The Syria crisis: just imagine if it was you – #SaveSyriasChildren

refugee crisis

Surely no one can fail to be affected by recent images in the media of the desperate plight of refugees trying to reach Europe and safety. Terrible as these images are to see, they force the rest of the world to recognise that this isn’t only a political or economic issue – it is about real people. Ordinary people who had homes, families and livelihoods are at the heart of this terrible situation. If you think about it then, yes, it could have been you. And if it was, how would you feel if those who could help hesitated or simply didn’t help?

For me, the crisis in Syria isn’t just about a foreign country. It is about the people I met there. In 2002 I spent two weeks in Syria visiting the major cities and towns and, of course, ancient Palmyra. It is a country I rate as one of my favourites, where the constant refrain of “You must come back when you have children!” led me to believe that one day I would return. Sadly, it is now unlikely that this will be possible in my lifetime and if my children ever get there it will be a very different place.

What strikes home when I watch the news is that the lives of the Syrians I met have been turned upside down. Sadly, I have no idea if they are alive or dead. Is the hotel where we stayed in Aleppo still standing? Most likely not. But what happened to the hotel owner whose sideline in pharmacy I will be forever grateful for after I fell ill and he supplied the drugs that brought me back from what felt like the brink of death? Or the hotel staff who brought me rice and potatoes for days when I couldn’t get out of bed? These were people who didn’t hesitate to help me when I needed it.

At every stop we encountered people who made our visit special. There was the family in Hama who welcomed us to their table and shared a feast of pomegranates. What happened to them? Hama had already experienced a terrible massacre in 1982 when an uprising against the government was quashed by the then president Hafez al-Assad. Some sources put the death toll at as many as 40,000. It was something no one dared speak of in Hama and there was no evidence or recognition of it ever having happened. Back in 2002, the men in the photograph must have thought that they had already seen their fair share of bloodshed.

Syria crisis

What happened to the amazing guide who showed us around the funerary towers in Palmyra? Was he there to witness the devastation when IS blew them up today?

Syria crisis

Then there are of course the children who in 2002 thought they had their whole life ahead of them. Despite living under a dictatorship it was at least a time of peace with the prospect of a future. It is horrific to consider what these children must have seen in the last few years and the fear they have endured. Are they still there? Have they ended up in the camps in the countries bordering Syria? Are they currently trying to board a train in Budapest?

Syria crisis

As an individual it may feel as if there’s little you can do. However, there is lots that you can do from the comfort of your own home. Please don’t turn a blind eye. Do something to help. Anything. Whatever you decide, don’t choose apathy.

You can donate to Save the Children’s Syria Crisis Appeal online here or to donate £5 simply text SYRIA to 70008. (You can find Save the Children’s terms and conditions here.)




Book review and giveaway: My Stinky New School

starting school

It’s that time of year again. The time when, amidst overturned boxes of toys and washed out camping holidays, parents’ thoughts start turning to September. If you’re a parent who is getting ready to send a little darling to school for the first time then you are probably oscillating between dread and joy. Perhaps you’ve passed through denial and are looking for ways to ease the transition. For me, as with solving so many things in life, that means turning to books.

We’ve read about Topsy and Tim’s and Maisie’s first days at school countless times now, so it was a delight to be asked to review something new. My Stinky New School by Rebecca Elliott introduces your child to the prospect of something potentially scary with humour and beautiful illustrations.

The book tells the story of Toby as he starts school and tackles worries about making new friends. According to Toby, his new school “stinks of pigeon poop, ogre armpits, and sadness”, yet he makes it through his first day thanks to a string of characters: spacemen, aliens, pirates, mermaids and dinosaurs. Throw in “astro poop” and bad smells and you have everything a 4-year-old loves.

At the end of the day, Toby claims not to have made any friends. Really? When my kids have done any activities without me, I ask “And did you talk to anyone?” and the answer is always “No”. Yet without fail, it eventually emerges that they did indeed make friends without realising. The same is true for Toby who, through sharing his wild imagination with other children, leaves on his first day with a wave to his troop of new pals. This bit does need some explaining to 4-year-olds (who tend to take things literally) but with a couple of reads they soon grasp the idea.

My Stinky New School is a lovely book to add to your arsenal of preparing-for-school-tools. Just make sure your child isn’t expecting there to be any real pirates at school. They’ll either be racing into their uniform several weeks too early or refusing to go without a cutlass.

My Stinky New School by Rebecca Elliott, Lion Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99. For more information visit the publisher’s website.


I’m giving away a copy of My Stinky New School. To enter please scroll down and leave a comment telling me who you’d most like to meet – dead or alive, famous or infamous – who would it be?

The closing date for entries is noon on August 18th, 2015. Entries from the UK only. Only one entry per person. The winner will be chosen completely at random.

Disclosure: A big thanks to the publishers for giving me the opportunity to review the book and give away a copy.

Holiday kids’ clubs: 10 things a novice parent should know

Belek sea

When on holiday, the first rule of kids’ club is: you must feel guilty while your children are there. The second rule of kids’ club is: YOU MUST feel guilty while your children are there! It is a complex position for a parent to be in. On one hand you are desperate for some adult time and on the other you’re conscious that you’re on holiday to spend time with your family. If you’re a relative newcomer to the ‘Putting the Kids in Kids’ Club Club’ then what should you be aware of? Can it be a pain and guilt-free experience?

1. Location

You have the whole resort to explore. You can walk at a grown-up pace and not have to stop a dozen times to remove stones from sandals. You can even hold hands with your partner without them asking you to do ‘One, Two, Three … Swing!’. Your horizons have expanded. However, you will carefully measure out on a map what is a 5-minute walk from the kids’ club and draw a circle with a compass. That is the area you will stick to. Just in case.

2. Go incognito

You have found the perfect spot to relax for a couple of hours. Beware – do not let your guard down. Often kids’ clubs will leave their premises and head out into the resort for activities. You must take care – particularly if you have clingy offspring – not to be spotted by your child. This is particularly annoying if the group leader takes them to the beach bar for a drink (soft) and that bar turns out to be the one closest to your location. No matter how parched you are, resist the urge to approach the bar. Whatever you do, don’t wave at your child or acknowledge them in any way. Stay out of sight. They have temporarily forgotten you – this should not be messed with if you wish to remain child-free.

3. Making the most of ‘adult time’

This does not mean a trip back to your hotel room. Your nether regions may say ‘yes’ but the only urge your brain has is to try to do everything at the resort that you cannot do with kids. These are activities based outside of the bedroom and generally involve making the most of the sunshine and fresh air with your disappointed partner in tow. However …

4. … whilst you want to do everything child-free under the sun, you will just end up on a sun bed reading a book. Of course, you will be relaxing fully clothed just in case you are called for an emergency.

5. Communications

Put your mobile phone on the loudest ring volume possible. And the most powerful vibrate. And sellotape it to the side of your head. Do not attempt entering the pool as water damage to your phone will sever any link you have to your children.

6. Trust that your children will ask to go to the toilet if they need to

No matter how much you believe it and evidence at home suggests so, they don’t actually need you to remind them to pee or require you to wipe their bum.

7. Collection time

You have some time to yourself. Remember though that it isn’t really ‘some’ time – it is 2 hours to be precise. In the first hour you enjoy a couple of cocktails, read a couple of chapters, start the countdown … Only one hour until you have to pick the kids up. Only half an hour. Only 15 minutes. Oh sod it, go now. It doesn’t matter if you’re a bit early; after all you’re desperate to see them.

8. They will have more fun at kids’ club than they do with you

When asked to choose between a stranger who will help them with a craft activity without shouting or simultaneously checking Facebook and, well, YOU, they will choose the former every time. Your kids don’t need you as much as you think.

9. You will secretly enjoy it and pray they ask to go back

Whilst the sun beats down on your guilt-wracked body, you will admit to yourself – gradually at first – that you are actually having fun. An hour ago your biggest worry was whether your children will ever forgive you for abandoning them, now it’s that they won’t want to go back to kids’ club tomorrow.

And the final rule of kids’ club …

10. Your future holidays

You can’t understand why parents take their children on holiday then choose not to spend time with them. Kids’ club, scmids’ club – who cares, you’re there to spend some quality time with your family. But now you’ve actually experienced it, that’s the old you. The new you will quickly emerge when booking your next holiday as you check the box that filters your search for ‘hotels with a kids’ club’. Anything else is completely unacceptable.


Book review and giveaway: Kids Don’t Come With A Manual

Parenting books

After the baby years, there was I thinking I wouldn’t bother with any more parenting books. Despite my best intentions, I never got to the end of them and what I did read was 20% useful and 80% forgettable when faced with a bawling child. When I was asked to review Kids Don’t Come With A Manual: The Essential Guide To A Happy Family Life by Carole & Nadim Saad I expected it to join my other good intentions on the dusty pile under my bed. But I was surprised. It’s the first book focusing on children (rather than babies) that I’ve managed to read from cover to cover. More importantly, it’s one that I’ve been able to apply to my own daily battles with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, with – dare I say it and tempt fate? – a degree of success.

As the book proclaims: ‘Parenting is a Balancing Act!”. The book was driven by the authors trying to reconcile their opposing parenting styles. Throughout the book, both give their perspective on how taking a new approach has forced them to adjust their behaviour, reassuring you that no parent is perfect. But the book isn’t about how to fix your parenting differences with your partner. Its real focus is on providing balanced, practical tools to help you deal with the everyday challenges your children present you with, helping your children become happy and self-reliant adults and maintaining a good connection with them throughout their lives.

The authors’ objective was to “find practical, tried and tested evidence” for a balanced (and effective) style of parenting. That they have formulated their own approach by bringing together existing research and parenting books makes me less inclined to feel lectured at and more inclined to take on board their advice. Parents are sensitive types when our methods of parenting are called into question! The commonsense approach may on occasion make you feel you’re being told what you already know, but this is in fact reassuring – it confirms that good parenting isn’t rocket science. What I like about this book is that it’s very easy to remember the practical advice and then apply it in those moments of need when anything more than simple coping strategies would fly from your mind.

The initial chapters on ‘preventative tools’ are fascinating. They look at how to parent ‘pre-emptively’ rather than ‘reactively’. This lies in recognising that children’s behaviour demonstrates their desire to gain control over their lives and achieve a sense of belonging. Understanding why children act as they do and how important our reactions are can help nip difficult behaviour in the bud before it flares up, as well as build a more positive, nurturing environment. The ‘What a child may be thinking’ sections in the book force you to step into their shoes and shine a torch on your own behaviour – not always a comfortable experience but nonetheless an invaluable, mind-changing insight. “It can be difficult to accept and admit”, write the authors, “that despite all the love we have for our children, we may be exacerbating their ‘mis’behaviour through our own reactions.”

Whilst the authors recommend reading the chapters on ‘preventative’ tools first, this doesn’t stop it being a book you can dip into and still find useful. There are practical tools throughout for dealing with different challenges and, as the authors say, the “beauty of this is that even if you were to read and apply just one tool alone, in isolation, you would be very likely to experience a significant and positive difference”. The final part of the book deals with troubleshooting the ‘top 20 parenting challenges’ (eg, refusing to cooperate, whining, taking too long to do everything – sound familiar?) and is a quick reference to the best tools to use. I can see myself filling this section with post-its.

Truth is, we can read as much about parenting as we like but if we don’t find the advice easy to put into practice then we might as well never have picked up the book. Kids Don’t Come With A Manual has taught me new tricks for managing situations that would have previously resulted in me losing my cool and spiraling into the ugly vortex that is Parental Guilt. I knew that some of my ‘techniques’ were far from satisfactory but this book has given me a deeper understanding of why they were failing. This new insight has provided the kick up the backside that I needed. I can honestly say I feel a long way towards being a calmer parent. Of course, the tantrums haven’t disappeared completely nor has my children’s hearing improved significantly but I can deal with everything more effectively and with a renewed determination to remain calm. (And, yes, I’m feeling a little bit proud of myself!)

If kids did come with a manual then this book would probably be it.

Kids Don’t Come With A Manual: The Essential Guide To A Happy Family Life by Carole and Nadim Saad, Best of Parent Publishing, paperback, £12.99 (Kindle £6.99). For more information visit:


I’m giving away 3 copies of Kids Don’t Come With A Manual. For your chance to win one please enter below. Entries from the UK only. The closing date for entries is midnight on April 1st, 2015.

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The unbearable heaviness of right and wrong


Becoming a parent changes you in funny ways. You become more prone to tears – Christmas adverts always get me – and more susceptible to the cuteness of bunnies, kittens and videos of babies doing funny things. But there is also the other extreme. You can become hardened and more conservative with a lower case C. Wrongdoing and the ills of society become amplified and the overwhelming instinct to protect your offspring kicks in.

I’ve never been a supporter of the death penalty. There can be too much room for error and an eye for an eye isn’t a concept of justice that I feel comfortable with. It is with shock then that I sometimes find myself thinking – totally against my principles but entirely aligned with my instincts as a parent – “If you hurt my children then I will want to kill you”.

Watching the excerpt from film-maker Leslee Udwin’s documentary on the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012, my heart literally felt like it was being squeezed. I could hardly breathe. I wanted to cry. This wasn’t just anger and revulsion at what had happened but also despair at the evil humans are capable of. Then there was the lack of remorse from one of perpetrators of the attack. Can the human brain malfunction so fundamentally so as to not be able to recognise basic right from wrong? In the cold chill you’re left with, it makes you wonder what kind of world you have brought your children into.

Who should be blamed? Should it be the perpetrators’ parents? (Perish the thought I could bring up a child who could commit such an act.) Do the skewed views on women in a particular society make such behaviour acceptable or understandable? No. By shifting the blame we gift them a lack of responsibility. When it comes down to it, humans should know right from wrong. Regardless of what beliefs your society has bestowed on you, surely there must be something in every human mind – however small, however buried – that flickers to tell you that you are about to do something vile, something inhumane. To make someone cry for help, to rape, to murder is wrong. There is no way of justifying it and, ultimately, no one to blame other than the perpetrator.

I’ve always thought that the death penalty could potentially do society a huge disservice. What if the condemned person had gone on to do good? What if someone we executed had instead spent their life in prison searching for a cure for cancer and found it? That’s not an eye for an eye – that’s an eye for millions of eyes. Perhaps a far-fetched and unlikely scenario but it’s a valid point worth contemplating. Who are we to take that potential away?

Yet for this scenario to occur, someone needs to make a judgment call on whether a person should and could be rehabilitated. To judge how someone will feel or how much they can give back to society 5, 10, 50 years down the line can only be a guessing game. Sadly, Leslee Udwin’s documentary suggests that Jyoti Singh’s rapists weren’t going to sit in a prison for the rest of their lives feeling repentant, dwelling on how wrong their behaviour was. There is no punishment in that. Why then shouldn’t the death penalty be the most appropriate justice? There is nothing they can contribute to the world other than to fuel anger.

Of course, the death penalty is murder too – there is absolutely no getting around that. In an ideal world it simply wouldn’t exist as there is so much more wrong with it than there is right. But somewhere inside I still want to protect my children. I want to eradicate the world of people who can commit such acts as that in Delhi and who probably wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. It’s a frightening way to be made to feel and it creates an uneasy conflict in my own beliefs in what is right and wrong. I am unsettled by it and I am certainly not proud.