Thursday, 18 July 2013

The one where I've been Tangoed

Those who may recall my previous adventures in the world of fake tannery will know it's not an area where my talents lie. Not really surprising then that last summer I steered well clear. (Surely this is why they invented sarongs?) But impressed by the natural-looking bronze of a good friend's calves a couple of months ago I relented and did venture as far as buying an exfoliating mitt before chickening out once again.

But then I was in Boots earlier in the week and they had a load of things on sale including one of those moisturisers which adds the faintest tinge of colour (which you can then build up over a few weeks into something approximating the sun-kissed look). I had tried one of these before, but found the colour change so minimal it wasn't worth the faff. But then this was a half price wasn't it worth having just one more go?

I bought it on Monday. I applied, post shower, on Tuesday and Wednesday (yesterday) figuring if I committed to it daily I might eventually get rid of the duck-egg-blue tinge that means I have to sport a minimum of 50 deniers before I can ever think about getting my legs out in public.

Then last night, sick of sweltering, I squeezed in a quick swim before dinner. It was the usual sprint to the gym, cozzie on, clothes chucked in locker...and then, heading for the door, I caught a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror.

My legs were bright orange.

Not a "delicate glow". Not a "summer shimmer". Not "gently sun-kissed".

Bright orange. With white chevrons from flip-flop wear. And black stripes from flip flop residue.

Ever listened to glam rockers Mud and wondered what "tiger feet" actually look like?

Well now you know.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Loving books (and a lovely giveaway)

I love books. Aside from my family they are, without doubt, my greatest passion (yes - even more than Eric Cantona. And Lindt chocolate bunnies...)

I've loved books since I learned to read at the age of 3 - and in all the (many) years since there has barely been a night that I've not read myself to sleep. Sometimes I'm so tired I can only manage a page. Often I'll look up from a chapter to discover that time has somehow flown by without me noticing and it's suddenly 2am - not good when I'm likely to be jumped on by a small person at some unearthly hour but the joy of finding something you just can't bear to put down somehow outweighs the exhaustion.

In the days before marriage and babies I used to go on a week's holiday with a bag full of books (average ten per week) ...and t-shirts and swimwear chucked in as an afterthought.

The bookshelves in our house (many) are double-banked because we have run out of space. I have a huge, teetering pile by my bed and a huge, teetering (virtual) pile on my kindle too. Oh - and then there's the Amazon wishlist, currently standing at 103. But then, as literary agent Jonny Geller recently said on Twitter, nobody, on their deathbed, regrets reading too many books.

A book that has utterly captivated me this week is The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. The blurb (incidentally, my 4 year-old's new favourite word) reads as follows:

"Between the first and second world wars a group of young, non-English-speaking Japanese women travelled by boat to America. They were picture brides, clutching photos of husbands-to-be whom they had yet to meet, Julie Otsuka tells their extraordinary, heartbreaking story in this spellbinding and poetic account of strangers lost and alone in a new and deeply foreign land."

I loved it because it is so beautifully written, so different to anything I have read before, because - perhaps shamefully - I knew nothing about this period in American history and I had no idea what it was like for Japanese women making a new life at that time (something of particular interest because I live in an area with a large Japanese community which could not be regarded more differently.)

The Buddha in the Attic is published in paperback by Penguin and although the giveaway is now closed you can buy the book from Amazon and all good book sellers. Many thanks to all who entered.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


The other day a new-ish colleague came across a courier wandering round our office building looking lost. In his arms he carried a Lakeland box.

"Ah - I know who that will be for" she said, pointing him straight in my direction.

And yes, she was right.

Clearly it's no secret that I dabble in a spot of online Lakeland-ing whenever I can find an excuse. So when I was asked if I fancied trying out some jam-making kit the chances of me saying no were about as high as me not eating the entire box of Lindor hidden in the kitchen cupboard before I finish writing this. <wipes chocolate from keyboard>

The jars and jar labels were - even to a novice like myself - fairly self-explanatory. The matching lids (which come separately) do away with the need for fiddly waxed paper circles on top of the jam so that was a definitely bonus (memories of burned fingers during last conserve venture back in the 1980s.) 

The girl and I had planned to head off to the local pick-your-own farm and come back full of laden with tons of fresh fruit to turn into jams of various flavours. But the never-ending rain put a stop to all that (on the basis it was meant to be fun rather than an endurance test) and so we plumped for the tin (shown above) instead. I admit I was a little suspicious that it would be full of all sorts of nasties (as tins so often are) but was pleased to discover it's actually a pure fruit puree - plain and simple. 

Not having to wash/peel/chop/hull the fruit left plenty of time to prepare our labels...

(...although not so much that we entirely mastered the "J")

The fruit, together with sugar and water, bubbled until we hit a rolling boil and we tested for setting.

This was the bit I found slightly tricky - without a thermometer I wasn't entirely sure when (or indeed if) we'd hit 104C to ensure the perfect set - and actually despite trying more than once we never quite got there and the end result was a little runny.

But hey - at least it looked pretty...

So how did it taste? Because we used the puree rather than fresh fruit the end result was very smooth so if you like your jam with lumps in this wouldn't be for you. As we tend to buy the St Dalfour jams with no added sugar I also found this pretty sweet - but it has to be said that none of the recipients had any complaints about either taste or texture - and all were delighted with their homemade gift.

As for small girl...she loved it too and said that it perked up a slice of wheat-free toast no end. 

Note - when I reported the setting problems back to Lakeland they sent me a thermospatula to try. I haven't had a chance to make jam again yet but am pretty sure this will make a real difference as without it (or a regular jam thermometer) it's always going to be guess work when it comes to hitting the crucial setting point. I have tried it out on other things though and it's very easy to use. 

I'm working up to a spot of chocolate tempering with it next (because I'm completely slightly obsessed with the Great British Bake Off and they did it on there). Although it could well be that I have ideas above my station. 

Maybe I'll just go buy a bar of Dairy Milk instead.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hard done by

"Sometimes I feel like a slave in this place. It's not enough you want me to do everything around the house but now you treat me like a slave. I have to do all the cooking, all the cleaning - everything and it's not on."

My 4 year-old daughter on being asked to pick up her tiara from the living room floor.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Getting published: tips from the experts

Earlier this year I posted about whether or not you need an agent. Now, following the Mumsnet Blogfest, here are some other useful things to bear in mind if you want to get published.

From the publicist

1) Really research your market. What makes you different from the competition? Know your USP.

2) Make sure you can summarise your sales pitch in a few lines.

3) Blogs (per se) don't make books - you need to have a narrative arc, a beginning, middle and end and take the reader on a journey.

4) Build up your twitter/facebook following and get as much data capture as you can via your blog with sign-ups as that will really appeal to marketing departments.

Looking slightly scary on the Getting Published panel at Blogfest.
(But at least I'd remembered to brush my hair) 
From the editor

1) Putting together a decent proposal is the key to getting interest from publishers/agents. Publishers get so many of them that yours has to be as slick as possible.

2) Make sure your proposal includes information on how your platform and profile and how you will help promote your book.

3) Make sure you can explain what singles your book out from everyone else's.

4) (as per previous post) Many of the large publishers no longer really accept unsolicited manuscripts so it's best to get an agent on board as a starting point.

5) A full chapter breakdown/synopsis are also important, as is sample writing. In fiction you need to supply more sample writing than in non-fiction.

From the author (Bestselling YA writer Keren David)

1)  Develop a very thick skin about rejection. Don't take it personally and don't be too precious.

2) If you get the chance, work with an agent and an editor to make your book the best that it can be.

3) In fiction be wary of the adage 'write what you know' - it can make it harder not easier.

Image by Anna Gordon

Friday, 9 November 2012

Sun, sea...and small children

Our family holidays usually look a bit like this.

Or this.

Or this.

In fact even before the arrival of small girl the places we chose to go to were not so very different. Generally green, quiet, perhaps with the odd city break thrown in too. Usually jumpers and more often than not cagoules and wellies too.

Life in London often seems so full on. Small wonder that for precious time away together we like to find a little corner of quiet away from...well, away from pretty much everything and everyone.

And so we've never done "all inclusive": we tend to pick self-catering - not just because it's so easy with kids but also because we want to spend our time off together and not with loads of strangers. Call us anti social old gits...and you won't be far off the mark.

I haven't even done a package holiday since I was 19, those long ago days when £100 or so would get you not one but two weeks on a Greek island (albeit in a half built hotel in the middle of nowhere - ah sweet (ish) memories...)

Then there's the fact that our family is possibly the palest family on record. Baring my whiter-than-white legs in summer is not something I do lightly. Mr Cazroz is no sun worshipper, we both wilt in the heat and we've always worried about taking a littlie somewhere really warm.

Which is why we usually end up in Scotland.

But then, through work, small girl and I were invited to spend a few days in St Lucia with Virgin. I jumped at the chance (of course!) but then started to panic about how we'd cope on an all-inclusive (eek) package trip (gulp) to a very hot resort (agh) filled with hundreds and hundreds of other holiday makers (nooooo). And bare legs (weep).

And that all before I'd even started thinking about the small matter of the long haul flights.

We didn't take the girl anywhere near a plane until she was two - and then only on flights to France and Scotland (both places in my 'no-more-than-90-minutes-in-the-air' demarcation zone) We did take her to New York a year ago, to be flower girl at my brother's wedding, but I admit that most (ok, all) of the hands-on stuff during the flight fell to the Mr (loves flying) rather than me (hates every second)

So...eight and a half whole hours with just me and child. It would be fair to say I was bricking it wasn't looking forward to it in the slightest.

But *major revelation* do you know something?  It was absolutely fine. More than fine. The plane was comfortable. We ate (ice cream!) We drank (apple juice!) And we were very merry. I even got to watch two entire films - albeit pausing each one an average of 37 times to restart Madagascar/Charlie and Lola, retrieve felt tips from under the seats and furnish small child with an assortment of snacks and drawing materials.

The weather was roasting hot. But do you know - that was absolutely fine as well. After all, the rooms were air conditioned. The swimming pool was huge. And those all-inclusive cold drinks kept coming before anyone even had the chance to say "I'm a bit thirsty".

Yes - there were loads of other people, but they were getting on with their holidays just as we were getting on with ours. Yes - my pallor was a source of concern - but some strategic action with a sarong and a large straw hat meant that not too many others were blinded by the glare. Yes - there were loads of things going on - but it turns out that no one makes you do any of them. You don't have to send your kids to kids club if you don't want to. You don't have to do anything - including cooking, cleaning, shopping... It's a whole new world.

Small girl - who hadn't seen the sea since she was 15 months old and had never dipped so much as a toe in a wave - couldn't get enough of it and loved every second of our trip.

And I have realised that the world actually is our oyster (budget permitting!) - and that maybe preconceptions are not all they're cracked up to be. Now where's that brochure...

You can find more details of Virgin's flights to and holidays in St Lucia here and here.

Friday, 26 October 2012

How My Daughter Sees Me

I was just chuckling at the pictures Mostly Yummy's small fry had produced of their mother when my own 4 year-old came into the room with her latest portrait...of me.

I have checked in the mirror and I don't in fact have a large M on the top of my head (actually I'm told it's a crown - I don't have one of those either). The hair is pretty bang on. Although it's clear darling daughter thinks I use a lot of mascara (when in fact the last time I remembered to use any at all was some time in the 1980s)

I quite like the frock tho. Perhaps my new look for winter?

Check out some other budding Picassos on Sticky Fingers