Wednesday, 31 August 2011

From Grub to Caterpillar

Human Grub to Hungry Caterpillar

As the last precious days of the summer holiday swirl down the plug hole that is ‘shopping-for-things your-toddler-needs-for-pre-school’, I am going to dedicate my next two blogs to activities that you can and can’t do with a two-year old. 

I never appreciated just how easy life was during those first stages of your baby’s life – they are essentially a portable, compliant and extremely sleepy ‘human grub’.  

Just this morning I caught myself staring wistfully at a new mum, her baby cocooned snugly to her chest, deftly managing the self-scan checkout, whilst my mini Godzilla cleaved the heads off gerberas in the fresh flower section.

The brilliant thing about the human grub is that for about nine months you can strap them to you, or to someone or something else, and they will stay there.  Not only will they stay there, they will probably fall into a sound-proof sleep, meaning that everyday tasks, such as shopping, walking and eating (just remember to swat the crumbs from their heads now and again) are relatively easy to accomplish.

Once your grub grows legs, however, it is all about the walking, the poking and the squeezing.

So, in honour of all those at the walking, poking and squeezing stage, here are five things you can do with a two-year old.   

Canary Wharf – yes the heart of the UK’s financial and media district might sound like an unusual place to make a toddler happy but there is something about the heady mix of open spaces to dance, enclosed spaces to make raspberry noises, ratty pigeons to chase and sqooshy fountains to put your hands in that makes Canary Wharf toddler-nip.

Retirement homes – an elderly gentlemen approached Poppy in the supermarket the other day and said, ‘we have lots in common, you and I’. Putting this theory to the test I took Poppy to visit my granny at nursing home.   Expecting Poppy to start poking snoozy post-lunch elderly folk with copy of the Lady I was surprised to find the gentleman’s comment was true – something about the lack of speech, the unsteadiness on the legs and the comfortableness with bodily emissions, make toddlers and the elderly very happy companions indeed.

Gardening – it can be surprisingly easy to entertain your toddler in the garden.  Give them a bucket and spade.  Dig up a worm as an example and then say you need five more.  Brilliant.  Snails are even better, but sadly their shells make them a little more breakable.  I have a theory that if it starts to foam, it is time to rescue it. 

Ducks – providing the ducks are playing ball (our nearest duck shop is Marlow where they are quite frankly spoilt) feeding the ducks can be an endless source of toddler fun.  Gratifying and cheap - we like them.      

Ikea – we struggled with the idea of taking Poppy to Ikea but we were pleasantly surprised by the cheap scandowegian furniture experience.  Like an indoor Canary Wharf, but with cheap ice-cream and hot dogs, there are beds to roll on (with your shoes on), furniture mountains to climb and small pencils to chew.

Which unusual places have you found for toddler fun?   

Next time...funerals and four other places you can’t take your toddler.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Someone to colour-in required, good rate of pay, don't care if you go over the lines a bit

That'll be £16 please
The other night I dreamt my job was 'colouring-in'.  I received £16 per picture, which wasn't bad, considering my manager (a lady wearing a blue hair net who had served me in Greggs earlier that day) wasn't at all fussed if I went over the lines.

Pleased with my career move, I was just about to start on a picture of three Disney Princesses, when I was drop-kicked out of my dream job  into my reality - a child's heavy nappy needed changing:  'Mama leak! Mama leak!'  

Slightly disappointed that colouring-in wasn't a viable, or indeed real, job prospect, I was comforted by the fact that freelance writing is (despite the tra la la global recession).

In addition, if you know where to look, it can pay pretty well too.


The world wide web is like a great cyber mall version of John Menzies,  toting acres of empty shelves that need to be filled with the written word.   From Ezines, such as Red Neck World, seeking tips on critter crushing, through to high street businesses, like Croydon's Abra-Kebab-Ra looking for words to sell their meaty treats -  everyone these days is looking for enticing content. 

But as every freelance writer knows it can be time intensive pitching your work to online publications and potential clients.
However,  I recently stumbled upon on a website which takes the effort out of actively selling in content.  Constant Content operate an online market place that allows you to upload and sell your articles at a price that you set.  

Flotsam and jetsam

What appears to separate Constant Content from a lot of the flotsam and jetsam out there,  is that they pride themselves on setting high editorial standards.

This means, that as well as taking a short test before you join, every article you submit is subjected to a rigorous review and can be rejected if it does not meet their stringent editorial requirements.   

As a part of this, they also run a strict 'three strikes and you're out' rule (yes, they really are colour-within-the-lines- only type of people). 

But while this may seem harsh, this discipline helps to keep the standard of writing high on the web and is one in the eye for those naughty content farms who are happy to publish any old cobblers in the hope that it may attract visitors to their advertisers.

Furthermore, once you have had five articles accepted by Constant Content you can then access writing jobs posted by private clients.

So far, my time with Constant Content has been a positive experience - okay, it may not be as simple as colouring-in, but it does take some of the grinding sales work out of your role as a freelance writer, whilst also providing another mineable seam of job opportunities.  Which, let's face it, when some of your reality is spent dealing with 'Mama leak', is no bad thing.

Just remember to stay within the lines.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Broken goats, a flock of ‘dirds’ and more morons than you can shake a stick at – welcome to Woburn Safari Park

The entrance to Woburn Safari Park appeared so promising – all big squirly iron gates, sweeping driveways and wooden-clad bins.

But unfortunately our little family, well Matt and I – Poppy’s happy in a bin box - found the whole experience sadly lacking.

Perhaps it was because we visited on one of the hottest weekends of the year when a Peppa Pig frenzy was in full swing, or perhaps it was because Woburn Safari Park was simply having an ‘off day’ and wanted to put its feet up and eat a Calippo along with the rest of us, I'm not sure.


The most disappointing aspect of our trip was finding out that, after they had frisked us for a whopping twenty 'London Pounds' each, that there really isn’t a lot of animal for your money.

We spotted one sulky lion in the lion enclosure, one sleepy bear in the bear enclosure, a rabbit in the giraffe enclosure and something blue and gelatinous floating in the penguin enclosure.

However, we continued to drive around the park, enthusiastically pointing out what animals we could see to our wide-eyed Poppy.

She would then shout back the word ‘dird!’ (toddler translator: bird) from the back seat whilst pointing at a scratty crow about four feet from the car.

The 'walky round bit'

After a full hour of 'dird' spotting we were pleased to reach 'the walky round bit' of Woburn Safari Park. By now our toddler’s need to touch something furry had reached fever pitch, so we quickly headed towards the goat and sheep area.

This took some time as, not only were there no signs (we refused to fork out an extra five London Pounds for a map), but we had to manoeuvre ourselves through a coach party of morons.

The thing about being a parent is that everyone hates you (apart from other parents) because you have a buggy and a wee thing that squeals random sayings like ‘smurf cheese’ at inappropriate moments. So you’re kind of on to a losing streak with crowds - they just want you dead.

Anyway, we managed to squish, squeeze and apologise our way down to the farm area where we were greeted by two frazzled goats who should have had ‘broken’ signs around their necks.

As the poor souls were already being petted aggressively by twenty sets of sweaty hot-dog fingers, we went in search of something else to bother.

'Pig Idol'

Ten minutes later we found ourselves watching 'George Pig' -the younger and less popular brother of cartoon deity ‘Peppa Pig’- trying to extricate his fat self from a port-a-loo.

Surrounded by impenetrable 'pig PR', we were then forced to wait thirty minutes (in a sun-trap) for Poppy to meet her Pig Idol.

Finally the rope went back and George went down on one knee to usher our pipsqueak forward. At which point Poppy let out a muffled whimper of panic and looked around for an escape route. Terrified she was going to bolt, we pushed her forward into George’s plump piggy arms.

From that moment Poppy was in pig heaven.

The crowd melted away, leaving her and George holding hands, nose-to-snout, while hearts and fireworks illuminated their pink Crayola sky.

After a few minutes, George, like Katie Price at a book signing, started to become visibly uncomfortable with the amount of time Poppy had pressed her face to his and we were forced to prize her from him.

Scooping up our infatuated infant we decided to head home.

And although our memories of Woburn Safari Park maybe blighted by ill-thought out signage and broken goats, every time we mention the name ‘George’, our little girl disappears back into that beautiful memory and pulls the same face as when she does her first morning wee, the one that says: ‘Mummy, I am warm.’