To all my lovely subscribers – blog transfers

badmumsdesktopI’m still here- and just spent a lot of time clearing the tumbleweed from my blog – a lot has happened and I can’t wait to tell you. (I’m sure you’ve really missed me!)

But now I’ve gone and over challenged myself technically by transferring my blog to a new domain name http://www.whyishersostroppy.com – and I would love if you would pop over there and subscribe to the new site.

It looks like a dog’s breakfast at the moment, but I’m working on it and the content is the same.

Thanks for bearing with me – looking forward to bigger and more beautiful things on my new site.

Travelling to Florence, Italy, with an 11-year-old – bonding over pizza, shopping and art

Girl in front of Duomo in Florence

Paula in front of the bell tower and dome in Florence, Italy

Florence is the perfect destination for a fashion-conscious tween with a healthy appetite, budding interest in history and art and a willingness to spend time with her uncool mum.

I find travelling alone in a country where I don’t understand a word daunting, but I’m determined to overcome my insecurities and prise open the world city break by city break for Paula. Secretly, I also hope to build up enough shared memories to sustain a mother-daughter relationship far beyond the turbulence of the teenage years.

Half-a-litre of house red

We spend our first hour in Florence peering at street names and upside down maps – weighed down by back sacks and dragging cases behind us – like a pair of awkward, nearsighted beetles.
After a good 20 minutes, we accidentally stumble across the slightly dodgy address of our 3-star hotel, settling in a sparse, but clean room for a few minutes before venturing out in search of the legendary Italian pizza and pasta.
Paula tucks into her spagbol with much appreciation while I splash out on a deliciously fresh seafood pasta – washed down with half a litre of house red… I know, I know, but it was only one Euro more expensive than a large glass of wine!

TIP: Don’t count on an 11-year-old to be of any use when it comes to reading maps – you’re on your own.

Stairways to heaven (or hell…)

We wake up to an unexpected early summer’s day, thrilled to be in a foreign city with no other agenda than to enjoy ourselves. We arrive early at the city’s religious heart – the  Duomo Group and decide to climb the 419 steps of Giotto’s famous bell tower to join the tiny moving figures on the viewing platform.
Half-way up the solid stone walls appear to close in on us as we edge our way past fellow climbers speaking in foreign tongues – not unlike the Tower of Babel, I imagine.
My daughter’s sudden onslaught of severe vertigo manifests itself in high-pitched shrieks.
We somehow make it to the top to be rewarded with the most spectacular views of the surrounding Tuscan hillside and a sea of rustic roofs at our feet – but we would still be up there, if it wasn’t for the young Casanova who abandoned his own ascent to take my screeching daughter by the hand and accompany her down at least 210 steps.

TIP: The view is well worth the climb, but wear comfortable shoes and think twice if there’s even a hint of vertigo or claustrophobia.

I scream ice cream 

Ice cream parlour in Florence

Ice cream mountains in a gelateria in Florence, Italy

After our morning ordeal, we feel we deserve the mountainous portions of chocolate, tiramisu and coconut gelato – the Italian take on ice cream.  It’s the food of the Gods and we float out of the gelateria in a sugar-induced trance.

We weave our way through a maze of cobblestone alleys dipping in and out of big name fashion stores, boutiques and quaint shops selling ceramics, handbags, jewellery and colourful scarves.

After a well-deserved riposo (siesta), we’re ready for some serious bargaining for leather handbags, belts and knickknacks at the San Lorenzo outdoor market, resulting in a few unintended purchases.

We end our first day with a little prosecco for the senora and Fanta orange for the senorita, nibbling olives and crisps in a wine bar, before hitting the streets again in search of the ultimate pizza – experience.
Sausage pizza (yuk!) for Paula and pizza vegetarian for me, followed by shared tiramisu trifle – and washed down with a single glass of Chianti – (for the senora) provide a good base for some serious bonding, gossiping and giggling.

Girl eating ice cream

Paula with her ice cream – gelato in Florence.

TIP: Don’t think about what you’re eating – just let go and enjoy yourself – being on a diet would be torture and a sin!

A spot of culture
Thanks to a tip from my mum, we booked our tickets for the famous Uffizi art gallery online at home and walk in straight past the snaking queues. Armed with a list of top 10 paintings, we spend three hours searching for masterpieces such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s Holy Family and Da Vinci’s Annunciation.
TIP: Unless you know your art from your elbow, go in prepared with a list of must-see paintings and a bit of information about them – or you’ll be overwhelmed.

Woman in front of Ponte Vecchio bridge in Italy

Me with the Ponte Vecchio bridge in the background

We stroll across the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge with its shiny offerings of jewellery, but decide over cups of pure melted chocolate and bambino pastries, to skip the Pitti Palace and other historical wonders, choosing to do more shopping in stead.
TIP: Don’t be too ambitious – involve your tween in the itinerary and strike the right balance of fun, history and culture – and ply her with lots of snacks to keep enthusiasm up.

We even squeeze in a quick visit to the leaning tower of Pisa on our last day. Flying into Pisa and taking a bus (one hour trip) to Florence is dead easy and if you have enough time – take a city bus from the airport to the tower and walk down through the old centre before hopping on an airport bus and heading home.

Girl in front of leaning tower of Pisa

Paula in front of leaning tower of Pisa.

Our trip has topped up the shared memory bank nicely, but I’m already scanning the world map for our next destination – just in case.
Have you travelled somewhere intesting with your children? I’d love to be inspired by your travels.

 

Women’s networking for beginners – what you need to know

Pink women's shoes of different styles

Women’s networking – what type are you?

Networking is to small business owners what adultery is to French presidents – without it they would be totally forgettable – it saves them from obscurity.

As the owner of your own business, you better be prepared to polish your elevator pitch, work the room and shuffle your business cards like a pro gambler or you might as well close up shop and return to the coffee morning circuit. No-one will notice your business and your client list will shrink faster than you can say: referrals.

Putting your best foot forward

As a journalist I’ve interviewed presidents (and their lovers for that matter), reported on groundbreaking conferences and interrogated people about everything from gardening to terrorism, but the thought of standing up in front of a group of power dressed women to talk about my business for one minute, makes me shake in my sensible shoes. I also don’t like to gush or smile too much and can be rather direct and honest, bordering on blunt, none of which really qualifies me as a great networker.

Women’s networking types and tips for dealing with them For any networking virgins out there – I thought I’ d identify some of the typical personalities you’re likely to encounter at a women’s networking meeting – and share tips for dealing with them.

The spiritualist – she appears to be on a different planet from the rest of the group. Dressed in flowing clothes with a spaced out look on her face, she’ll be flogging mind mappings, hypnosis or some Eastern-inspired therapy.
Favourite terms: Holistically and healing. 
Top Tip: Don’t ask open-ended questions unless you have lots of time and patience and whatever you do don’t tell her anything personal about yourself.

The image consultant – she will be the boldest, brightest and loudest person in the room, often sporting clashing neon colours that will be repeated from her eyelids down to her toenails – to strengthen the look. She will be positively bubbling over with confidence, tinkling with laughter while all the time glancing you up and down with a pitiful expression. Expect some ‘helpful’ suggestions for ‘image improvements’.
Favourite terms: First impressions count and capsule wardrobe.
Top Tip: Compliment her on her great taste and she’ll be your best friend forever.

The financial or legal expert – she is my ideal potential customer. Conservatively dressed with a no-nonsense hairstyle, she has more to say than the whole room put together, but she’s either too reserved, modest or boring to make anyone listen to her. And even when she thinks she’s doing brilliantly and everyone is enthralled, more than 70% of the room usually don’t have a clue what she’s on about. As a writer, I know how to turn what she says into the kind of stuff that people like you and me can understand. 
Favourite term: Cost analysis and economy of scale.
Top Tip: If you find one of these stumbling around helplessly on the networking circuit- give them my card.

The neurotic bully:  At first glance she’ll appear to be the kindest person in the room, caring and interested. But beware – those beady eyes are watching your every step to suss out if by any stretch of the imagination you could be competition and every ‘innocent’ question is carefully calculated to extract intelligence – to be used against you. She would pretend to be looking out for you, offer to work with you, buy you drinks and keep you a seat during meetings, just so you don’t speak to anyone else.
Favourite questions: So, how’s business?
Top tip: Don’t make eye contact. If she’s taking networking that seriously, imagine what doing business with her will be like.

The know-it-all: this one is equally hard to stomach and is usually a marketer or coach of some kind. She loves the sound of her own voice, never shuts up and knows more about every subject and industry than anyone else, including yours.
Favourite terms: “Personally” and “in my opinion”.
Top tip:  Don’t be afraid to interrupt and disagree. Most people in the group will secretly thank you for it.

The wild card: Apart from the typical profiles, every group usually has one wild card – someone who offers something completely off the wall – such as a pole dancing instructor, a foot clinician or a tarrot reader.
Favourite term: Special offer or voucher 
Top tip: Keep a straight face. Just because you can’t see why anyone in their right mind would need this type of service, doesn’t mean she can’t offer it.

Do you network for business? which type are you? Can you add some other types?   Any tips on how to get ahead in networking are most welcome…

New Year’s resolutions for mums – be even stroppier!

Photograph of mother and daughter

Paula and I are looking forward to being even more stroppy in 2014

Demanding, selfish, self-centred, stroppy, difficult, complex, complicated.

Throughout my life these labels have been used to discourage me from being myself.

At school I was inquisitive, sensitive, emotional and fiercely independent. Yet, these qualities which I now know should be nurtured and encouraged, especially in women, earned me derogative labels which stuck to my identity like cruel stick-it notes.

A cage of Calvinism and chauvinism

Growing up in a conservative society, I was a free spirit trapped in a cage of Calvinism and chauvinism: Girls should’t smoke, get drunk, girls shouldn’t show too much emotion, certainly not too much anger. Girls shouldn’t laugh too loudly, swear, or go out to restaurants or cinemas alone. Girls should not ask too many questions, they should do as they’re told. Women should give up their careers for their families after studying for years, women should do all the housework and smile while they’re doing it, women should respect their men, even if their men don’t respect them.

Fighting spirit 

Time after time, my rebellious nature made me stand up to what I saw as gross injustices, my fighting spirit made me ask questions when I knew the consequences would be disastrous. My spirit tried to soar while being battered from all sides like a seedling facing strong winds and storms pushing towards the light. My spirit was crushed back into the earth too many times to recall.

Believing the labels 

There were many times when the labels defined me. When I would accept them and when I, too, would punish myself for being demanding and difficult, for daring to question, for daring to be strong.

And every time I believed those labels, I would sink into a depression, which would eat away at my soul like a cancer. I didn’t realise it at the time but the unbearable sadness was a direct result of looking at myself through others’ critical eyes – allowing them to stamp their labels on my soul.

Reject attempts to control my thoughts

Slowly, over the years I’ve come to realise that the only way to be happy is to stop trying to please others and to be who I am. To not care a damn about what others think, to seek the company of people who value these qualities and to shun the narrow-mindedness of people who judge anything they don’t agree with. To reject any attempt to manipulate or control my thoughts or to make me feel small.

My only New Year’s Resolution therefore – is to be even more ‘stroppy, difficult’ and demanding’ – in other words to be true to myself and wear these labels with pride.

And I wish the same for my own independent-minded daughter Paula and for every woman who has ever been tagged by a label she didn’t deserve.

What labels have you been stuck with during your life? Have you managed to get rid of them – and how?

Tips for for a more traditional Christmas – inspired by the Chiltern Open Air Museum

Children making Christmas decorations at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Making traditional Christmas decorations at the Chiltern Open Air Museum

Imagine Christmas without online shopping, central heating, cars, TV, expensive gifts and supermarket deliveries.

A traditional Christmas would’ve been a major challenge

For someone who relies on a last minute online trolley dash for presents and who wouldn’t bat an eyelid opting for ready-made starters, pigs-in-blanket and pudding for the festive meal, a traditional Christmas would have been a major challenge, I’ve discovered.

So, when I was invited to attend a traditional Christmas weekend at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, an educational charity celebrating the historical heritage of the Chilterns, in Buckinghamshire, I didn’t expect to be inspired.

Yet walking among historical buildings decorated with holly and ivy and talking to volunteers of the museum about their memories of post-war Christmas, has made me question our usual orgy of bright lights, tinsel and high-tech presents.

How to have a more traditional Christmas – what we can learn from Christmases past

1. Make your own decorations:

popcorn on a golden string for Christmas tree

Traditional homemade popcorn string for the Christmas tree.

Marina Long, 77, of Chalfont St Peter, moved to the countryside in Gloucestershire at the start of the Second World War.

“Everything was scarce because of the ration books, so we hoarded stuff. We never got rid of anything. We started preparing for Christmas months in advance,” she says.

 

Marina remembers collecting sweet wrappers and coloured pages from magazines, which would be turned into homemade decorations. They used flour and water paste to glue paper chains together, as glue was a luxury.
The children also collected fir cones and painted them white.
“We only had a few shop bought decorations from before the war.”
A kewpie doll with coloured wings dating back to around 1937 still features on the top of Marina’s Christmas tree today – although she’s shed her wings through the years.

What I learned: Instead of rushing out to a department store to buy the latest trend in Christmas decorations – I’m going to fall in love again with our battered collection of decorations on the loft (some dating from before my first child was born 11 years ago). We’ll also make our own paper chains, snowflakes and fir cones this year – or that’s the plan any way.

2. Ditch the remote, forget the Xbox – play parlour games

“We had no television, so we would play Blindman’s buff, charades, riddles or word games,” remembers Marina.
Gathering around the open fire toasting crumpets, is another favourite memory.

What I’ve learned: I was so inspired by this idea that I did a bit of research about traditional parlour games and I’ve come up with a list to try with my poor unsuspecting family this year. It will be tough dragging them away from various screens and getting buy-in from a cool, know-it-all tween, but I’m adamant to solicit a few giggles this way. 

3. Useful and homemade presents – (OK, maybe just useful!)

Christmas tree with handmade corn decorations

Traditional Christmas tree decorations made from corn

Marina says Christmas presents were either homemade or useful in those days.
“I remember being very excited about my first fountain pen when I was about 11, as we’d had only dipping pens in primary school.”
Her parents were good with their hands and another favourite present was a wooden cot made by her dad and clothes and bedding knitted by her mum for her favourite doll. “It was the best present.”
The children were encouraged to make their own gifts for relatives such as pincushions or embroidery.

 

 

What I’ve learned:
Imagine the time, skill and consideration needed to make presents for your family – as opposed to clicking a few items into your online shopping basket.
Sadly, I’ve been blessed by two left hands and the idea of making anything frankly terrifies me and any homemade gift from me under the tree would only result in fits of tears. But, I’ll resist the urge to buy expensive presents and spend more time thinking about useful and meaningful gifts.

Other traditional Christmas events in the The Chilterns 

Traditional craft workshops at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden during December include creating your own buzzwangling advent calendars, splendiferous Christmas stockings, crackling Christmas crafts and a Christmas rapping session with the Big Friendly Poet.

Find out how the Tudors celebrated Christmas at the Amersham Museum. Meet Tudor guests and find out how the Tudors decorated their homes. Write a parchment label, help decorate our kissing bough and make a decorated yule log to take home.

Take advantage of the two-for-one entry offer at any of the three museums during December by Quoting the word: FAMILIESCHRISTMAS

Disclosure: We’ve been invited to attend the Chiltern Open Air Museum’s traditional Christmas weekend as a family. All impressions and opinions are honest and my own.

National Space Centre: a blast of a day out for families

Boy in Astronaut suit photograph

Astronaut Max on the moon – having a ball of a time…

We’re not an easy lot to please, but our family day out at the National Space Centre in Leicester was a blast!

A four-year-old obsessed with Lego and toilet humour, a 9-year-old who refuses to concentrate on anything other than a computer game for longer than 10 seconds and an 11-year-old nearing the teenage tipping point and with zero tolerance of her two brothers.

Grumpy dad, stroppy mum 

Add to that a grumpy German dad whose idea of fun is watching historical documentaries. Throw in a stroppy mum who needs yoga and Chardonnay to get through most days and it becomes nearly impossible to find a family day out that works for everyone and doesn’t end up with all of us wanting to kill one another.

I had my doubts 

So, when we were invited to a VIP family day out to watch Back To The Moon For Good, the latest show in the planetarium at the National Space Centre in Leicester, I had my doubts. It starts with a one-and-a-half hour drive from our home in Buckinghamshire accompanied by constant squabbling in the back of the car, threats of carsickness from the tween and a husband with an already challenged sense of humour getting grizzlier by the minute.

Rocket tower at National Space Centre

Bubble-wrapped rocket tower at the National Space Centre, Leicester

We arrived at the Space Centre at 10am – the iconic 42m high rocket tower towering above its drab surroundings. I still had my doubts, but from the moment we entered we were mesmerised.

There are seven themed interactive galleries, as well as the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium to explore and it literally offers something for everybody. We didn’t manage to see everything during our 5-hour visit and left with our heads buzzing. We’re planning a follow up visit soon.

Here are some of our highlights:

  1. Back To The Moon for Good - this amazing show scheduled to start in November in the Planetarium tells the story of 20 teams competing for the Google Lunar X prize. The scientists from around the world are trying to design a robotic spacecraft to land on the moon. Images are projected onto the entire 58-foot dome surface and totally surround you, extending beyond your peripheral vision and transporting you to different worlds. It’s the closest I’ll get to being in space during my lifetime.

Tip: Try to schedule the show somewhere for the middle of your outing to give tired feet a bit of a rest, before hitting the exhibitions again.  My husband loved the show and thoroughly enjoyed meeting the German members of one of the teams competing in this challenge as part of our VIP experience. This was right up his alley

2. The 42m-rocket tower – travel up the length of the Blue Streak rocket in a transparent elevator to the top to take your photograph on the moon, relive the 1969 moon landing and see an Apollo moon rock.

Tip: Don’t miss the rocket launching countdown and blast off in the Cafeteria, complete with smoke. This was Max’s favourite. (The space toilet also appealed obviously)

3. Ride the 3D Spaceflight induction module to Europa – a white knuckle ride through radiation clouds, a near miss with an asteroid and a hair-raising ice canyon run.  The simulator ride was Lukas’s favourite.

Tip: Don’t eat just before you go on this ride and keep your bag on your lap!

4. The weather pod – The tween (Paula) loved a chance to be in the limelight in the weather pod where you get to do a live weather forecast on television and can upload your video to Youtube and share it with friends and family – here’s ours! I tried to embed it below, but if it’s not working – check it out on Youtube:  (Any tech tips welcome)

5. Over 150 interactive challenges and experiences :

Boy entering space rocket

Astronaut Max entering a rocket

  • Girl at exhibition model in National Space Centre

    Paula orbiting planets around the sun at the National Space Centre in Leicester

    Do the stress test to see if you’ve got what it takes to be an astronaut

  • see if you’re likely to suffer from space sickness
  • climb through a black hole
  • try to lift a tin of baked beans on different planets, touch a meteorite
  • land a lunar module on the moon
  • watch a video of astronauts eating and drinking food in space (this was my personal favourite – being quite keen on food and drink on earth, it would be a concern for me in space).

The combination of entertainment and opportunities to explore things aimed at all ages is brilliantly done and kept us all interested throughout – no mean feat!

Tip: Don’t spend too much time in one area – as there’s lots more to see!

Smiling faces all round 

Our day out at the National Space Centre was absolutely amazing and we all left with smiles on our faces, which doesn’t happen often. We even survived being stuck in traffic back home for two hours.

Boy in front of display at National Space Centre

Lukas lighting up a planet at the National Space Centre

Disclaimer

We were offered the VIP day and tickets to see the show for free, but I would not have written a glowing review had that not truly been our experience.

For prices and practical information visit the National Space Centre website.

How to be happy – it’s time to celebrate life!

Helga Weber / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, coke without calories – we’ve become experts at denying ourselves things. In fact we’ve become so good at it we actually feel better when we manage to stop ourselves from enjoying the things we love – chocolate cheesecake for dessert? No thanks, I’d rather have a mineral water, we say, priding ourselves on our willpower.

Would you rather lie on the sofa and read a book scoffing a box of Maltesers or put yourself through a punishing routine at the gym for the fourth time this week? Gym of course. And what about another glass of red wine?”Oh, no thanks – I’m going sober this month.”  I feel so much better about myself, we say, with a strained face.

We have our teeth professionally polished, we’re constantly trying to improve ourselves and do good deeds to lead more wholesome and longer lives.

 A nation of spoilsports 

Whatever happened to us? We’ve become a nation of spoilsports and bores, so obsessed with how we look, our fitness levels and whether we can manage to stretch out our lives like chewing gum by denying ourselves any form of pleasure –  we’ve forgotten how to live.

I’ve recently stumbled across the musings of an Austrian philosopher by the name of Robert Pfaller – who believes life is only worth living if we eat, drink, celebrate and sleep with another. Well, hear, hear! I say.

Silliness for the sake of it 

Mr Pfaller defends silliness and having fun for the sake of fun – without worrying too much about the consequences and whether denying yourself that sinful cheesecake or sneaky fag will really make you look better a few years from now or if a month of teetotalling will really add a few years to your life.

And even if you do manage to buy yourself a bit of time through abstinence- will those hours, months and years of ignoring hunger pangs and pulling sour faces at more free-spirited souls really be worth living?

True pleasure will never result from a cost-benefit analysis, according to Pfaller. In other words, if you’re constantly worrying about tomorrow and the consequences of your deeds – you’re not ever able to really enjoy yourself.

Skinny dipping, smoking, drinking…

As you can see Mr Pfaller has made quite an impression on me. He made me think back of my student years – of dancing on tables, skinny dipping, smoking and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow, blowing a whole months’ salary on a pair of shoes and scoffing entire tubs of ice cream in the middle of the night.

That was before the adult me stepped in with a stern face, stopping me from flirting with strangers, tut-tutting every time I lit up until I finally quit and making me feel bad every time I pour another glass. There’ll be a price to pay, my adult voice says. You’ll have a hangover, you’ll get fat, you’ll get wrinkles, you’ll make a fool of yourself, you’ll die…

Well guess what – a hangover is a small price to pay for a few hours of respite from life’s demands, I’m fat any way, I have wrinkles even though I stopped smoking and used sunblock, I make a fool of myself even when I don’t mean to and I am going to die any way…

Straight-jacketed minds  

Have our lives become too regimented, our minds too straight-jacketed by what society thinks and expects of us? Should we shake off the shackles and live a little?

OK, I know – we have children and having a smoke on the school run or a quickie with a toy boy in the shed will not go down very well, but maybe there are different ways in which we can learn to let ourselves go a little and reclaim some of those delicious delirious moments of wild abandonment and true happiness we experienced when we were younger.

My TIPS for happiness 

Here are my tips for lightening up but be warned – you won’t lose weight, get fitter or learn anything from it – you might just have a bit of fun.

  • Go through the house with a black bag and throw out everything that gives you a bad conscience – diets, to-do lists, the bathroom scale, self-help books. Smile as you feel a weight lift of your mind.
  • Watch your children at play – now join in. Lie on the carpet, make bad toilet humour jokes and giggle uncontrollably. Now throw a full-on tantrum – kick your legs in the air, shout at the top of your voice and refuse to eat your vegetables. Demand more cake.
  • Make sure your neighbours are not at home and the kids are fast asleep. Check again.  Now take your clothes off and dare your husband to chase you naked through the garden…
  • Don’t run, do yoga or any form of physical exercise other than sex for an entire week.
  • Dance on a table – just make sure the table is quite sturdy.
  • Have another glass of wine, eat that slice of cake without feeling guilty. Enjoy every sip or mouthful as if it’s the last thing you’ll ever taste.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry – ever again!

Let me know how you get on!

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Any other bad mummies out there?

Image

Any other bad mummies out there?

I now edit a Bad Mums Round-up for Britmums every month – no prizes for guessing why they chose me.
The purpose is not to name and shame, but to share your imperfections, guilt and failures to make us laugh (not in a nasty way) – but to make me and hopefully some other mums feel a bit better about ourselves. Tweet me @CheneKoscielny your bad mummy posts – and I’ll include them in the round-up. Go on – I know I’m not the only one who’s not perfect…

How NOT to start your day… and other tips from an imperfect mum

A minion from Despicable Me close-up

Me in the mornings – how you don’t want to be

I am walking hand-in-hand with an unidentified handsome male on a deserted beach. I can taste the salty breeze, my companion – he has the same profile as George Clooney – turns to look at me…

The alarm on my mobile phone rudely interrupts my dream. I try to block out the sound, but the beach and the mystery man have gone and then I remember: It is 5.45am. This is MY hour, my window of opportunity in the next 24 hours to do something Just for Me before my day is swamped by other people’s demands and desires.

So, I get up quietly, slip on my airline socks and my husband’s fleece and sneak downstairs with my laptop to write on my novel or what I hope will one day become my novel. This is pure bliss, escaping into a different world of interesting characters created and controlled only by me.

A scene from a badly scripted sitcom

Like Cinderella dreading the moment when her carriage will turn back into a pumpkin, I watch the hands of the clock creeping closer to 6.45am, which will signal the end to my solitude, my calm and inner peace.

From the moment I wake up my daughter at 6.45am our house is transformed into a maddening, hysterical scene from a badly scripted sitcom.

My husband has woken up by now, grumbling about sitting in the traffic again while scavenging through his wardrobe for an ironed shirt. (He does his own ironing of course)  Any minute now the daily hunt for his company access card will kick off. He will be crawling around under the sofa, rustling through the washing basket and the boys’ toy box – cursing under his breath and accusing every woman and her dog of stealing or hiding his yellowing mug shot resembling someone on Prime Suspect.

Mutiny over breakfast

Poster of white text on red stating keep Calm and Carry On

More calmness needed in the morning

From downstairs my daughter starts her daily rant about the lack of choice on the breakfast menu, having dismissed 15 types of cereal and a selection of fresh fruit. Wait till she has a family and see if she’s still so keen on rustling up eggy toast or Nigella’s pancakes on a weekday morning.

The next one to surface is Max, 4, who solemnly announces that he’s not going to school today because his best friend stinks. This, rather than being a reflection of his best friend’s poor hygiene, is his latest ploy to try and stay at home because the novelty of school has worn off after just two weeks.

“I hate phonics. All we do is phonics. It is rubbish,” he moans through his Cheerios.

My husband, thankfully, has now left the house – minus his access card and dragging the overflowing bin behind him as he forgot to put it out the night before.

Child cruelty

The last one to rise is my 9-year-old son, Lukas, who tries to stay in bed as long as he can to resist my attempts at forcing him to do his 11-plus homework.

(If this sounds cruel – it’s not. We’re talking 10 minutes of maths or learning vocab instead of playing Fifa14 on the I-pad.)

Things start accelerating from about this moment. I realise there’s only an hour left before everyone has to be ready and out the door, including me.

My daughter is walking up the hill to the bus stop, the four-year-old is lying on the floor in front of my bathroom naked, refusing to move and Lukas is trying to see if he can take 30 minutes to put on one sock, one eye on the clock.

A race against time 

Max is refusing to get dress. I scream, cry, plead… in the end I challenge him to a dressing contest. I am halfway into my bra and knickers when the doorbell rings. My daughter has forgotten her bus pass and will now be late unless I drive her up the hill to the bus stop.

Lukas, seizing the opportunity, claims he absolutely can’t work out how many halves there are in three and a half without my help and downs his pen. Max, meanwhile, starts wailing because I’ve won the dressing contest unfairly as I had to quickly pull on my jogging bottoms and T-shirt to drive my daughter up the hill.

By the time I’ve deposited Lukas at the middle school 10 minutes late, having returned home once to fetch his forgotten football kit and dragging Max into the infant school, kicking and screaming, I’m very low on humour and badly in need of a strong coffee.

I return to my home office, climbing over discarded shoes and dirty washing, ignoring the mountain of breakfast dishes in the sink, ready to start my working day.

Does this sound familiar? What are your strategies for making the mornings easier?

If your mornings are more successful, please send me some tips and I’ll do a follow-up post with tips for other badly organised mums like me.

Scrabble letters spelling 'bad mum' words

Bad mums round-up on Britmums

And by the way, I am the editor of a monthly bad mums round-up for Britmums.  If you identify with my struggles and imperfections, drop me an email chenekoscielny@gmail.com or tweet me @CheneKoscielny your imperfect, humiliating, bad mummy posts and I’ll include them in the October round-up to make other mums feel a bit better about ourselves.

How to act cool when dining in a Michelin restaurant

Since I had children my culinary excursions have been dominated by the kind of restaurant that offers finger food or plastic cutlery in garish surroundings with a kindergarten-ambiance.

It’s fair to say that my standards have been significantly lowered since the days when I earned a decent salary and had a semblance of a life.

Out of my depth

Father and daughter

My dad, Deon, and I on his 70th birthday

So, when my dad offered to treat us with a meal at a 3-starred Michelin restaurant to celebrate his 70th birthday, I was over the moon, but out of my depth.

The world class L’Auberge du Vieux Puis, which I think can be loosely translated as the Inn of old powers – is hidden away in the unassuming village of Fontjoncouse with a mere 150 souls at the end of a beautiful, winding mountain road in the Languedoc region of France.

Since retirement, my parents spend most of their time eating and drinking wine in this beautiful part of France where they seem to have discovered their second wind and an almost indecent lust for life.

The Venue:

The restaurant is the pride and joy of chef Gilles Goujon, with whom I managed to sneak a photograph on my mobile phone to my husband’s embarrassment.

Chef and diner

Michelin crowned chef Gilles Goujon and moi

The restaurant is a delightful blend of old and new with a historic well in the front garden contrasted with sleek, contemporary lines, modern glass floor panels showcasing historic foundations and a selection of quirky artwork, including iron sculptures produced by an eccentric local artist.

Tip: Don’t forget your mobile phone for photographs, but try to be subtle so as not to alert the staff and other diners to the fact that you’re blown away

The Challenge

The crisp white linen tablecloth is covered with an array of cutlery (no plastic in sight) hinting at the number of courses to come.

My tummy does a little flip flop as it begins to grasp the enormity of what awaits.

My father selects an un-pronounceable local white wine, the first of many bottles to come, in a totally different class and budget to my daily Chardonnay.

Tip: Try not to think about the pair of shoes you could have bought for the same price as the dish you’re about to consume, as it is bound to sour the taste.

The Aperitif

wooden platter with food

Aperitif – bread balls with explosions of taste

To warm up our taste buds, we are presented with a selection of foreign-looking delicacies on a long wooden platter, accompanied by detailed descriptions from a waiter in perfect English.

The offerings include a bread ball that releases an explosion of wild mushroom juice into your mouth upon first bite, a second bread ball infused with liquid tomato, a mushroom tartelette and a fragile-looking mini squid pancake.  Every bite is sheer heaven!

Tip: Don’t ignore the waiter’s instructions. My husband, who usually tries to go against the stream, approached his plate from right to left instead of left to right, which meant the squid dominated the palate.

The Amuse Bouche

Amuse bouche - tomato in a gazpacho

Amuse bouche – tomato in a gazpacho

The pleasant little interlude consists of a pretty ball of tomato sorbet with buffalo mozzarella cheese interior and encrusted in sugar, floating in gazpacho water.

By now the wine and conversation are flowing and my taste buds are dazed and dizzy with excitement, wondering what had hit them.

The Entrées

My mouth literally hangs open as the waiter describes the entrée: A single king prawn entrapped in a delicate cage made of potato and squid ink on a bed of tomato and vegetable pasta, accompanied by another bread ball (clearly a Chef’s favourite) infused with the juice from the head of the king prawn and aside a clam filled with potato and chorizo paste.  My taste buds are in ecstasy.

prawn dish on a plate

King prawn encaged in squid and potato

The portions, though not small, are surprisingly light so I’m not as stuffed as I would expect to be at this stage and the next dish – I can’t remember what it’s called and I’m past caring – doesn’t disappoint:

Sea bass cooked in a Spanish carbon oven with roasted fennel seeds, baby octopus and cucumber of the sea on the side.

fish dish

Sea bass with cucumber of the sea

The Main Course

And now, for the piéce de resistance – the main course: Roasted pigeon!

pigeon dish

Piéce de resistance: Roasted pigeon!

I must admit when my dad told me earlier what to expect, I did experience a flickering of doubt. I’m not exactly a fussy eater and apart from liver and frog legs draped suggestively over a bowl once in a pretentious French restaurant in Cape Town, I can’t think of anything I won’t eat.

The pigeon – much like a chicken thigh – roasted in almond milk and accompanied by a roasted apricot on roasted fig, topped with mint and with roasted aubergine slices on the side, look and sound beautiful.

But the thought of the fat pigeons on our lawn back home and a taste strongly reminiscent of liver cause mutiny among my taste buds and I send the plate back with the pigeon barely touched.

Tip: Do not try to explain to the head waiter in a Michelin restaurant that the main course is not “quite your taste.” The hawk-nosed Frenchman looked incredulous and stomped off shaking his head in disgust at the sound of such un-culturedness.

The Cheese

cheese trolley in restaurant

Death by cheese

I know the French like their cheese, but I wasn’t expecting this. A three-tiered trolley laden with enough cheese to fill the English channel is wheeled to the table by a young waiter, who gives us a lecture about the origin, vintage, pedigree, etc of the selection on offer.

I suspect the waiter has been tipped off by the head waiter to approach me first for a good laugh, because when he asks Madame what she would like before anyone else – my mind goes blank.

Eventually, I plump for goat’s cheese – spicy and creamy with quince marmalade, feeling like I’d just flunked another important test, but the taste is so good, I couldn’t care less.

The Dessert

dessert dish with strawberries

Strawberry and citron delight

Always my favourite item on a menu – the dessert: strawberry and lemon sorbet swimming in strawberry Chantilly cream and surrounded by meringue sugar strands does not disappoint.

I also lust after my dad’s chocolate cherry maccarron with salted caramel.

Finally, we are presented with a little black box with a selection of handmade chocolates  – which we can’t finish despite our best attempts and so ends my first (and probably last) Michelin experience on a high note.

box of chocolates

Too stuffed for chocolate!

Tip: When you go to the bathroom, don’t worry about finding your way. Every time I got up from the table, I was led straight into the ladies by a sea of attentive waiters, who stopped short of offering to wipe my bum.  

Have you ever eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant – what did you think?