Superwoman 9 is on 10 October 2013

August 20, 2013

The flyers for this event will be coming out in the first week of September but in the meantime:

When: 10 October 2013

Where: Coleg y Cymoedd Nantgarw Campus – £40m state of the art building

Time:  4.30pm to 8.30pm.

4.30pm to 5.30pm – pre event networking over tea and cake and opportunity to browse range of stalls selling Christmas gifts, Superwoman tea towels, home wares and beauty.

5.30pm to 6pm: registration

6pm to 7.30pm:  Speakers – Sian Gunney of Peacock Media Group, Dilys Price of Touch Trust and Kirsty Manning of food company Cnwd.

7.30pm  to 8.30pm  - more networking, canapes and wine.

Cost is £35, net proceeds going to two charities:  Valleys Kids working with disadvantaged families in the South Wales Valleys and Touch Trust, the charity founded by Dilys Price which provides music and movement programmes to a range of disabled people.

To pre book contact Superwoman on info@superwoman.org.uk

Wales Business Insider Power 100 January 2012 – the women

January 6, 2012

The Insider Power 100 is out this month.  It’s 14 months since the last Power 100 list was published  in November 2010 which was also roughly the same time as the Western Mail published their ridiculous sexy lists for 2010,  inviting a quick  flick through the lists to see whether anybody featured in both.   Sexy, powerful AND Welsh -there’s a thought!     To save you the bother given the delay between the lists, I can tell you that there is only one person who features in both the Sexy lists for 2011 and the Power 100 list for 2012 namely Richard Parks (number 9 in the sexy list, number 92 in the Power list).

I have been running a one woman campaign in this blog to persuade the Western Mail to ditch the sexy lists and do “Wonderful Welsh People” lists instead.  I doubt this is going to be successful since more people find the Superwoman blog by googling (and not in an ironic way either)  those sexy lists than find it any other way.    In relation to the Power 100 list, my blogs have given the Insider a little bit of gyp about the limited number of women on the list.  This year I blog slightly self consciously about the Power 100 list because I am a new entry, in at number 94.   Is this perhaps a way of neutralising me – put me in it so I don’t blog about it?  I doubt that -my comments have not been particularly barbed – although I was a bit sarky  in last year’s blog about the absence of Laura Tenison from the list.  Last year’s list ranked “the most powerful people in Wales seen from a business perspective” and this year it tracks “the most influential  people in Wales as seen through a business lens.”  I think what that means is that there are more people in the list this year that have no power whatsoever but who like to bump our gums about those that do.    What has certainly made me smile is not that I am a new entry in the Power 100 list but that Laura Tenison is, at number 66.

But I’m not smiling much at all because THE WOMEN ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY!.  There were 12 women in the last Power 100 list and there are only nine this year!  That’s a 25% reduction.   I set out below the nine women listed, five of which are in politics or government:

5. Edwina Hart, Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science, up from 67 last list when she was Health Minister;

6.  Cheryl Gillan, Secretary of State for Wales  – no change

11.  Jane Hutt, business and budget minister – no change

18.  Dame Gillian Morgan, permanent secretary – down from 13

19. Sian Lloyd Jones, chief executive Finance Wales – down from 14

66.  Laura Tenison, MD JoJo Maman Bebe -new entry

71.  Hayley Parsons, founder Go Compare – up from 82

73.  Kirsty Williams, Liberal Democtrate leader – down from 71

94.  Bethan Darwin, founder Darwin Gray and Superwoman – new entry

These were the women featured in the previous list:

6.  Cheryl Gillan – Secretary of State for Wales – new

11.  Jane Hutt – business and budget minister (rising from 87 )

13.  Dame Gillian Morgan – Permanent Secretary, WAG (down from 11)

14.  Sian Lloyd Jones – Chief Executive Finance Wales (up from 17)

38.  Jane Davidson – Environment, Sustainability and Housing Minister (up from 56)

58.  Menna Richards – Controller, BBC Wales (down from 8  as Ms Richards had announced her departure from BBC)

63.  Jocelyn Davies – Deputy Minster for Housing and Regeneration – new

67.  Edwina Hart – Health Minister (down from 12 in the previous list when she was tied in 12th place with Huw Lewis and Carwyn Jones as the Labour leadership had not been decided at the time)

71.  Kirsty Williams – Liberal Democrat Leader (up from 86)

74.  Lesley Griffiths – deputy minister for science, innovation and skills – new

82.  Hayley Parsons – founder, Go Compare – new

100.  Elizabeth Hayward – director South East Wales Economic Forum -new

Some of the women missing in action from the lists should be reinstated including Elizabeth Hayward who has recently been appointed by Ms Hart to chair a task and finish group on a Cardiff City region and Ann Beynon,  Wales Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights and  BT Director of Wales.  Others not previously on lists should be included such as Professor Laura McAllister, Chair of Sport Wales.   Including just these three, who are all very influential in Wales, would at least have meant that the number of women on the list stayed constant rather than falling.

If I have any influence at all in Wales this is what I would like to achieve the next time there’s a Power 100 list.  That the list of women should be getting longer rather than shorter!  That all the superwomen in Wales (and there are hundreds of you; I know; you come to Superwoman) email the Insider and tell them what you are achieving and how you are achieving it – that you shout out loud about your achievements and not hide your lights under bushels;  that you MAKE A BIG NOISE ABOUT HOW GOOD YOU ARE.  Let’s make it 13 women for 2013.  And if while you’re at it, you also think the sexy lists are shallow and not doing us as Welsh people any favours, tell the Western Mail that too.

Christmas nibbles by E J Catering

December 19, 2011

Christmas nibbles to put in the freezer.

MAKING Christmas food ahead for the freezer, spreads the cost, the hassle, the pressure and the mess but, as I found out this week, the most important part of cooking for the freezer is to make sure you have room in it before you start!

I spent an evening prepping, imagining Christmas and all the noise and mess with just a small amount of dread but the radio was on and the tunes helped my thoughts flow away – until I opened the freezer and discovered it was full.

This weekend’s job is to defrost and eat. At work my freezer is 3mx2m, big enough to keep a snowman in there, so I know my Christmas nibbles will be safe, even if they are six miles away from my house!

Twisted cheese and chorizo straws

2 sheets of puff pastry

1 egg

1 tablespoon of mustard – any type

100g chorizo or smoked bacon

4 spring onions

60g parmesan cheese

1 stick of celery

Remove the skin from the chorizo and dice small, or slice the bacon and cook in a hot pan until crispy.

In a small chopper or magimix put the chorizo / bacon, chopped spring onions, grated parmesan, celery stick and whizz it to a chunky paste

Lay a sheet of puff pastry on the work top and stab it all over with a fork. Now crack the egg and beat it with the mustard. Spread this generously over the pastry before spreading on  the chunky paste.

Lay down the second sheet of pastry, stab it and egg wash it and now put it on top. Gently stick them together. Put this all back in the fridge because it is much easier to cut and twist when it is firm and chilled.

A few hours later, remove from the fridge and cut strips lengthwise about a centimetre wide. Twist one hand to the right and another to the left till you have a lovely twist of pastry with the colour of the chorizo coiled through. Put them back on the baking tray and into the freezer.

On Christmas morning put them on a baking tray from frozen and into the oven at 175C for about 8-12 minutes. The family will be queuing at the oven door for the twists which look a little like sticks of savoury candy

Other fillings:

Sautéed leek and brie; red onion, tomato and Caerphilly (use a squeeze of good quality sundried tomato paste); blue cheese, walnut and celery – all delicious.

Christmas shortbread – make, roll and freeze

2 oz caster sugar

4oz butter

6oz flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves or lemon or orange zest whichever takes your fancy

Cream the butter and sugar together, add the flour and spice and work into a dough. Rest it in the fridge. Roll it out onto a floured surface about ½cm thick and cut into a shape. Freeze these on greaseproof paper until you are ready and cook from frozen at 140C for 8-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and lightly dust with sugar. Warning: the family will be queuing again!

Cheese or dessert madam? – Part the second by 72 year old Superwoman

November 2, 2011

Working for a charity isn’t exactly fluffy but there is some fun to be had. You don’t have to work for a charity – there are cultural, sporty and all kinds of organisations out there who would be glad to have your skills. Art shows, music festivals, teaching kids to stay on their bikes or walk up hills, whatever turns you on.

It is rather important that you are physically up to whatever you want to take on. Too many people who have worked right up to the wire and made no preparations at all for retiring are snapped up by the grim reaper relatively quickly. It’s hard to go from the work jungle to the nothing going on wilderness without preparing for it. She died of a broken heart and death from deadly boredom when she gave up work does not often appear on a death certificate. But would do if the doc wasn’t so fixated on finding a medical explanation. Heart failure. Indeed. Covers them all does that one. Your health is the biggest limitation you are likely to encounter. If you’re unfit and overweight, and hitting the booze and fags  start tackling those issues before you make further plans. Take up a sport. The golf courses are awash with oldies some of whom you may have met in a previous incarnation. When they weren’t wearing those funny jacquard sweaters.  Pringle have a lot to answer for. Even if you have been running up mountains at weekends for years this is no preparation for Everest. If you’ve got a medical condition of any kind it’s likely to get worse as you get older.  And new ones will crop up. Know your physical limitations and adjust your goals accordingly.

Some of you will have your eye on a new business. A clothing boutique, a toy shop, a florist or a cooking based operation, a little pub in the country perhaps. Maybe something with little capital outlay that you can operate on the net. These might seem like fun but this is no time to lose your competitive edge. There are people out there who’ve been doing what you fancy doing half their lives and the competition will be stiff. And in the present economic climate forget the country pub. You can pick up a bargain from the receivers anywhere. They’re falling like nine pins all over the place. And doing the gracious mine-hostess thing in a pub is extremely hard work. You may have been a brilliant cook and hostess for dinner parties. Running  a pub is not an extension of your dinner parties. Ever tried rolling a beer cask across the cellar from where the delivery man left it in the wrong place? Not the time to remember you’ve got a bad back.  If trade isn’t picking up in the first three months the next person stepping on your nice Welcome mat will be the receiver. New business? Spot the holes before you fall into one.

Some people go off on completely  new tracks.  The kids leave home, and you get empty nest syndrome. Reconfigure it as FREEDOM to do what you want– and grab with both hands. When my kids left home I said we might be moving before long. I was well under retirement age but your kids always think you’re  old and past it. Right – a cosy two bedroom retirement flat is it? No, we’re buying a 14 bedroom country house hotel. What? Is there life after kids leave? There is indeed. They’ll come back, and will either be a bit narked or over the moon to find the old lady has a new lease of life. Maybe you’ve always wanted to have  go at painting or throwing pots, writing a book, playing a musical instrument, learning Welsh, designing clothes or developing your hidden talents into a business, something creative (not that the spreadsheets weren’t creative – perish the thought.) Now’s your chance. You might find you’re a lousy painter/writer/ musician. And if you don’t have any other languages already Welsh is a helluva big obstacle course for a beginner.  Hot shot career women are not used to failing at things are they? Reality check time in some areas.  If you’re not good at losing, bury the evidence of your failure, a skill you fell back on at work sometimes, and try something you might win at.

Building up a hobby into a more absorbing activity is often a very easily attainable goal. Well done on making some preparations for retiring. The one thing you will have more of when you give up work is time. Unless of course you indulge yourself in faffing round the supermarket for two hours instead of the half hour it used to take you. It won’t take long for the glamour of that one to wear off. Not having the time is maybe what held you back from getting a painting in the Open Exhibition at the RCA  or the Tate. Try something local first. One of the things I enjoy doing most is running the local community art exhibition. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler but it doesn’t matter. (I do have a splendid collection of paintings all over my walls screaming Good Taste.) I can organise and artists usually can’t. Marriage made in heaven. The clue is in the word community. It’s non – competitive and no prizes for the best rose, landscape or doggie portrait. Anybody at all within a certain mileage radius of the village can bring in a painting and we’ll stick it on the wall, without passing judgement. And what is very interesting is that these paintings sell. In fact so successful is it that what was originally an amateur show, and still is largely, attracts professionals who see that we sell and want a piece of that action. This in turn keeps the standards up.  It does of course take some bottle if you have never exhibited before to enter and might be hanging next to an RCA. They all have a chance of selling, from the £25 pansy to the £450 landscape.  The secret I believe is to keep your buyers as happy as your artists. We have a preview evening at the start of the show for all previous buyers.  Glass of wine each, bag of crisps between 90 people and a chance to meet the artists. I go into full on salesperson mode, and it does of course help to remember who they all are. “Hello, Mr K, good  to see you again. Your favourite artist X has some lovely work in this year – hanging over there.” Back comes a beaming Mr K with an X art work. Kerching. Everybody’s happy.  It breaks my heart to see the £25 pansies coming in. What level of self esteem does that artist have that they think their work is worth £25? The frame must cost that. I feel like going round and giving them a big hug. Couldn’t you nudge it up to 30 quid this year Nancy? Quiver of anxiety – couldn’t possibly. OK, suit yourself.

Then there’s relationships. If you are not in a relationship, good for you – you can do what you like. The world’s your lobster. Oysters? Come on girls, think big. If you are in a relationship maybe it’s time to take stock of the guy who in recent years may have turned into that lump at the other side of the bed.  Who the hell is he anyway?  Did I actually marry him once? Re-assess, review and either try to re-ignite the spark or if he’s your limitation, do your own thing. If he doesn’t want to join you, fine, if he has a better suggestion also fine– if he’s deadly dull he’ll be there when you come back, giving you a catch up on the latest football scores and so on, and you can buzz off to Madagascar again. Your friends of course are a huge asset when you retire. You have time for them now.  But you might also discover that like the lump at the other side of the bed  they too are not quite as exciting as you thought they were when you were all superwomen.

It’s never too late to make new friends.  I have to say ditching baggage not wanted on the future voyage is a major step when you are heading for a new start.  This is quite hard and depends entirely on how keen you are to embrace the new.  Try not to throw  the baby put with the bathwater.

Travelling is often a big ambition with all the time in the world ahead of you. You have three months (at least) instead of a fortnight to wander at will. This is where you need to take that health check. While 40 degree temperatures might have looked attractive when you looked through your Cardiff window at the rain pouring down they might not feel so comfortable in real life. And who knew there were so many mosquitos in the Sarawak jungle?  Who, unlike the colourful pests  in the Cairo bazaar, do not take money to go away. Do your homework before embarking on the adventure of a life time. If you want to travel with a purpose, there are plenty of aid agencies needing people of any age with skills. But they have to be the right skills. If you faint at the sight of blood, can’t stick a plaster on to save your life and  can’t teach people who don’t speak your language some training might be necessary. If you want to brush up first aid skills join the St John’s Ambulance brigade. And get into those frightfully expensive operas and concerts free.

Don’t forget your roots, don’t forget your comfort zone.  There are people left behind who care about you and they are not easily replaceable. You always have the option of staying in your comfort zone. Which won’t work if your job was the key component of your comfort zone.  I will not bore you with my final destination career. I’m an astrologer, which is a calling not an off the peg career choice. When I took that route half the people I knew said She’s finally flipped her lid this time, and the other half queued up to have their charts done. You too might choose to do something for which half the world will think you’re bonkers. Good luck with that one. Will of steel and rhinocerous hide required. We are never too old to change if we want to.  When you walk out of the work door for the last time there’s a whole new world out there to explore. Think mental, emotional, physical and social stimulation. Any or all of those are what you’ll miss most. They are all replaceable. Enjoy, have fun, be happy!

Dessert or cheese, madam? Part the first by 72 year old Superwoman

October 20, 2011

Dessert or cheese, madam?

 Part the first

The last course. What do you fancy ladies? Not to follow the nice main course you just had, your splendid career, but what to do with your life after that? What, me, retire? I’m miles away from that yet. Course you are. That’s what you said about being 40 when you were 20, remember?

At some point in the not that far away future you will glad hand and hug everybody at work, have a great retirement party and walk away with the witty cards and the carriage clock (or whatever) go home and say What now? Some of you will have breezed through the career trajectory as if on gilded wings, others will have had to struggle to get where they ended up. Either way they have indeed ended up somewhere and the idea of “ending up” is not appealing. The career might have ended but life hasn’t. So what do you do for an encore?

From the vantage point of the 72 year old superwoman….. (Aren’t there any other oldies hiding in the woodwork as part of the superwoman mob?  Reveal yourselves please.) Anyway from the oldie totem pole position I am about to share my pearls of wisdom with you.  First ask yourself what makes you happy? Happiness is a very elusive concept and one which I don’t propose to go into much here. The things you thought made you happy – often material things, you will have found out by now are temporary. That fancy car you  worked your socks off for made you happy for a while. Until it got its first scratch then it became a heap of tin you spent rather a lot of money on.  That love of your life relationship you made a massive emotional investment in made you happy, until it fell apart at the seams.  There is nothing wrong with temporary happiness but lasting happiness has to be self generated and come from inside yourself. Ask yourself the happiness question and it is likely you will find that what you put into something is reflected in the happiness reward you get out of it.

You’re all achievers. What would you like to achieve in the rest of your life? Go round the world on your yacht? Climb Everest? Feed the birds in your garden? Hang on a minute, before you set your goals you need to take stock of your assets. Forget the 38D boobs, they’ve drooped, as has the pert bottom you once had. Mental, physical, emotional and financial assets are the ones up for stocktaking. List the strengths and weaknesses, blessings and limitations.  Financially you might be very well set up and you have enough money to last you for life.  Everything goes up in price, so do a quick budget before you throw £20K at the Nepalese Government to get to the foothills of Everest and then have to find a team and supplies to get you up the hill. Ten years on your Council Tax might be a bit of a pull financially.  Bare necessities are always with you and whatever your budget for these double it for ten years down the line. Now can you afford that yacht?

Your brain is almost certainly ticking along like clockwork. Do you want to use the skills you built up in your job or do you want to go in another direction? I started my career as a psychologist, then acquired business and financial skills. Wrap those together in one parcel and my God people will beat a path to your door. Just one of those will have a queue forming round the block. I speak of course of working with charities.  There is an endless demand for people with financial, business, admin and legal skills within the 3rd sector. It took me about 5 mins to launch myself as a charity treasurer. It can be enormously rewarding but sometimes it’s not quite what you expected. I went to my first regional meeting of a sub section of a charity I will call the Gaspers and Wheezers, for people with lung problems.  At the entrance to the venue was a lady hanging onto a handrail gasping for breath. Are you alright? Not really I didn’t think it was so far from the car. Where’s your car? She pointed to a car ten yards away. Would you like me to get you a wheelchair? Gasp, gasp, wheeze Yes please. Me and my new mate walked in to the room. Which was awash with people in wheel chairs with oxygen cylinders attached.  Then the coughing started. I spent the entire meeting running around giving people drinks of water in the absolute certain expectation that half of them would croak before the end of the meeting. They didn’t of course, they’re toughies, the gaspers and wheezers. Don’t ask about the money. Almost every small charity is run on a shoe string, and you return a deficit balance sheet every year and will achieve legend status if you can reduce the deficit. I do it by being very tight on the purse strings and slapping down any trustee who is looking for a little perk. The words “misappropriation of funds” works a treat.

Charity work is usually volunteering. You might get expenses or a small honorarium. Which will buy you a glass of wine or three. Not a bottle. Be in no doubt that the status of a volunteer is nothing like being head honcho of your own department when you were at work. A volunteer has no power at all as a worker in a sub branch of a national charity where decisions on policy are run  from London. And not much more in the little local charity you fancy. The only power a volunteer has is to walk away.  Your best bet is to get on the board of trustees of the charity of your choice and get a seat at the top table. I’ve hopped about various charities in my time. It’s a good idea to get involved with a charity whose objectives you care about.  If you do not have some empathy for one legged blind black lesbian asylum seekers don’t even think about working with them. There are dozens of charities requiring your expertise.  Medical, children, the homeless, the elderly, abused women, everything under the sun. Where there’s injustice and deprivation there is always going to be a charity for it. You need to decide at the outset whether you want to be hands on with the people you are helping or a back room girl. If you cringe at the smellies in the soup kitchen or have no aptitude for communicating with the mentally ill, while you may wish to be dedicated to their cause there is no need to  be hands on with the hapless victims of a society determined to keep them under who  you might be working your socks off to keep afloat financially. Plenty of space for you in the back room.

The other thing about charities and other well intentioned outfits is that you will not see eye to eye with everybody working for the same cause. You might have been top bitch in your job, some of these people have been top bitches/dogs in the do – gooding business for ever. You are a new broom, so they’ll be watching you like hawks. Is she going to make changes? Course she is – she was brought in  to try and drag you out of the doldrums. Any first meeting where you are advised to sit in the wings and watch what happens for a year doesn’t deserve you. There are inevitably change resistant old sticks who are very suspicious of new brooms, and will vote down your every change proposal. There are several approaches to this one. One is – you want to stay on the verge of going down the pan  and I’m supposed to sit on the touchline and watch that happen? OK you don’t need me- I’m outta here. Tact and diplomacy for getting them on side individually is another. One at a time is the divide and rule strategy here. Watch out for the deeply entrenched alliances. The other is to get a bit manipulative.  Like shoving a wedge between the entrenched alliances. We’ve all done the tact and diplomacy and the manipulations at our regular jobs – these are transferable skills. These people are all volunteers too usually and can be edged out. Just like the good old days at work, without the redundancy payments. Play to things that interest you and play to your strengths.

Working for a charity can be very life enhancing, for others as well as yourself,  and also gives you the rosy glow of giving something back and trying to empower people who have no power.  Be very careful which charity you choose and vet your colleagues equally carefully and you too could be the next Mother Teresa. Or not.  If you’re in it for a halo, forget it – try hang gliding instead. Charity work is the cheese course, filling and satisfying. Next blog about other fluffier retirement options. The lemon syllabub madam?

On Tempestuous Seas – Rowing Two Oceans – by Elin Haf Davies

October 10, 2011

“How do you do it?” is a question I often get asked when people hear that I’ve spent 22 weeks rowing across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. My answer – anything and everything can be done when you want to do it.

When you adjust to the physical demands and sleep deprivation that comes from rowing 2 hours on 2 hours of, 24 hours a day for 11 weeks at a time, rowing across an ocean is actually very straightforward. Simple even!  Because there are just three things in life that has to be done – rowing, eating, sleeping.

How many times in the last week would you have jumped at the opportunity to be juggling just three things in your life? Every woman I know is constantly juggling a 1000 and one things. Work deadlines, bills to pay, school uniform to be stitched, car insurance to be renewed, and your mother-in-laws birthday present to be wrapped. The list for everyone is endless and ever growing.

So while my time at sea was physically gruelling it was emotionally and psychologically detoxifying. I didn’t need to worry about paying bills. Keeping my boss happy. Travelling to work in the rush hour. Or worrying what to wear. It was the perfect time for me to STOP! STOP rushing around. STOP worrying about things that really aren’t important but that society dictates that we should. STOP being part of the rat race.

And when I got back, and was re-adjusted to life on land, I felt the same sort of relief when I STOPPED to write a book about my experiences. It was a time to reflect, a time to appreciate what I have and a time to thank those that made my life what it is and to decide what direction I want the rest of my life to take: a PhD, a successful career developing safer better medicines for children, and many more ocean crossings.

I obviously appreciate that ocean rowing or even writing a book doesn’t appeal to very many women, so I’m not going to attempt to persuade the Superwomen of Wales to pick up their oars and pens. But I would certainly advocate that every single one should, now and again STOP. Stop to do something different. Something that takes you out of your daily grind. Something that helps you to see the woods for the trees. Jumping off the rat race treadmill now and again is like recharging the battery, so that you can continue being the Superwoman that we all have to be these days.

On Tempestuous Seas: rowing two oceans (£8.50) and Ar Fôr Tymhestlog (£7:50) are published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales and is available on line via GWALES . http://www.gwales.com/bibliographic/?isbn=9781845273606&tsid=11

Dr Elin Haf Davies www.nurseelin.co.uk<http://www.nurseelin.co.uk>

Hello I’m Nain – from 72 year old Superwoman

October 7, 2011

One  of the delights of getting old is alleged to be becoming a Nain ( Granny for the monoglot English or Mam-gu for those in the benighted south).  Particularly, I am told, the handing them back to parents when you’ve had enough. I just became a granny – to Eva Myfanwy now 9 weeks old. So way to go on grannyhood.  This  in not actually my first grand child. I have three teenage grandchildren in New Zealand.  I dashed out there within a month of the first’s birth.  What a gorgeous baby etc. I said to the parents.  Why not have a night out and I will baby sit. They got all dolled up and went out. Within half an hour grandson was bawling his head off. Unfortunately his mum had waltzed off with the milk bar and I had nothing to give the hungry lad. No idea  where they had gone and no estimated time of return. First rule of grannydom – don’t let parents leave without a forwarding number and ETR.  When will you be home doesn’t stop when they’re teenagers.

I jogged the little wailer round the room singing soothing Welsh nursery rhymes. The babe’s a Kiwi, isn’t he, so I cut no ice.  I finally got him to doze off to Taking a chance on love from my Frank Sinatra repertoire. I went out for the other two as well. It is quite hard to be a decent Nain at a distance of 12000 miles and they were all at least 5 years old before they recognised  me when I showed up again. Even then the eldest had to give the others a nudge as to who I was. I used to go out annually. As they got older I would stop off in Kuala Lumpur and raid the local Toys ‘R Us. She was into  Barbie dolls last year, he was into Lego, cuddly toy for youngest. Guess what? They had all moved on in a year so it was thanks Nain and quiet dumping of Barbie. Lego and Teddy. Those three are now teenagers and I feel I hardly know them.

This one’s different. Born in our fair capital city. I was down the minute she and mother were out of hospital and presenting my Nain credentials when she was 3 says old. Hello, I’m your Nain. Will I do? Hard to tell, they don’t do much at 3 days old but suck and sleep. Absolutely fabulous, gorgeous baby. Course she is. I had gone armed with a bucketful of Welsh nursery rhymes and early books. Dafydd Iwan and Edward did a lovely CD,  years ago. Nursery songs don’t change. I think we all know what happened to Dafydd but what happened to Edward since early 70s?  Touchy feely books with stuff like this feels like cat/dog/cow/sheep hair and they go miaow, woof, moo and baa. Preferable I think to trailing the real thing through the house. The first issue was her name. They had chosen Eva as  easily manageable in any language (my own kids having had to struggle to get people outside Wales to pronounce their names.) Myfanwy after paternal great grandmother. Eva seemed to be a problem. Welsh daddy pronounced it I-fa, spitting out the short “I”, French mother stuck an accent on the first E so it comes out as Ava. I opted out and said I would call her Myfi. I am hoping that will catch on. No two ways about Myfi – rhymes with luvvie. Next issue national identity. I said to Welsh son We’re claiming this one for Wales, quick, plant a Draig Goch in her cradle before the French grandmere shows up. I was privileged to be first on the scene as French grandmere has other grandchildren within spitting distance. French grandmere only speaks French. I said to son – tell grandmere in her own language to put her tricolour away, this one’s Welsh. Rough translation: Gerroff madame, this one’s mine. Happily grandmere has not I think attempted to launch a French invasion, and mum’s learning Welsh.

Myfi was a very placid baby. How do they do that? Mine all popped out yelling and fighting and haven’t stopped since. Maybe stroppy mothers have stroppy babies.  My lovely d-i-l is also placid. And how. I’m quite sure I didn’t have her patience when I was a young mum.  I visited Myfi again when she was six weeks old. Not quite so placid.  How they change in a short time. I am not sure whether she smiled or if it was wind.  I am not that experienced with babies as it’s 40 odd years since I had one , and I don’t go round chucking other people’s babies under the chin and doing the coochie coo bit. I do not think I am a natural grandmother. But will make a major effort with this one. Myfi responds well to Nain bouncing her round the room to Dacw mam yn dwad.  Halleluia – she knows she’s Welsh. There’ll be hell to pay if she doesn’t. Get out Ol’ Blue Eyes, you’re redundant and I’ve got a blue eyes of my own. Myfi is the image of her dad. Right down to the double chin when in repose. I’ve said to d-i-l If you want one that looks like you, better have another.

The new little family are now in Norway for a few months.  I’m going to visit in another month. Myfi will definitely give me a smile next time. I have offered to baby sit while parents have a night off. Don’t forget to get a bottle and express some milk. The deals’ off if you don’t. Nains of Wales unite. You have nothing to lose but the milk dribble on the shoulder.

Western Mail’s 50 sexiest women in Wales 2011

October 3, 2011

It’s that time of year again!  Western Mail has published its annual 50 sexiest women list with  the 50 sexiest men list to follow next week .  It’s also  the time of year I usually publish my annual rant about the inanity of these two lists.    I seriously debated whether I should bother this year – the Superwoman blog gets a lot of hits  from people searching not for my rant about the sexy lists but for the identity of those featuring in the lists.    But just in case there is anyone out there who might possibly miss reading my views …

Each year a different Western Mail journalist  has to do their level best to stretch the definition of sexy to something far more meaningful and rounded as per this effort on Saturday for the sexy woman list:  “The word sexy embodies a whole host of other adjectives.  Sophisticated, sassy, stylish”  Er no, those are adjectives all in their own right actually.   And then this little gem:  “Having a close relationship with your family and friends is sexy, as is going out of your way to help others and putting those less fortunate than you first.”  What rubbish.   The fact that a woman gets on with her father say or her friends from school is unlikely to have any bearing whatsoever on whether people find her sexy.  “Sexy” and “Her Dad” are two images that don’t normally come to mind at the same time and if they do the reaction is likely to be Bleurgh.  Nobody ever used the adjective sexy to describe Mother Theresa.    The meaning of sexy means someone you’d like to have sex with.    If correctly labelling your list “the 50 women in Wales we’d most like to have sex with” doesn’t sit right with you, then come up with another adjective rather than pummelling extra meaning into “sexy”.

There’s amazing talent in your women’s list – some of our best actors, singers, presenters, athletes,  hotel sales and marketing managers.  They are wonderful women bringing Wales to the world and the world to Wales; flying the flag high for our determined little nation in our struggle to get our businesses and business skills, our langugage and culture, our creativity and our sporting talent taken  seriously by the big wide world.  There will be the same kind of talent, with a heavier emphasis on rugby players, in the men’s list next week.  But to me, publishing a list that categorises our people by reference to being sexy is a list that says:  we don’t really care what you’ve achieved  or how talented you are, we’re only interested in you or your achievements if we think you are shaggable.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again.  If the Western Mail, Wales’ National Newspaper, must do lists – and lists do seem to attract a lot of comment and debate  and thus presumably sell newsapers – then do 50 Wonderful Welsh Women  and 50 Wonderful Welsh Men instead.  Because Wales, we’re worth it.

Santiago de Compostela or bust by Pembrokeshire Superwoman

September 26, 2011

Well it seemed like a good idea to me…  But friends were taken aback…  “You are doing what?  In that old thing?  You are joking…  Seriously you are joking aren’t you?”  And all I had said was that I was planning on driving Miss Daisy to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.

Miss Daisy by the way is my 1934 Austin 7 Tourer.  We have a love hate relationship and as you can imagine, she certainly did not relish the idea of a 2,000 mile round trip to Spain.  Well if you were 77 years old and had to carry someone my size all that way, you wouldn’t be too keen either.  Actually, Miss Daisy is no stranger to driving on the Continent with two trips to France and one to Ireland already under her bonnet.  Even so, on every trip, this little old car has always marked her protest by breaking down, usually in the most awkward place.

Sir Herbert Austin had always intended that cars like Miss Daisy were to be used for little jaunts into the countryside, or perhaps a week at the seaside.  But for some reason past owners of Austin 7s never quite got that message.  In fact ever since the 1930s they have had designs on undertaking massive journeys in them.  Indeed it is believed that more Sevens have circumnavigated the globe than any other single make of car.

Then I discover that I wasn’t the only one wanting to do this trip and we were joined by two other vehicles, a 1931 Model A Ford and a 1938 Austin Seven Special.  We were also joined by an Austin Seven fanatic, fortunately in a Landrover as his Austin had thrown a wobbly just before we were due to leave.  His tow bar was to prove helpful on several occasions.

So one morning last September I left Pembrokeshire with just about every spare part I could find stowed away in various crevices of the little car.  Miss Daisy didn’t disappoint, barely 100 miles into the trip the red ignition warning light came on.  ‘Uh-oh, dynamo’s packed up.  A good thing I packed a battery charger’.

We raised a big grin from the Guardia Civil at passport control as we arrived at Santander, or was it the girls in the low cut tops?  Our route took us from Santander to Gijon, then inland through A Fonsagrada, Lugo and finally on to Santiago.  And what a route!  The locals would come out of the cafés cheering and clapping as we passed through.  I think even Miss Daisy enjoyed the attention.  We used a sat nav set to avoid motorways and to take the shortest route.  This wasn’t a good idea as Miss Daisy doesn’t like Sat-Navs and as a result it took us along some very small roads and on occasion through farmyards, scattering chickens as we passed through.

Another small difficulty was that the Cantabrian Mountains stood in our way and as we headed inland, the long climbs and drops started.  Gently at first and then the climbs got steeper and every day we found ourselves travelling not only through the most stunning scenery but also over some very high mountain passes.  One pass turned out to be 1,500 feet higher than Snowdon.  At the top we stopped to let the engines cool down and to take in the scenery.  But when it was time to move on, Miss Daisy decided that she wasn’t going to start.  So after a shove from the others, we started to roll down the other side of the mountain.

This again was not a good idea as with no engine, I only had Miss Daisy’s cable brakes to stop us as we started on our 6,500 foot descent and Austin Seven brakes are not well known for stopping efficiently.  Fortunately the engine finally kicked in after we had dropped about 500 feet and by the time we reached the bottom, Miss Daisy was running perfectly again.  But no sooner had we got down than we started yet another climb.  The Sat-Nav then took us on some very narrow, steep climbs with sheer drops of several thousand feet only inches from our wheels.

It took us about six days to reach Santiago de Compostela.  Fortunately for us, the Archbishop of Santiago rather liked vintage cars and we had been given permission to park up in front of the cathedral for a photo call.  But as there would be thousands of pilgrims and visitors milling around after 9.00am, could we please be there by 8.00am, take the necessary photographs and go…

Our mission completed, it was time to think about our journey home and that is never as much fun as the journey there.  The route back to Santander took us north to Ribadeo on the coast and then along the coast road, finally reaching Santander four days later.   But while we didn’t have massive mountains to climb, the coastal scenery of what they call ‘Green Spain’ was still stunning.

Would I recommend such a trip to others?  I certainly would.  It’s such a different Spain compared to the Costas where we British normally head.  But it is quite beautiful and the locals are really warm and friendly, even if they think you are bonkers.

I’m doing John O’Groats to Land’s End next year and on top of that Miss Daisy is allowing me to turn her diaries in to a book. I know it’s not usual for a woman to own and drive a vintage car; this has been a male pastime for years with wives dutifully occupying the passenger seat…  But why not?  It’s brilliant fun and for those who live a high speed lifestyle, a car like Miss Daisy certainly slows you down and lets you put things in perspective.

Superwoman by E J Catering – How the Rhino got his Skin

September 5, 2011

My children Molly, Jake and I spent our summer holiday in my grandmother’s house in the heart of the Lake District.    Everyday we made pasties filled with the leftover supper from the night before, we packed drinks, a book and headed out for a walk around a lake, along a river, or up a small fell in search of a water fall.  The weather just held to a typical British summer and the kids threw stones, leaves and twigs, scrambled, climbed, moaned, ran, jumped and paddled.  We were constantly on hunt alert for slugs, mushrooms, frogs and Penguin biscuit rocks – amazing rocks found only on certain special mountains that conceal Penguin biscuits for little people with tired legs.

My Granny Anne’s house is full of old leather books with titles such as Ancient Foods of England, Collection of the Giant Moths of the British Isles, Birds of New Zealand, five volumes of  lectures by Winston Churchill, Games for Children, something for anybody and everybody.  I found a small red leather book printed in 1942, Rudyard Kipling’s Just so Stories. I packed it safely in our lunch sack and under a large oak tree read How the rhino got his skin.  At the beginning of time the rhino had a very smart, tight coat with three large buttons under his belly.  One day he came across a cake baked by a local warrior which he stole and ate.  The warrior was cross with the rhino and so the next time the sun shone and the rhino took off his coat to bathe the warrior rubbed sticky cake crumbs into the inside of the coat.  After bathing the happy Rhino put back on his coat and started to itch and itch, he rubbed against trees, posts and rocks to relieve the itching, his buttons broke off , his skin stretched and sagged and the rhino got his grumpy face because ever since he’s suffered itching under the skin!

Sticky plum cake

225g soft butter

450g  ripe plums

1 lemon zest and half its juice

225g caster sugar

3 eggs  225g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

25g ground almonds

1 tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a deep cake tin.  Stone the plums and slice into eight crescent moons.  Cream together the butter, caster sugar, lemon zest and juice in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, sift the flour and the baking powder into the bowl and fold in with the ground almonds. Add the fresh plums to the mixture.  Spoon into the cake tin, lightly level the top and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Bake in the oven for 45-55 mins or until well-risen, brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. If the cake starts to look a little too brown, cover with a sheet of baking paper  Leave to cool slightly and remove the cake from the tin.  Serve with lightly whipped cream and a spoonful of honey.  And never steal anyone’s cake – you have been warned!

Superwoman by E J Catering – National Ice Cream Day

August 3, 2011

TWO weeks last Monday was National Ice Cream Day. I am sorry I missed it and with two small children how could I?
But who knew? Hands up, honestly if you knew!  Who decides these things, which national body, world wide organisation, local council of where comes up with this stuff?  Did you eat an ice cream two weeks last Monday?
Looking at my calendar for the rest of year its National Dog Day and Women Equality Day on FridayAugust 26 – why are they sharing, are there not enough days in the year?
It’s National Grandparent Day on Sunday, September 11 –  now that is an important one.
And why is not more commonly known? Someone  tell the card companies!
My mum is very active with my kids, has a great relationship with them  and we will be making a card, so in hindsight no one tell the card companies because homemade  is always the best way to a grandparent’s heart.
There’s UN Peace Day on Wednesday, September 21 and get this one, National Chocolate Covered Anything Day on December 15 – maybe my calendar is having a laugh or is there a Cover Everything in Chocolate group, where and when do they meet, is there one in Cardiff or should we start one?
Back to the ice cream and who says we can’t have a  second national ice cream day just incase you missed the first.

Recipe for vanilla ice cream, makes about a pint and half
½ pint double cream
½ pint full fat milk
1 fresh vanilla pod
6 egg yolks
6oz caster sugar
In a saucepan mix the cream and milk and gently heat.  Slit the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, add to the cream along with the pod (we will remove it later).
In a bowl whisk the egg yolks and the sugar.
When the cream is simmering pour it over the yolks, whisk it and return to the saucepan on a gentle heat until it thickens just like a custard.  If you overheat and split the custard immediately sieve into a cool bowl and beat the mixture well.
Allow to cool and churn in an ice cream maker until doubled in size.  Place in a freezer container and freeze until ready.
If you don’t have a churn or don’t fancy making your own I recommend Hapus ice cream on Caerphilly Mountain.
All that is left for me to say is Happy National Ice Cream Day the Second!

St Brides Hotel and Spa, Saundersfoot

July 22, 2011

Mr S and I went to the St Brides Hotel and Spa for a night last weekend.  http://www.stbridesspahotel.com  It was a generous present from friends but it took us almost a year from when we received our gift voucher to actually organise ourselves enough to get there.    Our children and dog safely dumped on Super Nannie, we left Cardiff at lunchtime on Sunday and arrived at Saundersfoot within two hours.

The hotel doesn’t look like much from the back – not dissimilar to a modern doctor’s surgery – but once inside you get the full benefit of the most amazing thing about this hotel – the elevated view over Saundersfoot Harbour and Carmarthen Bay.  It is truly stunning.   We had a room with a sea view and if you go there it is certainly worth paying the extra to make sure you have a sea view too because the immediate feeling of calm you get from looking over the sea is priceless.

The hotel has a spa and a small outside infinity pool which also looks out over the view.   Our gift  included a massage each and the room I was in had floor to ceiling glass windows, again with a wonderful view – probably of more benefit to the therapist than me, given that I was lying with my face in that little hole thing in the massage bed most of the time and/or falling asleep.    Couples can have treatments in the same room together if they wish but Mr S and I didn’t go for that option.  It makes me self conscious if he’s in there with me.   You have to book your slot in the infinity pool and if, as was the case when it was time for our designated slot, there is another couple already in there canoodling while they look out over the sea, it can feel a little awkward, like getting into a big bath with a couple of strangers,  but it is a glorious feeling, your head all cold and your body all warm, looking out to sea.  Sorry, mentioning the sea a lot, but there’s a lot of it to look at from the St Brides Hotel.

More lovely view over dinner which was very good, lots of local Welsh produce on the menu and a big wine list with plenty of half bottles available if you wanted white wine with your starter and red wine with your main course as we did.  Slightly marred by the posh young couple from London sitting next to us who appeared to not understand the concept of inside voices.  I don’t think any of the diners in their immediate vicinity had any option but to listen to their dinner conversation and it wasn’t even very interesting, although they did appear to have a number of friends they didn’t like all that much.  We were seated next to them at breakfast the next day too (also very good) but they were considerably quieter come morning.

Our room was light and bright, with a large bed,  crisp bed linen and a pretty Welsh blanket folded at the bottom.  Couple of complaints – our bed was large because it was two singles pushed together and there was a gap in the middle when you came together for a cuddle.  Our bathroom sink was cracked and the grouting around the very small bath (which I think may have survived from a refurbishment of the bathroom and really shouldn’t have) mouldy.  A shame – but hey, you don’t spend very long in the bathroom when there’s a serene sea view to look at.

A walk on the almost deserted beautiful Saundersfoot beach after our full Welsh breakfast topped off our 24 hour stay perfectly.  It wasn’t just the beach that was deserted but the whole of Saundersfoot and lots of shops either closed down or not yet open for the season.  I hope it’s a bit busier there this week and the rest of the summer now that the schools have broken up.

St Brides Hotel and Spa is not cheap but a little of it goes a long way towards recharging your batteries.  And oh, did  I mention the view?

72 year old astrologer Superwoman and the will of steel as determined by the stars

July 13, 2011

The will of steel – direct from our guys in the sky

I am getting feedback on the lines – I haven’t got the will of steel needed to diet.

A superwoman with no will of steel? Surely you jest.  We all have streak of steel somewhere. As some of you will know I am an astrologer.  Here’s a will of steel profile based on star signs.  Remember hardly anyone is 100% the Sun sign they were born under – there are 10 planets and 11 other signs all looking for a way in to influence your personality. So, a very rough guide.

Will of steel ratings 1* weak, 5* strong

Aries: 21st March – 19th April

Very self willed and self confident. Knows it all and won’t be told what to do. Dieting needs to be her idea to stick to it and it will be the diet to blame if she doesn’t. She may fail but as she never learns from her mistakes, it’s not her – it’s the diet. Don’t bother discussing dieting with her – she’s not listening.

WoS rating: *****

Taurus: 20th April – 20th May

Makes a mule look a wimp on the stubborn stakes. Apparently mild sort but likes to be in charge (to control freakery levels). Do not attempt to tell a Taurus what to do. She has loads of persistence and once committed will take control and keep going. A little bit unwilling to acknowledge she needs to diet.

WoS rating: *****

Gemini: 21st May – 20th June

A bit all over the place. Often hasn’t got a really strong grasp of who she is so persuadable to diet by someone else. Needs attention so once the someone else takes her eye off the monitoring ball is likely to give up. Could be a serial dieter with a string of failed diets behind her.

WoS rating: **

Cancer: 21st June – 22nd July

Emotional, though not without initiative and tenacious in hanging on to something she commits to.  Rather prone to get podgy, so knows she needs to diet but also needs family and friends’ support to diet. Will never speak to you again if you try to make a joke of her weight. And moody, so will have a sulk when the fat isn’t shifting as she had hoped.

WoS rating: ***

Leo: 23rd July -22nd August

Strong character, needs to be the leader in any dieting initiative. A high achiever. Bit of a show off so likes an audience and if her audience applauds loudly enough will stick to the diet. A group dieter, where she leads the group. Because of pride in how she looks is least likely to need to diet.

WoS rating: ****

Virgo: 23rd Aug -22nd Sept

Self – sacrificing type and very often puts others first so while often prone to fat is likely to diet at other people’s instigation. Virgo fat tends to hang around the upper body – back, arms, boobs. Good at dieting with someone she is “helping out” with their diet. Not hard to lead astray, but has the persistence to reach a goal.

WoS rating. ***

Libra: 23rd September – 23rd October

Apparently  indecisive but tends to know exactly what she wants. And what she wants is a box of choccies. Rather attention-needy, so requires loads of support. Prone to falling off the wagon then beating herself up about it. Idealistic so thinks she could make it, but not on her own.

WoS rating: **

Scorpio 24th October -21st November

The most stubborn and unpredictable sign of the Zodiac. Once she takes up anything which is her idea has the determination stick it out, but another one who is not likely to need a diet as much as some.

WoS rating: ****

Sagittarius 22nd November – 21st December

Very restless. Has plenty of will power in pursuit of a cause, but short of stamina for seeing things through, and easily bored so is off to the next appealing thing before completing the diet. Always on the move so not particularly fat – prone.

Running round in circles is good exercise.

WoS rating: ***

Capricorn: 22nd December – 19th January

Solid as a rock. Often in shape as well as will power. She may take a while to acknowledge she needs to diet (always too busy busy to notice) but once she sees the light, or the changing room mirror, she won’t be deflected from achieving her target.

WoS Rating *****

Aquarius: 20th January -19th February

Mind over matter. Aquarians will take an analytical approach to the weight problem, work out what to do about it, and get on with it. Do not invite Ms Aquarius to your party when she’s on a diet. She won’t come. Loves to party but has her priorities and the head rules the appetite.

WoS rating ****

Pisces: 20th February – 20th March

Compassionate (for which read soft as muck and a bit gullible). Not that self indulgent so not often a candidate for dieting. Somebody else may have to tell her she’s a big fat slob, but she is unlikely to care, and should she be able  to make her mind up at all about which diet to follow, is not likely to see it through.

WoS only emerges when Pisces is very threatened. Even so she’s the one hiding behind the sofa when merde hits fan.

WoS rating: *

So: Success depends on getting your WoS moving in the dieting direction and for most, getting the support systems in place. These are the Sun signs. If you have Mars in a strong place your WoS will be strengthened. A Pisces with an Aries or Capricorn Mars will gain at least two more WoS stars. An Aries with a Pisces Mars will lose one. You put the fat on – your task to take it off. Good luck.

She’s back – slimmer and fitter than ever before – 72 year old Superwoman

July 5, 2011

IF….. Diet tips from  a used to be fatty ( with no apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

IF you have let yourself go and your weight has crept up to fatter than two pigs proportions, you will feel better about yourself, and actually owe it to yourself,  to go on a diet. It is bad for you to be carrying an excess  couple of stones or more around with you.

IF you normally eat stuff slathered in cream, wine and other rich sauces, and can’t pass the biscuit tin, the cake plate, or the box of choccies without having a dib into them you will find it difficult.

IF you go for a diet made up of food you don’t like and wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole it’s not going to work. From day one of a diet you need to be thinking about reaching your target weight and maintaining it so the prospect of a lifetime of things you don’t like will be neither appealing nor sustainable. Your diet needs to mirror your normal eating practices but stuffing a lot less into your mouth. It’s how much you eat as well as what you eat that has made you fat and a diet needs to signal a permanent change. Healthier eating  is for life not just for Christmas, in fact especially not for Christmas. Sustainability is the ultimate goal.

IF your diet of choice (and there are dozens of them available out there) is restrictive like all cabbage, grapefruit, eggs or whatever, this does not represent normal eating. The crash and burn (fast fat burning weight loss) diet  is both bonkers and bad for you. Variety and balance is what you should be looking for and while the weight loss might be slower it will all come off in the end. Just keep at it.

IF a few weeks in to the diet after knocking off a steady so many pounds a week you hit a plateau and the weight is not dropping away as you’d hoped, don’t despair. Your body’s metabolism is adjusting to the new regime and once it gets the hang of your objective it will say “Oh that’s where we’re going” and get back in line again.

IF you are trying to target one area, like the bingo wings, that doesn’t work very well . The fat shifts first from where the pile up is so it’s usually the pot belly and the muffin top that’s first to go. Then the fat backside. The meaty thighs and the bingo wings  are usually the last to go.

IF, as I am, you are very very old, the elasticity in your skin will have gone. When we had babies the enormous lump that involved whipped back into place relatively easily. When the bounce has gone from your skin what you get is the skin hanging in rather unappealing folds where it once might have recovered. I have lost two stones, and have a less than delightful row of pleats hanging round my belly. It doesn’t matter to me as nobody but me sees my naked belly and it’s preferable to the pot and the muffin top. Old former fatties who are on the pull might find this a disadvantage, unless the prospective lover is also awash with sags and droops.

IF you don’t take any exercise the weight will shift more slowly, and, if you’re not too old, exercise will help dissipate the folds of saggy skin effect. You don’t have to go mad working out at the gym and jogging, brisk walks and plodding up and down a swimming pool will do. Posture also helps. Walk and stand up straight and stop slumping like a sack of potatoes at your desk. If you thought the sack of potatoes act disguised the fat you were wrong. Only a wheelchair is higher visibility than being too fat.

IF you fall off the wagon, which you inevitably will, having a bottle instead of a glass of wine or a bag of chips instead of that one boiled potato you should have had, you won’t lose much, if anything, that week but put it behind you and get back up on the diet horse. With strengthened resolve. On a diet you pay for all that fun falling off the wagon brought. It’s great to get naughty but on a diet no more than once a month for about a day is all you can afford to spend kidding yourself you can get away with it.

IF you are competitive or joined at the hip to a fatty friend, go for a regime which allows you to be star of the show in the  local community hall or to compare progress with friend. I am a solitary kinda gal so the will of steel and support from mentors on the net did it for me.

IF you are a smoker, here’s where you have an advantage. When you are desperate for something to pop in your mouth the fag is always there for you. When the entire planet is anti smoking this is not a tip you will find on any diet regime anywhere in the world. Works for me. And Kate Moss. Talking of whom…

IF you are starting from size 20/22 or more it is daft to be aiming for a size 0. You will certainly drop a few sizes and that’s a real buzz. Make your target realistic. A size 16 for the really obese or a 14 for the not quite so obese will be a huge achievement.  Do not read magazines featuring cadaverous models. They are more unhealthy than the fatties. If you aspire to look like famine victim in Africa, go to Africa, and try famine as a weight loss venture. They don’t have any choice. We do. If your inadvertent choice is fatter than two pigs, it’s time you acted and headed for one pig size.

IF you are tall and people say You don’t need to diet you can carry it, give them a smack in the chops. We all know where our ugly lumps and bumps are and the overhanging flesh is and it’s up to each individual to deal with that if she less than happy with what she looks like.

IF a 72 year old fatty can lose two stones, without being a  diet bore at Olympic level, so can you. It’s wanting to feel better about yourself that motivates you. See you hanging round the elegant end of the size 12/14s in John Lewis. Go, girls, go.

Here’s another pastiche – with apologies to Rupert Brooke

If I should diet think only this of me

That there’s some corner of the kitchen fridge that is for ever furry.

Out! Out! damned tasty lump of gorgeous Cheddar

Begone ! you smelly Brie and Stilton treasures,

For you are simply lumps of lard as I am.

And now I must forsake you for another,

That cottage cheese in pride of place front-fridge.

OMG do I have to? YES. Get rid of the lumps of lard NOW.

Superwoman by E J Catering

June 14, 2011

To end half term I took my children Molly and Jake to Folly Farm, it was a great day out, good value for money, spotlessly clean with loads to do, see and play on.  For me, although not necessarily for Molly and Jake, the highlight was seeing a journey of giraffes in Wales – five beautiful giraffes strolling around with the Pembrokeshire coast as their backdrop.

In January I was in South Africa and went on a four day safari. On our last day we asked if we could go on a walk into the bush.  Our guide asked what we wanted to track and we said giraffes. The experience was amazing, even before we saw the giraffes.   Walking in a straight line, close  behind the guide and his gun, we saw huge beetles, spiders and beautiful flowers. The creaks in the trees and bushes made our imaginations run riot.  Our guide told us a story of when he was training.  He had lain in the grass with his leg in the air in complete silence, moving his foot from left to right every now and again to imitate a young giraffe. An adult giraffe had become curious, walked over and stooped right over him, making his heart thump.
Within an hour we had seen 22 giraffes and we just sat and watched them walk around us in their natural environment.  After a while two of us lay down in the grass whilst  the guide and others walked off, about 150 metres away. We both put our legs in the air and moved our feet like periscopes pretending to be infant giraffes. The giraffes did move towards us but unfortunately there was a logging truck in the distance and they become anxious so we never got nose to nose with a giraffe but I have a fun memory.
For lunch we walked over to a quiet part of the farm to the nature reserve. Molly and I had made a spinach and ham tart which everyone devoured.
Being my weekend off I used a bought pastry sheet to line an eight inch tart case and baked it blind at 160C for 20 mins.
For the filling
6 eggs
2 large tablespoons of crème fraiche
1 packet of young spinach
200 g of cooked, thick cut ham, (I bought a joint and glaze roasted it the night before)
6 spring onions
150g Parmesan cheese, grated
In a bowl beat the eggs, yolks and crème fraiche.
To wilt the spinach, boil the kettle and put the spinach in a colander.  Pour the boiling water over the spinach.  This is enough to wilt it.
Squeeze out the moisture and put the wilted spinach into the bottom of the tart  case with the chopped ham and sliced spring onions.  Beat the eggs with the crème fraiche and season well with half the parmesan cheese, rock salt and black pepper.  Pour the mixture into the tart case and top with the rest of the parmesan.  Bake for 25 mins at 160C or until the top of the tart is brown and the tart mixture does not wobble.  Allow to chill and eat with a back drop of a journey of roaming giraffes!

Disco in aid of SANDS Saturday 9 July at Llandaff RFC

June 6, 2011

This one’s for Supermen too!  Do you remember the rugby club discos of your youth with fond nostalgia? On Saturday 9 July from 7.30pm to 11.30pm we are holding a disco at Llandaff Rugby Club raising funds for SANDS www.uk-sands.org.  We’ve got a classic rugby club disco buffet (pasties, sandwiches, cheese and pineapple) and a disco but we also have a live band – the Rise – www.the-rise.co.uk described as”probably the best covers band in Wales” and fronted by none other than Darwin Gray partner Kempton Rees.  Tickets are £15 each with half the ticket price covering costs and the other half going to the charity.  The disco is just before schools break up for summer and this will be a great opportunity for a night out with friends, family or work colleagues before everyone starts going off on holidays .   At just £15 per ticket  you can invite your entire team for the price of a couple of seats at a black tie fund raiser.  We only have 120 places  so if you’d like to come please email Caroline Hazell on chazell@darwingray.com and let us have your cheques made payable to Superwoman to secure your places.

We will also be holding a raffle to drum up a few more pounds for this amazing charity that gives much needed support to those affected by the death of a baby.  If you or your business are able to offer a raffle prize that would be hugely appreciated.  We will also be having a few rounds of bingo!

Hope to see you on 9 July throwing some shapes on the dance floor.

Superwoman does gardening by Miranda Parsons

May 3, 2011

Sometimes I confess to being a little weary of sponsoring fun runs and half marathons and hikes up distant mountains and the like. Old cynic that I am, I feel as if I am sponsoring someone’s hobby, however worthy the charity. This is probably because I never run anywhere, believing walking, dancing and driving there to be the way forward. On the other hand, if you can’t persuade them to stop running about in that intemperate manner, then get them to sponsor your hobby, and one of mine is gardening!

Step forward the National Garden Scheme which in 2010 donated more than £2.6 million and in the last ten years over £26 million to nursing and caring charities, including Macmillan and Marie Curie and Help the Hospices. Over 3700 gardens feature in this year’s ‘Yellow Book’ with which many of you will be familiar. People open their gardens and extend a warm welcome and often tea and cake to fellow enthusiasts and members of the public who love a garden and go for inspiration for their own designing and planting, and ….(did I mention the tea and cake!)

The NGS began in 1927; with the simple idea that ordinary people would open their gardens at a shilling a head to raise money for the community nurses of the day. Even after the NHS was formed, these nurses needed support in training and in retirement. Now of course, charities such as Macmillan cancer support provide the sort of care that we hope that we and our loved ones will not need, but if the worst happens, it is a tremendous comfort to know that these dedicated carers are out there. The other purpose of the NGS, developed in partnership with the National Trust was to preserve important gardens. NGS still keeps overheads low, so most of the money raised at the garden gate goes directly to vital projects.

So, how did we get involved? My husband Alan and I are both keen gardeners. He has loved it since boyhood; I came to the passion later on. I like to think we complement each other well. I claim to be the brains behind the operation and he points out that this is not true! I will find him in the garden and say that I have ‘had an idea’ and he laughs and tells me that I have that look on my face where I go on to ask him to move the oak tree two feet to the left. As if I would ask a thing like that….. (Well I might). I am particularly interested in the design and structure of our garden and in forming year round interest and he is a plants man through and through and in charge of growing things up things and through things (I mean, how many clematis plants does one man need?) We often go around the garden gently bickering about what needs doing and about the aforesaid addiction to climbing plants, but frankly at our happiest. I always maintain that I cannot feel miserable in the garden, however hard I try.

Please don’t get the impression that we are in possession of the hanging gardens of Babylon here, just a much loved, medium sized, suburban garden in Cyncoed. To persuade Alan I took him to our local open gardens in Penylan and he could see that these gardens, ranging in size from very small, to small were nevertheless packed with design, with plants and with inspiration for others. That convinced him that our garden would do. We then had to approach the NGS to be approved and find a garden partner as when you have a smaller garden it is best to open in groups so that the public get better value for money. If any of you know other keen gardeners in Cyncoed, please let me know and I can try to persuade them to join us!

We will be providing tea and cake and attempting to part you from your charity pounds, things will be blossoming and blooming and Alan will have done all the weeding, and I promise you, no running shoes in sight.

We and our garden partners in Cyncoed are opening from 2-6pm on Sunday 15th May and Sunday 24th July this year. If you want to get in touch with me, you can email me through my website:

www.mirandaparsons.com

The National Gardens Scheme has a website where you can find gardens opening all over South Wales and beyond:

www.ngs.org.uk

Superwoman by E J Catering – The Royal Wedding

April 21, 2011

What will be on the menu for Kate and William next week?  I write so many wedding menus with the brides at my humble kitchen in Cardiff, we are creative, traditional, informal, formal, left field, classic but whatever they choose it always includes the couple’s favourite flavours and expresses something personal about them.

I can’t wait to read the royal menu, will it be cutting edge, will it be traditional?  My guess is it will be British, local and seasonal – the buzz words of the moment and for very good reason.  The food we produce here in Britain is excellent. The vegetable gardens and royal allotments won’t be in full bloom but I would bet their land and producers feature. Will any Welsh produce be included?

Looking back on the royal wedding menu history, Victoria and Albert in 1840 ate an elaborate menu of at least 10 courses, written in French as is the royal banqueting custom, and promising such gastronomic delights as cod with oyster sauce, roast leg of lamb, ballotine of duck with Cumberland sauce, pheasant with potato ribbons, pastries with fruit and chocolate profiteroles. Elizabeth Bowes Lyons’ wedding to the Duke of York in 1924 had a nine foot wedding cake, as it is traditional to send cake around the world to the many dignitaries that didn’t quite make the list but could not be left out altogether.

Our current queen had her wedding cake made from ingredients from around the world in order to link her subjects to her special day.

Another tradition is to have part of the menu named after your self for example Consommé à la Windsor, Suprèmes de Saumon Reine Mary and Côtelettes d’Agneau Prince Albert.  For dessert Elizabeth II commissioned Bombe Glacée Princess Elizabeth!   Andrew and Sarah’s main course of Carre d’agneau Palosie was served with Couroane d’Epinards aux Champignons, Feves au beurre and Pomme nouvelles. I had to refer  to my A to Z of Gastronomy to translate that into lamb with spinach, mushrooms, beans and new potatoes!

Food moves through the times with fashion shaping it but I support the movement for a return to simple, honest cooking.

Royal Guards Welsh Rarebit on Teeny Toasts

Teeny Toast

1 small par baked baguette
Olive oil
Powered mustard
Rock salt

With a sharp knife cut the baguette into thin round slices
In a bowl mix together the olive oil, mustard powder and rock salt
Brush the baguette rings in the mixture on both sides and bake for 10 minutes at 160C or until golden brown – these are now crostini and a very useful base for many canapé toppings

Royal Guards Welsh Rarebit

150ml bottle of quality Welsh ale
Splash of cream to help it bind
Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
200g cheese

In a pan reduce the ale by half and add a splash of cream, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, the mustard and grated cheese.  Remove from the heat and stir to melt the cheese.  Allow this to cool and set in a block in a small plastic container.
Cut slices of the rarebit on to the teeny toasts and place in the oven or under the grill to melt and lightly brown.  Garnish with pumpkin seeds and eat in front of the telly with a glass of chilled prosecco

NoCompare Hayley Parsons with other CEO’s

March 21, 2011

So, I post  a blog just last Friday about the interviews that CEO’s give to the Sunday papers and how they’re always the same and, essentially,  not very real or relevant to real people.  And then this Sunday I open the business section of the Sunday Times and the interview is with the Welsh CEO of a Welsh company and guess what – it’s totally, gloriously, different to all the rest.

For a start Hayley is photographed not sitting in an office surrounded by papers and looking all CEO like.  No Hayley is photographed in her trade mark red shoes, in front of her shiny red Maserati and with a cardboard cut out of Gio Compario tucked under her arm.   She’s often home before 7pm, she goes on holiday to Centreparcs (so is a CEO who queues in her bathers for the Grand Canyon Raft Race) and doesn’t get involved in unnecessary things like posh lunches or jollies.  She drops her older son off at school before driving herself to the office and has just had six months off to have a baby.  Family comes first, she says.  She explains to the interviewer about GoCompare’s “coffee randomiser” that selects who has to make the coffee in the office.  She is described as “spikey haired, amply proportioned, heavily Welsh-accented, she is full of warmth and wonder.”  Oh and five years ago she set up GoCompare which last year made more than £24m of profit on revenues of about £100m last year.

Way to go Hayley!  Way to go.  Let’s hope the Sunday Times can find more CEO’s like you to interview.  Maybe someone at GoCompare could come up with a CEO comparison website.

CEO interviews

March 18, 2011

I love reading the interviews with Chief Executive Officers in the business section of the Sunday papers.  I don’t know why since they are pretty much all the same.  The CEO rises at 6am, is collected by their driver and driven to the office where they deal with phone calls and meetings all day until it is time to go to dinner with clients or contacts.  The CEO usually relaxes by running long distances and holidaying somewhere exclusive like Barbados or Verbier.  Every couple of months the CEO featured in these interviews is a woman but even then the interview is along the same lines, except perhaps with a few less late nights so they can eat dinner with their children (“at least twice a week, usually steamed fish with vegetables”).

I like the idea of “rising” at 6am.  Rising has a wholesome, ashram yoga sort of feel to it.  I never rise.  I get hauled from sleep, usually by one child or another appearing at the end of the bed like the Ghost of Christmas Present complaining that the vital piece of sports kit they need THAT MORNING is still damp.   Our tumble dryer died a while ago (although we have somehow never found time to give it a proper burial and it remains crouched in our garage in a state of purgatory) and my only option to convert damp sports kit into dry sports kit is to deploy the hair dryer.  It works rather well although probably not as well as a new tumble dryer would.  In any event, I have just about got damp sports kit covered.  What strikes fear in my heart is when a child appears at the foot of the bed asking for a costume.  St David’s Day/World Book Day/Comic Relief – these things necessitate costumes and are the only time I wish I was one of those CEOs with a driver so I could send him in the car down to Asda to pick something up.

We usually give Barbados a miss for our holidays and go to Centreparcs instead.   We were there at February half term in fact.  It was packed and we had to wait for up to 30 minutes to go on the Grand Canyon Raft Ride.  As we waited I hoped we didn’t bump into anyone we knew because actually queuing in your bathers involves standing around for a long time wearing not much more than your underwear.  I suspect that rules out Centreparcs for most CEO’s.  It might be difficult to maintain the requisite aloofness if members of your workforce have seen you naked but for your Speedos and checked out your tattoo of “Deep Purple, Knebworth, 1985.”  Although I am not entirely certain that the man I spotted in possession of both of these items was in fact a CEO.

I also eat dinner with my children at least twice a week.  My husband and I don’t concern ourselves too much about steamed fish.  We have long since worked out that the key to juggling two children with two full time legal careers is a deep seated fondness for beans on toast.  CEO’s in business interviews don’t eat beans on toast do they?  They don’t shop for beans either or for costumes or wash sports kit or put the Hoover over or the bins out.   About the only part of my day that bears any resemblance to the day of a CEO is the meetings and phone calls all day.   But almost everyone who works in an office has those.  Big deal.

Superwoman by E J Catering – Be a Locavore

March 11, 2011

We all know a carnivore eats meat, a herbivore eats vegetables and an omnivore eats both but the other day my mum walked in saying she was going to try to be a locavore.   It seems it’s an American term for shopping and eating only local foods.  A few days later I bumped into an old friend on Cardiff’s Lower Cathedral Road whose New Year resolution was to shop and eat only from local sources for a year to see how it would change his eating habits.
The results are changing far more than just his eating habits.  He shops more regularly as it is often on foot and involves carrying bags.  As the journey on foot is slower and more purposeful he makes sure he never forgets his bag for life and so very proudly has not taken a new plastic bag this year.  Menu planning has become much more important and he finds himself reading lots of food related articles, recipe books and magazines.  His cooking is more efficient and creative, he is eating a lot more vegetarian meals, treating meat as a treat.  But the best of all is the social aspect, regularly shopping locally on foot he is meeting all sorts of old friends, work colleagues, it is doing wonders for business networking and making new friends.
Financially it is probably similar, what he is buying is a little more expensive but the quality more than makes up for it and he is not wasting any food.  Plus as the allotments begin to yield he is on a good few promises. He is well and truly becoming a character of the high street!

The Riverside Sunday market in Cardiff is a buzz of creative local suppliers. Standards and quality is high, food miles are low.  You follow the seasonal vegetables at their best .  I have recently starting juicing regularly.  The yield, flavour, smell and colour is so superior from local seasonal vegetables I am in danger of becoming a carrot snob!

Here are a couple of my favourite juices
A healthy booster
4 carrots
2 apples
1 celery stick
An inch or so of ginger

Detox and Vitamin C pick me up
2 raw beetroot
1 carrot
1 orange

Power and Irons
2 small handfuls of spinach
4 broccoli florets
1 carrot
2 apples
Small bunch of seedless grapes

Each recipe makes about a glass of juice

A year may be too much of a commitment for most of us to become locavores but we can try to be mindful about what and where we buy.  Maybe try buying vegetables only from a grocers for a month, there are lots of good ones.
Be healthy, be a locavore this Lent!

Salsa – the four minute love affair -by Salsa Superwoman

February 28, 2011

Recently I was talking about my love for salsa dancing and I said that at its best, what you get is a four minute love affair with no strings attached and no inappropriate touching. My intrigued companion subsequently asked me to share this observation in a blog. I agreed at once and then the second thoughts crept in. Was I, a ‘respectable married woman’ going to admit, in public, that this is what I get up to?

Actually, I am a serious person, I tend to be analytical, I tend to worry, I tend to work too hard and party too little. I am sure this makes me like so many other ‘superwomen’. I need the outlet of exercise, fresh air and walking the dog, but none of this exceeds the joy I feel when I hear a salsa beat strike up. I put aside the worries of the day; that I have a career, children and step children, a house to run, blah, blah, blah. Before you ask, I don’t put aside my handsome and sweet natured husband who endlessly tolerates that I go out dancing with friends who years ago nicknamed me ‘snake-hips’. (I think he secretly likes having a wife who can put in some cheeky hip moves.)

I began to dance over ten years ago, when I was a single parent of two small children. I had a passionate desire to dance and two left feet, so the dance steps were hard for me to learn. The rhythm was always there however, so that helped. I battled through my embarrassment for months until I could hold my own on the dance floor. I never got to be brilliant, but I can improvise now and put in styling touches such as a toss of the head, an extra shimmy of the shoulders, an arm flourished that even Craig Revel-Horwood wouldn’t actually despise. The best thing however, is the conversation that is a good salsa dance. Eye contact is important, following a lead and really responding to another person, moving as if one person. Sometimes it’s the closest thing to bliss, very intimate and yet not inappropriate. Most dances are ordinary, but in some, in a strange way, I almost love my dance partner, but just for the short time that the track lasts. It is the only perfect love affair, in that there is no aftermath and no disappointment. You both knew before that it would only last four minutes, with no recriminations.

Friends have implied that we salsa dancers are all up to no good and it is true that I have known people who have crossed the line and had a love affair longer than four minutes. Some have even met their future life partner on the dance floor and some were not single when they did it. That can happen anywhere though, at work, in the gym, at the tennis club. As they say, dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire, but we all know that people who are up for it will always find someone to party with somewhere.

My dance girlfriends and I agree about the finest local dance partners. The ones who make you feel like a Cuban Ginger Rogers even though you know that you do not look like one! Of course it was famously said of her that ‘she did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels’. Wikipedia says that whilst she was of course very talented, what lifted her from the crowd in her partnership with Fred Astaire was that she made it seem as if dancing with him was simply thrilling as she was such a good actress. Perhaps she wasn’t acting that part though. Dancing simply is thrilling. An ordinary man can be the most thrilling dance partner if he brings all of himself, his passion and his humour and his desire to please. I have often heard it said that a man’s part is to make the woman look good on the dance floor and that if the dance doesn’t go well, it’s his fault. If only the rest of life ran like that!

I will admit also, that as I get older, it gets harder. The doubts creep in. I ask myself if it’s appropriate to be out dancing in town without my husband, I watch the men asking the younger women to dance and realise that will happen more and more. So I find myself in Zumba classes and although they are bit like French conversation classes without ever going to France, I find they are tremendous fun and I still come out exhilarated. So somehow I know that I won’t give up my passion, but will just have to keep finding new ways to express it.

Superwoman by E J Catering

February 7, 2011

Last Thursday was Chinese New Year.  I decided to mark the occasion by eating a Thai glass noodle salad with sautéed scallops and king prawns followed by local belly pork with bok choi and bang bang sauce at a dinner I helped host.   It wasn’t directly in celebration but any excuse is a good excuse.
In January 1994 I travelled to Vietnam and arrived on the first day of the New Year celebrations, except I was not aware of it!  As I remember the celebrations lasted three days and it was basically open house.  Everyone invited me in, never had I been to such a friendly country and met such friendly people.  They gave me food, sweets, beer and flowers.   I went to a family house for supper of fresh white fish with a gorgeous sweet and sour red sauce, sticky rice and simple steamed greens.  I played with the children out on the street, pushing single bike wheels with a stick and running after them under candle lit lanterns and every now and then a string of fire crackers would be set off to everyone’s excitement.  If you’re not used to the noise it’s extremely alarming and you feel like you should run and duck for cover.

I have lots of amazing visual memories of Vietnam;  of markets, bus and train trips with stunning scenery streaming by,  gracefully dressed women and whole families of six or eight on one moped!  My favourite place was Ha Long Bay.  It is not surprisingly  a Unesco world heritage site and is in my personal seven wonders of the world.  The bay is filled with thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes, heights and sizes.  It is ethereal and dreamy, you could float and look for hours, days, weeks or maybe forever.

In a small bay I ate the following dish and the local host gave me this recipe.  It is fresh, quick and easy.

Seared king prawns with mint and yoghurt
Serves 4
16 large raw prawns, peeled
Olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
A large handful of fresh mint
1 green chill – deseeded
Teaspoon of roasted and ground cumin
Teaspoon of sugar or palm sugar
A good inch of fresh ginger
3 tablespoons plain yoghurt
A handful of mangetout
Half a cucumber
Lots of fresh coriander
Sea salt and black pepper

Marinade the raw prawns in half the lemon juice, sea salt and oil.
In a blender or good heavy pestle and mortar combine the mint, chilli, cumin, sugar, ginger and yoghurt to make a sauce or paste.  Season to taste.
Halve the cucumber and remove the seeds, cut into thick chunks, halve the mangetout and cut through the coriander
Heat a pan and quickly fry the prawns on both sides, add the mangetout for just a second, turn off the heat and add all the other ingredients to the sauce pan and combine.  Serve immediately over steamed white rice and add a view of Ha Long Bay ( Google it!)

Superwoman Suppers

February 1, 2011

Brand new for 2011,  Superwoman launched an additional type of networking event  -  Superwoman suppers.   The idea behind Superwoman Suppers is simple and far from new.    Here is how they work:

12 women attend each supper. The intention is that there is a good mix of different professions, business women and entrepreneurs. It follows that only one woman from any one organisation can attend any one supper and groups of friends can’t book together.

In advance of the supper those attending are asked to provide a biography and also a business topic or question that they would like the group to discuss during supper.  Three or four of the suggested topics/questions are selected and circulated in advance to those attending together with the biographies.

We gather together for a delicious three course meal. During the course of supper, we change seat twice so that there is a chance for everyone to meet and chat with everyone attending.  There is some degree of cutlery and napkin confusion as a result but we can handle it. Pre, during and post supper and coffee we discuss our chosen business topics.  Bethan attempts to chair the evening.

The first five Superwoman Suppers (Feb to June) are at the Cameo Club in Pontcanna Street, Cardiff and have all sold out.  Emma Jenkins of E J Catering, award winning chef and long time supporter of Superwoman,  is our chef for these five suppers.  The cost is £35 per head for a glass of bubbles on arrival, a three course meal and coffee. Wine or other drinks can be purchased on the night.    If you would be interested in attending other Superwoman Suppers  (we are looking to organise other suppers in Bridgend, Newport and London over the course of 2011) just email me on bdarwin@darwingray.com

 

Age is only a number

January 20, 2011

As an employment lawyer and a 45 year old woman it’s hardly surprising that I followed with interest the progress of the employment tribunal claim brought by Miriam O’Reilly against the BBC.  The 53 year old former presenter of Countryfile claimed she was the victim of age and sex discrimination when the BBC ruled her out as a presenter of the programme when it moved to a new prime time Sunday evening slot.  Last week Ms O’Reilly won her claim of age discrimination but not her claim of sex discrimination.

Ms O’Reilly was not the first woman working in television to argue that she was the victim of a knotty combination of age and sex discrimination.   Former newsreader Selina Scott settled her discrimination claim against Channel 5 in 2008 for a rumoured £250,000.   When 66 year old Arlene Phillips got axed from Strictly Come Dancing in 2009 in favour of 30 year old Alesha Dixon, hundreds of viewers complained of discrimination on her behalf.  However, Ms O’Reilly’s case was the first one to go all the way to a final hearing resulting in a reported decision that other employees in similar positions can seek to rely on.

The tribunal found that 68 year old John Craven being retained on the show did not demonstrate that age was not a factor in the BBC’s decision-making process and instead found that Ms O’Reilly’s age had been a significant factor in the decision not to retain her for the primetime show.  The tribunal found that if she had been 10 to 15 years younger it would have given her proper consideration.

Ms O’Reilly did not win the sex discrimination claim.  The tribunal found that comments about needing to watch out for her wrinkles when high definition television came in and that it was “time for botox” gave an insight into the particular problems that older women working in television face but went on to determine that had she been a man of the same age with the same skill set she would still not have got the job because the BBC were looking for youthful second tier presenters.  Therefore her sex was not the reason for the treatment she received.

The tribunal gave short-shrift to the idea that the BBC could justify replacing older presenters with younger ones to help achieve its legitimate aim of attracting a wider audience.  Whilst wanting to attract a wider audience was potentially a legitimate aim, discriminating against Ms O’Reilly to achieve it was not a proportionate means of achieving that aim.

BBC producers may think that young presenters achieve bigger audiences but actually the recent viewing figures attracted by Rip Off Britain demonstrate that the viewing public are less youth obsessed than the BBC think.  Presented by Jennie Bond (60), Angela Rippon (66) and Gloria Hunniford (70) Rip Off Britain has been attracting viewing figures of between 5.5m and 5.2m, 24.2% of the share.  Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion (watched that, wish I hadn’t wasted 3 hours of my life on it) got viewers of between 4.7m and 5.8m, the Silent Witness two parter that same week got viewers of between 5.9m and 6.3m.   What is particular noteworthy about these viewing figures is that Rip Off Britain had already been shown on BBC1 in a 9.15am slot in November and December and got 2m viewers then.  Big #ff for Glo, Ang and Jen – Here come the women! Time for you ladies to renegotiate your daily rate which was apparently only around £400 per day each, compared to, say, Christine Bleakley’s daily rate of £1730.  (A rate entirely justified according to one of the men in my office on account of her being “a honey”).

So what with 59 year old Sting and his 57 year old wife Trudie Styler (who even if they are not still engaging in lengthy tantric sex sessions look fit enough to do so if they were so inclined) age really is becoming only a number.

Is feminism a myth?

January 11, 2011

It was reported in the Sunday Times this week that Dr Catherine Hakim, senior research fellow in sociology at the London School of Economics published a new paper a couple of weeks ago called “Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine.”  In it she argues that “most of the theories and ideas built up around gender equality in the last few decades are wrong” and that most women still want to “marry up”  – to marry men who are richer and cleverer than they are thereby “continuing to use marriage as an alternative or supplement to their employment careers.”   Government policy to promote equality is “magic medicine” and doesn’t work.   Women already have equal opportunities so the sex war is over and a 10% pay gap (it’s actually 15.5%) not that bad.   If women take lower level, lower paid jobs they do so out of choice.

The most shocking piece of evidence in the Sunday Times coverage was the fact that YouGov  had done a survey for the Sunday Times of 922 women the week before.  When asked “if you had young children and were in a financial position to choose, would you rather stay at home to bring up the children or go out to work?” 69% of these women said they’d rather stay at home.  I’ve never been asked to take part in one of these surveys.   I am probably at work when the surveyors are out on the street with their clip boards.  But if I were asked, my answers would probably be discounted anyway.  I’d need to ask way too many questions to clarify the question being put to me before being able to commit to a Yes or No answer.   “What do you mean financial position to choose?  Are we talking house with pool/two cars/fancy holidays/eating out twice a week sort of financial choice?  Or just about manage to pay the mortgage and the bills and eat on one salary sort of choice?  How young are these young children?  Does going out to work involve going to an office or cleaning an office?  And can my husband stay at home too or does he have to go out to work?  The devil’s in the detail isn’t it?

Anyway 69% of women faced with an incomplete factual scenario still answered they’d like to stay at home.    Don’t knows were 8%.  Only 23% of the women asked said they’d go out to work.     What I’d like to know is what 922 men given the same question would answer.  Because I know a healthy proportion of men who, if in the financial position to choose, would also like to stay at home and bring up the children.   And what if the question was “You have won the lottery, big stylee.  Would you go back to work?” what percentage of women and men would answer yes to that?   Work is rewarding and  interesting but it’s…well, pretty hard work a lot of the time.    These women saying they’d like to stay at home if they had the financial position to choose aren’t saying they are work shy wusses who want to marry up and thus proving Ms Hakim’s paper.   They’re just day dreaming about being in that financial position.

Ms Hakim, in my professional judgement, is talking pants.  Some 45,000 women are currently fighting equal pay act claims.  Just 12.5% of  UK board positions are held by women.  We are under represented in government and in industry.  We most definitely do need equality legislation and if we didn’t have it all the hard work of the past forty years will start to slide back.  I also believe, very strongly, that men need equality legislation too and a change in attitude  so that those who want to share the childcare and have a better work life balance (and there’s lots of them) don’t get perceived as needing to grow a pair.    Equality legislation means that equality is at least an achievable goal.  It also helps, over a long time, to change attitudes, a bit like the way the smoking ban has made smoking inside seem weird.   Doesn’t seem as if there’s much we can do about Ms Hakim’s attitudes, sadly.

What people were looking for last week when they found the Superwoman blog

December 13, 2010

Probably explains why the Western Mail have two annual sexy lists and the Power 100 their powerful list!  Someone was looking for sexyest women whales…..

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The story of a business start up

December 10, 2010

Emma and I started in business in May 2002, which seems such a long time ago now! We had two children each, Emma’s were 1 and 4 years old, and mine were 2 and 3 years old. We had met through our local National Childbirth Trust branch. We were both in a similar position, having given up busy full time jobs to stay at home for a few years. Emma and I were always busy organising coffee mornings and all sorts of fundraising events, one of the mums even said to us one day ” you two should run your own business”!

Shortly after that I happened to mention to Emma that I was going wedding dress shopping with my sister. We started discussing the fact that there was a need for a Designer Bridal shop in Cowbridge, the small market town we lived in. A year later we had opened our first shop! There was a lot of work and research involved, all of it with babies hanging off legs, and toddlers running around manically, but it was the start of a great adventure.

For the first few years we built High Society from scratch into a really beautiful designer bridal boutique. We’ve been through a huge learning curve, and all I can say is, if these walls could talk….we’ve seen it all!

In 2005 the building next door came up for rent, and we took the opportunity to take it over as a ladies clothes shop. We wanted to sell affordable fashion, as many of the other boutiques in the town did very high end designer clothes. We called the shop Havana, and over the five years the boutique has taken us on another equally demanding but very different learning curve. We’ve built up some great labels such as Fenn Wright Manson, Inwear, Farhi, Avoca Anthology, Hoss Intropia and Noa Noa.

Emma and I have always been very interested in fashion in general, in the concept of style over fashion, and in the idea of dressing to suit your own figure. Coming from a background of working with brides for the last 8 years, we have learnt that there is no such thing as a perfect figure, and that how you look is definitely more to do with how you feel about yourself, and how you present yourself to the world than anything else.

I am a great believer that as you get older, you need to invest in better fitting clothes. Particularly after you’ve had children, you find that you just can’t get away with wearing badly fitting clothes. I love to follow fashion, but I understand that I need to think more carefully about what I wear, how to make the most of my figure as I get older, and how to adapt the current trends to suit me.

Back to how the business has developed, in 2007 we had the opportunity to buy the gorgeous three storey building where High Society and Havana are housed, and to buy a more established ladies clothes shop in Cowbridge, at the same time. This made for a very interesting period, there was a lot of running around with children in tow at that stage!

In 2008, we decided to get involved in the Online world. We realised that this was the future, and because so many people love the service that we offer in our shops, we saw this as an opportunity to offer the same level of personal service quite literally all over the world. We started with highsocietybride.co.uk, a fabulous website where we sell lots of gorgeous bridal accessories.

This year we have launched yoursecretboutique.co.uk, an online version of Havana, as we realise that there are lots of women out there who love to shop in Independent Fashion Boutiques like ours, but can’t always get to one. The idea is the pleasure of your favourite independent fashion boutique but online from the comfort and convenience of your own home.

We love gorgeous labels whose clothes you fall in love with, for example Avoca Anthology, always a favourite with our customers. Clothes should be exciting and have a personality that suits yours. When we’re buying collections, we ALWAYS think about whether an item is wearable at any age. We consider length for example, and there are endless conversations about whether you can wear this if you have boobs (that’s Emma), fat legs(that’s my obsession!), etc. But at least we are real women buying for real women.-

Hope this helps you to understand who we are, and here’s to the future, it’s going to be interesting!  Awen x

Western Mail’s 50 sexiest men 2010

December 7, 2010

It was the boys’ turn this weekend.    So how do you define sexy for men? The sexiest woman in Wales, Alex Jones said when she won last week that “sexiness was about attitude” and according to the Western Mail “our male winner has bags of that”.  The sexiest man in Wales (comedian Rhod Gilbert apparently if you don’t know already) then had a go at defining sexy himself and  said “Laughing makes you feel good about yourself, which is sexy, and I’ve always gravitated towards people who have that affect on me. I could never go out with someone who didn’t have the ability to have me in hysterics.  ”  Jamie Roberts (number 1 last year, number 2 this) said on winning the title last year that sexy “was someone who challenges me intellectually.”   This actually did not help with defining sexy for men since both were defining what they view as sexy in the opposite sex not their own.

Two of the men in the sexy list also feature in the Insider Power 100.  Carwyn Jones (“our guilty crush”) is number 3 in the Insider list but only sneaks in at number 48 in the sexy list.  Huw Eurig Davies is number 43 in the Insider List and 38 in the sexy list.  Do you get more or less sexy the more powerful you get? If you’re a woman it would appear you get less sexy as there is no cross over between the Insider Power 100 list and the sexiest women list.

Has there ever been a gay person on either list?

Truth is that most of the men on the list are actors/presenters/singers/models plus a good sprinkling of sportsmen.   They’re generally fairly easy on the eye but it would look shallow to say that out loud so the definition of sexy gets twisted into something more dignified when actually the reason most of the men are on the list is precisely because they are easy on the eye and on telly a lot.  And perhaps a little because the Western Mail already has a photo of them in the archives.

The same comments apply to the men’s list as apply to the women’s.    People who take Wales to the world and bring the world to Wales deserve better than being herded on a list of “Men we think are shaggable.”  The Western Mail might as well do that gesture involving putting one arm in the crook of the other, gurning and saying “Phwoar.”

Insider’s Power 100 and the 50 Sexiest Women in Wales 2010

November 29, 2010

I wasn’t going to blog about these two lists again this year.   Thought I’d said pretty much all I had to say about them in November 2009.  However, I had to review that decision after both lists hit my desk within 24 hours of each other last week and, more importantly, I noticed that a number of people were finding their way to the Superwoman blog by virtue of googling either Insider Power 100 or the 50 Sexiest Women in Wales.   So – here goes – the way Superwoman sees it in 2010.

Insider Power 100 – the Superwomen November 2010.

One more woman this year on the list, 12 out of 50 compared to last year’s 11, eight of which are politicans or in government.   Last year’s entries were ranked on power and influence.  Insider hasn’t said how this year’s are ranked but refers instead to “a new breed of leader bubbling up” and to the fact that “a lot of the new entrants and fast risers are entreprenuers” and of the 12 women featured only two fall into that category – Hayley Parsons and Elizabeth Hayward.

6.  Cheryl Gillan – Secretary of State for Wales – new

11.  Jane Hutt – business and budget minister (rising from 87 last year)

13.  Dame Gillian Morgan – Permanent Secretary, WAG (down from 11 last year)

14.  Sian Lloyd Jones – Chief Executive Finance Wales (up from 17 last year)

38.  Jane Davidson – Environment, Sustainability and Housing Minister (up from 56 last year)

58.  Menna Richards – Controller, BBC Wales (down from 8 last year as Ms Richards has announced her departure from BBC but perhaps the Power 100 went to print before she announced her non exec directorship of Glas Cymru?)

63.  Jocelyn Davies – Deputy Minster for Housing and Regeneration – new

67.  Edwina Hart – Health Minister (down from 12 last year when she was tied in 12th place with Huw Lewis and Carwyn Jones as the Labour leadership had not been decided at the time – Carwyn Jones is in at number 3 this year and Huw Lewis not at all)

71.  Kirsty Williams – Liberal Democrat Leader (up from 86 last year)

74.  Lesley Griffiths – deputy minister for science, innovation and skills – new

82.  Hayley Parsons – founder, Go Compare – new

100.  Elizabeth Hayward – director South East Wales Economic Forum -new

The following women who featured last year have lost their places this year:

16.  Iona Jones, Chief Executive, S4C – due to resignation/unfair dismissal depending on who wins the tribunal claim

88.  Katherine Jenkins, singer – due to the fact that Gio Compario has got the “shouldn’t really be in it but it gets people talking” place this year

91.  Margaret Matthews, director Dow Corning and Chairman CBI Wales

100.  Ann Beynon, director BT Wales

Well done again to all the women who feature in the list.  Just think if our numbers keep growing at one a year we’ll get equality by 2023!  Hurrah for Hayley Parsons in particular- creating jobs in Wales and a brand name known all over the UK.   Women are natural entrepreneurs but tend to keep their businesses small and manageable and capable of being fitted round child care rather than grow them to the size of Go Compare.  Hayley has shown that if women want to think big, they can.  The Superwomen salute you Hayley.  We also salute Laura Tenison, who didn’t make it to the Power 100 but should have.   Really – how many more jobs/stores/turnover millions/business awards does a girl need to land to be classed as a leader and entrepreneur?

I wonder if it’s any consolation to Laura Tenison that she did however make the Western Mail’s 50 sexiest women list for 2010.  Incidentally, there is no overlap between the two lists now that Katherine Jenkins has lost her place in the Power 100.   The Western Mail advises that amongst the models on the list we’d find women from the fields of art, business, music, sport, TV and politics.   I counted one from art (Cat Gardner) one from business (Laura Tenison), three from sport all coming in at number 39 or lower (Jazz Carlin (39), Jessica Fishlock (43) and Breanne Loukes (49) ) and one from politics, Polly Mackenzie and she’s Nick Clegg’s speech writer so I’m not even certain that counts.

This year the job of trying to define sexy fell to Claire Rees.  She tells us that “Our top 50 is about celebrating the women who have more to offer than pin up looks” and “Women who have achieved something, because that’s sexy, and women who have such infectious personalties you’d actually want to share a drink with them this Christmas.”      I’d love to have a drink with the women on the list – not because I want to have sex with them but because they are all of them flying the flag for Wales and flying it high.   Good on ‘em all.    They deserve a Superwoman salute too.   But, dear Western Mail,  it’s  high time you changed the name of this list because the clue to what sexy means is right there in the word sexy.  How about “the 50 most Wonderful Women in Wales” instead?

See you next week after the boys’ list comes out.

Women on Boards: Call for evidence

November 12, 2010

Open date: 08 Oct 2010

Closing date: 30 Nov 2010

The low proportion of women holding directorships suggests British business is not using all of the skills and talents of the workforce effectively. Government is committed to seeing swift change in this area, and this Call for Evidence is seeking views from across the business world.


Women now form 51% of the UK population and 46% of the economically active workforce; they are responsible for the bulk of consumer buying decisions and consistently outperform their male counterparts educationally. However, research from Cranfield University has highlighted a lack of female directors in Britain’s top businesses, with women making up only 12.2% of directors of the FTSE 100 companies in 2009. The FTSE 250 companies have an even lower proportion of female directors at 7.3%, and nearly half of them do not have any women in the boardroom.

While UK boards must be meritocratic, the low proportion of women holding directorships suggests British business is not using all of the skills and talents of the workforce effectively and women are being denied the opportunity to reach their true potential and contribute fully to the UK economy.

The business case for increasing the number of women on boards is clear. Evidence suggests that companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender diverse boards have a positive impact on performance, being better able to understand their customers and stakeholders and benefit from fresh perspectives, new ideas, vigorous challenge and broad experience which in turn lead to better decision making.

This is as much about business performance as about promoting equal opportunities for women, Government is committed to seeing swift change in this area and pledged in the Coalition Agreement that “we will look to promote gender equality on the boards of listed companies.”

Lord Davies of Abersoch is currently leading a review on behalf of Government into the obstacles that prevent more women from reaching senior positions in business. His recommendations will be developed into a business strategy which will be published in February 2011.

The Call for Evidence will close on 30 November and is seeking views from across the business world, with the emphasis on finding solutions that will break down these barriers.

http://www.bis.gov.uk/Consultations/women-on-boards

French women may not get fat but do they get equal?

October 27, 2010

The  Sunday Times recently reported (17 October 2010) that a World Economic Forum put France in 46th place behind countries such as Kazahkstan and Uganda for its overall treatment of women.  The same survey put France in joint first position for women’s education and health but near the bottom – 127th – for male versus female pay for the same work.  French women are paid 17% less than men in the same jobs.  “Sexism is extraordinarily entrenched in French society,” said Laurence Parisot, president of Medef, the employers’ forum.  “It’s so serious, so profound and has such ancient roots that laws are not enough.  Our culture has to change.”

Rachida Dati, Sarkozy’s “little Arab girl” who rose to be justice minister in the French cabinet  returned to work five days after giving birth to a baby girl whose paternity remains a closely guarded secret because she feared she’d get dropped from the goverment.  She got called a traitor to her sex for returning to work so early and got dropped from the government anyway.

Valerie Toranian, editor in chief of Elle magazine said French women are “exhausted.”  They have the right “to do what men do” but only if “we also take care of the children, cook a delicious dinner and look immaculate.  We have to be superwoman.”

That’s not my definition of Superwoman Valerie; that’s my definition of a door mat.   A Superwoman is one who after a day’s work  says beans on toast for tea is just fine and couldn’t give a stuff about manicures and pedicures because she’s too busy chatting with her kids about the day or going out to meet friends or having a glass of wine with her husband.   Life’s far too short to be immaculate.  Delicious dinners are lovely but any sort of dinner will do and husbands are very capable of delivering either type.  Superwoman doesn’t exist but feeling super does.  And time saved not cooking delicious dinners and looking immaculate will mean more energy to fight the gender pay gap and stick two fingers up at entrenched sexism.

PS: French women consume more anti depressants than any other females in Europe.  Perhaps French women don’t get fat because they’re just too miserable to eat?

Superwoman by E J Catering

October 22, 2010

Wales the True Taste 2010 is just a few weeks away. The True Taste Awards are the Welsh awards for small and large producers of everything from free range chicken, confectionery, cheese, sausages, dairy, lamb, beef, wines, beers and juices. It includes the best well-sourced deli and vegetables grown in Wales.

We won an award last year for our homemade lemon and thyme cordial.  The accolade allows great marketing potential and support from the Welsh Assembly Government.

This year we entered the long and difficult tender process to cater for the awards dinner, research, menu planning, local sourcing, budgeting and creative ideas all went into my long tender document and I was thrilled to be awarded the job.   It is a great honour as all the guests are very knowledgeable food lovers.
All the food must be sourced from the county in which the awards dinner is to be held and each year this changes giving every county their time to show off their produce.  This year it is Pembrokeshire and there will be 500 guests attending the event.  The event  attracts many major sponsors.    I organise the staff – there will be more than 50 – and the table hire, including more than 4,500 pieces of cutlery, 3,750 items of crockery and I am yet to calculate the total number of glasses!
We hire in all the equipment required for the kitchen in order to get the meal out quickly, efficiently and of course piping hot. It is a mammoth but exciting task.
Last week we held the menu tasting at our kitchen in Clive Road, Cardiff. It is a fun, full-on day and lots of decisions were made.  I don’t want to give the menu away at this stage so my recipe this blog is for the energy bars I will making for the chefs to keep them going throughout the day which will be long, full of pressure, heavy loads and deadlines.
Ej’s energy bar
12 oz oats
2oz toasted sesame seeds
3 oz of walnuts
2oz pumpkin seeds
4oz crunchy peanut butter
4oz Welsh honey
Juice of half an orange
Zest of 2 oranges
3oz dried chopped apricots
2oz dried chopped prunes
2oz golden sultanas
2oz dried cranberries
Feel free to adapt the nuts and dried fruits to suit your taste or what’s already in your cupboard
Place all the seeds and nuts on a large baking tray and toast in the oven for about 5-10 mins.  Watch carefully you do not want them to burn, just turn golden brown and fill the kitchen with roasting smells.
In a saucepan melt the honey and peanut butter with the orange juice and zest
Add all the dried fruit and nuts to the pan.  Line a baking tray with cling film and then firmly spread the mixture into the baking tray.  Put in the fridge for at least an hour – overnight is best.
Turn out and cut into wedges.  For a really decadent version coat one end of each wedge in melted dark chocolate.  It does not have to be all healthy it just has to keep us going!

Could you cope with an Au Pair?

September 24, 2010

I went for a business lunch at Jamie’s in Cardiff with one of the Superwomen yesterday.  I like the atmosphere at Jamie’s but have to say I think the food is going downhill. I had a steak which, had I been the host instead of the lunchee, I would have sent back – very poor quality meat and very touch.  Not a patch on the one I had at the Brasserie a few weeks back (not that I go out for lunch a lot you understand) even if the Brasserie does smell a bit damp these days.

Anyway I digress,  one of the (many) things we chatted about was pulling off the juggle between career, kids, family life and the odd tiny scraping of personal time.   We agreed from the off that no one manages it entirely successfully but one of the things which helps my lunch companion have a good stab at it is her au pair.  She has had about six or seven different au pairs over the years, mostly from Germany but also Spain and France.  For £70 a week  (guidelines for salaries for  au pairs in the UK are between £60 and £75) plus food and board her au pairs get the children ready for school including making breakfast, do all the washing and ironing for the entire family, clean their own room and those of the children, be there to look after the children when they get home from school and cook their tea plus two nights babysitting.  They don’t work weekends and are usually out the nights they aren’t babysitting, at language school or with friends.    Her au pairs get an en suite bedroom with a telly and broadband and must bring their own lap top with them.  They spend a lot of time on Skype apparently, talking to their friends and family, even propping up their lap tops to chat while they do the ironing.

This sounds like  a good solution to many a hiccup in a Superwoman’s life.   An extra pair of hands to help out, someone to get the kids ready so that you can attend early meetings, and two nights babysitting so that you can go to the pictures with your other half rather than deciding that the costs of a babysitter make it uneconomic to go to the cinema and you’d be better off renting a DVD instead.  But could you cope with having someone else living in your home?  My lunch companion had the considerable advantage of an en suite bedroom for the au pair set a little away from the rest of the family bedrooms.  This I think would be essential for most families considering an au pair.  However, my lunch companion has another tip for au pair management which is setting out very clearly from the outset and before the au pair comes to work for you what you expect from them, when and how.  She, being an accountant, has devised a spreadsheet setting out the tasks and the time lines.   Sadly, such efficiency is way beyond me.   I can’t do spreadsheets.  I can’t even manage my cleaning lady properly and still rush round the house the day before she comes tidying up so she doesn’t think I’m a slut and I cringe if I have to leave her a note suggesting she might, this week, just if she has time of course, mop the bathroom floor.  If we got an au pair I’m pretty certain I’d end up making her tea for her and not being able to go to sleep until I knew she was home from a night out safe and sound.    You’ve got to be a spreadsheet sort of person to cope with an au pair.

We made it through seven weeks of summer holidays

September 16, 2010

How was it for you?  If you have children, you had to struggle with childcare.  If you don’t have children you had to struggle with the extra work of covering for all those people struggling with childcare.  At least the latter category get to go on holiday now, when prices are much cheaper and  places aren’t  jam packed with kids.

You learn a lot about people and the human condition generally when you go on holiday.  We had a week in Cornwall this summer and then later on ten days in Majorca.  This is what I learned:

Cornwall

1.  Absolutely everybody wears wetsuits to go in the sea in Cornwall.  Fat, thin, young or old it makes no difference.  Your parents would have wetsuits if they went to Cornwall regularly.  If you don’t want to stand out in the crowd on a Cornish beach get yourself a wetsuit.  Luckily they are relatively flattering.  Honestly.

2.  It’s true, people really do pee in their wetsuits when they hit the sea water to give themselves a layer of warmth.  This works but is also the reason why you should never borrow someone else’s wetsuit.

3.  Even when people are wearing wetsuits you can just tell whether they are posh or not.  It’s the way they stand.  Or maybe it’s the haircuts.  But anyway you can tell.

4.  When I was a kid we used to go to the beach with a couple of towels, a bucket and spade and some sandwiches in a Tupperware box.  Nowadays, unless you want to experience serious beach equipment envy you need folding chairs, at least two windbreakers, a cool box and a little tent.

4.  You really don’t mind so much if it rains everyday in Cornwall when you know you are going to sunny Majorca in a couple of weeks.

5.  This is a lovely holiday cottage, spacious, well equipped, great value and with a lovely garden.  Ten minutes drive to Polzeath beach or to Padstow.    Book it quickly before we do. www.lana-vale.co.uk

6.  Body boarding is not as easy as it looks.

Majorca:

7.  You may tell yourself that getting up at 6am in the morning to bag a brace of sunloungers is beneath you and anyway reservation by towel shouldn’t be allowed and isn’t  fair but one day into your holiday and you’ll be setting the alarm clock just like everyone else.

8. Abba and Elvis Presley tribute acts are really a lot of fun once you’re on your second jug of Sangria.  Gosh, even the kids’ disco and Crazy Chloe the entertainment rep dressed up as Thomson the dog are fun by that point.

9.  Don’t delude yourself that once you get your children onto the tour bus and up the Tramuntana trail they’ll actually rather enjoy the views and the chance to see a different aspect to Majorca.  They won’t.  My daughter threw up on the bus in an act of revenge.

10.   Wouldn’t it be nice to live somewhere sunny?

11.  I mean really nice?

Superwoman by E J Catering

August 5, 2010

Drawn by the mountains and images of wonderful prayer wheels, big bells and goats I  flew off to Nepal for four months.
Kathmandu was more amazing than I could possibly have imagined – the smells, the colours, the woodwork, the noise, the craft, the people, the monks, the flowers, the crazy driving, the wandering goats, cows, sheep, they all added to the magic.
I had got a job teaching English in a boarding school just outside Kathmandu that was not quite so magical!  It was just off a main road where trucks thundered by, there was dust, dirt and stagnant water.  But the school itself was full of happy, hungry to learn, polite kids.
I struggled a bit with the four hours of teaching each day but the bit the kids and I both enjoyed was in the bunk house.  The kids stayed in small dorms and I sewed dolls’ clothes with the girls, built Wendy houses out of boxes and played backgammon with the boys. We all learnt to juggle, play French cricket and stick the tail on the donkey, we made one for each door of the house!
I spent my afternoons with the school cook, an uneducated, hard working man and I think he learnt the most English out of everyone!  We all took our meals on the flat roof with the Himalayas in the distance. Together we made momos, a dumpling, steamed or fried with any meat or vegetable filling flavoured with spices.  Here is my version.

Momos
Fresh wanton papers ( available in the fridge section of the Chinese supermarket in Neville Street, Cardiff)
Vegetarian filling:
Onion, carrot, cabbage, fresh ginger, fresh red chilli, lime,  a tablespoon kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), coriander
Grate the onion, carrot, cabbage ginger and mix with the chopped chilli, squeezed  lime, Kecap manis and chopped coriander.  Season and taste
Pork filling:
8oz minced pork
One inch fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
2 spring onions
1 green chilli
1 stem of lemon grass
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
1 tbsp oyster sauce
Whizz the ginger, garlic, spring onions, chilli and  lemongrass with the sesame seed oil and oyster sauce.  Mix with your hands into the minced pork

Lightly egg the edges of the wanton papers and place small teaspoons of either mixture into the middle, pull the edges up into little money bag shapes, twisting the tops

Either steam for 5 mins or deep fry and finish in the oven.  Just make sure the filling is cooked through

Serve with lightly wilted bok  choy best bought at the Chinese super market.

I spent my last month climbing the Himalayas. Walking  into the most beautiful horizons each day was breathtaking.  Each day the mountains became bigger and bigger until at last at 4am we reached the Annapurna base camp.  We were there in the snow and surrounded by ice capped summits of the most beautiful mountains in the world.  Eat momos and climb mountains became my mantra.

On going to the Garden Party (the one that Nick Griffin did not)

July 30, 2010

I’m not what you’d call a Royalist.  I’m not anti Royal either.  Just not that interested, in the same way I’m not that interested in the glossy celebrity photo shoots in Hello magazine or OK.  They  just don’t feel that relevant to me.  Having said that, when I received a letter saying I might get an invite to one of the Garden Parties provided I indicated in advance whether I would accept such an invitation were it received I was too curious not to go.  Well, it’s Buckingham Palace innit?

When the invitation arrived it advised a hat was required.  It also advised that National Costume was permitted and I seriously considered rigging myself out in the pointy black hat and red flannel  shawl but in the end decided against it.  Partly due to laziness (adult size Welsh costume is not the easiest thing to get hold of and the stuff available on the Internet is all of the saucy Welsh costume variety) and partly because when I googled the history of the Welsh costume it seemed that our current Welsh costume is just what rural Welsh people were wearing back in the late eighteenth century so not exactly the forward thinking, vibrant, multi-cultural, business minded Wales of today.    So I shelved that idea and borrowed a hat from Nannie for the occasion.

So, what’s it like?

  • Much easier to get in than you might think – I expected some sort of rigorous search or at least some questioning about the amount of time I spent picketing South Africa house back in the early eighties but a flash of the passport and my husband and I were in.
  • Much nicer round the back of Buckingham Palace than at the front.  The front looks a bit like a prison but the back is a soft orange colour, like the houses in Bath, and it’s quieter and of course there’s a big garden with a lake.
  • They manage to serve tea to 7,500 people very efficiently  – cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, fruit cake, victoria sponge – and a really good cup of tea.    I had two cups.  And another piece of cake if you must know.
  • Other nations do prettier national costumes than us – saris knock the spots of black pointy hats and prickly flannel shawls.   I think I might have seen one lady dressed up either in Cornish dress or Irish.  Either that or she’d actually chosen to look a bit like a milking maid in a green flannel frock.
  • Cameras are forbidden but twenty minutes before the end, everyone was whipping out their mobile phones.  To start with it was surreptitious but as soon as people realised the Secret Service didn’t suddenly swoop down on a wire and grab you,  everyone was at it.
  • There were a huge variety of people there – lots of chains of office and armed forces ; a good few women who thought they were going for a boozy afternoon at Ladies Day in Ascot orange fake tan the lot;  a gay couple with mohicans (short ones) wearing suits and with those big holes in their ears (don’t get those); lots of flowery frocks and sensible shoes with Amercan tan tights; and, Mr Griffin please note,  lots and lots of different colour skins.

The best bit for me by far was when Her Majesty passed right by us, about two yards away.  Not for my benefit but for the eighty year old lady next to me who was an ardent Royalist and was so pleased and proud to be that close to the Queen that tears shone in her eyes.    That was moving that was.    And the Queen, who is 85 and small and looks rather like my Gran these days, worked hard for a good few hours, talking to people and making them feel special.  Which is I think pretty much the Royal Family’s job these days and one which the Queen is rather good at.

The end of term

July 20, 2010

It’s the end of term at last.  Hurrah!   The fetes, the trips, the end of year concerts and the end of year discos are done.  The presents for the teachers have been bought and delivered and don’t children have a lot more teachers these days than we did?   The uniform that had grown too tight is finally in the charity shop bag after six weeks of me saying ” Just breathe in child, I’m not buying anything new this close to the end of term.  Do you think I’m made of money?”  On the last day of term I watched one teacher skip out the school gates.  Honestly.  Real proper skipping.

For my children seven glorious, golden school free weeks lie ahead of them.  They cannot believe their luck.  “How many sleeps is that?” asks my five year old in wonder.  She can’t get her head round the magnitude of the number.  Forty nine.    Such riches of sleeps.    Such abundance.    I wish I was a teacher or a child.  But I’m not.  I’m a solicitor.  And the most holiday sleeps I can reasonably manage is 21.  This is pretty good but it leaves a shortfall.   And so let the Mummy Juggle commence.    To be fair, my husband is also doing the Daddy Juggle.    It’s complicated this dance.   We shall take it in turns to start work late and stop work early, passing the baton of child care back and forth at the front door like relay race runners.   Then there’s two sets of grandparents, rugby camp, activity camp, swimming lessons and a little sprinkling of good friends.   I log the details of where my children have to be in my diary and what they will need when they get there.  I feel like I’m their PA.

We kick off the beginning of the holidays with a weekend trip to Newcastle upon Tyne.    I worked in Newcastle a life time ago.  It’s a great city with lots to see and do and we all enjoy ourselves.   The Premier Inn on the Quayside is clean and cheap and give or take a dozen hen nights very comfortable.   We see the Sage, the Angel of the North, the Baltic Art Gallery and the beautiful bridges.  I arrange to see old friends  – we met when we were training to be solicitors.   It’s strange this ageing process.  It takes a little while when we arrive at their house for us to get used to the middle aged faces we’ve now got, lay the extra pounds and the greying hair on top of our memories of former fresh faces.  We’re all serious business people now – twenty years qualified, don’t you know – and we  talk of business development and the recession and pension funds and children of course.   The children are nowhere to be seen though – they’ve quickly disappeared off to play together elsewhere in the house, age differences no barrier to getting on and getting away from the adults.    My five year old appears complaining of a sore tummy.    There was chocolate on offer and she has no off switch when it comes to chocolate – only when it runs out.   Her tummy is stretched tight as a balloon.  My husband picks her up to take her upstairs for a lie down and she throws up everywhere – over the carpet, over his clothes, the radiator gets a good splashing as does the sofa.   It smells only of chocolate which is a result.    My husband sees to our daughter (who now feels fine) and my friends – my very successful commanding £390 an hour solicitor friends – get on their hands and knees and mop up chocolate scented puke with me.  We laugh while we do it and when we laugh we look just like we did twenty years ago.    When everything and everyone is tidy again, we play Rockstar Wii very loudly and nobody mentions business again.

A rant about roads – by Denise Lovering, Glenside Commercials

July 9, 2010

As some people may already know, I have been lobbying to get the tolls on the Severn reduced for quite some time now.  There have been lots of meetings with AMs and MPs trying to get them to support an enquiry into the impact of the tolls on the Welsh economy, with a view to getting them reduced.  I have spoken to transport managers and fleet operators, one of whom pays a staggering £200,000 every year in tolls. Everyone is agreed that “Something should be done” but what?

I work in the transport sector, not seen as a “sexy” place to work, as I said at a recent lunch, but one that is necessary. We all want fresh fruit, meat and fish in our supermarkets and shops, we want to be able to buy latest fashions (well some do) and some of us want to be able to go out on a Sunday to buy furniture, screw drivers, paint, bedding plants, charcoal for the BBQ and even loo roll (when the dog has grabbed the last one and thinks it’s amusing to chew it up!)

All these things, with a few exceptions, are delivered by road.  By the trucks that everyone sees as a menace on our road, by drivers who drive through the night to get our goods to market in other countries too.  The problems lie not with the trucks or the drivers, although we all have stories about the one that “drove like a lunatic” but with the road infrastructure they have to drive on.

Of the 33 million or so vehicles registered on our roads, only 460,000 are commercial vehicles – you know those big ones that we see everywhere!!

Take the M4, for instance.  This was in part, to be a road link between Ireland and Europe, as well as giving the people of Wales and the South West easier access to London and the South. It is part of the strategic road network of the UK.  The part that runs through Newport does not conform to current motorway standards, lacking continuous hard shoulder, having some junctions that are too close together and, worse of all, a restricted two-lane section through the Brynglas Tunnels with no escape route.

Hopes were raised in the 90’s when work started into the feasibility of an M4 Relief Road.  The transport sector in particular held its’ breath, yes it would probably be tolled, but they were used to paying tolls, but it would ease congestion, improve driving times and in general make travelling easier for all users. And so we all waited.   Then, last year, after spending approx £15m on feasibility studies, the Deputy FirstMinister announced there would be no M4 relief road, it would cost too much money!

Instead the proposed alternative will be a patchwork of roads and roundabouts called “M4 Magor to Castleton Corridor Enhancement” and we will have to endure possibly another four years of road works to make  it possible.  In four years time the traffic flow will have increased again and we will still be trying to find a solution to the congestion and frustration that the M4 relief road would have helped to solve.

We deserve better than this!

I was repeatedly told by AMs and MPs alike that the Severn tolls issue was not a “devolved issue” but one that I should take up with Central Government.  In a letter from the former Transport Minister, Sadiq Khan, he told me that he couldn’t do anything, as the tolls were governed by an Act of Parliament. It was like riding on the Magic Roundabout!

Together with a colleague from Freight Transport Association, I attended a meeting in the Senedd recently, organised by Mike German (now Lord German) a Welsh Lib Dem AM, who has long been an advocate of reducing or freezing the tolls.  The meeting was with the Deputy First Minister and we put our case for a reduction in the tolls and again he reminded us that the tolls were not an issue for the Assembly Government.

So I asked him why.  Why can’t the Assembly Government work together with the Welsh Office and Central Government, to come up with a joined up approach, something that will help all the businesses and people in this region; the people who pay the bulk of some £77.6m every year in tolls.   We asked for an inquiry, along the lines of the Buchanan Report into the Humber Tolls, to find out the impact of the tolls on the economy of Wales.  After listening to all we had to say, he said that he would consult with his team and get back to us.

To my utter astonishment and delight, I have received a copy letter from Ieaun Wyn Jones, confirming that, after due consideration, he has decided to agree to a study into the economic impact of the tolls on the Severn Crossings.  This will be undertaken by the Economic Research Advisory Panel.

I appreciate that there is still a long way to go yet.  But this is a start. The traffic on our roads is not getting any less; improvements to the rail network are years away and without proper facilities for access for vehicles, moving freight onto rail is a long, long way off.

My Tour of Pembrokeshire – Fflur Jones

July 5, 2010

I recently took part in a sponsored cycle ride around Pembrokeshire. During a mad moment in January I had agreed to do it, along with three of my male colleagues. The Tour of Pembrokeshire involves three different races, one each of 117 miles, 83 miles and 64 miles. Being a very happy cyclist but also aware that a) I was not all that fit and b) would probably enjoy the social side of cycling just as much as the actual pedalling, I opted for the shortest route.

And so the training began. The Taff trail became as familiar as the palm of my hand, as I dragged myself out of bed at sparrows on a Sunday. My first few trips were of the cautious kind – 10 miles, or 15 miles at most. I discovered that I could do a nice round trip to Sain Ffagan and back via Ely. This was achievable after work on a nice evening. How I feasted on my supper on such nights!

I gradually became a little more daring. As I was training on my own, I was surprised how concerned I was about venturing too far into the countryside alone, early in the morning. I had my bike with me after all, I reasoned, so I should be ok. Having bought a speedometer however (which made me feel like a proper cyclist!) I realised that if a mad man decided to chase me as I was doing 3.5 miles going uphill, my only defence mechanism would be to turn back and whizz downhill at top speed!

As I got fitter, I managed to shelve my fears. If my time was to come whilst snaking my way up the Taff Trail at a snail’s pace, then so be it. I had some lovely rides up to Caerphilly mountain before whizzing at top speed (40 miles an hour once!) through Rhiwbina home. It was nice to feel myself getting more proficient at the pedalling game. The first time up Caerphilly mountain, I had to stop twice. The last time I went up without stopping, and in half the time I had taken the first time. Real progress. I had a lovely ride to Merthyr and back on a Sunday, dodging the rain under the tree canopy of the Taff Trail along the way. And with three weeks to go I managed to cover the distance of the Tour by cycling to the top of the Rhondda, over the Rhigos, and over down through the beautiful Neath valley, a magical place to which I had never been before.

The day of the Tour arrived. The first 10 miles were killers.  A constant climb up from Saundersfoot to Narberth, and I wondered why I was putting myself through this.   What was the point? Why was I so much slower than my male colleagues, who had shot off in front of me without as much as a cursory glance over their shoulders. I honestly did not know whether I could do it! I was going to have to admit defeat, and turn on my pedal and crawl back to bed where I rightly belonged at 8am on a Sunday morning. To hell with pride, I reasoned. It took character to admit defeat.

But from somewhere (possibly from the disgusting energy bar I consumed in a frenzy on mile 3) the strength came to stay in the race and keep going. The views were stunning, the company of my fellow cyclists pleasurable (apart from the two idiots who kept referring to me as banana woman), and the weather perfect. Five hours and fifteen minutes later, I was back in Saundersfoot with a big smile on my face, a very sore bum, and a slightly delirious buzz in my head. It didn’t matter that my colleagues had gone further than me or faster than me.  I had done it and that was all that mattered.

In the run up to the Tour the four of us as a firm decided to raise money for Tenovus and I decided to badger friends and family on behalf of Asylum Justice, a small charity that operates out of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea providing free legal advice to asylum seekers who are sent to Wales by the Home Office. Whilst I cycled along the beautiful Pembrokeshire countryside, I realised what a lucky, jammy, blessed girl I am to be able to undertake such a journey, in my own country, pretty much alone, without any real concerns in the world, other than having enough stamina to finish the course. I thought of all those women I had encountered in Asylum Justice’s legal sessions, some with a houseful of kids to feed on a few coupons a week, some alone and frightened, having had to leave their family behind, some young and bewildered, unsure of their age, their identity, or the reason why their families had bundled them off into the back of trucks, in search of a safer existence. Beautiful women, of all sizes, colours and creed, all of them seeking sanctuary in this country of ours, for all sorts of complicated reasons that I will probably never be able to fully understand. As I arrived back into Saundersfoot, rain sodden and hungry, I thanked my lucky stars that I had the privilege to indulge my love of cycling in order to assist these Superwomen from all over the world who have happened upon Wales without any real choice of their own.

If you would like to make a donation to either Tenovus or Asylum Justice, please click on the links below:

www.justgiving.com/darwingray

www.justgiving.com/fflur

Super night for women at the Inspire Wales Awards 2010

June 16, 2010

I was at the first IWA Inspire Wales Awards 2010 at Cardiff City Hall last night.  For those who don’t know  – and I feel bad but I’d never even heard of IWA until last year – IWA stands for the Institute of Wales and describes itself on its website http://www.iwa.org.uk as

“an independent, membership-based think tank, dedicated to promoting the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. It owes no allegiance to any political or economic interest group. Its only interest is in seeing Wales flourish as a country in which to work and live. It believes that can be done only by the effective mobilisation of all Wales’s intellectual resources.”

Wales’s intellecual resources were well and truly mobilised last night with 400 people attending the event.  The Western Mail was the media partner for the awards.  The Westie used to be the media partner of the Welsh Woman of the Year Awards (R.I.P since 2008).  I went to the Welsh Woman awards twice and didn’t enjoy myself much either time.   They were held in the CIA which in my opinion is cold and a bit too much like a drafty badminton hall to host a black tie do.  City Hall was much nicer and way posher but the awards could almost have been re-named the Welsh Woman awards because – get this -  of the nine individual awards up for grabs, seven were won by women.  Woo hoo!   And it’s got to be said that it must be great to win an award for women (which of course I wouldn’t know having never won one!) but even better to win an award which everyone is eligible to apply for.

I had a really enjoyable evening. Thanks very much to the Welsh Language Board for inviting me.   Diolch yn fawr.  Decent glass of something sparkly to start, a very interesting and entertaining table of people at dinner, and I got to hear Swansea based poet Nigel Jenkins read from some of his work for the first time – fabulous.  It was a pity that the singing act – the Three Waiters – didn’t sing something Welsh as well as Nessun Dorma and Toreador – a burst of Cwm Rhondda would have gone down very nicely, particularly as the event was to celebrate people who inspire Wales.

Below are the categories and their winners.  Congratulations to you all.  I was definitely inspired.

Young Achiever – Jessica Griffiths

Business Leader-  Hayley Parsons, Gocompare.com

Educator – Prof. Judy Hutchings, Bangor University

Science and Technology – Prof. Meena Upadhyaya, Cardiff University & Cardiff and Vale University Board

Arts, Media and Creative Industries – Olwen Moseley, Cardiff School of Art and Design, UWIC

Environmentalist-  Steve Garrett, RCMA Social Enterprise Limited

Welsh at Work – North Wales Police

Active Citizen – Adam Rees, National Assembly of Wales

Global Wales – Angela Gorman, Hope for Grace Kodindo

Sport – Lucy Powell, Duffryn Community Link

Superwoman by E J Catering

June 10, 2010

Molly’s first sports day was hilarious, as promised by the teachers and the fact that all the athelets were under four.  The grass track was about 15 meters long with two rows of chairs down one side filled with expectant and excited parents and grandparents.  There was a lovely atmosphere as we waited for our athletes to arrive.  At last the side door of the nursery opened and out streamed  40 kids –  two by two waving and smiling at their parents.  All the children entered all four races in groups of 5. The first race was just running forward; every one made it to the end in some form or another.  The next race was backwards;  they all made it to the end too although not all managed the full 15 meters backwards.  The next race was running forward but this time with a rubber ring on their heads, or at least it was at the start, not all the rings made it over the finishing line. The last race, but by no means the least, was the old classic egg and spoon race, brought up to date with a ping-pong bat and a bean bag.  Molly took this race very seriously and walked with full concentration from start to finish, completing the race a good 45 seconds after the race was well and truly over. All the parents clapped her all the way and she had a beaming smile on her face as she enjoyed her success and all the attention.  Jake, at nearly two, entered most races uninvited until in the end the head teacher gave in and gave the toddlers a race of their own.

I came last in my first ever mother’s race, to my amused disappointment –  I was not expecting to have to bat a ball as I ran.  I batted the ball way too high and spent my 15 meters chasing the ball forwards and backwards – let’s say tennis was never my best discipline but it was full of giggles and cheers from the little ones.  The fathers had to do the same race, but backwards!  Every one got a prize, a certificate and a lolly and went home full of the achievement of participating.

Raspberry ripple ice cream

This is a quick and easy cheat but full of natural flavour and fresh fruit.

1 litre tub of good quality vanilla ice cream

150gr of fresh or frozen ( defrosted) raspberries

Leave the tub of ice cream out of the freezer for about 20 mins with the lid off whilst you whisk the raspberries with a hand whisk to a puree.  When the icecream has become a soft constancy but by no means a defrosted liquid, fold in the raspberry puree with a large metal spoon.  Only make about 4 – 6 folds, it wants to have a ripple effect and not be completely mixed in with the ice cream.  Put the lid back on a re-freeze for at least an hour.  Serve in a bowl or in a waffle cone topped with a fresh raspberry.

This easy ripple ice cream is equally delicious with cherry, mango or strawberry purees

The sports day was really good fun, the sun shone and at the end the teachers were forced into a race. The Grannies were the only ones who got off scott free!

On being too old to go clubbing but not to dance…

May 19, 2010

I went on a girls’ night out on Saturday night to celebrate a fortieth birthday.   Girls is pushing it a bit I admit – most of us are working mums and not looking as girl like as once we did.   Getting out for a night these days requires as much effort as we put into our GCSE’s (OK, fine, I did do O levels if you must be so pernickety) along the following lines:

1.  Advise spouse at least one month in advance that you will be out;

2.  Stick large note on fridge to the effect that you will be out, preferably highlighted in luminous pink;

3.  Remind spouse thereafter on a regular basis that you will be out;

4.  Fill fridge;

5.  As you leave for your night out, shake clinging children off legs as you step out the front door; approximately 10% of spouses will still call after you – “Where are you going?  It’s not tonight you’re going out is it?”

6. RUN

We gathered in the bar of the Park Plaza hotel to drink cocktails.  Oo-er get us, being all Sex and the City.  Some of us were even wearing high heels.   However, having grown  sensible with age,  we stopped after two and went into the restaurant because drinking on an empty stomach is really not a good idea is it?   And whereas usually come 10.30pm on a Saturday night we’d all be nodding off in front of the telly it was time to go clubbing!

I love dancing, me.   My daughter and I regularly have a bit of a boogie in the kitchen.   But clubbing isn’t about dancing is it?   It’s about copping off.    And drinking after last orders.     How could I have forgotten that?   When I walked into the club, the music throbbing in my chest and the dance floor squirming with impossibly young, very pissed people wearing only underwear and fake tan I felt truly and horribly ancient.   “I’m old enough to be most of this lot’s mother!” I hissed to my sister.  “Don’t flatter yourself.  You’re old enough to be their grandmother!”  she hissed back.  (This is not strictly true; I could be a grandmother, granted, but to someone going to nursery not out clubbing.)

Despite my advancing age, I did  get on the dance floor.    The floor was sticky with spilt drinks and crunchy with broken glass but a couple of us mums squeezed past the flailing arms of the hen party and the blokes on a stag night checking them out and jiggled a bit on the dance floor with the birthday girl.    I watched the courtship ritual of men and women trying to score a snog unfolding all around me and thanked my lucky stars that my snog for the night and for every night for ever and ever was waiting for me at home.

By 2 am, the place had emptied out a bit and was playing eighties music and all us mums and in particular birthday girl could dance like I do in my kitchen – for the sheer fun of it.

Having it all – a Superwoman’s view point

May 5, 2010

You do know don’t you that none of us at Superwoman actually believe we’re  Superwoman?  That we’re poking fun at ourselves because we’re rather a long way from Super?   You do?   Phew.  I’m glad we cleared that up.    So what about Having It All then?  Do we believe in that?

For those of you who missed the recent debate in the media about Having it All (generated by Allison Pearson’s  recent resignation from her Daily Mail column)  Having it All is a term used to describe women with careers plus children and/or ageing parents who also contribute to community and keep a clean, organised home, a decent face and figure and a happy other half.  Allison Pearson has been suffering from depression which she attributes to trying to Have it All and has therefore decided to resign.  So is Having it All possible?  Here’s our take on the situation.

1.  Lots of women go out to work because if they didn’t there wouldn’t be enough money coming in to pay the mortgage.   This is not Having it All this is Having no Choice.

2.   Women who Have no Choice regularly work long, stressful days.  Some of them are lucky enough to get well paid but many of the women who Have no Choice are on very low rates of pay.

3.  If you Have a Choice even if it would involve radical belt tightening then in our view you pretty much already Have Most of It.

4.  Having it All  is impossible;  as fictitious a concept as Superwoman.    Nearly Having it All is not impossible but it does involve prioritising, letting somethings go altogether and for others embracing the concept of Good Enough.   Good Enough is key to Nearly Having it All.     Minette Martin in her column in the Sunday Times this week had some great advice -  don’t read fashion magazines if they make you feel fat or frumpy or if they make you long for things you can’t have; don’t cook unless you really must: think catering rather than cooking; don’t go shopping unless you really have to; don’t have lots of clothes: have only a few that really suit you; give up answering the telephone just because it’s ringing.  The point here is that  if you are trying to Nearly Have it All you need to cut yourself some slack.   A would be Superwoman that we know, when asked how she does it all, replies “Big Bum, Dirty House”.  Quite a lot of slack there.

6.  If  Nearly Having it All and Good Enough are not for you (or are no longer for you, for whatever reason) and your family finances can cope then STOP and don’t waste your precious time feeling guilty about it.   You will not be letting your feminist foremothers down if you are doing what makes you happy, whatever that may be.  This advice applies whether you have children or you don’t and whether you are a man or a woman.    Wherever possible and financial circumstances/family commitments permitting you should do what makes your heart sing, at least some of the time.

7.  Depression is a terrible, terrifying thing.  We’ve already talked in this blog about the tragic story of 41 year old solicitor Catherine Bailey who, suffering from depression,  drowned herself in the Thames leaving three young daughters behind.    20% of women aged between 45 and 64 are suffering from depression , a 20% increase on 2003.   Anyone, be they man or woman,  who starts to become depressed by how they are living their lives should listen to their body and take immediate action to stop that depression becoming as bad as it did for Catherine Bailey.   Allison Pearson did the right thing.

Blackberry, Orange and Apple – one or more of your five a day?

April 28, 2010

I got a spam email earlier this week offering me a webinar on “Blackberry Tips, Tricks and Apps for lawyers”.   For £160 and an investment of 60 minutes of my time watching the webinar I’d update my knowledge on how other lawyers are getting the most out of their Blackberry.  Us lawyers are evidently such nastily competitive types that the best way to sell webinars to us is not to advertise what we’ll get out of our Blackberry but to suggest that our competition are already getting more out of theirs than we are.

Thing is, I already spend far too long with my Blackberry.   I phone and text  with it, I email  with it, I access Facebook and the internet through it and take photos and video with it.  ALL THE TIME.   If,  heaven forfend,  I forget to take it with me when I leave the house or the battery runs out I panic.  Really.    For a start I don’t know anybody’s telephone numbers any more to ring them to warn them that I haven’t got my Blackberry with me so they should not construe my failure to respond to a text or email within three hours as indicative of my sudden death.  I can’t even make it through an hour’s telly without checking it once or twice.  Not even for telly I really like – things like Grey’s Anatomy or the Wire (series three now, ya feel me).   I tell myself and anyone who’ll listen that Blackberries (or is it Blackberrys?) are good for the working mum.  “You can nip off early from work and pick up the kids from school and no one need know you’re not in the office,”  I say.  This may well be true but actually what Blackberries (Blackberrys just looks wrong)  have done is to extend the working day to well, when you go to bed really.     I regularly get emails at all times of the night  from clients and other solicitors on the other side who are working late and I feel obliged to respond and thereby demonstrate that I’m every bit as hard working and dedicated as they are.    Nastily competitive see?

Of course, it’s not just Blackberries that people are working late on.  Apple I-Phones are equally bad and you can get push email on Orange and other mobile phones too.   We’re all at it – working round the clock because technology has made it possible and because the more people do it, the more people come to expect that level of responsiveness as the norm.  Twenty years ago when I qualified as a solicitor no one had computers; the world wide web and google and  facebook and twitter and Blackberry had not been invented (which sounds as archaic as sending very small children up chimneys and down mines)  and when you went home you didn’t do any more work till you got back into the office the next day.    Gosh doesn’t that sound nice?  The top tip, trick and application for Blackberries really should be “It’s 6.30pm.  PUT IT DOWN ALREADY.  STEP AWAY FROM THE BLACKBERRY AND SPEND SOME TIME WITH YOUR KIDS/OTHER HALF/DOG/WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT.

So, even though my husband says he’ll believe it when he sees it, I’m going to try and cut down a little on my Blackberry intake.  And unless that webinar is going to show me how my Blackberry can put the bins out and run the Hoover over I’ll be giving it a miss.

Another top tip:  When scrolling through  emails on your Blackberry  if you press ‘t’ it will take you to the most recent email.   Press ‘b’ to get to the least recent.

Superwoman by E J Catering

April 22, 2010

One evening a few years ago, when I was unable to sleep, I got up and put the telly on.  Slumped with a duvet and head full of unnecessary action, I was taken off to the world of Hannah Glasse (1708-1770).  I had never heard of her before, but it seems that long before the renowned Mrs Beeton or Fanny Cradock, Hannah Glasse was the first “kitchen goddess”, way back in the 18th century.  She was an English woman who wrote the first known successful and commercial cook book, The Art of Cookery, published in 1747.  At the time, the name of the author was unknown, as she signed off her work “by a Lady”.

Hannah, who had grown up in the country with well-to-do folk, and experienced good food and the beginnings of hospitality as a way to show off wealth and possessions, found herself in the city as a very young wife and realised that there was a gap in the market.  Her book was based on simple instructions, accessible ingredients and easy recipes.  She simplified old fashioned text – so “pass it off brown” became “fry it brown in some good butter” and “draw him with parsley” became “throw some parsley over the dish”.   She cleverly engineered weights and measures instructions, making them foolproof.  In her famous recipe, To Roast A Hare, she suggests “as much thyme as will lie on a six-pence” – a clever means to measure without machinery.  She offered practical help with timing, suggesting winding a length of string onto your spit.  She reasoned that when all the string was on the floor, the roast was cooked, ensuring no need for a modern-day timer with a ping.  Hannah Glasse brought the first curry recipe to the British table, though it must have been basic, as it only requires coriander and black pepper. But when the dish was reproduced on that late night programme, I saw a group of food experts pronounce it totally delicious.

From where I sat on the sofa, I can tell you we have learnt a bit about presentation since Hannah’s day, but I was sold on her methods. So with Hannah as my inspiration, here’s my easy recipe for gooseberry fool.

Gooseberry fool

ngredients

2 quarts (2.2l/4pt) gooseberries

1 Quart (1.1l/2pt) of sugar syrup (water and sugar, bring to the boil, allow to cool)

2 quarts (2.2 l/4pt) of new milk

4 egg yolks

Pinch of nutmeg

Method

Take 2 quarts of gooseberries, which come into season next month.  Set them on the fire in about a quart (1.1l/2pt) of water.  When they begin to simmer, turn yellow and begin to swell and split, throw them into a colander to drain the water out.  With the back of a spoon, carefully squeeze the pulp through the sieve into a dish and let them stand till they are cold.  Meanwhile, take 2 quarts (2.2l/4pt) of new milk, and the yolks of 4 eggs and beat it all up with a little grated nutmeg.  Stir it softly over a low heat.  When it begins to simmer take it off, and by degrees stir it into the gooseberries. Let it stand until cold, then serve it up.

Use the good china and don’t keep anything for best

April 14, 2010

Last Saturday I went to a “Love Vintage” fair in our local community centre with my five year old daughter.    It was the lure of home made cake and tea that got us there.  Both my children can scan a kids’ tea party table and spot home made cake from a 100m distance.   However, once we got there we were both of us enchanted by all the old stuff on sale.   Bone china cups and saucers, glass cake stands, beautifully embroidered table runners and samplers and quirky clothes smelling of mothballs and 0ld lady’s perfume and history.

For a woman who really doesn’t enjoy shopping I bought quite a bit.   A  set of 20 or more different sized knitting needles in a red case ( I don’t knit but my mother does and searching for her misplaced knitting needles was something I did a lot as a child.    I hope she’s going to like the imprisoned abundance of this lot, fastened tight in their red case); a 1950′s apron, a deliciously un pc faux leather cigarette case emblazoned with the inscription  – “Smoke like Helen B. Merry” (say it out loud); the remains of a pretty pastel dinner set by Royal Winton, including two big oval serving platters and a soup tureen for all of £20.  Tureen.  What a great word.    My daughter had a great time picking through huge trays of beads and bangles at just 50p each as I made my purchases.  When we were shopped out (by which I mean I couldn’t carry any more) we sat at a table covered with a pink and blue flowered table cloth and ate buttery victoria sponge.    I drank tea from a real china cup and it tasted just wonderful.

“Vintage” and “vintage reproduction” is of course very popular at the moment.   A whiff of fifties nostalgia is what has made Cath Kidston and Boden and all those cup cake businesses so successful – we’re all hankering after blue spots and pink sprigs of flowers and a time when our mothers were waiting for us when we got home from school with a fresh Victoria sponge and clean sheets flapping on the line.    Of course when we conjure up these images we tend to forget that clean sheets back then involved back breaking hand washing and mangling and sore chapped hands with not much in the way of heavy duty hand cream yet invented.    And then there was all the embroidery and the knitting.  When those women sat down after a hard day’s mangling and Victoria sponge making they didn’t put Living on and settle down with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to catch up with Grey’s Anatomy.  No, they got out the embroidery silks and did even more hard work, embroidering their  napkins and samplers with purple silk hollyhocks and yellow silk  daffodils and that woman in a big skirt and a bonnet like little Bo Peep (there were quite a few of those at the Vintage fair -did you have one in your house?).  And then they kept all that lovely stuff for best together with the good china and the pretty soup tureen and didn’t use it much and then presumably they died and all the things they treasured and loved ended up being bought by women like me in a village fair.

So when I got my pastel dinner set home I plonked some blue hyachiths that had previously been glorying in a plastic pot and put them in my soup tureen and I used the oval serving plate as a fruit bowl.  And I vowed to myself that I’m always going to use the good china and never keep anything for best.

Women on boards again

April 9, 2010

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know that getting more broads on boards is something Superwoman feels strongly about – see earlier posts on the topic.

On 3 April 2010  – yep Easter Saturday when a goodly number of us were probably dashing round the shops buying chocolate eggs because it had suddenly dawned on us that Tesco wouldn’t be open the following day – the House of Commons Treasury Committee published a new report called “Women in the City”.    It’s a whopping 138 pages long but  a fascinating read  – yes really – and anyway a lot of those pages are the submissions made to the Committee by unions, banks, accountancy practices and also the City Women’s Network plus transcripts of the evidence given by witnesses.   You can download the pdf at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmtreasy/482/482.pdf but if life’s too short to read a Treasury Committee report here’s what it says.

  • British companies are all pretty shabby when it comes to diversity at board level but the City of London is shabbiest of all.  The boards of FTSE 100 banks are only 9% female and at executive director level women make up only 1 to 2%.
  • The gender pay gap beggars belief everywhere – economy wide it’s 42% but in the City it’s a jaw dropping 60%.
  • This lack of diversity has led to group think and made challenging and scrutinising executive decisions less effective.  (BTW, “Group think” isn’t defined anywhere but I’d hazard a guess at “macho men always agreeing with each other.”)   This has led to a culture in the City of risk taking rather than stability.   Professor Charles Goodhart of the London School of Economics thinks the banking crisis would have been less likely if there had been greater diversity on the boards because women tend not to blow the housekeeping all in one go (he didn’t actually say that last bit.)
  • The right to equality is already covered by our legislation but that ain’t good enough.  A change in culture is needed.  It’s not being female that prevents women getting to the top because women who work and think like men do just fine.  No what we need is to move away from a perception that unless you work 12 hour days, drink like a fish and still be capable of standing straight in the lap dancing bar come 2am that you’re just not executive material my dear.  (This is paraphrasing things a bit you’ll understand.)
  • Having said that we don’t need to go so far as to impose quotas like Norway did thereby  pushing up female representation from 6% in 2002 to 44.8% in 2008.   However Lord Davies of Abersoch has written to Financial Reporting Council proposing that listed companies be required to explain their policies for achieving greater diversity.    That ought to do it.
  • A significant problem in achieving greater diversity on boards is a shortage of suitable women who actually want the job.  An awful lot of us  don’t want to catch tennis balls in our cleavages a la Venetia Thompson and have decided either to pack in the career thing altogether or content ourselves with not pushing for the top jobs. This means there’s not many women at the top to mentor the young ones coming through.
  • So we need more initiatives and mentoring schemes to help and support women to progress their careers coupled with a shift in culture so that diversity policies are actually followed and driven through rather than just a means to defend tribunal claims.

Yep, I think that’s about it.  So what next?

If you would be interested in attending a training session on how to give women the tools they need to get on the boards and to push themselves forward for the top jobs get in touch.  If enough of you are interested Superwoman will organise one.

Sing for Life and dance at every chance

March 25, 2010

It was my gran’s 90th birthday party earlier this month.  She didn’t really want a party but I insisted.  Some of my family members would possibly say it was not so much insisting, more like light bullying.   In any event she gave in with good grace and let me organise a party.  We held it at the Soar Centre in Penygraig,  a former Baptist chapel converted into a light and airy multi functional community and arts centre for charity Valleys Kids which is a wonderful example of a building bridging the past, present and future of Rhondda Cynon Taf.

It was I think the only time ever that every single member of my grandmother’s immediate family were all present in one place – her two children, her six grandchildren and her fifteen great grandchildren ranging in age from 20 to a few weeks plus her sister Megan and lots of other family and close friends.   More bridging of the past, present and future.   The last time most of us had been together was for a funeral and I was so very glad that this time we were together for a birthday.    Everybody had made an effort to wear something purple, following the warning in the Jenny Joseph poem “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple” and we had a big group photo taken to celebrate the occasion.

We were honoured that the Sing for Life choir were able to join us and to sing  a medley of Welsh songs followed by Happy Birthday Mam in Welsh and English.  They sang it for Princess Anne and what’s good enough for HRH is good enough for Iris “Mam” Hopkins.  The Sing for Life choir is made up of people mostly from the Rhondda Cynon Taf area who have either suffered from cancer or been affected by cancer and is run in conjunction with cancer charity Tenovus.  Trained by team building and motivational company Sing and Inspire, the choir and their conductors Georgina Jones and Andrea Beardshaw have such energy and such a joy for life that it is uplifting to be round them.   They sang their hearts out to celebrate Mam’s good, long life and their own lives and life in general.  They are an inspiration.

After that it was lights on for the buffet, a few glasses of wine and four generations of family having a bit of a boogie together and yes of course Mam danced.  Because everyone should dance, every chance we get.  And sing for life too.

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Superwoman Kitchen Suppers 2014

January 24, 2014

Superwoman Kitchen Suppers 2014

Happy New Year to Superwomen everywhere!

We hope you had a good Christmas and New Year break and are surviving the January de tox that inevitably follows.    Bethan is doing dry January and finding it doable but a bit boring.   As a result, she is really looking forward to this year’s series of Superwoman kitchen suppers and hopes lots of you will be joining her.

This is how the kitchen suppers work.

Each supper is attended by between 10 and 15 women.  As far as possible we try to arrange the attendees so that you network with a wide range of people.  We eat lovely food cooked fresh by the team at E J Catering in good company and try a new wine or two to match the food.  Over dessert, we discuss the business questions that attendees submit and which we circulate in advance of the supper, together with short biographies of everyone attending.  At the end we do a collection, (usually for Oxfam’s Train a Businesswoman or Give Girls a Head Start) and Bethan will try to sell you Superwoman tea towels.  So that’s food, wine, conversation, sharing business tips and advice and doing a little good all rolled into one super evening.

The cost for a three course supper plus a glass of wine is £35.  7pm for 7.30pm.    Normally done by 10pm unless there is a party Superwoman in our midst who is not driving and suggests another bottle of wine.  We really like party Superwomen.

The dates and venues for this year’s kitchen suppers are below. The Cameo is not available so these suppers really are in a kitchen.  We’ve fitted the dates in to avoid school holidays and bank holidays.

Thursday 13 February – Bethan’s kitchen in Wenvoe (just along from Culverhouse Cross).       She promises to tidy up before you come.

Thursday 20 March – Bethan’s kitchen in Wenvoe.  The tidy up from last time will do.

Wednesday 30 April  -  E J Catering’s kitchen in Capital Point.  Watch the finishing touches being put to your supper by the E J Catering team.   Marvel at the size of the walk in refrigerator.

Thursday 19 June – Summer Solstice Canapes  – this is a new experiment for us, a larger gathering but limited to 25 people with substantial finger food (you will not need to eat when you get home) and more wine. Details of venue (which will be somewhere in Cardiff) to follow.

If you would like to attend please email us on info@superwoman.org.uk as soon as possible, letting us know your preferred date.  Ideally, state a second and third choice too as the suppers book quickly and places are limited.  We will then send you details of how to make payment and your place will be confirmed when we receive payment.

In the meantime, happy detoxing everyone!

Superwoman 8 11 October 2012

September 21, 2012

Are you joining us for Superwoman 8 on 11 October 2012?  I do hope so.  All the details are on our events page and you can see photos from previous October conferences in our gallery. 

The October conference is a multi-tasking event, much like the lives of the Superwomen who attend it.  We’ve got inspirational and informative speakers, an opportunity to network, a little bit of shopping if you fancy it and we will raise around £6,000 for Valleys Kids and Breast Cancer Care.   And there’s wine and cake too! 

I’d like to personally thank our speakers, sponsors and goody bag contributors for taking the Superwoman challenge and making Superwoman 8 happen.  I will start planning Superwoman 9 in 2014 about twenty four hours after Superwoman 8 is over so do get in touch if you have any suggestions you’d like to make – for sponsors, speakers, or just how to make the event better.

My cape has developed a few holes recently and I’ve not been able to fly as fast as I’d like so this blog has not been updated as much as usual.  Do let me know if you have blog ideas you’d like me to post up.

 


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