Posted tagged ‘postaweek2011’

2011 thank you

December 29, 2011

Nell in cold weather gear points out paddles, spears and necklaces from Oceania. In 2011 the world got far more interesting at Mayhem Corner.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is one big thank you. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

My family has a huge list of people to thank for 2011. I hesitate to thank publically as it would be so easy to forget someone (think what trouble that caused in Sleeping Beauty) but if you’ve got this far, please consider yourself thanked. I love readers of my blog!

But I also would like to thank lots of others who’ve made life that much better this year for us all, in all sorts of ways.

The hugest thanks therefore must go to ML and her family who had us to stay for two months during our Solomon Islands trip. They are the most generous, kindest, most entertaining and wonderful set of people (although ML – you’re my favourite!!). It is fantastic that Lola is still in Facebook contact with ML’s boys too.

It was also fantastic to meet up with Jennie Wate again and be reimmersed in Solomon Islands Development Trust – go SIDT! And thank you so much to Navie, Nelly, Rose – all their gorgeous children/husbands – and Sam and his family for dinners, catch up and story. Iufela evriwan kaen tumas. Mifela sori fo stae long home blong mifela, Solomon kolsap home nao!

To get to the Solomons we needed to rehome our hens, find a house sitter and have our dog looked after – all for three months. A huge thank you to Caroline and Louise for taking Vulcan (who won a dog agility class with Louise!); Christina for taking over our house and turning it into a clean palace and keeping it safe and of course  Liz at Freightliners Farm who didn’t just look after Violet and Jay, she also gave us new hen Lavender as a going home present.

Nicolette (the best neighbour ever) and the hedge cutting squad took on our privet monster. Amazingly the garden won a Bronze prize and was described as “very sustainable”. More backhandedly I was told it “could do with a good tidy” – well quite, but we were away for three months, so not really possible…

Our family had the most amazing offers of accommodation – from Jacquie in Sidney which we couldn’t take up. But we did spend a week with Laraine and Grant at Loose Goose, at Nannup (not so far from Perth). We were WWOOFing,  a genius way to get somewhere comfy to stay and to help out. Pete and I learnt how to put plates on top of fence posts, cut jarrah wood, prune lemon and other fruit trees and pot-rivet. Lola and Nell made friends with a kangaroo, emu and wallaby – experiences they’ll never forget. And if you ever go to Sydney, try kayaking with Patrick, see his website.

Pete’s sister Pam gave up her quiet Perth lifestyle to have four of us (and her sister Kaz) to stay for five days.

Steve Cross and Dominic Murphy have given me work when I really needed it.

Denis Campbell, Christian Graham and Andy Neather were all willing to come into University of the Arts or share with my Year 1 and Year 2 students super-tips on how to write features, run newspapers or make a blog. Fiona Forsyth also sorted out a trip to GQ with the indefatigable Bill Prince. Fabulous to be in the Conde Nast boardroom!

if I hadn’t bought a french horn for Lola then I wouldn’t have met Jonas Grimas – what a film making star. He took on the challenge of creating a film about Highbury Fields School, and with Ellen Berry, and a lot of other support from staff made a fantastic 23 minute film, have a look here.

Huge thanks to Hugh Warwick who came in to talk to Highbury Fields students about his hedgehog opus, A Prickly Affair, in November, have a look at his blog here.  Meg Rosoff (can’t wait to see her book How I Live Now become a film…) has been very supportive and has promised to visit the school again. We are very lucky! Playwrite Charlotte Eilenberg also came into the school in January 2011 and wowed the students with her knowledge. And a special thank you to Sue Jandy, one of the members of our book group, who was deservedly voted Islington Volunteer of the Year 2011.

Pete does a pub quiz at least once a month – and I’m just really impressed by the team captain’s dedication, Bob Gilbert. For the few pub quizes I’ve attended I certainly wouldn’t have scored as well without the help of Matthew Wenban-Smith’s east end knowledge.

Kate Baird gave us free tickets to an Arts Theatre show (it’s a lovely venue, right by Leicester Square). And my godson George Selwyn Sharpe  (starring in Living with the Amish) also treated me and Lola/Nell to two free shows – Kes and The Trial.

Annie is such a cheerleader, thank you. Christian Graham continues to mentor both Pete and me through the new media minefields. Jane Hutchings over at made me a second NEW, FAB website – (the other lovely one from 2010 is

Highbury Babysitting Circle members, especially Sarah and Robert who hosted a get-together that filled their house with tots.

Caroline Bucknall for looking after Vulcan on the occasional overnights (especially December when Pete and I celebrate our wedding anniversary – this year we made it to the glam Essex town of Colchester (link takes you to my aroundbritainnoplane blog entry).

Clean air and traffic campaigner Caroline Russell has given us all plenty to think about. Follow her via twitter at #highburyonfoot or just vote for her the next time you see her name on an election slate!

And I’m really lucky to have two fabulous daughters and Pete to live with. So here’s a special thank you to them and all who’ve read anything I’ve written this year.  Cheers. Nicola x


What’s wrong with being normal?

December 21, 2011


This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post offers a few more pre-Christmas ideas. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

Lola asked me today “What’s wrong with being normal?” Maybe she wants a DS or doesn’t want to pick up crackers from the street anymore (see nell in pic!). Lucky for me I’d just read a column by the Guardian’s Adityaa Chakrabortty (definitely becoming my favourite columnist) and not only had an answer but could pass his column to Lola, and discuss at the breakfast table.  Here it is – how british workers are losing the power to think. I think Lola might reconsider the danger of normal after this onslaught. But in my defence breakfast was about 10.30am, not too early for Oscar Wilde even?

And anyway we do plenty of normal at home too. Last moment tasks before Xmas completed with joy thanks to having children around who are big enough to find, stir and wash a wooden spoon. See pix above.

  • Christmas pudding steamed and filled with shiny gold coins (soak £1s for 24 hours in coca cola).
  • Oat balls refilled to soothe Nell’s eczema and winter dry skin.
  • Giving the Bond Street shop window displays marks out of 10. They are amazing – but the one I decided to photograph was Luis Vuitton’s luggage shown off with the help of stuffed elephant (toys) balanced on seesaws.
  • Plus we ran a serious taste test to help identify clementines from satsumas. Our team – Lola, 13, Netta, 9, and Nell,10 – reckoned that clementines have shinier, oranger skin and in December taste sweeter.
  • Some more quick gift ideas here – truffle making and scented oranges.

30 things to stop doing to yourself…
In case you’re not feeling positive. Admittedly there are certainly lots of reasons for that this year if you add in economic doom and gloom, so to avoid, take a look at this useful set of top tips about 30 things to stop doing to yourself (eg, worrying, fearing failure etc). Sent from my wise and wonderful friend in Solomon Islands, see here.

Over to you
Any ideas for keeping the spirits up?

Can you crack festive family stress?

December 15, 2011


This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post asks for ways to chill out before Christmas. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

Christmas was a horribly volatile experience at my home when I was a kid.

The family would manage OK during the day – but by the evening it was festive fury.

There was always a family row, usually between my parents. I have memories from quite a few Christmases of my dad throwing the gift he’d given my mum on to the fire. Suitcases melt like chocolates, nighties flare up like dancing ghosts, doors slam… The drama was always in our living room, not on the TV.  In an effort to prevent this type of experience again I’ve tended to go out with people who don’t suffer from red mist anger. And I don’t ever watch Eastenders

Knickers in a twist
Being around someone super-stressed isn’t much fun either. It just makes the joy of a long holiday disappear as everyone attempts to co-operate or avoid the stressy one. Obviously meditation or getting outside for a bit of fresh air is one answer. But so is the ability to thank our lucky stars. Here in London my family is safe and warm. What more could I really want? Well, as Nell,10,  might put it, a few gifts under the xmas tree…

In a bid to try and enjoy the run up to the holidays – and especially to avoid financial splurging which is all too easily done – I’ve been collecting moments and things when I’ve felt really happy. They are ridiculously every day. But in the long run these low key moments will probably count as the happiest times of our life… definitely not what the media or marketers would have you believe. So here goes:

  1. Walking to school – Nell and I have a nearly half hour walk to (or from) school each day. We chat a lot about dogs.
  2. Seeing someone look stylish. Freak entry to this list really, but as I’m swaddled in fleece layers it is a great pleasure to see someone straight out of a fashion plate chasing the same pavements on their way to the tube. Nell and I particularly admired the young woman in a yellow swing coat kicking through the last of the similarly yellow rowan leaves.
  3. The last bloom of summer. My roses go on and on. Even better is the astonishing second flowering of my winter jasmine which throws scented wafts down a city centre street. Take that you diesel engines! (see pic)
  4. Coping without a car: my pull-along trolley looks hideous. But the smug pride I feel in being able to carry a sack of potatoes, gift bottles of wine, loads of equipment and a stockpile of loaves from the Spence without doing my back in makes me love the world. I heart it as Lola would say. (see pic)
  5. Christmas trees in the window – everyone should have a lit up, decorated tree in their window. Unfairly I don’t (it’s to do with the hedge, and the fact that our curtains are closed, see pic), but I love counting and/or admiring Christmas trees as I walk home in the dark, ideally with a companion, preferably a child. Choose the time wisely: 6pm is too early. It needs to be about 9pm when everyone’s got home from work/after school clubs and settled down for a snug evening. Ideally take your kids out for a “midnight” walk to enjoy this experience. Even a buggy ride will be a memorable winter treat…

Over to you
Just re-reading that list makes me feel calm. So what makes you – and the kids – happy without any preparation at all?

Do schools matter (video)?

December 8, 2011

How kids learn by Sir Ken Robinson, RSA

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post asks if we are giving our kids the right education (rather than asking what school they are going to). For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here. Read on, or just click the cartoon video link above (it’s 11 minutes).

Do schools matter? Well, yes, yes, yes they do and not just for your child. You need good tracking of every child’s progress, good teaching, good staff management – and good results. Or do you? That’s what the  astute (and funny) 11 minute film attached by clever Sir Ken (see link above) looks at via words and cartoon.

Students are meant to be safe at school (and when they are young it really is childcare).

They are also meant to make progress in every single lesson, an impressive challenge for anyone with a large class of students, especially on a Friday afternoon. Oh yes, and get certificates and higher grades each year, and go to uni and get a job. Hang on, is that possible? Is it 21st century reality?

I’ve been constantly surprised by the ways people react to knowing that I took my girls out of school last summer so we could homeschool as we travelled. People are shocked. But the girls (then 12 and 10) learnt so much – a new language, and the size of the world. They stayed on a volcano, swum in a sea full of things that were quite interested in eating them (a new twist to the food chain), they met loads of people and learnt to talk and listen to a range of views. Instead of music practice they learnt to cook fish, build stone ovens and keep the right end of a kangaroo. I’m convinced they could have had a similarly challenging and creative time had we just stayed home but not used school bells for eductation… But they’re back in school now, and they like it.

I guess the problem is that lots of adults still think education is done at desks. Robinson in the video above is far blunter: he says we’re using an old style of education and treating our growing children as if they were in a factory, batched up in birth year groups.

Given that most of us are either not blessed with teaching skills (find out more about how to facilitate good learning at education otherwise which helps people homeschooling), or patience, or the time to home educate, the answer has been to give our children the best education we can find. It is just such a shame that so many families still think it’s worth buying education at Britain’s fiendishly expensive private schools. Surely every child deserves the best education, which is why what the state offers has to be fabulous.

Read all about it
If you are interested in some of the UK top tales about education there are some fascinating books that help parents understand more about the big picture – rather than just what school will suit Pollyanna (or Lola or Nell for that matter). Try:

Melissa Benn’s School Wars: the battle for Britain’s education (Verso, £10.99). She’s so committed to comprehensive education that she set up Local Schools Network to support local schools and counter media misinformation.

The funniest novel has to be May Contain Nuts by John O’Farrell where a pushy south London mum takes her family on a rollercoaster educational journey. Consider yourself gently mocked by O’Farrell!

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 I also like the undercover journalism from 1 out of 10 by tony blair’s education advisor, Peter Hyman who became a huge fan of the academy model. A rather more Daily Mail version was seen on C4’s Dispatches when former teacher Alex Dolan secretly filmed her disruptive students. And the new tweak on that is by Katharine Birbalsingh, a deputy head who spoke at the Tory conference. I’m putting her book (found for 10p at the school winter fair) into my own stocking – it’s To Miss With Love.

Now blog readers, get on with that reading list, the test is next week… And no peaking at the answer(s) in the back of the book.

Over to you
Is there anything that made you think differently about what you want your children to get out of school? If so, please share.

Don’t buy my book…

December 6, 2011

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post suggests a must read book for your festive stocking. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

If you only buy one book this festive season, then make it Sandra Steingraber’s Raising Elijah. It’s a clever, informative book that helps make sense of the way we help our children grow up.

In it find out how copper chromium arsenic (CCA) isn’t the best choice for preserving outdoor play equipment; or learn how a scientist can still make the obvious mistake of not quite secondguessing what’s under the floor during house renovations.

If you are a questioning person about science and child rearing then Raising Elijah will give you a huge amount of pleasure, information, ideas, solutions (and worry). The world and us mums and dads are lucky to have Steingraber working on our side rather than, say, the fossil fuel industry…

Reading for fun
When my girls have gone to bed then I read a lot of novelsMr Pip and One Day remain favourites, but I’m currently laughing over Submarine writer Joe Dunthorne’s fabulous Wild Abandon (life in a Welsh commune which features homeschooled kids), alternating it with Jane Eyre.  So, if you’re not tempted by my Homemade Kids, then please consider reading my enovel Coconut Wireless – a story of life, love and gossip in the Solomon Islands town of Honiara.

Pete and I have run two book stalls over the past two weekends and it’s been ego-shocking – between us we sold four books, for less than they cost to buy. And the stalls cost a bit too, definitely not an option to be tried again (hence the begging above for you to buy Coconut Wireless)! Still, at least it made it clear why it is so hard to get new publishing projects going.

I was recently sent a book to review too – also all about kids. It’s a A Place to Play by Natasha Mile (Vanguard Press, £7.99). This morality tale dressed up as a crime story sees three teenagers work out how to save childhood. Action takes place in the late 21st century, mostly in a chillier Newcastle. England is an altered world – so urban that it’s turned into four main city federations seemingly at loggerheads. Borders are closed (the best mini break you can hope for is on the sky train to Wales) and all schools permanently shut down. Only the elite’s children get fabulous homeschooling so they are ready to step into their parents’ roles. The futuristic setting stamped on to a UK that readers know is a lot of fun – lots of clever weaving of old time Northerners in football strip or micro tops, whatever the weather, (ie, us lot now) allows author Natasha Miles to make her teen heroes seem naieve.  Nevertheless they manage to stumble on to two good secrets, work out a connection and set about restoring order. A book to enjoy if you are worried about the restrictions children now seem to face – lots of car travel, long study hours and a growing tendancy to lock themselves into Facebook friendships. GET IT With the questions A Place to Play throws up about the value of childhood plus corrupting power, climate change and genetics, it would certainly work well as a book club choice. And it’s guaranteed to make you want a cup of steaming hot chocolate the way Martha likes it best – with a bar of chocolate on the side.

Over to you
What’s your favourite book? For you, or for the kids…

Video of what asthma feels like

November 29, 2011

Asthma is scary

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. Turns out that London’s air is far more polluted than I thought – and that triggers asthma. Nell,10, goes on screen in “Asthma is scary” to share with you what it feels like to struggle to breathe – and what she’d do if she was Prime Minister to sort it out for all of us. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of  ideas about parenting, click here.

Nell is well at the moment – thanks to the steroid medicine she takes morning and night. But after discovering how polluted the roads are where we live (ie, London), she gave me some quotes about what it feels like, and made a short video (above).

Nell, 10: “To have an asthma attack is incredibly frightening. You don’t want to talk. You want to burst into tears but don’t. The energy is drained from your body. When your asthma is so bad the medicine (puffer) doesn’t work. It’s scary looking at your breathing going down and down. Air pollution is invisible to human eyes, but it’s there and always will be there. But if people stopped using vehicles that pollute our planet Earth, then it might not be there.”

 Nell decided to do a video of how she felt, it’s rather in the upbeat style of Horrible Histories – despite talking about death and what she’d do if she was Prime Minister. For two mins of 10 year old journalism CLICK on this link: Asthma is scary
Over to you
I need to check the figures, but at a meeting in Islington this week it was revealed that our Mayor’s inability to sort out London’s air pollution is going to leave the capital with a fine from the EU of something like £300 million! That’s a crazy sum that could be used to improve public transport, or put towards placing cleaner filters on the diesel engines so beloved – and so polluting – used by London’s buses and black cabs. What ideas do you have for Transport for London or Boris to clean up our filthy air? Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones  claims Boris has chosen to use a special glue (dust suppressants) in a bid to make the high pollution levels drop at two key monitoring sites on Marylebone Road and London Bridge. It’s laughable: and hardly sorting out the real problem? More info about it from this site too.

Why asthma makes me so angry

November 25, 2011

It's mum who wants to make a fuss about life not being fair for Nell,10.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is a rage against the machine, for anyone who knows someone with asthma – or someone who won’t drive their car a bit less. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of  (much calmer) ideas about parenting, click here

From the Islington Tribune (25 November 2011, actual story here)
On Monday, Islington’s Green ­Party will reveal the full results of a survey it carried out along the A101 – Blackstock Road, Highbury Road and Highbury Grove – which showed that everyday pollution levels are 25 per cent higher than the EU safe ­limit, and in hotspots such as around ­Highbury Barn they are 75 per cent higher.

Readings at child height – as reported in the Tribune two weeks ago – are even worse.

I’m raging against the machine today. I’ve been an environmental campaigner for years. I even spent a decade working with Friends of the Earth, where we were taught if campaigners wanted to make the world a better place, then you better never get angry. If you want to win hearts and minds, then you need to be calm. Look your enemy in the eye, and answer rationally. Listen, laugh if you need to. But don’t get cross. Sometimes I wished I could get cross.

Well, that’s all changed now.

I’m furious about the air quality outside my house. Every single road I use. Every road you and I use is the same. Do you realise that pollution levels are 25 per cent higher try than the EU safe level on Blackstock Road, Highbury Road and Highbury Grove? Have you understood that it’s75 per cent higher at Highbury Barn? What does this mean – that I’m exposing my asthmatic 10 year old to the equivalent of smoking a packet of fags a day? Or is it worse than that?

That’s the same child that I worry about eating five veg a day, getting enough sleep at night, avoiding too much TV or sweets, or getting into the right school.

Asthma triggers are all sorts – perfume, cats, cold weather.  You can kind of avoid those.

I know carpets are a problem, the build up of chemicals indoors. So I’ve got smooth floors and windows that open.

But what if the asthma trigger is the actual air you breathe? What the heck can you do then? Does my child need a bubble helmet and a particle shield to be able to safely breathe?

Do you know how many people have asthma in London? Or Islington? Or your street?

I bet everyone knows a family who has been plagued by asthma. The stats say one in five children carry an asthma inhaler.

  • My daughter Nell needs a steroid dose to help her breathe – to stop her airways constricting and killing her. She needs it when she wakes up and when she goes to bed.
  • She’s probably going to be shorter.
  • She’s not going to be in the school sports teams.
  • Sometimes her asthma is so difficult to control she can’t actually talk very well. Silence = an asthma attack.
  • She was born in Islington.
  • She isn’t going to grow out of this.

Nell’s unlucky. But she’s not unique: 5.4million people in the UK are receiving treatment for asthma. That’s a big number. Only about 200,000 of us live in Islington – so that’s 27 Islingtons of people who can’t breathe too well.

Doctors don’t really know why asthma levels have exploded – but that’s because doctors will do anything not to blame something. Why is it that when you go into hospital with a dodgy heart and you die an autopsy goes ahead? Wasn’t the death kind of obvious?

Half of London’s pollution comes from transport. Doesn’t that say something screamingly obvious? If doctors just spelt out the obvious – and said look this level of air pollutants is crazy.  Imagine the doctors saying: “We are killing our youngest, most vulnerable people just because someone like their mum wants to drive to school or the shops.” Wouldn’t it help us all rethink how we get around Islington?

I don’t smoke because it’s expensive. And because I believe the doctors when they say it gives you cancer and heart and lung disease. Why can’t doctors be a bit braver and go on record. Why can’t they say to drivers that driving is cutting this child Nell’s life short just because someone wants to save a bit of time today, or hang outside the school gates with their engine running?

Why are we all being so well-behaved? We’re murdering our neighbours’ children, and our own children just because we will not get out of our cars, and Christmas is coming, so it’s all a bit difficult…

Every time you drive it’s making my child’s lung capacity – and her friends – another notch worse.

Now if I wasn’t being angry I’d say put your heavy goods into a bike basket, or a pannier or get a push along trolley. My family now has two trolleys we find it so useful. Use a buggy if you must. Or a wheelbarrow.

Instead I’m going to add a few particulates to the mix. If I ever see anyone sitting in a car with the engine running I’m going to wolf howl with despair. How can we do this to other people, let alone to our own families?

This study by Islington’s Green party has given us the figures everyone else wanted to hide. A bunch of mums and dads went out with a wet wipe and a few particulate readers. A few weeks later they came back with a shocking story. The soupy air quality on the roads we all use is likely to cut our life – my life – short by 11 years. Nell hasn’t even lived that long yet.

No wonder I’m angry. As they say in that famous Chinese proverb – be careful what you wish for.

Thank you to Islington’s Green party. For more details about the survey see at

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