Wednesday, 23 November 2016

David Walliams talks about The Midnight Gang

We've read every book he's written.  Then we've read them again. And again. Honestly, I don't think David Walliams could write a bad children's book. Each one is hilarious, crammed with fantastic characters and dreamed up by a rare and brilliant mind.  Cross between Roald Dahl and Kenneth Williams, he's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

When news of his latest book The Midnight Gang came out, I was instructed asked to get it pre-ordered so it would arrive on release day.  It was devoured at every opportunity and declared an instant hit! A children's hospital is perhaps an unlikely backdrop for magical adventures, but Walliams delivers with his usual style. It's no surprise that it shot straight to the number one position.

We were lucky enough to attend one of his live shows at the weekend, and meet some of the characters from the story.  The event at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham was raising funds for the Birmingham Children's Hospital and we are all excited to see him.

Lots of people had come dressed in their pyjamas and dressing gowns and every child was presented with a goody bag of a 'midnight feast' before settling down in our seats.  The performance was introduced and hosted by CBBC's Kate Thistleton.  David Walliams came on stage dressed in his dapper silk pyjamas and gold monogrammed slippers.

He began by talking about his inspiration for some of the characters. The Porter for instance in the story is based on one of his favourite characters from childhood- the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Other inspiration came from Peter Pan.

You cannot beat hearing an author reading their work aloud - hearing the intonation and voices that they intended brings the whole story magically to life.  The entire audience were enthralled listening to excerpts of The Midnight Gang.

Of course, like most of his books, Raj the shopkeeper makes an appearance and he told us that this character was inspired by a real life shopkeeper near where he lived.  The shop was chaotic - biros kept in the ice cream freezer, balls of string with the magazines... yet he was always jovial and they used to have a lot of laughs together.  He wanted a character in his books who was an adult, yet not an authority figure like a teacher or parent.  It's funny to think that somewhere in London there's a retired shopkeeper who probably has no idea he's the inspiration for such a much-loved book character!

He talked about his relationship with Tony Ross who illustrates most of his books, how he always gifts him a crate of gin at the end of each project and how he has complete faith and trust in his interpretation of the stories.

In his last book, The World's Worst Children, a collection of short stories, he admitted that Blubbering Bertha was based in part on his sister and he himself was probably most like Windy Mindy - a girl with incredible wind who manages to play the tuba with her bottom burps!

He loves to write about things which are a bit naughty and not usually talked about in polite conversation, and said that's what first drew him to his hero Roald Dahl.

Williams described himself as a reluctant reader as a child and it was only when he discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the magical world that opened up, did he develop a love of reading.  His other childhood favourites were Dr Suess books, Stig and The Dump and Day of the Triffids.

He admitted to feeling some pressure now he's in that position to influence young minds, he loves that he can now encourage reluctant readers, particularly boys, to take an interest in literature, but said it does come with a responsibility.

When compared to Roal Dahl, he felt he's a cheap imitation - a Poundland Dahl, but very much inspired by his style, the forbidden, the dark versus the funny, and his ability to capture the spirit of a character.

As a budding writer, Ruby found it riveting to hear his advice, to look for inspiration everywhere - even the most unlikely of places.  Gangsta Granny for example was based on his own grandmother - no, she didn't steal the crown jewels, but her home did always smell of cabbage and he was quite reluctant to go and visit.  That was until he started to really talk to her about her youth, her history and the exciting adventures she'd had.  He loved to hear her stories of the Blitz in London and it made him realise that everyone's got a fascinating story.

It really was a fascinating show.  We loved hearing some of the thought process and inspiration behind some of our favourite stories, and listening to him read in character's voices was such a magical treat.  If you get the chance to see him, do go along.

You can watch the show on the World of David Walliams Facebook page and he's also appearing in London with Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) at the O2 on1st December - now that will be brilliant!

Disclosure: We were gifted the tickets to see the show.
the Pigeon Pair and Me

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Pick of Palava

For quite some time now, I've had my eye on the gorgeous dresses over at Palava.  I've followed them through thick and thin, right from their early days trading as PoppyEngland, through their various name changes, forced upon them by bigger, heftier brands. I don't know about you, but I'm all for the underdog, and hate to see independents suffer because they're not as large or rich as others.  They were forced to change their name recently from Poppy, so chose Bryony and Co, but what would you know, they faced a challenge on that too!  So, to represent the palaver they'd been through, settled on their very apt new name. You can read all about it here.

Still with the same gorgeous styling, attention to details and brand ethos, it's about time I got myself one of these gorgeous dresses.  And when I say one, I mean two obviously.  Despite swearing never to do the matchy-matchy thing, these designs are just so beautiful I think both myself and my daughter deserve one.

Let's be honest, it can be a leap of faith investing in something seen online. You worry about the quality and the cut, but having seen the ranges stocked in a couple of gorgeous independent boutiques recently, I am 100% reassured about the level of craftsmanship. 

The frivolous frothy frills on the chiffon petticoats, the decadent detailing on the girl's party wear  - sumptuous sequins and fabulous faux fur all make these pieces to treasure.

These are perfect for the upcoming party season, but I'm looking for dresses we can both wear on Christmas day with full underskirts, but also team up with layers of tights, cardigans, wooly scarves and winter boots for frolics in the forest.

It's no secret that I love woodland, and I'm never happier than when surrounded by trees, a carpet of golden leaves beneath my feet, so it was unsurprising that I've chosen the Forest pattern.

The dress is available in child sizes (shown above left) in their popular Martha style dress with sash waist tie from 6-12 months, right up to 9-10 years. In the adults, the timeless and elegant Freda style is cut to flatter the figure.  It is available in sizes 6-18.

Now, I'm in love with this pattern. It's perfect for us and represents our loves and lifestyle to a tee.  My only quandary is which colour-way to choose? Marvellous as the Navy is, it also comes in this delicious mustard colour. I'm completely torn.  Which to go for?  I need your help!  Let me know which you prefer and put me out of my misery.  

Which would you choose?  Oh 'eck - they do it in a skirt too!  Decisions, decisions...

If you love independent retailers, why not give them a follow on social?

All images courtesy of Palava.  

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Homemade Dog Treats - Peanut Butter Biscuits

We made some of these for Delilah's birthday and they went down a storm, so now I'm thinking of setting up a little production line to make them as Christmas gifts for all my four-legged canine friends.

In hindsight, the cookies are quite dry, so I'll maybe make them with a smaller cutter next time - a small dog would find them a bit of a mouthful, but what can I say, they looked so cute cut with my bone-shaped cutter!  Guess I'll be scouring the Lakeland catalogue that's just landed on my mat for a smaller one. Or you could use mini Christmas cutters if making them as a festive gift.

Me and Ruby made these together and they're so easy for kids to make, I was surprised at how easily the dough came together, they were practically mess-free and as we're all gluten-free so only had GF flour in the house, that's what I used.  They came out really well, but you could use normal flour also.

Halfway through the rolling and cutting, Ruby announced with horror that she'd forgotten to wash her hands (you know, like you're supposed to every time you bake), but then decided "ah it's ok Mum, dogs lick their butts and everything so I'm sure it won't matter!" She cracks me up.

Anyway, onto the treats...

  • 240g plain flour (white, GF or wholewheat) flour
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 80g smooth natural peanut butter (choose one with no added salt or sugar)
  • 220ml warm water 

  • Preheat the oven to 350oF, 180oC, Gas 4.
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
  • In another bowl, mix together the peanut butter and warm water until smooth. Then slowly add to the dry mixture and mix together  well. 
  • Add a little more water or some milk if the dough is too dry, or flour if it’s too wet.
  • Tip out onto your worktop, knead and roll to approx 1/2 - 1cm thickness.
  • Cut with a cookie cutter and place on a baking tray covered with non-stick paper.
  • Bake for 20-25 mins or until lightly brown.
  • These will keep in an airtight container for about 2 weeks or you can freeze them.

Will you be making any doggie gifts this Christmas?

Monday, 14 November 2016

Magic Dip - A Marbling Craft Kit Perfect for a Christmas Gift

We've been playing with the very cool Magic Dip set from Character.  My craft-mad 8 year old is absolutely loving it.  While it comes complete with some items to dip (a photo frame, a plastic bangle, some charms and some greetings cards and labels) she's actually really enjoying finding other items she can customise and I fear that pretty much everything in the house will soon be marbled!

The paint effect works on pretty much any surface including paper, card, wood, rubber, silicone, fabric etc etc so she's had fun making her own gift tags and dipping notebook covers.

There's also gems and glitter included to further jazz up items.

The set is really neatly designed so you can keep all your items to hand which is ideal because once you start the activity you have to work fairly quickly before the paint disperses on the water. There's a protective rubber glove included which was great because it can get fairly messy - a pair of gloves would have been better.  We protected our surfaces and floor but did find that normal nail polish remover cleaned up the bowls and tools of any residue.

I have tried to marble items before using nail varnishes but it was woefully unsuccessful and I just got in a horrible, sticky mess with it and the paint wouldn't take.  This product does actually work!

The water you suspend the colours on does have to be room temperature and our first attempt was not great.  But after reading the instructions fully, I realised the water probably was too cold - easily done in this frosty snap we've been having.  I left the water a few hours to come up to room temperature and tried again, and happily it worked like a charm.  But take that as a word of warning if you have an impatient child - it would be worth preparing the water to the right temperature a good while before you suggest embarking on the activity!

Overall, we really liked this kit.  We love the unique designs you can make and the fact that you can design on all sorts of surfaces and items.  We may need to use a bigger bowl to try out whole sheets of paper for example and I'm still searching for where to buy replacement paints so we can carry on using it after the supplies have run out but I think most craft shops sell them individually, or there's a starter kit available for £9.99 which has paints in.

Priced at £29.99 it would make a great Christmas gift for a crafty child.  It's recommended for children from around 8 years plus and although I'm sure lots of boys would love creating their own designs, the accessories included are very much aimed at girls.

Disclosure: We were sent this kit for the purposes of the review.  All thought and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Delilah's First Birthday and a Super-Easy Dog Birthday Cake

I can't believe our little bundle of fluff has turned one.  In some ways it only seems five minutes since she burst into our lives, turning everything upside down.  In others, we simply can't imagine life without her, she completes our household and comes everywhere with us.

From the very first meeting she stole our hearts.  We struggled through the toilet training, hands red raw from excessive anti-bacterial gel. Constant mopping up and disinfecting. Training her to walk nicely on her lead (ok, so that's still a work in progress) and getting her to sleep through in her crate.

Actually, it was over so much sooner than I expected.  She just fit right it. She's so laid back, happy to stay home alone if I'm out, or leap into the van to come on camping trips with us.  When we lost Ella I truly didn't think I'd be able to love another dog, but she's filled up my heart and I can't imagine life without her now.

Ruby had been planning her first birthday for months, and when the day came (slight confusion over the actual date - the vet has one registered, the Kennel Club another but we went by the date of the photo we were sent from the breeders when they were first born) she was determined to give her and her brother a birthday to remember.

Delilah was showered with cards and presents before her 'party in the woods'. I'm quite sure anyone passing would have thought we were barking mad, but hey!

I have gag-inducing memories of the annual 'dog cakes' Blue Peter used to concoct on the TV when I was a child.  Dollops of tinned meat congealed with jelly.  Ruby too had been scouring Youtube for suitable recipes, all of which involved baking, and most of which I'm fairly sure Delilah wouldn't have eaten.

Instead, I came up with my own super-easy and tasty doggy birthday cake which went down a storm, and importantly, didn't make me heave.

I picked two large beef burger patties from the supermarket and grilled them. Allowed them to cool completely before sandwiching them together and 'icing' with meat pâté.  The result was a chunky, meat-tastic pink cake, finished off with dog biscuits to decorate and a birthday candle - naturally.

Both Delilah and her brother went mad for it and would probably have wolfed the whole thing down given the chance, but I thought it would be too rich given that they're used to dry food, so they each just had a slice.

Me and Ruby had baked some peanut butter doggy biscuits too, so they munched on those washed down with a warm flask of homemade chicken stock.  Spoilt pooches!

Singing Happy Birthday to two dogs in the woods and blowing out their candle may seem odd to most people, but I think we've started a tradition!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Colour Me Happy - Autumn Crafts in the Forest

I'll admit to feeling a bit of a slump this September.  It hit me really hard. The end of a fabulous summer and amazing holidays. I struggled with the back-to-school scenario, Ruby moving up another year, her last year in her current school.  The sense of time rushing on and passing me by.  The sudden change in the weather and the days shortening.  However, Autumn has always been my favourite time of the year and now that October has kicked in, I can feel my spirits start to lift again with the promise of spectacular colours, afternoons spent kicking through crispy leaves, gathering shiny conkers, the smell of woodsmoke and bonfires, hearty casseroles and wooly mittens on the horizon.

I'm not alone,  recent research by the Forestry Commission shows that  96% of people point to beautiful autumn colours improving their mood.  In order to make the most of this stunning time of the year, they have developed a series of 'Colour Me Happy' autumn trails  to delight the senses.  Children and families can search for and hide acorns like squirrels, listen to the crunchy leaves underfoot and forage for juicy blackberries.  The trail will give your wellbeing a boost before the winter months.

Rachel Giles, Learning Manager, explains:

“Autumn is such a special time of the year, and the forest creates a wealth of opportunities to explore with all our senses – from tasting juicy blackberries, to smelling the damp earth, and enjoying the amazing array of colours of the trees. We hope that this trail will really get people excited about being in the forest this autumn, and that they will also learn something about the trees and wildlife that they find during their visit.”

There is also the chance to be part of our wonderful woodland weave. Hang your piece of forest art within the canvas to help us create a vibrant community artwork and share the growing masterpiece with us on Facebook using #ColourMeHappy.

We headed to the forest this weekend to soak up some fresh air, and I popped a few craft materials in my bag.  Collecting up autumn treasures such as acorns, pine cones, beautiful coloured leaves, delicate ferns and soft feathers, we set about making a dream catcher.  All you need is a hoop - you can use a wooden embroidery hoop, or make one from wire - some string or yarn and some beads and collected treasure to decorate.

Dream-catchers originate in Native America and are hung above the bed to filter out bad dreams.  Ruby's delighted with hers and plans to hang it in her bunk in the camper van.

Next, I set her the task of finding some tiny treasure. She hunted down teeny pine cones, delicate feathers, small pieces of fern and miniature coloured leaves to make fairy jars.  I brought along a packed of little glass jars (I bought mine from The Works and cost £1 for a packet of 6) and some packets of glitter.  We filled the jars with fairy treasure and a sprinkle of magic dust.  She's made some for her friends as good luck charms, and we think they're just delightful.

If you want more ideas such as making your own blackberry art, leaf bookmark, mini woodland weave or autumn colouring sheets, download the free activity pack from the Forestry Commission.

Disclosure: We are Forestry Commission bloggers and receive an annual pass, we were also sent a pack of craft materials for this activity.

Growing Family

Friday, 16 September 2016

How To Deal With Your Hound When You Go On Holiday

Since having our motorhome, we've loved going off on family adventures, and the great thing is the dog can come too.  We also often seek out places that are dog friendly and have stayed in some amazing self catering cottages and even hotels.

However, there's bound to come a time when you're going somewhere that pooch can't come.  This summer we jetted off to Crete and of course, she couldn't join us. This was the first time we'd ever left her, so it was pretty heartbreaking.

Figuring out who to care for your pet while you're away can be a daunting task and you need to find the right setting so you don't have to worry about them when your mind should be on beaches and suncream!

There are various options though, so I'm sure you can find the best solution for your furry friend. Sometimes it can be a case of trial and error though as Amanda from The Ana Mum Diary found out:

We've tried a couple of different ways with our dog.  The first was a dog sitter and this worked really well, and I felt confident leaving him.  Recently we tried kennels as it was a longer trip and though we didn't really have any issues as such, Bennett didn't eat for a few days because he was anxious. I think overall I felt more confident with the dog sitter as he seems more settled when he's in a home environment.


This is a person who has your dog in their own home while you're away.  It can be to be a more expensive option, but  it's the one we tend to choose as we've found a great sitter who we know and trust and she used to have our old dog. She has the dogs as part of the family, so I can relax knowing she's still getting her creature comforts as well as lots of interaction and cuddles.  She sends us regular pictures so we know that Delilah is happy and settled - I loved this picture she sent of her soaking up the sun!

Recommendations from others is a good idea if you're looking for someone for the first time, but there are other ways of sourcing a reliable sitter.

Penny from Parent Shaped says:

We met our dog sitter through an online company, she's been brilliant and also has a greyhound so we always know he is having a brilliant holiday too.  She is retired, always available in the school holidays and has lots of time to walk him.

Lins from Boo and Maddie has a regular dog-walker who she uses when she's at work, so she's been lucky that she'll also dog sit for holidays:

If we're going somewhere either abroad or isn't dog-friendly in the UK, we always try to leave Maddie with the lady who takes her out for walks.  She lives nearby, doesn't cost us any more than kennels and she and Maddie absolutely adore each other.  We know she'll be well looked after and get lots of walks and attention.


Lucy of Lish Concepts chooses a trusted kennel for her dog Buddy:

We have lovely kennels in the countryside near us run by two sisters who adore dogs.  They have outside and inside spaces and a large woodland area out the back for walks.  Buddy loves it and is always happy to go and come home again. I'm glad because I always worried when we leave him alone.

Tanya from Mummy Barrow picked a great kennel with added benefits:

What I look for is Cheeky's reaction when he goes. It was recommended to us the first time we used it (I think that is really important, find somewhere a friend is happy with). Since then Cheeky has loved going.  He knows as we approach where we are going and literally jumps out of the car and runs down the drive to reception.  They all know him by name,  Also they have a webcam in some kennels, so when we recommend to friends with a ver timid dog they put her in the kennel with the webcam so they can watch and see they're fine!  A kennel that really listens to you and is prepared to adapt is crucial too.

Michelle from The American Resident has found a home from home for her dog:

I use the kennels run by our dog's breeder.  She LOVES going back to her first home, almost too much!  The pros are that they already know and love her, the cons are they can see how lazy we've been with her training!

Family and friends

Using family and friends can be a great option (usually free or cheaper!) Your dog will already know and be familiar with them and they'll know all their little foibles.  The negative is that something could go wrong or your pet disgrace themselves and impact on your relationship!

Cass from Frugal Family has solved two problems in one:

We have someone in our family who comes and stays in our house with Buddy while we go away which is great because I think he's too set in his ways to be happy anywhere but his own home.  It also has the added benefit  that our house isn't empty either.

Mari from Mari's World also uses family to look after their dog:

My husband won't let Baxter go to kennels! On the occasions we can't he goes to my mum (who spoils him rotten!), and we have a neighbour who pop in when we're out for shorter periods and walks him.


This is the 21st century option! A new website offers to temporarily house dogs looking for sitters with people looking for a part-time pet.  Clearly there's a trust issue and you need to check the person out carefully, but it seems a great solution. And for the humans it's a chance to send time with canine companions without the long-tern commitment.  Perhaps they're thinking of getting a dog and want to try it out and see how it works for their family, or maybe they've lost a loved pet and aren't ready to commit again but missing a four-legged friend in the house.  You simply pay a membership fee and find your perfect match.  The service included insurance too.

What solution do you choose when looking for someone to mind your dog?