Book Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing

I had heard a LOT of hype about this book – it has been nominated for many different awards, and a number of friends had raved about it too, so I had high hopes!

This is what the Amazon blurb said:

“Meet Maud.
Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognizable – or her daughter Helen seems a total stranger.
But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.
Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.
Everyone, except Maud . . .”

It is written with Maud as the narrator, and moves between the current day – when Maud is an old lady in her 80s and suffering from some sort of memory loss, back to when she was a young girl in the Second World War – when she was completely lucid, albeit young and naive. Maud is convinced her friend Elizabeth has gone missing in the present day – and is properly obsessed by this – but at the same time she is recalling how her sister Sukey went missing at the end of the war.

It is very cleverly written – and the way the author deals with Maud’s memory loss is brilliant.  For example when she can’t remember the word for a specific item then she will describe what it’s used for. Both this and the obsessive behaviours Maud portrays, the ‘interesting’ clothing choices and the way her daughter Helen has to pick up the pieces reminded me very much of a friend whose mother had vascular dementia and she blogged about it.

The modern day story line and wartime story line both conclude well within the book – and the language is beautifully used.

But….

I’m not sure what I expected, but I wasn’t totally wowed. As I was reading it I didn’t think ‘just one more chapter’ which I often do with books. It was good – but didn’t blow my mind as I had thought it would. Didn’t quite live up to the hype in my book.

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Health and Fitness – The Photo Gallery week 219

I have blogged before that I haven’t represented my country at sport – but even that could overstate my love of things sporty.  At school my best friend was off being BRILLIANT at hockey / tennis / skiing – in fact, anything vaguely sporty that she turned her hand to – whilst I was really good at quadratic equations and playing the flute.

Since my Uni years I’ve worried about my weight (although looking back at photos of then – WHY??) and have been anything from a size 8 up to a size 18 and everything in between, with 4 pregnancies thrown in too.

After my second child I discovered ‘The Idiot Proof Diet’ (basically low carb-ing) and was really successful with it – hey, I even appeared on the ‘before and after‘ page of the associated website. To be honest, right at this moment I’d take the ‘before’!

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But children 3 and 4 and associated 5 stone (yep – count ’em!) weight gain means I’m up near the top end of the last 20 years weight-wise.

I’ve always adopted the Meghan Trainor approach to size:

“Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two
But I can shake it, shake it like I’m supposed to do
‘Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
All the right junk in all the right places
I see the magazines working that Photoshop
We know that sh*t ain’t real
Come on now, make it stop
If you got beauty beauty just raise ’em up
‘Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size
She says, boys they like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll,
So, if that’s what’s you’re into
Then go ahead and move along”

But – it’s not ‘all about the weight’ (do you like what I did there?!) – it is about my health and fitness.  We’re just back from an amazing family holiday at Bluestone in Wales – where we did loads of brilliant activities – but they nearly broke me.  I am black and blue from clinging onto a cargo net for dear life – partly fear of heights, partly fear of being pretty damn close to the weight limit for the equipment.  In one way (the shallow way) it’s the fact that I don’t like the size of myself in the photos I can see from our trip – but more importantly, I have 4 fabulous kids who I want to be able to be ‘Woodland Warriors’ with in years to come, without nearly passing out having walked up some steps through a forest.

And maybe if I write it down here, I have to stick to it?

I am really lucky in that as my own boss I can factor exercise into my daily life – I do pilates once a week (which in 2 years has sorted my dodgy back out amazingly) and I have PT sessions twice a week, so the exercise side of my fitness should be covered.  However, I’ve been told that 80% of health / fitness / weight loss is what I put into my mouth – and I am the only one who can take responsibility for that. So that means healthier food, limited booze and really grasping the nettle (perhaps to make some nice tea?!?)

This was supposed to be a photography feature – as usual with The Gallery – but has turned into a bit of a heart to heart with you all – sorry!

Dumpy and determined
Dumpy and determined
Ready for yoga
Ready for yoga

Do go and see how others have interpreted ‘Health and Fitness’ – hopefully with much better photography than me!

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Wicked Wednesday 25 February 2015

The first photo is a bit of a cheat, as I’ve already used it when blogging about our fab trip to Bluestone over half term – and starting an A-Z of where the 3 year old has a strop!

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But that’s not the full story!

She then fell asleep in the changing rooms  …..

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And had to be carried home by my brother in law – who wasn’t very impressed when my sister made him stop and have his picture taken as she was a dead weight!!!

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This is my entry for BrummyMummyof2’s Wicked Wednesday – do go and look at other people’s rubbish family photos!!

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Mr Price is in his prime!

Tonight, whilst the husband and I were trying to eat our dinner:

The 3 year old was crying because she has sore lips – but won’t let us put any vaseline etc on them – so not sure how we’re going to address that.

The 4 year old was trying to write a book. Given she can only spell a few words, this required spelling out (phonetically) every word (as with her current spelling ability it would otherwise have been a somewhat boring book about Evie, Mummy, Daddy and poo……….)

The 11 year old needed help writing her French homework to her new (male!) pen pal in Grenoble. She had forbidden us from assisting with Google translate – but had not banned me from Whatsapp-ing my best friend who lives in the French Alps! My friend’s 6 and 9 year old bi-lingual children thought it was hilarious that I was messaging to confirm how to say ‘I am a girl’ in French! But my ‘A’ in GCSE French was a long time ago, and I’m not drinking at the moment and my French ability is directly proportional to my alcohol consumption!! My liver is still glad I went to Sydney and not Paris on secondment with the accountancy firm I used to work for.

The 10 (I did just write 9 until my niece pointed out he had a birthday last week) year old was doing a maths worksheet about prime numbers. The husband didn’t know what a prime number was until I explained that it’s a number that only divides by 1 and itself (every day’s a school day!) He then realised that at the grand old age of 43 he was in his prime. Boom……..

Bluestone for February 2015 half term

Until this week we were Bluestone virgins.

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We’d done Centerparcs on a number of occasions – in fact child number 4 was conceived at Longleat – and we wondered if we’d go full circle and she’d be born there too when we returned for the husband’s 40th with friends and family 36 weeks later. The husband very helpfully pointed out that the animal keepers at the next door safari park would have lots of experience of delivering babies whilst I was looking for the nearest hospital just in case. We looked at Centerparcs for February 2015 half term and the prices were extortionate – so we thought we’d try other options.

One friend has raved about Bluestone in Pembrokeshire, Wales for years – but I have to confess to thinking she might not be completely independent as she’s Welsh!! However, a number of other friends have visited in the last 12 months and have all said how great it is (and are all English!) – so we thought we’d give it a go as it was less than half the price of Centerparcs for this particular week.

We booked 2 lodges next to each other and headed off with my sister and her family, my parents, us 6 and our wonderful nanny.

Our 2 lodges
Our 2 lodges in the Welsh sunshine

Interesting (not actually that interesting really) fact for people travelling to South Wales from Birmingham – the husband went M5 / M4 – I went M5 / M50 / M4 – and after both stopping at services once, we bumped into each other (not literally – that would have taken some explaining to the insurance company) at Cardiff Gate on the M4.

We had paid extra for early check in at 1pm rather than the standard 4pm. Unfortunately housekeeping didn’t have one of our lodges on the early list. So we all camped out in one and had lunch there whilst the other lodge was prepared. I called guest services – and they said they would refund the extra cost I’d paid. Within 2 hours I’d had a handwritten note apologising, confirming the refund and delivering 2 bottles of wine – now that’s what I call customer service!!

The lodges are great! They don’t have the add on luxuries of some of the swish ones at Centerparcs (no games room or hot tub or sauna) but are really well appointed and have all the kitchen utensils etc you could need (although the frying pans aren’t non stick – so that made pancake day ‘fun’!!) My guess is they fall somewhere between the luxury end and standard end of Centerparcs (not that I’ve ever stayed in anything but swanky at Longleat or Sherwood Forest!!)

The views from our lodge were amazing. There was a real feeling of space between lodges – you definitely didn’t feel on top of each other.

The view from our lodge in Preseli View
The view from our lodge in Preseli View

We’d also paid for a Welcome Hamper to be delivered – and a cake for our son whose birthday was during our stay. Apart from being delivered to the wrong lodge (our own fault for having 2 I guess!) it was great.

The activities were brilliant. Some of the party did Sky Wires, more of us did Woodland Warriors and then Catapault. The staff were friendly and fun.

The photos are a bit like 'Where's Wally?'
The photos are a bit like ‘Where’s Wally?’
One of the very high Sky Wires
One of the very high Sky Wires
Loading the trebuchet (not quite as big as Warwick Castle)
Loading the trebuchet (not quite as big as Warwick Castle)

My particular favourite was Woodland Warriors – basically laser quest through the woods.

Our team - the Killer Leeks
Our team – the Killer Leeks
The husband taking it seriously!!
The husband taking it seriously!!
My brother in law's military training (mending helicopters) wasn't that helpful.....
My brother in law’s military training (mending helicopters) wasn’t that helpful…..

In fact I loved it so much I am no longer going to be an accountant, I’m going to be an assassin!!! (And as a friend on Facebook pointed out – probably most assassins are self employed – so at least I’d be able to do my own tax return…….)

Assassin v accountant?!
Assassin v accountant?!

We also ‘enjoyed’ the Adventure Centre on one of our wet days – when it was very busy.  There is a softplay for the littlies, and then an adventure playground type wooden structure that you’d expect outside.  There are some arcade games, mini golf, a bouncy castle – and then The Big Four – The Swing, The Drop, The Wall and The Skytrail.  My eldest daughter and her 14 year old cousin did all 4 and loved them – the only complaint would be the seeming lack of instructors meant they had to wait quite a long time (literally 30 minutes even though they were first in the queue) to go on them.  But it was a wet day, and the middle of the day – so peak busy time I  guess.

Mounting The Swing
Mounting The Swing
The swing being released!
The swing being released!
Climbing 'The Wall'
Climbing ‘The Wall’
Waiting for 'The Drop'
Waiting for ‘The Drop’
Eldest daughter, son and niece on the Sky Trail.  Not crying.
Eldest daughter, son and niece on the Sky Trail. Not crying.

My 10 year old decided he wanted to do the Sky Trail again – but no one else would do it with him – so despite being scared of heights, I volunteered – there were loads of little kids doing it, surely it couldn’t be that frightening?!?  WHAT AN ERROR OF JUDGEMENT!!!  It was PETRIFYING.

Just starting the Sky Trail - and swearing
Just starting the Sky Trail – and swearing

My arms are now black and blue with bruises from clinging to a cargo net for dear life.  I stood crying on one platform (although my husband thinks this was a ruse to get a hunky instructor to come and rescue me!) and then it took me about 10 minutes to psyche myself up for the final zipwire (which was about 20 feet – and nothing compared to what the others had done on the Skywires the previous day!).

10 year old deserting me to the DOOM of the Sky Trail
10 year old deserting me to the DOOM of the Sky Trail

Given the weight limit on the course, the only member of our party who could have rescued me at the zipwire was our 3 year old – so I had to suck it up and be brave – but I will NEVER do it again!!  (I should point out at this point that the kids loved it, and don’t have a bruise on them – it’s just not the right thing for an overweight, height-phobic, 40 year old to do!!)

Being rescued by a hunky instructor (young enough to be my son!)
Being rescued by a hunky instructor (young enough to be my son!)
Quaking with fear
Quaking with fear
Finally braving the zip wire
Finally braving the zip wire

The pool area is a little dated – and could do with a good paint to get rid of some of the rust (but this is obviously a problem with chlorinated water – even the water park at the 5 star hotel we went to in Dubai at New Year had rust issues!!) I was also surprised that the general public were also allowed in as well as Bluestone guests. The pool itself is not huge – and there is a bit of a void for children from about 3 years up to 110cm tall (when they can go on the rapids / slides) – so I can imagine some youngsters getting a bit bored.  Sometimes when it was very busy we had problems finding a changing room / locker / queuing for slides.  The fact that lots of lockers were out of order didn’t help.  My only photo of the pool area is of our youngest having a strop in there – in fact it was suggested by a Facebook friend that we could have an A-Z of places that she’s stropped – so here are a few just from this trip!!

C for changing rooms
C for changing rooms
S for stocks
S for stocks
F for fence
F for fence

The shop is quite small and certain things aren’t easy to buy (dishwasher tablets being an example, you can only get them in packs of 3) but there is an amazing array of beer and wine – so the husband was happy!! It’s not cheap (£46.25 for a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne – good job we brought a crate with us!!)

We also stumbled upon (literally – there had been prosecco involved!) a vending machine selling mlik / butter etc – how ingenious!  (From a distance we thought it sold wine – not that we needed any more anyway!!)

The diary vending machine
The dairy vending machine

You can hire golf carts here to get around the park. They seat 4 adults and 2 kids – so couldn’t fit all of our party – but were very useful for running around the little people and OAPs. (Mum will take exception to this as she walked everywhere!) The only negative is the lack of charging points – there was only one in front of our group of about 12 lodges – and people would ‘bagsy’ them overnight meaning no one else could charge – so on one occasion we had to take it down to a charging point in the village itself to be juiced up.

On the golf buggy
On the golf buggy

We used the takeaway service on the first night and it was excellent – the pizzas were HUGE (we saved the leftovers and they fed us all for lunch the next day!)  On the Wednesday evening we went to Smokey Joe’s Shindig down at Camp Smokey!  This was great fun – and involved dancing on the tables, and eating fab BBQ food.  We all really enjoyed it – and the brown team were the best (** this is the face paint, we weren’t all just minging **)

Dancing on the tables at Smokey Joe's Shindig
Dancing on the tables at Smokey Joe’s Shindig
We were the brown team!
We were the brown team!

The only other venue we ate at on site was when my sister and I and our husbands went to the fine dining option ‘Carreg Las’.  I had been told by someone it has the air of a business convention building – and it does. No real atmosphere at all – and quite purple, so we were expecting Lenny Henry to pop up at any time!!  But what it lacked in atmosphere it made up for in customer service and great food and wine.

Bluestone also benefits from the nearby beautiful countryside and coastline. We took advantage of a sunny afternoon to head of to Tenby beach, half an hour away.

Tenby selfie
Tenby selfie

I am not a massive fan of the beach in summertime (sand gets everywhere) but even I quite like it when fully welly-booted up!

Welly boots + sand
Welly boots + sand

Although my 13 year old nephew did strip down to his pants…………

In the sea, in just pants, in February!
In the sea, in just pants, in February!

So in summary, we had a fantastic few days away.  I would say that Bluestone is the much cheaper, more laidback, less frantic, more relaxed, Welsh cousin of Centerparcs.  It’s definitely on our list to revisit.

Note – this is not a sponsored post, we paid for our trip and everything we did whilst we were there – I just like to overshare!! 

Book Review: As good as it gets? by Fiona Gibson

As Good As It Gets

Just a few chapters in I knew I was going to enjoy this book as the reference points were bang on for me! I too have had a shopping fail due to the light being too dark in certain trendy stores (in the book Charlotte mistakes a navy sweatshirt for black, in my case I bought my 11 year old daughter a top with swearing on it!!) and I also concur that Forever 21 stores are enormous and you need to have a map to escape (I actually had to ask for help to find my way out of one last year!!)

This is what Amazon had to say about it:

“A warm, funny read for fans of Outnumbered and the novels of Fern Britton, Fiona writes about life as it really is.

“Midlife crisis? WHAT midlife crisis?!”

Charlotte Bristow is worried about her husband Will. With her 16-year-old daughter Rosie newly signed to a top modelling agency, and Will recently out of a job, things are changing in their household.

As Will dusts down his old leather trousers and starts partying with their new, fun neighbours, Charlotte begins to wonder what on earth is going on.

So when Fraser, Charlotte’s ex – and father of Rosie – suddenly arrives back on the scene, she starts to imagine what might have been…”

I did enjoy this a lot. It’s not intellectually challenging, nor emotionally draining – but it’s an easy read with some great ‘laugh out loud’ moments (in fact I was told off by my 3 year old for making her bed rock with my LOLing when she was trying to go to sleep!!)

I will definitely be investigating Fiona Gibson’s other books – and this is out in paperback next week if you’re a traditional reader!

Happy 70th Dad!

So whilst the rest of the world is celebrating Valentine’s Day – it’s a different celebration in our house. My lovely Dad is 70!

Now 70 sounds REALLY OLD (but then having a daughter who turned 40 last year must make you feel really old).  This is me with my Mum, Dad and sisters at my 40th party – don’t we all scrub up well? (and isn’t poor Dad outnumbered?!)

Libby's 40th - Homers

We have lots of family stuff planned over the weekend – including a photoshoot for all 17 of us – 8 adults and 9 kids (the poor photographer!) and meals out.

And maybe Dad and I will fit in a nap (this was us after the Queen’s speech the Christmas before last!)

P1000076Happy Birthday Dad – love you bucket loads. xx

Grandad Graham

Happy 10th Birthday to my favourite son!

So the boy turns 10 today. Finally caught up in years the weight he was in pounds at birth! Yep – he was 10lbs 4oz and was delivered naturally!! I’d gone in to discuss being induced as he was late (he was due before my Dad’s 60th – but arrived afterwards – I was obvs sweetness and light and not at all a moody mare at Dad’s birthday celebrations……) and they told me I was in the early stages of labour and so sent me home. So husband and I went to the pub for lunch and a glass of wine (whilst I was having contractions – as you do!) and then headed back to the hospital in the late afternoon. The midwives seemed to think I was dealing with all fine and just left me – without examining me. I then suddenly felt like I needed to push – and was still wearing my tights! Now Daphne in Neighbours may have been able to give birth through maternity tights (early 90s soap reference there!) – but it is definitely not the norm. Quick exam (won’t be too graphic here) but he was on his way. This was at 6.50pm and we were watching Hollyoaks. At 7pm – in the midst of pushing – I made sure the channel was turned over for Emmerdale – priorities and all that. A few minutes later out came our son. He was still in the sac and wasn’t breathing. It was horrific. The emergency button was pressed and like a scene in ER the room filled with staff who quickly sorted him out for which I am eternally grateful.

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We’d found out at the 20 week scan that there was something wrong with his kidneys – quite a common problem (and it had fixed itself before he was 6 weeks old) but this meant he immediately had to have antibiotics, and we couldn’t leave hospital until he’d done a wee in a test tube! Now there’s a photo that I won’t post on here (see, I can show some decorum!)  Instead, here is his proud big sister coming to see him for the first time in hospital.

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Today he is double figures – not my baby boy anymore (although don’t tell him I told you, but he still has ‘snuggle’ in his bed who is pictured with him above!) My boy is growing up into a handsome, charming, clever, witty, sporty, loving, caring, sometimes annoying, cheeky young man!  He is a brilliant big brother, a slightly less brilliant little brother and our best ever son. (At which point he groans ‘I’m your only son Mum’ – but I never tire from saying it!) He is definitely a mini-me of his father – which could make for an interesting next decade!!

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Happy Birthday handsome, love you bucket loads. xxxxx

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Light – The Photo Gallery Week 217

The theme of The Photo Gallery this week is ‘light’ – and I immediately thought of this photo of the light going down on 2014. We were lucky enough to spend the New Year in Dubai – and this was the sun setting on New Year’s Eve from our balcony. There are no filters involved – I’m not clever enough to do anything like that!

It seemed such a perfect picture to end the year with (well, before the ones involving alcohol and dancing in the run up to midnight anyway!!)

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This is my entry for this week’s Photo Gallery – do go and see how others have interpreted light.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery