The blog

British mummy blogger and travel blogger

Off to Vietnam and Cambodia

I've wanted to return to Vietnam ever since visiting Ho Chi Minh city a couple of years ago; it's such… [more]

Off to Vietnam and Cambodia Off to Vietnam and Cambodia

Guardians of the Galaxy review

I've had to wait a full 24 hours to blog this Guardians of the Galaxy review because it was under embargo… [more]

Guardians of the Galaxy review Guardians of the Galaxy review

In Dublin’s fair city

It had been a while since I'd been to Dublin but when we arrived there on Thursday it felt very familiar,… [more]

In Dublin’s fair city In Dublin's fair city

24 hours in Venice

          I spent 24 hours in Venice at the end of last week;… [more]

24 hours in Venice 24 hours in Venice

Our Michael Collins connection

Nearly every other person you meet in Ireland will tell you they're somehow connected to the Irish freedom… [more]

Our Michael Collins connection Our Michael Collins connection

Travel blogging and the importance of detail

Whenever I'm commissioning a writer in my day job as editor of a travel magazine I always ask them if… [more]

Travel blogging and the importance of detail Travel blogging and the importance of detail

Off to Vietnam and Cambodia

I’ve wanted to return to Vietnam ever since visiting Ho Chi Minh city a couple of years ago; it’s such an intriguing country in terms of history and culture: endlessly fascinating. And of course Cambodia, too, has always been on my wishlist.

Viking MekongSo this morning we’re catching a flight to Bangkok and then another one to Hanoi on an epic adventure to Vietnam and Cambodia. We’re staying a few days in Hanoi before travelling to Cambodia, where we’ll visit Siem Reap. Then we’ll be going to Phnom Penh and boarding the river ship Viking Mekong, which looks like this – isn’t it awesome?

Angkor WatWe will of course be visiting Angkor Wat; and the Killing Fields.

It promises to be inspiring and unforgettable trip. I’ll be sharing as much as I can while I’m travelling (depending on how good the wifi is) and will be posting A LOT when I return.

Our Michael Collins connection

Nearly every other person you meet in Ireland will tell you they’re somehow connected to the Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins. We’d grown up hearing that we were related to ‘The General’, but no one seemed to know exactly how. When we were learning about him in history at school I tried to find out a bit more but of course this was a few years before the World Wide Web, and even recently it was difficult to trace your Irish family history online: so many common names, and so many parishes.

Michael CollinsThe weird thing was that we presumed the connection, if there was one at all, was via my grandfather’s side of the family, because his brothers had all fought in the War of Independence. Turns out this was a family story that had somehow become distorted. In fact, my mother told me that when she was growing up her mother and grandmother (my great grandmother) had spoken of being related to ‘The General’ many times.

So, a few years ago one of my cousins, who lives in Ireland, decided to do the research and find out if there was an actual Michael Collins connection or whether it was just one of those family myths.

It took him the best part of a year, with a lot of searching of parish records and so on, but eventually he got the facts he was looking for: Michael Collins’ mother, Marianne/Mary Ann (there are a lot of variants of spellings), had a sister, called Juliann O’Brien. One of Juliann O’Brien’s children was my great grandmother, also Juliann. Therefore, my great grandmother and Michael Collins were cousins.

Of course, Michael Collins had A LOT of cousins (these weren’t small Irish families) but it’s interesting to think that my great grandmother – also from Cork of course – would have known Michael and his siblings.

For us, it’s a weird feeling, knowing that we are – however distantly – related to such an important figure in the history of Ireland. I can’t say there’s a huge family resemblance – to me he actually looks a bit like Kenneth Branagh. Perhaps this family connection is where we all get our fighting spirit from though, who knows. But it’s a strange thing to see a statue of one of your distant ancestors in a square in Dublin. I should probably get round to watching the film Michael Collins, at some point. Not least because Liam Neeson is in it.


Our beautiful new carpet

After MONTHS of practically living with our builders, our house is finally finished, and it looks beautiful. There was just one final finishing touch, and that was to order carpet for the stairs, landing, No 1 Son’s room, the spare room and my room.

I’m very much a wooden floor type of person downstairs but the more hotels I stay at the more I appreciate the luxury of having bedroom in the carpet; when you get out of bed on a cold morning it feels fabulous to step on to a soft, warm carpet, and it’s the easiest way to achieve that boutique hotel chic look.

So a few weeks ago Man of the House and I went down to our local branch of Carpetright to order the carpet. He had already taken the measurements, and after quite a lot of deliberation we decided to go for an ivory-coloured carpet; which might seem slightly insane, given that Yoda the dog has no concept of how dirty paw prints affect light, clean material. But the advantage of the carpet we chose is that it’s stain-resistant and you can also, should you really need to, clean it with bleach. We decided to choose the same carpet for all the rooms and stairs and landing because if you go for the same colour it makes the house feel bigger.

The carpet we chose is made from polypropene, not wool. The reason we decided to go for this one is that if you’ve ever had wool carpet (we had it in our old house) you’ll know that modern-day wool carpets can attract moths, which is the last thing you want. My mum has wool and spends ages spraying the carpet with lavender spray, to no avail – the little blighters still appear. I wanted a carpet that was really easy to maintain, but still looks good and feels soft.

We ordered the carpet and the underlay from the assistant, who was highly amused by Man of the House’s terrible jokes, and then all we had to do was wait; the delivery was delayed slightly but they rang us to tell us what was happening several times, which I thought was very good.

new carpetThe fitters arrived yesterday and they worked LIKE LIGHTNING. It took them about two hours in total to fit all the underlay and carpet, and here are the results.

upstairs carpetIt looks gorgeous, doesn’t it? Exactly what I wanted. And it has that wonderful new carpet smell, too.


Keeping track of holiday spending

Bucket and spadeHow do you keep track of your holiday spending? With so many different demands on your wallet – from days out with the kids to treats and entertainment, keeping an eye on how much you’re spending during the summer holidays can be a real challenge for parents.

In fact, according to recent research, one in 10 of us will put expensive day trips on a credit card, leading to potential headaches at the end of the summer holidays (at the worst possible time of year, as you’ll then be starting to think about Christmas. ARGH!)

One way to make sure you’re not overspending, of course, is to have a regular credit check (you can do this at and keep a list of everything you’re forking out for (being as honest as possible) so there are no nasty surprises, although this is something few of us like to do; and also, to make a budget and really stick to it. If you don’t spend the full amount on one day you can always spend the rest on another.

And another is to take advantage of free and cheap days out, where possible. The Visit Britain website has some excellent ideas (did you know, for example that you can often visit city farms for free?) There are some fantastic museums in the UK which you can visit for free, too, even in London – as long as you take a packed lunch, then your family day out doesn’t need to cost the earth. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in the pressure to spend money on days out for our children that we forget simple pleasures – like tramping in the woods for half a day and having a picnic lunch, for example – really don’t have to cost the earth.

Although we’ve had a gorgeous summer, of course you can’t rely on the weather. We’re big fans of movies in our house and love watching them at the cinema – but we’re also just as happy to buy one DVD (for the price of an adult cinema ticket) and watch it over and over again (ergo, Frozen. Never off the player). And making cakes, models or other crafts are all great activities you can do fairly cheaply (it may not be obvious to look at me but I am quite crafty. I can even make shortbread, from scratch. I know, right?)



Why Leeds is so special for Summer 2014

It was no surprise to me to learn that Leeds, aka Yorkshire’s unofficial capital, was recently voted one of the best places to visit in the UK. Two of my best friends live in Leeds, and we’re planning a mini-break there soon. It’s a city I’ve spent a lot of time in, in fact; when I was a showbiz reporter I used to go there all the time to interview the Emmerdale cast, and I always look forward to visiting. The people are so friendly, it always feels like a very welcoming city (my top tip if you’re planning a visit there would be to check out the hotels on Hotel Direct if you’re going there soon because they have some fantastic deals on well-located 4star hotels right now, including the rather intriguing ‘mystery’ luxury hotels).

Both my friends have kids and Leeds is a fantastic place for families; not only are there summer adventures to be had at nearby Stockeld Park and Temple Newsam’s Home Farm, which has over 400 pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and poultry. There’s also  a City Beach in Millennnium Square, and culture vultures should check out the City Museum and Art Gallery. Plus it’s only a half-an-hour drive to the fabulous Salt’s Mill, where you can see original works by David Hockney (it also has a wonderful cafe, perfect for lunch, and a great bookshop where you can happily lose a few hours.)

Harewood House


I’m not really interested in cycling  (sitting on a sharp saddle is not my idea of fun) but magnificent Harewood House, just one of the many stately homes in the surrounding countryside, provided a stunning background for the Official Ceremonial Start of the Tour de France earlier this summer. Harewood House, of course, is where Emmerdale is filmed now and the gardens, designed by Capability Brown, are just stunning, well worth exploring. And of course the Yorkshire countryside is absolutely beautiful.

If you’re a history buff, then the Royal Armouries brings history to life with jousting displays and falconry, or you can be to the grimy streets of Leeds in 1842 exploring the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian life at Thackray Medical Museum.

Leeds Corn Exchange


Leeds is also brilliant for shopping – Leeds women are VERY chic – and the Corn Exchange in particular is s really stylish. What I love about it is that it has so many independent boutiques – such a refreshing change from shopping malls that always have the same predictable high street shops. This summer they have lots of free events going on at the Corn Exchange and music, so it’s a great place to hang out and watch the world go by, to. Do check out vintage shop Alice Found Treasure while you’re there. Plus of course when it comes to eating out you’re spoiled for choice – the city has some amazing restaurants, and lots of bars (do check out the Sky Bar at the Hilton Doubletree hotel), plus of course superb nightlife.

And if you’re a fan of all kinds of music, later this month (22-24 August) the Leeds Festival is taking place, featuring a great line-up of bands including the Arctic Monkeys and comedians like the very very funny Simon Amstell (my friends saw him at Glastonbury and said he’s absolutely brilliant live.) See? Lots of reasons why Leeds is so special this summer.


Summer reads


How do you choose your summer reads, the books you buy especially to take away with you? I’m flying from Heathrow again in a few weeks and I was on the Heathrow Express website today booking tickets when this article on summer reading caught my eye. I love the idea that you can choose your summer reading in the 15 minutes it takes you to travel to Heathrow, and there are some great recommendations – including The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I’ve wanted to read for ages (I’m a huge fan of The Secret History).

The Guts


One book I’ll definitely be taking with me (it’s a long flight - over 14 hours) – is The Guts by Roddy Doyle. It’s the sequel to The Commitments, which I loved (in fact I’ve read all his ‘grown-up’ novels and No 1 Son has read all his children’s ones). I’m a big fan of Irish novelists and on my recent trip to Dublin took several books by Irish authors with me including ones by Cecelia Ahern and Marian Keyes; the one I just couldn’t get in to at all though was A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. I grew up with Irish grandparents, I’m very familiar with Irish dialect, but I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

Are you Experienced?


I do love the idea of reading books inspired by the places you’re travelling to, when you’re actually there. On this trip I’m going to Vietnam and Cambodia, so if anyone has got any recommendations (not Heart of Darkness, though) do let me know. Books like Alex Garland’s The Beach and William Sutcliffe’s Are You Experienced? inspired me to go travelling (although not to Thailand or India, yet).

The Rosie Project


Of course, some of the best summer reads are the ones you pick up at the airport, on a whim, because the cover catches your eye. One of the best books I’ve read all year is The Rosie Project, which I bought for my Norwegian cruise at the start of the year and then read cover to cover in between waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. It’s really the most eloquent, funny, romantic novel, set in Australia and New York, about a man with undiagnosed Asperger’s and his struggle to form a relationship. It’s so beautifully written it almost made me want to give up writing. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Dirty little secrets

How clean is your house? This is something I’ve been forced to confront over the past few weeks as we’re currently trying to get the house ready to put on the market in September. It’s not massively dirty, but let’s just say our dust bunnies… have had dust bunnies. I’ve resorted to paying my niece to help out with the cleaning. Not even kidding.

Anyway, the lovely people at Method natural cleaning products have come up with a fab survey, with the help of One Poll, which reveals how clean we are as a nation. As you can see on this rather clever little infographic, some of the stats are rather alarming. One in 10 admit to reusing their lunch plate at dinner time WITHOUT WASHING IT FIRST? What is WRONG with these people? And 60% admit to not washing their bed linen once a week. Ewwww. (I used to work with a girl who admitted she only washed her bed linen ONCE EVERY SIX MONTHS. Gross.)

There are some rather shocking dirty little secrets on here (unless, that is, you’re the mother of a teenage boy, in which case none of these will be a huge surprise to you.)

method dirty little secrets infographic_FINAL


I’m sharing this infographic because I’m actually a fan of Method. If you’re guilty of any of these dirty little secrets you may want to try the wooden floor cleaner, which smells like Marzipan, and the bathroom cleaner, which smells like sweets. And then, clean your house #justsayin’.


Win Rio 2 on DVD

Rio 2


It’s time for a party! Rio 2 is out on DVD. We really enjoyed the first Rio film and the sequel is just as funny and entertaining, with the same brilliant animation and characters we’ve grown to love. This time, it’s a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids after they’re hurtled Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets the most fearsome adversary of all: his father-in-law…



If you want to throw your own Rio 2 party this summer, you’ll find some great ideas on this activity sheet (left).



Rio 2 3D DVD o-ring


And to celebrate the film’s release on DVD and Blu-ray, I’ve teamed up with 20th Century Fox to offer you the chance to win one of three DVDs. To enter, simply leave your answer to the question below by the closing date, Monday 11 August at 11.59pm. The usual The Mum Blog competition rules apply and the winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!

Q: What kind of bird is Blu?

My pink fashion obsession

BarbapapaA few years back I had my colours done. What this involves is having various swatches of colour placed on your shoulders, and then the ‘colour therapist’ decides which colours and tones lift your face, and make you look good. For me, this was spring and summer colours, specifically pale blue and pinks. You can decide to take the advice and go and buy a whole new wardrobe, or ignore it. I chose to ignore it, and apart from the occasional pink cardi, stuck to my favourite black and grey instead, determined not to look like Barbapapa.

Legally blondeUntil earlier this year, when I bought my pink coat, and discovered that yes, pink really does suit me, after all; it lifts my face and suits my skin tones. It was a fashion revelation. In fact, I LOVE wearing pink, and I can wear any shade, too – crimson, salmon, rose. OK, I’m not quite at Barbara Cartland stage yet; there’s no need for an intervention. But I’m definitely addicted to pink fashion. And as a grown woman and a feminist capable of making her own decisions I feel perfectly comfortable choosing to wear pink; not every day, obviously, but for me, pink doesn’t stink at all. As long as I avoid the Legally Blonde head to toe thing, because, well, that would be kind of weird. I’m not Barbie, for heaven’s sake, it’s not about looking girlie. I’m more interested in channelling Joan from Mad Men, so if the pink item in question has a Fifties/Sixties vibe, then it’s probably coming home with me.

M&S Autograph pink shift


Anyhoo, I’ve been hitting the sales (I know, I know), and I found this FABULOUS Autograph dress at M&S, which is very Jackie K before she became O, dontcha think? I don’t usually buy clothes at M&S but I couldn’t resist this…

French Connection pink dress


…and this absolutely GORGEOUS dress from French Connection (total bargain, £33 reduced from £110!)… it’s ideal for wearing on a summer night. The coat hanger, by the way, was handmade by my grandmother over 30 years ago. She also loved pink.

Gerard Darel dress


And this wonderful number from Gerard Darel. I’m not going to tell you how much it was, but it was totally worth it.

See? What’s not to love about pink fashion? Go on, give it a whirl.


Guardians of the Galaxy review

guardians-of-the-galaxyI’ve had to wait a full 24 hours to blog this Guardians of the Galaxy review because it was under embargo until after the premiere had taken place; that’s how hot this movie is, and it doesn’t even open until next Thursday.

No 1 Son was excited by the prospect of seeing the new Marvel movie; we both like Chris Pratt (from Parks and Recreation, aka as #ParksandRec), and I’ll take Bradley Cooper in any form – even when he’s voicing a CGI raccoon.

The plot of Guardians of the Galaxy was completely new to me, but it’s fairly straightforward: Chris Pratt plays a cocky adventurer, Peter Quill, who steals a mysterious orb also coveted by powerful villain Ronan with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon (Cooper), Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand—with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.

Guardians of the Galaxy has a great cast, including Karen Gillan – aka Amy Pond from Doctor Who – sporting a dramatic hair cut that is bound to have lots of teenage girls asking for a ‘Karen Gillan’ - lock up your nail scissors. The story zips along nicely, the movie has a brilliant soundtrack, there are some touching moments, it’s a little dark at times and the special effects are, as you might expect from the franchise that brought us Iron Man, outstanding. Guardians of the Galaxy is an action-packed epic space adventure, with laughs: a proper blockbuster. The perfect movie for a summer holidays treat, in fact. 4 stars (out of 5).

Here’s a clip to whet your appetite – Guardians of the Galaxy opens across the UK on July 31.



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