My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding- Not Your Usual Review

I have never been a great fan of eating melons.  Not for any particular reason, apart from a vague memory of trying them for the first time a long time ago and not liking what I bit into.  Years went by, I grew a few stray grey hairs and never gave much thought to that particular fruit until one day BlueBeretDad took me out to a lovely Italian restaurant.  We were served the freshest and most delicious cantaloupe melon wrapped in Parma ham and from that day I have been a melon convert.


Ballad of My Epic Failure

I have a dream.  No, sorry, I had a dream.  The past tense is very much intentional, as once upon a time I had a dream and then mountains of laundry happened, dirty dishes piled up, dust rats and bunnies multiplied and had to be exterminated and don’t even get me started on The Great British Bake Off! 

Here comes a story of my epic failure told in not so epic rhymes…

There was a time when I thought that by the time I was 34

I would have conquered the literary world

With an opus, a lengthy poem or an intellectual play

In my head I was Jo Conrad of the modern day

So I started with the Great British Novel, the quickest way to get to the top

I bought a notebook, a careful choice of design and colour, and no one would stop

Me from disappearing into a dark cave with my Muse, only to years  later

Emerge pressing my Life’s Work to my chest, you haven’t seen a piece greater

Than this story of love, rain and crime in tune with the Scandi drama fashion

And I imagined that a man in a black suit, with a dodgy past and face pale and ashen

Would get me on a plane to L.A. to pick up my film rights and a hefty check

So I started writing – What the heck!

And when a half blank page mocked me two years into my typing

Full moon, a finished wine bottle and a fleeting thought proved that writing

Wasn’t an easy path to fame, fortune and at least one great award

So I considered other ways;  instead of weeping

I looked ahead and finished the flask, and said Oh Lord

It’s difficult and it hurts.  Also Proust, Tolstoy and Chekhov

Didn’t have the distractions of The Great British Bake Off

So I gave up on the novel but not the wine

And turned to poetry, the art so divine that I was pretty sure

My talents and my rhymes would have the allure of

The crème de la crème of the poetic scene

I searched for inspiration in chocolate and liqueur – Well, in moderation

I poured over Homer, some haikus and Shakespeare

And slept with a rhyming dictionary at my bed

And none the wiser, my Muse was gone, I whispered at dawn

Oh, heavens. No reply.  Then I heard a voice. Just shake your head

And get those metaphors out – this is what good poetry is about

I did.  I typed till my fingers bled

And I ran out of ink so I sat down to plan

How to get that Nobel Prize

It’s not that difficult to write a verse – you cut a sentence in two or three parts

Call them stanzas and find an arty title that no one comprehends

So you can only imagine, my sour surprise

That the Swedish Academy ignored my efforts and so did the other institutions of poetic arts

Oh come on you dinosaurs of Ars Poetica  – I can count syllables and throw in a good rhyme!

Discouraged and defeated I gave up on poetry but this is not how my saga ends because

Brought up in extraordinarily strict conditions and harsh winters  I knew how to survive

And would stumble towards the light at the end of this tunnel … so

I thought long and hard and tried to figure out how I was going to be famous

I met a friend who said Wait, I have a great idea, don’t you worry.

You can write a blog. It is nothing to be ashamed of and besides

Self-publication is in.  These are the times we live in, everyone confides

In the Internet instead of their friends and yearns to have a global audience.

I consulted my Gut, Heart and Conscience

And the verdict was – Go, you have nothing to lose

At first I was amazed, so many stars on the blogging universe

And with the first post out, first like and followers (friends and family)

I embarked on a new journey – could have been much worse

The only problem being – soon I was behind, not many people read

My stream of consciousness that Joyce would love to have written, it all led

To a slow death of my self –esteem, my hope and my lifetime dreams

You see, I don’t embroider and crochet and I don’t take snapshots of what I cook

I’m not a political animal and I don’t bother with messy play, look

All I want is to write about my days, my child and myself, not bad themes

For posts that take me ages to craft, in between changing nappies and watching the XFactor

Oh why don’t publishers notice my talents! I despaired as I replied to one detractor

That tried to sell me some fat busting drink

And 3 days into blogging and no bloody fame I was on the brink of

Closing the shop. Who cares if I do, who cares if I don’t?

I will never be a blinding star, not even a slow satellite on the bloggy firmament

But before I left I gave it one more chance and took a photo of a stale croissant

I blogged about slaving in the kitchen, I lamented

It’s tough to be the perfect mother, partner and part time worker

And with a new follower and two likes later

I saw a light of hope, a mere spark of faith that it wasn’t all in vain

So tomorrow I’ll post about a knitted kitten in the cyber domain

And who knows, maybe this ballad will be a hit

Although I now realise that the rhymes are frankly  …

Not very good

Tweeb – How Twitter Ruined My Life

Once upon a time I had a life. I read books. Watched films. Had friends that spoke in sentences longer than 140 characters. Then one day I succumbed to the temptation and signed up to Twitter. This is my story. A story of a Tweeb.


Every morning before I eat

I log in to my PC to send my first tweet

I tell the world (166 followers, 2 new and 3 unfollowed overnight)

About how I like my #cupoftea

About my life that is pretty much that – 80% dull, 20% twee

What can I say, I’m a modern breed who suffers from

An inexplicable urge to tweet

I show off my #cuteasabutton young – #minime but better

Which earns me more favourites than @MyFrenemy

When my phone needs a rest – I pause. I fret.

My life is slipping away

Weeks roll on, I tweet, kids play

What can I say, I’m a modern breed who suffers from

An inexplicable urge to tweet

When it comes to current issues and crafts

(let’s be honest) I’m a bit daft

I want to be clever, popular and witty

Trendy and re-tweeted by tweety-celebrity

What can I say, I’m a modern breed who suffers from

An inexplicable urge to tweet

I check every follower – don’t you dare

To unfollow me – I can be scary. I swear.

Now if you excuse me – I know it’s unhealthy

I’ve tried to quit but I’m a bit of a tweeb.

My tea is cold and my children dirty

Their dad ran off with a guy called Bertie

I have to admit my defeat

What can I say, I’m a modern breed who suffers from

An inexplicable urge to tweet

Dear Edinburgh (Festival) Tourist

dear tourist

I love Edinburgh most of the time, but during the Festival it doubles its number of inhabitants, which means a distance I could once walk in 5 minutes I now struggle to complete in 5 hours.

So there we go – first written formal warning from BlueBeretMum.

Dear Edinburgh (Festival) Tourist

Oh how I loathe thee at times.

Your obvious ignorance to the rest of  us, the non-tourist population.  Snail – steps and that indecisiveness as to whether to walk into a shop or stand outside and block everyone else’s chance of doing their shopping/passing by and getting home before their blood sugar levels get so low that they will collapse in the street in front of you.

You see, if someone is walking very fast with a roaring toddler in their buggy it probably means only three things: they are in a bloody hurry, yes, they are local and no they have no idea where that café from your guidebook (11th edition from 1999) is, and they are probably late so no they cannot spend the next 100 years trying to figure out where it is you should be right now (that makes four things but I don’t care).

The truth is that you, your family and that herd of Highland cows that you got on sale during your two hour trip of All Things Worth Seeing in Scotland (the cows, the hills and the Loch Ness monster) are taking up my public pavement space.  The rest has been monopolised by a woman with 1,000,001 piercings in her face, a dubious Spanish singer, an incompetent belly dancer and a guild of pickpockets, which means that plain pedestrians like me have to either develop a superpower to fly or use whatever means they have to make any headway.

In my case, the weapon of choice is German and it has four wheels.  The Hauck Shopper buggy has brought down a barrage of luggage and de-heeled the owners on a few occasions.

Not everyone speaks English but if you hear a loud voice behind your back, followed by ‘Raaaaaaaaaah raaah raaaah’ that may imply that someone is trying to tell you something, like ‘Get out of our way or Peanut will miss In the Night Garden and things will get NASTY.’

On the other hand, I must admit that not all tourists are bad and some representatives of your species have provided me with an endless supply of giggles and party jokes.

Life is full of trials and tribulations and I feel for your dilemma:  ‘Should I get a cashmere scarf or shawl?  Do they sell them in pink?’

Alex Salmond is bound to love this great feedback on one of the famous visitor attractions: ‘How convenient they built that castle so close to the shops.’

There are more similar quotes of random spontaneous wisdom that make me question how we, the supposedly thinking kind, manage to get by from one day to another but my bruised subconscious has erased them all in a heroic act of self-preservation.

I understand you are on holiday.  You have never been to Scotland before.  You are in no hurry and want to cherish the sweet moment of admiring the intricate display window of Primark.  You perambulate up and down the Royal Mile in hope you can spot the Queen stuffing her face with the heavenly Edinburgh fudge.

Please, be my guest, take your and my time and have a good long look at the legendary tram works and the workers digging yet another hole in the ground.  Yes, pay extra attention to the famous cracks on show (no, not the pavement ones).

I really understand all that.  After all, I have been on holidays myself (believe it or not) and I cannot read a map to save my life either, but please have mercy because that woman with wispy hair and mad confused expression on her face has probably endured a morning of having bananas rubbed into her only clean pair of trousers and a mini toothbrush shoved into her ear.  Then she spent 45 minutes chasing a toddler around her house.  Said toddler decided to go to nursery bum-bare.  Then he decided to hide.  Toddlers are pretty clever. They can squeeze into fairly small spaces like the washing machine, the kitchen cupboard, the bin and the favourite of all times, the toilet bowl.

So that woman lost all her patience within the first 63 minutes of her awake time.  Now anything else means war.

Every good relationship is about compromise, as in ‘If you move your pile of rucksacks, shopping bags and other travel attire by 2 millimetres I could just squeeze through without risking getting run over by a taxi driver who does not seem to have a great start to the day either.’

Please don’t get me wrong.  I support tourism and the livelihood it provides with all my heart.

Travelling shapes one’s character and expands one’s horizons.

However, hell is other people with suitcases on wheels, so dear Edinburgh (Festival) Tourist , I am asking you nicely.

Please get out of my way.

I will not repeat this request. Again.

I am off to rub some oil into the wheels on Peanut’s buggy.

Yours truly




Yesterday I was rushing to work down North Bridge, striding by hundreds of small independent shops their display windows and in one of those windows I saw something/someone that made me put on the brakes and stop.

In said window I saw a monstrosity.

Wispy hair flying in all directions, covering up most of its flushed face (that wasn’t that bad though considering any woman in Edinburgh who doesn’t transform her hair into a cement helmet before she leaves her house suffers similar image distortion) and a hunched back, dragging a huge red sack behind it.

Half woman, half Quasimodo.

Poor, pitiful soul I thought. Aged before her time. That hair. That bent back. Those mismatched socks and banana smeared on the back of her black skinny jeans.

I looked closer and so did the Quasi-woman. I moved the hair out of my eyes and so did she.


I covered my mouth and my eyes filled with tears. I was staring my crooked posterior in its face back.

‘Why me?’ I bemoaned my fate. I do yoga (occasionally), walk at least an hour a day and I have never been to Paris, let alone seen Notre Dame (I’ve read the book though so it’s almost like being there but cheaper and without all the hassle).

Then it dawned on me. It wasn’t my fault or bad karma.

It was my bag or rather the weight of it that made me sport a posture aged well before my time (for the curious among you, I am approaching mid-thirties at a snail pace which translated into the modern attitude are the new late teens but with better skin and more life wisdom, ahem).

My handbag is the evil of all evils.

Raspberry red, faux leather, bought on sale in Poland because I refuse to spend an amount of money that could just about pay off the debt of a small developing country for what basically are two squares/triangles or circles stitched together, with or without a strap attached to them.

On a good day I’m about 1 meter 63 centimetres tall. The bag is half my height. Sometimes I use it as a shield against dragons and confused annoying tourists.

It weighs about as much as an adolescent blue whale.

In a desperate attempt to save my spine, give the vertebrae some rest and send my shoulders on a well-deserved holiday I decided to do what I haven’t done in the last 3 years.

I opened the zip, turned the bag upside down and emptied its guts onto the dining table.

Here is what I found:

1. A spare (clean) nappy – you never know when you are going to need one

2. An impressive collection of Calpol spoons and syringes (some had attracted all sorts of crumbs and alien forms of life)

3. A lipstick (I’ve been searching for it for years), and 4 different lip balms (some vintage)

4. Five travel size hand creams

5. Two dummies

6. A paperback collection of poems (estimated weight –about 10 kg), two average size hardcover notebooks, a diary from two years ago, three pens, an Ikea pencil (I haven’t been to Ikea for the last decade) and Harry Potter’s magic wand

7. An iPod, iPod charger and headphones

8. House keys, keys to my parent’s flat in Poland and work keys (three assorted sets)

9. A mobile phone and all the singles socks that the Washing Machine Monster scoffed and spat out into my handbag

10. About a million paperclips, a hairbrush, a few hair bands and hair clips

11. Bills dating back to 2001 and a bunch of receipts (Christmas shopping)

12. A live chicken, half a cow and a folding bicycle

13. Today’s groceries – a tub of formula milk, a bottle of vodka and a supersized loaf of bread (because you can never have enough bread)

14. Wooden pegs, Korean banknotes and Japanese coins (a remainder from a holiday two years ago and I didn’t even own that bag then)

15. A warranty book and instruction manual for Peanut’s car seat
‘Time to do something about it. Time for a change’ I said to myself.


…I put it all back in, just in case one day I HAVE TO read a poetry book while I am cycling to visit my parents in Poland and decide to take a detour across South Korea and Japan.

As you can see, dear reader, this is a lifelong crisis. My handbag has become my personal black hole swallowing any debris that comes its way.

My backbone’s ball and chain pulling it into disrepair.

If you can break my habit of using my handbag as my home/office/library/warehouse you can probably bring peace to this shabby world too.

As a prize for this impossible achievement I will offer you a live chicken, half a cow and a few wooden pegs as a bonus.

Many have tried and failed. Miserably. The author herself included.

Good luck.

20 Ways To Lose Your Dummy

ImageUnder the bed, Ted

In the machine, Jean

Or in the bin, Jim

‘n with the toys, Joyce

Set the fifth one free


In the fridge, Midge

 In the apiary, Mary

Inside the loo, Sue

Left on the bus, Gus

Set the tenth one free


Car at the back, Jack

There in the mess, Tess

In the pram, Stan

Under a book, Luke

Set the next one free

In my tea, Lee

Under the seat, Pete

In the sieve, Eve

On your plate, Kate

Set the last one free

Disclaimer: I am not a poet and I know it but I enjoy stretching my wings every now and then!

My Seven Deadly Sins of Motherhood


With Mother’s Day looming around the corner and I decided it was time for some reflection as a first time mum of a 10 month old pint-sized humanoid.  Over the last year I have been making a lot of promises and have been breaking all of them, one by one.  Here are my personal seven deadly sins of motherhood:

  1. The broken promise of “I swear I will never …” – When I was pregnant I promised myself and everyone else that I would never in million years indulge in any chats about poo.  Ever since Peanut was born I have been happily living in self denial weaving My Baby’s Poo is the Most Fascinating Phenomenon in the Whole Wide World and Beyond into long tales that have been driving my childless friends up the wall and beyond.  I talk about the colour. The consistency.  I even invented a game which consists of blindfolding BlueBeretDad and making him sniff out What Peanut Had For Tea. A warning – this game is for baby poo connoisseurs only (for the last 10 months chicken korma has been off the menu in the BlueBeret household!).
  2. The sin of 10 seconds rule – the rule applies to Peanut and his food, spoons and bowls.  I get it I get it – the germs, the high chair table manners and I cared a lot for the first 2,376,987 times I was picking up the veg sticks, the spoons, the bowl to wash them, give them back to Peanut only to pick them up off the floor 5 seconds later to my mini tyrant’s grunts and orders.  Now I am a firm believer in boosting my offspring’s immune system and saving the water.
  3. Even when I was still breastfeeding I had this beautiful image in my hormone possessed mind: I swoon around the kitchen on cloud nine in an immaculate Cath Kidston apron peeling, chopping, cooking up a storm of super healthy, super organic baby food while Peanut hovers above the ground in his designer high chair and makes appreciative noises eating his soufflé and munching of organic carrots dipped in organic hummus.  The floor sparkles. The groceries are delivered by unicorns every morning.  Then the cloud dissolves underneath me and I swear under my breath as my foot is glued to last morning’s porridge (why is baby cereal made of glue by the way?), my stained apron is hanging on me in tatters and Peanut has been catapulting his readymade tomato sauce on the wall behind him for the last 15 minutes.  What happened to the lovely reality you may ask my reader. Life happened.
  4. Thou shall not use disposable nappies – in my serious life I care about the environment, I get very upset about BlueBeretDad being in the shower for longer than 30 seconds and I have memorised the Dos and Don’ts for my recycling boxes.  I was very determined to use the real nappies. I even had nightmares about our planet pointing its angry smog covered finger at me before letting go of its last breath. Then I had second thoughts. I thought about my mum washing real “real” nappies every day (sometimes twice a day if me and then my younger brother had more than just chicken korma in our pants), then boiling them, hanging them out and then starting again. I thought about having the washing machine on pretty much non – stop. And I thought about the exhaustion I would be fighting every day, barely managing to brush my teeth, let alone worrying about leaking nappies.  I know times have moved on and it shouldn’t be difficult to use the eco nappies but I let the guilt wash over me as I cut down the adult shower time to 3 minutes and 3 seconds (if you are using a hair conditioner, otherwise 2 minutes and 1 second are enough).
  5. Thou shall not let you child watch TV or use the laptop or your smart phone EVER  –  “I am sorry, so sorry, Peanut. I am turning your brain into a mush full of nonsense” I say as I turn on the CBeebies and let Peanut work hard on covering the screen of my phone with his snot.  “I am sorry but mummy needs 9 minutes and 29 seconds to put on her makeup “.  I have timed it – I live my life in time slots, especially in the mornings.  “Mummy has to cover up the last year of no sleep with some concealer, powder and blush and a bit more concealer. Just a bit more. That’s better”.
  6. Thou shall not have sugar EVER – “Sugar is heroin “ I explained to BlueBeret grandma as she sheepishly suggested Peanut may want to try chocolate before he reaches the retirement age. No wonder I am the person I am since we were always eating cakes. In fact, I spent the first few years of my life consuming mainly bread with honey and cake.  So one day a child at the nursery turned one and the parents brought the cake in. Then, horror oh horror, Peanut was allowed to try a bit. When I found out I was mortified. What have they done to my boy?  And then I calmed down – that evil tiny weenie bit of cake he had with all the other kids did not turn him into a juvenile baby junkie rummaging our cupboards at night to get his fix.  Nothing has changed. And Peanut had great time stuffing his face with everyone else’s pieces of cake. So I might review that rule in 16 years from now.
  7. Thou shall be the perfect mother – no I won’t.  I grin to myself as I commit this sin deliberately.  I don’t believe in perfect anything, let alone motherhood. Sorry Peanut, I refuse to be the perfect mother for you but I promise to be the best I can be even if it means committing additional seven sins of motherhood.  And as you laugh out loud each morning when you wake up and see me and BleuBeretDad staring into your face I can’t help but think that I must be doing something right.

What are your seven deadly sins of motherhood? Happy Mother’s Day everyone!