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.