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Robyn

window view

What exactly am I doing here!!??

I’m sitting here on the first morning of a three-day writers’ retreat. And I have no idea what I’m going to write. In front of me is a huge sash window, beyond it fields, sheep and a lot of sky.  

Am I worried that I don’t know what I’m going to write? No, not really. For me, this weekend is about downloading some stuff just as much as pouring my creativity onto the page (I’m optimistically hoping it WILL make an appearance while I’m here). 

The last time I was here, in January, I was under pressure to crack out a 20,000 word eBook on Instagram, the final project for my MA in Online Journalism. Steam came off my fingertips (well, almost) as I bashed out the words, deleted them, reshaped them, threw in some new ones, reordered and polished them. In April, I submitted. In June I passed, with distinction. And in July I graduated. A huge part of my life for a couple of years completed. What now? 

First box sets, obviously. And lots of sitting on my arse on the sofa enjoying the feeling of not having to do anything. But I felt guilty, shouldn’t I be making more of my time? The MA gave me such satisfaction, such confidence, and I had hoped I’d use my ‘free’ time to crack on with my own personal projects, for pleasure. But I simply couldn’t be bothered. 

Other things have contributed to this, not just laziness. In April I went full-time and in a different role – the first time I’ve worked a 37 ish hour week since having my eldest, who is now approaching five. This change in hours coincided with the last few weeks of my MA and I can’t tell you what a head fuck that was. I had thoughts pouring out of my head at all hours, a billion questions I didn’t know the answers to and a ton of reading that went unread. I went to bed way too late during this time, and for the sake of my own mental health and the ever-growing bags appearing beneath my eyes, would prefer never to have to repeat that experience again. 

Back then, those full-time hours were compressed into 3.5 days with some ad hoc working from home, so I still had 1.5 days of the working week to tackle the other things life insists of you – washing, cleaning, general boring housey-type shit. But still, it needed to be done and got done. And quality time with the kids, of course. Parks, soft play centres, swimming, bikes rides etc. 

Last month I stretched those hours across five days of the working week. The last time I worked on a Monday was 2012! H started school and we’ve shuffled our hours to accommodate drop offs and pick ups, while my youngest attends nursery five days a week rather than two-and-a-half.  

It’s a big change for all of us:  

Big girl’s don’t cry (well, only when the lunch hall gets noisy)

H is now a fully qualified big girl, and learning all about books (but strangely thinks only men can be authors!!) and is making lots of new friends. This also means I have to give her breakfast every day, tea every day and spend lots of money on tights because she manages to ladder them EVERY day*. I’ve also discovered that ketchup and white T’shirts really don’t go and wearing the same shoes fives days a week makes her feet so stinky you could bottle the pong and use it to eradicate Donald Trump. She’s also asked me where babies come from what nits are. *scratches head* 

*Disclaimer: It’s that feeding my kids daily is unusual, bit I’m usused to nursery covering off two meals a day. Now I have to up my menu planning game.

Mind your winkle

A is now in nursery for the whole week, and without his big sister. With 11 months between them they generally do everything together. This new change has given him independence, he’s one of the older gang at pre-school and his close friendship with two boys there is blossoming. He’s becoming a man. Well, sort of. He burps a lot. Does that count? He’s also obsessed with the phrase ‘punch you in the winkle’ and for Christmas he wants a Batman sword, a Spiderman sword, a Hulk sword and a Captain America sword. Did all those super heroes even have a sword??!!! 

coloured pens

Everything strategic involves coloured pens, right?

Keeping our cool: fridge strategy

For me and Rich we’ve changed our hours, some longer days and shorter days for both of us. This means we have to remember who does what, including walking the dog, on each day of the week. A big chart  stuck to the fridge is my strategy for remembering all this stuff. And we’re both adjusting to working across five days of the week. Your body clock gets used to the pattern of your life and we’ve just upended ours. It will probably take some time to bed in. 

What I’ve realised about this new regime is that I don’t have it all planned out. That big chart on the fridge – my strategy – fails to include the washing. So at the end of week one I realised none of us had any clean clothes to wear. The house was a shit tip. And I had ‘to do’ lists for both work ad home that just weren’t getting done. That’s one of the reasons I’m here, actually, on this writing retreat. To reorder my thoughts. Rich thinks my constant need to write lists is my downfall, that I try and control too much and beat myself up when things don’t go to plan. On some level he’s right but I enjoy creative problem solving, I enjoy finding efficiencies that make life easier. And lists are a part of that. Reading Sarah Knight’s ‘How to Get Shit Done’ is also a big part, I’d recommend it to you all.  

I repeat, what am I doing here?

So why am I REALLY at this writing retreat? When I booked it in the summer my intention was to dust of my old novel, written around seven years ago, and actually do something with it. But I’m not putting myself under any pressure. This is about creating head space, finding creativity that’s not linked to an agenda, objective or deadline, and unwinding a little. Part of me thought I might use the time to catch up on work when a colleague told me that would be an utter waste of ‘me time’ and she was so right. 

Don’t cry over a forgotten bear. Or maybe do

We all need this sort of time, whatever our responsibilities. Time out. When I arrive here last night it hadn’t been a good day. I’d yelled at the kids while getting ready for school (not how I wanted to part ways when leaving them for the weekend); I forgot that H needed to take a special item (see images as proof of special-ness) into school and while I am not an overly emotional person I felt I’d let her down and cried when I got back to the car.

I was awkward, shy and self-conscious at school, in any new situation, and still am to some extent. Don’t get me wrong, in my comfort zone I’m the life and soul but outside of that the mouse in me squeaks to the surface. H is so like me and I don’t want to be the cause of any anxiety. I’m small chunking here – I just went home, retrieved Pooh Bear, wrote a little love heart post it note and dropped it back at school. All fine. No one emotionally damaged. Well, maybe me. I don’t forget things as a rule and this time I had. When I went to call Rich to fess up my parenting faux pas, I found I’d left my bag at home too. Another trip back to retrieve it. Grrr. And then I was late for work. FFS. 

So here I am, yesterday a good reminder that everyone needs to take time out every once in a while. That thoughts and tasks and responsibilities and wish lists all mount up and it’s either time out or implode. 

If you are still reading this btw, pat yourself on the back and go and grab a cuppa and a biscuit. There’s  still a bit more to come… 

So, enough of the whining, here are some positives… 

Play Doh roast dinner

Halle’s Play Doh version of a roast dinner. Thankfully we didn’t have to eat this one.

What’s your beef? 

Since our routine change, we’ve recognised how bad we are at eating together as a family and have introduced the tradition of Sunday roasts. Hardly groundbreaking, but hey, we all have to start somewhere. This is awesome on lots of levels: who doesn’t love roasties smothered in gravy? The kids really enjoy a) the food b) the chance to chat to both parents at the same time c) getting involved by clearing plates and choosing and dishing up dessert. They recognise it as a weekly tradition and look forward to it. Plus Ralphie gets leftovers so it’s win-win for all of us. So simple, so brilliant. 

#TeamAwesome 

While work is relentless, there’s never enough time and I often don’t feel like I’m achieving much on a day-to-day basis, there are some huge benefits. I have an awesome team who I genuinely enjoy working with: talented, funny, hard-working and on the same page as me. I’m lucky on this count, most defo. And we’ve just been nominated for two awards – some proper recognition of the awesome work we do. This feels good. 

lots of peopleForever friends 

I have an amazing set of friends. Like-minded, not perfect, spinning multiple plates. And, most importantly, not prolific Facebook status updaters. Second to that (just kidding) talking to them reminds me that I’m normal. We all feel like we fail a lot but we take comfort in each other’s situation and how much we do. That we live in a busy world and we’re in charge of how we manage that world. We share coping strategies! One of those pals is here on the writing retreat with me – she’s just scarpered upstairs with a bowl of snacks, and is both an inspiration and part of my support network. I also have lots of funny stories to sell the tabloids when she gets really famous. 

I’ve been styled by… 

This is worthy of a blog post all of it’s own. In short, there’s a lovely lady called Susie who dishes out the most wonderful style advice. She makes people feel good about themselves and her USP is that she is a regular, normal person. Someone we can identify with. She hasn’t turned me into a fashion icon (she can’t work miracles!), but she has reignited a passion for clothes (not good for ye olde bank balance, mind you) and made me feel more comfortable about my body shape. I’ve also just lost a stone in weight – you need to take action when your clothes are actively hurting you! I’ll write more Susie in another post, she deserves one. 

We have a cleaner!

Move along, nothing to see here.

And finally… the future 

I still think I want to be a journalism lecturer when I grow up. I’m in my late 30s so I hope this happens sooner rather than later; the growing up bit I mean. 

But before all that, I’m using this time at Stickwick Manor in Devon to rearrange my priorities. So come Monday, when I return to Milton Keynes, I’ll be a new woman. Or probably the same woman with a shiny new, and focussed ‘to do’ list. 

And it’s Christmas soon, right?

 

 

 

Back of a woman looking at the sea. Via Felipe Elioenay via Unsplash

Resolutions (sort of): Looking back, then looking forward

Yes, this IS what you’re thinking it is; an obligatory New Year post talking about resolutions and all that annual bollocks. Sorry about that. Sort of.

Now, Facebook will have us believe that 2016 has been a bad year because a lot of well-known and talented celebrities have died throughout the course of it. This doesn’t constitute a bad year in my books and, without being entirely unsympathetic, people die all the time, famous or not. Bad things have happened each year, we’re just more aware of them because of the 24/7 news and social media cycle we are immersed in. These things do not have the ability to ruin my whole year and undo the personal achievements I and others around me have made.

So, let’s have a quick look back at 2016 – highlights include hubby relaunching his business with vigour and watching him thrive, win awards, do interviews and generally be awesome. Even if that did involve me having to be at the other end of almost nightly conversations about Google search rankings *yawn*.

For me, I am about to run the last leg of my MA in Online Journalism, (which gets a name change in 2017) having restarted in January after a few years off to have the kids. And I’m thankful to my good friend Kate for pushing me back on that track, because I could quite easily have let it go. What the MA has and continues to teach me is that knowledge is power, feeding the mind feels great and working hard (and trust me, it IS hard) to achieve good marks is an unbelievable feeling. When some days I struggle to put contact lenses in, find matching socks and get the kids to nursery on time, knowing I’m working at postgraduate level is both shocking, monumental and addictive. The MA has also motivated me to re-examine my career aspirations and given me the confidence to follow those dreams… so let’s see if 2017 brings them to fruition.

And let’s not forget I have survived another year being mum to Irish twins. At the time of writing this I am the proud owner of TWO three-year-olds (born either end of the same year) and we have all survived the tantrums (theirs and mine), throwing stuff (them and me) and inability to put shoes on quickly (mostly them). They test me every day and make me laugh every day and they’re my proudest achievement to date.

So, looking ahead to 2017, here’s what I’ll be focusing on:

Giving less fucks

My resolution of 2016 was inspired by Sarah Knight’s awesome book which taught me not to give a fuck about everything. If you want the full lowdown, get the book, but in short, not feeling guilty about declining invites, saying no to things and ignoring stuff was truly liberating and freed up a lot of time to focus on the things I enjoy. My resolution also inspired other friends to take the same stance and when you’re a busy parent/employee/boss/wife/athlete/sister/dog walker/creative person it’s absolutely okay not to give a fuck about everything. Sarah Knight also has a new book out about how to get your shit together *adds to Amazon wishlist*

Limiting Facebook time

Did I hear a gasp then? Yes, that’s right… Facebook is great for keeping up with friends I don’t see very often or catching up on a bit of gossip. But it’s also filled with a lot of small-chunking shite. And I don’t have time for it. I should not be a slave to notifications. As thus, I may reduce my Facebook intake slightly and focus on other channels later in the year, like using Instagram to drive traffic to my blog (hmmm, will need to start writing more posts before tackling that one).

Meal planning hell

This is a family related one but I cannot get my head around meal planning and grocery shopping. I can easily implement efficient systems at work and home to get shit done, but the food shop/meal planner thing simply baffles me. Earlier this year I tried meal planning and just found it a huge headache and more expensive than dashing into Aldi and scraping a few things into the trolley. I also want to change up our grocery list a bit instead of getting the same old stuff. If you have any systems that work for you, I would love to hear them.

Graduation

The biggest one for me is to complete the MA. By the middle of May I’ll be all submitted (shit, that means I have A LOT of work to do), should have passed (I won’t hold my breath) a few weeks later and graduate few weeks after that. I literally cannot wait for this. The MA has taught me so much, not just about online journalism, but about me as a person, my capabilities and what I want in the future. I’m also excited because completing the MA will free up a ridiculous amount of time for me to focus on all of the above and new things to boot. This blog, for starters, will get a complete makeover and some regular posts. Bring it on!

Education

The MA is educating my mind, but my body and soul are lacking. The body bit is as simple as eating better, getting some exercise and getting enough sleep. And healthier food shops, better eating habits (which I’ve learned from doing the Clean 9 earlier this year) and going to bed earlier (possibly with some wind down time courtesy of the Headspace app) are all well within my control. I’m not yet sure how I will educate my soul and this will become a focus for me post-May when my MA is complete and I have time and mental capacity to focus on other things. Thoughts welcome – Volunteering? Writing? Mentoring? Watch this space.

Have you made any resolutions?

What are your achievements from 2016 and what are you hoping to achieve in 2017?

How do you read yours? (again)

This week’s blog challenge is less of a challenge and more of a cheat: to post something old. And I don’t mean a picture of the Queen. The lovely Kate and I are reposting something we wrote a while ago to fulfill this week’s blog agreement. This is to a) save time b) save time and c) save time.

Below is a post I wrote in January 2011 about reading: hard copy books versus ebooks. I’ll comment on where I stand on this now, in May 2016, at the end of the post. Enjoy.


 

‘I’m proud of my bookshelf’

I feel guilty.  I feel guilty because I’m currently reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (supposedly the next best thing to Steig Larsson). I feel guilty because I’m reading it on a kindle and not in paperback. And I feel even more guilty because I’m enjoying reading it this way.

I never thought I’d be able to abandon the good old paperback for an eBook. Reading on an electronic device just never appealed and can’t replace the real thing, the smell of a new book, the dog ears as you create as you work your way through it (yes, a bad habit but I like my books to look read) and placing it on the bookshelf when you’re done, creating another addition to your own personal library. I’m proud of my bookshelf, it’s a history of what I’ve read and says a lot about me.

With eBooks there is no smell, no dog ears and when you’re finished no one need know. But it’s not all bad.  Certainly not for Amazon who report selling more Kindles than paperbacks during the backend of 2010.

So, a couple of weeks ago I downloaded the Amazon Kindle app to my iPad and bought The Snowman. It cost me all of £2.92, a tiny saving of around 50p on the current listing price for the paperback version but it was available to read within a few minutes; no going to a bookshop, no waiting for an Amazon delivery. I could start reading straight away. I began reading in bed and find it much easier to hold an iPad comfortably than a book; in fact I can read it one handed (no traditional page turning required) so can snuggle further under the duvet when it’s nippy.

Whether I bookmark my page or not, the Kindle remembers the last page I was reading from so there’s no ‘I’ve dropped the book, shit, which page was I on’ business and I can change the font size for ease of reading. As old age encroaches (I’m all f 31 you know) I find really small type off-putting so making it bigger is a bonus. I can change the screen brightness so I don’t get bedazzled and I can make notes if I want to (good for research when I get back on the novel-writing trail) or link straight to an online dictionary if I want to look things up. I can also pop it in my bag, along with my emails, favourite social media tools, my blog and the wider web, all in one device. And I can see it will be really handy on holidays – no more packing three heavy hardbacks and lugging them around an airport, I can pop them on the Kindle and if I run out of books to read I just download another one without even needing to move from the poolside.

All that said, I do feel guilty. I love books, I love book shops and I love adding to my little library of literature and hope one day to have a home office lined with  shelves housing all the books I’ve read. So to say goodbye to books, the real thing at least, is a bit sad.

I’m far from saying I’m ditching paperbacks altogether but I’m going to give this Kindle business a try. I’ve yet to finish The Snowman and, in fact, have no idea how close to the end I am because I have no dog-eared marker to tell me as I would with a proper book. But technologies move on, times change and I’d like to be at least trying to keep up.  My main concern was that I’d want a break from staring at a screen all day but so far, this hasn’t bothered me; time will tell, I’m still only on my first eBook.

As I said in my last post, I think library closures are a sad but probably necessary thing in these cash-strapped times, but I’d be incredibly sad to think I might read to my children  (if/when they appear) stories off an iPad. I want them to experience real books, to carry them to school in their backpacks and keep their favourite ones on their bedside table.

Are we looking at a future without books as we know them?


Personal library of a lifetime of reading

Five years on – and after a couple of years growing, popping out and coming to terms with life with children – there was a decent period where I didn’t read very much at all. Apart from utterly shit parenting books too formulaic and nowhere near bold enough to report what parenting is actually like for humans, not robots, (the Unmumsy Mum rectifies this), I was more interested in turning over in bed than I was in turning the pages of a book, paper or otherwise. Now well and truly back into reading, both for my MA, for pleasure and in support of my good friend Tracy, how do I choose to immerse myself in the written word? I’m afraid it’s electronically.

I say this like its a bad thing, I’m still romantically attached to the idea of real books, their smell, their feel, their place on the bookshelf – a personal library of a lifetime of reading (although much of mine, I confess, went to the charity shop to create space when the kids arrived).

For me,it’s as simple as this… On the iPad (no kindle for me, thanks) I can read without the light on, easily prop it up on the pillow while I lie on my side in bed with a single fingertip required to turn the page. If I fall asleep, it remembers where I read to, bookmarks it for me and turns off. Reading a paper book in bed (or worse, on a sunbed) is awkward and uncomfortable. If I finish one book in a series I can download the next edition in seconds and I REALLY like that you can read a sample few chapters from a book before buying; we all know you can’t judge a book by its cover. So, for me, it’s as simple as convenience.

How do you read yours?

PS I don’t read ebooks to the kids and can’t see this changing anytime soon. My friend Kath recommended it to me and I’ll recommend it to you… You Choose has made bedtime stories more fun for the whole family. Oh, and if you want to know what I thought of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, here’s my review.

Why flexible working should be the norm

Man checking phone on the toilet. Image credit: Thinkstock

If you take away the suit and replace with jeans and a T shirt, this is totally my husband!

Way back when, when I was a cub reporter, it was the done thing to turn up to work before my editor arrived and leave just after they left (I say they, not because I had more than one editor at a time, but I have had both male and female editors and they covers both nicely). I digress… So, I’d rock up at 8.45am and head home around 5.15pm ish.

But times, they are a changing. I no longer subscribe to the set hours routine – not only because childcare arrangements mean it’s not possible, but also because it’s an outdated concept.

As a rule, those who are at their desks 9am to 5pm, five days a week, are no more productive than those who work flexible patterns, take time off when work is slow or work into the small hours when deadlines are looming. It just makes sense. Obviously, work rate varies according to each individual, their role, their ability and their ethics, but the pattern of working has moved on a lot from the traditional nine to fiver – to the benefit of us worker bees and the small businesses or larger organisations we work for.

Do you reply to work emails on the loo?

Today is Flexible Working Awareness Day, flagging up the pros of flexible working. Obviously. But the word flexible is also flexible in its meaning too – this can mean the hours and days we work, how we work – office, home, on the toilet even (my hubby replies to work emails on the loo frequently) – and how we float between work and home life at the touch of an app, scrolling our Facebook feed one minute and chatting with a colleague about deadlines via Messenger the next. And the image I’ve used below gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘flexible worker’ entirely. Ouch.

Research suggests nearly half the UK workforce, to the tune of 14 million people, want to work flexibly to fit around modern life. They key word is modern here, the way we work – made easier (to our benefit or detriment, you decide) by digital technologies.

Work-life boundary blur

The Digital Brain Switch project looks into these very things, the boundaries between work and home life, and how we juggle whose time we’re on. It’s difficult to know exactly how much work stuff I do at home and how much personal stuff I do at work (a phone call to sort a plumber for a leaky boiler, for example). For me, it’s a fair mix and I don’t sweat it it either way. I am, after all, the proud owner of good work ethics and get satisfaction from ‘good, big shit’ at work.

Young acrobatic businessman split while using laptop and phone. Image credit: Thinkstock

Ouch!

For me, being able to work a flexible pattern means I’m able to contribute more to my place of work – and get more enjoyment out of doing that while fitting that around childcare and other commitments. I work 31 hours per week, so not far off the full-time equivalent of 37.5 hours, but it’s spread over 3.5 days. That’s three days working 8am to 6pm and an 8am to 12pm shift on a Friday, leaving Mondays completely clear for children, washing and all the other things I don’t want to spend my evenings doing.

I’m lucky to be able to do this – in many organisations, such flexibility is still frowned upon, seen as messy, confusing to staff and unproductive.

Where I work, pretty much everyone is working some kind of flexible pattern, even the full-timers with long and short days, every other Monday off etc. It doesn’t confuse us (much) and we still get stuff – a lot of stuff, actually – done.

While there are specific organisations  aimed at recruiting parents (mostly mums) into part-time work, flexible or agile working is no longer for parents juggling childcare, it’s for anyone. For those who want to run a second business on the side like my friend Sarah who’s about to open up her own shop in Bridgnorth after upcycling furniture on her ‘agile Mondays’. Another friend uses a day a week for study. My husband, too, is a flexible worker – on a Friday, for example, his eight-hour working day begins when I arrive home at 12.15pm.

And it’s right for me, someone who wants to work full-time (or close to) but is restricted by family life and committed to wanting to be one of the two people largely responsible for raising my kids.

Are you a flexible worker or chained to the 9am to 5pm approach? What would work for you?

 

 

 

Why I love Milton Keynes

#LoveMK and the concrete cowsHappy #LoveMK Day – a whole day of the year dedicated to celebrating Milton Keynes. I’ve lived here for 10 years now and I only caught onto this momentous day in 2016. Yes, I’m a bit slow. Born and raised in the shire, I moved to Leicester for a year and headed south to grace the MK Massive with my presence. And I’ve been here ever since.

Despite the extortionate house prices, and as a non-native, I REALLY love it here. We’ve often talked about moving somewhere else to get more bang for our buck, but MK just has too much to offer. What, I hear you cry? (in my head). Let me spell it out for you…

M is for motorway

Sitting right next to the M1 motorway (I can see it from my house, lucky me), MK is super accessible and it makes hot-footing it up north or down south to see friends and family super easy. Motorways may be grey, noisy and busy but they’re pretty handy if you want to travel.

I is for inspiring

Ever heard of Bletchley Park and the codebreakers? Then you’ll know that Milton Keynes has more to it than a load of dual carriageways and roundabouts; it has some proper history, the stuff worthy of making TV programmes about it.

Milton Keynes aerial shot

An aerial shot of Milton Keynes.

L is for layout

Milton Keynes sits on a grid system, a bit like New York, albeit it named in a more obvious way. We have V roads and H roads (that’s V for vertical and H for horizontal) and they’re numbered from 1 to 10 (ish). They have proper names too, but are always accompanied by the letter and number (V10 Brickhill Street, for example), making it pretty easy to navigate anywhere once you’ve sussed out which direction you’re going in. Newbies will tell you everywhere looks the same, but once you get used to it it’s very handy. As well as the grid system, there’s the city centre, a hub of bars, restaurants, shopping and leisure facilities split into smaller sub-areas like The Hub, Intu MK, Centre: MK, Theatre District and Xscape – you can get anything you want, within reason, here. And then nestled amongst the housing estates dotted across the V and H roads, you’ll find what we call local centres, mini city centres comprising all the basic facilities you need. It’s all very handy. MK is built for convenience and easy access, with loads of parking spaces. I like convenient, therefore I like Milton Keynes.

T is for 10 minutes to anywhere

Generally, it takes no longer than 10-15 minutes to get from A to B in MK. Which supports what I said above – very convenient. I’ll happily take an abundance of roundabouts and dual carriageways over one-way systems and a sporadic sprinkling of speed cameras.

O is for open spaces

I grew up in Shropshire and it’s pretty damn, well… pretty. But I kid you not, from my front door in Milton Keynes I have access (by walking)  to more green and open spaces than I did back in the shire. Ralphie is spoiled for choice on his walks and if we decide to hop in the car and go a bit further, there’s even more. Take a wonder along the canal at Great Linford, for example, and you’ll soon forget you’re not in the middle of the countryside.

Swan on Tongwell Lake, Milton Keynes

And here’s yet another swan – there are lots in Milton Keynes. This one’s having a lovely time on Tongwell Lake.

N is for nightlife

I don’t really know what a nightlife is these days. Having two children kind of killed that off. But in my 20s I spent many a weekend frequenting the local pubs, clubs and restaurants. I never had to walk too far, I could always get a dirty kebab (or equivalent) before calling it a night and never failed to get a taxi home. Now my evenings are more boring civilised there are two big cinema complexes and loads of places to eat – the popular chain restaurants as well as loads of village-y style pubs nestled away in the prettier parts of Milton Keynes or just on the fringes. I’m thinking The Swan, the other Swan, and the other, other Swan off the top of my head.

Willen Lake, Milton Keynes

What we refer to as ‘mini Stone Henge’ at Willen Lake.

K is for kids

There is so much here for kids to do and you can find out more about this on this very handy blog. As the proud owner of two such kids, I’m not short of things to do with them and without having to wander far either. For example, the park on the housing estate where I live looks pretty cool from Google Earth. And it’s free! I think it truly hit home how great MK is for children (and their parents) when we moved to Dorset for a few months while waiting for our new house to complete. Dorset is beautiful and I’m never one to scoff at beautiful countryside and beaches, but… there was very little organised stuff for kids and what was on offer involved travelling a bit.

E is for enterprise

Did you know that Milton Keynes is the 22nd best place to launch a startup? Or, if you read the 2016 Cities Outlook report, MK has the second highest number of startups per 10,000 population. To me that says MK is good for the economy, offers job opportunities, is creative, enterprising and innovative. This is good news for me and good news for my kids – I want them to grow up somewhere full of opportunities. I was pretty much laughed out of Shropshire when I told the school careers woman I wanted to be a journalist. I think much more is possible in MK.

MK Storm netball team

Lovely ladies: Me and members of the awesome MK Storm netball team, playing in the Milton Keynes Indoor Netball League.

Y is for…

Okay, so I’m struggling with Y. Read on peeps, nothing to see here.

N is for netball

I’ve been playing netball since I can remember and have always found teams to play in wherever I’ve been living. We all know when you put competitive women in a sports hall and throw a ball in the air it can get a bit bitchy. But I have the pleasure of playing for and with the nicest bunch of netballing ladies ever. And it just so happens that they’re pretty awesome at netball too. Go team MK Storm!

E is for education

Milton Keynes is home to The Open University, making education accessible to all, wherever you live and whatever your circumstances. I know this because I work there (and I won’t get flowers for writing this) and see first-hand the impact it makes. It reminds me every day that education is really important.

S is for smart

Milton Keynes is a smart city. Officially. And because I can’t be bothered to write anymore, you can read all about it here.

Ralphie wearing sunglasses

Cats versus dogs (why woof gets my vote)

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I have a dog and am wildly allergic to cats. This could be a very short post couldn’t it…

I could curate some accurate and amusing meme here to help showcase my preference for dogs over cats, but that would be cheating.

This post, after all, is one in a weekly series (oops, we missed last week, sorry) in which Kate Owen and I challenge each other to write about something – anything – to update our somewhat dusty blogs. And this week’s post is cats versus dogs. So…

I’ll start with cats because this is easy. Aside from the usual cat qualities, I’m allergic, they make me sneeze, itch all over and hinder my breathing. So I tend to avoid them at all costs. Makes sense, right?

My oldest child. And the cleanest?

The same can’t be said for Ralphie, my almost six-year-old Cocker Spaniel (who has his own Facebook page btw) who knows he should bark wildly at them and chase them, but after that he’s at a loss. If he ever gets close enough to almost catch a cat, he does a speedy u-turn and runs in the opposite direction like he’s forgotten his wallet or something. If dogs had wallets, of course. Ralphie’s chosen currency would probably be gravy bones or chicken slices over cold, hard cash.

Pushing his cat confusion to one side, Ralphie is my oldest child, my black, hairy, four-legged, faithful and reliable child. And probably the cleanest. We collected him one sunny day from a layby off the M25 (sounds dodgy, it was a legitimate exchange) and he’s been at the core of our family ever since.

12036379_1169252879757034_1896091512501141259_nSave for a short period when we had human child number one and there was lots of crying and not a lot of sleep (Ralphie looked at us regularly with eyes that said ‘what have you done!?’) he’s been very happy to be a Bateman.

He makes his presence known by persistently dragging our shoes from the hallway to the family room, nicking off with the kids’ favourite bedtime toys just before bedtime, and rushing to our feet the second the fridge door is opened. He also takes up all the room on the bed (yes, something has come between Richard and I – it’s Ralphie) and has the longest eyelashes in the world. I love him.

Best house guest ever

But my love affair with dogs started when I was a kid. Mum left for work one morning with instructions that, after school, we needed to make sure the house was tidy because she was bringing special visitor home. And we obeyed, the house was immaculate when she walked in that evening with… Henri, a blue roan Cocker Spaniel! We – my brother and I – were giddy with excitement. Best. Visitor. Ever! Until in he did a poo in my bedroom…

He was part of our family, loved us loyally, and was so soppy we could sit him at the table with a tea towel round his next and feed him with a knife and fork. True story.

Hurt them and I’ll hurt you

Cocker Spaniels are a lovely breed and I’d definitely have another one. In fact, baby number three is off and dog number two is on (at some point in the future, at least). I remember a vet saying that all dogs love you but Cocker Spaniels REALLY love you. And this is true of both Henri and Ralphie, both choosing to lie, if not on you, somewhere where all human movements can be monitored from a lying down position. And they’re a fantastic breed with children; I can trust Ralphie implicitly not to run off, not to bite and not to eat the kids’ biscuits. Okay, that last one isn’t strictly true.

12540928_1222678077747847_6754879257909777303_nSo it’s cats 0, dogs 10 for me. Every time. But with that said, I am a general lover of all animals and the single thing I hate most about Facebook (and there are a few) is the number of animal cruelty posts I see. I scroll past them super fast, not wanting to be reminded how sick some people are to hurt such innocent creatures when their only ask is to be loved. If you won’t love an animal, can’t treat it with respect, manage its needs, care for it, afford it, respect it, then don’t get one. Whatever that animal may be. They’re a commitment, like children, and you should be in it for the long haul. Hurt animals, be it on TV, cases of cruelty or just sad stories can fill me with tears in an instant. People hurting animals makes me want to hurt people.

Eek, sorry, that just got a bit heavy didn’t it. Moving on… I often joke that I’d love to swap lives with Ralphie, he’s got it good. And that’s all that he deserves in payment for loving us, making us laugh, getting us out in the fresh air and preparing us, in part, for the commitment of having children. Dogs rock.

PS Kate (a cat owner) and I need inspiration for next week’s blog post or we’re at risk of writing about saggy eyelids. I kid you not. Ideas welcome!