Family Honesty

Five reasons to give yourself a break – homeschooling special

If there’s one thing that worries me right now, it’s the pressure I hear my friends putting themselves under about homeschooling. And it’s mostly women. That’s not to say my male friends aren’t worried but it’s exclusively my girlfriends who are posting online about how they’re trying to build lesson plans / find new ways to get their children engaged. This is at a time when many of them are also working. Or trying to work. Or trying to create a quiet environment where their partners can work. And worrying about their pets and their parents and whether there’s a way they could be “maximising this time” to learn a new language or master a complicated yoga move. And all I want to say to them is GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK! Especially when it comes to the endless worries about whether they can somehow make up for the lack of schooling.

But sometimes saying “give yourself a break” isn’t enough. So here’s my five reasons why I think you should.

1. You are not a teacher

You know how you’ve spent the past two decades building a career as an accountant or a business development exec or finally reaching the point where you can run your own business? That’s the stuff you feel drawn to and are good at. Don’t beat yourself up that you’re not able to demonstrate the joys of past participles to your kids! And even if you harbour an inner desire to switch to teaching have you ever noticed that teachers generally do not teach at the same school their children attend? There’s a reason for that! No matter how much your children love you they might not want you to be the one in charge of the whiteboard.

2. Your kids might not be missing lessons

My daughter told me yesterday that she would quite happily continue to learn online as long as she could still see her friends. She is loving the fact that she can pursue the topics she enjoys at a speed that suits her. What she misses is human contact so my job is to try to be a pleasant person to be around. After I told her I was enjoying the opportunity to talk with her more often, her reply was “I can’t believe I’m having to give you all my best conversation” – all I can say is lucky me, she’s got good chat 🙂 As for my son, he’s had an abrupt end to primary school and is thrilled that he doesn’t have to do SATs. Again, what he misses above anything else is the interaction. Negotiation, empathy and listening skills are the order of the day – no-one benefits from a shouting match about how much work has or hasn’t been done.

3. Your school isn’t expecting you to replace them

Has your local school headhunted you to teach? No! (See point 1). What has been heartening – and interesting – is that almost every communication from the schools my children go to has included phrases like “Every family is different”, “Every child will feel differently about learning right now”, “Family wellbeing comes first”, “Do what you can”. The only place I’m hearing “You must teach your children” is from other parents.

4. Kids look to us for the subtle stuff

Have you ever been caught out not paying attention by your children? Called out on stuff you tell them to do but don’t do yourself? They will be watching our reactions to this more closely than we realise. And they’ll be hearing all the swears we mutter under our breath 😉

5. This is not normal

We’ve had tears, anger, frustration, lots more “I love you’s” and hysterical laughter. This is not a normal time at all. My kids’ classrooms do not usually involve two dogs and two working parents. Their teachers do not participate in Zoom calls while expecting pupils to get on with writing a poem about idioms. They definitely have never had a 25kg dog break into the classroom and turn a rug over because it has seen a cat out of the window. (Although, that said we have heard stories of boys farting on desks, kids fighting in the corridors and teachers saying “screw this”….).

So it’s all binge eating and box sets is it?

I don’t think that’s the answer but if that’s what works in your house, what keeps everyone sane, then who am I to judge? My personal view is that to crave routine is normal, to try to recreate a classroom among the chaos we’re all living in is setting yourself an impossible task. If you do one thing this week, put “give yourself a break” on the timetable. And if you manage to do it, give yourself a gold star 🙂

Like this? You’ll find more true family stories and lighthearted looks at life in my book Reasons to be Cheerful Part II. Currently available on print and in download format on Amazon (the download is just £1.99 for the duration of lockdown – you’re welcome!).

You’ll also find more tales of family life on this blog. Here’s a recent one on entertaining your kids for free:

Family Honesty

Five realistic ways to entertain your children, for free!

Entertaining children is no walk in the park – especially if you’ve already had your exercise for the day and can’t walk in the park. There’s also the added pressure of unhelpful suggestions that somehow we should all be getting our kids to unleash their inner Galileo or Hawkins when all we want is Five. Minutes. Of. Peace!

So, to help other parents who are hanging by a thread after many, many weeks of being at home, and who don’t want to give any more money to Amazon, I thought I’d rack my brains for those times when my children have enjoyed themselves, it hasn’t cost me a penny and it hasn’t felt forced.  Here’s my top five:

1. Let them make a ‘potion’

Give the kids a bowl or jar and (almost) free reign to put what they like into it. When it’s complete, decant the potion into a used water bottle and ‘voila’ your very own ‘marvellous medicine’.  It will be disgusting but you will get at least 30 minutes peace.

Warning: Before you attempt this – make sure you’ve put the good stuff away or your favourite hand cream is going to go missing.

2. Funny face drawing game

Get a sheet of paper, fold it in three and take it in turns to draw parts of a face.  Warning can be addictive – you may need a ream of paper.

Double warning this can get very silly, very quickly – watch out for the addition of “wee and poo” to the character that you’ve worked so very hard to render accurately.

3. Tickets Please!

This was a much loved game in our family when the children were small. Here’s how it works:

  • You are the ticket inspector – it is your job to inspect your child’s ‘ticket’ (real or imaginary, either will do) and decide whether they are allowed to pass.
  • You never, ever allow your child to pass on the first go.  You must inspect the ticket, then explain in outraged voice why you cannot let them pass because their ticket is out of date / for a different mode of transport / poo-stained.
  • Once you decide to let them pass, you must let them think they’ve got away with it before exclaiming “Hey!  That ticket says Mickey Mouse / is a used chip wrapper / is poo-stained!”
  • You then chase them around the house / garden until they are back at the start.

4. Shout at your children in a foreign accent

This game started in our family when we found ourselves stuck in a caravan with no TV on a very wet day.  Having become frustrated at the children’s failure to listen to me shouting at them not to play with the pull-out bed, I thought I’d give it a go whilst using a German accent (and the handful of German words that I know).  It resulted in unexpected hilarity and gave us a welcome respite from playing Uno for the 130th time.

Note: You don’t need to speak a second language to succeed in this game, but you do need to shout like you believe it.  

5. If all else fails…..give them an Argos catalogue

I reckon Argos could compete with serious publishing houses for the amount of print that they produce…and the popularity of their free doorstop-sized shopping bibles.  This popularity seems not to have waned with the advent of the digital generation – my children used love them more than the internet (they’re 11 and 13 now so, of course, TikTok rules).

Far from turning them into mad consumers it made them aware of how much things cost, encouraged conversations about saving, and there was the extra bonus of there being absolutely no risk of them clicking a link and adding twelve Lego Death Star kits to my basket.

Warning: You need one per child or a war will start.  No-one wants to be given the furniture section while the other one gets the toys….

So those are my top five – perhaps not quite enough to get us all the way through lockdown but it’s a start – if you’ve got anymore let me know!

Like this?  You’ll find more parenting ‘top tips’ and tales of family life as if really is in Reasons to be Cheerful Part II – available for download for just £1.99 during lock down and £5.99 in print.

Family Storytelling

Countdown to Christmas

What a week to be a working parent.  The children are hanging on by their fingertips to get to Friday when 1.30pm brings the end of school and the official start of Christmas.

They are puffy-eyed, over tired and bordering on hysteria in that unique ‘it’s nearly Christmas’ way. At school, the curriculum has gone out of the window to be replaced with DVD-watching, clearing out cupboards and a nativity that for all its beauty (and the best camel outfits ever to grace a church) will have sounded like a doctor’s waiting room thanks to the level of coughing.  Book bags spill over with Christmas cards and sweet wrappers as the healthy eating policy gets crushed under a sea of Quality Street.

Patiently waiting port

And while the kids are at school I’m working to pre-Christmas deadlines whilst accepting deliveries, sending cards and adding ever more to the festive food list. The closer we get to the ‘Big Day’ the bigger our appetites get. We are wolves, salivating at the thought of turkey and gradually upping our cheese intake to make sure our systems are ready for the dairy-binge that accompanies the port that’s patiently waiting in the cupboard.

Wearing ‘Sunday Best’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner

I am trying so hard to be focused but there is part of me wishing these next couple of days away.  I’m eager to join the children in their revelry, up for letting my hair down and dreaming of those few days when I point blank refuse to do any washing.  Let the jeans and t-shirts fester in the basket, we shall wear our Sunday Best to breakfast, lunch and dinner!

I can’t wait until nothing matters but the next game of UNO and finding tree chocolates. Or to savour that moment of giggling and shushing on Christmas Eve when we sneak the presents under the tree. A tree which now lives on the landing beyond the stair gate thanks to our puppy who thinks that baubles are dog biscuits. 


And it’s not just the children who are tired – we parents are absolutely knackered. Just as puffy-eyed and bordering on hysteria as our kids, we too are hanging on by our fingertips before we can take time off.

After school and down the pub, we empathise and encourage each other to give it one last push before we can run out whooping and yelling into the December air – we can taste time off and it Tastes. Like. Christmas.  

So if you’re feeling the strain this week, just know you’re not alone. Take a pause and take a deep breath – together we’ll get through this – let the countdown begin!

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Family Honesty

A Christmas carol

You know when you think you’re just going to hear a few Christmas carols being sung by your child’s class and it turns out to be a full blown church service?  That’s precisely what happened to me recently.  Perhaps the fact it was held in an abbey should have alerted me, but I couldn’t help but feel unprepared for ‘what I was about to receive’.

It wasn’t all bad though; the singing was great, the abbey was awe inspiring, I didn’t go up in flames and I learned a very useful lesson – some things never change when it comes to carol services.  I’m willing to bet you’ll find the same things too:

1. There will be a child who actually sounds like an angel

To the boy who sang the first two lines of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, on his own, in the abbey, in front of hundreds of people – thank you, your voice is a rare and beautiful thing.

2. Two things about ‘We Three Kings’

i. The alternative version

If the person next to you also knows the “one in a taxi, one in a car, one on a scooter beeping his hooter” version it will offer you a wonderful moment of bonding.  It will also offer you the opportunity to pass on a tradition when you teach it to your children later on that day.

If you’re really lucky, your child will later furnish you with the following bonus lyrics:

“Star of wonder, star of light, star that set my knickers alight. Westward leading, still proceeding, fill my pants with dynamite.”

ii. There is a pause

Don’t rush into “Oh star of wonder” – oh no.  It actually goes “Ohhhhhhhhhhh (wait for it) …… star of wonder”.  The woman next to me said it reminded her of the punk version of Nellie the Elephant.  Which means that I now have two reasons to giggle my way through the carol.  And two ways in which to get it wrong.

3. ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ sorts out the regulars from the visitors

Doesn’t matter how many times I sing this, I always forget that “How silently, how silently” should be sung quietly (shhhhhhhhh)

4. You will revert to childhood at some point

I found myself raising my eyebrows at the re-telling of the immaculate conception and associated on/off/on again of Mary & Joesph’s marriage, especially as it was being read by a child.  So when I heard a man behind me say, “Oh, isn’t the text wonderful”, I presumed he was joking.  But as I turned to him in shared mirth I discovered that he was in fact A MONK.  A monk that was stood next to A NUN.  Neither of them were laughing.  Oh the hot flush of chastisement coupled with wanting to cry with embarrassed laughter.  Such. A. Child. 

5. ‘Silent Night’ is best left to the children

Even the nun didn’t try “sleep in heavenly pea……..eeeeeeeeece”.  Too high.  Best sung by six year olds.

6. Two things about ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’

i. It’s that volume thing again – the choruses start quietly.
ii. It contains the line, “He abhors not the virgin’s womb”.  And there’s no way I’m singing it.  Update it to “he didn’t doubt for one second that there wasn’t a reason to totally love and respect that woman’s womb” and I’ll consider it.

7. You’ll probably cry at some point

For me it’s all about ‘Away in a Manger’.  Can’t help it.

8.  ‘Sing Hosanna’ – still challenging

When I was at school the infants used to add an extra “of kings” right at the end of the chorus.  I went to one of my daughter’s first carol concerts and guess what?  It happened then, and it’s still happening today. 

9.  You should shake hands with the vicar on the way out

Whether it’s “thanks for the carol service”, “Merry Christmas” or “that’s out of the way for another year”, it seems a fitting way to finish.

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Family Honesty poetry

What every woman wants for Christmas

Darling, don’t buy me a Dyson

When you’re out Christmas shopping this year

There’s something else I’ve got my eyes on

But it seems that my hints are not clear

Sweetie, do not buy me saucepans

I don’t care how special they are

And I would think twice, if you think it is nice

To buy anything that’s “for the car”

Lover, do not buy me lingerie

That is tacky, or lacking in taste

Yes to knickers of silk, or a similar ilk

But not with holes “strategically placed”

Honey, if you buy me bathroom scales

You may find them wrapped round your head

I don’t want to measure the price of food pleasure

I’d like something special instead

Something that’s unique and fabulous

Something to take my breath away

Something that’s killer, as my stocking filler

To give me the best Christmas Day

But don’t expect me just to tell you

What I want, or which shop to go

If you want the surprise to light up in my eyes

I expect you to simply just know.

Like this? I regularly perform stand up and poetry for a wide range of audiences. To book me, email

Family Storytelling Work

What Camping and Business Travel Have in Common

Not so long ago I wouldn’t have set foot inside a tent.  The aversion to canvas was in part formed by an early experience with the Brownies where we camped on a rugby pitch in Abergavenny; one of our party had (to put it delicately) a “very upset tummy”, the rest of us were just “very upset”.  It was also informed by a strong desire to avail of as many 5* hotel experiences as possible – which, as it turns out, was a very good plan as once children arrived, the cash with which to do this vanished under an ocean of costs associated with sports clubs and the buying of shoes every six months.

Eventually I acquiesced and our family has now celebrated five years of tent-ownership which began with borrowing a tent, and ended with us owning not just a tent, but an awning, several flash gadgets and a habit for campsites that come with great facilities.  What began as a way to holiday cheaply has resulted in something that is not too far off business travel because….

Small = smart

I once managed a week in Washington with just carry-on luggage (ok, Business Class carry-on but it still counts!).  Miniature toiletries, layering of separates, strategically positioned shoes to maximise space, anything to avoid queuing for hours at a carousel or the magical game that is wondering whether your luggage will reach the same destination as you…. This habit has now transformed into the decanting of shampoo into small bottles, sleeping bags that fold into teeny pockets and collapsible colanders (who knew the joy that little gadget would bring?!).

A little luxury goes a long way

Some people won’t travel without a scented candle for their hotel room (I never once did that, but I get why you would), others insist on a glass of champagne after take-off (I definitely did that).  For camping this transforms into good wine, proper cutlery, farm shop burgers and cheeseboards.  Our friend once brought a glass cloche to protect, display and serve a rather nice cake from.  It was a crazily fragile thing to take into a field full of children and guy ropes but not one of us did not appreciate its beauty over a Tupperware pot.

You will covet other peoples’ stuff

On a business trip it’s all about admiring your neighbour’s shoes / laptop bag / Luis Vuitton toiletry bag.  Back when we had to share rooms with other people at conferences as part of a cost-saving / how to make employees feel deeply uncomfortable exercise, I tried on my roommate’s Manolo Blahniks while she was out.  Upon her return I confessed to my terrible behaviour. And then she let me try them on again – yay!    

Now we remark favourably on our friends’ camping stoves, tent carpets and camping mats, and harbour ambitions to one day own a kitchen stand.  It will be ours…

The day hasn’t started unless coffee has been served

In a business context it’s mega hangovers thanks to dinner with clients and all-nighters. When camping it’s being woken by what sounds like a concrete mixer (when in fact it is deer nibbling at grass) or having to take your child for a wee in the dark several times during the night.  All of these fade away with the first cup of strong, hot coffee.

The feeling when you get home

Whether it’s a five day business trip to the US requiring inordinate amounts of smiling nicely at customers and a cast-iron constitution, or a long weekend of fresh air and outdoor pursuits with your family, both of these things are true:

  1. You will feel like you need a holiday afterwards   
  2. There is nothing like your own bed!
Dogs Family

Doggy Style

What do you do when your life has got a bit simpler?  You know, when the kids are able to take care of most things themselves and you feel like you have established some semblance of a routine.  You get a dog, that’s what you do. 

Well…you try to get a dog.  We tried to do the right thing and go down the Dog’s Trust route only to be met with a sea of cute little doggy faces, each above the legend that read “NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 16”.  So we bought a puppy and almost a year on from that fateful day I thought I’d share with you a few observations so far……

Having a dog does terrible things to your wardrobe

You see the woman in that picture?  That’s me.  On holiday.  That’s what my holiday photos now look like: waterproof coat that packs into its own pocket.  Waterproof trousers that have an elasticated waist and no pockets so you can’t actually get at anything.  Walking boots – WALKING BOOTS!  I put this on and thought “oh my christ, is this actually my life?”.  Even the dog is staring at me as if to ask “Are you really going out dressed like that?”.

Having a dog does terrible things to your wardrobe – part 2

You see the woman in that picture?  That is also me.  In it, I am wearing a coat that I liked very much.  It is from North Face and is extremely warm.  It has now become my “Dog Coat” and sports a stain that I cannot figure out but which makes me look like I have been lactating.  It could be from the last time that the dog had his worming treatment at the vets and then rubbed himself all over my jacket…

You may also notice that I look tired in the picture.  Having a dog makes you tired.  Especially when you get a dog that needs a lot of exercise.  Or one that wakes up early in the morning.  Or one that does both.

Having a dog does terrible things to your house

You know those big plastic tub/bucket things everyone has – useful for transporting garden rubbish / filling with kids toys / filling with ice & beer (hurry up summer!) – well they’re also very good for putting in massive holes that your dog has dug in the garden.  He has stopped digging but we are yet to fix his landscaping.  I fear that we’ve left it too long and it’s now become a ‘feature’.

Our hallway – when not bearing muddy paw prints – looks like Depeche Mode have dropped round for tea.  It contains a variety of leads, collars and harnesses.  Let me tell you a little bit about them:

  • The classic harness – sports a ‘handle’ so that you can grab your dog as you vainly try to get him back on the lead.
  • The Halti harness – claims to “stop pulling instantly” – does it f**k.  My dog could use it to pull a car up the road in a World’s Strongest Man competition.
  • The ‘Gentle Leader’ face harness – also claims to “stop pulling instantly”.  It actually does.  What it doesn’t tell you is that it will cause your dog to every now and then stop and rub its face along the ground in an attempt to get the thing off.  
  • Normal lead – padded grip – nice 🙂 Now held together with gaffer tape because it got caught on the velcro of my Dog Coat and all the stitches started to come out.
  • Halti training lead – longer than a normal lead.  Bloody uncomfortable.  Takes a layer of skin off your hand if your dog pulls.
  • Extendable lead – never, ever allow your dog to say hello to another dog on an extendable lead.  You will end up in some kind of Twister manoeuvre with the other owner.

The stairs is a mixed bag.  We are back to having a stair gate.  I have been very earnestly informed that “it’s entirely possible to train your dog not to go upstairs, don’t you know” but after spending five weeks trying to combine working from home with instructing a dog that he may not go upstairs, I found the five minute installation of a stair gate the equivalent of a magic wand.  Also, nobody leaves their shit on the stairs anymore because the gate seems to act like a magical force field – double result!

But why am I telling you any of this?  Because if you are going to get a dog you need to know that:

Having a dog does terrible things to your bank balance

I have considered asking my customers to pay me in Pets at Home vouchers.  Toys last two days, food lasts two minutes, leads need replacing and pet insurance is the one insurance that you will without a doubt need to use.  You will need to buy terrible clothes to walk the dog in and a grille to keep your dog safe in the car oh and a crate that your dog will refuse to sleep in past the age of 4 months and a rug to replace the one that he chewed a hole in when he was a tiny pup.  You may also like to spend money on dog training which will be by turns enlightening and maddening – some lessons you will come away from feeling smug and others you will leaving feeling like a twat.

And just when you get to the point when you think, “Why the bloody hell did we do this?” – this happens:

and you realise that for all the terrible clothes, terrible marks to the house and the terrible impact to your bank balance, they’re completely and utterly worth it 🙂

Want to hear some stand up about the ‘joys’ of having a dog? Please book me – I need to get out without having to put on waterproof trousers!


Harry’s Way

I wasn’t sure if I should go at first. My grief wasn’t as acute as everyone else’s. No tears waiting to be shed, no memories to reminisce over, no noted absence were I not to show up. But this was family, so I decided to attend. Thought it would be the ‘right’ thing to do.

And so I went. Went into a pub and was recognised. Hugged, remembered, loved.

Faces different but the same. Years of absence compressed, forgotten, unimportant. It felt good to be there, amongst the generations, taking my place in the family tree.  

Questions were asked to shortcut the distance created by time: “How are you?”   …   “How’s your mum?”  …  “How old are you now?”  

The pub emptied and we travelled to the service where so much of my flesh and blood had arrived they couldn’t all fit in the chapel. We stood outside, hearing stories through the loudspeakers that talked of a man well lived and well loved. A poet, a dreamer, a builder, a father.

Talk turned to how he had impacted peoples lives; “He was my friend”   …   “We married each other on a beach” …   “They’re not supposed to take one of ours.”

We go back to the pub, share stories and photographs and remark on the names introduced generations ago and still present today. We are the set of each other’s jaw, the shape of our noses, the curve of our brows. I gaze across the room, marvel at the amount of lives one man can touch and wonder if we really are all related.