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Prezzo

Waving goodbye to my baby, and a hot flush.

So after a 27 hour delay in Orlando (more of this later), I’m finally home to the awful realisation that my biggest boy is off to university very shortly – Sam’s about to leave home.   Amidst all the excitement of exam results (and writing stuff), and sorting out that trip to Orlando (and writing stuff) and getting geared up for the House of Bodily Fluids and that that entails (and did I mention writing stuff?) I realised I’d not entirely come to terms with Sam not being around on a full time basis.

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Heli

How not to miss a flight

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.

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Source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/159596380519079357/

Moments in time

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.

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The triple layer Curly Wurly chocolate mousse cake and Sam’s 18th

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.

Painstaking Curly Wurly application

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

60g butter

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:

The birthday boy on the track

and here’s the gang after the karting:

The gang at Rogue Racing

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

Photobomb

 

 

Turning 18: future plans (or not), driving and the all-important party

The boys with their beautiful cousin, Turtle

The boys with their beautiful cousin, Turtle

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.

The Disreputable One’s wedding: speeches, dancing and the cupcake challenge

Groom and Best ManYesterday 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.

Cupcake tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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!

De brevren on the dance floorThere 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:

 

The birthday with NO CAKE!

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:

My birthday pressie

My birthday pressie

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?):

Birthday Prosecco

Birthday Prosecco

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.

A chocolate cake of epic proportions for the Prof’s 18th birthday

Sam

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:

Chocolate cake from 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?

The Photo Gallery: Boys

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):

The Dude, The Prof and The Daddy.

 

Insuring teenagers on their first car? Maybe this ‘Smartbox’ is the answer?

De brevren in the PoloSo 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?

Happy New Year! And another alcohol free January.

New Year's Eve

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.

If you’d like to join me – and my friends Laura, Dellers, NotSupermum and, I think Rachael (yes Rach?) – doing alcohol-free January, do let me know (or tweet me @englishmum).

Bring it on, then, 2013, I’m ready and raring to go!

 

A 2012 roundup – with no resolutions, but a few lessons learned and some good intentions.

Me and Flo

Meeting Flo from Cars at Disney’s Art of Animation resort, Florida.

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.

DD & A

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

 

 

The Mad Prof Reviews: the Auna VCP-191 iPod Docking Station

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

Berry meringue pie for Grandma’s birthday (alternatively titled: when Freddy Mercury came for dinner’)

Yesterday was MENTAL.  The mentalness started early when we woke up to find that our poor Mad Professor, Sam had had an allergic reaction overnight to the plaster on his face and now had a chin full of blisters.  This caused so much hilarity ‘stop making me laugh, you bastards… OMG my chin looks like lasagne‘ that we were all late for school.

The madness continued into the evening when we realised that we’d better tidy up in readiness for our celebration for English Grandma’s birthday.  Stinky socks were thrown into bedrooms, balloons were hastily inflated (‘not two pink ones, they look like… erm… well, y’know…‘) and bags containing humming sports kits were hurled into the garage.  We spritzed a bit of air freshener around. It was fine, honest.

My brother, IJ, is my wine guru (he is generally cursed for our regular and massive Majestic Wine bills) and brought along a delectable bottle of Aussie Shiraz: Jim Barry The Lodge Hill 2010 (highly recommended). We then ordered the biggest Chinese takeaway known to man (the woman at the takeaway nearly passed out as she took the order).  My nephew and niece, the gorgeous Jackson (who was a bit late after taking part in a Queen tribute band at his school music evening) and impossibly glamorous Turtle joined the hilarity and soon we were wrestling (well, THEY were wrestling), laughing, cracking backs (the Death Wish Dude is good at this, but it made me feel a bit faint) and generally jabbering away.

Turtle and the DWD did an impressive job of lighting about a thousand candles (luckily, Grandma wasn’t offended) and in the process managed to burn a bit of meringue and quite a lot of each other, but no matter, soon we were gathered round the table, squeezed in on random garden chairs, Sam with his lasagne chin and Freddie Mercury with his sharpie moustache, singing happy birthday.

It took a while to blow all those candles out, mind you..

Berry Meringue Pie

For the sweet shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1tbsp caster sugar

1 egg

2 or 3 tbsp cold water

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.  It’s easiest to do this in the food processor but you can do it by hand if you’re not as lazy as me.

Chop your cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar.  Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly, adding a tablespoonful or two of water until it just comes together.

Flour the work surface and squish the mixture together into a ball.  Wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for about 20 mins.

When it’s rested, flour the work surface, and your rolling pin, and roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then roll it onto your rolling pin and unroll over your flan dish or baking tin  (about 24cm should do it).  When it all breaks apart, swear a bit and kind of patch it together. Nobody will notice.  Push it in to the edges and trim the top.

Now to bake it blind: scrunch up a bit of greaseproof paper, then smooth it over the pastry and pour in some baking beans – you can use ceramic or whatever. I’ve got some old dried beans – for about 15 minutes.

Then, take the baking beans out and pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes, just to crisp up the base.

For the berry curd:

Couple of handfuls of berries (fresh or frozen)

100g butter

150g caster sugar

2 eggs, plus 1 yolk (save for the meringue)

For this curd recipe, you need roughly 6 tablespoons of concentrated, sharp juice.  I had a small bag of mixed berries left over from fruit picking during the summer, but you can use lemon juice, lime juice, whatever…  For the pie to work well, the juice needs to be acidic, so if you’re using fresh, sweet fruit, add a little lemon juice. Just keep the quantities the same.

It’s easiest to extract the juice by heating the berries up in a pan.  Once they’re going squishy, let them sit in a sieve over a bowl so you can catch the juice.

Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, juice, zest (if using citrus fruits) and caster sugar.  Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined.  Now, take your warm juice/butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.  Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens.  As usual, make sure there’s someone behind you at this point shouting ‘WHISK! WHISK FASTER!’ – I’m SO going to record myself doing this so you can play it as you whisk.

Turn off the heat and leave to cool.  Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on.  When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.

For the meringue:

4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar if you have it

Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy.  Give it a pinch between your fingers – it shouldn’t feel gritty.  Now pipe (or just spoon) it all on top of the pie.

Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue.   If it’s a Special Birthday Meringue Pie, you can decorate it (we frosted some berries in granulated sugar) and add candles.

 

New term, new suit, new start…

So after his devastating exam results, things were looking pretty darn dreary for Sam.  If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that he had a bit of a shocker in his AS levels, and had been told there was no funding for retakes. His choice was to leave school and retake at college, or find new subjects to study and start AS levels again.

The school have been absolutely brilliant.  After a ‘crisis meeting’, where we met the head of Sixth Form, he was eventually offered a compromise: come back to school, retake the Biology (you’ll remember that this is the exam he slept through when I was in Florida) and choose two new subjects.

Sam is bloody delighted and all of a sudden the future’s looking fabulous.  This prompted a flurry of back-to-school activity that we’d been putting off, where we rushed around looking for suits, buying Charlie new school uniform (he starts his GCSE courses tomorrow) and the ubiquitious new pens and pencils to boot.

And look at my gorgeous young man in one of his new sixth form suits.

God, I’m old….

A level results. ‘A kick up the arse propels you forward’

So AS level results day yesterday.  For those of who haven’t reached this milestone yet, AS is the first year of A levels, A2 being the second year.  To be honest, our Mad Professor, Sam, knew that he’d not done brilliantly.  After breezing through his GCSEs, the workload was a bit of a shock, and the first term he knows he really didn’t do enough.  The school insist that they take three subjects, and he was struggling with the huge workload, struggling understanding the physics, and obviously missing the first hour of his biology exam didn’t exactly help, even with a B in his first module.  He ended up just scraping through in two of them with an E and failing the physics.  Ungraded.  After all that hard work and revision…

The school have told him that he can’t retake. They’ve told him he can come back and do three completely different subjects at AS level, just not the ones he’s just done.  I don’t understand.  Its something to do with funding.

After initially being devastated, he’s a bit more philosophical now.  He’s got his Royal Navy fitness test next but, bar a disaster in that, is looking forward to a career in the Navy.  BUT he needs at least two A levels for what he wants to do, so if the school really won’t have him back to do the same subjects, he’ll have to pick three new ones, or he’ll have to go on to a sixth form college and repeat his A levels there, away from his friends and the teachers that he likes so much…

Ah well.  As his Grandad said to me this morning: ‘a kick up the arse propels you forward’.

Wise words.

Scissors cutting cloth…

I’ve just seen someone die.  Not your average Monday morning…

I took Sam to a health centre for his Navy medical.  We sat in the waiting room and a large man came in, sitting opposite us.  He was breathing heavily, and when he dropped his keys, I picked them up for him – he didn’t take them straight away and didn’t seem to be completely ‘with it’.  I wondered if I should ask if he was okay, but… y’know… British reserve and all that.  I wished I had because about a minute later, a nurse went past him and he told her he wasn’t feeling well.  He dropped his keys again.

The receptionist got the nurse… they chatted to him, asked him questions… By this time he was sweating and his breathing was harsh and intermittent.  We felt like the worst type of voyeurs, sitting quietly in the chairs opposite.  They tried to take him in to the doctor’s office, but he said ‘no… I’m going…’  we grabbed a chair and put it behind him.  I think I tweeted that the poor man had collapsed, and then again when – what felt like seconds later – the first-response paramedic arrived.

As he was talking to the man – he said his name was Richard – suddenly he stopped breathing.  All hell broke loose.  Sam and I helped to tip up the chair he was in then pull it from under him.  Sam looked awful and the cleaning lady took him away into her office.  I was despatched to wait for the ambulance: ‘yell DEFIB at them – do it NOW!’.

The next hour was a blur of noise and colour and heat: I think back now and get little snippets: grey skin, scissors cutting cloth, meshed fingers pounding on his chest, sweat dripping off the paramedic’s nose.  I fetched water, held hands… did what I was told.

And then it was all over.  The second ambulance arrived and Richard was taken away – one person still pounding on his chest.  Afterwards, we sat in the empty clinic, stuff everywhere – and drank tea, blinking in the silence.  The paramedic said he wouldn’t make it.  In public places, they tend to keep going longer than they would normally, apparently…

Rest in peace, Richard.  I didn’t know you but I had a tiny part in your life.

 

 

The Mad Prof reviews: BassBuds Classics – Limited Edition White

Hey everyone, Sam here with my first review of many (I hope!).  Today I’m reviewing the ‘BassBud Classic’ in-ear headphones (currently discounted to £34.95).  Right, off we go! Oh wait one more thing, If you can’t be bothered to read all of this, there is a point summary at the end. Enjoy!

I have had two weeks to test out the headphones, testing out everything that I would normally use or see in everyday life, the BassBuds came in limited edition white and the appearance is modern and stylish, without having anything crazy design-wise to make you stick out like a sore thumb! The crystal in the back of each bud blends in with the design, so as to provide improved sound clarity with the unique crystaltronic system and does not look tacky at all.

The sound quality is amazingly good for the price bracket, definitely putting it at the top with the Sennheiser and SoundMAGIC headphones, But like it says in the name, bass is where these headphones shine, performing at what my parents call ‘Mach 3’ or my ‘normal listening’ volume with no buzzing or vibration.

And lastly my favourite thing about these headphones, they are really comfortable! I have not had a single case of ‘unforced slippage’ while using them and they fit perfectly in my ear, they also come with loads of replacement buds for bigger, smaller or more sensitive ears (different materials).

So there we are! I am very pleased with everything about these headphones and would happily recommend them to friends and family, thanks for reading!

My points:

– High quality sound

– Great bass and treble

– Doesn’t drown out the music with bass

– At even the highest volume sound is crystal clear

– Not just for drum and bass and other bassy music.

– Very comfortable

– Does not slip out at random

– It comes with a storage bag and loads of replacement buds

Features:

– Integrated microphone with controller for hands-free calls

– Compatible with Smart Phones

– Advanced Crystaltronics sound technology for crystal-clear HD audio

– Genuine SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS, the premium brand for fine loose cut crystals embedded into the design

– Gold plated 3.5mm audio jack for optimum connectivity

– Tangle-free, durable, double-wrapped cable

– Precision-cut, high quality aluminium housing

For more information, click on bassbuds.co.uk

 

Proud to be supporting Team GB, but happy for every other athlete at the top of their game

We are LOVING the Olympic games – we’ve yelled at the telly, blubbed at the medal ceremonies (and those proud parents – don’t get me started) and generally got into the spirit of it.

One thing I’ve noticed that I think is excellent, is that the crowds at the venues – whilst obviously reserving their biggest cheers for Team GB- have been very supportive of all the other athletes too.  The Danish sculls gold medal winners today at Eton Dorney got a standing ovation and rapturous applause. Exactly as it should be.

I was disappointed to see a bit of anti-British feeling recently on an Irish Facebook page.  I mean, really?  Yes, there’s history, and there’ll always be people who are bitter – I remember when we lived in Ireland, we took a trip up to the greyhound stadium at Dundalk, and as we walked back to our (English number plated) car, a large group of Irish lads walked past it, one of them taking a flying kick and taking off our wing mirror (I also remember a very small Sam piping up in his very English squeaky voice: ‘Daddy! Aren’t you going to chase them?!’  Er no, mate.  Not on your nelly.)  – but we used to have slaves and put kids up chimneys too – this is the present day, let’s move on, shall we?

My Mum had a young Australian guest recently, and his dislike of ‘Poms’ was made very clear, both on his Facebook updates, and his derision whilst watching the Olympic opening ceremony, even while he was a guest in the house of those much-derided ‘Poms’.  WHY?  What’s he got against English people?  Does being proud of your own nation mean you have to hate everyone else?

I hate this kind of attitute.  Yes, I’m British, well, English, but I’ve no beef with any other country, and while I’ll be delighted if we get all the medals, I’ll be damned pleased for every other athlete who, let’s face it, has achieved more in their Olympic careers than I’m ever likely to.

 

Swimming against the tide: parenting teens and other house-related waffle

Recently it seems that everything’s been ‘up in the air’.  I’m not good with change, and I don’t handle chaos very well either.  I like calm, with the occasional nice thing to look forward to (and cake. Lots of cake).  So these have been quite difficult times.

As it turns out, after the sheer panic of being told that we’ve got to move, and several weeks of fruitless searching for something suitable, a bit of lateral thinking (and, admittedly, some begging) has meant that we can stay.  I’m heaving a huge sigh of relief and doing a bit of nesting at the same time, resettling myself into this house, which I love (though, it seems it took the threat of leaving to make me realise): cleaning up, clearing out, and wandering round my little garden in the long-awaited sunshine, grass tickling my toes, smelling the roses and tending the tomatoes.  But that’s for another post.

Family-wise we’re battling on.  I think one of the hardest things about parenting teens is letting go.  And during the letting go process, there are the inevitable crises and mistakes that need to be handled.  I’m not good with that either.  I’m a worrier – a ‘worst case scenario’ kind of girl.

When they were little it was about whether they had their bike helmet on tight enough, and whether they’d fall off the wall they were climbing (with Charlie, he inevitably did).  Now it’s about whether they’re strong enough to follow the right path, pick the right friends and be sensible enough to make the right decisions.  I have to learn that I can’t do this for them, but hope that I’ve given them the right tools along the way.  We’ve provided a ‘get out of jail free’ card, which means that they can ring, anytime, anywhere, no questions asked, if they feel things are getting out of control.  This has made me feel better.  The waiting up until 1am never gets easier, though.  Having friends really helps – sometimes just hearing someone say ‘don’t worry’ or ‘we went through that too’ is everything you need to hear.  And now the holidays have started, I’m grabbing my ‘taxi’ hat and preparing myself for six weeks of duty, along with the inevitable six weeks of trade offs and bargaining ‘yes you can go, but you can’t stay late’… ‘I’ll take you but I can’t pick you up too’ type conversations.

My lovely friend Lulu recently wrote a post about her own domestic situation, and about how she’s learning to embrace the chaos and stop beating herself up about not being perfect.  I think I need to do this a bit more too.

So I’m counting my blessings – something I often write about but forget to do – baking biscuits, giving big, huge hugs, putting up whacky new curtains and – for once – enjoying the sunshine.

So that’s me, then.  How are you?

 

Ten reasons why my life is on a loop: get well cheese and crossed lines

It dawned on me today, while I was ironing a t-shirt, and dwelling upon the fact that I swear I’ve ironed the same t-shirt (black with a blue Cylon on it if you’re interested) three times already this week, that I live my life on a bit of a loop.

Week in, week out, the same things happen to me.  For example:

1.  I spend a ridiculous proportion of my time in the car.  

I do the school run a gazillion times (okay, ten, but then there are extras because the Mad Professor never really seems to be at school that much and does things like going in at 8.30 then being finished by 11am, but mysteriously still needing lunch money), and the twice weekly trip to kickboxing, then pick up an hour later, for the Dude.  Which reminds me, I need a new CD.  Maroon 5’s new one is very good but I know all the lyrics now.  If you’d like me to sing them to you, just give me a ring, kay?

2. We laugh at the same old jokes.  

Our in jokes are recycled hundreds of times.  The fact that we call Blockbusters ‘Blockbastards’ for instance, and our Volvo is called the ‘HAHA VULVA‘ after the lady with Tourettes in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.  Rent it at Blockbastards, quick).

3.  I get this look.  A lot.

This is the look that says ‘bloody biscuits?  You know I hate biscuits’ and warrants the same response from me every day: ‘the vet says they’re good for your teeth, so eat up and stop giving me the face’.  I then sleep fitfully and with one eye open in case she comes in the night to take her revenge.

4. I act like a bit of a tit

This week, on being asked to rinse and spit at the dentist, I spat all over the floor (in my defence, the anaesthetic had kicked in and I couldn’t feel half my mouth).  To add insult to injury, I then dissolved into helpless giggles for ten minutes while he stood patiently, holding his drill (not a euphemism) waiting for me to recover.

Oh, and not forgetting the old ‘get to the top of the stairs then forget what you came up for’ routine. Several times a week.

5. I laugh like a loon

Happily, one of my favourite Groundhog Day moments is a good cackle.  There’s not much in this life to make you feel better than a good belly laugh.  This week there have been lots of belly laughs, from noticing that my Dad’s tractor has ‘SeaBiscuit’ sign-written on the side (for some reason, this completely floored me), or a coffee with a friend where we cackled, snorted, shared hair-raising personal secrets and basically behaved like ten year olds for a couple of hours.

6. I watch crap TV to keep myself awake

Ahhh, waiting up for partying teens to return: surely one of motherhood’s shittest jobs (and one they sneakily forget to mention at ante natal classes).  I spend vast amounts of time waiting for people to come home from parties, trying to keep myself awake by watching early Kardashians episodes, texting them things like ‘don’t drink too much.  You puke, you die’ and random movies like Hostel 2 (don’t bother – there’s gullible girls, evil  murderers, a few bits of DIY machinery and, well, a bit more blood.  You’re welcome.)

7. Something REALLY weird happens

This week it was getting a crossed line while trying to ring a travel company and being dropped into the middle of a conversation between an old lady and her doctor.  Even more mortifyingly I thought she was actually telling ME about her terrible Psoriasis and had answered her several times before I realised she couldn’t hear me.  Just call me Dr English.

8. My boys make me go WOW!

This week it was this amazing pic from Sam’s Biology field trip of two of his mates Mick and Brendan skimming stones on Broadhaven beach. Just beautiful:

9. I buy weird presents for people

This week it was ‘get well cheese’ for my Disreputable Dad, who is very poorly.  And partial to a bit of Suffolk Blue.  What?  Cheese cures all ills.

10. I’m happy

Really, really stupidly happy.  I have fun, don’t take myself too seriously (see number 4.) and have the best family in the world.  Now what the hell did I come up the stairs for?

Imperfect parenting of teenagers. Here’s how we roll. Plus GREAT teenage parenting blogs.

I remember writing an article for Tesco Magazine once about the similarities (the smells, the lack of patience and volume control…) between toddlers and teenagers, but I know which I prefer: for me, it’s teenagers.  Yes, I know that with toddlers at least you know where they are and what they’re doing all the time, but the conversation’s not all that, plus they can’t make their own breakfast.  I think the biggest thing is getting over the sheer TERROR of parenting teens: the having to let go, and not always know exactly where they are.  It’s the lessening of control.

A tough one for us parents, no?

So what’s it all about, this teenage parenting lark?  Well, here’s my view (and for God’s sake don’t think I know what I’m doing, I’m winging it like the rest of you)…

Well, firstly, it’s about TRUST:

My own particular way of keeping sane is confidence and trust.  Sometimes feigned, admittedly, but, as with a smile, sometimes just faking it is enough to make it real.

Let me elaborate.  The Death Wish Dude, skater boy extraordinaire, requires larger and more complicated skate parks in order to achieve the same level of thrill/skill/injury/bruises as he gets more accomplished.  This means travel to London.  Initially I went with him on the train, but inevitably, he wanted to go on his own, with his mates.  A chat with another skatery friend’s parent elicited the following gem: ‘he went on his own once. He survived.  And now he knows the way I figure he’s safe to go again’.

And there’s the rub.

It’s trust.  Not just trust in them, but trust in the fact that you’ve taught them well, equipped them for life in general.  And it’s instilling that trust you feel in him.  So for my part that was taking a deep breath and saying to him: ‘yes, you can go to London.  I know you’re sensible and can make good decisions.  I know you’ll behave, and am pretty sure that in the unlikely event of a crisis, you’d make the right choices and be able to cope.  Go for it’.

The result?  Teenager, head held high, who knows his Mum trusts him and is instilled with the knowledge that he is old enough and sensible enough to travel alone into the Big Smoke.

It’s about LEARNING TO LAUGH:

This big and gangly lark is hard for them to deal with too – so when your enormous teenager has kicked your drink over with his foot, and as he’s pulling the sofa out of the way so you can clear it up, knocks his own drink over too… well, you’ve just got to laugh.  And grab another cloth.  What else can you do?

It’s also about DEALING WITH THE CURVE BALLS:

Don’t get me wrong.  Occasionally it all goes a bit hideous.  There’s been drinking.  And vomiting.  But hopefully how we handled it: massive chats, tears on my part (being told that you’ve let  your Mum down is hard to hear), promises on theirs, and lessons learned on both sides, have enabled us to move on.  And there’s been sensible drinking since then (I think the vomiting and massive hangover helps to get the message across – nothing that I did, particularly).  But it’s not been swept under the carpet – it’s been mentioned, and even, now a few months have passed, laughed about.  It’s all about life lessons, I guess.  And who can say they were the perfect teenager? Certainly not me.

It’s also about the SILLY STUFF:

We have other ways of bonding too – massive hugs, silly laughs, in jokes, mental texts (the Dude’s ‘not going to the skate park today, the fair’s in town and I don’t want to get bummed by a carny’ is a recent favourite), and we have tons of fun.  Don’t get me wrong, we insist on respect, but the odd jokey ‘Mum, you’re a knob’ keeps the status quo, I find.

The other day they were teaching me to do press ups.  Turns out I can do one, well, I can do a half – the down bit, but not the up bit.  It left us all in fits of giggles.  My upper arms still aren’t toned, but we had a laugh.

The house is often full of teenagers, which means it’s a bit noisy and I often have to retreat upstairs, but they’re a lovely bunch.  And having a laugh with The Marshes (the Prof’s twin best mates) who are ADORABLE fellas, and stumping up for the odd takeaway pizza and a few bottles of cider mean that we all keep a bit of closeness, even though if I even dare LOOK at one of them while they’re texting (‘MUUUUM! Don’t be NOSY!!!’) I get reminded that they need their privacy too.

And then there’s ACCEPTING WHAT YOU CAN’T CHANGE:

Whispered chats about the hot girl in year 11?  Ignore.  Jokes about porn?  Well, they’re teenage boys. However much you try to believe different, you know they’ve seen it.  They know my view on it (which is, in case you’re interested, that I don’t particularly mind it, but you have to bear in mind that those girls aren’t all willing, big chested, well-paid, girlfriends of Charlie Sheen, you know… sometimes they don’t even want to be there).  If they’re watching the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders doing lip dub to ‘Call Me Maybe’, you know they’re not watching because they love the song.  Red blooded males and all that.  Deal with it.

It’s about SEEING THE GOOD IN THEM:

During half term, the doorbell rang while I was in the bath.  I yelled ‘get that somebody please!’ and my 14 year old son answered the door.  Hearing him chat politely to the postie ‘god I bet you’re sick of all this rain’, made my day.  They might be smelly, lazy and annoying, but it’s sunk in.  They know when to be polite too.

And don’t forget, sometimes the off day is yours.  And if you can appreciate when you’ve bitten their head off and, ten minutes later, they appear with a nice big gin and tonic, that they’re doing their bit too, well, I think you’re doing okay.

So that’s us.

Rules to live by?  Probably not.

Perfect? Nope, but coping, with sense of humour intact and dignity more or less still in place.

Want to judge me?  Go ahead.  In fact, pop round.  I’ll show you a house full of love, laughter, trust, fun and more hugs than you an shake a stick at.  Not perfect, no.  But damned well good enough.

Want to read more blogs from parents of teens?  Try these:

Family Affairs and Other Matters

The Mum Blog

Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy?

Mums Gone To…

2 Teens, A Dog and Me

DD’s Diary

Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman