Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Cyclists are the good guys

Dear Emma Glanfield,

After you wrote an article in the Mail Online on air pollution on 27th March, saying that "‘Tens of thousands of people die prematurely in the UK annually because of dangerous air pollution" and that road traffic is "the main cause of most of the UK's pollution," I was really disappointed to read your ridiculous article on cyclists with 'bad habits' on 9th April.

Honestly Emma - what on earth possessed you to run such a story, when you could have seized the opportunity to follow up on your pollution article with a PRO cycling piece? A really exciting article showing how cycling is becoming more and more popular, with interviews with cyclists, cool gadgety advice, cycle routes, even interviews with a few pro-cycling celebs (Richard Hammond comes to mind.  And while we're at it, why not go the whole hog and get Wiggo on board). 

Publishing a video showing a cyclist riding along a deserted towpath with a phone in her hand, or another cyclist riding along a deserted one way street - and associating these cameos with cyclists' deaths by printing those statistics at the end of this article - was outrageous.

Some of those cyclists were idiots.  Some were cycling safely.  One was filmed having a nasty accident (bit insensitive to publish, do you think?).  If they were cycling dangerously in any way, they were putting themselves in danger.  And if you have just opened your mouth to say that riding on the pavements puts pedestrians at risk - well, you'd be right in one respect. Between 2001 and 2009, 18 pedestrians were killed by cyclists.  But in the same time period, 3,495 were killed by cars.


In 2012, the most recent year we have statistics for, 118 cyclists died.  I've no idea whether the accidents were their 'fault'.  I do know that a recent hit and run near me, resulting in a cyclist's death, was the fault of the car driver. He just drove off and left the cyclist for dead.  Which he was.

Do you cycle in the city, Emma?  If you do, you'll know that it's scary.  That you have to be assertive in order to be seen. We are 'assertively safe' - wearing high viz, helmets, reflectors - anything that will stop the car or the taxi smacking into us from behind (25% of cyclist fatalities are caused this way).  We also need to make sure that we are seen by HGV drivers, who have a habit of squashing us by turning left and cutting us up.  Literally.

Have you ever been on your bike, Emma, and been overtaken by a vehicle that it has grazed your handlebars, and it's taken all your energy to keep upright on a busy road?  Have you been knocked off at a junction, when a driver didn't see you - despite the high viz gear?  Have you been passed by a lorry going so quickly that it has literally blown you off your bike?

Have you been spat at by drivers?  Has someone ever leaned out of their car window and tried to push you over, whilst going past you? When cycling up a hill, and your heart feels like it's coming out of your chest, have you had a car driver sit behind you and lean on his horn, for minutes at a time?

I have.

Emma - we need to get more people cycling, not fewer.  We need to promote it as a green, healthy, fun way to get from A to B.  We need to share the roads; cars do not own the roads of course, something that drivers seem to forget. In fact, bicycles were here first.  

And the more cyclists there are, the safer it will be.  Smeed's law - look it up.  Safety in numbers.

I'm not banging on about this just because I love cycling, by the way.  (Which I do.)  But if your own papers are to be believed, we need more people to cycle.  In The Metro (owned by Associated Newspapers, a subsidiary of The Daily Mail) on Friday, the front page was swallowed up by a huge article about how poor air quality claimed 29,000 deaths last year.  The main cause?. .... Diesel engines.  

Let's just clarify.  That's 29,000 deaths caused by air pollution, the main cause of which is diesel engines. Plus the 1700 + fatalities caused by powered vehicles year on year.  Plus of course the sedentary nature of driving that is contributing to the county's obesity crisis.

Anyone can see that this isn't good.

We simply need people to get out of their cars, and walk or cycle more.  And as a journalist, you have a responsibility to promote it, as a big idea.  You need to find a way to convince car drivers that cyclists aren't all adrenalin-led junkies with some crazy need for speed.  Most of us just want to stop poisoning everyone else. We're the good guys. But media spin - like the article you published - is not helping our cause.

So please, Emma.  Talk to some cyclists.  Get their views on why they cycle, what scares them, how the roads can be safer for all of us.

If you can do it, you will save lives.  Thousands of them.


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Six luxury foods for the family on a budget

I ran into a lovely nutritionist friend of mine the other day, and we were talking about whether it's possible to feel like you and the kids are eating luxury food when you're surviving on a gnat's budget.  And more to the point, food that's good for you.

Now let's get this straight. All I know about food is What I Like, and What I Can Cook.  Everything else blurs into insignificance when you're trying to feed kids on not very much at all.

But the fantabulous Emma - contact details at the bottom - has written a guest post for me about wonderful foods that, in the great scheme of things, are very good value indeed.

I have decided to jump on the bandwagon and have slipped in my own tiny bit of foodie knowledge.  See if you can spot the difference between her wise words and mine.

1. Asparagus

Often thought of as a pricey vegetable, asparagus is in season right now (April - June) so you can proudly buy your British Asparagus during these months and save money as well as your conscience. Asparagus is a super healthy vegetable packed with nutrients, including folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, and also the mineral chromium, which helps keep blood sugar balance stable. Added to that, it is rich in the super antioxidant glutathione, which helps to protect cells from free radical damage and helps your liver  to break down harmful toxins and chemicals. These vegetables go perfectly with a spring or summer meal, especially a barbecue - try chargrilling them or steaming and served with butter (see below - it's officially good for you!), mayonnaise or hollandaise.

 2. Eggs

Considered by those in the know to be the perfect protein, they are also inexpensive when compared to protein that comes from meat and fish. The protein they contain is really well absorbed because they contain all the essential amino acids in the correct ratio, including high amounts of the amino acid, leucine, which helps with muscle recovery after exercise. Eggs are also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and vitamins A and D, which help with energy production, immune system function and the formation of strong bones and teeth. They are incredibly quick and easy to prepare, and are at their tasty and healthy best when scrambled and served with chives, smoked salmon and rye bread.

3. Nuts 

For the price you pay, nuts are the heavy weights when it comes to nutrients.  They are loaded with calcium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, folate and vitamin E, while also providing heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats. Despite being high in fat, research has shown that diets enriched with nuts do not cause weight gain; in fact they can even help with weight loss. Research has also found that eating nuts brings other health benefits, including lower blood pressure, lower blood lipids and higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Nuts provide a great snack, add crunch to salads and main meals, or why not try using ground nuts, like almonds, for baking instead of wheat flour. The best nuts to choose include raw and unsalted almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, brazils and pecans.

4. Coconut milk

Tinned food doesn't tend to be thought of as a luxury ingredient, but I think coconut milk is the exception. Low in price, yet rich and creamy, it will add delicious depth to your morning smoothie and bring a mild coconut flavour to curries and soups. It is a really useful store cupboard standby as it has a relatively long shelf life, and is a great option for those avoiding dairy products. Coconut is also now known to be a 'super food', rich in healthy medium-chain fats, including lauric acid, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.  (Pic from wholelifestylenutrition.com.)

5. Bananas  
They are cheap, yellow and good for you.  And what's more, they're shaped like a gentleman's sausage.  What's not to like?
(pic from fairtrasa.com)

6. Butter 

Butter is an affordable luxury that has had a bad press in the past, leaving many people choosing margarine instead in an effort to be healthy. The truth is that more recent research has now disproved many of the claims that link saturated fats to cardiovascular health problems, meaning butter is back on the menu. Margarine, on the other hand, is highly chemical and processed in nature, with much research revealing it to be far from the health food it claims to be. Butter is rich in vitamins A, E, and K2, as well as a short-chain fat called butyric acid, which is used for energy by cells in our colons and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Add to steamed vegetables to boost flavour and help your body absorb the fat soluble nutrients they contain.

Did you spot my own tip?  If you did, and you'd STILL like to talk to Emma about nutrition rather than me, you can reach her at the Nourish Nutritional Therapy Centre, www.nourishcentre.co.uk

All the photos are mine unless specified. Please feel free to use then whilst referencing this site.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Attractive Man

A particularly English tableau to share with you this morning.

I was walking to work, and spotted an Attractive Man walking towards me.  He was dressed in well-fitting jeans, a light sports jacket, suitable shoes.  His hair was short.  His skin was slightly tanned.  He was age appropriate.

Even though he was a hundred feet away, I could feel my hormones prepare for launch.

Getting closer now, I decided that it would be best if I didn’t look in his direction.  In fact, anywhere but.  So I positioned my eyes up to the top right hand corner of my vision, in what I thought was a cool, nonchalant I’m not at all interested in you kind of look.

Unfortunately, this eye positioning also meant that I wasn’t looking where I was going.  And as he was just about five feet away, I tripped.

It wasn’t just a trip - a steady - a walk on.  It was a trip and then, to cover the trip, a skip and a slight hop.  And then a tiny jump.  Of course, all of this was accompanied by a small yet incredibly high pitched ‘Oooooo…AY’, escaping from my mouth before I’d had time to stop it, just as he passed me by.

And finally, to finish off the routine, I started to cackle loudly at the absurdity of it all.  In fact, I couldn’t stop myself.  I found myself bent over on the pavement, holding my stomach, letting all my embarrassment out in one huge, loud, old lady laughing bout.

It was a wonder I didn’t let out a huge fart, just to cap it all.

I wonder if I’ll ever see him again?  Perhaps next time I can improve on my performance by falling on top of him and having a tiny wee.  

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Anti Fashion Police

I've just read an article, on a well-known Parent community site, that has made my blood boil.  It has made me see red.  But instead of using The Magic Finger (Roald Dahl reference - which is about the height of my reading at the moment) I've decided to bubble over here.

Sorry about that.

It's people who write about fashion as if it's an important thing.  It isn't.  In fact, I can barely think of anything that's more wasteful, meaningless and shallow in this topsy turvy world.

This article was talking about the apparent tragedy of 'mum dressing'.  Now, you might think that a slummy mummy outfit worth noting would be a coffee-stained dressing gown with bunny slippers, or perhaps a pair of joggers and a T-shirt that had been worn day and night for two weeks without a sniff of deodorant.  Add a touch of ketchup in the hair and something unmentionable under the nails et voila!  Perhaps then, we've got something to share.

But no.  Apparently the outfit of woe is a pair of Converses, a stripy Breton top, jeans and a parka. Fashionistas everywhere are (apparently) cursing mums who wear this 'mum uniform', criticising us for not making more of an effort.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Number 1.  Who gives a shit?  Really? Who is watching what we wear, what labels we have on, whether our lipstick is NARS or Collection 2000 or actually just a blob of jam left over from this morning's breakfast?

Number 2.  Someone obviously does care, otherwise this article wouldn't have been written and the whole fashion industry wouldn't exist.  But why?  Don't tell me that it's to do with 'the cut' or 'the fit' because I won't believe you.  Don't tell me it's because you like to see a woman make the best of herself, or I might lamp you.

Number 3.  Converses are BLOODY EXPENSIVE.  To my mind, they are akin to designer gear.  So why criticise them for being common as muck?

Number 4. Mums' clothes need to be practical.  Really, we should all be shuffling round in an apron, shower cap and wellies considering the amount of chuff that gets thrown at us, day in, day out.  But we make some sort of effort, a nod to society, to keep ourselves smartish and try and make sure that our clothes aren't on inside out.  But to don, as this article suggests, heels and the 'must-have coat of the season'...I'm sorry, I've just had a tiny bit of mouth vomit.

Fashion has always been a mystery to me.  Aged 13, I was still in a pinafore dress when others were in luminous bat wing tops and ra-ra skirts.  I remember looking at these girls, and thinking: that's odd.

Now don't get me wrong; I love colour.  I like clothes that make me look thin.  I love it when someone says "Oo, I love your skirt."  And I love hats.  Any sort of hat - there's something a bit romantic about them.  A bit old school.

It's the whole following the crowd thing I don't understand.  Spending money for no sake.  Having a wardrobe full of perfectly good clothes and just ignoring them. Not mending clothes when buttons come off, or they rip a bit.  Or refusing to wear them because of that tiny stain that no one else can see.

It's a waste!  And an artificially contrived - um - thing that seems to have overtaken the lives of some of us.  Surely, instead of buying 'this season's must have', we should be spending our money on experiences for us and our children; holidays, day trips, adventures.  Or if we are lucky enough to have money left over, perhaps we should invest it in learning; evening classes perhaps.  Or spend your money on a decent bike and get your car off the road.

In short, we should all be happy with a pair of Converses.  And a bit of muck on our jeans.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Ten Things That Surprised Me About Divorce

Before you take the hard decision to go down the divorce route, you'll probably have at least some expectation of what it will be like.  We all know that it will be hard and emotional - but there were some elements of it - good and bad - that I hadn't expected.

1. It's slow

Ideally, you and your ex will have agreed everything over a cup of tea and a jammy dodger.  You'll have scribbled some notes on the back of a tissue, and given these to a solicitor to type up.  Job done.  You're both off to the pub for a celebratory drink.

Of course, most divorces aren't like that.  At the beginning, I thought mine was going to be simple and swift - and it turned out to be anything but.  Negotiations involved my ex (who at times was purposefully slow as well as being generally abhorrent - see later) as well as both of our solicitors.  My solicitor - damn her - had other caseloads to look after as well as mine.  And occasionally, she very selfishly went on holiday.

But the person who really screwed up the timings was my ex's solicitor.  Not only was she on my ex husband's side (*lets out a small growl*) but she also had the lawyerly knack of tactically delaying in order to save my ex from paying maintenance to me.

This almost made me pop.  I could literally feel pressure building up in my head, and was just waiting for the moment when my brain would start spurting out of my ears.

2. It's expensive

Again - you may have agreed everything.  If your divorce is uncontested - whoopeee!  Fly the flags, crack open the Bolly and run round in your underpants - you're quids in.  The Co-op run a DIY divorce service which, at the low end, costs just £118.80 plus £410 court costs.

You might think that £530 is expensive.  It isn't.

One thing that you may not have considered.  If you are 'The Petitioner' - ie, the person who wants the divorce - you will pay most of the fees.  I suppose it makes sense, but if, like me, you're considerably worse off financially then it's a real botty burp.  The Co-op offer an 'all in' service for both Petitioner and Respondent; Petitioner will pay from £570, respondent from £360.

I paid about £3,500.  Most of this was taken up with my lawyer writing letters to my ex's lawyer, putting the squeeze on him to cajole him into paying maintenance.  My lawyer charged just under £200 per hour.  Plus VAT.  And I had to correct her typos.

It is astounding.

And all of this is without going to court.  Don't. Go. To. Court. At times you may hate your ex - really, properly hate them - but if you go to court, you will both lose a shedload of money to line the pockets of solicitors.  It is much better to suck it up, lose a few quid at the time, smile, compromise, even apologise if necessary.  It will sting, but it is a bazillion times better than fighting fruitlessly in front of a man with a wig on.

3. It brings out the worst in your ex

When I first went to see my solicitor, he told me to ring-fence my savings.  It was almost the first thing he said.  Don't be silly, said I, my husband wouldn't steal from me.

Excuse me while I throw my head back and laugh scornfully at my former self.

My ex husband did everything he possibly could to hurt me.  He denied maintenance.  He refused to help financially in any way, even with things obviously associated with the boys (such as school trips away, or toys).  He wouldn't help out with childcare during the school holidays.  (He still doesn't.)

He demanded his name back.

When he did this, I knew that he was living on the edge of insanity.  Lottie Lomas is a pseudonym, and my real surname is a very common British name.  Bit like Smith.  In fact, it could be Smith.  (I'm a boring tease, aren't I?)  Ok, it isn't Smith.  Anyway, he demanded that I change my name.

I haven't.

4. Everyone is suddenly very interested in you

Now I find this, out of everything I've been through, the weirdest thing.  I work, and I look after my children, and I'm trying to rebuild my love life - and all of this means that I don't go out much with big groups of friends.  But when I do, everybody - EVERYBODY - wants a piece of you.  People you hardly know, including the waiter, the chef, the doorman - they'll all be queuing up to hear your story.  What they'll ask is, "how are the children?" but what they mean is, "how is your love life?"

I feel like printing flyers and handing them out.  "Love life fine; see boyf once a fortnight - we have lots of sex although he occasionally finds it difficult to orgasm.  Last weekend I was on my period.  Haven't washed bedclothes yet.  Bit sticky."

Some women want to leave their husbands and are looking for 'cloaked' advice.  Some women want to bask in the weird excitement of having a friend who's dating.  Men look at you differently.  Children run away from you, screaming.

It's exhausting.

5. You man-up.  You just do.

There's really no point crying about it.  It's got to be done, and you're the one who's got to do it.  You'll probably have to do all sorts of things on your own that you've never done before.  Take some tough decisions.  Work hard.  Take risks.

Looking back of the enormity of what I've been through, and what every single other person goes through when they get a divorce, I think - bugger me! I'm amazed that I coped with that.  Every time you accomplish something on your own, whether it be move house or change a lightbulb, your confidence increases.  And eventually, you feel that you can cope with whatever crap is thrown at you.  You've heard it all before, but I'm going to bore you with it again: what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.

Unless of course it cripples you.

Just don't let it.

6. It is incredibly stressful at times; at other times, you'll totally forget about it.

I've already described a time when I felt my head was about to explode into a million tiny parts of gooey matter.  Thank God I wasn't monitoring my blood pressure.  There are points in the process where I have lost the plot so completely that I have wanted to run amok in a small market town shouting and waving my arms around wildly, or simply lie in a darkened room for 36 hours with a wet towel, my teddy and a bottle of whiskey.

And yet, these are just pinch points.  The issue is usually resolved, or subsides after a few days.  And life travels on as normal.  You work.  You take the kids to school.  You see your friends who both cheer you up and provide comfort.  There are birthdays.  And Christmas. And gradually, you - and your ex - find a pathway through it all.

7. I felt like I'd failed when the divorce came through

I remember in October last year, we'd just negotiated a maintenance deal. It had involved face-to-face meetings, abusive emails and texts and LOTS of money spent with the solicitor.  But it had been signed by both parties and money had finally started landing in my account.  I was relieved, but exhausted.

Come December, my solicitor mailed me to ask if I'd got the divorce certificate through.  After much searching through piles of paper, I found it.  As it turned out, I'd had it for weeks - it had got buried under the mountains of post that a divorce generates.  And when I opened it, I felt profoundly sad.  I didn't feel joyful or even relieved; I just looked at the slip of paper and thought: so this is what it has come to.

I felt like I'd failed.

8. My kids coped well

When people started hearing that we were getting divorce, they always asked how the children were coping.  One woman said, "But have you thought about the children?"  I nearly lamped her.  Of course I had thought about the children.  I thought of nothing but.  They had sellotaped our marriage together for the last five years.  But it had come to the point where they were living in a very unhappy household, and I took the decision that they would be happier if they had separate, but content, parents.

I had no idea at the time whether I was right or not.  Initially, my eldest (then 11) was more fragile than usual and particularly sensitive at school.  My youngest, more laid back and robust, hardly even noticed that anything had changed.  It helps that they are not the only children - by a long chalk - in their classes who have divorced parents.  They do not feel 'different' and there has been no unkindness amongst their peer groups; in fact, quite the reverse.  It was also good for them that I didn't have to move out of the family home for six months, so they could get used to the idea of separated parents before having to move house themselves.

I have been as honest as I can with them throughout the whole process.  I have made it clear that I love them without reservation.  We have become a close-knit unit of three; my eldest helps me with practical things (fixing the lawnmower, setting up anything tech-related) and my youngest is the entertainer, while I take on the role of part Mum, part Dad.  Or MuD, as I call it.

Of course, it would have been better for them to have grown up in a secure and loving two-parent family.  But as that isn't available (and wasn't even when my ex and I were together), then this is the next best thing.  And I believe that they will have developed life skills from this difficult time that they may not otherwise have had.

So the next time someone tells you that you are ruining a child's life by splitting up from your spouse, tell them my story or, even better, tweak their nipples and run away laughing.  Quickly.

9. How my family reacted

Some context: I come from a 'broken home'.  My mum left my dad when she was the same age as me.  I suspect that we had made the same choices, same mistakes, and have similar needs - so perhaps she saw it coming before I'd even thought about it.  My mum was very supportive, as I knew she would be.  She's never been very hands on, but offered financial help and lots of verbal encouragement.

I wasn't sure how my Dad would react.  In the event, he has been wonderful.  Tear-jerkingly wonderful.  At around the same time that I left, my Dad's partner was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, so his whole world was turned upside down in an instant.  He has coped with everything that MND has thrown at them, as well as offering me the world.  I realised that, to him, I will always be his little girl and he wants to protect and support me; despite the fact that I am 43.

I realise that I am extremely lucky and privileged to have parents like these.  They have shown me that you never retire from being a parent, and your love for your children continues - like you are bound to them - until you die.

My brother, on the other hand, has been as useful as a holey bucket.  When I was struggling, he barely phoned me.  I suspect he thinks that I have done a 'bad thing', that I haven't stuck it out, that I didn't try hard enough.  He has not taken the time to find out anything about the situation, and all of this makes me sad.

10. It brings life into focus.

Important life events always make you consider your position in life, I think.  Making that decision to leave was the first step in a huge life change to live a life less ordinary.  To step out of the middle class enclave and into something unknown and slightly scary.  To challenge myself, live with little money but more fresh air.

To boldly go where no o....oh alright, millions of people actually, have gone before.

But my point is, that when you see that the bag you wanted is now sold out - it's not important.  That the guy who pulled out in front of you, making you brake, is not important.  Even dropping your phone down the toilet - it doesn't really matter.  For me, what does matter in life is family, safety, love, laughter.

Oh, and eating cake.

Um - and also coffee.

But that's it.


Thanks to www.divorcedmoms.com for the inspiration for this piece.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Sharing Hair Chalk with Granny

Hello Granny.  It's me - don't get up.  Oh, you can't.  Your dead.

I'm just writing to say that I found this stuff today which you would have loved.  It's called hair chalk.  You can get it in blue or pink, and you rub it on the ends of you hair to make it change colour.  It looks really pretty, and washes out easily.

I bought pink.  I imagined having fun with it, with you.  Highlighting the ends of your short grey hair with its shocking hotness.  You would have accessorised it with large pink beads - plastic probably -
and a pink or white polo neck jumper.  You might have had some pink shoes, although I doubt it.  We'd have had to make do with blue.

We'd probably have discussed earrings, too.  You'd have found some dangly ones that made your ears weep a bit - but you'd have worn them because they looked fabulous.

You were a farmer's daughter but you had a sense of style and colour that was natural and warm and vivid at times.  You regularly teamed knee length skirts with opaque tights of vibrant colours.  You showed me some furs once that were stashed away in your wardrobe; I recoiled at the sight, but they had been your mother's and were treasures to you.

It makes me sad that we can't chalk up of a morning, go about our daily routines, and then share our Chalk Stories come the evening.  I bet you'd have better stories than me.  About how the church organist had reacted with horror to your pink tips.  Or maybe you would have been banned from collecting for Christian Aid.  Or maybe the chalk would have run off in the rain on your way to Aldi, making an interesting snake pattern on your polo necked jumper.

Good night, Granny.  I miss you.

This blog post was inspired by a wonderful blog written by the very talented (and much younger than me) Rachelle Bell!  Please visit the fabulous www.inspiredbytheretired.blogspot.com.