So this is our last week living as a proper family unit I suppose (although let’s face it, with Mr English’s weird job, we’re only ever a family unit two weeks out of four). Sam’s off to university next week and we’ll miss him loads. This became apparent as we watched the NFL tonight and sniggered, en famille, when the commentator said ‘bush’, and then a bit more when he said something about ‘coming in from behind’.
It’s pretty hectic here at English Towers at the moment. First of all there was the small matter of a slightly broken car (‘Mum, it wasn’t my fault – she stopped REALLY suddenly!’). I thought we’d be cross but honestly? When it came to it we were just relieved he was okay.
(Okay, so not really doom, but it made for a good title).
So, for the second birthday of April (our planning was a bit off, wasn’t it?), our lovely Sam turned 19. Already suffering from the blow of my youngest child turning 16, I was a bit more philosophical about this one.
As you know, I’m big on building memories. My motto for this year (my hashtag, even – how New Media of me) is #snapshotsnotstuff (unfortunate, as it has the word ‘snot’ in the middle). As part of this, I want the boys to grab every opportunity, get out there and see the world, have wonderful new experiences and do new things. All this came very much into play recently when Sam and his study partner were planning their big A level Media project. For this, they basically have to produce a documentary. When throwing around ideas, one of them that kept recurring was a documentary about North Sea helicopter pilots (the job Mr English does). My reaction was why not? If we could get the company’s permission, persuade the school, sort out the insurance, etc, etc… At first, it seemed like it was never going to happen, but Mr English was brilliant, sorting things at his end, and the school were very supportive (imagine giving your very expensive camera to an 18 year old to take on a flight to Aberdeen) and very soon, the filming weekend was upon us.
I don’t know about you, but I’m SO glad to see the back of January and February – all that rain, wind and general misery has left me longing for bright spring mornings, sunshine and a few bright colours. Of course, February wasn’t without its perks, and a few things made February bearable, including:
I’m a huge believer in living life to the full. I’ve written before about how important I think it is to build memories: snapshots we can look back on and treasure. Years from now, we’re not going to remember the handbag we spent our birthday money on, or the fabulous jumper we spent a month’s salary to buy – what we will remember is holding hands watching a perfect sunset or an evening laughing with friends.
WHAT. A. DAY.
We started early, constructing an epic chocolate layer cake. It was loosely based on Charlie’s birthday cake, but we dispensed with the top layer and added a layer of whipped cream and a thick layer of crumbled Flakes. Oh, and of course those Curly Wurlys – painstakingly cut to size and applied by the birthday boy himself.
Here’s how to make it:
Triple Layer Curly Wurly Chocolate Mousse Cake
For the flourless chocolate cake
Line an 8” high sided loose-bottomed tin with greaseproof paper, and give it a squirt of cake-release spray for good measure if you want. Remember you’re going to add the layers so line the sides quite high. Preheat the oven to 160/gas 3.
125g dark chocolate
3 large free range eggs, separated
125g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over some hot water. As soon as the water starts to bubble, turn it off and let the butter and chocolate melt gently together.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until they’re really firm.
When the butter and chocolate are melted, stir in the brown sugar, the vanilla extract and the egg yolks, then gently fold in the whisked egg whites.
Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for about half an hour or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Leave to cool. It will sink as it cools.
For the chocolate mousse
You only need a thin (ish) layer of mousse. I made my first layer far too thick, so I’ve halved the quantities here.
250ml double cream
300g dark chocolate
3 eggs, separated
So just pop the double cream in a saucepan and break in the chocolate. Put it on a low heat and as soon as the cream is warm enough to melt the chocolate, turn the heat off, continuing to stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Leave to cool a little while you whisk the egg whites. Do check that the cream/chocolate mixture is cool enough (it needs to be lukewarm otherwise it will scramble the eggs) before mixing in the egg yolk.
Then just fold in the whites, again take your time and wait until everything is a uniform colour. Pour the mousse on top of the chocolate cake layer and put in the fridge to set.
To decorate with Curly Wurlys (or any chocolate bar, frankly)
You’ll need to make up a bit of ganache ‘glue’. I just melted about 100g of dark chocolate in a saucepan over some simmering water, then added a splosh of cream and stirred until it was thick. Spread with a pallet knife around the edge of the cake, cut the Curly Wurlys to fit, then press them on, making sure the cut ends are at the bottom. You might need to use a half piece just to close up the last gap. Back in the fridge again to set.
Just before serving, whip some double cream and pipe, or spoon, over the mousse. Cover with a layer of crumbled up Flakes.
So with the cake ready and lots of booze in the fridge, it was off to Rogue Racing in Aylesbury with ten of Sam’s friends for an epic karting session. It really is immensely good fun – noisy, hot and frantic – we had an AMAZING time and I can highly recommend it. You end up getting so into it – my voice was hoarse from all the shouting and there were some surprise aggressive drivers (I’m looking at you Mickey and Amy!). Here’s the birthday boy:
and here’s the gang after the karting:
Back to English Towers, then, we ordered six massive XXL pizzas and were joined by family and friends for an epic party. The hubby made a surprise appearance (he was supposed to miss the party due to a late duty time), making us all cry, my big bro brought some amazing wine and some fabulous champagne too, the Disreputable One popped in for a drink, and we laughed, danced, drank and giggled (mostly me, that bit) until 2am, eventually leaving teenagers sleeping all over the place and heading to bed.
What a fabulous day. And what lovely friends the boy has. This is my favourite pic of the boy, beaming, mouth full of pizza, surrounded by all his mates, and photobombed by his mate Marshy. Happy birthday Sam xx
Today our Sam, the Mad Professor, turns 18. I’m just not sure how I feel, to be honest. Sure, I’m immensely proud of him: he’s a good kid: kind and funny (he makes us all cry with laughter), thoughtful, a brilliant big brother (they play American Football together and have an increasingly blended mix of friends – I love this), a caring boyfriend (his girlfriend is adorable), ridiculously disorganised (sleeps through his alarm every single morning and only serious screeching gets him out of bed), but driven when he needs to be. He’s doing well at school (we got a letter over Easter from the sixth form team telling us how great he’s doing and how much he’s improved) and he’s holding down a part-time job as a lifeguard at the local sports centre as well as studying hard for exams. But GOD I FEEL OLD!
He’s driving now. Doing well in his lessons and won’t be long before he takes his test. He’s loving his Media A level the best, but doesn’t really know what he wants to do. Maybe go into the Navy and be a pilot like his Dad, but maybe go on to University and do a media course. Either way is fine by me. I just want him to be happy.
We’ve always got on well. A neighbour recently confided how stressful it is having teenagers in the house. I nodded agreement but honestly, honestly? Mine are lovely 90% of the time. Of course we fight – our most recent one was about how many teenagers he’s having over for his party on Friday night – but mostly we rub along fine. And neither of my boys has turned into Kevin the Teenager – a blessing for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I never was a particularly brilliant parent – especially with babies, but now they’re grown up I find it much easier.
He was the most brilliant best man at his Grandad’s wedding recently. I had SO many people come up to me, telling me that I should be proud of my boys. I really was. They were polite, charming, and looked pretty darned swag in their suits too.
For his birthday, he’s having a go-karting tournament with ten of his friends at a local track. He didn’t want a present – who needs gold watches or silver tankards when you can blast around a track with all your mates for a pressie? I totally agree. I’m planning a surprise present too: insuring him on my car.
Afterwards, everyone’s coming back to our house for drinks and takeaway pizza. He’s worn me down by using a stealth approach to add people to the guest list. ‘Mum, can I invite one more person to the party?’ ‘Sure you can’. Then two days later – ‘oh god, I forgot two people that I really want to be there…’ etc. I’m not a big party person, and not fond of drunk people either, so this party doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. However, after a chat and a bit of compromising on both sides, I think we’ve agreed on a number that suits both of us. He knows that his Dad will be throwing out any dodgy drunk ones, so I’m sure everything will be fine.
Just ask me again on Saturday morning.
Yesterday was my Disreputable Dad’s wedding. It started badly, with me still running around covered in icing an hour before we were supposed to leave (I stupidly offered to make them cupcake towers) and Dad arriving to pick the boys up for the church with not one, but both boys still in their pants.
In the ensuing panic, people were jabbed with buttonhole pins, ties were tied and retied, tempers were lost, handkerchiefs were jammed into suit pockets willy nilly and everyone piled into the car still pink faced and sweary. Luckily, by the time we all got to the church, we’d calmed down a bit.
I was really pleased with my dress from Monsoon. AND after a bit of faffing, I went with the red lipstick in the end (this decision was not helped by my sons who, when I tried it on, cried with laughter), but actually I felt quite glamorous, although I’m not sure how people wear lipstick every day. It’s kind of like walking around knowing you’ve got jam spread around your lips and you’re not allowed to lick it off. Here’s a little car selfie:
The service was very nice. My niece wasn’t feeling well so I had to step in and do a reading (my reading included the term ‘brothers and sisters’ – I was tempted to do it in an evangelical style: BRUTHAS AND SISTAS!’, but decided against it) and after a small discussion about who had the ring, the Best Man did his duties admirably, even after still being up at midnight the night before swearing over his speech!
There was just a small party in the evening. My sons monopolised the dance floor with some very odd co-ordinated dancing (even Sam’s poor girlfriend was enlisted), and later, there was a resurrection of the ‘cupcake challenge’, first seen at our very own wedding blessing a few years ago.
He’s got his mother’s gob, bless him:
Aw I had such a fab day yesterday. Despite their Dad’s absence the brevren rallied well – no cards (‘what, you have to buy presents AND cards?’) but they did get me a voucher for a lovely Clarins facial – will look forward to that. Mahoosive brownie points go to Mr English for the gift of THIS little beauty:
Isn’t it beautiful? After pressies it was off to The Akeman in Tring, Hertfordshire which is really lovely: all squishy leather, dark wood and roaring fires. The kitchen area is open so you can see the chefs at work, and the staff were so friendly. I had lunch with my gorgeous friend Glam C . We had Prosecco to celebrate, plus a delicious Mediterranean salad with Halloumi, roasted vegetables, couscous and chickpeas. Nomnomnom. The grin on my face says it all, I feel (and look, there’s The Claw – well, I couldn’t leave it at home on my birthday now, could I?):
The reason for the salad (I know, right? Not like me at all) was our evening trip to a local pizza place. We were accompanied by The Prof’s new girlfriend, who I’m proud to say is utterly lovely – very sweet and enormously good fun – we cackled like loons and, after we’d dropped her off, The Dude was heard to utter ‘wow, there is NOTHING wrong with her’. High praise indeed. However, it was only as we were getting out of the car that I realised I’d forgotten the cake. Ah well. We’ll scoff it today: think of it as unbirthday cake.
Thank you for all your birthday wishes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. What a perfect day.
Firstly, can I just point out that GOD, I’M REALLY OLD. My firstborn baby boy – my blue eyed, blonde haired, chatty little charmer – is 18 next month.
I won’t gush on too much, but I’m immensely proud of him. He’s grown into a bloody lovely, slightly enormous and very gangly fella – funny, kind and still capable of squeezing the life out of his Mum with a single hug. He has a beautiful and very sweet girlfriend and is working really hard in the sixth form. For his birthday, we’re taking his whole gang of friends for a big go-karting tournament at Rogue Racing in Aylesbury, then it’s back to our house for drinkies and food.
If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that generally the birthday person gets to choose what kind of cake they have. Over the last few years this has manifested itself into a ‘pick the most difficult cake that you possible can to really piss Mum off’ challenge. There have been requests for Black Forest Gateaux, double chocolate cheesecakes and all sorts of weirdness. This time, though, I know exactly what kind of cake I want to make him: an enormous, chocolate extravaganza the like of which you’ve never seen before. It started when my Twitter friend Bee, who lives in Belgium and is a fabulous baker, gave me an amazingly rich and chocolatey bundt cake recipe. I started thinking how nice it would be layered up – maybe with ganache and possibly some of Nigella’s salted caramel sauce (if you made it thick enough). And then I saw this picture on Pinterest:
… and we all got chatting about it on Facebook and then another friend, lovely Caitriona from Wholesome Ireland (incidentally a very good read on eating well on a budget) said ‘ooh, you could use Caramel KitKats’, and our imaginations all got the better of us and soon we were all imagining chocolate cakes of ridiculous proportions covered in all manner of confectionary…
So that’s my germ of an idea – basically, as another friend noted, a tooth-aching stack of sugar requiring a mid-scoff insulin injection. But hey, you’re only 18 once, right? What do you think?
One of my best buddies, the lovely Tara, runs an online photo gallery every week over at Sticky Fingers. People from all over the world enter photos into the gallery every week to a specific theme. This week, the theme is ‘boys’. Well, I had to, didn’t I?
They make me laugh until I cry (at a recent parents’ evening, one of Charlie’s teachers said: ‘I love him. I could strangle him occasionally, but I love him’), give fabulous hugs, eat vast amounts of food, use vast amounts of hot water, send me tweets that say ‘you are a poo’, make me worry about them constantly (you have to let them go…) and always, always make me proud. They’re kind, thoughtful, frustrating, messy, always late (Sam!), weirdly nocturnal but always fabulous.
Ladies and gentlespoons, I give you: my boys (with their long-suffering Dad):
So last week Sam, the Mad Prof, passed his theory test. He had £100 worth of lessons for Christmas and is doing well, enjoying driving, and looking forward to passing his practical test and gaining his freedom.
Woah there horsey.
There’s no way, at the moment, that we can afford to buy him a car. Hence, about four months ago, I sold my enormous V6 Mondeo and bought what we thought was a sensible car, a little VW Polo with a 1.2 engine. Safety is a big factor in all this, so we bought the newest car that we could afford, stretching ourselves to make sure the car has a five star Euro NCAP safety rating and more airbags than you can shake a stick at.
Yesterday, then, I rang Churchill, our insurers, to ask about adding him to the insurance. Let’s be clear here, this is MY car. The most he’ll be doing is borrowing it occasionally and maybe driving his brother to school. The man at Churchill was, well, useless. There was so much ‘pffft, dunno…’, sucking of teeth and tutting that it was, indeed, quite like talking to a teenager. He ‘couldn’t possibly’ tell me how much the value of the car is a factor in the cost of the insurance, and he definitely couldn’t tell me how much the insurance would go down after Sam has been driving for a year. Useless. The bottom line, though, was that to add Sam to the insurance on my car would cost me an extra £2800 a year. Yup, you heard me right. This would take my insurance to £338 a month. Not a chance I can afford that.
I took to the interwebz in search of answers. One name which kept coming up was The Co-Operative. Now, as a company, I like The Co-Operative. I like their ethos and what they stand for. There’s also a little Co-Op shop near my mum which is always reasonably priced and sells decent food too. I emailed their press team: ‘can you tell me more about this ‘black box’ thingy I keep hearing about, please?’.
Well, no less than 30 minutes later an email pinged into my inbox: ‘of course we can, we’ll send you tons of information first thing tomorrow. Oh, and we love your blog’. How nice is that?
So here’s the rub. The Co-Operative provide a ‘Smartbox’ which is fitted to the car and monitors your driving: how fast you drive, how hard you brake and take corners, etc. It then scores your driving from 1 to 5 (5 being the best) and your insurance premiums will be discounted (up to 20%) for safe driving.
So I put in all my details and waited for the quote: £1386.68. For the year. That’s HALF the figure quoted by Churchill. And it’s still fully comp, with all sorts of extra bits of cover: audio, personal effect, courtesy car etc. And obviousy because the Smartbox is fitted, there’s your tracker, right there in the car if it gets stolen. They’ve just released a phone app which allows you to test the Smartbox technology (sadly it doesn’t work on my Samsung) too.
My only question is: what about when I drive the car? Presumably it’s going to penalise me if I drive like a pillock too? Can I commit to driving like a new driver again?
We had a such a lovely new year. Turtle, my gorgeous niece, made the most amazing cocktails, we had a scrummy dinner cooked by my very clever sister in law (the sweet potato and chorizo was a revelation), and then Sam, Charlie, Jackson and even, hilariously, my brother IJ and I had a mad dancing competition on the Wii. A fab time. It ended with champagne and cuddles with velvet nosed doggies on squishy sofas watching the New Year fireworks on the telly. I couldn’t have been happier.
Last year at this time I vowed to be completely alcohol free in January. I’ve got to be honest, it was tough, but I DID end January feeling amazing (and a whole 8lb lighter – without even trying!). I also said I’d never do it again (and I got a special edition bottle of Bombay Sapphire for Christmas – sob…), but here we are again after two back to back holidays during which I overindulged in both the food AND the booze, and then Christmas and its associated gluttony. And frankly, after my disgusting behaviour on Christmas Eve (there was singing. And I don’t even remember going to bed), I probably owe it to my liver to give it a holiday.
Bring it on, then, 2013, I’m ready and raring to go!
So how was your Christmas? Mine was, well, interesting. A rather over-exuberant Christmas eve, during which we stayed up singing, dancing and drinking until 2am made for a hideously hungover Christmas morning, in which I kept having to abandon my turkey duties to revisit my breakfast (thank goodness for my Mum). Still, self to blame, and I felt better by the time dinner was on the table. I got some lovely pressies: loads of scented candles, my favourite Redken shampoo and conditioner, books, DVDs, CDs (ONE DIRECTION, oh yes I did), and a pasta machine from my Mum. I feel really blessed.
So this time last year I was talking about how 2012 was going to be about building memories… snapshots, and not stuff… and I think I managed it. Oh, there was stuff as well, there’s no doubt, but my year was full of amazing experiences.. plenty of snapshots to add to my collection:
January was the month I gave up booze and took up healthy eating. For a whole month. Never again. In February, I got together with my wonderful friends for Bloggers on Tour: the West Yorkshire leg, and visited Yeo Valley’s wonderful Holt Farm too. In March, we were lucky enough to attend the opening of the new Legoland Hotel and meet one of our heroes, Tim Minchin, who turned out to be even lovelier and funnier in person. I also attended the very glam Tesco Mum of the Year Awards along with several of my friends. A fabulous day.
In April, the Death Wish Dude and I spent the weekend in Paris, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Disneyland, and hobnobbing with the likes of, well, Mickey, obviously… and in May I jetted off to both Tenerife, where we joined in with the May festivities and were gobsmacked by the firework wars AND Florida, where my friend Laura and I toured Clearwater, St Pete’s and Florida’s gorgeous space coast, as well as visiting Universal Studios and drinking butter beer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In June, we celebrated the Jubilee in grand style, and in July I looked after my Dad’s gorgeous garden (and made some lovely raspberry sorbet too). I grew sweet peas and filled the house with scented blooms. I’ll definitely be doing it again next year. In August we went Olympic and Paralympic mad – we stayed up until silly o’clock waiting for the Paralympic flame to come through our town, and we cheered on our amazing athletes at the Olympic Stadium. Amazing memories. English Mum also turned six.
In September, we got a visit from my cousin Moon (and helped him smuggle sausages through customs), and the Mad Professor started sixth form over again. October saw us visit Guernsey and beautiful Herm Island, and in November we spent a lovely week in Gran Canaria. I also had laser eye treatment, something that’s changed my life forever. Finally in December I was back in Florida for the launch of Walt Disney World’s New Fantasyland… an experience I’ll never forget (more of this very soon) and my little kickboxing Death Wish Dude passed his grading and got his orange belt.
I’ve learned a lot this year too (proving that you’re never too old). I’ve learned that some people – people that you might have known and looked up to your whole life – are actually not worth looking up to. This was a shock. But hey – people should EARN respect, right?
I’ve continued to believe that you should really try not to judge other people. I’m often saying to the boys that there are maybe things going on behind the scenes that you don’t know about, but hey, even if it’s just as simple as people doing things differently to you, that’s fine. This goes both ways, what you do is YOUR business. Do what YOU feel right doing, and don’t listen to anyone else if you don’t want to.
I’ve also learned that it feels fabulous to pay it forward. I’ve learned that my friends, my true friends, are always there for me (you know who you are) and I’ve learned that all relationships take a bit of effort.
The nicest things this year have been really small, but very important: someone saying ‘thanks so much for that recipe’, or ‘your children are a credit to you’, so I’m definitely going to be going out of my way to give credit where it’s due in 2013.
So that’s it, then. No resolutions, but in 2013, I’ll be having fun, paying compliments, adding to those precious snapshots and looking up to people who deserve it – like, for example, my wonderful Disreputable Dad who is perpetually kind, funny, a wonderful Grandad, and a tiny bit naughty, who got engaged on Christmas Day. *cough BRIDESMAID cough*. Congratulations Dad and my soon to be stepmum (she hates that, sorry)! xx
Hey everyone! Its Sam here bringing you another review, this time its of the Auna VCP-191 iPod Docking Station
The Auna VCP-191 iPod Docking Station comes with two speakers and a main console equipped with CD player. One of its best features is its compatability with everything! It has a USB, iPod dock and an SD memory card slot on top. On the side it has an AM antenna slot (for anyone still living in the 70s), an FM radio antenna in the form of a wire and the two speaker slots. This basically means that EVERYBODY can play their music, which is brilliant! I have found the USB slot the most useful as all you have to do is put your music into files on the drive and it treats them like albums.
Right, now to the really important stuff: the sound quality is amazing! For such little speakers they don’t half pack a hell of a punch! The bass is brilliant and the quality is really good, even at the highest volumes. The Auna is great value for money at £97.90, for that you get what all the things I mentioned earlier with a wall mounting kit and a remote.
It is really simple to use and is so sleek and modern, it even has a really flash blue LED backlight!!
I would definitely recommend this system to everyone and encourage you all to buy one and be as pleasantly surprised as I am! Thanks for reading and goodbye
This iPod docking station with radio and CD player is available at the HiFi-Tower online shop