Giraffe bread (no giraffes were harmed in the writing of this post)

Do not underestimate children!

I loved a news story that I read this week on the Daily Telegraph’s website.

Eight months ago, three-year-old Lily Robinson wrote to Sainsbury’s to point out that the company’s tiger bread actually looks more like a giraffe than a tiger. A fantastic response from the company arrived from a customer manager who agreed with Lily and wrote a very child-friendly letter, enclosing a gift token, and signing off “Chris King (age 27 & 1/3)”. Lily’s mother uploaded the letter to Facebook and started a campaign which went viral. Sainsbury’s has now sensibly changed the name of the bread and deserves a lot of praise for this shrewd marketing move.

According to the BBC, Mr King has now left Sainsbury’s to return to university to train as a primary school teacher. Good for him. I think he’ll be a great teacher.

My daughter’s class is looking at persuasive writing at the moment. I wonder if they’ve heard this story.

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100 years of Nana

I wrote this post about 10 months ago before I actually found the courage to start the blog. It seemed appropriate to post it today because yesterday was Nana’s 101st birthday and nothing has changed.

My paternal grandmother had her 100th birthday a couple of months ago. We always said she would get there as her mother died the week before her 100th birthday, but sadly, Nana doesn’t really know what’s going on.

I am incredibly proud of her. She has always described herself as a simple country girl and her life has been a lot more difficult than mine (so far). She didn’t have the type of education which we take for granted now and went into service at the age of 14, eventually becoming a cook. When my grandad died 25 years ago, she had to learn to do things she never thought she’d have to: write cheques, look after the house, pay bills etc. In fact she only moved out of her house five years ago. I have fond memories of nature walks and her asking me questions about subjects which for her would have been hitherto taboo, such as living with someone before marriage and childminding. My parents gave my brother and me a book when we were children called How a Baby is Made and Nana read it afterwards, announcing, “I learnt a lot from that book”!

For her 90th birthday, I compiled a book of things that had happened in those 90 years and updated it for her 100th birthday, mainly for her great-grandchildren to see the magnitude of what has happened during Nana’s lifetime. It includes family events and also world events. Women didn’t have the vote 100 years ago and her century has witnessed the sinking of the Titanic, 23 prime ministers, 4 monarchs, 2 world wars, the break-up of the British Empire and the arrival of numerous inventions, including television, computers and many of the home appliances we take for granted. In fact when I looked back at developments of the last decade, it was dominated by advances in technology which is odd when you think that in 1910, electricity wasn’t really commonplace in homes. When you realise that Nana’s lifetime has witnessed the use of the gramophone, record players playing vinyl records at 331⁄3, 45 and 78 rpm, cassette decks, CDs and now MP3 players and iPods, it really is incredible.

Clothing was incredibly different; not even the zip had been invented when she was born (it was invented in 1913). Do children even know what petticoats are these days? I’m sure that most of them haven’t heard of corsets or liberty bodices. My daughter has been fascinated by the recent TV programme Downton Abbey and so have I, because my grandmother would have worn the clothes and done the work of the girls downstairs. My daughter also started Brownies last year, just in time to celebrate Girl Guiding’s centenary which also puts things into perspective.

In the year that Nana was born, Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, was first published in Rewards and Fairies. It made me realise how much our language has changed too. Words, such as gay, have taken on completely different connotations and no doubt some words have become obsolete, just as new words have been coined. Susie Dent, probably best known as the lexicographer from Channel 4’s Countdown, put together The Language Report, a list of words which define the spirit of each year between 1904 and 2004. Lists of these words can be found here. They really define the eras: the list gives entries for 1923 as Charleston, 1934 as Gestapo, 1949 as Big Brother, 1972 as Watergate and 1998 gave us the verb to Google while another list contains entries such as teddy bear for 1906, racism for 1935, psychedelic for 1957, toy-boy for 1981 and text message for 1998.

Nana will never get to read this but I am in awe of her achievement in light of all the things that have happened in a century and also slightly scared at the speed with which things move these days. Congratulations, Nana.

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Celebrity names

I didn’t like my name when I was at school as it is quite old-fashioned for my generation and I was surrounded by Karens, Lisas and Joannes and wanted to fit in. Plus as a Francophile, it is a difficult name for my French friends to say and I have been called all sorts of things with a French accent! But I am very old-fashioned when it comes to children’s names. My children’s names are traditional names which can be found in most generations. I would struggle as a childminder if I had to call out some of the weird and wonderful names given to children these days (or Countdown names, as a friend used to call them: “Four consonants and five vowels please, Carol.”)

Like Harper Seven. I loved this cartoon from the Paul Thomas of the Daily Express. It’s so clever.

In February 2009, came up with a list of the most unfortunate names in the UK:

Stan Still, Helen Back, Doug Hole, Terry Bull, Tim Burr, Rose Bush, Pearl Button, Will Power, Barry Cade, Mary Christmas, Chris Cross, Teresa Green, Ray Gunn, Jo King, Sonny Day, Justin Case, Lee King and Max Power.

Apparently a list of names in the USA came up with some more: Bill Board, Anna Prentice, Annette Curtain and Carrie Oakey.

Some countries are strict about children’s names. In July 2008, the BBC reported that a New Zealand judge had made a nine-year-old girl a ward of court so that she could change the name which embarrassed her: Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii. Apparently other names which were not permitted were 4Real; Yeah Detroit; Stallion; Twisty Poi; Keenan Got Lucy; Sex Fruit; Fat Boy; Cinderella Beauty Blossom and Fish and Chips (twins).

These abominations were allowed: Violence; Number 16 Bus Shelter; Midnight Chardonnay; and Benson and Hedges (twins). And only this week it has been reported that the country’s Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages has been cracking down again, ruling out punctuation marks such as . (Full Stop), * (Asterisk) and / (presumably “Slash”), as well as Bishop, Duke, General, Judge, Justice, King, Knight and Mr, which were all deemed too similar to titles. Messiah was also turned down, as was 89, the single letters, C, D, I and T, although q and J were accepted after being queried.

According to Yahoo! Lifestyle, the following countries are very strict:

Sweden is very tough on unusual names, banning Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, as well as IKEA, and Veranda and Q. But the authorities allowed Google!

A Chinese couple tried to call their baby @ because it seems that in Chinese characters it looks a bit like ‘love him’.

Germany has rejected Miatt because it is difficult to determine the child’s gender and Stompie, Woodstock and Grammophon, while allowing Speedy, Lafayette and Jazz.

Denmark is really picky. It gives parents a list of approximately 7,000 names to choose from and changes in spelling, ethnic names and compound names need special permission. Luckily for one child, Anus was denied.

Portugal also has a list of banned names and refused permission for Ovnis which means UFO.

And finally, apparently the Pope also weighed in on this debate in January of this year.

There’s a very appropriate blog post at which gives advice on what not to name your kids. I particularly like points 4 and 5 which say exactly what I would say, but better:

4 – The Misspelled Foreign Name
A girl I know named her daughter “Channelle”. Yes, that’s right. Like Chanel, but with some extra letters thrown in so that the child can feel individual despite her obvious namesake. (In fact – this one breaks the surname rule as well – but I guess it’s preferable to calling a child Coco. Are you reading this, Courtney Cox and David Arquette?). Another friend of mine, apparently shying away from all the boring normality implied by Chantelle introduced me to her daughter Shontel. I weep for the future.

5 – The Name You Invent Yourself
Mnemonics are bad enough (think “Taome” – The Apple Of My Eye), but the worst of the worst must be the laughable attempt of those bastions of elegance and understatement, Peter Andre and Katie Price (AKA Jordan) to create a name for their daughter. Princess Tiaamii, the poor brat’s name, is a merging of the names of Andre’s mother (Thea) and Price’s mother (Amy), with “Princess” whacked in front for good measure. In the words of Price herself; “we added some extra letters to make it unique, and some accents to make it look interesting”. A class act all the way.
Apologies – My computer does not seem to have the functional capacity to include the various accents over vowels in Tiaamii.

 I think I’ll stick to my old-fashioned names.

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We have just returned from a wonderfully relaxing holiday in a gîte near Vire in Calvados, Normandy with my parents. I have spoken French every day and we have laughed so much. Going on a French bank holiday weekend is not a great idea as there were lots of traffic jams or “confiture de voitures” as some bright spark translated the term! We chose the bank holiday itself to go to Mont St Michel which was like being on a conveyor belt. We also went to see the Bayeux tapestry which was on my list of things to do during my lifetime. I swam in the cold Channel seawater for the first time since I was a child. And we saw cows being milked and lots of birds of prey, one in particular which was out hunting every evening when we returned.

France is a lot more expensive than it used to be; we really noticed it in the supermarket. But some things were free, which was refreshingly unlike rip-off Britain: children under 10 went in to see the Bayeux tapestry for free, a lot of car parks were free and we only paid for parking, not entrance fees, at Mont St Michel.

We had some linguistic treats too. We were invited for an apéritif of Calvados by our landlord who showed us his amazing collection of antiques. The children were very well behaved and had a go at speaking French. Monster had us in stitches as his pronunciation of pain au chocolat came out as pain au choco-ah and morphed into pain au choco-oo-ah!

It was a good job we didn't see similar signs...

But the pièce de résistance has to be that on the penultimate evening, my daughter made friends with a French eight-year-old who was holidaying in the gîte next door (we didn’t even know there was anyone living there!) They were able to communicate despite neither knowing any of the other’s language thanks to the joys of childhood. Madam somehow managed to explain to her new friend how to play a Nintendo DS game which was in English (amazing as she doesn’t have a console herself). I have tried many times to teach her French but she has a burst of short-lived energy and loses interest, despite having a fantastic accent. When she was small she used to shake her head if I spoke to her in French but when we stayed with a French friend, her toddler-speak turned from “la la la” to a French-style guttural rrr!

Maybe, now that she has exchanged email addresses with someone of her own age, this might change. Watch this space…

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Half a decade

Well, this month has brought another few landmarks in our household. At the beginning of July, my son turned five. He was convinced he was going to grow overnight and be taller when he woke up on his birthday, but unsurprisingly, it was not to be. We had a ‘pirates and princesses’ party with all his friends which involved my children and my husband walking down the street in full pirate regalia and getting some very strange looks. It also gave birth to a few pirate jokes, e.g. what does a pirate have up his sleeves? Altogether now: his arrrms!

Five seems very important: it is after all, half a decade and a real unit of measurement as lots of things come in fives, such as toes, the Famous Five (my favourite books from childhood), five Olympic rings etc. We even have a terrestrial TV Channel 5, not to be confused with Chanel No. 5. And of course, I’ve found a couple of bloopers (which seem appropriate as we’ve had toys similar to this) on

And then came the end of the school year. My son has come on in leaps and bounds in reception. He was late to start talking, preferring to sign, and had speech therapy which has most definitely paid off. (Where’s the off switch?) We thought we had bypassed nursery rhymes (the week after the speech therapist saw him for his penultimate appointment when she asked if he was singing nursery rhymes, he came out with Queen’s We Will Rock You). His wonderful teachers have helped to extend this development and we even had “Rain in a Manger at Christmas. He struggles with words like competition and says “comtepition” but comes out with “interactive whiteboard” and “independent learners”. I was so surprised to hear the latter that I thought he’d said “in the pink pyjamas”! What a difference a year makes and in a few short weeks he will progress to year 1 and his sister to year 4.

Oh my goodness, where has the time gone?

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Pulped Fiction

According to the 2003 Literary Pocket Companion, books can have alternative uses. The following is an extract:

When engineers started searching for a suitably absorbent pulp to lay on the M6 toll motorway in 2003, they found it at an unexpectedly slushy publishing company. The pulp was needed to strengthen the tarmac and create a long-lasting soundproof layer, and the books they found most suitable were Mills and Boon romantic novels.

About 2,500,000 old copies were pulped and mixed into the road’s top layer – that’s about 45,000 books for every mile of Britain’s first pay-as-you-go motorway. Mills and Boon were chosen because of the books’ super-absorbent qualities. “They may be slushy to many people, but it’s their ‘no-slushiness’ that is their attraction as far as we are concerned,” Brian Kent from Tarmac told the BBC.

The BBC account is told here: It points out that books used are usually end of line or damaged novels. I’m all for recycling, but I do feel sad at the prospect of only having electronic books in the future. There’s something nice about curling up in bed with a good paperback (thank you for the great idea, Penguin books!) and the feeling of luxury if the book is hardback or a notebook is leatherbound.

According to, the Department of Transport used to issue booklets to mark the opening ceremonies of new roads.

And here’s a classic from English Fail

American democrcy

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Some of the things that proofreaders check for are: 

  • Spelling

 Doesn’t a big company such as Victoria’s Secret use proofreaders? From Red Pen, Inc.

  • Grammar
  •  Punctuation
Obviously for only one girl… From Apostrophe Abuse
  • Sense

From Failblog

  • Consistency
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