I was robbed!

I was robbed on Friday night. I don’t write that as someone bitter about not winning the Fresh Voice! award at Britmums annual Brilliance in Blogging awards. In fact the winner, Mamasaurus, is a devoted blogger and a deserved recipient.  No, I mean it literally not figuratively. After the awards ceremony I went to All-Bar-One with three newbie blogger friends I had met earlier in the evening and some git nicked my phone.

The irony is that i’d just been chastised by my more experienced blogging friends for not using my iPhone (and all the relevant social networking apps) better.  One was visibly aghast when I told her that I rarely used Twitter and that I’d only 75 followers on it. ‘How on earth did you make it to the BiBs finals?’ was the thing they all wanted to know. ‘Hell, I don’t know’, I said, ‘maybe it was a mistake!’. Whatever the answer one thing was for sure. If I wanted to take this blogging malarkey seriously then I needed to get over my ambivalence towards Twitter and get over it quick. I needed to build up my Twitter following and devote much more time tweeting to others. Both things were interlinked, they assured me. And it seemed that- through my lack of either followers or tweets – I’d got myself into a Catch-22 situation. Although it still didn’t explain how I’d made it to the finals.

I made a resolution there and then to be a better blogger, to buy a ticket for next year’s Britmums conference and to spend more quality blog time on my iPhone. And then some effer stole it. Grrr.

It’s the Final Countdown….

Once upon a time I was on a national TV quiz show filmed at Pinewood Studios and hosted by Robert Kilroy-Silk. I happened upon this bizarre situation completely by chance. At the time I was a masters student in Belfast and got a phonecall from a friend of my sister asking me if I was free to go along to a hotel in town for some ‘TV thing’. In her words they were ‘desperate’ for young people to go and, being the middle of a week-day when only hapless students and OAPs were available, far too many OAPs had turned up.

I had no idea what was expected of me as I sat in the waiting room surrounded by the blue rinse brigade but as the mutters of conversation started amongst the motley crew it became clear I was completely out of my depth. ‘So, how many shows have you done before?’ ‘Five’, said one, ‘Going for Gold’ was my favourite. ‘I’ve applied about 10 times’ said another. I felt like Charlie in The Chocolate Factory when his teacher asks him how many Wonka bars he has bought. ‘Just one’, I said. ‘This is my first, I mean’. I still didn’t know what the auditions were for – but I was sure that if it was ’Fifteen to One’ I wasn’t going to last two seconds in there. General knowledge and quiz shows are NOT my forte.

But as luck (pure luck, mind) would have it I ended up at Pinewood two weeks later to film ‘Shafted’ – a horrible new quiz concept by Endemol where people vote off their fellow players one by one and in the final decide if they want to shaft them for all the prize-money, or share the money and risk being shafted by them.

The whole day went past in a blur and I spent most of the time behind my podium saying Hail Marys and praying Robert wouldn’t ask me a question. Thankfully that only happened if you bet enough money, which I never did.

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Can you tell I’m praying?

My tactics paid off – by keeping my mouth shut and answering a mere two questions (passed to me by my fellow contestants Jane and Michelle) – I found myself in the final where I was asked if I wanted to share £103,000 with my fellow contestant Michelle or shaft her and go home with all of the money (of course, if she shafted me too we would both go home with nothing).

It was surreal. I had spent the entire experience in a daze of white noise and whispered prayers, where we were playing with monopoly money and all I wanted to do was get off the stage and go home. What a bizarre experience. So what did I do? I shared (of course) and Michelle bless her shared too. (Before you ask, I gave half of the money away, bought myself a car and spent the last of the rest on my wedding six years later).

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Michelle and I in the heated head-to-head final

Anyway, why am I telling you all this?

Because, I now find myself in a similar surreal and bizarre situation where my dear little blog, which is still a newborn in my eyes being barely 4 months old, is one of the 8 finalists in Fresh Voice! at the Britmums BiBs (Brilliance in Blogging) Awards ceremony. I hadn’t even heard of Britmums (shame on me, I know) until I was introduced by a friend to one of the Britmums Live! guest speakers in March. It all snowballed a bit from there and now the big day has arrived; the Britmums event of the year – their annual Conference and Awards weekend.

I don’t have a ticket to the full weekend, which sounds like a right riot of guest speakers from the blogosphere, advice and stories shared between bloggers and ultimately the chance for a lot of mums and dads to sneak off for a kids-free weekend in London fuelled by G&Ts and Tweets. I guess I didn’t think in my wildest imagination that my little blog would ever make it to the finals and so never even thought of buying a weekend ticket at the time. But I am going to don my best dress and head to the Awards ceremony tonight which is hosted by Katy Hill with only my iPhone and my free ticket to keep me company.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world – not because I think I have a chance in hell of winning (my blog seems very premature and under-nourished compared to the competition), but because I am so proud of ‘Baby Loves Porridge’ and am so grateful and thankful to all the wonderful Bloggettes and Bloggeurs who voted for it to get here.

So, prayers at the ready.

Chin-Chin!

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Yay! Me and my mama made it to the finals!

Click here for a great post on all 8 finalists in the Fresh Voice category.

The King of the World

My da, Frank, is over six foot three so most people call him Big Frank. To us he’s big in more ways than one- he has a big laugh, a big personality and a big dose of patience which is probably his greatest ‘daddy’ skill. Nothing much has really ever fazed him over the years – despite the constant efforts on the part of his four children to try his patience. I remember once annoying the hell out of him while he worked in his office trying to get an important job out on time. He turned to me sharply and said, ‘I’m going to give you a clip ’round the ear if you don’t stop!’ A ‘clip around the ear’ was colloquial talk for ‘a whack ’round the head’. I laughed in his face. There was no way in this world that my Da would punish me in any way, and I had absolutely no fear that I would be clipped around the ear or anywhere else. So, I brazenly went off to get a few hairclips and told him to put them on my ear. He just laughed. I finally got tired of annoying him and went off to annoy someone else. It was such a typical exchange with him – us trying to get him riled and Da refusing to rise.

I’ve always hero-worshipped my Da, as lots of girls probably do. It must be an instinctive thing as I see it happening even now between Maggie and Johnny – there’s a certain adoration in her eyes when her daddy when he comes home from work or turns up unexpectedly. For me, Da was someone I certainly looked up to with awe and admiration – he was the smartest man I knew (a rumour no doubt propagated by the man himself), the most respected and he had a wicked sense of fun that I hoped I’d inherited. But the hero-worshipping was probably inevitable from a man who had grand aspirations for us all; after all he called himself ‘the King of the World’ and his girls ‘the crème de la crème’.

Dad absolutely adores books and learning. He’s probably known as a bit of an intellectual in our neighbourhood which is funny considering he left school at sixteen. But he’s terribly clever and bookish and always seems to know at least a little bit of everything. Or at least that is the ruse he has been keeping up all these years. I guess if we really were going to fall for his ‘king of the world’ routine, we had to also believe he was probably the smartest man in the world too. When I was twelve our Irish language class were working through an exercise with the teacher, first translating the English word into Irish and then finding the Irish answer in a wordsearch. There was one word left that none of us – even the teacher – could figure out so we were sent off to find it out as homework. That evening I asked my Da (cue: cleverest man in the world) and of course he knew the answer. But he was also deeply aggrieved that the teacher didn’t know it so he sent me in the next day with instructions to tell her what he thought. So, never one to question my Da, and confident that he was ALWAYS right I stood up in class the next day and said to the teacher, ‘My daddy says that you’re stupid’. We both got into major trouble that night when mum found out. But as dad winked at me conspiratorially across the table I got the feeling that while he hadn’t really meant for me to say anything, he was definitely impressed by my nerve. But it probably struck him then that we were all taking this ‘king of the world’ title a bit too literally.

Happy Father’s Day, Big F.

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Big F with Maggie at Kew Gardens last Christmas

A Party Fit for a Queen

On Saturday Maggie Jane Mary Murray turned one and in honour of that and also in celebration of her ma and da having survived the last year in one piece as new parents, we had a party.

It was a Mad Hatter’s tea party and had been due to take place outdoors on Barnes Green. But the weather wasn’t forecast to be fit for an outdoors gathering so at the last moment we changed plans and hosted the tea party in the house.

We laid the long tables with colourful plates and decorated it with flowers and sweetie jars. Bottles of pink and white lemonade invited people to ‘Drink Me’, while a plate of jam tarts looked so appetising they would have tempted a passing Knave of Hearts to steal a few. Sweetie jars, cake pops and breadsticks with chocolate spread were just some of the naughty food served at this royal tea party, while sandwich plates overflowed with savoury treats. The ‘Eat Me’ stickers were hardly necessary, as the food looked fit for a King.
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The piece de resistance was Maggie’s birthday cake, baked in the shape of a Mad Hatter’s hat, 3 tiers high and decorated with all the fantastic Alice in Wonderland characters. It was a masterpiece created by our talented friend Carmen as a birthday present and excelled all our expectations. All future cake orders contact me and I’ll pass them on to Carmen’s Cakes!

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At 1pm the party began with the birthday girl dressed as the little Queen of Hearts in her red tutu. Her friend the White Rabbit – never one to be on time – kept looking at her watch as if she were late for some important party elsewhere. Two very glamourous Cheshire cats arrived and the birthday girl’s mama – an older and wiser Queen of Hearts – poured large glasses of Prosecco and Pimms from a teapot for the adult guests.

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The sun came out in the afternoon so the kiddies wrecked about in ball pool and sand pit outside and filled themselves full of cookies and juice. Then while the babas slept in the late afternoon the sing-song began.

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It was another Queen’s birthday recently too, but we had not planned to celebrate it with the same vigour. In fact, as most of my neighbours and friends in London were planning Jubilee street parties and trips to watch the festivities, Maggie and I headed home to Norn Iron. Bean Boutique – our little fashion stall – was due to take part in the ‘Frock around the Clock’ vintage fair in Bangor over the Jubilee Bank Holiday. For the last few weeks Mairead has been sourcing a beautiful range of vintage dresses and the collection for the fair was simply stunning. I was excited about going home for a longer time than usual but a little disappointed to be missing out on the neighbourly festivities while John was staying behind and joining our friend Barry at his Jubilee party in Chiswick. Imagine their surprise as they watched the Jubilee coverage on TV. For, not only was I NOT missing the celebrations, myself and Mairead were on national TV as part of Huw Edwards’ four and a half hour Jubilee special on BBC1.

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Back at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the festivities spilled out onto Railway Side where we had our own street party with a difference, one week after the official day. Maggie happily sauntered up and down our little lane with her new birthday pram while the rest of the party soaked up the last of the evening sun.

What a celebration! God knows what we are going to do for the next birthday. I may start planning now….

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A Happy Queen on her Happy Birthday

A Mother’s Guilt is Never Done

Before I went to university at the age of 18 I had never eaten an avocado nor tasted pesto but they are now two of my favourite foods. Before I went to piano lessons I had never heard of ‘muscle memory’, but I saw it in action when I played my scales almost perfectly despite not having practised for over 15 years. Before I had Maggie, I had never heard of ‘Mother’s guilt’, but Hell do I know it and live it now. It is one of the less desirable side affects of giving birth, along with saggy boobs and a dodgy pelvic floor and, in my case at least, it permeates every aspect of being a mother.

Now that I am back to work full-time I’m feeling that sickening sensation that all working mothers must endure – guilty that I’m not spending enough time with my precious duck. It definitely helps to know that she is being cared for like a lamb and that she is so happy to be with her childminder, but I do think that the days are too long and a wave of guilt hits me like a brick every day around 3 o’clock. Maggie is what the Baby Whisperer would call a ‘spirited’ child, constantly on a high energy drive especially when she is with other children. Her childminder Louise told me today that she has not yet – in the five weeks of minding her – seen her cry, complain or have a girly moan. Never. She rules the roost, sits in her high chair not eating very much but squealing with delight, happily goes off on her adventures exploring the garden or a new toy or some empty cereal box she has found and looks with dismay when some of the other babies get upset. But we know that what goes up must come down and Maggie’s slump hits as soon as I pick her up from childcare and often she cries with exhaustion all the way home. It’s as if she can’t relax properly or have a good cry until she sees me. I’m not sure how I feel about my new role as Maggie’s ‘downer’ but I know I feel guilty as hell when she’s left in childcare for 10 hours. Jeezus, I’m generally a happy chappy but even I would struggle to keep up such a cheery disposition for such a prolonged period.

But even before I went back to work the guilt was there. I spent the last few months of maternity feeling guilty that I was hanging out with Maggie way too much and she was missing out on the company of others. I also felt guilty that my maternity pay wasn’t adding a significant amount to the family pot and that, even though I was at home all day, the house was still in a mess and the hand washing was never done.

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For months I felt guilty that Maggie wasn’t enjoying the culinary delights that her peers were, and that my love of bland foods and lack of appreciation for anything exotic (see my comment above about avocado and pesto for goodness sake) were the cause. Then the guilt about feeding her mostly bread and porridge because that was all she would eat! I did reason with myself: ‘So what if she doesn’t eat her five a day unless it’s in an Ella’s Kitchen pouch. I never had anything more exotic than peas and carrots when I was growing up!’ I was also so grateful for my regular trips home to my sister and her three kids just to get some perspective on things and realise that doing your best for your precious bundles is about as much as you can do.

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There have been lots of other examples. A friend recently casually remarked how ‘energetic’ Maggie was and then laughed at how funny it was that I was always singing to her. ‘What? Do I?’ I replied, guilt sweeping over me like a rash as I jumped to the insane conclusion that my singing was leading to overstimulation (the worst thing EVER according to the bloody books) and her high energy levels. I’ve felt guilty about not spending enough quality time with Johnny and being wrrrecked and grumpy in the evenings when all energy has been spent. And you can guess how I felt when Maggie caught chicken pox when she was only 9 months old. Or when she knocked her chin against the bed and cut her lip while I watched her climb out of bed. Jeezus!

My sister and her littlest girl Nancy were meant to come over to see us this weekend for Maggie’s 1st birthday, but her middle girl Ella has tonsillitis. Mairead was already feeling the dreaded Mother’s Guilt about leaving her two at home while she came to London, but that guilt is just magnified ten-fold when your baba is sick. After all, all you want when you are sick is your mama. Hell, I caught some sort of bug this week and I found myself whimpering for mummy when I was feeling weak and emotional. I have told Mairead in no uncertain terms that she is not to come, much as she would love to. This guilt thing is bad enough without adding to it intentionally!

The worst thing is that there is no conclusion to this piece – this all-pervading and all-too-frequent feeling of guilt (a mixture of fear and hope?) is here to stay. I’m sure women have been feeling it since time began and that it is a normal feeling for every mother. Society puts a lot of pressure on a woman to do what’s right for the family but I think this pressure often comes from ourselves. The key is to be able to acknowledge the guilt but then let go of it. It’s easier said than done but after all, we know that a happy mummy = happy baby. So, grab the coffee or the glass of wine or do whatever it is that makes you feel relaxed and…. breathe!

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Maggie driving her truck at The Macs last weekend, completely oblivious to her ma’s insane guilt trips