24 September 2017
While my grooming regime would certainly fall into the ‘consistent but low maintenance’ category, my one great hair cost-saving has been the entirely unintentional genetic lottery win of blonde hair with natural balayage (obviously I had to Google that term after a new hairdresser got all excited about it, which goes to show just how wildly up-to-date I am with beauty trends). However, it is prone to falling into a mop that is both limp and kinky - not a good combination in any context…wink wink nudge nudge, know what I mean?
Sorry, had to be done. Won’t happen again. Probably.
My three hero products are the ones that take me from post-shower frizz to a whole lot sleeker, with varying degrees of ‘done’, depending on whether I’m doing the school run or going ‘out out’. My lack of expertise when it comes to hair styling is part of the reason these three are heroes – they make good hair days achievable even for a dunce like me!
Liz Earle Botanical Shine Nourishing Hair Oil
I am definitely a Liz Earle devotee, and have been using her Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser for many years. While the shampoos and conditioners are lovely, my favourite Liz Earle hair product is the hair oil. I apply it to the length/ends of towel-dried hair and comb it through, and it leaves my hair glossy and about 100% more manageable. As I have quite greasy roots, I try to avoid too-rich conditioners, but this oil adds the perfect amount of finishing condition without weighing it down at all.
At £18.50 for 50ml, it lasts for ages, as you only need one or two pumps at a time, and it smells delicious. If you’re planning to use any heat on your hair, it both protects it and reduces the drying time (this is one of its advertised properties, but it’s part of my experience of using it too). As I have fine hair that grows like a weed, but am so lazy about getting it cut, this helps keep even bra strap-length hair nourished and split-end free.
It’s also nice to know that Liz Earle products are responsibly-sourced and cruelty-free. While a lot of cosmetics companies are only slowly getting the message when it comes to animal testing and environmentally-friendly practises, this company has made that part of their entire philosophy from the very start.
Babyliss Big Hair
Anyone who’s ever watched me play tennis will know that hand-eye coordination ain’t my strong point. Which is why, even after a masterclass in blow-drying from one of the Richard Ward salon’s* creative directors (who himself has the sexiest, bouncy head of hair I’ve ever seen), I still managed to give myself a black eye from trying to wield a brush and hairdryer at the same time.
So, I resigned myself to a lifetime of just flicking my hair upside down and blow-drying it as best I could. Not exactly optimal, but definitely with less risk of concussion.
Enter, the Babyliss Big Hair, a Christmas present from the other half two years’ ago (he’s good at taking a hint). This little beauty is a game-changer for cack-handed types everywhere, as it integrates brush and blow-drying heat into one, with added rotation – ooh. While I’ve never managed to quite replicate the catwalk-ready style as shown on the website, it allows me to create a sleek and volumised ‘do with minimal investment of time or effort. Lazy groomers of the world, rejoice!
If you’ve towel-dried your hair, applied some of the hair oil above, and then given your hair a quick blitz with your normal hairdryer until it’s just slightly damp, this gizmo will do the rest. It takes a few attempts to work out your perfect technique, but once you’ve mastered it, it’s a doddle.
This newer model is £45, and there’s also the original version with a slightly smaller 42mm barrel (as opposed to 50mm), which is useful if you have slightly shorter hair or a fringe, available for £40. It’s a good-quality bit of kit for a great price, with the ability to transform even the clumsiest of us into supermodels (well, sort of).
Mason Pearson Hairbrushes
Although this is the hair grooming item I use the most, I have saved it for last mainly because, once you hear the price, you may well stop reading, assuming that I have well and truly taken leave of my senses. However, stick with me here, as I bought my Mason Pearson ‘Popular’ hairbrush 15 years’ ago, and only the slight fading of the gold writing on the handle shows any evidence of its age. A large nylon and bristle brush, it gets through my fine (and sometimes slightly knotty) hair with ease, leaving it silky smooth. Even though I rinse it every two days to remove any dry shampoo residue, the rubber cushion hasn’t perished or cracked at all, and the bristles are still pristine. Most Mason Pearson brushes come with a special cleaning brush, which you use with a bit of mild shampoo every few weeks to leave them good as new.
Now for the price. Deep breath, my particular model now costs a rather breathtaking £90 (it was quite a lot less when I bought it, but that was almost a decade and a half ago), which seems pretty outrageous for something that doesn’t do anything except brush your hair – for that price, you’d at least expect it to also make you a flat white or take the bins out. However, the best recommendation I can give is to say that if, beauty gods forbid, mine was lost, I would not hesitate to replace it. It is the most beautiful quality imaginable, with a luxurious weight and feel when you use it. Also, based on its current state, it’s going to be at least another 15 years before I need to replace it – as cost-per-wear and sustainability goes, that’s bloody good going.
I have linked the Mason Pearson website below, which includes a list of stockists, but they range from £26 for a really small nylon brush to around £140 for the largest pure bristle options. Do visit the website first to work out which option is best for your hair – they have a great search tool. It’s definitely a beauty investment, but a worthwhile one in my view (and I’m the queen of budgets and eBay, so I don’t say that lightly!)
* Yes, that is the salon that did the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding hair. Yes, I did book an appointment with her hairdresser the Monday after the wedding. Yes, some of us aren’t content with a commemorative tea towel. Yes, it was one of the best haircuts of my life. Yes, I did carry on going there for two years afterwards. Yes, I did eventually come to my senses and realise that £135 for a haircut was an unjustifiable expense (well, at least until I win the EuroMillions).
10 September 2017
When the clock struck midnight on 31st December 2016, I know I was far from alone in saying goodbye to a pretty abominable year, in terms of not only world politics, but also personal loss and sadness. 2017 was going to be different, and my feeling of optimism was through the roof. The year got off to a great start, and it felt fantastic to finally get my blog up and running. I was feeling fit and healthy, my kids were well and happy (and still are, which is something I don’t ever ever take for granted), and I was ready to work hard and appreciate every minute.
As with all best-laid plans, there was always the potential for things to go awry, but just how awry surprised even my cynical little soul. The last six months have been like a succession of trapdoors opening under my feet at the most unexpected moments, and often in a rapid succession that has taken my breath away. Ill health, my own and that of people close to me, and nasty surprises of every flavour have started to feel like the norm. In fact, when our car was written off outside our home by a skidding driver (she was fine; the car was not) and the next day our shower sprung a leak all over our home office below, these felt like minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things.
While you may be wondering if this is merely a long-winded version of those entirely infuriating Vaguebook status updates that are set out purely as an ‘Are you okay, hon?’ fishing expedition, the specifics of what has actually happened are not the point of this blog post – some things I may write about at a later stage in the hope that they might help others, but the rest you wouldn’t bloody believe anyway. Instead, the point is perfectly summed up by my seven-year-old when he petulantly retorts to my refusal to buy him an ice-cream with his favourite Swedish word – ‘orättvis’. Unfair. A little word that applies to so much in human existence, both good and bad. Because, hold onto your hats, life is not fair.
When children whine that something is not fair, they’re not wrong, but it’s something that most of us battle to get to grips with our whole lives. Of course, there are things that happen that fall under the heading of ‘so spectacularly unfair and unnecessary that justice must be sought’. We have had more than enough tragedies of this variety in very recent times to all acknowledge this, but it is the unfairness of the things that happen to seemingly sabotage our individual lives that we continuously battle with. Especially when these personal injustices have not happened as a result of anything we have actually done (or neglected to do), it can be hard to grasp why the universe has chosen to pick on us in this way when we were just going about our business, trying (even if sometimes failing) to be decent human beings. We’ve been seemingly thwarted, whether by illness, the actions of others, or the failure of an anticipated reward to materialise. The fact that a lot of good things may have happened to us in our lives without any particular adherence to the concept of ‘fairness’ is very easily forgotten, and we feel like stamping our feet much like a toddler in the sweetie aisle at the supermarket.
This is the moment when the importance of a well-timed pity party should not be overlooked. There is nothing wrong with feeling mightily pissed-off, and taking an hour or two (or even a day, if it’s a particularly disastrous situation) to feel properly bloody sorry for yourself. Fattening foods, wine, trash TV, and trolling of Donald Trump supporters are all perfectly acceptable additions to your pity party. Weeping, shouting, and sleeping are also good ingredients. If anything, I find that that a jolly good cry and a large cup of tea seem to focus my mind and allow me to take the next step towards accepting the situation as it is, and formulating a plan of action. And that’s the key in all good parties, especially pity ones - knowing when they should end. Wallowing for a limited time period is essential, but wallowing indefinitely is a guaranteed way to prolong your unhappiness, and render you incapable of any form of acceptance and constructive action.
There are a few important things to remember if you’re struggling with next steps after your pity party. The first can be summed up simply as ‘it is what it is’. Whether it’s something you’re going to be able to fix or not, accepting the reality of the situation is the only way to start. This may be a relatively quick process, or it may take months, but it’s a process you need to get underway as soon as possible. Pretending that it’s not happening, or lying to yourself about the scale of the problem (whether you feel inclined to blow it out of proportion, or indeed understate it) is not going to do you any favours. As a wise man once told my mother, and she then wisely passed on to me, ‘You need to make reality your friend’.
Secondly, acknowledge that it sucks, but that unfairness is an inevitable part of life. There will be many times in your life where ‘unfairness’, or the lack of exact equality in the natural order of things, will have benefitted you to a greater or lesser extent. You may not have asked for them, but circumstances have been in your favour. The fact that the pendulum then swings the other way should come as no surprise. Sometimes it swings so far and so consistently into the shit side of things that you struggle to understand when it might be kind enough to go in the other sodding direction, but investing too much negative energy into feeling wronged is only going to make you feel worse.
This is where the third, perhaps more positive, step comes in. Practise gratitude. When you are stuck in a mindset where everything seems to be against you, it is a powerful mental exercise to consider the things that you can actually be grateful for. They may be big things, like good health and a comfortable home, or they may only be the smallest things, like a hot cup of coffee or an afternoon nap, but the more things you can think of to stack in your gratitude pile, the more you might be able to diminish the unfair shit pile in your head. While I am still dealing with the various factors that have threatened to overwhelm me over the last six months, I am still so conscious of how enormously fortunate I am in big and small ways every single day. Sometimes it feels like no more than sprinkling glitter on a cowpat, but at least it’s something!
The fourth step is realise that often in life we have limited control over what happens to us, but we always have control over our response. Sometimes there will be someone to blame, and sometimes it is simply out of anyone’s hands, but the bottom line is that nothing we can do will ever immunise us against bad things happening. The entire concept of ‘justice’ is a far larger one than I can ever hope to tackle effectively, but a sense of injustice can absolutely cripple us mentally and emotionally, and that becomes an injustice in itself. Consciously deciding to reframe and respond to a situation in a positive, proactive way can do astonishing things to drag us out of a victim headpace. This may take days, weeks or years, but every step in this process is a step in the direction of a strength and resilience that will almost certainly surprise you.
It’s hard to exactly define and measure fairness, as so much of it is subjective. But all human beings, from a very young age, develop a very keen sense of what they feel it is, and when it’s been tipped against them. The ability to take charge of the narrative in your own mind will empower you to deal with just about anything life throws at you. No-one expects you to bounce back immediately, but you’ll only be able to do so if you’re not a victim in your own mind.
After all, life’s not fair, but that’s not the point.
21 May 2017
Essential travel kit for babies and toddlers:
As with the main luggage, don’t give yourself a literal hernia trying to lug the equivalent of a large branch of Mothercare through the airport. It’s time to ditch the gorgeous nappy bag, and consolidate everything into a good-sized rucksack. Maybe not the sexiest option (although my blue Herschel Little America was one of my better investments), but so much easier to either sling on the handles of the stroller or leave you hands-free when on your back. Then all you need is a chic little cross-body for your passports/tickets/lipstick.
Very importantly, bear in mind that a lighter stroller will be more prone to tipping backwards than your usual pram, so invest in a pair of these My Buggy Buddy Pushchair Weights to ensure your duty-free shopping doesn’t topple it. These little stroller organisers are also great for making sure you have water/coffee/emergency snacks to hand while you’re in the airport, and they fold up easily with the stroller.
Airlines and airports vary in their policies, but the general rule is that you can take your pram through security and up to the plane door (if you’re travelling alone, sometimes you’re allowed to leave your baby in the pram and then they’re searched to one side, instead of having to take them out and wrestle the folded pram onto the x-ray conveyer belt). You then hand over your pram at the plane door, which is the last time you see it until the baggage carousel on the other side (some airlines will arrange for it to be at the door when you disembark, but it’s not guaranteed).
You need a good, easy-to-use sling, preferably one that can be used up to age three or four – even if you have a little walker on your hands, it’s usually a bloody long way from the arrivals gate through security to the baggage carousel. I always travel with my Ergobaby carrier (I have the original as the outwards-facing position of the jazzier version is not great for little hips). You can get a newborn insert for it, but I didn’t find it that useful in the very early days. Stretchy wraps are great with really small babies (I’d say up to about four or five months), and as long as you practise putting them on once or twice beforehand, they’re much easier to use than they look!
Hand luggage essentials for babies and toddlers:
- Nappies, wipes (a new pack), bags and change mat (at least one nappy for every two hours of travel – including the time from home to the airport, and then from the airport to your final destination). My PacaPod Mirano change bag has separate pods for changing and feeding, and they’re great for organising things in my rucksack. Large cosmetics bag or plastic freezer bags also work!
- Two spare dummies, as well as teething gel. Dummies are great for sore ears (as are boobs).
- Speaking of boobs (I mean, when are we ever not speaking of boobs?), if you’re at all anxious about breastfeeding in very close proximity to other passengers on the plane, these Bebe au Lait nursing covers fold up to almost nothing and provide all the privacy you need without covering your baby’s face.
- Bottles and formula (if applicable). These Nuk Stackable formula dispensers are very handy. Bear in mind that the rules for liquids are constantly changing, so do check before you travel. Baby foods and liquids are usually okay as they are inspected separately, but if you are organised, you can order ready-made formula and pouches/jars from the Boots at whichever UK airport you’re departing from. Just order a few days in advance and collect them once you’re through security!
- Snacks. A Tupperware of baby rice cakes, biscuits, etc. will help in those moments when little ones are getting hungry and grumpy. Make sure you pre-cut any fresh fruit. Bananas are always useful. Most airlines don’t supply a meal for under-twos (as they don’t have their own seat), so make sure you’ve got food for the flight – even if it’s a case of buying a sandwich in Departures. Remember to stock up on bottles of water, especially if you’re breastfeeding – flying is very dehydrating, and those tiny plastic cups don’t come close to hitting the spot.
- Changes of clothes. Two sets of separates for each small child when you fly long-haul (one is fine for short haul), and spare t-shirts for each grown-up! It is an unwritten law of parenting that if your tiny human is going to puke, they will always puke on you.
- Good-sized pashmina or a light, warm blanket. The temperature is always either too warm or too cold on flights, so having layers available for a sleeping baby is a good idea. If you want a very compact and warm layer for yourself to stick in your hand luggage, do have a look at these amazing Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Compact jackets – they are perfect for travelling, with or without kids!
- Muslin cloths x 2 (preferably including one of these giant ones). Essential for mopping up spills, and blocking out light for babies in a bassinet (don’t cover the cot, just the top bit).
- A small bottle of Calpol (under 100ml). Our eldest spiked a fever and was utterly miserable on a flight to New York once. Just having the bottle will probably guarantee you won’t need it!
- Skybaby Travel Mattress. This is actually a very useful bit of kit, and fits into a small bag that you can clip onto the outside of your hand luggage. It acts as a super-comfortable and supportive mattress for when your baby is lying in your arms, and can be securely clipped in with the seat belt. If they do end up on your lap for a long time, it can be tricky to support them without getting cramped and sweaty, so I found this really handy.
- A few small (not too noisy) toys, and Peppa Pig pre-loaded on your phone or iPad (plus chargers and adaptor plugs!)
- Anti-bacterial hand gel and wipes (for surfaces). Air travel is gross.
Hand luggage essentials for bigger kids:
- Their own backpack (not too large) with a small selection of their toys and books. Alternatively, a Trunki for smaller kids. We never had one because the long Bar legs made them impractical, but some parents swear by them.
- A few small toys (colouring-in books, stickers, little cars) and sweets in your own hand luggage to whip out whenever you sense whining on the horizon. Aim to have at least one item for every hour of the flight.
- A change of clothes, and warm, light layers.
- A packet of tissues and some lip balm.
- A big bag of home-made popcorn and Cheerios/Bear cereal. This, along with an iPad full of TV shows, can guarantee hours of peace and quiet, without too massive a sugar crash.
- Kids headphones for devices. As children have more sensitive ears, and it can sometimes be hard to monitor the volume of their headphones, do opt for ones like these JVC headphones, which have a limit on how high the volume can go.
Surviving the airport:
As you will have prepped your kids so brilliantly for what to expect (see Part 1…), arriving at the airport is about taking a deep breath and engaging your best ‘the holiday starts now’ attitude. Although arriving three hours in advance of a long-haul flight (two hours for short-haul) when you’ve already checked-in online the day before may feel like insanity in terms of keeping the kids entertained, bear in mind that if you get stuck in traffic and suddenly everything becomes a mad dash, you’re guaranteed at least one meltdown of the ‘I’m lying on the floor now and nothing you can do will make me move’ variety.
Outline a bit of a schedule for what happens after you’ve got through baggage drop and security. While meal times do make a good way for older kids to pass the time in the air, it may be very late by the time dinner is served on a night flight, and trying to eat anything yourself with a small person on your lap is seriously challenging. Consider starting off the holiday feeling with a nice meal at the airport that everyone can look forward to – it really doesn’t have to be expensive either. Although, I have seen one couple dump their children and nanny at Pret while they headed for Caviar House & Prunier. I won’t lie, my inner reaction to that was somewhere between judgement, admiration, and seething jealousy…
Then, set a little budget for each child to buy their choice of plastic tat-filled magazine, or even a little toy. We all know that the magazine browse in Departures is one of the best parts of flying anywhere, and it’s no different for little ones!
Now that you’re all fed and shopped, it’s time to while away the rest of your wait at either a play area (many airports have them now, so do check their website before you leave) or somewhere with a decent view of the planes taking off and landing, as close to your gate as possible. Keep a beady eye on gate announcements as you want to leave plenty of time for last pee breaks/nappy changes.
Up, up and away:
There are different views on whether it’s worth boarding early with children (every airline we’ve ever flown on has called passengers with children first for boarding), and I would say it’s definitely a good idea. You’ll need time to fold the pram and get your baby into a sling, plus you’ll want to ensure your hand luggage is right above you. If you’re in the bulkhead with a bassinet, all your hand luggage will need to be stowed above you for take-off and landing.
Now is the time for a massive charm offensive on both the cabin crew and your fellow passengers. Greet the crew warmly, and if appropriate, disarm your nearby passengers with a joke about how you bet their hearts sunk a little when they clocked you boarding with tiny potential noisemakers. When Skellies was still small enough to kick the seat, I would speak to the person seated in front of him and ask them to please tell me immediately if he did it (I wouldn’t always be able to see if he had a blanket on his lap). People always appreciate if you are upfront about trying to ensure everyone has a pleasant flight, and it means they’ll be far more understanding and helpful if things do kick off at all. I’ve even had people offer to hold my babies when I’ve been flying alone and have needed to nip to the loo. The only time people really get the hell in is if parents don’t seem to give a crap whether their children scream, kick and run in the aisles.
One final thing. Sore ears. I have mentioned these before, and it’s because I had them every time I flew as a child (and still do now). These are probably one of the biggest causes of in-flight misery, but apart from the usual sucking (dummy/boob/straw) or chewing (sweets/gum) tricks, there’s one more you can try. Ask a member of the cabin crew to bring you two plastic cups with paper towels at the bottom soaked in hot water. Place these over the ears and wait for them to create a vacuum and equalise the pressure. It works a treat.