Fathers Will Be Able To Share Parental Leave from April 2015

Another day, another ‘sound bite’ policy from the Government – this time we hear that, from April 2015 fathers will be entitled to shared parental leave. A couple will need to tell their employers how they plan to share their leave eight weeks before it starts. They will then have the right to change their proposals twice during the year long leave.

Bosses will have to agree any proposed schedule of time off and will be able to insist that it is confined to a continuous block. Dads to be will also have the right to unpaid leave to attend up to two antenatal appointments.

Now, leaving aside the fact that, at least in my experience, male and female employees are often not treated equally when it comes to management’s attitude toward their taking time off, and the fact that small business owners must have their heads in their hands, I’m not sure whether in an economic climate still as precarious as ours, this policy is tenable.

Many businesses may pay lip service to ‘Family Friendly‘ policies, however, when it comes to career progression and security, one suspects that those employees who exercise their new rights may find their rise through the ranks decidedly impeded.

For examples, many large companies are currently engaged in actively buying goods and services to coincide with the end of their budget year. Many small companies are competing by submitting proofs of concept and tender documents (usually followed by a sales presentation). Employees of either sex will not find much favour if they are not there to support their team members during key prospective sales periods. Taking time off for a scan when there is a tender presentation in the offing is likely to dent your popularity with staff and management. And here’s where employer / employee relations are likely to suffer – note that the boss must approve the proposed schedule of absence.

Heaven knows it’s tough enough for women who take the full year of Maternity Leave (six months’ paid, six months’ unpaid) who return to work. Return after six months and you can have your job back. Return after a year and you are entitled to return to your job unless there is some reason why it is not reasonably practicable for the employer to take you back in your original job in which case you are entitled to be offered suitable alternative work on similar terms and conditions. (Source: Equality & Human Rights Commission)

And in most of the law firms I worked for, you could forget it if you thought you were going to return to a part time job. Part time was practically a dirty word and I have worked for firms who would ensure that a part time workload was equal to a full time one shoehorned into reduced hours!

Actually though I think that focusing on getting businesses to increase the number and calibre of part time roles would be of much greater benefit to working mothers and those mothers who find returning to work after more than a year away from the workplace so difficult. And what about single mothers who have no partner to support them?

Let’s focus on decent part time work provision and, the elephant in the room that has been neatly side-stepped today, the cost of childcare in this country.

Because it’s not so much our parental leave we’d like our partners to share, is it?  It’s when our children enter education that we could do with more support.

Bottle warming – Why My Microwave Makes My Heart Go Ping

Just after I had Caitlin in 2007, The Husband and I invested in probably the most ineffective appliance we’ve ever come across. It was a bottle warmer which you could program to heat the baby’s milk to the correct temperature.  It used a dish of water to steam the milk. 

At 3 am in the morning, we would take turns to stand watching this contraption as it whirred and hissed for about 20 minutes to produce a bottle no hotter than it would have been if we’d just held it in our hands whilst waiting and listening to Caitlin cry. For this privilege we payed about £40.

Caitlin as a baby in her highchair at meal time
Baby Caitlin at teatime

We did this because, in the canon of birth and new born raising horror stories already-parents feel duty bound to share – largely with a feeling of  “ha, you’ll see what we went through soon enough” – there is one that proclaims with almost Biblical fervour that “thou shalt not use thy microwave for heating thy children’s milk” lest the poor infant suffers terrible injuries.

After about three months of counting the kitchen tiles at ungodly hours, we slipped from the path of NASA level health and safety and put the formula in the microwave. It took us about a minute to work out that about 20 seconds was just about right. 20 seconds. Not 20 minutes.

Now obviously, anyone with a modicum of common sense will know that over-microwaving can lead to some very serious burns but we were careful to always check the temperature of the milk and to shake the bottle before giving it to Caitlin and, later, Ieuan.

Once the kids were weaning, the microwave was used again to reheat endless cubes of pureed apple, pear and simple bolognese type dishes gleaned from an acre of Annabel Karmel recipes.

Baby Ieuan laughing in his highchair
Strangely, Ieuan’s reaction to my cooking skills has always been the same ….

That appliance that my father viewed as an evil source of energy which, according to him, required lead aprons to be worn when the first ones were tested, and which I had used at the height of my culinary experimentation to zap a range of different sized potatoes (and on one occasion a large Bramley apple), became the appliance that gave us our life back.

Our microwave
Our beloved microwave in the kitchen here at Downton Shabby

And in many ways, it still does today. We can batch cook and freeze then just reheat portions in the microwave when we’re tired. The Husband can usually find a portion of curry or chilli to enjoy when he returns home later from travelling. Our microwave heats milk for our coffee. It gives us decent porridge for the kids in two minutes flat in the morning. It melts butter for Victoria sponge making and chocolate for a decadent dessert sauce.

It is a bit of a challenging appliance to clean but a couple of lemons in a bowl of boiling water microwaved for a minute or so easily loosens cooked on sauce and removes odours.

Like any cooking appliance, the microwave needs to be respected and treated with care. It is an oven, after all! But of all the appliances we have, it is the one we find saves us the most time – and for busy parents, time is something you just can’t put a value on.

So, it may be a bit battered but it is loved – I love my microwave!

Spending On Kids’ Christmas Presents: How Much Is Enough?

An article in The Daily Mail (26/11/2013) entitled “OUCH! Average child’s Christmas list adds up to nearly £900 – and a third believe they’ll get every single thing on it” left me feeling distinctly unsettled.

It seems, according to this article at least, that the average child receives a hefty, and in many parts of the UK surely unbelievable, £207 worth of presents.

Are we really raising a generation of materialistic, greedy youngsters who, as my parents would say, know the cost of everything but the value of nothing?

What has happened to parenting when the purse strings are seemingly controlled by the offspring?


stack of Christmas presents

What is really going on here?  Christmas advertising seems to start earlier and earlier with John Lewis, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer all taking each other on for the “Christmas ad of the year”. The supermarkets all compete to give us tables groaning with high-calorie treats and drinks, with each promoting a cutesy backstory (handsome Mr Iceland takes giggly ingenue to a party for example).

There is literally no escape from Christmas merchandising and marketing. Even if you turn the TV off, shops are groaning with Christmas themed confectionery and gifts.

In a Twitter Party conversation last night with Tots100.co.uk (@tots100) which runs a well-respected index of UK parenting blogs, and comparison website Go Compare (@gocompare), several parents said they felt that £50 to £100 was quite sufficient to spend on a child, with some saying that £270 constituted their entire Christmas budget.

It must be soul-destroying if you are struggling financially to have the added burden of child-induced guilt as they request the latest computer gizmo or branded toy. You can see why people are so tempted by payday loans with their catchy advertising. Both my children recognise the Wonga old people and think they’re ‘funny’. I don’t find APRs of 5853% particularly amusing.

The Government has said it will introduce a new law as part of the Banking Reform Bill to cap the cost of these loans. This level will be decided by a new industry regulatory, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). As yet, we have no idea what this cap will be or whether it will be effective in helping those who quickly find themselves in over their heads when they cannot pay off these loans as quickly as they had anticipated.

It’s funny really because the old fashioned skill of ‘housewifery’, apart from having had a mild renaissance and a new cupcake and retro apron image, has always been slightly looked down upon. But the related skill of maintaining the household budget (and sticking to it) must surely be worth its weight in gold.

It became clear from last night’s Twitter chat that some parents had their budgets by the horns and were actively seeking out the best rates for savings and credit and benefiting by canny use of cash-back and comparison websites. I came away with the realisation that managing your money, particularly at Christmas, HAS to be an active and not a passive activity. No wonder Martin Lewis shouts. It’s so easy to put your head in the sand.

When I was a child, my sister and I would always receive one ‘main’ present and a couple of smaller ones from our parents which would be supplemented by gifts from grandparents, uncles and aunts. But what I remember more than anything else was the stocking my dad would meticulously prepare for us both every year.

It was always one of his old walking socks and there was always an apple, a satsuma, one or two walnuts or hazelnuts and a small novelty gift (one year it was a cap gun which we both loved) but, the ultimate in decadence was the small tube of liqueur chocolates he always included. I can still taste the shock of a mouthful of sherry followed by the sweet, gritty chocolate.  I hasten to add that we were of a respectable age for such adult treats.

As for the ‘main presents’, do you know that, apart from an Action Girl doll one year and a Sindy doll another, I honestly can’t remember a single one.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

How much do you think is acceptable to spend on your children? I’d love to know.

Giveaway: Gorgeous New Mum & Baby Socks & Booties From Perilla Worth £35

This giveaway is now closed but you can find all my current competitions on my competitions page.

After featuring Perilla’s gorgeous baby alpaca bed socks in one of my Daily Distraction posts (21/11/2013), the lovely Sandra at Perilla has given me a gorgeous New Mum & Baby box worth £35 to give away to one lucky reader.

Perilla is a real British success story.  

Home to the finest quality British made alpaca socks, the company was born in 2006 by business woman Sandra Morton after a chance meeting with a leading local alpaca breed who had an interest in producing knitwear. 

Based on an idyllic farm on the Hereford / Worcester border where Sandra also breeds horses and ponies, today Perilla is home to a magnificent range of alpaca socks, knitwear and luxury gifts, importing over 1.8 tonnes of the softest baby alpaca fibre from Peru.

The box contains a pair of cream bed socks for mum and a pair of the softest, cutest, baby booties for their new arrival (you can choose the appropriate pink, blue or natural colour). 

The bed socks are 90% baby alpaca and the booties are 100% baby alpaca and are slightly more hard wearing.

Perilla sagely tell us that if your feet are warm at night it apparently helps your kidneys work better and aids restful sleep. And if there’s one thing a new mum needs – it’s surely sleep!

To enter the giveaway, which closes at midnight on Friday 13th December (lucky for someone though!), just complete the Rafflecopter. The usual terms and conditions apply.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Can We Have Our Christmas Back Please – The Way Dylan Thomas Wrote It?

It is 9 am on a Sunday morning and my inbox is full of Christmas offers for clothes I could never afford, food I’d never dream of eating and presents which would last precisely two minutes before being constructively destroyed by Ieuan in his ongoing quest to find out how things work.

Some companies are even claiming that I need to order now in time for Christmas which rather implies they need Hilary Devey to sort their freight logistics out since it is only the 24th of November. What network are they using? A hoard of one legged, disenfranchised elves (probably admitted to the country by the Home Secretary on the grounds that wearing tinkly bells constitutes some form of repression)? I’m sure the Daily Mail’s columnist Littlejohn will put us straight on that one shortly. 

But isn’t it strange how the more we buy, the more we eat, the more we drink, the less satisfying Christmas seems to be. 


Baby Ieuan in his Christmas hat in 2009
Ieuan’s first Christmas in 2009

In fact, we’re lucky we can even call it Christmas because left to some councils the festive season would be some ghastly multi denominational TV fest with a microwaveable chicken dinner and a rubbery pudding all washed down with non alcoholic lager and a never ending tin of out of date nuts. Christmas cards of the future are likely to feature council leaders and particularly scenic multi-storey car parks. 

Now, I don’t know if they’ve noticed, but Christmas is a Christian festival. There is after all a whacking great clue in the name, although the bleedin’ obvious seems to frequently bypass our councils, viz, if you leave wheelie bin rubbish for two weeks at a stretch during a hot summer it tends to pong and attract vermin.

We’ve ended up with a sort of, ironically, low fat Christmas except it’s got none of the taste and all of the calories. What I think we really miss is nostalgia. The real reason Christmas seemed to start on the 1st of November this year is that we are anticipation junkies. We love the waiting, the hoping, the general bonhomie that even the grumpiest among us seem to manage a modicom of. 

For many, of course, this time of year is a pretty lonely and miserable one, made even more so by the ever increasing rampant materialism, and the reduction in what used to be a sort of spiritual and moral benchmark, that is to say, the community created by church going and the regular practising of faith, only seems to highlight the isolation and alienation many must feel.

It’s no coincidence that, at least in our house, the TV programmes we love to watch at Christmas are the old favourites. I particularly like the Christmas episode of Midsomer Murders set in a country house where the brother had been denied a fulfilling career as a magician and his surviving family subsequently peg it in-between Midnight Mass and the Boxing Day Hunt. Don’t move to Midsomer. The properties look lovely but I shouldn’t bother registering to pay council tax as you won’t be around long enough to receive your Christmas card with Midsomer Council’s Chief Exec on the front. Or the old episodes of Morecambe & Wise with Andre ‘Preview’ and Shirley Bassey? Every time the film “Elf” is shown on TV, the Twittersphere fills up with people saying how much they love it. Nostalgia wins hands down over novelty every time.

Would we enjoy Christmas more if we went back to putting up tinsel in December rather than September? If we sent cards rather than e-cards? If we occasionally remembered and celebrated what Christmas is actually about?

I’ll leave it to one of Wales’ literary greats, Dylan Thomas, to give you an idea of what, to me, nostalgia sounds like in his magical “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”.

“Get back to the Presents.”

“There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o’-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o’-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles’ pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”

“Go on the Useless Presents.”

“Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor’s cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons.”

– A Child’s Christmas in Wales – Dylan Thomas 

Giveaway: Tomb Raider for XBOX 360

This giveaway is now closed but you can find all my current competitions on my competitions page.

I was given this as a present by someone who thought I was more up to techno-speed than I actually am. 

No, I do not own an Xbox 360 so I thought I’d bequeath this fresh, unopened, brand new Tomb Raider game to one of my lovely readers.

In this latest installment in the Tomb Raider collection, Lara Croft must rely on her instincts and physical ability to combine fierce combat with stealth tactics in this game of survival. Sounds pretty much like a normal day of motherhood to me.

To enter, just complete the Rafflecopter. The usual T&C’s apply. The competition ends on Friday 20th December.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nursing a sick child – is it Supercalifragilistic – Calpol – alidosis?

It’s that time of year again when the lurgi awakes and knocks down school kids like a bowling ball hitting skittles. Ieuan has a bad cold and a cough which has kept the whole house awake through most of last night. It is time to break out the Calpol.

Of course, we have been to our doctor to add yet another entry to the Encyclopedia Britannica sized file of our medical records. Thankfully records are online now otherwise we’d have a row of filing cabinets just for us.

The Husband, of course, is ‘never ill’, despite hacking and sneezing and leaving a trail of man-size tissues in his wake. Why they are called man-sized tissues I’m not sure as they patently aren’t!

Ieuan ill in bed having his temperature taken - before we get the Calpol out
Poorly Ieuan

Ieuan was prescribed the antibiotic amoxicillin. So far so comforting but there’s the rub. There have been many articles lately about the fact that the population is becoming resistant to antibiotics and that the antibiotics we have are no longer able to fight off the increasing number of superbugs like MRSA because we have taken so many of them.

Yet we keep taking them because we trust them. We trust antibiotics, I’d suggest, more than we trust the vaccinations our children are given, even though, it would be considered extremely bad parenting not to get our kids inoculated. We know that liquid paracetamol has been implicated in childhood asthma.  (The Telegraph, November 2012) but it’s so easy to reach for the Calpol, or ibuprofen isn’t it?

I have read numerous books about natural medicines and the need for the body to cure itself. When it is a child who is sick though, the temptation is to reach for the medicine spoon as it is so painful to see them suffer. Of course, we can try them with honey and lemon in warm water.

We can try to get them to stay in bed (good luck with that one), load them with fruit, disguise vegetables (yes, we’re still disguising vegetables in the hope that Ieuan will eat them) and use old-fashioned cures such as Vicks Vapour Rub, or high tech cures, like state of the art humidifiers (just as effective to stick a damp flannel on a warm radiator). But these never really feel like ‘proper medicine’.

I recently visited a natural healer who reminded me that GPs will often address the symptoms but not the cause. After all, how much diagnosis can properly be done in consultations averaging 10 minutes or less (source: www.patient.co.uk)?

Perhaps we need to take a more integrated approach to staying healthy  – more akin to Eastern, than Western philosophy. I’m not suggesting, to quote that doyenne of random judgemental TV opinion, Katie Hopkins, that we should “knit our own yoghurt” but rather that we need to stand back and observe before rushing to the medicine cabinet.

Anyone who has been reading self help books with a Quantum Physics theme will have read that “thoughts become things”;  our health and that of our children is perhaps therefore just as much a product of general happiness and emotional security (i.e. our thoughts and feelings about ourselves) as it is prey to the germs and viruses circulating once the school heating is cranked up.

At the moment though, trusting to herbs and natural healing and eschewing an antibiotic prescription requires a quantum leap of faith.  I’m sticking to Calpol.

We Made A Hash Of The Princes Corned Beef 20 Minute Challenge

Somethings are indisputably British. Afternoon tea, bad weather, being rude about all the other entrants to the Eurovision Song Contest and dancing around castles and stately homes (the latter may just apply to my relatives).

We are very fond of anything involving pastry or custard and cope with all national emergencies by putting the kettle on.

A firm family favourite is corned beef hash. Easy and quick to make, nicely warming and filling and popular with young and old alike.

Princes Corned Beef

A British Classic – Princes Corned Beef In Three New Varieties

Princes, the Nation’s favourite corned beef brand has done something jolly daring and launched a new range of corned beef with three new flavour combinations – with chilli, with mustard and with onion and dared us to create something inspirational with the new flavours in just twenty minutes.

So it was over to The Husband to do his best Jamie Oliver impersonation in the kitchen and he chose to prepare corned beef hash with onion.

Unfortunately I have been banned from the kitchen due to the last baked potato farago where the hedgehog I lovingly created for the kids looked like it had already been run over.

But I digress.

Hi tech mulching and hashing bloke style

After much faffing with a potato ricer (no idea why such a gadget was invented) and hiding various mulched vegetables in the vain hope of getting a modicum of nutrition into Ieuan, The Husband proudly presented his corned beef with onion hash.

Is it hash or is it the surface of planet Oki Doki?

No Sunday afternoon being complete without a marital tiff-ette or two, this was the point at which I was designated sous chef and tasked with the onerous challenge of putting the baked beans in the microwave.

Just 7 minutes. I ask you. I’m an artiste for heavens sake.

We then assembled the crack tasting panel who had already half-inched the patriotic box the corned beef came in to fill it with random doll body parts and broken jewellery as per usual.

The Tasting Panel

I’m afraid we didn’t quite make the 20 minute challenge – we made it in 25 and the hash was extremely tasty. The addition of the onion definitely perked up the flavour and the kids cleared their plates in record time.

Happy kids.  Note, this is not what Ieuan looks like when given anything green

We really liked the combination of corned beef with onion and are looking forward to trying the other versions in sandwiches this week. For a quick, easy, substantial meal, you can’t beat it.

Princes new Corned Beef varieties are available at Sainsburys priced at £1.99, and are currently on offer for £1.50.

Further information at www.princes.co.uk

*PR samples were sent for the purpose of this review.

Review: The “Save The Blow Dry” Shower Hat

Now I love anything a little retro and have already had two lovely vintage style shower caps which, due to the volume of my hair have long since given up the ghost. This one, the “Save The Blow Dry” claims to be the “moisture eliminating Queen of shower caps” and I think it’s a definite keeper. It offers a 100% guarantee for the best blowdry protection and promises no more frizz or flattened style horrors.

It is designed to avoid the irritation of undoing all your hard work adding oomph to your hair after ages spent with rollers / straighteners/ hairdryer by plonking a shower hat on top of it (comparable only to the horror of “helmet hair” for those of us who can claim to be biker chicks, well, moped chicks in my case).

It is a lovely girlie pink and has an internal layer of super absorbent micro weave towelling covered by an outer layer of PVC. You can wear it with the plastic on the outside to shower or turn it inside out with the towelling layer uppermost if you are colouring your hair. This will allow your colourant to work more effectively and avoid any carpet staining drips.

The “Save The Blow Dry” is big enough to cope with really long thick hair and the elastic is flexible enough to keep the hair inside whilst being comfy to wear. You do have to make sure, though, that after using the cap for a shower that you shake the water off and allow it to dry well. I found that the cap worked well, was comfortable, kept my hair bone dry and made the entire family chortle.

Very me, don’t you think?

The “Save The Blow Dry” cap retails at £14.95 and can be purchased here

The company is also currently in partnership with Khandel Light, a charity working to improve the lives of communities in and around Khandel, in Rajasthan, India. Every “Save The Blow Dry” cap sold via the website directly funds a fortnight’s safe drinking water for a family in this desert region where temperatures can soar to 45 degrees.

Worth thinking about the next time you take a shower.

*A PR sample was sent for the purposes of this review.

Customer Service: Are We Really Being Served?

I have previously worked in my youth as a sales assistant for F. W. Woolworths, House of Fraser and Habitat and so, as Christmas shopping begins with fervour probably this very weekend, I am sparing a thought for the souls on the front line – the much beleaguered and frequently much-criticized sales staff.

customer service: Mollie Sugden as Miss Slocombe in BBC's Are You Being Served?

Mollie Sugden as Miss Slocombe in BBC’s “Are You Being Served”

Now I know there are many, many things that drive me nuts about what Mary Portas would no doubt term the “retail experience”.

For example:-

  • being ignored by assistants who carry on talking to their colleagues
  • hearing those immortal words “if it’s not on the shelf we haven’t got it”
  • hot, cramped changing rooms which allow you to take completely random numbers of garments in (today you may take the magical number of 7 garments with you).
  • paying for carrier bags (yes I know it’s for the environment but still)
  • running out of or having the wrong size bags
  • never being able to find my size but plenty of 8’s or 18’s
  • coat hangers you can never put trousers back on without having to fight with the plastic clips at either end, one of which will always break
  • playing music so loud it makes your ears bleed
  • chewing gum like a sheep with TMJ

But you know what?  The public can be, how shall I put it, somewhat challenging. I’m thinking of customers who

  • take mobile phone telephone calls while you’re trying to serve them
  • try on the actual cosmetic stock rather than use the testers
  • make ridiculous requests ( I was once asked for a pound of Cadbury’s Mini Eggs comprised of just the pink ones – despite the fact there was a queue a mile long waiting in irritation)
  • get foundation / lipstick / deodorant stains on clothing stock
  • take things back having worn them (shameful)
  • engage in lengthy conversations about their sciatica/gout / Mr Tibbles worming problems – again with the queue huffing in irritation behind them.

There are clearly rights and wrongs on either side.  As an observation though, on Saturdays I seem to find shops staffed with very young staff and not a manager in sight to help them or to help resolve customer service issues.  Surely if there’s one day of the week when all stock should be out and extra stock available, it’s Saturday.

We expect these often poorly paid foot soldiers to take everything that’s thrown at them with a smile. I often think a good manager is like a good Army General. They lead from the front. Not from the stock cupboard with a cup of coffee and a copy of Hello.

Mark Carney, the new Governor of the Bank of England announced this week that there are signs that the UK’s economic recovery is beginning to take hold. That’s good news; not so good news for the staff of Blockbuster which is now in administration (due, no doubt to competition by online film providers such as LoveFilm). I wonder, though, why Blockbuster couldn’t have seen this coming and taken steps much earlier to protect their business.

I think this year’s Christmas sales may prove decisive for a number of retailers so now, more than ever, customer service HAS to be gold standard.  Not bog standard. E-tailers such as Amazon.co.uk are major competitors for the lion’s share of Christmas profits.  If our high streets are to survive we need to ensure customers keep coming in – not drive them away.

Investment in customer service training for staff and strong management of both staff and stock may make the difference between survival and administration in some cases.

Let’s hope it’s a happy and a prosperous festive period for everybody.

Breast is Best For Baby But Not Always Best For Mum

Breastfeeding is a topic that tends to polarise opinion between mums and, indeed, the medical establishment. There are those who insist it is the ONLY way to feed and then there are those who are far more relaxed about offering formula from the start.

Given the furore surrounding the latest suggestion by the NHS that a financial incentive of £200 should be offered to new mums to encourage them to breastfeed, I thought I’d record my experience.

breastfeeding - Caitlin at 9 months in August 2008
Caitlin at 9 months in August 2008

From this week, new mums in parts of Yorkshire and Derbyshire will be offered £120 in high street shopping vouchers if they sign up to declare they have breastfed their baby for 6 weeks.  They will get the £80 balance if they continue to breastfeed for six months.  If the scheme is successful, it has been mooted to roll it out nationwide.

Leaving aside the stunning flaw in this ‘cunning plan’ – i.e. that there is no actual way i) to prove the babies are breastfed or ii) that the money is not spent on booze and fags, isn’t this the Nanny State going too far?

When I was pregnant with Caitlin in 2007 there was a subtle, continuous pressure from nursing and midwifery staff to breastfeed.  I dutifully went to the ante-natal classes for a session on breastfeeding.  I was fully prepared to give Caitlin the best start I could.  The actual experience was not the milky Mother Earth experience I was expecting.

For a start, I found it really difficult to express – it hurt and I had the midwife round to the house twice (she was patience personified) to explain how to position my nipple correctly. You do not, as I thought, just stick the baby on to your breast and let them get on with it.

After ten weeks of sitting through entire episodes of Midsomer Murders during which Caitlin seemed to suck constantly but ineffectively, I became worried as her weight began to drop.  I was clearly producing insufficient milk – possibly due to my age of 43 – I am an older mum.

After 10 weeks I was really worried and it took one particularly down-to-earth midwife to say “look, you don’t need our permission to stop breastfeeding.  If it’s not working, try formula.”.  Even though I felt like a failure,  I swopped to SMA formula and Caitlin thrived from then on.

When Ieuan was born in 2009, I put him on formula straight away. I was then 45 and decided that since my first attempt at breastfeeding hadn’t been a success, I didn’t want to risk a similar experience with him.  And you know what?  All the extra stress and upset I went through with Caitlin meant I had less time to bond with her, to cuddle her without the extra worry – just to spend those precious first moments enjoying my new baby.  She was born by emergency caesarean so I had to recover from the operation at the same time as wrestle with breastfeeding.

I don’t think you can dictate to a new mum what is right for her.  And I object to making women who don’t want to or for whatever reason can’t breastfeed, feel guilty or ‘less’ – and Lord knows there are enough “sainted” mothers who look down on those of us who have had caesareans as somehow having copped out without adding breastfeeding into the mix.

As for offering £200 to enforce breastfeeding, frankly, I would rather see the money put towards improving the education of young people about contraception.  And in any case, given the pressure, A&E units are under and given yesterday’s news that the number of drop-in medical centres is decreasing thus putting extra pressure on A&E or the difficulty the NHS seems to be having to recruit midwives, surely this is where the money should be going.

To new mums out there I say, don’t feel guilty.  You are absolutely NOT a failure. Do what you feel is right. As my feisty midwife said to me – if mum is happy, the baby is happy.

Review: Ozeri Precision II Digital Bathroom Scale

The Ozeri Precision II Digital Bathroom Scale has a new widescreen LCD with xBright technology. It uses 4 high precision GX sensors that can weigh up to 440 pounds (200 kilos) in 0.2lbs or 0.1kg increments. The scale is an oversized platform made of impact-resistant tempered glass and it has new InstOn technology which captures the precise weight measurement as soon as you step on (no prodding or cursing required – well, until your weight is displayed, that is). It is auto calibrated and will automatically turn off to conserve the battery life.  It takes 4 AAA batteries which are included in the box.

This is a very chic and slim bathroom scale from Ozeri which couldn’t be simpler to use. Simply insert the batteries, push the button on the back of the machine to select whether you would like your weight to be read in kilos, stones or pounds, step on and ….. hold your breath.

I have to say I suspect that it is also quite an effective incentive to diet as your weight is displayed in its bright blue light, so brightly that I didn’t even need my reading glasses to see the ghastly truth. 

Both The Husband and I tried it and then spent a half an hour accusing each other of indiscriminate carbohydrate consumption.The Husband tried to claim his clothing weighed at least 4lbs and that he was heavier due to two cups of coffee and a bread roll. Hmm. I then found him in the kitchen making a hot chocolate as consolation. I feel my Rosemary Conley book collection beckoning.

The Ozeri Precision II Digital Bathroom Scale is a really smart piece of kit – it has the Ozeri design edge to it and wouldn’t look out of place in a swanky batchelor pad in Mayfair rather than here at Downton Shabby. It currently retails at £17.95 at Amazon.co.uk

Further information:  www.ozeri.com, www.amazon.co.uk.

*A PR sample was sent for the purposes of this post which contains an affiliate link.