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?

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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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.

Why we don’t need more advice from Sheryl Sandberg

Photograph of Whyishersostroppy holding hand up against Sheryl Sandberg

No more, please Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl is the kind of woman who gets up my nose. I don’t so much resent that she’s loaded (400 million US Dollars), has the mother of all jobs (Facebook boss) and combines this with being a mum or even that she looks 10 years younger than me at the same age. (44)

Full of it 

What really bugs me is that she is so full of it. She just can’t stop rubbing our noses in it.  As if it’s not enough that she’s clearly made it big time, she can’t stop offering us pearls of wisdom on how we should all stop being such miserable failures and get this work/life balancing act sorted so we too could become millionaire superstars.

Her book Lean In warned that unless we lean into our careers when we start having babies, even if it takes breastfeeding during conference calls, we’ll never fulfill our potential. Well, thanks for that, Sheryl. See my thoughts on the book here.

Share the housework 

Her latest advice for working mums is even more enlightening.  Want to have it all? Just get your husband to do 50% of the household chores and child rearing. Simples.

This is according to her foreword in a new self-help book published in America (where else?): Getting to the 50/50: how working couples can have it all by sharing it all.

So the argument is that convincing men to share the chores provides women with more choices and benefits the men and kids too.  Although she and husband, Dave, “can afford exceptional childcare”, they still have difficult decisions about who will pick up the slack when the other can’t be there.

But they do aim for a 50/50 split (of the remaining 20% of duties presumably) because it’s fair and gives women more opportunities.

Really? To imagine anyone researching and writing a page, never mind a book about this, beggars belief. What exactly is there to research?

According to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, just 10% of men do an equal amount of housework as their wives.

So, let’s see: do you think these women have better chances than the 90% whose husbands come home, dump their shoes in the entrance and ask: “What’s for dinner, dear?” Uh… yes,  duh!

How to get him off the couch

What would be infinitely more useful would be if Sheryl and her coterie of friends in the banking sector tell us just HOW we should get the lazy, spoilt, selfish bastards off the couch and emptying the bin without turning the marriage into a daily episode from Married with Kids.

At this point, I should confess that my husband actually does quite a bit around the house. Not quite 50% – not even close, but a decent amount. This is because he’s German and because I’ve become less willing to be his slave for little or no appreciation through the years.

So he’s quite comfortable ironing his own shirts, making the children’s lunchboxes, unpacking the dishwasher and packing away clothes.

Now, if only he did his 35% chores and parenting properly, without me having to go around and redo it, I would probably be heading for my first million by now.

Domestic god – yes please

But in my experience our set-up is quite rare.

Some men, the majority – have no idea how to hang up washing, would never dream of ironing their shirts and would be surprised to find out that toilets don’t clean themselves.

And the women will moan to their friends about having to carry the can, but would not really expect their husbands to touch a duster or look after the children they helped produce.

As a columnist wrote in the Sunday Times this week: “He is not a domestic god. I did not marry him for his ability with a duster.” She says she doesn’t find him sexy in this role.

Really, darling? So, he must have married you for your ability with a duster then. Do you also have to wear a short little skirt and apron while you clean up after him? How very convenient for her husband.

Getting away with murder

My mouth often hangs open when clever women tell me what their husbands get away with at home. They work so hard, must let them play more golf, go to the pub more often, go for boys’ weekends away, while you stay home, clean the house and look after his children. Not something Sheryl and her mates would put up with, I can assure you. But then, that’s everyone’s personal choice, isn’t it.

There are many reasons why women choose to let their men off the hook when it comes to sharing housework and parenting responsibilities. Cultural beliefs, buying into chauvinistic values, perfectionism and a fear of confrontation or turning marriage into a constant battlefield being some of them.

Personal choice

Each to her own. Some marriages may be better off without screaming matches about whose turn it is to take the bins out. Some women may choose not to lean into their careers because spending time with their children when they are little is more important to them than a million dollars.

I wish someone would tell Sheryl Sandberg to mind her own business and that we’re actually doing OK. We don’t need her advice, but her next book is probably already with the publisher:

How to raise successful children in 15 seconds a day. 

How will we survive until then?

Airing your dirty laundry online – for imperfect mums

A pile of dirty washing in front of a washing machine

Anyone up for sharing dirty laundry online?

Do you sometimes scroll through other people’s online lives and wonder if you’re the only one who isn’t sailing through life from one photo opportunity to the next? Facebook is a collage of happy moments carefully selected from the scrapbook of life to stroke our egos and create glimpses of the person we want the world to see:

Look, here I am with my beautiful, adoring family; here we are in another exotic destination. Aren’t we pretty? Aren’t we special? Aren’t we happy?

Virtual street cred 

Twitter is subtler, punchier, wittier. You need a bit more virtual street cred, the right lingo. But the purpose is the same – a virtual mantelpiece advertising the you brand to the world – Aren’t I clever? Aren’t I witty?

Less-than-happy updates

But which online tool do we use when the cracks start showing, the public face slips. Is there a place for my dirty washing online? Is there a place for less-than-happy updates? Where do I go to lick my wounds online after a hurtful row with my partner, where is the online confessional chamber to own up to my parenting doubts and insecurities and mistakes? Who do I ask to Share, Pin, Like or Dig my wobbly life moments?

Lacking depth

Maybe the online life platforms lack the depth of real life relationships because the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who create them haven’t yet experienced the knocks and disappointments of adult life. They impose their shiny world of opportunity and positivism upon us, leaving us unequipped to deal with the fall-out if our realities don’t live up to the ideal.

So, we’re trapped behind strained smiles and bubbly messages, covering up a secret sea of unexplored feelings that never get to see the light of day. We feel shamed by negative feelings, compelled to delete on the spot the emotions that really touch us, that make us who we are.

What are you missing?

A recent study found that Facebook makes us feel sad – because of FOMU – fear of missing out – so while you’re sitting in your slippers in front of the laptop jealously ogling other people’s lives, you suspect they’re sipping cocktails on a beach, jumping out of planes or watching their children perform some amazing feat. Meanwhile, they’re sitting in their PJs staring at their screens worrying that you’re having a ball.

Impulsive rants and vacant threats

Social media seems out of depth when it comes to real emotion, but happily gives a world audience to impulsive rants and vacant threats. Immature men fire off rape and bomb threats on Twitter at women who intimidate them in stead of facing up to their insecurities.

Social media also fails miserably when it comes to dealing with the emotions of people touched by tragedy. No bullet-ed RIP message on Twitter or macabrely out-of-place Facebook status update can really touch their grief.

Too many glasses of wine

Sorry, if I’m being a bit morbid, today. You’re probably wondering, rightly so, if I have had one too many glasses of wine tonight.

Maybe – or maybe I’m just in a reflective mood. Maybe I’m just not bursting at the seams with uncontrollable excitement about the day, my children, my husband or my life today. Maybe that’s OK.

I’ll post a more polished PR snapshot of my life on Facebook to turn you green with envy again tomorrow.

Link

a newspaper article

Die Glocke in Ennigerloh – we are front page news

So, we didn’t exactly plan to make the front page in Germany, but a chance meeting with a young reporter and a quick chat about my blog and our holiday have catapulted us into the limelight in the country of my husband’s birth.

As you should know from my previous post – we spent a few days with my in-laws in Ennigerloh – a town in Munsterland, Germany, best known for cement factories, which also happens to be my husband’s hometown.

What is a mummy blog?

While we were enjoying a friendly water polo match in the Freibad – public pool – I got chatting to Elisa Berste, a student and freelance reporter for Die Glocke – a daily paper in the area.

I told her about my blog and that I will be writing about our experience there. She didn’t seem too sure about what a mummy blog was, but her editor obviously did and she emailed to ask if she could interview us.

The article – which was promoted on the front page and then carried inside the paper with a photograph of our family, including my in-laws – has apparently hit the little German town like a bomb – in a positive sense. It was even discussed at a local political meeting and seems to be the best PR the little Cinderella town has ever had.

So, what made us so newsworthy?

We raved about the town’s facilities for families – an amazing public swimming pool, a Venetian ice cream cafe, family cycling routes, amazing playgrounds and very affordable meals out: £4 per large pizza in an upmarket pizzeria.

The open countryside, friendly locals and the fact that local children seem to play outside and roam by themselves also impressed us.
German children start school only at the age of 6 and there seems to be less pressure on them to perform academically and to have a planned activity scheduled for most days of the week, the kind of competitive parenting you can’t help but getting sucked into when you live in certain parts of England such as Buckinghamshire.

The reporter did get a few minor facts wrong – probably lost in translation between her English and my German, but the themes of discussion of freedom, affordability and a society which seem to prioritise the freedom and quality of life of families came across very well.

As a bonus visits to my blog have skyrocketed since the publication of the article in Germany.
Just awaiting a call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who knows maybe she can give David Cameron and Nick Clegg some tips on how to look after families!

Forget Majorca, Ennigerloh is the place to be this summer!

Little boy playing with water and sand

Max enjoys the water and sand play area at the Freibad in Ennigerloh

I´m typing this post on a German keyboard which annozinglz swaps the y and z, so bear with me till I get the hang of it.

This summer holidaz report is brought to you, not from mz deckchair on the beach in the Caribbean, but seated amidst stuffed animals, and plastic pot plants in a black leather armchair in my father-in-law´s study.

We are spending the first few days of our summer break trapped in a forgotten little outpost in Northern Germany called Ennigerloh, where my husband spent the first 18 years of his life (which explains quite a lot.)

The little village in Munsterland best known for its gigantic cement factory, does not feature on Tripadvisor as a sought after holiday destination (in fact it doesn´t feature at all – surprisingly…) so I wasn´t exactly counting the days.

Holiday is a state of mind

But a friend once told me that a holiday is a state of mind and has nothing to do with the destination, so I was determined to see a different side of Ennigerloh this time.  And, believe it or not, the little Cinderella town has seduced us with its charms over the past few days.

Spaß (fun) in the Freibad (open air pool)

The fact that we find ourselves in the midst of a stifling heat wave perforated by the odd spectacular thunderstorm means we´re spending a lot of time at the Freibad.  The open air public swimming pool, of which almost every German town boasts one, puts our drab leisure centre pools to shame.

The Freibad – almost every village has one – which costs 2 pounds (can´t find pound sign on this computer) to enter, is as close to a children´s paradise as you can get.  My older two spend hours jumping from the 5m, 3m and 1m diving boards into the sparkling Olympic-sized pool in Oelde, a neighbouring town. I even managed the 3m jump after holding up the queue of German children for 20 minutes to much ridicule from my husband and hysterics from my children.

Max, 4, meanwhile has two smaller pools with sprinklers and slides to choose from. Luscious lawns and huge trees surround the pools with (towel-free) deck chairs and picnic spots as far as the eye can see. (Obviously the Germans are more chilled about deck chairs at home than when they are on holiday)

Little boy flying through air after jumping off 5m diving board

Lukas, 9, flying through the air from a 5m diving board in Germany

middle-aged woman jumping off 3m diving board

Me leaping off 3m diving board – watch out Tom Daley

Competitive water polo

The children took part in an organised water polo tournament with local children and soon started shouting to team mates in German after realising that was the only way to get their hands on the ball. The game took quite a serious turn after the dads, including my aggressively competitive husband, joined in.

A young reporter from the local newspaper: Die Glocke was on standby to photograph the holiday fun, so my husband (who can´t resist a bit of limelight) and children may have made the news in his hometown.

A stretch of sand dotted with beach baskets – as they´re called in German – wooden two-man seats with canvas awning overhead and footrest, an invitation for stressed-out parent souls to relax while the children get to grips with a variety of water pumps and wheels. A permanent outdoor table tennis table and giant chess board and squeaky clean changing rooms and showers make this one of the best pools I´ve ever been to.

Spaghetti ice cream anyone?

Famished after several hours in the water, we hit the Venetian Eiskafe – an Italian ice-cream parlour distinctly out of place in the industrial heartland of Germany – for generous plates of spaghetti eis: spaghetti-shaped ice-cream drizzled with strawberry sauce and topped with smarties. I enjoy a cream-laced iced coffee with enough calories to last me until Christmas.

Family in front of ice cream shop in Ennigerloh, Germanz

Eiscafe Venezia in Germany – might as well be in Italy

Family eating ice cream at EisKafe in Ennigerloh

Spaghetti ice cream and sinful iced coffees

German children are well-catered for – the playgrounds are creative masterpieces, testament to imagination that the nation is not usually credited for.  Drawbridges, towers and castles with twisted slides and tunnels can be found in every village.

Paradise for cyclists

Unlike at home, where we are too scared to venture out on our bicycles as a family, Germany is a cyclist´s paradise. Cycle routes and lane criss-cross the town and take you across acres of stretched out rural fields under glorious open skies. Everyone aged between 4 and 94 uses this as a mode of transport and I can vouch for its safety, even after a few glasses of Schnapps.

My husband and I cycled 10kms to a restaurant in a nearby village overlooking a lake, for a cocktail evening that could almost compete in terms of food, music and location with a Manhattan hotspot, if you ignore the local farmgirl out on the town dresscode and the perennial stereotype of socks with Birkenstock sandals, favourited by hardcore Germans. Tonight the plan is to cycle to a nearby beer garden for more Weiz-bier, a refreshing beer served with lemon slices.

After three days, I feel more relaxed than if I´d spent a week in Majorca. Whoever said Germans don´t know how to have fun?

How are you spending the first days of the summer holidays? Have you ever considered Germany for a family holiday? What were your impressions?

Sipping bubbly on Centre Court: impressions of a Wimbledon virgin

First published on  on 03 July 2013 in MagazineTravel

wimbledon scoreboard

Me in front of Wimbledon scoreboard

If you’ve ever thought of going to Wimbledon, I’ve got one word for you: Corporate.

Beg, steal or borrow – but get your hands on corporate tickets.

Take it from a Wimbledon virgin who has glammed it with the likes of Pippa Middleton on Centre Court this year: huddling under a plastic bag in the rain on a soggy Murray Mound with the masses just isn’t the same.

As it happens I didn’t have to do anything untoward to find my bum cushioned on a coveted sponsored seat to watch our Andy thrash some unworthy opponent.
I only had to be married to my husband, who won tickets in a lottery at work. I’m hoping this signals a drastic improvement in the perks of being his wife.

The dress code

As I desperately filed through my school run-inspired wardrobe in search of an outfit that would stand up to the potential glare of international television cameras, I panicked.

I had nothing suitable to wear and no time or budget for an elaborate shopping spree.  Enter my fairy godmother in the form of Kate Battrick @TwistedSkirt – a personal stylist I stumbled across in the TK Maxx Lounge at Britmums Live who transformed me from frump to fabulous faster than you can say Game, Set and Match. Read more here.
Tip: Heels are a must for first impressions, but take a pair of sensible shoes for later as you’ll do a lot of walking.

The company

Hospitality marquees filled with executives (or scientists in the case of a life science company) can be daunting if your corporate speak is rusty.

As we walked in, a confident woman in a stripy suit held out her hand, announcing:  “Caroline, Rare Diseases.”

“Uh… Chené, Household Germs,” I felt tempted to reply. My husband shot me a sharp look, so I mumbled: “Home Executive” instead.

After knocking back a few glasses of Pimms, I was chatting to “Genetics” and “Immunology” like old friends. I didn’t understand anything, but nodded encouragingly and counted my blessings I wasn’t sitting next to “Sexually Transmitted Diseases.”
Tip: Ask fellow guests why they love their jobs, zone out and enjoy your Pimms.

The food

While Laura Robson warmed up for her match against Mariana Duque-Marino, we warmed up our palettes with a choice of Parma ham or salmon starters, followed by an impressive cold buffet and a selection of three desserts, washed down with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc. We stumbled across to Centre Court clutching huge plastic cups of champagne with straws to keep us fueled during the match – watching tennis is hard work.

wimbledon food

We returned to the marquee several times throughout the day for top-ups and by the time Murray took on Tommy Robredo, my husband had to restrain me from storming onto court and punching the line judge every time he called a fault in Robredo’s favour.
Tip: Don’t wear anything that is too tight around the waist and take a bottle of water along to pace your drinking.

And… the Tennis

Even if your tennis never got past the rusty racket stage, the thrill of being up close and personal to the world’s top players and the awesome power with which they hit the ball will keep you glued to the edge of your seat.

Your emotions fling wildly up and down with every nail-biting shot, leaving you exhilarated and exhausted.  You’re there with them – at some point I was grunting louder than Sharapova every time Robson served.
Feeling the audience’s rising excitement as Murray scores his way ever closer to victory until he finally smashes his opponent to roaring applause, makes you want to burst with pride.

chene and husband glamming it on Centre Court, Wimbledon

Chené and husband glamming it on Centre Court, Wimbledon

Our day out at Wimbledon was amazing and I’ve already started scheming how to get my hands on corporate tickets to the finals on Centre Court next year!  Any tips or sponsors– let me know.

Have you been to Wimbledon 2013? What were your first impressions?

 

What to wear to Wimbledon if you don’t look like Sharapova

Woman in dress for Wimbledon

Dressed to kill: Me in my Wimbledon outfit

Every now and then my husband does something that blows me away. It doesn’t happen often and it usually is a pure stroke of luck that required no planning or effort on his part, but I take what I can get.

He chose his moment carefully, waiting for me to be particularly annoyed with him for turning a blind eye to the overflowing rubbish bin spewing deadly fumes around the kitchen and feeding our children their own bodyweight in junk food.

Tickets to Wimbledon

“By the way, I’ve got tickets to Wimbledon.” Deadpan delivery. No emotion, no excitement – Germans don’t do excitement in my experience – as if this was as much part of our daily routine as the school run. (He won the tickets in a work lottery, but he only revealed this much later after I’d sufficiently swooned at his feet)

“Wimbledon! WOW!” I was beside myself. Jumping up and down and screaming  “Oh YEAH!” so loudly the grumpy old lady next door slammed her window shut.

And as it turns out, not only are we going to Wimbledon, we are going ‘corporate’ on Centre Court and we will be picked up by a chauffeur from home! This is seriously unlike us – we don’t do style. Our idea of style is shouting abuse at each other while repacking suitcases in full public view in airport halls because my curling tongs had caused the suitcase to tip the scales over the limit.

Panic attack

Once the excitement subsided, I had my first little panic attack – “OMG! What am I going to wear?”I knew straightaway that nothing in my wardrobe would live up to this occasion. What do you wear to Wimbledon if you don’t quite look like Maria Sharapova and your budget can just about stretch to the odd supermarket T-shirt sneaked in during the grocery shop?

I was actually getting myself into quite a state about this, when I happened to stumble across a free personal styling session by the lovely Kate Battrick @TwistedSkirt, a personal stylist employed by TK MAXX for the day at a conference I went to.On the impulse I thought I’d mention to her that I’m going to Wimbledon and had no idea what to wear.

Kate‘s face lit up as if she’d been waiting for exactly this challenge all day: How to turn a mousy, frumpy mum-of-three into a Centre Court sensation. She took one look at me and dismissed my toga-like top, especially chosen by me to hide the after-effects of two large glasses of Chardonnay every night.

Hourglass figure 

“This is exactly the wrong outfit for your ‘hourglass’ figure,” she said.

I almost kissed her.  No one had ever mentioned the word hourglass in relation to my figure and I was expecting the more familiar – heavy bottomed pear shape – so, I was willing to hear her out.

“You need to accentuate your waist,” she said, pointing to a rather garish, tight floral dress with an open back – the kind much more suited to the Sharapovas of this world.

I was beginning to worry about the lighting in the room, because if she thought I had a waist, never mind one that had to be accentuated, her eyesight must be worse than mine and I’d had a retinal detachment in one eye.

Dressing on a budget

Two women talking

Personal stylist Kate Battrick in action

To cut a long story short, she made me try on the dress – it was a size 10 (US-sizes) of course – I’ve been nowhere near a size ten since having my first child.

But believe it or not, the dress fit me and looked amazing (everything is relative of course, as my husband would say). It created a waist and the floral print made me look fashionable and dare I say- younger than my tender 43 years.

I knew I had to have the dress. My mind was working overtime trying to figure out how I would be able to afford the dress and whether I could wear it with flip-flops as I certainly had no matching footwear and would not be able to fork out on a pair of shoes too.

That was when she announced the price:  £20!

My jaw dropped to the floor. Not only would I never have tried this dress had it not been for the stylist, but I would not have dreamed that I could actually afford it without cancelling our summer holiday. Next, Kate advised me to buy a pair of almond court shoes for £49 from M&S and combine the dress with a white linen jacket, which luckily, I already owned.

My husband usually doesn’t get involved in what I wear, apart from telling me I didn’t need it – So, I was chuffed when he LOVED the dress – and that was BEFORE I told him the price.

So, I’m off to Wimbledon with my head held high. My shoes might just cut off all circulation to my little toes by the end of the day, but my flip-flops are in the bag, just in case.  No idea who I’m going to be watching, but if you’re watching telly – I’ll be the woman in the bright floral dress waving madly every time the camera points in my direction. I might even stand up and do a little twirl to show off the back of the dress.