What Does Family Mean To Me?

Family. When I think of family, the word ‘widespread’ crops up first. Growing up my grandparents were all close by, but their families were spread across the UK – my dad’s side in Lancashire and my mum’s in Newcastle and London.


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Widespread definitely defines us as a family now. My mum and sister are in York, and Shaun’s family are in Australia. Before H was born I never thought of Shaun and I as ‘family’ as such (he was obviously my husband) – to me family always felt like you have all your relatives around you – which is impossible in our case.

Once H was born, I felt like we were a family at last. Just the three of us living in our own little bubble. Members of our family came to visit and we went to see them too. Thanks to the internet we keep in touch by email or Skype so we can see each other every once in a while even if it isn’t in person.

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So what does family mean to me? The nucleus of the three of us, the two people I will not be without – my best friend and my best little person – us versus the world and whatever it throws at us. Family means trips away for weekends to visit and catch up, or weeks away in Australia’s case. Family means people visiting us and having quality time so we don’t argue or have problems – we enjoy each other’s company. Family means being there. So often my sister is there for me, someone I don’t mention often (she likes her privacy over the internet).

The night my dad died, my mum, sister and I stood in the car park at York District Hospital, it was around 2am in the morning and quiet apart from the goings on around A&E. We stood, the three of us hugging together having been through to the end of a horrendous experience – we were family and we only had each other right there and then.

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Every month we drove up from London to spend time with my mum. That to me is family – we were exhausted but we did it, spending up to ten hours sometimes, going up and down the M1 – being there.

But there isn’t just my side of the family – there’s the Australian side too – Shaun’s mum and dad are both alive, as is his Nanna – H has got to know one of her Great Nanna’s which means a lot to all of us – we have photos of four generations of Adams’s. There are many Aunts and Uncles, cousins and more – and the internet to keep in touch. I’ve often been criticised for sharing as much as I do on Facebook, but I’m friends with all of the Aunts and Uncles, and they like seeing how H is doing (and Shaun of course)!

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Family is us three. The three who rarely get their photo taken together in one place thanks to one of us having the camera at any one time. Now H takes photos we have a few more of just Shaun and I.

I think we’re a typical working family. We both work and earn decent enough salaries (let’s not talk about rent right now though), relying on childcare for H every morning before school, and a couple of evenings afterwards. By the time Friday evening comes we drink wine, relax and plan fun things to do at the weekend. The weekend is our family time. When we spend entire days together and don’t think about work any more. When we have lie-in’s and cuddle up together in bed, planning what we’re going to do. She might only be five but H still has opinions on what she quite fancies doing, and quite often she comes up with good ideas.

So, that’s us. What does family mean to me? Everything. When a part of a family goes away it can change things, so when you’ve got it enjoy it, be with it, love it. Don’t waste your time arguing when you could be doing something productive. Maybe it’s because I’m older – I had H when I was 39 – but life’s too short. Have fun while you can.

Lee-Hughes Family

Matalan have a new ad campaign celebrating ordinary normal modern families like us. They have created a site with portraits of normal families who also feature in an advert. After 30 years of being in business they’re celebrating – and this video has been produced.

You can take part too. Add your family photo to the link above – you could win £250 in vouchers to spend in-store at Matalan each week. Personally I’m not sure which of the photos above I’d submit – they’re all photos that make me think ‘family’ – the good and the bad ones. The ones which aren’t as good are usually due to one of us pulling a face – but then that reminds me of growing up before the digital age when my mum would be pulling a face telling my dad to “hurry up” – him usually taking the photo just as she says ‘up’  – at least we can recreate our picture-perfect worlds with digital cameras, right?

This is a blog post for Mumsnet, in association with Matalan. No payment has been received for this, it’s a competition. 

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The Joys of Renting, Part Three.

The landlady has offered £50 less per month as the lowest she can go. She is remortgaging, so using money from where we live to buy herself a house. Which you might say ‘fair enough’ to, but we’re also cursing.

We’ve had replies back from two local councillors as I’d emailed them asking what their policy would be for people like us who privately rent. Oh, and I also asked they don’t slag off any other party, as this election has got terribly boring with them all doing that.

The LibDems and the Tories are both in agreement more houses need building to bring overall rents down. While I would agree with that, I’m not exactly sure where more houses *could* be built in Carshalton unless we start building on parks which is never going to happen. There is a new development up the road, apartments for families they call it – five four bedroomed houses (luxury apartments it says) – over half a million each. There is another house on the road adjacent to ours. EXCEPT THESE PRICES ARE RIDICULOUS!!!! The chances of a first time buyer buying a two bedroomed cottage around here these days are non-existent. Instead we pay £1400 a month in rent. Two bed too small? Three bedroomed ones are now over half a million. Insane. It doesn’t help that the pictures all look like something from The Sims, but there’s no cheat to give you a few million extra pounds in real life.

So actually, I’d say more affordable housing needs to exist. Oh, and Tories, stop selling off old council houses as you’re not helping much at all, and never have. Tory man was helpful, but said ultimately that he doesn’t agree with rent controls because “they never work well” and “often result in unscrupulous landlords breaking the rules, and they also dissuade legitimate developers and investors building more properties because they fear they won’t be able to get their hoped-for return”

Mr LibDem said things which feel more appropriate to us. We’re in a marginal seat and he needs us to vote for him. He does confirm that successive governments have shunned the idea of rent capping, preferring to see a competitive private rented sector, and that governments have avoided rent caps as countries who have it had the amount of rented accommodation decreased. He agrees the long term solution is to build more affordable homes, of which the Lib Dem’s have a plan to – building 300,000 every year. I’m not entirely sure where they would be built in Carshalton, but that’s just a minor issue. Right?

Ms Labour has not yet replied, and I feel like their policies may be the ones which speak to us the clearest. I really want Ms Labour to reply and she really needs my vote. She also needs a better website. But she doesn’t want to close the local Children’s Centres whereas Mr Lib Dem does.

Right now, in Carshalton the rents are sky-high. As 40-something renters we’re already having our chances of a mortgage being put in jeopardy (according to a headline in the Metro which says 40-somethings can’t get them any more), but with the rents being so high we can’t save to buy.

There’s only one option left – a part buy, part let house of our own. Two came into my inbox this morning. One may be being built on a section of land where buildings were destroyed in the riots in Croydon, the other in a more residential area (yes I will be spending the night in Google Maps). The latter looks appealing. If we could get a mortgage for £100,000 (age permitting) we could get a share in a two bedroomed flat – losing outside space, but gaining ownership of something.

I really hate London.


** edited to add – I’ve done a few ‘who should I vote for’ polls of late, and everything says my views are Green with Labour coming a close second. So I feel in the interests of fairness I need to send an email to our local Green councillor.

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The Joys of Renting Part Two

The dust has settled a lot in the last week. The fear and anger replaced by a different sort of emotion – hope, almost?

We haven’t heard back from our landlady, she’s away, but has my message. In that time we’ve been looking online, and actually, the places on offer (and there have been some) have central heating AND a garden for the price she’s asking – things we don’t have right now.

So part of me thinks we should go to a monthly contract with a view to moving somewhere better though less convenient, while the other part really does not want to put all our things into boxes again and wants to fight for a rent reduction

I’m not sure where it will go, or indeed where we will go, there are a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of changes to make. But right now I feel like we’ve been taken for mugs a bit, and that makes me want to fight back a bit more than I did last week.

Funny, that.

I’ve written to our Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem candidates about our situation, not to get help but to find out what their policies are. So far I’ve had two emails from Tom Brake promising a full reply (not yet here), the Conservatives replied the next day (impressed, still not voting for them though) and not a peep from Labour (she’s a teacher, so I’m giving her some leeway on this). Interesting though, one for another post some day soon.

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The Joys of Renting

I’ve never owned a house. I’ve never felt the need to own a house, and maybe that’s the problem. I say this, as every few years there is a problem.

For the last two houses, the landlord has decided to sell their house. This effectively meant we were homeless and needing to find a new place to live.

House 1 was a nightmare. On the day we were getting the keys we turned up at the letting agents to be told “oh, is it happening today?!” and then being told we weren’t going to be getting the keys. So we drove back to New Cross (in tears) to then get a call saying they now had the keys, and the reason we couldn’t move in was due to a lack of gas and electricity safety checks but it was okay as we could move in now and they’d do them later instead. A year or so later after this the landlord told us he couldn’t afford to keep the flat and had decided to sell. The Estate Agents who were selling the flat would turn up at any time with a viewing, without confirming beforehand someone was coming, and would be terribly apologetic about it (yeah, right) before doing it again the following day. One time I was in bed. They’re meant to give 24 hours notice, minimum. Our landlord aggressively argued back with us his place would never sell as we required too much notice. Sometimes the Estate Agents couldn’t do the viewing so they’d ask us to. By then too scared about losing our home (and feeling extremely bullied) we would do it, and funnily enough the people viewing never made an offer. Maybe it was the noise from the downstairs neighbours. They were usually noisy around 3am in the morning. Loud and noisy. We were quite glad to get away from there anyway, our settee wouldn’t fit in the living room so we had to keep it in our bedroom.

House 2 was lovely. The move in was a dream, regular text messsages from the letting agents keeping us posted with what was going on. It was the most wonderful reassuring house move I’ve ever experienced. It was the home we brought H to when she was born, a lovely small garden and a stable door at the back, a cottage. It was lovely. Our biggest problem was next door. Their arguments; “if you’re seein’ ‘er I’m going to CUT YOUR DICK OFF” she screamed one night at 1am on their weekly tiff. We would turn off the tv and listen, as we didn’t want to disturb the new baby on the other side by turning up the tv even more to drown them out. They’d drink even more, smoke even more, argue a bit more and the fumes would then work their way through the floorboards into our house before they retired for some passionate, noisy rumpy pumpy. Pleasant. So when our landlady told us she was selling we were sad as the house was lovely, but happy to be leaving the soap opera next door. The smoke would go through the floorboards into our bedroom and H’s room and was crap. So in some ways it did us a favour. (we took up the floorboards and put lots of filler in to get rid of the smoke and H was never in danger) The noisy smoky neighbours sold up and moved on a couple of months after us. Typical.

House 3 is this one, the one we’ve been living in for five years. In that time the only thing I truly dislike about this place is our heating system as it’s two vents – one upstairs and one downstairs. H has this heating at her school. You sometimes get warm from it. When this has been mentioned to the letting agents they brush it off. We’ve been provided with heaters as well! (this is one additional plug in heater, it has to be said, we bought one for H’s room as she has the coldest room in the house) We have space here and it’s lovely having space. We’re also in the perfect location for H’s school as we’re over the road from it.


We’ve just had our annual notice of our rent increase. It has just gone up by £280. £1300 a month. This is the market value around here. Market this, market that, market whatever – does that really count that for five years we’ve had low rises per year (and we’ve had a rise every year) and yet this year we’ve got a 27.5% increase. So how do you raise £280? Fortunately we have no debts. So what’s next? Do we stay and get skint or downsize and save? I understand having a rise to keep up with what’s available locally, but I’d love to know who is responsible for deciding that £280 extra a month is a reasonable amount to ask.

The letter says if we can’t agree, we can hand in our two months notice. Not quite so bluntly, but that’s what it says.

I’ve spoken to Shelter who say we don’t have to sign. This could mean we get served notice by the landlord, it’s a risk. So what do we do next? Who knows. All I know is renting can be a pain in the arse, and this is a prime example of it. When you’re told what happens next and it’s a like it or lump it decision. We lump it, there are no houses available for rent around here. We’d need to leave the area, take H out of school and find somewhere affordable. It doesn’t feel right doing that in what will be her last year of Primary School. I know landlords don’t care about our priorities, they just want their mortgage paid, and if the landlady was in difficulties with money we’d be the last people to know as it’s none of our business. But still.

I’ve emailed all our local politicians to find out what policies they would put in place if someone gets a massive rent increase like we have (purely out of curiosity, I don’t expect them to be able to help us). We’re not the first people to go through this, and we won’t be the last.

The problem though, is when things happen like this and I kick myself for not buying a flat when I first moved to London when they cost £30,000. I was earning £9,000 a year then with next to no savings, but you could get 100% mortgages then.

So that’s us right now. Wondering what on earth we do next.

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Shared Parental Leave

“From April 2015, parents will have greater choice over how they share time off work to care for their child. Shared Parental Leave allows working couples to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in a way that suits their work and family needs. For example, parents can take time off together or they can tag team, stopping and starting leave and returning to work in between if they wish. You can check your eligibility and how much pay you can get here. We’d love to know what bloggers think about this and how you’d use it for your family.”


I’ve thought about this. I’ve thought a lot. See, I was set in my ways, when maternity leave started I wanted the whole year off, I wanted to spend time with my excellent daughter but also wanted to take the responsibility of being the parent that was there on a day to day basis. Don’t get me wrong, Shaun was always around, but he was at work all day – and then often in the evenings studying for his ACCA exams. There were often times it was hard.

But then I wonder, would I have liked being at work when I was still feeding H? (to be fair, she fed until she was 2.5 but I wasn’t to know that)

When I went back to work I was told I could have a little room to pump when I needed to, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know why. I’ve never been that good at leaving my desk. Leaving my desk to pump milk for my daughter? Nope, I couldn’t do it.

As it was, H was a year old when I went back, and I used my Keeping In Touch days once a week for her Nursery settling in. That worked well as they had no space for her other than the one day, see, you don’t think about spaces at nursery and how lucky we were with her being an August baby, as the most movement at nurseries is in July-August-September time as children leave to start school and the younger ones move up a room to take their space, making room for the new babies. The money I got from work for doing four days a month equalled the same as maternity pay, so we didn’t experience the three months of no pay which is often a worry when you’re on maternity leave. But if nursery hadn’t had a space, what would I have done?

It says here in regards to the other parent taking their share “The pay stops when the mother’s maternity pay would have ended.” which I’m taking to mean three months of no pay for the other parent? So you’re potentially worse off? Is the three months when your SMP drops to nothing counted as being paid, even though you get nothing? I am unsure.

Also, doubling up on the time off – while that sounds lovely, does this make the year off shorter? I’d much rather have a year.

One of my workmates did shared parental leave. Her husband brought in her daughter on his last week of time off, while she’d been back at work six months. I felt sort of envious, mainly as it was possible for them to do it.

The pay is the same for both parents, £138 these days (it was £124 when I was off) – but we knew this, and saved money beforehand. Things like Council Tax and Car Insurance were paid off in one annual payment for three years until our heads bobbed above water again thanks to these savings before we reentered the world of monthly direct debits and debts, debts and more debts.

Back then we both earned a similar amount, but Shaun was able to have a month off when H was first born – on full pay which is important in those early days.

So really, I think shared parental leave isn’t for us.


Swimming Again

So recently we switched pools for H’s swimming lessons, as her old one was full of classes from another centre, which left no space for her. She went with the other centre’s classes for a few weeks but ten to a class and shivering at the side of the pool didn’t really seem like a good way to spend my money. So we switched to the pool we live practically next door to, paying twice the price but having a maximum of four to a class.

Today was the first end of term. She was awarded a badge, ‘Swim Skills 2′ which was great – she came over to me with it at the start of the lesson, a big beaming smile, full of happy. She’s very motivated by badges and stickers.

Towards the end of her lesson they joined up with the other group, doing a relay game. While H’s team didn’t win, her competitive streak came out – and she did half a length of front crawl without wanting to grab the side – I knew she could do it! She’s been able to do it in the past in our old pool, but this one is a little bit deeper so she lost her confidence a bit – but having her mind on something else has meant she just went for it. I was really proud of her, and her happy beaming face afterwards makes me think she might have been proud of herself too.

And Tired.

Water Skills 2


My Child

Five is a funny old age. You’re out of toddler-hood, but you like lots of the things you liked when you were three.

You believe you should be treated equally, as in, the same as mummy and daddy. Especially when it comes to food portion sizes, mainly prawn crackers or poppodums.

You play at the park, but you’re the bigger child now – the one we cursed back when you were a baby and the big kids wanted to play, and did. The one we got nervous about in case they knocked you over.

grove park

You’re picking up some great phrases we say. “Oh. My. Gosh” is a much-repeated one (with appropriate gasp), and the Pirate Ship swing at Chessington “freaked the life out of me” apparently. There was another phrase when something didn’t go her way which was used in the correct context, so much that we both had to stop ourselves from laughing.

You recognise One Direction songs I’ve never heard in my life. How do you even know them?!

You recognise contestants on The Voice. I have trouble remembering any of their names, yet you take it all in – except when the show is on you spend most of the time dancing around the room to the songs rather than watching. But you still remember. HOW?!

You’re just starting to read your first Harry Potter book. We’re treading carefully, taking it slowly. There is no rush. So far you’re enjoying it.

You still want to sit in the baby swings despite being able to use the grown up ones. You sometimes manage to get in them (I have no idea how) and get stuck getting out.

A book seller came to school. The first book you chose to buy was a Peppa Pig one. I’ve just given all of your old ones away. You hadn’t noticed I did this. I persuaded you to get a different book which was better suited to your reading level. Fortunately you did.

Stamping your feet and going upstairs, throwing yourself onto your bed is the mode of anger these days. It doesn’t actually work as most of the time mummy starts giggling as it’s quite funny. This also doesn’t help matters and makes you even angrier. Sorry.

You can stand up in assembly or during the school play to speak your lines, but you get shy when it’s your turn to lead all the girls at Rainbows.

You’re still able to be persuaded to finish your home learning each week, but I’m not sure how much longer I can trick you – getting you to do three quarters of it and then saying “oh you may as well finish it” – which you do. Every time.

You’re also ridiculously loving, thoughtful, kind, caring and so much more. If I have a headache you’ll cuddle up alongside me and rub my head “to make it feel better”. You like to share things with your friends. You love being with your friends. You see things and say that your friends would like them.

But yet we’re stuck in this weird time, part baby, part young girl, growing up, but not too fast. But it’s all too fast. I want things to slow down again.

I don’t want to change anything though. Apart from maybe that piercing scream you do from time to time as it really hurts my ears.


Living With a Five Year Old

Oh I remember the ‘terrible twos’ at 18 months, the ‘threenager’ by her second birthday and the ‘f*!@ing fours’ at about the right time. But nobody warns you about five year olds.

See, by five their tempers are a little more under control. The time out mat is only used in times of emergency. Five means you have a world of peril at your fingertips, and by heck, you’re going to make the most of it.

You thought putting cotton buds up your nose was a younger thing? Think again! She hasn’t done it since, what with me carefully sticking tweezers up her nose to get the stray cotton out.

A particular favourite at the moment seems to be tying anything around her neck. Anything. Fortunately she doesn’t do it too tight, but you can guarantee when you calmly take off what is around there and remind her why it isn’t a good thing, you’ll get the rolleyes, and “oh. Yeah. Whatever” in response like it’s the least important thing in her life, ever. Like I said, it hasn’t been really bad (and I did something much worse as a teenager, so I know we’re not out of the woods yet), but despite repeated reminders it doesn’t really seem to have sunk in.

Another more recent progression is putting your fingers in doorways, right in the part the door is about to close in. Any door will do. A big heavy one is a particular temptation. Fortunately she has only trapped her fingers the once as I’m on helicopter parent reminder alert every time she’s anywhere near anything like that (she seems to like standing in car door spaces when they’re open), having to repeat it at least three times before she’s out of her daydream and listening to me.

I think it was about this age that I set fire to the carpet at my mum and dad’s, so I’m on fire hazard alert. Fortunately we don’t have gas fires in this house, so I’ll have a bit of time off that one and it only really comes into effect when we’re somewhere that does. Mums have to have a bit of time out too you know.

There’s also the ‘when did you grow that tall?!” moment. On heading into the downstairs toilet to make a little Dettol pool for H to soak her hands in, she’d already taken the bottle down from the window ledge and taken off the lid. ZOINKS! I didn’t even think about child safety caps. “Shall I just put some in the sink?” she offered while I tried not to panic. We don’t have a step stool in the toilet, she’s now tall enough to reach the higher storage places. Arse.

One of her friends (age 6) cut the front of her hair a week or so ago as she was bored of her long fringe (which had only just grown out), so the scissors have been hidden. Just in case, you know? At this rate I’ll need a big chest with a lock and key on it to keep things away from her, though then she’ll probably just use it as a giant dice in one of her role play games instead. So maybe not.

Oh, and there’s The Scream. It appeared recently and is what has replaced frustration – now it’s an angry scream when she doesn’t get her way, the loudest scream I’ve ever heard which probably summons all the dogs in the neighbourhood as well as drowning out my tinnitus. I’ve taken to just letting her get on with it, pretending I can’t hear anything which seems to be working. Once she has calmed down we sit and talk about it, and I ask her if screaming like she did helped the situation. She’s still in the very sorrowful shaking of head stage, fortunately. I fully expect the attitude to come in fairly soon, with a stomp off to her bedroom where she’ll “want to be alone” for a while.

Tomorrow she’s five and a half. We’re just another step closer to those magical teenage years….

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Poor old Swimmy. Sent to live with us but I’ve not allowed H to take him to holiday club – mainly as we can’t lose him and there’s always a chance that might happen.

On the plus side, on Monday H was on a trip so I came home first and stuck him in the washing machine – he smells so good now and looks so clean.

We’ve still managed a page and a half in the diary which is good – and we’ve this weekend and the start of next week to log, then I reckon that’ll be enough.

In fact, I’ve felt very little pressure. All I’ve done is encouraged H to start sentences with different words and to join up shorter sentences into longer ones, all of which went well once the initial strop was over.

So yes, our time with Swimmy is currently going swimmy-ingly well. Pardon the pun.

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We Have A Visitor.

On Thursday I picked H up from the childminders, and was told there was “quite a lot to take home” – her PE bag (they keep it at school until end of term), her book bag, and ah. The class frog, Swimmy.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

H was delighted – ecstatic – so proud of herself. My heart sunk.

This was for my own selfish reasons – you see, her class keep the mascot for a week, so that means we have Swimmy for TWO weeks as it’s half term.

This does mean he’ll get to do her after school activities the week after next, fortunately – especially as they all stop for half term. The temptation to put him on the examination table and have the Osteo check him while I take a photo is pretty high right now.

We’ve had him doing a few things, playing Jenga, sliding down a fireman’s pole at the park, eating pizza with H, so it’s all very nice, normal, ordinary stuff. He tried a few bits at the Farmer’s Market yesterday too, or at least that’s what H said. I think she probably had it herself…

Swimmy appears to be non-machine washable. Oh, and also pretty difficult to replace, should we lose him. So far H has only completely forgotten about him three times, though fortunately Shaun and I have been around and have popped him in our pocket or hood, then reminded H. See, she loves having him, but her caring, sharing nature goes out of the window when there’s other things to do. He’s soon forgotten – a fleeting part of our everyday life for a fortnight, to be forgotten again – her turn in the class done with and logged, photographed and documented. He’s looking grubbier by the day, carelessly dropped on the floor yet again.

But H is proud too – she was given Swimmy as her teacher said H was the only child she didn’t have to tell to be quiet (funny that, she’s nothing like it at home!) – for the whole half of term. Lawks.

At least things will be easier in Year 1 than reception – all we have to do is get the photos in a collage and print them out – H can write well now, so she can do the rest. Oh, and for all of next week H is at holiday club, so there’s no fancy trips out to show off with – well, there will be with holiday club but there’s no way he’s going too – as if she loses him we’d never get him back!

So yes, two weeks of liveblogging in a diary H’s life with a stuffed animal. Wish us luck. We’re three days in and so far, so good.

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