true of life - who knows what's around the next corner and I believe there’s always something no matter how big or small waiting to challenge you especially when you least expect it! 


When I originally posted this on Instagram someone said in the comments that when you feel very self conscious some people push you further into a corner, whilst others bring you out and that choosing to spend time the right people is what it's all about. That and being open to change I believe is the key. 


Who knows what the future holds? I might only be at the circus for a short time or I might be there for years ahead, but I know one thing, I'm not going to stop being grateful for my circus family and enjoying every single minute. 

Sunday, 10 March 2019

DO YOU EVER GET THE HANG OF PARENTING?


Do you ever really get the hang of parenting? I always feel two steps behind and almost weekly there is a new challenge. As they get older they get more self sufficient and as long as I feed them constantly and ensure that their uniforms and sports kits are washed, things run pretty smoothly in our home.

Then there comes a change in the dynamic, a new challenge or problem arises and I struggle to maintain equilibrium. The boy's Sever's disease is a case in point, what started out as what we thought was a sprained ankle, turned into almost six months of not walking, ferrying him everywhere, endless appointments, both feet in plaster and missing lots of school. In meant emotionally we were worried (and increasingly snippy with each other) and supporting him more and I felt that I took my eye off the ball with the other two. It also meant that with him not being mobile he has developed an extremely unhealthy obsession with the X-box that I am close to throwing out of the window!

It's one of those things that you just deal with until you come out the other side and realise quite how stressful the whole thing was. During this time the oldest boy has now got a girlfriend, who is absolutely lovely and we have welcomed her into our crazy home, but that too comes with a set of new emotions as a mother, this time of letting go, something I struggle greatly with but in fairness is easier than I thought it would be. It is a lovely thing to watch your child mature and grown and become everything you always hoped they would become, but very scary at the same time.

Then the youngest who still occassionally climbs into our bed to sleep (and I'd not have it any other way!) is really struggling with learning to read. He's not too aware of it yet, but I think being the youngest of three it is easier to spot the difficulties. His teachers are already aware and we have had a few discussions about it and the possibility of dyslexia, but it's early days and my eldest didn't really start reading until he was seven so I'm not overly worried but I'm very keen to encourage his reading and practice and hope that he doesn't lose confidence as he's such a positive little chap.

I'm not sure I'll ever get the hang of this parenting malarky and to be truthful I'm not sure you are ever meant to?

Sunday, 3 March 2019

SONS & SUNDAYS...


'A Sunday roast will set you up for the week', says my mother, a 'feeder' by nature and an unwritten family law that I try to stick to. Something hearty and filling and mostly traditional roast in nature. Although today was Lancashire hotpot, served with a doff of the cap to my husbands lineage of Lancashire mining stock. 

Sundays aren't always fun days but days of chores. Washing school uniform, cooking said roast and preparing for the week ahead whilst trying to get the youngest feral Bradshaw in the bath! I've just plotted the eldest sons exams on the family calendar and scared myself silly with the amount of exams he has to do and how soon they have come around - was he not just a babe in arms? 

Trying to motivate him to revise is similar to training pigs to fly, in fact I'd rather do the latter to be honest! I absolutely hate the one-size-fits-all education system, which hasn't improved since I was in school in the late 80's / early 90's in fact one of my teachers is now teaching my son! And I'm dreading results day when all the parents whose only posts on Facebook are about the accomplishments of their proteges, are sharing posts about their little darlings having got all A's or whatever number it is now!

This makes me sound awful I know, but there, I've said it out loud. My children are deliciously ordinary. They are bright, sociable, healthy and happy (most of the time - as let's not paint an unrealistic picture). They fight with each other and argue with us, they are kind and caring, messy and loud, sporty and dirty, and I adore them. I couldn't care less if they get A's or not - in fact *shock horror* they don't even have to pass all of their exams - just enough to get them to where they want to go. I do worry that my laissez-faire attitude will rub off on them and results in a lack of ambition as don't get me wrong I expect them to work hard in life and find something that they are passionate about. 

Right now I've got that off my chest I'm off to sew up a hole in some school trousers and maybe hothousing the six year old, third time lucky right?  

MARCH

Saturday, 23 February 2019

BOWLING BACK TO MY YOUTH...


As I think back to my teenage years I remember microwave meals, Findus crispy pancakes, CND badges, the Body Shop strawberry lip balm bought with hard earned pocket money, making mix tapes and singing along to Top of the Pops with a hairbrush! Americana was a big thing, I had a picture of James Dean smoking on my wall and dreamt of owning a pair of Levi 501's.

I remember school trips vividly as it gave us the opportunity to escape our town and discover a whole new world, the seaside arcades would attract us with their hypnotic lights and loud music, luring us to spend all of our pocket money. Computer games weren't such a big thing (can you even imagine?) and the nearest a lot of us got to them were playing on the big arcade machines until our money ran out. My favourite were the moving money shelves where you fed the machine your copper coins to try and knock more off, a fruitless task but would keep me entertained for ages.

Bowling Alleys took a long time to reach rural Gloucestershire and before they arrived our only experience of them were on family holidays or trips to bigger cities. Nowadays they are a feature of every big town and a norm in our children's lives and as much as I promote an outdoorsy ethos, there is a complete joy of being able to do something that the whole family enjoys together - which is harder than it should be!

Cue half term and two moaning teenagers and a bored six year old and, hallelujah, an invite from Hollywood Bowl in Cheltenham to go bowling. We are treated to a VIP lane with waitress service, something most bizarre to my husband who is just programmed to hunt out and go to the bar! Whilst he struggles with being waited on (which also indicates quite a lot about our domestic life I must confess!) the boys and I completely embrace it and absolutely love our fab waitress who appears with some very retro milkshakes, which were delicious (I recommend salted caramel) and some popcorn chicken and fries, perfect to snack on whilst we bowl.

We get started and the husband and I have a shocking first bowl much to the joy of the boys, one of them even had the audacity to get a strike with their first ball! The youngest uses ones of those ramp things that makes it so easy for little ones to play a real game. The milkshakes are finished and the two youngest plead for a Slush Puppy, and as I am completely reliving my youth and I agree, their eyes lighting up as a jug of strawberry and raspberry mixed ice is delivered, followed by brain freeze!

The eldest two boys draw the top score and we celebrate by ordering food, burgers and hot dogs all round. It's not the finest dining but it's delivered quickly and we hungrily dig in, ketchup is squirted on everything and the beautifully presented platters soon resemble a scene from Pulp Fiction!

It's Friday night and in the bowling alley there is a mixture of families, children's parties, work outings and the Cheltenham youth playing pool. The music is loud and the decor is too - a heady mix of retro with quirky additions such as a Cadillac table to eat in and movie paraphernalia everywhere, my 15 year old self would have adored it and actually my 40+ self does too and for a fleeting moment I feel like a cool mum and I wonder why we haven't done this before?

We finish the evening in the arcade on the space invaders game, trying to win a soft toy with 'the claw' and to my joy, the coin machines. We split up, each clutching a handful of change, coming together every so often and joining forces on shooting games.

Three hours passed too quickly and we all had a brilliant evening, the six year old beside himself to leave so leaving is done hastily and grumpily - but that is the best sign of a good time when you have to be dragged away I guess. Thank you so much Hollywood Bowl UK for inviting us to your bowling alley, we will definitely be back if only to try those amazing puddings that we were all too full to try yesterday!

Disclosure: we were invited as a family to Hollywood Bowl UK in Cheltenham for a game of bowling and to eat, the views here however are my own. #gifted 

More information: Hollywood Bowl UK, The Brewery, Henrietta Street, Cheltenham. 

Monday, 7 January 2019

OUR ACHILLES HEEL...


Over the years with three boys we're gradually working our way through childhood accidents and diseases like they are tick boxes in an i-spy book of raising children. In fact sometimes when I have seen the doctor in the same week with all three boys for three separate reasons (and that has happened on occassion) I worry that they think I am an awful mother or worse still they name a chair in the waiting room after us. 

We've negotiated our way through chicken pox and shingles, slap cheek, nits - that was a joy when we discovered them whilst camping with no running hot water! Then we had the joy of worms - I thought nits were bad, never, ever google 'threadworms', the images still haunt me to this day. Now as the boys are getting older it's the turn of growing pains, with the eldest suffering from Osgood Schlatters disease, which until he was diagnosed he had little sympathy from me. Who knew being hyperactive had a downside, well this joyful disease causes pain in the knee as the tendons don't stretch quick enough over the bones causing friction and pain after exercise - great if you're a sports loving boy. 

I will stop at this point and declare that I am not medically trained and my knowledge is gleaned from the internet, doctors and physiotherapists and my interpretation here may not to 100% accurate. Also although it took a while to get the diagnosis the NHS staff have been absolutely fabulous.

I digress! In September boy two started playing rugby again after taking a year off. Later in the afternoon he retreated to the sofa in pain, we teased him for being unfit! Over the next few days his heel got increasingly painful and he was unable to put any weight at all on it. We couldn't get a doctors appointment they said it was probably sport related so go straight to the Emergency Department, where we waited for three hours to be told it was plantarfaschitis. It got worse and stopped him sleeping over the next week so back we went, waiting for three hours and was advised it could be a fracture but they didn't want to Xray as he was young so issued us with crutches and told us they would refer us to physiotherapy. 

About three/four weeks passed and we heard nothing, we returned to our doctors to ask if we had been lost in the system. Yes we had, there was no referral, so we were given a number to self refer to physio (who knew you could do that!). By this time walking on both feet was painful and so we returned to the doctor for stronger pain relief, although that knocked out the 12 year old. We tried everything the physio suggested but nothing worked, but she did diagnose it as Severs disease, much like Osgood Schlatters where the tendon was rubbing against the bones of the heel which hadn't fused together fully causing pain. There's always relief when something is given a name - don't you think? 

I'm now lost as to how many weeks it was, he hadn't been able to walk around school properly and couldn't get to lessons that were upstairs, he was deemed a 'fire risk'. He was managing about half a day in school in a room in 'learning support' on his own, mainly doing computer based work, some teachers even forgetting to send him work to do and not seeing his friends. 

He also had started to crawl around at home, the pain in both legs just too much to walk on. It got too much for me when he had to play in a concert and we literally had to get him there by wheeling him in a cart. We finally managed to get into the local doctors showing how he couldn't walk not even with crutches and we were referred to an orthopaedic consultant straight away. Who said it was a severe case of Severs and put his lower legs in casts to be changed every two weeks. 

And here we are. 

I realise how lucky we've been up to this point with childhood illnesses that come and go but nothing that challenges us long term. At first it was a novelty, spirits remained high. Now it's taking its toll. If you can't walk very well, living in a hilly market town isn't good, and you realise how inaccessible everywhere is. You plan parking and try to get as close as you can to everything by turning up early. You arrange lifts to and from school for ease. You make sure there is always someone at home with him. 

Despite not being in as much pain he still can't get around school, play any sports, go to scouts and be the generally active chap he used to be. It is terribly frustrating and really getting him down. It seems really selfish of me to say that I am hating the amount of appointments we have to take him to as well. 

I don't know why I'm sharing all of this with you, maybe because I'd never heard of this before and if your child had similar symptoms don't be afraid to get it checked out. It has been 18 weeks and we've just taken one step at a time learning as we go and trusting that there is light at the end of the tunnel and his achilles heels won't turn out to be his achilles heels! 
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