Random ramblings of a busy brain…

Is JoJo ban justified?

Latest tween fashion statement divides opinion in the playground. 

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Following faddy trends and sporting the latest fashion have become part of every day life for many school age children both here and in America.

Gone are the days of swapping marbles or trading conkers, today’s children are far more interested in gadgets or discussing the latest YouTube stars.

One popular YouTube star is JoJo Siwa, a 13-year-old girl famous for starring in US reality show Dance Mom and creating the now infamous JoJo Bow.

Large, brightly coloured hair clips with an oversized bow attached, JoJo Bows are used by girls to decorate a ponytail and, although something similar but slightly smaller was popular in the 1980s, they are taking the country by storm.

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JoJo Bow of the 80’s – aka The Fergie Bow

This may have something to do with the fact that JoJo, who also sings, has her own YouTube channel and a huge online presence – her videos have had over 2 million views and she has 4.5 million followers on Instagram so, even if you’ve never heard of her, chances are your child has.

Recently releasing a video explaining why she likes to wear giant bows, JoJo has inspired thousands of young girls to follow in her footsteps, even releasing her own range available for them to choose from at a high street retailer.

So, why is this news? Apparently the giant hair accessory is giving teachers a huge headache and some schools have made the decision to ban them completely, leading to one angry parent accusing teachers of treating the bows “like guns.”

The headteacher of one of the schools to ban the bow has justified the decision, saying that they don’t fit in with the school uniform ethos which is enforced to signal to the children that they are part of the school family and there to work, not be distracted by huge accessories worn by their classmates.

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JoJo Siwa

School uniform has been subject to debate several times over the years – Michael Gove has previously urged all schools to introduce not just a standard uniform, but blazers and ties too. Then there was the time Ed Balls suggested that local authorities encourage schools to adopt ‘smart’ uniforms and strengthen ties with ‘uniformed’ organisations such as scouts and guides.

Not everyone agrees and one man who has spent eight years studying school related statistics is American academic, David Brunsma, a sociology professor at Missouri-Colombia University. After embarking on the lengthy research he concluded that uniforms do not make schools better and the enforced wearing of one is actually an issue of children’s rights, social control and one related to increasing racial, class and gender inequalities in schools.

See this article about a school in Derbyshire that produces fantastic results, is deemed good by OFSTED and doesn’t enforce a uniform at all.

What do you think – are schools right to ban the accessory or are they making a mountain out of a hair bow?

Can everyone just stop taking selfies now please….

Heres a little selfie...

Heres a little selfie…

According to the Urban Dictionary (yes, there is such a thing), a selfie is: ‘A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website.’

An alternative description could be: “Self-absorbed, totally unnecessary and often poorly focused snapshot taken with the primary intention of posting on social network sites, for no particular reason at all.”

The BBC has recently released an article, looking at the science behind selfies, explaining that ‘people generally have an image of themselves that tends to be younger and more attractive than we really are. This has led to an obsession with selfies, for the first time ever we are able to take and retake pictures of ourselves until we can produce an image that comes closer to matching our perception of what we think we look like.’

Ok. So let’s just think about that for a second.

Just because you are able to do something, it does not mean that you really should. Selfies are the perfect example of this. I suppose it does show a certain amount of confidence, and possibly a little narcissism, to post self-portraits on the Internet, knowing that others are able to comment on them. However, if they are being Photoshopped to death and then shared in the vain hope of gaining ‘likes’ then I think you may have a deeper issue that needs addressing…

The perfect Photoshop selfie?

I have spent many an evening ‘untagging’ myself from pictures I would rather never saw the light of day, let alone want anyone to comment on. *Is it untagging or detagging – has anyone officially decided on what we are calling this yet?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally against the odd self-portrait; I even took one once, of me and my Grandma on her 90th birthday. The result was an unflattering, blurred picture of me looking ten years older than my actual age, highlighting every blemish, pimple and stray hair, and my Grandma looking terrified, staring into camera like a rabbit in proverbial headlights.

There are just so many of them that it’s driven me to a severe state of SOS….(Sick Of Selfies). Just once I want to be able to log onto Facebook without being bombarded with countless selfies, from, ‘I am wearing bikini in winter and then taking pics in the mirror for no reason’ to the more common and disturbing, ‘look at me pulling a duck face at various locations throughout the day’…..yes, you know who you are.

I’m not alone in my despair of this alleged nit-spreading, self-loving obsession sweeping the country. Selfies made an appearance in The Independent’s list of ’50 things we hate about modern life’ – coming in at an unsurprising number six, not quite as annoying as self service check outs but considerably more disliked than the entity known as Gangnam Style (which, for the record, came in at number 22).

Mona Lisa Selfie...

Mona Lisa Selfie…

 

Every man and his dog has access to some kind of device these days, and the capacity to take pictures of some amazing things and sharing them with the world online within seconds. Sadly, looking at some of the selfies floating around it would appear that, for some people, the dog would actually be able to take a better picture than they clearly can.

 

Who was it that decided to, rather than focusing the camera on the wonders of nature or the joy of capturing a special moment, it would be a much better idea to take a picture of yourself looking ridiculous – and then share it all over the internet like some kind of crazed cyber-egotist?

The number of selfies popping up is mind-blowing; over 17 million selfies are uploaded to social media every week and it’s not just the teenagers who are adding to these figures either.

It would be nice to blame the youth for such nonsense, writing it off as a faddy craze but, while they may have started it, they are certainly not the only ones keeping this strange new tradition alive and growing at epidemic proportions.

The first ever selfie was taken in 1914, by the then thirteen-year-old, Russian Duchess, Anastasia Romanov. I’m sure she had no idea just what she had started that day as she stood on a chair and took a picture of herself using a Brownie box camera. Anastasia later sent it to a friend saying: “I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard and my hands were trembling.”

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna

Grand Duchess Anastasia 

These days the over-55s are taking more selfies than the 18 to 24-year-olds, with one in six admitting to regularly taking one. My own great-aunt Enid is one of these OSOs (Older Selfie Offenders), she’s been known to post the same selfie over a dozen times within a minute. It seems that while she struggles with the concept of press and wait while uploading, she is, however, a dab hand at the ‘art of selfie’- often striking her own version of the duck face pose. Bless her puckered lips…

Turns out there are even a number of websites and Youtube videos offering tips on how to achieve the ‘perfect selfie’, while over on Twitter, ‘self-confessed-selfie-fan’ Kim Kardashian regularly tweets advice to her millions of followers, before getting distracted by her own reflection…

Seems that the selfie is here to stay and, love it or hate it there isn’t much us selfie-phobes can do about it – other than ignore them and hope they go away…

Possibly the most famous selfie ever?

Possibly the most famous selfie ever?

Several of my friends, who shall remain anonymous, are serial selfie-offenders and it drives me crazy. One in particular has even been known to post the same picture several times using different filters. I kid you not…

I will leave you with quite possibly one of the most annoying songs ever released, I predict this appearing in next years list of major irritations…..

Strangeways…The inside story

JUST outside Manchester city centre, not far from the hustle and bustle of shoppers and office workers, there is a landmark that is known by many, recognized by others and and feared by some.

Strangeways  via Shutterstock

Strangeways 

Today, Her Majesty’s Prison Manchester, previously known as Strangeways, is an intimidating, somewhat overbearing construction overlooking the busy trading area of Cheetham Hill Road where warehouses can be found down every side street.

As a category A prison, HMP Manchester houses more than 1,000 of the country’s most dangerous and depraved individuals, some of whom are guilty of murder, rape and supply of Class A drugs.

Opened in 1868, at a cost of £170,000, Strangeways was originally designed in an overtly

Alfred Waterhouse via Wiki commons

Alfred Waterhouse 

gothic way, as chosen by the winner of a competition at the time for the best design – a man called Alfred Waterhouse.

Manchester had been named as an assize town since 1864, meaning that the city could try serious cases and had the right to execute anyone convicted of murder.

These, public executions, were held outside the walls of New Bailey Gaol, but, having been built in the eighteenth century, it had fallen into disrepair and needed rebuilding.

In 1863, five years before public executions were abolished, a group of Lancashire magistracy met in the Mayor’s parlour at Manchester Town Hall and called for a new county gaol, where executions would be held in private. They proposed that hangings should take place within the walls of the gaol, and that the only witnesses should be the High Sheriff, the governor, a special jury and representatives from the press.

These suggestions met with government approval and bear many similarities to the procedures that were eventually adopted, once private executions were introduced, and permission was given for the new gaol to be built. Some of the original stones from New Bailey were used in the construction of the new one too.

Strangeways, built on Southall Street, was effectively two gaols in one, holding 800 men and the same number of women, with steps in place to ensure that they never came into contact with each other. Notably this included a screen that was pulled across splitting the chapel in half so that even during prayer there would be no opportunity to meet with the opposite sex.

Panoptic design of Manchester Prison via Wiki Commons

Panoptic design of Manchester Prison

Built using the Panoptic principle, Strangeways can be best seen from above where the breathtaking view of all six wings radiating like spokes on a bicycle from the all-seeing central viewpoint can be found.

This was in the days before the all-seeing eye we know as CCTV came into being, the prison officers of old relied heavily on the circular design, patrolling the central area regularly in a bid to deter escapees.

Each wing has four floors split into blocks, with over thirty cells on each, as well as a shower block, recreation area and laundry room for the inmates to use. The cells were originally made for single prisoners but, in more recent years, they have been adapted to house two inmates, often causing overcrowding and other related problems.

Each cell measures just 13-foot in length, 7-foot wide and 9-foot high – when the prison was first opened they were equipped with a simple wooden bed that could be used as a table during the day. These days while the size hasn’t changed the bed has, to be replaced with a metal bunk bed and a separate table and chair, although it is somewhat cramped, especially for two grown men.

Originally some of the cells were fitted out as workshops, so inmates could fill their time weaving matting and making shoes. There was also a treadmill that could be used by eighty men at one time, this was for prisoners sentenced to hard labour; it pumped all of the water used within the gaol from a deep well.

The tall, minaret-like shaft within Strangeways is a prominent feature of the Manchester skyline and

Strangeways Tower via Wiki Commons

Strangeways Tower

originally it operated as both a smoke stack and a ventilation shaft. It hasn’t been in use for years but is still a major feature of the prison nonetheless.

The basement was reserved for the ‘refractory cells’; it was to these that the governor sent prisoners who would not work or who broke prison rules. It was also where the condemned cell was located.

Formed by two ordinary cells being opened up into one large cell, in the basement of B wing, the condemned cell is still there today – although the original use has long since been abandoned.

There were two metal doors, one leading to a long corridor, the other to the visiting area. It was there that family and friends met with the condemned prisoner, although they were allowed no physical contact and were separated by thick iron bars.

To reach their place of execution, the condemned prisoner was led out of the door and across the corridor, before passing through double doors, which opened into the execution shed.

Noose via Shutterstock

The shed was 15 feet square and housed the scaffolding, which was folded away until needed. A pair of doors were opened that in turn opened up the structure, which was then ready for immediate use.

No doubt it was of little comfort to the person about to be hanged that this contraption meant the expense and inconvenience of having to erect a scaffold outside of the gaol each time there was an execution were avoided.

The first person to be hanged at Strangeways was a 19-year-old man called Michael Johnson, who, after stabbing a man in the leg during a pub brawl was condemned to death in 1869 while the last and one hundredth to meet their end on its gallows was a woman, Gwynne Owen Evans, in 1964.

Hanging shed via Wiki Commons

Hanging shed 

 

Strangeways has witnessed many changes since this time, not least the outlawing of executions, however, one of the biggest structural changes took place after the riot of 1990.

Labeled the worst prison riot this country has witnessed, severe damage

Fire damage in B Wing via Wiki Commons

Fire damage in B Wing 

was caused to the building during a twenty-five day period that saw prisoners climb onto the rooftop and set fire to their cells in a protest against conditions within the jail.

Many of the inmates began to feel as if their rights were being ignored. Some were confined to their cell for up to 22 hours a day, with only limited time given for exercise and bathing.

On the roof during the riot via Wiki Commons

On the roof during the riot 

 

 

There were a series of small protests before the riot, which began when, during a sermon at the prison chapel, over 300 inmates rebelled against the guards with the conflict quickly spreading through the prison.

 

When it was brought to an end, and the last of the prisoners had surrendered, extensive renovations were necessary before it could re-open. When it did accept new inmates, the government gave it the new official title of HM Prison Manchester.

In abandoning the old name, it was hoped that the prison’s image would be improved. To many Mancunians however, it will always be known as Strangeways, or ‘The ‘Ways’, as *Jimmy puts it.

Spending eight weeks in the prison earlier this year, while on remand for shoplifting, *Jimmy explains how little has really changed for prisoners on the inside, despite the external makeover.

He arrived at Strangeways after his appearance in court and was placed on the induction wing before being designated a cell on G Wing.

“The walls closed in around me. I couldn’t breathe. Sitting in the corner    of the bland yet sour-smelling box that was my new home I felt physically  sick.”

He goes on to describe the feeling of isolation as he spent time in his cell, what he calls ‘the box’.

"The cell was like a box"

“The cell was like a box”

“The first thing to hit you as you enter the ‘Ways is the stench. The rancid mixture of sweat and damp clothes, despair and sadness. Emotions have a smell of their own too; you just don’t notice it on the outside.

Next is the noise. Not usual, everyday sounds – these are sinister and get louder at night; the screws walking on the landing, keys jangling from their waists, the sound of metal slamming shut and the creak of a lock being opened. These are the noises that make Stangeways, the ones I still hear at night, even though I’m in my own bed far away.”

Although the condemned cell of old is no longer used, the basement is – as a segregation unit for prisoners who refuse to follow the rules. Jimmy spent a week here after getting into a fight with a fellow inmate. The walk from his cell down to the unit is one he will never forget, and one that he says brought him close to those that had been before him:

“I knew we were headed down to the segregation cells when the screws came to get me but I really wasn’t prepared for what it is really like down there.

“As we walked down the stairs I could feel the air get colder, that’s when it hit me we were actually underground. The feeling of isolation was crushing, it felt like with every step I was becoming more invisible, what if they forgot about me and just left me here – who would care, who would look for me?

"it was cold and hkjhk" image via shutter stock

“What if they forgot about me?” 

“The cells down there are freezing, and quiet. The only discernable noise I heard was the occasional sound of a radio somewhere close by. Not clear enough to make out a tune, just enough to make me feel that there was other humans out there, that I hadn’t been left to rot underground after all.”

 

 

He describes his time in the segregation unit as the lowest in his life, where the feeling of being invisible and disposable was never far away, he said:

“I think it is because you are underground, and the fact that people have been there before you but never left. The gallows and hanging tackle may be long gone but we know it was there and what happened – loads of poor blokes went down those same stairs as me but, instead of coming out the other side, they were killed, in a shed like one you would keep cows in. That is the real crime in my eyes, the stuff that isn’t talked about anymore.”

“For me the problem with Strangeways is, and always has been, the mentality of the people running in, the one’s in charge. Until that changes, and until they see prisoners as people, not cattle, they are never far away from another situation like the one in the nineties’. Doesn’t matter how nice they make the outside look when the inside is rotten to the very core, kind of like trying to polish a turd if you ask me.”

While the name may be up for debate, one thing that is certain in regards to HMP Manchester, or Strangeways, is that it will continue to be one of Manchester’s most infamous landmarks for many years to come. Whether it is a much needed necessity or an outdated and inhumane relic of the past is a matter of opinion.

Here is a Youtube video called The Photograph which depicts some of the scenes during the riot and the reasons behind it…

A night with Nikki…

Smart, funny and exceptionally witty, Nikki looks much younger than her 35 years. She dreamt of being a singer and enjoys writing poetry. Born in Brazil, she settled in Manchester as a young girl when her parents came in search of the promised ‘better life’ they had heard so much about.

She is also an escort and spends her evenings having sex with men for cash.

nikki

 

 

Far from the preconceived ‘victim’ or ‘down on her luck’ addict that springs to mind, Nikki is the epitome of class and sophistication. Long, lustrous hair swept back off her face and smooth, clear skin, she has a figure that makes women envious while bringing grown men to their knees. It’s hard to ignore the lustful glances she’s attracting as we chat over a glass of wine in a busy Manchester bar.

With so much in the news recently about the rise of girls forced into prostitution, Nikki is eager to lift the lid on the other side of this often-misunderstood profession – where, for some, selling sex is a choice and not a necessity.

“I sell sex because the money is good, the hours are flexible and to be honest, I’m really good at it. I made the choice to become an escort and I’ve never really looked back, finally I can support myself and have a pretty decent standard of living at the same time.”

Married for a number of years, Nikki says she was ‘happy with her lot’ and looking forward to possibly having children one day, until her husband had an affair, eventually leaving her for a much younger woman he had allegedly met at work.

“It knocked my confidence hard when he left because I never saw it coming. He just went to work one day and never came home.”

“I was enrolled on a book keeping course at college and wanted to become an accountant but, after he left, I just couldn’t find work and things began to fall apart. That’s when I made the decision to do what I know best. Sex was never an issue when I was married, in fact the thought of being paid for my time felt rather empowering.”

Nikki says it was incredibly easy to get into escorting, after finding an advert in the local paper; she called an agency, spoke to the madam and was invited to the ‘office’ for an interview the same day. images-4

“I was really nervous and didn’t have a clue what to wear so I went for what was, in my opinion, sexy and appropriate – an incredibly short skirt and staggeringly high heels. Arriving by taxi at the discreet address on a leafy lane in Cheshire, I quickly realised that I had got it very wrong and Pretty Woman was not actually a fair representation of my new chosen career.”

The office turned out to be a smart apartment in Hale, one of many in a private, residential block. Here Nikki met *Sue, the lady in charge and was told the ‘rates and rules’.

“Don’t dress like a hooker, don’t do anything unprotected, do not try and undercut the other girls and never give out your personal phone number.”

Nikki certainly doesn’t fit the stereotypical image you would imagine for a ‘hooker’- dressed in a blouse, fitted jeans and designer jacket she would look more at home in a boardroom than on any street corner. As she says herself,

“Most of the time you would never know I was an escort. Remember I am a normal woman too. I sit next to you on the bus, I work out next to you at the gym and I pay for my milk next to you in the supermarket.”

This raises the issue of what other people think of her career; Nikki admits that she can’t always be honest with those around her.

“I only have a handful of friends that know what I really do, my family and everyone else believes that I am a very successful accountant, they probably wouldn’t believe it anyway.”

“It can get awkward, one time my friend brought her books round to me in floods of tears, asking me to help her make sense of it all. I spent a whole morning ringing accountants, eventually paying £200 to one willing to do the work quickly so I could say I had done it for her.”

Asked if there are any plus points of her job, Nikki’s eyes sparkle as she describes a world far different from any most women could imagine.

“The gifts are brilliant, I have regular clients who spoil me all the time, I’ve had perfume, clothes, jewelry and even a couple of exotic holidays over the years.”

nikki-2“Most men I meet are like puppies, eager to please and looking for some attention – it’s easy to make them feel special and in return they treat me well. One of my favourite clients was an infamous gangster. He is in jail now and the media have portrayed him as this tough thug. This is not the man I knew. He booked me loads of times and was very charming, if a little flashy. One evening he called the agency, booked me for the whole night and we arrived at his farm house in the countryside by private helicopter to enjoy partying into the early hours.”

When I ask about the sex aspect of the deal Nikki shrugs it off as a very small, occasionally enjoyable part of her unusual job.

“Sometimes the man is unattractive or not really my type but I just block it out, concentrate on my shopping list instead. Smelly ones are dealt with by offering to shower with them and to be honest, most of the guys are alright really.”

“It turns me on to know that this man is paying me for my time, for my body – I have a high sex drive so it suits me just fine. Besides, what woman could honestly say that she wouldn’t like to be wined and dined then showered with gifts? I know a few married women who have sex with their husband whenever they want a new dress, carpet or whatever. The only difference with me is that I’m honest from the offset, they get exactly what they pay for and there is no hidden, ulterior motive.”

“I see men from all walks of life, most are married and all have their own reasons for coming to me. If I had a pound for every time I heard that classic ‘my wife doesn’t understand me’ I could retire. It makes me laugh, and a little sad really. I can’t help wonder if it was my husband saying those same pathetic, empty words to another woman all those years ago, it seems that there are far more misunderstood guys out there than happily married ones.”

The cynicism lies heavy in the air and the conversation takes a darker turn as I ask about the other side of the coin, the bad punters, as she refers to them. Looking down towards her hands it feels like Nikki is almost reliving the experience as her voice drops and the light seems to all but disappear from her eyes.

She doesn’t know much about him at all; he didn’t make much conversation. One thing Nikki does know for sure is that she was totally unprepared for what happened that night.

“He lived in a posh apartment in Chester, there was a doorman and I gave him my real name by mistake when I arrived. He was one of my first clients and I wasn’t used to using my fake name yet.”

“The instructions from the agency had made it clear that the door would be unlocked and I was to let myself in, naively I never really thought anything of it. When I arrived there was music playing really loud, the bass thumped through my body as I walked in and closed the door behind me.”

“The bedroom was in front of me and, as I walked in, I could see an envelope next to the bed with my ‘name’ on it.  A small, thin Chinese man appeared behind me wearing a bathrobe. He spoke impeccable English as he told me to turn off the already dimmed lights.”Pillow Light Room Bedroom Night Lamp Sleep

She pauses, seemingly playing the scene over again…

“It all went wrong from there really. He was really rough, pulling my hair, grabbing me and almost folding me in half, with my legs in the air. It hurt my hips so bad I had to stop myself wincing with pain. Then he wanted to change positions but I just couldn’t do it, I was in agony and feeling really scared by then. I told him I had to stop and he went ballistic, it was like he wanted to hurt me deliberately.”

I ask her why she didn’t just leave.

“I don’t know, I didn’t know what to do” she shrugs.

Leaving as soon as she could, Nikki broke down sobbing in the lift and called the agency to say she never wanted to see him again.

Since then he has been blacklisted from other agencies too, turns out she wasn’t the first woman he had done this to.

So, is this Nikki’s dream job?

“No, but I can think of worse ones” she says. “The men I see are generally good guys, it’s only now and then you get a bad one and you just have to deal with it. What other job could pay me so well for so little – I say who, I say when and I say how much, that makes me in control, doesn’t it?”

As Nikki finishes her drink and turns to leave I can’t help wonder if it really is her or actually the next punter who is in control after all.

sexy girl image

Halloween past n present…

Autumn’s here and it is my favourite time of year – I love crunching through the crispy leaves, collecting conkers with the boys and most of all, Halloween.

Just before the long winter evenings set in, Halloween is a welcome distraction from the chilly mornings and the imminent hustle n bustle of Christmas time.

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The celebration doesn’t have to cost much either – costumes can be cheap n cheerful and we’ve often had the most fun making our own at home. Having said that, I’m not the most artistic mum and most of my creations rely on a steady supply of bin bags, safety pins and a gallon of fake blood.

Every year, as we’re busy designing costumes and writing shopping lists involving newts eyes and plastic spiders, it always makes me think back to Halloween past, when my sister Lisa and I were kids.

As youngsters we never went without and were always well fed, clean and nicely turned out. Money was tight, as it was for many in the 80’s, but Halloween was something we always looked forward to as it was one of the many times of  year when we would get together with our cousins to celebrate in style.

We often combined Halloween with bonfire night and always took our pumpkin with us to my Aunts house, where we would have a party complete with fireworks and apple bobbing.

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I have very fond memories of watching my Uncle Kev race around the garden being chased by a Catherine Wheel that hadn’t been nailed to the fence properly while drinking sneaky snowballs with my cousin when the grown-ups weren’t looking. Apple bobbing was great fun, until I reached about 11 and realised that for years we had actually been dipping in and out of a big bowl of spit as ‘the little ones’ were allowed to go first. One year I bobbed for an apple and came out with a mouth full of dummy – true story.

Costumes were of the homemade variety, sometimes with a shop-bought mask added if Mum was feeling flush. I can still remember the hot and sweaty plastic on my face as I tried to see out of an eyehole more suited to Cyclops. One year I was a Mummy, rocking two whole rolls of toilet paper but my favourite by far was the year I was a punk.

Mum made me a bin bag dress complete with dog chain belt and big, hooped earrings. I felt so sophisticated that I considered adopting the look full time…..until Mum said a stern “No”.

I  love the smell of autumn, but on Halloween it’s especially special. Cold, crisp air mixed with the earthy smell of leaves and toffee apples. I do not, however like trick or treaters.

Let me explain; We were never allowed to go trick or treating, Mum always said it was dangerous to knock on strangers doors, whatever the date may be. As a youngster I thought this was the meanest thing ever and every year I would ask again, get the same answer and then sulk.

One year, when I was about 12-years-old I told Mum I was going to my friends for tea and we went trick or treating instead. It was one of the most exciting evenings of my life as we set off with a carrier bag each and a pocket full of eggs for anyone preferring a trick.

We collected loads of goodies from the neighbours and it was only as my bag filled that I realized I couldn’t take them home with me without mum finding out.

My friend and I sat in the local park and, with spooky masks now removed, we ate all the sweets we had collected. Staggering home feeling rather sick and shaky due to sugar rush, this was not the last time I would greet November with a tummy ache. I’m sure Mum knew exactly what we had been up to anyway, we didn’t have the sense to travel further afield, instead calling at the other houses on our street!

My children have inherited a love of all things spooky wooky and they’re looking forward to the Halloween my Mum and Dad throw every year.

For one night only their house is transformed into Spooky Towers – a place not for the weak hearted and where nothing is quite as it seems.

Both my parents are creative and put this to good use as they rig the house and put on a delicious spooky spread.

 

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Mum

Dad has even created a pulley system that he connects to a skeleton strategically sat in the corner of the room – as the kids walk by one of us tug the invisible thread and the said kid never fails to jump, scream and run crying in terror. Fantastic family fun if you ask me.

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Dad

 

 

 

Talking of scaring the kids, Halloween is the perfect time to watch some spooky movies. Tim Burton is a firm favourite in our house, Jack Pumpkin Head is slightly chilling but more fun than scary. Personally I like Coraline – released in 2009 it tells the tale of an adventurous girl who finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has some very sinister secrets.

The reason I like it so much is because, although it is an animated children’s film, it is really dark and my 10-year-old son finds it really scary. Meany mummy.

So, Halloween is almost here and our preparations are well under way. We have a pumpkin fresh from my parents allotment and cant wait to get carving – I find it somewhat therapeutic, so much so that last year I carved faces in all sorts from grapes to butternut squash. The kids were totally spun out when I served them dinner surrounded by an array of spooky vegetables with faces staring at them.

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Well, I’m off to find some bat blood before the shops shut – What’s your thoughts on trick or treating? Tweet and let me know @taaliah76

This article featured in the autumn edition of Within magazine…

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School Days…

I have been invited to a school reunion.

Since leaving school over 20 years ago I haven’t seen any of my old school mates, except for a brew with a one once, and a couple of chance encounters when I’ve bumped into them while out n about, once literally.

When I say ‘mates’ I should point out that the majority of people I went to school with were not my mates at all – In fact I have very mixed feelings about my time in secondary school, there were some funny times, but on the whole I felt like I never quite fitted in and spent most of my time just trying to get through the day without drawing too much attention to myself .

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I only had a small circle of real friends, finding the best way to get through school was to stay out of the way of the ‘cool’ kids whilst trying not to activate the nerd radar.

I did manage to make my way through school mostly unscathed but wasn’t as successful at dodging the nerds. This worked out pretty well though to be fair, many of my memories involve eating my packed lunch in a corner of the playground with a variety of weird and wonderful characters.

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Me n my little sister

 Speaking to my parents about my time at school it became pretty obvious that education during the ‘swinging sixties’ was rather different to the experience I had, and miles apart from the school kids of today.

Those were the days of ‘proper education’ – Nitty Nora, Big gym knickers, smoking in class (teachers AND pupils, allegedly) as well as cross-country running with the last one to finish punished with the cane…Can you imagine the headlines today?

My mum speaks fondly of board-rubber throwing teachers and playing a friendly game of  ‘knuckles’ in the yard, things that would be totally alien to the bubble wrapped kids of today. There’s so much health and safety legislation around playtime that some schools have even banned conkers and football.

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Nitty Nora, The Bug Explorer

Me, well I’m a 70s baby so I was at school during the nineties and things had changed dramatically by then.

We still had cross-country running and, although we weren’t encouraged by the threat of a cane, we did have the horror of communal showers when we reached the end.

I’m not sporty, not even a little bit and found the whole PE experience a total nightmare. I’ve never been any good at things that require hand/eye co-ordination so I really struggled to hit/catch/throw a ball, meaning I was always one of the last to be picked for a team. Not so good for your self-esteem when you’re 13.

 images-6And what was the craic with communal bloody showers?

Basically, once we had finished whatever form of exercise they deemed fit that day, the whole class had to shower together – supervised by our allegedly female, yet very manly looking teacher.

She would literally stand on a bench in the changing room overlooking the shower and insist that at the ‘very least’ we each walked from one end of the shower to the other while holding your towel above your head.

As an adult I realise just how wrong this was on many levels – I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed by anything else before or since. Think about it – when you’re a teenager the thought of your own mum walking in on you in the shower is enough to send you into a  total meltdown, let alone parading your naked body in front of 32 classmates n a teacher.

Eventually, some of us (ok – just me then) developed distraction techniques such as bringing an umbrella, rubber ducks, even armbands. To me it was better to make a joke out of the situation than anyone realise that actually I still wore a vest and had no sign of ever growing boobs.

On a brighter note, I do have fond memories of playing with the gas taps in the biology lab, sneaky cigarettes behind the bike shed and my first ever crush on a teacher who shall remain nameless.

Now I’m an adult and wear my vest with pride – incidentally I also shower alone these days, unless you can count an annoying 7-year-old who always seems to need something urgently as soon as I head for the bathroom.

I also have children of my own with the youngest three still at school.

My daughter is at secondary school herself and is about to turn 15. She’s far more sensible than I was at her age and I don’t have to worry about her smoking or having a questionable crush. Today teenagers are more health conscious – in fact they’re more likely to offer facts and figures about smoking related illness than ask you to buy cigs for them.

As for a crush, my daughter doesn’t have time for that, she’s far too busy practicing the drums with her band or reading some obscure yet amazing literature she’s researched on the Internet. As I said, today’s youth are clued up and, in my experience, it seems that they do learn from our mistakes – if we admit to them that is.

The youngest two are in junior school meaning that a vast chunk of the summer holidays were spent buying uniform, sourcing shoes, choosing bags, naming PE kits and other essential school paraphernalia.

I’m hoping that this year we will still be in possession of (most) these items come October, if last year is anything to go on it’s highly doubtful and I will be losing my shit about the kids losing their shit by Halloween.

My boys have both, on separate occasions, managed to lose a shoe on the school roof. Unbelievable, right? I’ve discovered that this is only possible with a loose shoelace, an amazingly good shot and some determination. I’ve also discovered that while the caretaker is not insured to retrieve shoes from the roof, the wind will blow them back down again eventually.

This September we’re full of good intent. The boys have promised to behave well and work hard. I’ve already set my alarm clock and taken a vow of punctuality – the disapproving looks from the teacher as I signed in late yet again on the last day of term has seen to that. No more ‘late walk of shame’ for me.

Uniform at the ready and school bags packed ready to go, the kids are sorted and I can relax, briefly. Won’t be long until Nativity season, along with letters home asking us to make some obscure costume requiring hours of searching the internet for the strangest of things – like the year school decided to perform a ‘contemporary nativity’ and we found ourselves making alien costumes while all the other (lucky) parents from neighbouring schools picked up a ready made shepherd outfits or Mary ensembles.

With that in mind I’m off to get a head start before they sell out of neon leggings and doody bopper thingys. Now, where did I put that tinsel?………

This was originally written for Within Magazine – September edition….;)

Stressed parenting…

naughty kids

Are you a stressed out parent?

Remember the days before you had children?

The time of late nights for social reasons, lazy mornings for sleep catch up purposes, and being able to go to a party/holiday/shopping trip on a total whim – often catching a last minute bargain?

This was the period of your life otherwise known as B.C….Before Children.

If, however, like me, you have entered the ‘other’ realm of existence known as W.C…..With Children (no pun intended), life is probably rather different:

The dark times of late nights due to baby/child/teenager being sick, demanding an extra bedtime story or needing a lift home.

Early mornings every morning as the kids seem to work on a time zone similar to that of Narnia and need very little sleep at all.

Never being able to go anywhere on a whim. Ever. This is closely linked with supermarket meltdowns, toddler tantrums and getting totally fleeced for ‘term friendly holidays’.

I have four children aged between seven and seventeen and, due to incredibly poor planning on my behalf this meant that as one little cherub went off to nursery another soon arrived to take their place.

Having a baby at home creates stress unlike any other, especially when you add siblings into the mix.

On more than one occasion the older kids have taken advantage of me being ‘debilitated’ with the baby, especially when I was fresh out of hospital and nursing my youngest, Zain.

Being the resourceful mum that I am, I soon devised a way to wear a baby sling in such a manner that I could still retain order whilst feeding the baby. On a good day I could even bake a cake at the same time, the ingenuity of a mum on the brink is never to be under estimated.

As the children have grown older and are now all in school the challenges have become different. It can seem much more straight forward when you have a baby, after all most problems can be solved with a change of nappy, some playtime or a hug – sometimes a combination of all three.

These days they are more likely to need help with homework or advice on a situation they’re not sure about. This is where it gets tricky – Google is good for homework but not so good when your teenage daughter is broken hearted after being dumped.

All in all parenting is a minefield, full of potential danger and requiring a good sense of direction. The good news is that they will grow up and, if you are lucky, you may just see them run ragged by their own kids one day. Grandma position is far more flexi time than motherhood and you get to hand them back at the end of the day.

kid superman

Until that time here are some situations

that I am sure fellow W.C survivors will relate to, some more than others….

1. You know the name of every single *Skylander ever created but can’t remember where you put your door keys…again.

*the craze will change yearly and often comes round again, like fashion. I have personally lived through three Pokemon ‘resurrections’.

2. You try to pay for your shopping at the corner market only to find 3 buttons, 1 stone, a fluffy sweet and an elastic band in the pocket where your money used to be.

3. The only similarity your life has with that of a rock star is the flock of whining ‘groupies’ that follow you everywhere you go chanting your name and hanging off your body…

4. Your social life starts to resemble that of a very old nun. A very old, anti-social nun who has taken a vow of silence. In fact you begin to suspect that said nun actually has a better social life.

5. On more than one occasion you have climbed into bed after a successful days parenting (no fatalities and everyone accounted for), only to find that one of your little darlings has beaten you to it, done a wee and then got back in their clean, dry bed…..true story.

6. Having a shower becomes a family event with the kids in and out wanting a ‘number two’ help with a shoe lace or other urgent ‘problem’ that needs immediate action. A soak in the bath becomes nothing more than a distant memory.

7. Helping the kids with their homework consists of opening multiple Internet search windows and bribery on a massive scale.

This can also be bad for your health, the pressure of trying to complete mathematic equations meant for your seven year old really brings home how much you didn’t learn in school.

8. Holiday priorities change from ‘great beach and stunning vista’ to ‘kids clubs and babysitting facilities’ as well as easily accessible.

We took the children to Dubai when they were younger and, whilst the time we were there was amazing, the trip was anything but. Spending seven hours on a plane with small children was something else. By the time we landed I was a stressed out ball of anxiety, the hubby and I had resorted to bickering and the kids were bouncing off the walls, full of pent up energy.

This year we will go camping in the UK….

9. You start to sound more like your mum than she ever did…

10. You arrive at work in your slippers, very scary hair and last night’s bolognaise on your shirt…and it’s only Monday.

If you have yet to experience the joy of parenthood, please don’t let me put you off.

You may just be one of the lucky ones that gives birth to a text book child both well behaved and polite…If on the other hand you are already blessed with children and know the odds of actually being blessed with text book kid are less than 0.01 percent then I salute you. Hang on in there, bedtime is in sight, they do have to sleep at some point…don’t they?

girl smoking

Parenting woes and stubbed toes…

girl smoking

“Schizoid behavior is a pretty common thing in children. It’s accepted, because all we adults have this unspoken agreement that children are lunatics.”    ― Stephen King

Remember the days before you had children?
The days of late nights for social reasons, late mornings for sleep catch-up purposes and being able to go to a party/holiday/shopping trip on a total whim – often catching a ‘last minute bargain’
This was the period of your life known as B.C….Before Children.
However, if, like me, you have entered the ‘other’ part of existence known as W.C…..With Children, no pun intended, life is probably rather different:
The dark days of late nights due to baby/child/teenager being sick/stubbing toe and demanding attention. Early mornings every morning as the kids seem to work on a time zone similar to that of Narnia. Never being able to go anywhere on a whim. Ever. This is also closely linked with supermarket meltdowns and getting fleeced for term friendly holidays.
kid superman
Here are some situations that I am sure fellow W.C survivors will relate to, some more than others….
1. You know the name of every Skylander ever created but can’t remember where you put your door keys…again.
2. You try to pay for your shopping at the corner shop and find 3 buttons, 1 stone, a fluffy sweet and an elastic band in the pocket where your money used to be.
3. The only similarity your life has with that of a rock star is the group of whining ‘groupies’ that follow you everywhere you go chanting your name….think Stewie.
4. Your social life starts to resemble that of a very old nun. A very old anti-social nun. In fact you begin to suspect that said nun actually has a better social life.
5. On more than one occasion you have climbed into bed after a hard days parenting, only to find that one of your little darlings has beaten you to it, done a wee and then got back in their cosy dry bed…..true story.
6. Having a shower becomes a family event with the kids in and out wanting a poo, help with a shoe lace or other urgent ‘problem’ that needs immediate action.
7. Helping the kids with their homework consists of opening multiple google search windows and bribery on a massive scale.
8. Holiday priorities change from ‘great beach and stunning vista’ to ‘kids clubs and babysitting facilities’.
9. You start to sound more like your mum than she ever did…
10. You arrive at work in your slippers, very scary hair and last night’s bolognese on your shirt…and it’s only Monday.
 If you have yet to experience the joy of parenthood, please don’t let me put you off, you might be one of the lucky ones that gets a text book child that is well behaved and polite…If on the other hand you have already had children and know the odds of actually being blessed with text book kid are less than 0.01 I salute you, feel free to add to the list if you feel I have missed something;)
naughty kids
Photo credits:
Girl smoking with kind permission of  peagreengirl via Flickr/CreativeCommons.
Superman baby courtesy of simosmme via Flickr/CreativeCommons.
Naughty cupboard thanks to lucyfrench123 via Flickr/CreativeCommons.

Don’t call me skinny….

” You are soooooo skinny – you look like Skeletor….”

The words lie heavy in the air as I try to contain my anger whilst my so called ‘friend’ tries to explain that this is a good thing, meant as a compliment…. even having the audacity to look shocked that I am offended!

 

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I am 37 years old and a very petite size 8, in fact I am the same size as a (small) teenager and could probably still fit into my school uniform, although this should be left strictly to the imagination, in the interests of decency.

I am not however this small through design or choice, and certainly not through lack of trying. Over the years I have tried every weight gain product this side of China in a vain attempt to put on a few pounds, sadly to no avail. I was raised on good food and have a sister who is a curvaceous size 12; it’s a standing family joke that she inherited all the buxom genes whilst I am like Twiggy on a slim day. Basically, food and dress size are not issues in my life and never have been, my family are various shapes n sizes and this is all good.

I’m happy in my own skin and revel in the fact that I can still shop in the kids section of most high street stores, as well as save a fortune buying trainers at a fraction of the cost of “grown-up” sizes.

I am also pleased to say that, contrary to popular belief, I do eat whatever I want, whenever I want. Yep, from chips to chocolate and all the goodies in between – I eat the lot and often enjoy late night munchies too, yet still I remain the size I am.

large skinny girlFrom being young I’ve been taunted and ridiculed for being “skinny” – often by people that could be deemed somewhat overweight, if I were a judgmental person that is…

One of the most hurtful incidents was when I was about 12 and was wearing a bra for the first time, at my Mums insistence of course. I went off to the youth club and didn’t realise that the ultraviolet light made my jumper appear see through, well, not until a boy came over, tapped me on the back and asked me why I was actually wearing a bra, after all if I had no feet would I still wear socks?

Yep, that hurt. Lots.

The very definition of skinny is offensive, the free online dictionary has this to say…

skinny [ˈskɪnɪ]

adj -nier, -niest

1. lacking in flesh; thin

2. consisting of or resembling skin

skinniness  n
Really? I mean, I am slim but am neither lacking in flesh or ‘resembling skin’, more like I have a reasonable amount of flesh and the right amount of skin to keep it all neat and my innards where they’re meant to be.
I despaired further still after looking at what the Urban Dictionary had to say on the subject…
Something a lot of girls want to be, also known as perfection. No matter how thin some girls get, they will never be happy with their weight. The quest for “skinny” causes many problems like anorexia or bulemia. Of course, when thinness comes naturally, the girls who possess it get cocky and let their egos grow bigger than necessary.

Excuse me? Perfection? Is that even a thing?

No wonder so many youngsters have body image issues these days, and who gets to decide that I’m cocky or have an inflated ego based on my weight, or lack of it? Pfft.

Even the pop sensation that is Adele is known to have said, and I quote, “I’d rather weigh a ton and make an amazing album that look like Nicole Richie and do a shit album. My aim in life is never to be skinny”.

pretty skele girl

It actually makes me rather sad, and more than just a little bit mad that some people feel they have the divine right to cast judgement and issue labels based solely on a persons weight.

I’ve come across some people that really are larger than life, yet I would never dream of commenting on their size, or calling them an offensive name in an attempt to appear witty – however when it comes to us slim girls it seems we’re fair game for any weight related puns.

A few years ago my husband had a visit from a female friend on her way home from another (clearly sweaty) workout at the gym. Bursting through the door, glowing and jubilant she then proceeded to tell us, in graphic detail, all about her workout, pausing only to point out that “I obviously didn’t need to exercise as I was anorexic!!!”

I kid you not, this was said without a hint of irony and I was gob smacked at her thoughtless, nasty and hurtful comment. And no, for the record, I am not suffering from an eating disorder…..

tape measure girl

I’m sure they’ll be slim girls (and guys) reading this, nodding their head in understanding but, if you’re one of the many who are guilty of this “weightest” behaviour please stop. Us petite ladies have our own body hangups n issues too -some of us eye your curves and peachy bums with a hint of envy, others are happy in their own skin. Bottom line is this – life is hard enough without us judging each other on such superficial matters. Let’s share some positivity eh, after all, my Mum always told me that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Now, where’s that cake….

cupcakes

 

 

Sunday morning mouse madness….

Did I mention I have several cats?

 

I don’t think I did, as I’m not really a cat lover….more a sucker for a sob story, which is possibly the same reason I have four children, but that is a story for another day 🙂

So, anyway back to the cats….

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I actually have four of them at the moment, although in the past year I have had up to 13 at some points, mostly due to the fact one cat was of a very promiscuous nature and enjoyed nothing more than  to share the feline love…all over the village, thus making me known locally as the crazy cat lady

crazy cat lady

I have a depressed looking tabby called Daisy, an obese black n white monster of a cat called Sox, a beautiful male bengal we call marble and his sister, a neurotic yet beautiful silver cat that was responsible for the recent cat boom in Manchester:)

Late last Saturday night I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and was gob smacked to find a field mouse doing the back stroke in the cat water bowl…with all four cats looking on with resigned expressions….

cat n mouse

The mouse jumped out of the bowl, ran straight past the useless cats and under the boiler into the dusty darkness….

After spending over an hour with my face on the kitchen floor shining a torch under anything I couldn’t physically move with Sox looking at me as if I was stupid, I decided to call it a night and hope that at least one of the cats would deal with it for me by morning, after all that is what cats do, isn’t it?

“Mum!! Mum!! The cats are playing hide and seek with a mouse”

Sunday morning began with child number 4 shouting up the stairs, announcing the fact that, rather than kill the mouse as one would expect, mine had decided to offer it full board with breakfast in exchange for a friendly game in my dining room.

Lurching out of bed and stumbling down the stairs I grabbed a towel and set about catching the bloody mouse myself, this time my audience were captivated, the kids watched bemused while stroking the cats and debating what they were going to call said mouse, seeing as it had come to live with us….

This obviously ended in tears. Mostly mine actually as it took me almost an hour before I eventually caught it and set it free in the back garden, much to the kids disgust as they had decided by then that it was a he and was to be named Timmy.

I now know there are many ways to catch a mouse, some more entertaining than others, yet none involving a crazy woman with Medusa hair brandishing a bath towel and yesterdays mascara…I spot a niche here.

This whole experience has taught me some valuable skills and knowledge though, next time one of my friends is terrified by a little critter in their kitchen I may offer to remove it for them as I have learnt that I have no fear of mice, only of putting my cheek in an unexplained wet patch on the floor whilst looking under the cooker for them…..

I have also done a little research myself and have found the perfect answer to my bone idle cat situation…..I have advised them that the next time I find a mouse they will have to find alternative accomodation, there is no point in having cats if I am spending Sunday morning doing the fandango with a mouse is there?

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