Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Veg out on holiday while your kids eat 5 a day!

She was unrecognisable. Mashed banana oozed between her fingers and under her nails. Dollops of hoummous hung from her nose, while shredded carrot decorated her hair.

Usually, I'd be reaching for a wet wipe to clean up my two-year-old Anais and she'd be heading for the naughty step for wearing instead of eating her dinner.

But today I smiled as she was given a sticker for being top of the class. 'Well done,' I said as Anais tucked into her 'work' – a hand-decorated rice cake and a courgette and hoummous sandwich.

Both had been carefully crafted without any help from me, thousands of miles away from her nursery. We were in the Los Jameos Playa hotel, in Lanzarote, where kids can learn to eat their five a day while on holiday.

The all-inclusive four star, part of the luxurious Seaside Hotels chain, has joined forces with Mange Tout to develop fun food school classes.

So while I took in the swimming pools, spa and Wellness centre, Anais did arts, crafts, games and songs with Mange Tout founder Lucy Thomas to encourage her to get excited about fruit and vegetables. Yes, I was getting brown, while she was getting healthy!

And, while there's a serious message to the Mange Tout classes -– that all children should eat healthily – former nanny Lucy serves it up with lashings of fun.

First up was explorers class where the children had to guess the name of ordinary and exotic vegetable and how they grew. 'No, carrots don't live on trees,' Lucy smiled at Anais. 'But good try.'

Then they took part in fruity Olympics, where they did kiwi and spoon races instead of the normal egg, and played grapefruit boules. My daughter nearly took a few of the audience out with her throws, but I'm thinking of putting her down for the shot-put in 2024.

Next, was a fascinating game of sink or swim – during which the children had to guess which fruit floated in a bucket of water, and which sank without a trace. Unbelievably, Anais got it right every time – an apple bobs, a carrot sinks, but how did she know? We always have ducks, not fruit and veg, to play with in the bath at home.

Each session was an hour long, and in between the children checked out the kids' swimming pool, the mini club and playground, complete with climbing frame, see-saw, swings and sand.

The hotel is only a short stroll to Puerto del Carmen and alongside Los Pocillos beach, though we had to cross a road to get to it, and it's volcanic sand, so Anais didn't believe it was real.

'Not beach,' she insisted, sticking out her lower lip.

But at two, and already incredibly girly, she did enjoy the boutique shops selling sarongs, necklaces and – result! - dolls along the seafront.

There was just enough time for, ahem, her to have a quick nap before dinner – which was amazing. Everywhere I looked chefs in their whites were grilling, chopping, baking, slicing and cooking delicious food. There were hot and cold starters, a buffet, and every imaginable dish from around the world on offer.

Unfortunately, the all-inclusive also includes wine and so there was plenty of rose, chardonnay and rioja among others for me to wash it all down. Even worse, there was a dessert section bigger than my house back home. I had one of every pudding – so at least I had a work-out the next day, sucking in my last remaining stomach muscle as I sunbathed in a bikini.

Then it was off to the kids' disco, in the hotel's El Belingo nightclub, where Anais threw a few shapes and managed to bag herself a four-year-old boyfriend, called Ned. They were inseparable all evening, but luckily he was at food school too, so they could sit holding hands over the fruit and veg the next day. They even learnt the Celery Hokey Cokey together.

Lucy ignored their budding romance while she read the children The Hungry Caterpillar. They then coloured in pictures of what the caterpillar ate before making their own creature out of courgette and carrot slices. Who would have thought veg on a matchstick (with a grape for the head) could keep a dozen children entertained for so long?

As I sipped a sangria in the sun, Anais and her new friends baked courgette cup cakes (which were surprisingly tasty if a little lop-sided), made their own fruit juice, and painted themselves while attempting to create a butterfly.

They sang, they laughed and they ate lots of fruit and vegetables, all in the shade of palm trees, without realising they were learning to appreciate eating healthily.

The truly amazing thing is that these food classes – which are just as exciting as a normal kids' club, if not more so, are being offered free during half term. The week's activities are worth £250 a child, but the hotel is providing them as part of the normal package deal.

And Anais couldn't get enough of them. Each day I'd ask if she wanted to go and play with Lucy and she couldn't wait. She even happily left the swimming pool, her absolute favourite - to join in the foodie fun.

After class, she'd rush to play tennis on the kids court there,   watch the breathtaking parrots and eagles show and then dance the night away with Ned while I sampled the local cocktails and watched, full and contented.

'More' became Anais' favourite phrase. She wanted more time in the swimming pool, more dancing each night but most importantly more fruit and veg at every meal time. Which parent doesn't want to get their kids to eat their five a day? On this fruity holiday they really do prove it's child's play.

Getting there
The price for October half term for half board accommodation at the Seaside Los Jameos Playa Hotel, including return flights (from Manchester) is from £908 per person (total price for a family, 2 adults, 2 children, is £3,632), on 22 October for 7 nights. This price includes the exclusive Mange Tout sessions. Departures from other UK airports also available.  Contact monarch at www.monarch.co.uk

General: Monarch offers a range of great value holidays, accommodation options, car hire and travel insurance. A week’s stay at the 5 diamond rates Hotel Seaside Los Jameos Playa in Playa de los Pocillos, Lanzarote, starts from £413 per person (based on a family of four sharing on a half board basis) and including Monarch flights from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton or Manchester.  For further information or to book visit www.monarch.co.uk.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Kids Cruise Control - the perfect way to see the Caribbean

A PERFECT arch of gleaming castor sugar sand framed a sparkling azure sea. A swaying palm tree or two formed the perfect backdrop to the secluded bay.
Smiling, I watched my six-year-old son dart in and out of the waves while my nine-month-old baby played at my feet. It was totally silent except for the squeals of my little boy as the salty surf sprayed his golden skin and the clink of ice in my unpronounceable cocktail.
‘Absolutely perfect,’ I murmured, taking a sip of fruity punch. ‘Where are we again?’ My husband threw back his head and laughed. Then he shrugged. Neither of us had a clue.
Not because we’d been hit on the head with a coconut or had heatstroke. It’s just that we were in the middle of a Caribbean cruise visiting 10 of the most beautiful islands in the world.
And today was just another day in another paradise. The list of places we’d visited so far was a must-see whistle-stop tour for the rich and famous – Barbados, St Vincent, Aruba, Bonaire and Catalina Island.
Each of them was beautiful and two – Bonaire and Catalina - rivalled the Maldives with their warm, transparent seas and talcum powdery white beaches.
There were still plenty more places to explore, including Tortola, St Lucia, Dominica, St Maarten, and Grenada. Today, we finally worked out, we were in Antigua.
It was stunning with its 350 pink-white beaches – one for nearly every day of the year – and lush tropical hills. But these gorgeous islands were just the backdrop to our five-star family holiday.
The real star of the show was a giant ship, the P&O Ventura, our luxurious home for two weeks. It’s a floating palace with every need catered for and then some. There are nine restaurants from casual American dining to Marco Pierre White’s exclusive Italian eaterie, The White Room on the top deck.
There’s also a casino, spa, gym, shops, florist, library, 12 bars, two swimming pools, medical centre, and, most importantly for us, a kiddy club. Don’t get me wrong – we wanted to spend every minute of our holiday having fun in the sun with our children but we know our son, Deme.
He loves making new friends. ‘Can I go and play with other children on the ship?’ he begged as soon as we boarded at Barbados. And so we enrolled him in the Surfers club for 5-8 year olds at Jumping Jacks in The Reef. ‘Cool,’ Deme declared as soon as he spotted the play stations, indoor and outdoor games (they have an entire deck and their own swimming pool) and the other children his age.
From then on it was a struggle to persuade him to spend any time with us. ‘But Muuuum, it’s Parachute games and Elephant footie,’ he complained whenever I begged him to join us for meals. They could play, eat and even sleep in the kiddy club, which was open from 9am – 10.30pm.
Perfect in theory, but in reality we saw the Caribbean and lost a son. Luckily, I had our baby Anais for company. She was too young to go into the kiddy club, though there was a fully-stocked play room for babies to use supervised.
There was a supply of baby food, a cot and even a buggy to use on board. And there was a night nursery from 6pm for all children aged over six months so us weary parents could dine in peace while Noddy read them bedtime stories. (Mums definitely go to Ventura!)
 
Our suite was family friendly too. It had an ensuite, walk in wardrobe, double bed, bunkbeds for Deme and a cot for Anais. There was also ample storage, a balcony, plasma TV and our very own steward to keep it ship-shape.
I had cabin fever from the moment I opened the door, but only because I was so excited. ‘Let’s have a shower, then explore the ship,’ I said, rushing to get ready.
Dressing up in the evenings is half the fun of life on board, and I’ve never seen so much glitz and glamour.
Even the children made an effort to look their best and the ship was a mass of dicky bows and sequins on Black Tie nights.
I’d been scared about going on a cruise. Firstly, I didn’t know if I’d actually like the feeling of being at sea, and I couldn’t imagine being cooped up on board with the blue rinse brigade.
But the only gran and grandads I saw were mega trendy, with mahagony tans, who were the last ones to leave the bars and shows every night.
And as for being in the middle of the ocean – it was the most calming sensation ever, and I’d drift off to sleep being lulled by the waves.
For those who preferred more action, there was enough entertainment on board to keep everyone amused 24/7.
Every morning we’d grab the copy of the ship’s paper Horizon that was slipped under our door to see what was happening that day. From tennis tournaments to film premieres, scuba lessons and Caribbean deck parties, there was never a dull moment.
If that wasn’t enough there was also the onshore excursions and Caribbean islands to explore.
Each one had the wow factor and P & O had sent us a list of excursions to choose from with our tickets so we’d already worked out our itinerary.
You can just book on board though – and there’s plenty to choose from, all reasonably priced. We went turtle snorkelling in Barbados, dolphin watching in St Vincent, took in the scenic sights at Tortola and soaked up the sun in St Maarten.
Luckily, the shark encounter dive my husband Alexio had booked was cancelled at the last minute – I was too frightened to ask if it was because they’d eaten the last set of tourists eager to get up close and personal with the man eaters.
Best of all though were the moments we went off on our own and saw the real Caribbean – Deme playing football with the local boys in Antigua, clinging on during a native driver’s white-knuckle ride around a mountain to reach the most exquisite beach in St Lucia, bartering for a sarong in Grenada and picnicking on the pure white sand of Catalina Island with the majestic ship in the background.
We loved the clear waters of Bonaire, where shoals of rainbow-coloured fish darted between our legs in the warm sea, and Deme battled to learn the art of windsurfing while we lazed on the sand.
It was no surprise to discover most of these islands have been the locations for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films, though sadly there was no sign of Johnny Depp.
But there were families having fun wherever we went, all with children our age, younger and older, many who said this was their fifth or more cruise.
And that’s the problem. The cruise creators have firmly kept families in mind on board. So much so that it would be impossible to think of a more stylish way to see so much in a fortnight.
All we had to do was wake up in a different port every morning – and try and keep track of where exactly in the world we were. In case that was too taxing, mums – and their babies – can unwind back on board in the ship’s spa.
I had a facial, pedicure and three massages while we were between islands and have never felt so relaxed.
Then the Captain invited us onto the bridge. It was giant – the size of a small apartment – but with only the tiniest little joystick to steer the ship.
‘Can I have a go?’ asked Deme and the Captain nodded.
I was terrified as he wiggled the controls but I shouldn’t have worried. Our son’s an expert on his Wii so soon had the giant ship on course.
‘He’s a natural,’ the Captain said, ruffling his sun-kissed hair. But I was glad to hand control back to the professionals and head back to our suite to dress up for dinner.
At the end of the fortnight, I was golden brown, had seen more beautiful sights than I could possibly remember, had eaten and drunk in the finest restaurants under the Caribbean’s starry sky (all food included in the holiday price) and spent the best two weeks with my family.
‘Do we have to go home?’ Deme moaned as we got ready to disembark back at Barbados.
Sadly, I nodded. ‘Can we come back again next year?’ he begged and I smiled.
Another family cruise – it’s a shore thing.
Fact Box
A 15-day cruise of the Caribbean on board Ventura visiting Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada, Curacao, Aruba, Catalina Island, Tortola, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Barbados - Prices from £1,415 per person based on two adults sharing an inside twin cabin on a full board basis.
This includes flights from London Gatwick, Manchester Birmingham or Bournemouth airport.
For more information or to book call P&O Cruises on 0845 3 555 333 or visit www.pocruises.co.uk
A 15 night fly cruise holiday on P&O Cruises Ventura, departing 25 February 2011, is priced from £1,614 per person. The itinerary starts and ends in Barbados, calling in Bonaire, Aruba, Ocho Rios, Grand Turk, St. Maarten, Antigua, Dominica and St. Lucia.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

How I fell in love with Mexico (and a dolphin or two)...


WITH its powdery white beaches, natural attractions and colourful history it’s no wonder families are heading down Mexico way...
IT was like a scene out of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet -- me and him in an azure blue lagoon. And now, even though we’d only just met, he was leaning in for a kiss.
I squeezed my eyes shut, felt the water swirl around me as he came closer, then his skin on mine. It was smooth, wet and rubbery. The kiss was quick but so tickly it made me giggle.

Then, with a flick of his tail, he was off, surging across the lagoon, the memory of our brief encounter already forgotten.
But I knew I’d always remember this - my first dolphin kiss.
‘Wow that was amazing,’ I spluttered to my husband Alexio. He was too busy to reply, holding onto our 11-month-old baby Anais, while our six-year-old son Deme puckered up for a watery kiss with another of the dolphins.
We were in Xel-Ha, the world’s largest natural aquarium, just outside Playa del Carmen in the Mexican Riviera Maya. This was a family day out with a difference.
Not only could we snorkel in the lagoon, float down the lazy river, marvel at over 100 species of tropical fish and birds, but we could get up right up close and personal to parrots, iguana and dolphins. I’d always dreamed of swimming with these intelligent creatures, and had gone to Florida before in search of a dolphin adventure.
But we’d always been refused because our baby was under a year, and one of us would have to miss out to look after her.
So we’d vowed to wait until we could do this as a family. Mexico was the perfect choice.
Now, nestled between us in her life-jacket, Anais was giggling as dolphins kissed, splashed and jumped over our heads.
‘Can I ride on the back of one?’ our little boy asked.
I looked at the trainer, who told him how to move his hands to beckon a dolphin. Then, Deme was shown where to place his hands – and, on the blow of a whistle, was taken on the ride of his life around the lagoon.
‘Look I’m Dolphin boy!’ he shrieked as the graceful mammal sliced through the water with my son clinging not-so-gracefully to his back. It was a picture perfect moment on the second day of our holiday.
But by then we’d already fallen for Mexico, with its powdery white beaches, rich heritage, and family-friendly attitude.
From the moment we’d arrived after a 10-hour flight, we’d had our every whim catered for – and then some. We were staying at the five star Azul Hotel & Beach resort by Karisma, a stunning boutique hotel I’d normally associate with couples on a honeymoon.

Only this was an all-inclusive luxury hotel for families with beach cabanas, hammocks and a kids club. All I’d ever known about Mexico before were family outings to Nando’s and bad Country & Western movies where the Mexican was always the baddy.
The long-haul flight had put me off a little, but it wasn’t as stressful as I’d imagined. Our son, Deme, loves to fly but I was worried about our baby stuck in a cabin for 10 hours. But thanks to First Choice’s baby bassinet she slept most of the way, meaning I could too. Within an hour of arriving at our hotel, I’d had a refreshing welcome cocktail and was having every ache and pain erased from my tired body with a massage on the beach.
Hearing the waves lap the sand beneath me while coconut oil was kneaded into my grateful muscles was the most sublime start to a holiday. Now I’d kissed a dolphin and began a love affair with this beautiful country.
It wasn’t just that the beach outside our luxurious bungalow rivalled the Maldives, or that the sun sparkled off the Caribbean Sea as we sat eating our delicious – and huge - breakfast. It wasn’t even the impeccable service, or brilliant kids' club, which meant I lost my son for eight hours after 9am every day.
I can’t even say it was that I only had to look up from my wonderfully trashy book and the beach butler had an iced drink by my side and a bottle of sun oil ready for my bronzing body.
No, Mexico has it all - history, culture, fantastically friendly people and, of course, guacamole.
‘Let’s go and explore,’ Alexio said after we’d turned a gently golden colour on day three. It was hard to prise myself away from the beach cabana or wrestle Deme from the kids club. But there was too much on offer within half an hour’s drive of our hotel.
We could venture to Xcaret an ecological theme park where after a day of swimming in the underground rivers, we’d watch the spectacular night show, where 200 performers tell the colourful history of Mexico through song and dance.
I wanted to visit the Mayan ruins and temple of Tulum, which is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Or, if we were up for a much bigger adventure, I was desperate to travel to Mexico City and Veracruz, where film director Baz Luhrmann shot his contemporary sex-and-guns adaptation of Romeo +Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
DSC03246
But Deme and his dad – a qualified Scuba diver – won the coin toss and we set off to Cozumel, the biggest island in Mexico, just a ferry ride away from Playa. While Anais and I joined in the hustle and bustle of the tax-free shoppers, my son and husband explored Palancar, the world’s second largest coral reef.
‘It was just like in Finding Nemo,’ Deme smiled when we met up. ‘I saw lots of little Nemos and a bright blue Dory.’ With his head swimming with the thought of seeing so many tropical fish, we headed back to our hotel for a full-on authentic Mexican dinner.
‘This is much tastier than Nando’s,’ Deme said, licking his lips after finishing his second chicken fajita. He spent the next day at the kids club showing off his vast knowledge of Nemo and making guacamole. ‘Try this,’ he said, rushing up to me and Alexio at our beach cabana. He’d made an entire plate full and had served it up with mini corn tortillas. ‘Absolutely delicious,’ I grinned, savouring the spicy avocado dip as the sea breeze whipped my hair. Full from our son’s tasty snack, Alexio and I focused on our day’s work – getting a suntan.
We’d hired Betty, a babysitter from the hotel, to entertain Anais so we had the afternoon to lather on the suncream and listen to the sound of the sea caressing the shore.
‘I’ve booked you and Deme a surprise,’ Alexio announced at the end of the afternoon. We were having a chocolate massage on the beach.
‘Can I eat some?’ our son begged as the masseuse smothered him with chocolate scented oil. ‘No,’ I laughed, relaxing. I deserved another massage. I’d spent a hard day tanning and deciding which cocktail to ask the beach butler for.
Every day was difficult after that. Should we lay by the pool or the sea? Book a table at the popular Oriental restaurant or have a barbecue on the beach? Would I get panda eyes watching Deme playing volleyball on the sand, or was it better to use the sunhat so kindly left on my bed by the hotel?
More difficult still was the desire to do nothing while we knew so many shopping bargains, natural attractions – a jungle trek with monkeys swinging from the trees – and ancient Aztec relics were so near. Finally we decided to just chill. ‘It gives us the perfect excuse for another holiday,’ Alexio said. So while I lay watching my children play in the sand, against a backdrop of cyan sky, I began making a list.
Of all the wonderful things we’re going to see when we return to Mexico next year. As we left the hotel at the end of our fabulous stay, Anais blew a kiss and shook her hand in the air. ‘Look,’ said Deme, ‘She’s doing a Mexican Wave.’
Getting there
Azul Hotel & Beach Resort, Riviera Maya.
hether you’re a couple looking for a laid-back bolthole or a family after quiet luxury, the Azul Beach Hotel ticks all the boxes. Here, the beach butler means you’ll never have to lift a finger for snacks, drinks or sun cream. And, evening drinks at the Tequila Lounge’s ice bar gives new meaning to ‘cool’. But, families are sorted too.
There’s an all-important play area, activities, hand crafts and, if you’ve got tots, the hotel’s got bits and bobs like cribs and bottle sterilisers available.
First Choice offers seven night holidays in Mexico staying all-inclusive at the 4 SUN plus Azul Hotel & Beach Resort from £1110 per adult and £726 for the first child and £953 for the second child, based on two adults and two children sharing, departing from Bristol on 28 August 2010.
For more information or to book this holiday please visit www.firstchoice.co.uk or call 0871 200 4455. Price includes return flights, accommodation, resort transfers and all relevant taxes and supplements. Prices are subject to availability.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Didn't We Have a Horrible Time At The London Dungeon!

WOULD YOU go inside a deep, dark, dank dungeon that you know is full of ghouls, killers, torturers and possibly rats?

Worse, dare to take your children with you knowing you’re going to have the most horrible time of your life?

Absolutely! That’s exactly what we did yesterday when I dragged my hubby, seven-year-old son, his friend and our 22-month-old daughter along to the London Dungeon.

And it was so bad we can’t wait to go back for more.

I must admit I was a little bit scared when I was first offered tickets to take a peek up close at the visceral activities of the criminal, er, underworld at the Dungeon.

Was it really a good idea to take a toddler and two blood-thirsty schoolboys to see what the likes of Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd and Bloody Mary, Killer Queen got up to in ye London of olde?

Would they scream, faint or bolt at the sight of tongue torturing, hangings or plague sufferers vomiting blood?

No, not a bit of it, though squeamish old me felt a little bit wobbly when I saw where an inventive torturer would really use a meat hook or the four-metre drop in the dark on the Extremis, Drop Ride to Doom.

From the moment we entered the pitch-black dungeons, right next to London Bridge tube, and posed alongside our children brandishing axes, I knew they were going to love every spine-tingling minute.

‘Are you alive or a zombie?’ my son, Deme, demanded when he came face to face with a blood-splattered member of staff herding us into a chamber to watch a mortician dissect a still-breathing victim.

‘Is this real or a special effect?’ his little friend, Luke, asked when Bloody Mary Killer Queen sent a woman to burn at the stake before our very eyes.

‘Where are the rats?’ they both asked relentlessly, peering into the gloom, hoping to find a furry creature to grab and befriend. ‘And when do we get to the go on the ride?’

‘Ssssh,’ I told them time and time again as my little girl curled herself around me, peeking out from under her curls as we learnt about the Great Fire Of London and the detectives hunting Whitechapel killer, Jack The Ripper.

‘Do you want to leave?’ I asked her every time we were plunged into darkness but she insisted on staying and proving her bravery to the boys.

We watched drunken judges condemn the innocent to death, Mary torch the heretics, and the exact techniques every infamous murderer in our capital has ever used on unsuspecting victims over the centuries.

The boys had a stronger stomach than me, rushing to the front of every bloody demonstration – and asking in-depth questions at the end.

But they left the best to last – a terrifying ride that plunges the equivalent of a few houses in the dark to the backdrop of bloodcurdling screams.

Luckily, Anais was too young to go on that, so I could bow out without anyone realising that was one plunge too far for me.

I did scream when I saw the picture of the boys falling through the air alongside my husband, each of their faces scrunched up in fear. But that was only with laughter.

‘That was absolutely brilliant,’ Deme said as he tried to persuade me to buy him a plastic axe and several instruments of torture afterwards from the attraction’s shop. I resisted, but have had to promise to take him back soon for another truly horrible time.

Verdict: A killer day out for all the family. Not recommended for toddlers, anyone scared of the dark or who faints at the sight of blood and gore. (Though, whisper it, none of it is real!)

The London Dungeon invites you to delve into the capital’s most blood-curdling history. Live actors, two hair-raising rides, shows and special effects transport you back to those black, bleak times…are you brave enough?



Friday, 19 March 2010

Toddler Taming and Talking Dirty!

IT WASN'T exactly a black eye. It was more red where the blood vessels had exploded under the skin and there was a matching bump on his forehead.
No, my husband hadn’t been attacked walking home late at night or somehow got involved in a brawl at the local pub.
He’d been hit in the face by a flying trainer as he ate his breakfast. The culprit? Our 22-month-old daughter, Anais, aka The Toddler Terminator.
As well as causing actual bodily harm to Alexio, our little girl has smashed a cup, a vase given to us at our wedding, spilled tea all over the lap top, broken the TV remote control, a Wii Nunchuck and cracked one of our kitchen tiles with her playbus. And that was just in the last couple of hours.
Even though she’s under two, Anais is already an expert in throwing, punching, kicking and general trashing. She’s pulled down our curtains, sprayed food up the walls and tortured her cousin’s dog. 
We’re all absolutely terrified of her bad temper and automatically duck whenever she picks up anything heavy.
I’ve moved all of the cutlery out of the drawers and keep it in the top kitchen cupboards as Anais with a fork could prove fatal.
Even one of my best friends asked if she has 666 tattooed on the back of her head. Forget the naughty step. I need to build a detached naughty house for her to live in alone.
But what’s so strange is that my toddler looks like an angel. She will only wear pink, insists on glittery bags and shoes and has big blue eyes and spiral curls that shake when she laughs.
Not only that but she’s learning to speak and has the sweetest, girliest voice I’ve ever heard.
‘Nooooo, Mummmeeeee,’ she says if I ask her to put down the radio. ‘Uuh oh,’ she smiles when it crashes to the floor after she’s hurled it 20 feet across the living room.
Everything I say she repeats in her honey-smooth voice, which is why I literally sprinted to turn off the TV this week when This Morning started talking dirty.
I didn’t want her to repeat anything that Phil and Holly were saying at 11am with various sexperts as part of their Sex Week.
I’m no Mary Whitehouse but I really couldn’t face my little girl saying ‘orgasm’ and ‘sex’ at nursery. It brings a whole new meaning to the Show and Tell at Circle time!
If you missed it here’s my appearance on Radio 5 Live discussing This Morning’s Sex Week. Just slide the bar to 1hr 21 mins and you can hear my rant!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Tears for Jade this Mother's Day



EVERY time I think about Mother’s Day this Sunday I picture one scene. It’s not my two little ones handing me a hand-made card or smiling over burnt toast in bed. 


It’s Jade Goody’s sons trying to get through the day without their mum, exactly a year after she died from cervical cancer.


Of course, their fantastic dad Jeff Brazier will make it as painless as he possibly can for Bobby, six, and Freddy, five. But Jade’s boys idolised her, and the hole in their lives will still be as huge as it was when she was ripped away from them 12 months ago.


It’s easy to understand why.  


From the moment Jade Goody gate crashed onto our TV screens – telling us East Angular was a foreign country and that everyone inside the Big Brother house was a Minger – she captured a part of my heart.


I didn’t care that she sounded like Ethel out of EastEnders with her muddled pronunciations and knew ‘nuffink’ about geography. 


She was something rare on television, an enigma inside the BB house. Jade was real, a raw young girl from Saarf London, who wasn’t ashamed to let the public see her microscopically close up. She didn’t know how to be fake. She wore her flaws with pride. 


Who could forget Veruca-gate? Eyes bulging with tears, she raged at her housemates for ‘thinking she was minging.’ 


Spittle flew as fast as swearwords, but I loved her for it. That rant was genuine, something I might have done if I’d been cooped up with a bunch of wannabe strangers on camera for the summer. 


I didn’t blame her when she flashed her ‘lala’ during a drunken game of dare. I hated Kate Lawler – the only other girl in the game - for not saving her from herself. Same went for PJ after the BJ incident. He’d taken advantage of our na├»ve favourite and bruised her heart, as well as her pride, when he brushed her off the morning-after-the-night-before. 


Luckily, our Jade was a survivor. The only daughter of a former drug-addicted disabled lesbian, she’d dragged herself and her hopes all the way from a dingy council flat onto the small screen. And she wasn’t about to fall apart for long, especially not for a podgy housemate whose name rhymed with a sex act.


So she fixed that gorgeous grin onto her face and came out fighting. She emerged from the house in 4th place but she’d won over the nation and I was a fan for life.


That’s why I forgave her when she was accused of bullying in the BB race row. I knew Jade wasn’t a racist. She just had a bad temper and a tongue that began flapping before her brain could trip it. Shilpa Shetty knew she didn’t mean it. So did I.


‘I’m going to offer her a column,’ I decided as furious protestors burned effigies and pictures of her in India. My bosses and some colleagues at Love it!, the magazine I was editing, thought I was mad. 


‘It’s a huge risk,’ they said. ‘No one wants to read what she has to say.’ But they were wrong. We’d only ever met her through our remote controls but Jade was our mate, someone we really believed we knew and trusted in. Friends and family muck up occasionally. ‘We’ll all forgive her,’ I thought. We could all see how genuinely sorry she was. 


So I invited Jade out for lunch. Her agent and a colleague arranged it, and I laughed when I saw where we were going. Le Caprice – a swanky London restaurant that’s posh enough for Posh. ‘Jade would rather have a greasy spoon,’ I thought. 


But I’d underestimated the former dental nurse. She ordered a dish I’d never heard of and seemed totally at home, waving to the likes of Cilla Black and craning to see if the Beckhams were in. 


Sure, she was loud – I could hear her every word when I went to the toilet two floors down. But she was funny, charming and exactly like she was on TV. 


A likeable, smart, young mum of two who was as happy talking about potty training Freddy as her next perfume launch, Jade didn’t know how to be anything but herself. And I loved her even more. So did the readers. 


She was my best-selling cover star, shifting more copies than Cheryl Cole, Coleen Rooney or Myleene Klass combined. The British public couldn’t get enough of her.


Each week she entertained us by laying her life bare. No subject was out of bounds. We laughed as she and boyfriend Jack Tweed sent themselves up, posing as Posh and Becks. 


We shared her joy at expecting a girl and her despair and grief when she lost the baby. None of us knew then what had caused the miscarriage. We do now. 


Cervical cancer didn’t just rob the 27-year-old of her longed-for baby but it stole her future too. Everyone thought Jade would beat it. She underwent a radical hysterectomy and gruelling chemotherapy. 


Tragically, not even she, with her juggernaut personality and giant spirit, could stop it spreading to her liver, bowel and groin. 


She hastily arranged to marry Jack and just a couple of days beforehand invited a mutual friend. ‘You can come to my funeral too,’ she said casually. Doctors had given her three months to live, she told him. ‘But I know I won’t last longer than a month.’ 


She’d wanted to keep on fighting for her boys, but in the end it was kinder to let her go. I burst into tears when I saw pictures of her leaving hospital shortly before the wedding. 


Frail, and sucking on a pain-relieving lollipop, her eyes were brimming with the agony of fighting a cruel and unstoppable beast. ‘I just want to go now,’ she told Jack. ‘Its hurting too much.’ 


But she did fight on – for the sake of Jack and her beautiful boys. My son Deme went to a party with Freddy and Bobby a couple of years ago. They played together and I watched them giggling together, all blonde curls and giant Jade-style grins. 


They were just like her – extrovert, witty with buckets of charisma. ‘They’re my best friends,’ my son announced at the end of the party, after he’d stolen a toy car off Bobby. ‘They’re funny boys.’


How hard it was for her to let them go. My heart pinches now as I realise what she’ll miss - their first football trophy, girlfriends, them squirming away when she tries to kiss them. Watching her sons turn into men. 


But she did the best any mum could do, showering them with love and the home, education and luxuries she could only dream of growing up.


She’s led her extraordinary life on TV and threatened to die on it as well. She didn’t luckily, and I, for one, wouldn’t have watched. 


Her death has saved hundreds of others. GPs and hospitals can still hardly cope with the women rushing to have smear tests because of the ‘Jade Goody effect.’ That’s her legacy. She’s the reality TV star who made us all get real with our health. 


But on Sunday she’s the mum Bobby and Freddy will only be able to treasure as a memory. So let’s hope on Sunday they do what Jade told them. ‘Whenever you want to see me, look up to the sky,’ she said,’ and I’ll be the biggest star up there.’ 


I’ll be cuddling my children extra tightly this Mother’s Day – and thinking of Jade and her brave little boys. 

Thursday, 4 March 2010

I'm Almost Famous!


Everywhere I looked there was a celebrity. To my right was Hayley Tamaddon, the hot favourite to win Dancing on Ice along with her is-he-or-isn’t-he-her boyfriend Daniel Whiston.

To my left was psychologist Linda Papadopoulos and next to her Rosemary Shrager having a false monobrow fitted. Don’t even ask why  - all I know is that it’s all the rage, darling.

We were all in make up getting ready to appear on the Alan Titchmarsh show. In the background Carly Simon was singing You’re so Vain, but it wasn’t the radio playing. She really was there singing and we’d all trooped past her, as if it was normal, while she rehearsed in the studio.

‘Check out Alan’s hair,’ a friend had said when I told her I was appearing. ‘He uses a lot of hairspray apparently.’  So far he’d been elusive, but it wouldn’t be long before I was interviewed by him in front of a live TV audience for a, gulp, show watched by millions. ‘Would you like some lip gloss?’ the make up artist smiled as I tried to stop staring at the famous guests.

A newscaster I watched present the headlines most days on my TV screen had just ambled in, followed by radio presenter Nick Ferrari. It was wall-to-wall celebrities now – and me.
What was I doing here? Had I made a hit record that was number 1 in very country or been covered in bruises learning to perform on ice skates after starring in a soap? 

Er no. I’d made a three-minute appearance in a Cutting Edge documentary revealing what goes on in the world of real life journalism because I’d written such headlines as My Dwarf Hubby’s Big In Bed and A Cannibal Ate My Mum With Pasta And Cheese.

Now I was here to defend my profession before the documentary was aired. ‘Ringlets?’ the make up artist asked as she toyed with my bleached locks and tried not to pull a face. ‘It’s the best thing for naturally frizzy hair.’

I didn’t tell her I’d spent an hour blow-drying it into this mess that morning and had already applied every beauty product in my bathroom. ‘I’ll just airbrush you while the tongs heat up,’ she said. Did she have some magical computer that would erase all of my blemishes, under eye bags, wrinkles and double chin?

No, she meant she’s spray on my foundation with an air gun – and she meant business. Like an old wall, primed with filler, she gave me three coats and left me to dry.

Linda wasn’t being sprayed with foundation or having her spots covered in a dot-to-dot game with concealer. But she looked like Katie Holmes – but better – and actually glowed close up. I simply had pimples’ and open pores.

‘Close your eyes, hold your breath, now shake out your hair,’ the make up artist instructed as I tried to listen in to Dancing on Ice’s Dan telling the girl applying his eyeliner how much he liked Hayley. ‘Well we’ve known each other for 20 years, we just feel right together,’ he beamed. ‘You never know what’s going to happen.’

Finally my make up was done, my hair curled and my runner was ready to escort me back to my dressing room. It was just like a hotel suite minus the bed. ‘You haven’t been at all demanding,’ John said. ‘But none of the big stars are.’

I looked round, thinking some other celebrity had joined us but no, it was just me. John had noticed me guffawing at the mention of the word ‘star’ and was still talking.

‘I looked after Brian May the other week and he just asked for a cup of tea,’ he said. ‘Sting was nice. He was here all day and all he wanted was a glass of coke. The only problems I get are with reality TV stars. They think they’re something special and always ask for Haribo sweets or unpronounceable tea.’

We were in my dressing room now, and John left me alone in front of my giant Plasma screen, wondering if I’d be able to speak with my air sprayed face when a producer came by to check I was OK. Then finally it was time to put on my mic and come face to face with Alan.

‘Be serious and don’t let him belittle real life magazines and their stories,’ I told myself. I was a serious editor who had reported on the breakdown of Charles and Diana’s marriage and been the first journalist outside serial killers Fred and Rosemary West’s House of Horrors in Cromwell Street.

I had to stand up for the 11 million women who read true life magazines every week. ‘It can’t be that hard,’ I thought, remembering Alan Titchmarsh’s roots as a gardener.

But then I caught sight of Dan’s cheeky smile, Rosemary’s monobrow and Alan’s chirpy face and my brain went blank. ‘Tell us all about your most memorable story in your career,’ our host asked. My mind whirred. My air sprayed foundation began to crack. Should I mention when I met Margaret Thatcher. Or the front page story when the SAS stormed a dentist’s after all the patients had been taken hostage?

‘I was once asked to track down a man who’d cut off his own willy and kept it in a jar on the mantelpiece,’ I babbled as Alan and the audience laughed. So much for serious journalism – my mum will be so ashamed.

And yes Alan Titchmarsh does wear a lot of hairspray, has his foundation sprayed on, is very, very short, but is a big sweetie.

Please tune in to his show at 5pm to see me make a fool of myself and I’ll be in the Cutting Edge documentary My Daughter Grew Another Head at 9pm for at least three minutes.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

BURN BABY BURN!

CYAN WAVES tickled the golden sand beneath my feet. Shiny grains of beach glinted under the sun, sticking to my damp skin and sea-salty hair. 

‘This is the life,’ I thought, stretching out on a towel. I was 15 and on my first ever holiday.  We were in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight and a week of sunbathing days and disco-filled nights lay ahead.

‘Last one in the sea’s a chicken,’ my best friend Tracey Fermor shrieked, already galloping across the warm sand. ‘Wait for meeeeee,’ her ten-year-old sister Clare wailed, trailing after us.

Soon we were splashing each other, drowning out our laughs with the cool sea until our tummies rumbled.

And then Tracey’s mum and dad were beckoning us back to our windbreaker, where we feasted on sand-sprinkled ham sandwiches and luke-warm lemonade fetched out of the family cooler.

Later that night, I dived under the shower, eager to hit the nightclub and, gulp, boys.

But as I stepped out of the shower my face felt tight, like I’d left a mask on it for too long. ‘Might need to borrow some moisturiser,’ I thought, checking my reflection.

I blinked, not recognising the scarlet-faced teenager staring back with the white bikini-marks seared onto her scorched body.

It was 1981 and I’d never heard of sun cream. The only person I’d ever seen lather anything onto her skin while she sunbathed was my Aunty Maureen who swore by baby oil. She was always a deep mahogany shade, so I’d always longed for my own bottle. But Mum had said we couldn’t afford it.

So I – along with most other kids back then – just hoped for the best while I played in the sun.

‘Oh no,’ I panicked now, my entire body tightening up under it’s raw skin. ‘I can hardly move.’

Tracey and her family had invited me along on their summer holiday as I was always at their house. I was their unofficial third daughter, so it was only natural I’d tag along.

But they’d forgotten I was the complete opposite of them physically. While they all had dark hair and olive skin which turned deep, golden brown the moment the sun kissed it, I was blue-white, and blonde.

They could spend all day on the beach getting a tan. I needed a trip to A & E, or a bath in ice chips with cold fans rehydrating my angry, swollen skin.

‘I think I need help,’ I said, half-crying as I tried to wrap a towel around me and winced as it touched my flesh.

I expected sympathy from this bronzed faux family of mine – or at least a bit of After Sun. Tracey burst out laughing. ‘You look ridiculous,’ she cried, doubling over.

Her little sister was even worse. ‘I’ll help you,’ she said, creeping closer. Slowly, she lifted her arm. I thought she’d fetched some soothing lotion to ease my pain. Instead she whacked me hard on the back, and guffawed when I shot in the air, screeching in agony.

Finally their mum sprayed, spritzed and smothered me in lotions from the resort’s chemist. They dried in pink and white streaks on my hot skin. ‘Come on Lobster Girl,’ Tracey giggled when I was finally able to dress and walk. ‘Time to party.’

I glowed under the disco lights and had to secretly drink cinzano and lemonade to take away the pain. But apart from bronzed Tracey and her Summer Ski family I didn’t look that much different to the other ‘Roast beef’ Brits there.

And at least I was the entertainment for the rest of the holiday. Tracey and her sister would guess what shade of red my body would be every morning and would take it in turns to peel off my tortured skin every night.

I had to wear a T-shirt on the beach and cover my legs with a towel. But what were a few blisters and scabs between best friends?

Tracey went home looking like she’d spent all summer in St Tropez. I resembled a stick of rock – bright pink at the edges with a white stripe down the middle.

I didn’t care though. It was still one of my best holidays ever and I learnt a valuable lesson. Not only do I carry a bottle of Factor 10 with me on every holiday (for the first day at least until I’m brown enough to tolerate baby oil!) but I never tell my friends – or their little sisters – when I’m in pain. A friend in need is a friend to torture indeed.

PS While sun cream might be my new best friend, diamonds are my little girl’s – even though she’s only 20 months old.

Read all about our dream holiday to Dubai – where Anais and my son Deme draped themselves in blingtastic jewels - here on  havealovelytime.com