Knives, guns and smashing glasses.

Knives, guns and smashing glasses. Turns out that’s just a regular Thursday night out for my two year old. I thought I was out for a wander in the evening sunshine to make the most of the street performers and live music put on in Perpignan to entertain the crowds of tourists. My son, it seems thought we were out to ensure someone reported me to some sort of child protection unit. Twice the people at the neighbouring table rolled their eyes, once they actually came over and told me how dangerous it was that my son was playing with a knife. 

Obviously he wasn’t ‘playing’ with a knife, I’m not totally stupid. The waiter set down a relatively blunt knife on the table, my son picked it up and as I reached for the toy dinosaur to do the inevitable distraction dance the guy sat next to me jumped up and starting giving me a lecture. Thus prolonging the time my son had the knife, causing me to grab it, meaning he snatched, the whole thing became twice as dangerous, I felt terrible, my little boy had a melt down and before I knew it half the restaurant was looking. Don’t worry, just to make sure my neighbouring diner really thinks I am a terrible parent two minutes later as I lifted the baby out of the pram and on to my lap Ernie reached over and grabbed my glass, of course it smashed, of course he was covered in water. All in all you could consider this night out an epic fail, but, and I may be deliriously sleep deprived but at least I was out of the house, hubby is away in England with work, as he is every other weekend and I got some quality time with my boys. Sort of. The knife and the glass were an accident, but the toy gun he insisted on buying from a stall on the way home, now what was no accident. My two year old screamed for it, begged for it and just when he knew he was at the threshold of a telling off or me giving in to him to keep him quiet he did what I suspect little boys do the world over to their doting mummies. He cuddled in, told me I was pretty and blinked those bambi eyes while he said in his lisp toddler language: “pwwweeeeeeaaaaaassssseeeee mummy, wove you.” (He’s TWO for crying out loud. What will he be like aged 18). With my heart aching to give in to my small being with cuteness oozing from every pore I held my nerve: “No Ernie, we don’t play with guns. They aren’t nice.” At which point the stall holder said. “Cadeau.” Great. The gift of a gun. She clearly has a son too smiling as she handedly over the neon flashing plastic pink pistol. That’s right, it’s pink and flashes. I can’t even pretend it’s a sporting gun that may be used for sport.  Not sure I’ll attempt the street festival single handily again. Damn sure that pistol will get lost on the way home. 

Wrestling boob, baby and blouses

Wrestling baby, boob and blouse opposite my Olympian turned banker colleague as I breastfed my son at a team dinner wasn’t my most dignified move, but then who has time for dignity while we’re mothering, working, traveling, working out, sight seeing, supporting and exploring. 

I recently dipped my toe back into work, presenting the swimming coverage of the World Championships for the BBC from Budapest. I took my Mum and my son with me as I am not ready to go back to work but I wanted to keep my hand in. It worked mainly because my Mum, who acted as my Nanny trotted alongside me where ever possible. (Beeb critics this was not at the expense of the licence fee payer, I paid for her obviously, I know how lucky I am to have her around for occasional childcare). 

There are so many things I feel I ought to be doing as a working Mum, I totally forgot to warn my team mates I was about to breast feed at the dinner table and as a result I am pretty sure my lovely colleague Andy Jameson nearly choked on his Hungarian strudel. Thankfully Becky Adlington was on hand with a well placed napkin, she has a baby she’s been through this breastfeeding battle and was highly amused by the fact by the end of each programme I looked like I was holding two bald men in a headlock. 

I confess I wasn’t trying to ‘normalise’ breastfeeding nor was I flying the flag for working Mums I was just feeding my baby and trying to still be me, catching up with my colleagues after work. I didn’t really think about it until I saw the look on my Mums face who was sitting next to me, taking in every ounce of Andy’s awkwardness. As ever he was a gent pretending not to notice my bare boob to the side of his beer.

I write this, not seeking reassurance or praise, merely to share a few hacks if like me you’re a working Mum who (for whatever reason AND THEY ARE PERSONAL, NO JUDGEMENT HERE) is currently feeding a child.

-Stick with the breast feeding bras. Those little clips releasing the cup of the bra are fantastic in awkward and cramped situations. 

-Invest in some nice scarves that can double up as a muslin, cover up and change mat. 

-Avoid dresses, it’s easier to sneak baby under a top than up past your knickers.

-Hand pumps are fantastic at easing a bursting boob should you be away from baby longer than you would like. (I did find the more I expressed the more I produced so be careful!) 

-Warn your colleagues you’re about to breastfeed if you’re doing it in front of them, I found my male colleagues don’t tend to mind, they just get embarrassed when surprised a nipple appears at the table alongside a bottle of the house red.

-I took NUK bottles, they are the only ones my son will drink from.

God bless my fab colleagues and Mum for helping me do my job, be a Mum that is. 

Day 1 back at work and hospital drama ensues

At 1am in a Hungarian military hospital surrounded by some very very ill people, rocking the baby as I tried to work out why the doctor wanted to perform minor surgery on my Mums minor cut to her leg I questioned if being a Mum is worth it. I am in Budapest to cover the swimming and diving World Championships for the BBC and true to form with me, day one has not been without drama!

I haven’t found the tree that grows nappies yet and I am lucky to do a job I love so I came here to Budapest with my four month old, where my Mum met us to play Nanny.

I wanted to spend as much time with Ernie as possible and ended up leaving home to late, missing my train to the airport. Instead my hubby drove me and ended up spending 6 hours in rush hour traffic around Barcelona. Louis first flight was straightforward, make the most of flying before they can walk. Ernie is hectic on a flight but as Louis is still feeding off me it was ok. He did throw up on a nearby passenger but she was miserable so she kind of deserved it. (Ernie once ripped near ring from a woman ear, she didn’t deserve it so I am keeping ‘pukegate’ in perspective). 

Landed, checked in, hotel travel cot installed, Doona car seat/pram in action I headed to the final day of diving in my new dress, dusted off heels with a full face of make up ready to speak to the nation. Only, my Mum fell up the stairs cut her knee and got shipped to a local military hospital for stitches. She was mortified and felt awful she couldn’t hold the baby. I was like a duck pretending outwardly it was fine. Now if you have been misfortunate enough to see me on telly you’ll know my style is quite relaxed. I don’t necessarily agree with doing things by the BBC book but even I confess it’s not very professional to breast feed your newborn perching on a chair behind my BBC colleagues as they commentated on a world championship winning performance by Tom Daley. It was without doubt one of the finest sporting displays I have ever seen. He won in spectacular style diving better than he ever has. Baby aside (literally my female colleague held him) before he puked on some of the senior member of the swim team coaching staff. (Sorry Mel Marshall). I got down to business trying to send back links and interviews to the UK. I won’t bore you with the technical and logistical frustrations, we wanted to craft a new programme but had to send back what we had straight away for a highlights programme scheduled to go out the following day. As in many jobs there are ways you would like to do things and ways you have to do things. In the end as long as the nation get the opportunity to see and hear our young superstars do their thing on the diving boards its ok. 

Celebrations and pre recorded links complete I headed to the hospital to help my Mum. It was funny for a few hours until they wanted to perform minor surgery. (Meanwhile hubby text to say Ernie has chicken pox!) Thank god for the linguistics skills of a young Hungarian volunteer and thank god for Adele from the British Swimming board for helping my family and staying with us until 1 am. Do I feel like a good Mum or a good broadcaster right now. Not really but ladies ‘having it all’ throws up the odd challenge and some days you have to just dust off your invisible crown put on your highest heels and be grateful for the people around you. The drama can be draining but I am sure we will all look back on this and laugh. Soon. I hope.

From a sporting point of view this weeks offers LOTS of treats. If we can match any of the 'pool' based drama of the diving we will all be happy. Tom Daley dived out of his skin to take the world title. Grace Reid can celebrate a silver medal in the sincere event and leaves Budapest fourth best in the world in her individual event. Matty Lee and Louis Toulson take home silver medals from the ten meter syncro. It wasn't to be for our Olympic Champions Jack Laugher or Chris Mears but those that know Jack believe this will only make him hungrier for the World Championship medal that will complete his set of international golds. On the final day at the final hour British diving delivered a hugely successful week taking home three medals, with the Daley double stealing the show. I feel pretty privileged to get to stand poolside and take this all in.

Much love. H


ps The World Swimming Championships are on BBC2 every day this week from 5pm. There’s brilliant coverage and interviews from my colleague Nick Hope online if you want to catch up with some of the excitement from the diving. 

Is it wine o’clock yet?

The post baby booze binge has been on the horizon for a while. I haven’t drank since last September and I am ready for a drink, a big one. Not because I want a hangover (lord knows I won’t be allowed a lie in thanks to a two year old who believes 3am is time to play football.) No, I need a drink because I need to find out from my friend what actually happened when my second son, Louis was born. My relatively new friend Jill, delivered Louis on our kitchen floor in front of a crowd of excited, albeit inexperienced french firemen. She was a total legend, keeping me calm, cradling louis whilst I processed what had happened.

Until about ten minutes before Louis came along. I was in the house alone with my twenty month old. I text my girl friends to say I was in a bit of pain: Erin and her five year old arrived for what they thought was a play date. Five minutes later Jill arrived with her one year old, then the fire brigade, then the baby. Meanwhile my eldest, Ernie hit me on the head with a plastic sword (he thought I was on all fours roaring because I wanted to play dinosaurs). It was, and still is a bit of a blur. I’d been for a walk, started having pains, tried to have a bath and kidded myself I could drive  to hospital. All the time trying to call my hubby, who was in England for work. I crawled to the kitchen to open the door, but couldn’t get back up.

Thankfully Louis arrived safely as well as swiftly. Ten weeks of buzzing from the drama and the excitement it finally hit home how lucky we were when ‘Knocked up’ starring Katherine Heigl came on telly. I couldn’t watch it. I filled up and my stomach was in knots. I don’t think I have actually fully processed how amazing my friends were or how blessed we are that it was straightforward.

About thirty minutes after the birth I was in a firetruck on facetime to my husband, there are so many details I don’t have but I feel like I need to know. I know Erin cleaned up a lot of blood and I know Jill went home in my clothes rather than the ones she arrived in. It was all such a drama that I feel like it's taken me a while to get to know and fall head over heels for my newborn. I wasn't really ready for him to arrive, not like that. With Ernie I looked at him and he became my world instantly. With Louis, and I feel bad saying this, it was different. Everyone (including me) talked about the drama of the arrival rather than his precious little face for the first few weeks and for that I feel bad. I know he came out in the sack, I know I spoke to Ernie during the labour more than Louis and again for that I feel bad. 

It's important to me that I fill the gaps in my memory of his birth. I need the intimate details. I want to know. But I know I will need a wine (or 7) to spare my blushes and reduce any inhibitions I may have about asking what really happened ‘down there.’ I think he came out in the sack, I remember feeling it, but the rest, between me trying to explain myself in french, get my husband on the phone and stop my toddler hitting me on the head well a few details got lost. Is anyone buying this excuse for a breastfeeding mum to get her wine on?



PS Huge thanks to Mr Joel Anderson who took this photo in Perpignan. Look him up on Instagram, despite being crazy talented and interesting he has few instagram followers. ( I think we bullied him into an account in the first place!)

Sun’s out, Bun’s out.

I thought the park bench in the playground in central Figures was the perfect place to breastfeed my thirsty one month old. Louis drank, Ernie played and I clocked up some me time in Zara. How wrong I was, instead the street sweeper shook his dirty broom at me and a pigeon pooed on my pram as I found out you don’t get your boobs out in the park. 

I am not a militant breastfeeder, if it’s right for you do it. If it isn’t don’t. I am breastfeeding mainly due to the fact I am not organised: I would take out the wrong number of bottles, they would not be properly sterilised and I would invariably end up begging, borrowing and potentially stealing necessary items to keep my bub fed and watered. So, I breastfeed. After an hour in the car (we currently live in the south of france) Louis was ready for a feed and Ernie had earned some play time. I thought I had hit jackpot when I saw a car park next to a play park. I didn’t account for angry street sweeper who waggled his broom at me shouting as I fed. I genuinely thought he was telling me I had dropped something. My spanish is rubbish and I didn’t understand he was having a go, until he got near and after I had spun around left and right looking for the item I thought I had obviously dropped. In doing so freeing my other boob for all to see. (Which in hindsight is why the street sweeper got louder and angrier.) He obviously thought I was goading him, I wasn’t, but I can see how nodding, smiling and freeing a second boob may come across like that.

The thing that baffles me about this is that every time we go to Spain people fuss the children, and when I was pregnant they could not have been more helpful. They make allowances in restaurants (as my toddler tries to share half eaten chips with fellow diners). They let me queue jump, they smile and tickle and cuddle the babies. Often interrupting our meals or drinks to say hello to the children. Which is why this is so odd, perhaps it’s not a ‘spanish’ thing and just a ‘middle aged man thing.’ Or that particular man. I wasn’t trying to make a point by metaphorically sticking two fingers up to him but I inadvertently did.

I have friends who felt too awkward to feed in public, I have friends who felt to guilty to stop feeding even thought they had cracked nipples and bled. Stick two fingers up to that attitude!  I won’t be adopting the Spanish attitude to breastfeeding but I will be sticking by the approach of my French friends and French mid wife: “If you feed, it’s better for the baby, if you don’t it’s better for your boobs.” 

One of my most intimidating challenges yet!

Not to be outdone by all my friends who seem to be training for a tough mudder or total warrior race at the moment, I recently signed up and took part in a beach-based assault course in France. I wasn’t fully prepared for what it would entail, though, and a combination of ignorance and limited French led me into one of the most intimidating challenges I have ever taken on (and I’ve hung out with marines!).

First of all, I didn’t know that you were meant to sign up to the event as a team and so I headed to the start line on the day of the race ‘tout seul’ and consequently found myself pushed into one of the smallest teams. I signed up because I wanted the exercise and I thought it might be fun but I soon realised that I was also ‘tout seul’ in that mindset. As soon as I approached the registration tent and saw the bandana-wearing, lycra-clad sporting set I knew I was joining a gang of serious sports men and women who were taking part for an actual time rather than a ‘good time.’

The course was 4km long and the obstacles included a cargo net to crawl under, a wall and rope to climb over, a couple of tunnels and some tyres to drag. I wasn’t the slowest member of my team but I certainly wasn’t far off.

Without a doubt the course was tough and running on sand even for the short sprints in between obstacles was draining. Dropping to the floor and crawling under a mat and through tunnels was tough on the cumbersome hot sand and my legs felt heavy from the start. In fact, I felt two stone heavier than I do on solid ground!

It was a warm, not blistering, day, but even so my lungs were hot and my face on fire. Still I stumbled on, determined to finish the course as fast as my limbs and lungs would allow.

Each team completed the course individually and the times of each member were added to make an overall time which went onto a leader board. I doubt I will see my fellow course runners again but I didn’t want to let them down and it’s surprising how the team spirit spurs you on.

All in all, this was far from my finest sporting hour, but it was definitely up there as a fun experience. The event I took part in is actually one in a series and although I don’t think I will join this group again I will certainly consider putting my own team together, with the joint aim of having a good time!

I recommend these organised events for a laugh, a challenge and a massive sense of satisfaction. And yes it may be hard work, but wading through sand is certainly a lot more photo-friendly than being waistdeep in mud, right?

I decided to head back to pilates

As I begin to count down the days until the due date of my second baby, I’m starting to look less athletic when I work out and more like Mr Blobby on a bad day! And so I recently decided to head back to Pilates to find an exercise that would help me look after my body without the need to bounce my growing baby bump and burgeoning boobs!

If it’s hardcore Pilates you want, reformer is the way to go. The whole class takes place on a carriage – a low bed with a moving platform that you lie on. It’s set on springs so that you can add resistance depending on how much of a workout you want. The best bit is the straps, which feature loops where you can place your feet or hands depending on the exercise. To me they will always resemble something from the red room in Fifty Shades of Grey – and this will always bring a smile to my face and make a normally calm and tranquil Pilates studio a bit more amusing! To me anything that makes you giggle and takes your mind off a burning muscle or two is a bonus.

My class was taken by Celine Cipolat, a former ballerina and dancer with the Babyshambles who has set up her own Pilates studio in Perpignan. Like many studios the one I went to runs mat classes, reformer, group and individual sessions. The smaller the class the more expensive and so I shared my tutor with one of my friends. A class for two this way works out at £25 each. While it’s not cheap, I have found that doing private classes every now and again really improves my technique and sets me up to get a better workout in group classes.

We worked our legs, arms and backs, completing each move only a few times as our teacher reminded us the focus is on quality not quantity in Pilates. I avoided the ab moves as I am so pregnant and instead did some moving stretches on the carriage.

Reformer Pilates is definitely harder than the mat-based class as you need to concentrate both your mind and your muscles to stay on the carriage and execute the exercise. It’s very difficult to cheat too. If a move is aimed at a certain leg or arm muscle you literally won’t move if you don’t isolate and work that particular part of your body. The graceful nature of Pilates also means you think about your figure, posture and form, which can only be good for a hyperactive fell pony like me! The hour flew by and I left with that quiet throb in my thighs and arms that you have when you know you’ve worked out.

For me, reformer Pilates ticks a lot of boxes. Yes it’s pricey, but at this stage in my pregnancy I don’t want to risk any injuries and I’m picking up techniques and tips I will use in the future. It’s an investment!

I’m a believer in challenges being relative

I expected Lycra, conversations about predicted miles per hour and testosteronefuelled showboating about who had the lightest bike. But in practice, my cycling comrades who were taking on the Ride to the Somme with me – a 200 plus mile bike ride commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme – were a down-to-earth mix of experienced riders and complete novices there for the experience rather than the competition.

I joined the event as part of the BBC film crew and I can honestly say that this is my favourite kind of gig. The crew and I were expected to muck in like everyone else, which is exactly what you need everyone to do on a group charity challenge. I’ve done enough of these types of events to know that there’s no room for delicacy or judgement. I was joined by women who had only been cycling for a few months, as well as men battling posttraumatic stress disorder and even blindness – yet everyone completed the challenge together. Two hundred miles over three days isn’t a lot to a keen cyclist, but I’m a big believer in challenges being relative and some participants achieved more than they could ever have dreamed of. If you push yourself past your perceived limits, you’re a winner in my eyes.

I must admit, I can’t remember the last time I was on a road bike, but the route was relatively flat and once I’d mastered the gears on the swanky bike that I’d borrowed, I could keep up with some of the faster riders.

The final day was especially tough and emotional beyond belief, as some fellow cyclists visited the graves of fallen family members. Even if you have no direct connection to the battle, no one can argue that the death of almost a million young men is heartbreaking and beyond comprehension.

It was an honour to pay tribute to those who gave their lives by taking part in this event alongside riders who were raising money for SSAFA (a military charity supporting thousands of military families across the globe). Along the way, I was lucky enough to discover that my great uncle fought on the front line. He made it home, but he struggled with what he’d seen, which serves as a reminder that even when the war is won, the battle isn’t necessarily over.

You can see the Ride to the Somme on a Countryfile special airing on Sunday 13th November on BBC One.

I tried Cumbrian wrestling

As far as I was aware, Cumbrian wrestling is for middle-aged, toothless men wearing embroidered underpants on the outside of their clothes, but it seems that my memory is just as outdated as the view that wrestling is just for boys.

In fact, you could argue that this full-contact, traditional sport, which originates from the Lake District, is as progressive as they come – women earn the same amount of prize money as the men and participation among young women has reportedly been on the increase in recent years. All-female competitions began 10 years ago, but up until 1991 women competed against men. The story goes that when a female competitor beat a male in 1991, the men complained that they were being put off the sport. Naturally, I decided to give it a go!

The aim of the game is quite simply to get your rival on their back. The competition starts by shaking your opponent’s hand, before locking your arms and heads together in an awkward sort of hug, with your bum sticking out behind you. On the referee’s command, you wrestle, or, as in my case, get flung to the floor, legs over head, landing in a muddy pile or next to a cow pat. Yes, my masterclass took place on a field inside a ring marked by sawdust, which is how the summer competition is performed (although some bouts do occur inside, and training is often conducted at sports halls).

I was taught a series of techniques designed to floor your opponent effortlessly and painlessly by local wrestling expert Connie Hodgson. Most of these moves involve attempting to make the other person unsteady by sweeping their feet from under them with yours, or turning into them so you can throw them over your shoulder and onto the ground. Unlike Connie, who always managed to catch me off-guard and had me on the floor in the blink of an eye, I couldn’t quite time the shuffling and shoving right to successfully knock her off balance. Strength is certainly an advantage in this sport, but Connie is far from big and bruising, in fact she’s the opposite – with a baby-face, sweet smile and a giggle that threw me off as I didn’t want to hurt her! Unfortunately, she didn’t mind hurting me though, and after a couple of hours and far too many falls to the floor, I called it quits, sure that I could feel my brain shaking in my head.

While I can’t say that I’ll be signing up for the upcoming world championships, it was a refreshing change to get stuck in to a full-body contact sport where aggression is not only advantageous, but encouraged. One thing’s for sure though, I definitely won’t be sniggering at those embroidered pants any more – they’re a real life reminder that superheroes walk among us.