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Thursday, 22 September 2011

A plea for decent Coffee shops

I imagined motherhood to open the doors to a warm community of chatting mums exchanging ideas, laughs and doing plenty of things together but alas this seemed a myth. In my outer London town which deceivingly appeals to baby-breeders- there seems a distinct lack of cohesion and warm mummy vibe. We're spoilt for choice with beautiful green areas by a river, playgroups, music classes, sure- but where are mums meant to go and hang out? Not as many home coffee mornings as I had imagined- I've not invited many people round to mine, true- but I suppose we prefer to get out of the house.

If meeting friends or doing Netmums meetups we prefer to go out in the park or somewhere where toddlers can play, playground, walking by river, playgroup, some great pubs with climbing frames, cafés and going further afield to museums, bigger parks, soft plays etc. But I'd rather spend my day actually doing, making and creating things. I miss papier mâché modelling, playing piano, other music and want to make clothes for myself and Leon but find it hard to do it in the flat with him around. With childcare costs high and cherishing the enjoyment of spending time with my son, I'd like the advantage of a big space to make, play and learn things while he's happy doing something else.

And I'm not talking community halls or spaces- unless they've got a good vibe- but more like a decent coffee shop or hub. Somewhere where you enjoy hanging out anyway, and if you want to, you can make a dress, or knit a bit, or dance, or make phone calls, blog, tweet etc.

Like a big living room, but not at home. A super coffee shop!

The problem with Cafés
Coffeeshops today are crappy. There aren't any that I love or feel drawn to, and I often moan that they should add kids play area to keep them occupied while you can have a conversation or get on with something else. Play areas are springing up more often in certain Cafés (East Twick) restaurants (Pizza Express, Richmond) pubs (Teddington Arms Yummy Mummy lunch and Twickenham's Bear kids club) but not enough for my liking!

I'm fortunate to live in the town centre and have over 15 coffeeshops that I can walk to in under 10 mins. But man- if they were good I'd spend a lot more time and money there. Twickenham has it's popular coffeeshops, Zizou, Nero... But others lie empty most the day- never a buzz with people, conversation, comfort or decent music. I find them cold, cramped, without atmosphere that I wonder why no one has made a better one or made more effort to get more customers in. Why can't any café entice me to spend 2 hours there, spend £10 on drinks, snacks and wifi while the child is happily occupied with a few toys and meeting other children? Krafty Kidz play café is a good concept and nearest to what is needed, but it lacks that lounge feel that I'm after. Something for the parents with facilities for kids, instead of the other way round.

I suppose it's done purposefully to encourage faster turnover and of course, who wants to be in a cafe full of yummy mummies and noisy children? Not many locals, and I agree- but why not give us at least one decent coffeeshop where we can all go with our tots (buggy park anyone?) Make it a goodun!

Yes- I'd love to open my own parent-friendly hub offering comfy sofas to gas, read, knit, blog, chill; big tables, snug corners, mini offices, open spaces, decent coffee, work-space, tots' entertainment, free or cheap tutorials (make toddler trousers, make a fab dress, mend your clothes, wrap your baby, sun salutation, music lessons, make play dough, piñatas and pitchers of cocktails). I'd even call it Hubba Bubba. It wouldn't have to be too expensive- plenty of empty shops and offices available to use for cheap- but creating a great, welcoming vibe that makes women feel happy to be mothers!

Basically I'm frustrated that plenty of brands are tapping into the Mummy Market but not those that we need the most! Even Starbucks are ignoring us. I'm sure anyone else would appreciate better coffeeshops, more than just seats and beverages but stimulus, areas for collaboration, and communal activity as well as more comfortable, relaxing seats and lighting.

(Maybe I'd feel differently if I had an enormous lounge)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Paralympics, Pop and P&G Pampering at Sainsbury's Super Saturday!

Imagine your child being born with one leg, or hearing that after a car accident/shark attack/major fall, that child will never walk again (God forbid)- then 22 years later see them joining the British Paralympic team for wheelchair basketball! How proud would you be? To turn around a tough situation, overcoming the misfortune, fuelled by determination and strong support, I say hats off to these athletes and the people supporting them.

Distinct lack of photos taken but this emulates the sport perfectly

Sainsbury's Super Saturday, held last weekend at Clapham Common was a cross between a pop music festival and sports spectacle, show-casing Britain's talent in the warm-up to the 2012 Paralympics and celebrating the numerous Paralympic sports. Thanks to P&G, a sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, and my earlier involvement in the 'Life before P&G: 1930s Housewife Challenge', my mum, Leon and I were given VIP treatment for the day and had a brilliant time.

The P&G Thank You Mum Zone was lavishing attention on the mothers of these athletes with entertainment, and mini-pampering sessions and kindly invited some bloggers too to enjoy the day. Starting with champagne and a mini photo shoot, my mum enjoyed a mini-makeover and I got my nails painted a delicious red, Leon loved the balloon lady who made him a fantastic tiger on a lead, and danced while Belinda Carlisle got her groove on (She did end up playing "Oooh Heaven is a place on Earth").

My mamita deservedly having a break

The main festival site had a main stage for the music, fun games (massive slide, bouncy castle, Zorbing, Bungee trampoline), the sports arena, and several 'Have a go at a Paralympic sport' zones where you could see the athletes in action and try it yourself.

My favourite sport of the day was wheelchair basketball. A fast and gripping game very similar to the able-bodied version, but sadly we didn't get to watch the arena match as had to leave before it started. Fortunately we witnessed the game in some action during the day and got chatting to a friendly athlete who explained the rules. Similar to normal basketball but each team can have 5 players on the court at a time totalling 14 points. Ie. each player is attributed points 1-4.5 based on their disability. E.g those with immense core strength or able to swivel hips, have an advantage over lower-body paralysis as they don't need their arms to turn the wheelchair, and thus are attributed more points. A maximum of 14 points is allowed on the court by each team at a time, so you can imagine how important the coach is in determining who to place when, and how valuable a classification 1 athlete is.

Queues and pregnancy dissuaded me from giving it a spin, but I regret not trying it. However it was interesting to watch others give it a go and witness the main struggles able-bodied participants found when attempting the sport. Most were very S.L.O.W.

Music-wise, the line-up was perfect for teeny-boppers or grown women who were happily swaying to Will Young tunes (my mum included...) but I didn't really know any of the acts - yes I've heard of Pixie Lott, Olly Murs, The Saturdays etc, but play their music and God help me identify who's who. Sugababes was at the top of my list, but they were on way later than I could stay. I felt a bit old- or young- depending on how you looked at it! As we came into the festival there were masses of teenagers screaming round a small stage at some teenage boys (No idea who they were but seemed happy with the attention *found out they were The Wanted) and later on while watching Table Tennis with The Wanted, the group of girls next to us were shrieking away Jaaaaaaaaay Jaaaaaaaaay I loooove Yooooou!! (much to Leon's amusement and he started shouting it too) followed by Oh. MY. God. He LOOKED AT ME! Shriek shriek shriek . It made me laugh but actually I've been there: 13 years old at Party In the Park with the giant Ricky Martin poster I'd made... Then I became a bit more cool and started idolising Matt Bellamy, trying to chat to him at every Muse concert or TV appearance (and often succeeding!) and then obviously it was all about the music.


We were there with VIP passes so we made the most of the VIP area- drinking multiple lemonades and eating lots of delicious chocolate and raspberry desserts.

The fabulous food court in the Super Dome

Clever design on tablecloth doubling up as a games board

I noticed Alex the cage-fighter guy- you know, Jordan/Katie Price's ex? (Mari and Lizzie got to know him better) and then a girl who used to be in Steps- but no- she was in Atomic Kitten. Thank goodness I read the other bloggers Sabina, Maria Jose and the snoggers above to work out who was who.

Really grateful for an insightful and fun day out that both my mum and toddler utterly enjoyed.

Monday, 5 September 2011

A move to Madrid with tot and bump? Gulp.

Friday night hubby comes out with: "How do you fancy moving to Madrid my dear? We can leave next month" An opportunity had come up and he could potentially open a new office out there, but would have to leave soon.

Erm... Well... I'm 4 months pregnant, would have to give birth there, deal with a newborn AND a toddler sola with no family around and a slight fear of spaniards. My dad passed away this summer and my sisters will be away at university leaving my mum by herself. Wouldn't I be a terrible daughter?

"But look at these amazingly huge apartments smack bang in the centre, next to this park, with a terrace, a lift and a pool for the same rent as our 1-bed flat in Twickenham! My London salary with Madridlenian costs = living like Kings and saving. I guarantee you'll adore this city and you can fly home once a month for a week if you like."


When we met, hubby had already spent 2 years living it out in Madrid and obviously had a fantastic time between internships and studying, living in the heart of the city and absorbing it so well that he knows it like the back of his hand and speaks like a native. (I'd even say he speaks better Spanish than me - which sucks!). I had visited a good friend there once in my student years and although found it very pretty, and adored the food, there appeared to be a more enforced class division that was a bit uncomfortable and it seemed a bit behind the times compared to London. But hubby convinced me that was the Madrid de pijos and he'll show me the 'other side' that he knows I'd love.

So here I am, Monday morning researching maternity hospitals, the health system, playgroups, childcare, nurseries, job Market (for me) and waiting to hear if there is any more news on this decision that will most certainly jolt me welcomely from my comfort zone. No proximity to our families, no river or sea in Madrid- I'll miss my river walks, the rain, the new friends I've made since becoming a mother, the familiarity of day-to-day life, but mostly, the place where Leon's grown up.

But that's silly! I'm after something exciting, changes, warmth, freedom and challenges. We always planned to move around a bit and we haven't (largely convinced by my parents that the Richmond area was the best place to live in Europe if not the world). Motherhood has pretty much turned me into a rather traditional housewife whether I like it or not and I feel the need of a release to propel me to a more exciting life. We were expecting to move to Paris early next year, but Paris now feels like a second home to me anyway. Hubby's family will surely be disappointed as we've put off moving there for 2 years. Leon has a little cousin there too. But sometimes we have to do what's right for us. We're still young, don't own a property and can still be mobile. The cost of renting a larger place here in SW London is huge, and Paris is not much different as we'd be looking intra muros.

My worries that Leon (and I) will have to learn a whole new range of songs to join in at playgroups is the height of it and I'm ready and happy to take on this challenge.

I'm starting with as a resource for expats in Madrid but if anyone has tips of moving abroad with a toddler or pregnant they'd be very welcome.