Making a splash – part 2

We were back in the indoor pool this week for another of LO’s swimming lessons after missing a session. I’d had a chat with him about how he was going to listen to the teacher and not keep disappearing underwater, so I was confident that he had taken no notice whatsoever.




I was half right. He was slightly better than last time, but still continued to bob up and down disappearing underwater and then reappearing while smoothing out his hair. He looked a bit like a blind person at a disco – thoroughly enjoying himself, grinning like a a Cheshire cat and bouncing up and down, but completely out of sync with everyone else.

The teacher told him off three times and after the second, he asked if he could get out of the pool. He came to me and said: “Look mummy, I’m swimming!” before returning to the pool. No sooner had he got in and disappeared underwater than he was told off again. I made the international sign for “listen for God’s sake!” and he shouted “but I love you mummy!” across the pool much to the amusement of the watching crowd.

He did impress me with his improving backstroke and kicking, plus the ability to disappear underwater and retrieve various items from the bottom, most of them deliberately placed there.  I decided to make our next stop the hairdressers to see if that helps with the need to disappear under the water every two seconds. We shall see.







Mark Thomas – Trespass

My comedy hero, the journalist-comedian-mayhem maker Mark Thomas is returning to Newbury on 12th February as part of his “Trespass” tour which will address the opening up of the corporate world to ramblers and the rest of us.
There are a handful of tickets left here:

I thought it would be a great #TBT opportunity and that  I’d share here my Newbury Weekly News interview with him from a few years back.

“Multi award-winning comedian and activist Mark Thomas is back in Newbury this week with a show called ‘Extreme Rambling-Walking the Wall. For Fun’ about the separation barrier between Israel and Palestine.
It’s not the most obvious source of material for a comedy show but despite the subject matter, the audience can always be assured that Mark will find humour where lesser comedians fear to tread, as evidenced by his previous shows and books on the international arms trade, MPs’ expenses, civil liberties and tax havens, all of which have been rendered alarmingly funny.
His new show tells of his 750km walk from where the 8ft high fence starts at Bisan (although he argues that as you can’t buy anything like it in B&Q, it’s not really a fence) down to where it ends, as yet unfinished, at Beit Yatir.
As I speak to Mark on a rare day off during his intensive touring schedule, he’s ‘relaxing’ by preparing for a benefit gig in aid of the Fire Brigades Union.
A hugely popular and recognisable political comedian, Mark’s last visit to Newbury’s Corn Exchange saw a sell-out crowd contribute new laws for consideration for ‘The People’s Manifesto’. Memorably, the winning policy was that people with OCD should be put in charge of cleaning the country’s hospitals.
He remembers the policy and the stack of correspondence from people with OCD that followed and adds: “Newbury is a sweet old place and the Corn Exchange is a great little venue. Arts centres in towns outside London, but within commutable distance of London, can be undervalued by local people, but they’re amazing places with genuinely challenging and interesting performances and are treasure troves for comedians like me.”
Therefore, the venue is perfect for Mark’s performance. “It’s an unusual show. I love doing it and sometimes I look at the early days of my stand up career and wonder how I got here! It’s story-telling really – it’s one foot in stand up and one in theatre.”
In an evening of huge laughs but also sad truths, between which Mark can fluctuate in a heartbeat, (I’m a bully, aren’t I?” he laughs), Mark gives a gripping insight into what life is like for the 250,000 people who live in the West Bank, having met schoolchildren, Israeli soldiers, a diplomat from the British Consulate, farmers, locals and also, rather pleasingly, activists dressed as clowns, on his nine-week journey.
Walking is, he says, the best way to experience a country and its people, adding that despite its reputation as one of the most controversial parts of the world, the landscape is incredibly beautiful.
“I was inspired to do it out of sheer curiosity and also a love of rambling. I guess part of the charm also was that no one else was going to do something like this and that always appeals to me. I love that reaction from people; ‘you did what?!”
“You get to know about a place far more by walking and you really get to see the place. Driving through or being on a tour, you get a resemblance, but this is life lived on the ground.
“There are hundreds of tours here; religious tours, UN tours and so on, but they’re all propaganda really. Walking along the wall gives you independence and a sense of freedom. The scenery is spectacular, you know what it’s like when you live somewhere urban and you see hills as invitations to walk. It’s funny – I said that in Cambridge and then had to describe what hills were like to them….”
Whether you think the wall represents a barrier to protect Israelis from suicide bomb attacks, or that it’s there as a ‘land grab’ to annexe the West Bank; whatever side of the fence you’re on, pardon the pun, it’s Mark’s description of the effect on normal people’s day-to-day life, such as workers who have to wait at the checkpoint at 2am in order to join the queue at 6am before starting their working day at 8am, that are startling.
“The show is driven by people and their stories and I’m lucky that I can share these with people who will pay to hear them. Life is short so I try to inform and give as much information as possible –stories are so important as they change lives and the way we look at things.
“And the things that they live with can be dangerous at times. Sometimes you find yourself sitting with a group of Palestinian activists and think to yourself that you could be facing a weekend in jail. Running away from tear gas was another thing we encountered for the first time, but we were surrounded by people who have learned to cope.”
His nationwide tour goes on until the end of September and there’s a film and book on the way, before the possibility of extending the tour to Europe and even the US.
And what then?
“Some serious sleep!”


Making a splash

One of our new year’s resolutions was to get proper swimming lessons so we duly signed up and LO found himself ready for his first lesson along with nine others.


So eager were we, that we turned up about 15 minutes early, meaning that even before the class had begun I had to tell LO off three times for getting into the pool and shouting at the current pupils that their time was up. I also had to remind him that he was four and therefore not to be so bossy.

The lesson finished and everyone got out. Then a teacher arrived at the far end of the pool and everyone ventured over.  They all knew what to do and lined up on the side. Lo grabbed my hand a little tighter, so I took him over. She looked me up and down as if checking our suitability for an upmarket club with the most puzzled face I’ve ever seen.


They all got in and with his customary delight at being in a swimming pool, LO disappeared underwater. The teacher dragged him to the surface and then explained to the class what to do. LO disappeared and reappeared under the water three more times, therefore missing the whole explanation and demonstration, but admiring the different hairstyles he was able to create.

He then appeared to be at the opposite end of the pool to everyone else throughout the lesson and at one point ended up in a neighbouring swimming lesson.

Both the teacher and I were shouting at him to listen but my yells ended up in the ether of competing swimming pool noises, and I resorted to a strange miming that meant I had very red ears by the end of the class. The teacher actually double checked his name with him three times, so little attention did he pay when she called him.

The only time I saw him swimming was when he was told to stand still, and the couple of lengths of the pool accompanied by the teacher. Clearly she was telling him to kick his legs, and so he gave it his all and looked like an army cadet learning to march.

At the end of the lesson, one child, guess who, refused to get out of the pool. One of the other mums watching this performance gave me a wan smile and said: “you’ve got to admire his enthusiasm”.  That’s code for something in parenting.  MrM can take him next week.




Happy 2016!

I’d like to wish both of the people who read this blog a very happy 2016!

2015 seems to have passed me by in a haze of undone to-do lists and piles of paper. It’s rushed by without me noticing or having achieved anything, I thought it would be fun to chronicle some of the nonsense LO and I got up to before the same happens in 2016.



We kicked off the year by watching the Levellers who toured acoustically while showcasing their brilliant film A Curious Life. This tells the story of their 27-year-long career while focusing on bass player and grower of fabulous dreadlocks, Jeremy Cunningham.  The director Dunstan Bruce invited people to ask questions and shamefully only two people did. This prompted me to put up my hand and ask jokingly about the energetic appearance by Mr Cunningham senior, “who was the actor who played Jeremy’s dad?”.

This then appeared on the Curious Life blog: “I return after the film to witness half the audience streaming out of the venue to get a drink and visit the toilet. I bravely, if not a tad nervously, launch into my Q&A and to be brutally honest, it’s a painful experience. A few fairly random questions followed by the obligatory “When’s the DVD out?” enquiry and rounded off by the rather bizarre query “Who was the actor who played Jeremy’s dad?” Dumbfounded and deflated I thank the audience and amble off returning to the dressing room crestfallen.”

  • In other news, LO and I try baby ballet. It’s not for us.


We have a great time trying out children’s yoga and are also entrusted with the nursery’s hedgehog for the weekend. It’s only when we receive the diary which tells of the hedgehog’s trips to Disneyland, Mauritius and Hawaii that I realise it’s not a real animal but a toy. We take it to Brightwalton for the day.

  • In other news, LO meets the town crier and asks him if he’s a pirate.


We spend a few windy days in Scotland on the borders of Loch Ness but it was to no avail. The only monster we saw was LO.

For World Book Day, I spent hours ruining a plain t-shirt which I coloured in with the Elmer colours so LO could be the patchwork elephant for the day. Of course, when we do drop LO at nursery, everyone is dressed as Elsa from Frozen. I still maintain that’s not a book.

  • In other news, I lent LO the camera for an hour while we were on our Scottish adventure and he took 563 photos.



To everyone’s relief, I spent more than a week completely unable to talk owing to the amusingly-named, but not funny at all, Quinsy.

LO saw the Paddington film and then insisted on wearing a hat and wearing marmalade sandwiches, we saw Room on the Broom at the theatre and we enjoyed a brilliant workshop on how to play the spoons.

  • In other news, we road test most of the outdoor pools in the area (Swindon, Wallingford, Hinksey) waiting for the one at Northcroft to open.



We camp in Dorset most weekends in May and enjoy our first trip to River Cottage. Later, LO reluctantly tries out his first 200m race (which was really 300m) and just dawdles. He then sprints back to the car afterwards.

  • In other news, I start working with a company whose aim is to get everyone in the UK walking more and our first project takes place in Lowestoft.



We spend an idyllic few days in a Yurt on Sheepdrove after winning a competition with Green Circle Hideaways  There’s no electricity or phone signal but a cold caller manages to get hold of me, but that can’t spoil a beautiful few days in rural Berkshire with cows in the field for company. We all sleep incredibly well and properly see the stars for the first time in ages.


More camping – this time in the amazing surroundings of Basildon Park – right on the lawn! We’re treated to night-time tours, bat walks, marshmallows around the campfire….and less enjoyably, LO throwing a massive tree branch into his eye for some unknown reason.


We also have a lovely reunion with some Uni friends in Stratford and my mum takes the opportunity to hitch a ride so she can visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace for the first time in 20 years.  “It hasn’t changed much” is her pronouncement.


As well as terrorising people up and down the canal while taking part in a pirate boat trip, LO did his first Park Run and we attended a circus skills workshop where we learned how to spin plates, how to work a diablo, how to juggle and how to confuse a librarian.

We bought a new van and proudly took it down to our favourite festival. Contrary to the name of this festival, it rained solidly for three days. On the last day, I accidentally set fire to the van, got stung by a wasp on my throat and met Seth Lakeman. I was much happier about one of these events than the other two.




My sister takes us for an amazing treat – front row tickets at the Royal Albert Hall to see Yo Yo Ma perform the Bach Cello Suites FROM MEMORY. An amazing performance, although since it was being recorded for radio and TV, I nearly drove myself crazy with panic that my phone was going to go off. You can actually see me checking it at least twice on TV.

  • In other news, LO and MrM see the live performance of the Scarecrows’ Wedding and my mum and I win tickets to see the Imitation Game on the outdoor screen at Shaw House. Also, Beat the STreet East London begins with a photoshoot at the Olympic Park.




It’s quite a long month, so I’m able to fit in an unexpected trip to Hong Kong, Dubai and also to Popley in Basingstoke.

A long-awaited dream comes true as MrM takes me to the Vineyard for lunch and LO enjoys pretending to be the world’s noisiest spy at Bletchley Park.

  • In other news, we look at primary schools and LO tries to smuggle out a live chicken from one of them.


My friend Steve and I meet Floella Benjamin – what an amazing woman! We then spend the evening in the Houses of Parliament. On Guy Fawkes Night….


LO tries horse-riding for the first time and the riding theme continues as we hold a presentation for Beat the Street’s East London winners at the Velodrome in the Olympic Park.


We have a pirate party for LO and I visit Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park for the first time. LO does a Santa Run (three miles dressed as Santa, through the streets of Thatcham) and we visit more schools, plus MrM and I have a stonking time at a Levellers gig in Reading  with support from the Ruts and Dreadzone. Gotta start and finish the year One Way I say.




Happy new year!