(An unread but highly anticipated) Book Review

YESTERDAY….

I picked Maggie up at her childminder’s and she greeted me with a huge grin and ran over to the door shouting, ‘Mummy, my Mummy’ in a way that would break a Ma’s heart. But within thirty seconds she was refusing to put on her coat, screamed, straightened her back and lay on the ground to have a tantrum, as she is wont to do these days. Instead, I picked her up to prevent said-tantrum and she pulled my hair and hit me across the face!

Dear Lord, that was a first I can tell you. I don’t know who was more shocked – me or the poor childminder who only sees the best side of Maggie and has never yet heard her complain. I couldn’t believe she had actually yanked my hair! I didn’t know what to do so hastily bundled her into the car and almost as soon as it started it was over.

TODAY…..

‘Toddler Taming’ by Dr Christopher Green arrived in the post.

I will of course, dear reader, let you know what it is like in due course. Let’s hope there is a chapter on the Terrible Pre-twos and that it tells me that I’m lucky because we are getting it out of the way early. And that it won’t last. And that of course we haven’t done anything wrong.

Fingers crossed.

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Splash!

Last June when Maggie was just two days old, a two year old girl called Isabelle Byrne fell into a dirty canal when she was out feeding the ducks with her family in Manchester. She didn’t panic as many of us would; instead she calmly paddled to the edge and waited to be lifted out of the water. She had been taking water babies swimming lessons ever since she was eight weeks old and her mother is convinced that this is what saved her. Little Isabelle’s natural instinct – learnt and reinforced at Water Babies – was to roll herself over onto her front and kick her legs.

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Little Water Baby Isabelle

At Water Babies lessons, babies are submerged in water at a very young age with the safe knowledge that their natural instincts will kick in – known as the ‘diving reflex’ and the ‘swimming reflex’. The diving reflex causes babies to hold their breath and open their eyes when submerged. Until around 6 months, the swimming reflex means that babies placed in water tummy-side down will move their arms and legs in a swimming motion.

Isabelle’s mum concluded that teaching your child to swim is essential in life.

The story of Isabelle was in the national newspapers and one of the girls from our NCT class had heard about it. Her mum had read the article and phoned her straight away. ‘Get your baba to swimming lessons…now!’. Having a newborn is traumatic enough, never mind when it is coupled with the acute anxiety that something awful could happen to your precious bundle. We knew what we had to do. We enrolled immediately in the first term of London Baby Swim.

London Baby Swim based in Osterley only use private purpose built swimming facilities located rather bizarrely in the gardens of a semi-detached house. The pool is used only for babies and toddlers, the water temperature is a constant 33°C and the water chlorine levels are very low. All these make it perfect for newborn babies. All you need is a willing baby and double-nappy system: a regular swim nappy and then a Happy Nappy on top. The Happy Nappy from ‘Splash About’ is like the bottom half of a wetsuit; it looks and feels very secure and is the only nappy which is compulsory in UK baby swim schools. One of my friends did complain about the fact that the nappy gets quite heavy when wet, but I must say I didn’t think the nappy inhibited Maggie’s movements at all, neither in nor out of the water. It also offers SPF 50+ sun protection, which is an added bonus if the balmy weather continues in the UK or if you are planning a sunny holiday. You can choose from dozens of styles, or if you are feeling patriotic in this Jubilee and Olympics year you can choose the new Union Jack version!

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As we all know swimming makes you ravenous so, along with your baby and a Happy Nappy, don’t forget to pack a warm bottle for after the swim if you are bottle feeding and a little snack if your duckling has started solids.

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Of course the other piece of clothing required for baby swimming is a fabulous swimsuit. We were lucky enough to receive two swimsuits as presents and had great fun modelling them prior to our first swimming lesson. But the truth is, you don’t really need them at lessons and after a week or so Maggie stopped wearing hers. It was difficult enough to get Maggie dried and dressed while standing in a wet swimsuit dripping wet without any extra complications or layers.

Maggie attended swimming lessons from the age of 3 months but babies can go swimming any time from the age of six weeks old. Now to all those regular readers of BLP you will know that Maggie is generally a very happy, very contented, very smiley little girl. But I can honestly say that she has never been happier than when in the water, splashing about and squealing at the top of her voice. For babies water is such a familiar environment and you can just see Mother nature in action when you observe how calm and comfortable little tots seem in it; water was their very first home after all. They have a natural affinity with it and the ‘diving reflex’ which allows them to hold their breath under water without even thinking about it means they are born natural little mermaids and mermen. I watched with horror from the viewing gallery the first time John ducked Maggie under the water, but it was incredible how easy and comfortable she was swimming underwater.

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Maggie and her friends at Baby Swim

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Having a laugh with her da

Getting our little ducks used to water early in life makes sense from a safety point of view as little Isabelle’s story illustrates. But swimming is also great fun and good exercise too for mums and dads. Next step on our baby swim journey is to get an underwater photo of our little water baby. Too cute!

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Nursery Design Ideas

Last year when I was pregnant with Maggie I spent hours on the web and reading magazines looking at nursery room designs to get inspiration for our little bambino’s room. Never mind that the duck wouldn’t sleep in the room for at least another six months, I still wanted it to look pretty and be a relaxing space for both of us during feeding, changing and playtime.

Here are some of my favourite nursery designs that I used as inspiration for Maggie’s room:

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Nursery 1

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Nursery 2

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Nursery 3

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Nursery 4

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Nursery 5

Here are the 5 key pieces I think make the perfect nursery:

A statement nursing chair
I searched high and low for the perfect nursing chair that would 1. Look the part 2. Be practical, comfy and good for feeding 3. Not cost the earth. All those I saw in magazines were very expensive and I was almost tempted to buy one (as an ‘investment’ of course) when I spotted my perfect chair at The Pine Box in Coalisland. It was covered in ugly velvety material and was a bit scuffed, but Fergus from The Pine Box arranged to repaint and reupholster it in the fabric of my choice.

I splashed out on material from Harlequin which wasn’t specifically for kids but was bright and beautiful and just what I wanted! It was neither too girly nor too blue, as it included little pink and green flowers, and I fell for it. The company who upholstered the chair had a bit of material left over so he also made me two cushions to match. Result = a designer-looking nursing chair without the price tag.

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The Pine Box,
44 Market Square, Coalisland
BT71 4LN
028877 46031

Baby chair
If Mummy Bear is allowed her very own chair it goes without saying that Baby Bear must have one too. Again, Fergus at The Pine Box comes up trumps, selling cute wooden chairs and painting them in any colour you wish (you just provide the paint). But it’s a very personal service so unless you are near Coalisland, Northern Ireland it’s not much good.

The child’s heart chair below by Rose & Grey is available online from notonthehighstreet. My little niece Anna used hers in different ways as she got older – first as a pram to push about the floor when she was learning to walk, then as a seat to sit and cuddle her doll and then to sit at the coffee table and draw her pictures. Her brothers Fionn and Daniel now have one too so the three chairs sit side by side just waiting for Goldilocks to turn up.

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Child’s Heart Chair by Rose & Grey £39.50

Nursery Furniture
There are lots of options available to suit your taste and your budget.
We originally looked at the Hemnes nursery range at Ikea, as we currently have the Hemnes bed. Their 8 drawer dresser is apparently a good choice as a changing table as it is wide enough for a changing mat and has so much storage but it was too big for our needs.

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Ikea Hemnes dresser £199 shown here being used as a changing table. There is also a Hemnes wardrobe available to match at £299.

Mamas & Papas have an extensive range of nursery collections, in pine or painted white depending on your preference. Individually the pieces tend to be more expensive but they often do reduced nursery collections when you buy the cot, dresser and wardrobe together. Their Fern white range is currently on a deal at £599 for all three pieces, which is a saving of £400.

The fifth Nursery picture shown above is from Chic Shack, a wonderful but pricey furniture shop in Putney. If you have spare cash to invest in your nursery then you won’t baulk at their prices like I did, but what I ended up doing was trying to replicate their nursery designs with slightly cheaper items.

A wooden shelf with pegs makes a nice feature on the wall – again there are lots out there at a variety of prices. I found a very reasonably priced one at Benardout Interiors in East Sheen – just ask Rob for his furniture catalogue and pick your favourite!

A Bed
Maggie slept in her Moses basket in our bedroom for the first three months and then upgraded to her cot while she was still with us. But if you plan to have baby’s crib in her own nursery, and you have money to invest in a truly statement piece that wouldn’t look out of place at Buckingham Palace, then check out this incredible willow crib from Natural Mat. It is truly fit for a prince or princess.

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Handmade willow crib including crib, coco mat and stand £275

We opted for a cot bed for Maggie, as we thought it would be a more practical solution in London where space is a luxury. The first night she slept in it she was completely lost – although she is a big baby, there was room for 6 Maggies in the huge space. But it’s quite incredible how quickly she has grown into it and how she now loves having all that room to wreck about.

Cot Mobile
I had a frustrating search to find the perfect mobile for Maggie’s cot which would look the part but still keep her engaged. A few years ago I bought a beautiful hand-crafted wooden seagull for my niece Anna that gently flapped its wings when you pulled the cord. It was similar to the one in the the Nursery 1 picture. She was transfixed by it and it looked beautiful in her room. I had found it in a small toy shop in the south of France, and I just never again found something as pretty. Until now. Natural Mat stock a range of interesting and quirky handmade wooden mobiles including the Dinghy Regatta one that lives in Maggie’s room.

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They are quite fragile and they tend to be more pricey than the ones on the high street but they make a gorgeous and unique gift and they are just beautiful to look at.

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Sheep Mobile from £16.85

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Dinghy Regatta Mobile from £30.65

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Hedgehog mobile from £17.50

A Rocking Horse (or other animal)
Ok, so we all know that full size rocking horses are hugely expensive, often thousands of pounds. But there are some very cute baby versions out there.

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This handmade mini version complete with carved wooded nose is available at Kiddisave has been reduced to £117.
We were very lucky to get our Moulin Roty ride-on wooden horse as a gift from Auntie Mairead and the Macs. It is an adorable piece of furniture and takes pride of place in Maggie’s nursery with its little wicker basket at the back for storing toys or bunnies or stones. We also have a mini Steiff rocking horse that sits on the window, something I won at an auction and had always planned to give away as a gift. I’m so glad I kept it.

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Of course the modern-day rocking horse is the Magis puppy shown in the second nursery picture above. The plastic dog is often used as an ornament but it can also used as a kids seat. It comes in a range of colours and sizes; the small costs £46 and the medium size costs around £78.

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I have to laugh. So much effort and thought, and yet the little monkey still sleeps most nights in our bed! I’m sure some day she’ll appreciate all the effort.

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Mini Restaurant Review

SeaSalt Mediterranean Kitchen – Bar, Barnes

My friend Sean took Maggie and I out for some mid-week lunch recently (while I was still lady-of-leisure) at the new restaurant ‘Sea Salt’ on White Hart Lane, Barnes. He had travelled over from East Dulwich and completely underestimated how long it would take to get to leafy Barnes, so we didn’t get to the restaurant until nearly 3pm. Unsurprisingly the only other punters were just leaving as we arrived and we were just in time for the lunch menu which was due to finish. Despite this, we were treated like kings and there was no sense of being rushed to finish our meal quickly. A high chair arrived for Maggie and she happily played with her toys and ate her baby food while we savoured a delicious and tasty Mediterranean lunch.

We chose the set Lunch menu which was 2 courses for £10.50, with the idea that we’d share a starter and dessert. To start with we had smoked salmon salad with a zesty lime and orange dressing. Maybe a little too much greenery for the amount of salmon on the plate but otherwise it was perfect, a fresh and refreshing little bite to get the taste buds going.

For the main course, Sean chose seabass fillet served with sautéed vegetables and mash. I had the Tavuk Sis kebap, basically chargrilled chicken skewers with rice and a side salad. The flavours were distinctively Mediterranean and the portions were extremely generous. I did wonder if we had been given extra as we were the last lunchtime customers. We shared a crumbly and delicious baklava for dessert with a side of vanilla ice-cream and a sneaky glass of vino each.

There was a piano in the corner which was just tempting someone to play it. Thankfully I didn’t attempt it, considering my very limited Grade 5 exam pieces repertoire. I do wonder though if someone comes in to play a bit of jazz in the evenings. I think that sort of jazzy cabaret restaurant would work on White Hart Lane, but I just wonder whether this restaurant has the right atmosphere yet to create that laid-back vibe.

It was such a shame to see ‘SeaSalt’ so empty while its neighbour ‘The Orange Pekoe’ was crammed to the gills, as it always is. That, despite the fact that their food is menu is not as extensive or as sumptuous. But it always feels like a treat to go to ‘The Orange Pekoe’, while ‘SeaSalt’ lacks the same ambience. It doesn’t help to have that large plain window at the front of the restaurant so you sit at your table like a poor doggy in the window. But I was still impressed, and really wish it every success. In the words of Arnie (and with a dodgy Californian accent): ‘I’ll be back’.

Example dishes from the menu include: kuzu sis kebab (lamb kebab) which is priced at £9.50, tavuk sis kebab (chicken kebab) at £9.00 and a meze selection (hummous, cacik, babagannus, roasted red pepper) for £5.00. There’s also grilled hellim (£4.50) while for dessert the choice includes baklava at £3.50.

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday: lunch 12 noon – 3:00pm, evening 6:00pm – 10:00pm
Saturday: lunch 12 noon – 4:00pm, evening 6:00pm – 10.30pm
Sunday: lunch 12 noon – 4:00pm, evening 6:00pm – 9:00pm

5 White Hart Lane, SW13 0PX, 020 8392 1111

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mini Book Review

Time to get out of the bath, Shirley by John Burningham

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A delightful little picture book that I picked up at the library today. It is the story of Shirley, lost in a colourful daydream while her mum tries to get her out of the bath. So while her mum chats away in a banal way on the left hand page, Shirley is off on an adventure with her toy duck on the right.

It reminds me of Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, published 15 years earlier, which is a similar story of children shutting out the real world in favour of the adventures that take place in their imaginations. It also makes me wonder where my own little duck disappears to when she’s in the bath, squealing with delight and splashing her hands. Is she off to a magical land of knights on white chargers and fairytale castles? More likely she is squealing to drown out her annoying mum’s version of ‘If you are happy and you know it, splash your hands’ and other watery tunes.

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BooBoo Baby Lotion

Maggie’s friend Annabel always smells deeelicious…and I’ve just found out why – Booboo Baby Lotion.

The Kind & Creamy Baby lotion is non-greasy and keeps baby’s delicate skin soft and soothed but more importantly it smells divine. Makes a lovely present too.

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mini Book Review

The Stinky Cheese Man (and other fairly stupid tales) by Jon Scieszka

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It was with an air of nostalgia that I picked up this book at East Sheen library today. The last time I read it was during a children’s literature class at college. It was great being able to reread it for the sheer joy of it (and particularly enjoy the award-winning illustrations by Lane Smith) without thinking about its ‘intertextuality’, ‘unreliable narration’, ‘post-modernism’ and other metafictive devices. Saying that, it’s not as clever as I remembered. And it’s not anywhere near as funny as Roald Dahl’s ‘Revolting Rhymes’.

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Barnes Olympic Cinema drinks evening

Last Thursday night 9 Feb John & I headed to a drinks evening at the new Olympic cinema in Barnes.

Billed as a ‘hard hat’ event, I was a tad nervous about having to wear a hat and dirty old hi-vis jacket over my leopard print coat but thankfully that wasn’t the case! Mairead had done an incredible job making the building look inspiring inside, despite it still being very much a building site.

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The evening was for Founder Members and was to celebrate planning permission being granted to turn the Olympic back into the cinema it once was. In the intervening years it has been a theatre and latterly the great Olympic Recording Studios where, since the 1960s, bands from The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix to Madonna and Oasis have recorded. U2 were the last band to record at the Olympic with ‘No Line on the Horizon’ in December 2008.

We had a great night mingling with the Barnes locals including Alistair McGowan and enjoying drinks and nibbles including Jameson Irish mule cocktails, Appletiser, mini hot dogs and mini ice cream cones.

The Olympic Cinema is due to open this summer, boutique in style, but with plans to show mainstream films on general release as well as showing art house and children’s movies at the weekend. There’s also talk of a members club and cocktail bar. I’m so excited to have somewhere like this in sleepy Barnes, and secretly hope that Cameron Mackintosh will decide to premiere the Les Misérables film at the Olympic in 2013!

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