Probably the most idiotic ‘recipes’ you’ll ever read

I find it almost impossible to cook anything when Ada is awake; she’s too heavy to hold in one arm, hates the sling, and is a violent spoon-throwing maniac in the high chair. Meals have been limited to whatever Chris has the energy to make when he gets in, or whatever I can throw in the oven while she bangs her forehead on my clavicle.

Until now! Dinner time has been revolutionised by freezing the raw ingredients for what US mommies seem to call – ugh! – dump meals. Sorry.

I throw together a few freezer bags of ingredients at the weekend while Chris takes Ada for a walk, then each weekday at about 2pm I just drop a giant frozen food boulder into the slow cooker. When it’s cooked, it stays warm until the baby is down for the night and we’re ready to eat. Magic.

Now. NOW. This is the real, slightly shameful secret. If I was a proper person, I’d chop up and assemble all the raw ingredients completely from scratch, but that takes far too long when I have limited solo kitchen time. So I just chuck in jars and cans of stuff and it’s still awesome.

Here’s what we ate this week; you could easily recreate these more cheaply and deliciously from scratch, but for me it’s all about time, time, time…

Salsa chicken wraps

Freeze in a bag:

Chicken thighs

Tub of fresh salsa

Tin of chopped tomatoes

Fajita seasoning to taste


Approx 4-5hrs on LOW (not high, or chicken goes stringy, yuk)

Serve with:

Tortillas, sour cream, sliced red pepper, lime to squeeze over

Lamb rogan josh

Freeze in a bag:

Diced lamb

Half a chopped onion

Tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Jar of good rogan josh sauce – add a splash of water if very thick so that the curry doesn’t dry out in the slow cooker


Approx 5-6hrs on LOW

Serve with:

Naan, yogurt, rice if you can be arsed

Meatball subs

Freeze in a bag:

Good quality meatballs (I buy them from M&S, FANCY!)

Large jar of passata

Teaspoon of dried Italian herbs


Approx 4hrs on HIGH

Serve with:

Submarine rolls, parmesan to grate over

What we call ‘Sausage Dish’ 

Freeze in a bag:

Little thumb-sized lumps of good pork sausagemeat

Your choice of tinned beans, drained and rinsed – kidney, cannellini and borlotti work well

Large jar passata

1tsp Italian herbs


Approx 4hrs on HIGH

Serve with:

Toasted wholegrain pitta bread

Pasta pot

Freeze in a bag:

Chicken thighs

Diced onion or other veg

Jar of good tomato pasta sauce plus half-jar of water (pasta will absorb)


Approx 4hrs on HIGH

Add during last half-hour:

Orzo pasta

Blob of creme fraiche

Allow leftovers to sit and go mouldy for:

A whole weekend.

That’s it! Check out this website for some basic tips on cooking times and successful veg freezing, plus loads of frankly-much-better meal ideas.

All the Tumbles: A guide

Our kid doesn’t get to see much TV, but I do often harness its zombifying power at the end of a day if she’s cranky and I need to trim her nails or brush her teeth or polish her horns. I let her watch Something Special, the Makaton show starring Mr Tumble and his assorted relatives. We are now, as a family, obsessed with the Tumbles. Here’s everything I know so far…

Mr Tumble

Mr Tumble is a grown man with few life skills who lives alone in a stylish Cath Kidstonesque cottage. He has a dangerous number of fireplaces and kitchen appliances for a man who doesn’t know how to operate a bucket. He dresses as a clown but isn’t employed as one; that’s just his look.

The confusing schtick of the show is that Mr Tumble (played by Justin Fletcher) magically sends a spotty bag to Justin Fletcher (played by Justin Fletcher) with a list of stuff he (Justin) has to find and send back to him (Justin). My theory is that Mr Tumble lives in a parallel universe where they don’t have gloves, teapots, rubber ducks, etc, and he can essentially use these items as currency to pay for his preposterously nice house.

Mr Tumble is refreshingly open to playing with all kinds of toys; as well as ‘boy stuff’, he owns a toy tea set, a hot pink tutu and the adorable Polly Dolly. You do you, Mr Tumble.

Grandad Tumble

I learned from watching The Tale of Mr Tumble live show that Grandad Tumble actually FOUND Mr Tumble as a baby – they are not blood relatives, despite their weird clowny dress sense. Grandad Tumble lives in a shed and exists solely to nag Mr Tumble about domestic chores. I hate Grandad Tumble, he is a massive buzzkill.

Lord Tumble

Lord Tumble is one smooth bastard. When he shows up at Mr Tumble’s place, Mr Tumble has to serve him like a butler. If I had to shack up with a Tumble, I’d choose Lord Tumble.

Aunt Polly

I fynd Aunt Polly vyaguely dystirbing. Who talks lyke thys? What’s thyat hyat abyout?

Chef Tumble

Chef Tumble used to be northern but is now French. It’s like he was recast, but everyone is played by Justin, so WTF?

Fisherman Tumble

To help him stop being such a creepy loner, Mr Tumble once bought Fisherman Tumble an iPhone (HOW?). Fisherman Tumble repaid this kind act by stealing his sandwiches. What an asshole.

Have I missed anyone? I mean, Justin himself – how is he related to the Tumbles? Why does he have to do their bidding? Who is Lord Monkey? More updates as I receive them.

Life coaching with Hugh


During the Very Bad Times, I watched a lot of Hugh Jackman films. Nothing bad can happen to you when you watch a Hugh Jackman film, except The Prestige, which may cause your brain to unravel and is a massive outlier on the Jackmanograph.

Anyway, I always wanted to send a postcard to Hugh’s management company to see if I could get some Real World Motivational Words direct from the very man, but never got round to it due to lack of appropriate postcards. So now I just use Imaginary Hugh as my agony-aunt-slash-life-coach. He’s very good, you should try him.

Dear Hugh,

Since the birth of my infant, I’ve become a legit sugar-addict, and spend most weekdays gnawing on oversized bars of Dairy Milk or double-fisting Kellogg’s Krave straight from the box. What can I do?


Imaginary Hugh says:

Mate, look at me. Look at my hulking frame and lustrous but manly hair. D’you think I eat Dairy Milk or Kellogg’s Krave or that new kind of KitKat with a double layer of chocolate on the outside? No way; and if you want to be awesome like me, you need to ditch the sugar and PROTEIN UP.

Fancy a biscuit? Grab a handful of cashews. Feel like sugary cereal? Cook some damn eggs and hoover them right up outta the pan. And if you need a snack on the go? Charge into the nearest leafy undergrowth, stalk and kill a small deer or other woodland mammal, then rip it in half and chow down as the scent of blood and raw fear soaks into your clothes and skin. Nice one.

Dear Hugh,

I thought I was pretty cool going along to the local baby and toddler group and mingling with unknown posh Bath ladies and their scary children. But when I got home I realised that my uncombed hair looked mad, I was sweating weirdly and the baby was in footie pyjamas at midday. Do you think I’ve made a poor first impression? Can I go back?


Imaginary Hugh says:

Hey, get over yourself, lady. D’you think anyone cares what your kid is wearing? Or if they’d notice if your hair was combed or shaved off or straight-up on fire? Nah, those women have got their own troubles, not least their crazy-named kids. No one with their shit together is hanging out in a church basement on a Monday afternoon.

I’m an X-Man and a song ‘n’ dance man with a foxy older wife,  persistent boring rumours about my sexuality and my own line of ethical coffee. Do I give a crap what anyone thinks? Do I hell. Now shut up and have a skinless chicken breast. Yeah, I said ‘breast’, get over it.

Dear Hugh,

Sometimes, through lack of sleep, hormonal maelstrom and excessive Krave consumption, I find myself uncontrollably enraged by everyday life. I am often infuriated by dirty dishes, random cold callers, and Radio 4’s afternoon play.

Do you have any tips to help me manage my fury?

Imaginary Hugh says:

Sure, we all see the red mist now and then, I personally have been known to run naked through a secret military compound, impaling terrified soldiers with my mighty claws before slashing a hole in the wall and escaping with a roar, teeth ablaze and veins popping in the night air. You know how it is.

Have you tried riding a motorcycle dangerously yet sexily? Or cutting down a tree? Or cavorting in the surf as a paparazzo takes your photo from behind a koala? Or clutching an injured mutant and shouting ‘NOOOOOOO’ as your chest hair escapes your shirt? You just need to find your thing.

Good luck!

Thanks Hugh! You’ve been very helpful.

The imagined summaries of films I’ve missed at the cinema

I love the cinema but now have one loud, squirmy reason not to go any more. (The idea of those Big Scream screenings for baby parents are odd – does anyone really have a baby that’ll sit on their lap in a cinema for two hours? Mine would be chewing the seats and yelling to be put down on the sticky floor within five seconds.)

These are the films I’d probably have gone to see if I hadn’t procreated, plus how I imagine the experience would’ve been…


Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Tom Cruise is BACK as Ethan Hunt, in a film that is essentially a series of elaborate stunts strung together with drone footage of fancy cars screaming round mountains and braless women in improbable frocks. Everyone wears sunglasses and looks serious, except Simon Pegg, who wears sunglasses and looks like he’s been cast in a feature-length reboot of the Del Monte adverts. I love Simon Pegg and would totally watch that.


Inside Out

Inside Out happy meals! Inside Out cornflakes! Inside Out broadband adverts! You’ve been bombarded with the commercial tie-ins, now see the movie! Adorable characters with voices you can’t quite place have an adventure that you expect to be lighthearted but actually makes you question the very nature of your existence, like Toy Story 3. Too upsetting for the recently-pregnant.


The Martian

Matt Damon needs rescuing again. Will he be saved? Almost certainly! Now sit back and stick it to The Man by enjoying Flumps, the most lightweight and therefore budget-friendly Pic ‘n’ Mix item.



Big chase on some unexpected form of transport, like a hovercraft or self-driving car or pogo stick. Gunfire. Explosion. Fade to… amazing title sequence, these days sadly nipple-free. Meeting in a dark room. Expensive watch. Perfunctory sex encounter. Brandscaping. Bad guy is more likeable than Bond but terrifying in some spooky unexpected way. Funny bit with Q. Bond gets kidnapped! But he escapes. Unexpected twist ending. Aerial shot of a European city. Bosh.


The Force Awakens

Han, Chewy, Leia, hairdresser, pedal bin; the gang’s all here, plus some other people you might care about later. Deeply glossy and lovely, although it’ll be hard to tell through your tears of nerdy joy.


In The Heart of the Sea

Do you like whales and hate boats? Then have I got the film for you! Possible game spinoff – Angry Whales.
Have you seen any of these movies? Or perhaps you’ve just imagined them? Let me know what you thought…

True Christmas

true christmas pic

The weather is horrible and I can’t go anywhere because I have to be at home to let my weird kid sleep every 90 minutes. So you know where I get my jollies now? True Christmas, the best channel in the whole world. It runs festive films all day long, and on our massive telly that means cosy fires, candlelight and lovely snowscapes filling my peripheral vision and hypnotising the baby as she sits in her high chair.

Even better, I never have to follow the plot or even turn the volume up, because there are only 5 basic plotlines for low-budget Christmas movies:

Small town smackdown
Big city lady loses job and has to move back to her attractively snowy hometown. Learns the TRUE meaning of Christmas by kissing a widowed lumberjack/turkey farmer/football coach under a lamppost or near a tree. His surly teenage son stops being a goth and the little daughter talks for the first time in five years. She says ‘Merry Christmas’. A snowman winks at a crow.

Unexpected talent
Old people (or homeless people) put on a play (or form a choir) in order to save a theatre (or an old folks’ home) from an evil corporation (or termites). At the dramatic climax, an elderly man throws aside a Zimmer frame and ‘raps’ Joy To The World while a street kid beatboxes.

Tart with a festive heart
She’s a hooker! He’s an uptight lawyer! He, for some reason, has to bring her home for the holidays! Cagney or Lacey is the horrified mother! A blonde woman wears cashmere! This is an actual movie that’s been trailing for days, it looks AMAZING.

Olde timey Christmas
Ladies in frilly dresses sit around in houses waiting for men to come home from war. The townsfolk band together to overcome a snow-related catastrophe then sneer at a family of grubby outcasts who – SURPRISE! – are actually royalty or something. The men come home missing limbs but remain mentally unscathed. The final scene morphs into a picture postcard with ‘Season’s Greetings’ plastered over the top in a swirly font.

I’ll be home for Christmas
No you wont.

Lazy Fridays with a napless baby

I’m going to type something that will make you want to kick me square in the face, but it’s been six weeks now and it’s important to address it – our baby sleeps all night. Like, she sacks out between 8 and 9pm, and she gets up at 7am. To be honest, I can’t find much online about babies doing this at such a young age, and sometimes it worries me when she hasn’t eaten in 12 hours or she’s been lying in a wet nappy for 13 hours, but I’ve decided just to roll with it.

Before you kick me in the face, though, you should know that there’s a terrible downside to this, which is that by day she sleeps like a cracked-out meerkat, which is to say hardly at all. If I’m lucky she naps for 30 minutes at a time, getting cranky and overtired as the day goes on, culminating in a bedtime meltdown and all-night babycoma. What fun.

When Chris first started working out of the house on Fridays, I did a few Google searches for ‘home alone with a newborn’ and ‘daily baby routine’ and found heaps of stuff that included phrases like ‘Shower during her morning nap!’ Or ‘Take an hour during her lunchtime sleep to catch up on chores’, which made me tearfully hysterical. Her naps might be just long enough for me to run for a wee, and even then I’d better not flush or breathe or remove my underpants for fear of waking the kraken.

So, for anyone (anyone?) out there with a similarly sleepless-in-the-day baby, here’s how I do a low-effort Friday, including my ‘brilliant’ baby activity ‘ideas’. Please don’t call the baby police.

Nap cycle 1
Baby wakes! Make bottle, feed, change, burp. This is the easiest cycle of all as the baby is all dopey from her all night sleepathon.

Fingers Lie down in bed together. Hold up one hand. Baby holds your fingers and waves them around. First to fall asleep is the winner.

Naptime chore: Get up slowly. Sloooowly. Shhh! Pull on any clothes you can find – it doesn’t matter if you look like Worzel Gummage, no one will see you. Creep to kitchen and make bottle and coffee. Don’t confuse the two. I make my coffee in an insulated lidded cup so it stays hot for a while and I’m less likely to spill it on her HEY-OH ACTUAL USEFUL TIP!

Don’t bother with: Shower. Leave it, mate, it’s not worth it.

Nap cycle 2
Baby wakes! Snuggle her as she struggles in your loving embrace, hahaha baby, there’s no escape! In theory she should now be fed, but our naps are so short that I often have to kill some time before a feed with some activities.

Gym ‘n’ Gollum time! 
Ten minutes getting thoroughly worked-up in the musical baby gym. Everytime the music ends say ‘Let’s have another one, precious!’ like Gollum, until she kicks the music button again.

Parkinson Baby lies on Daddy’s footstool and gurgles like a loon. Act like a sycophantic interviewer and say encouraging things like ‘And then what happened?’ and ‘What would you say was the inspiration for your new album?’

Don’t tell Daddy! Baby throws up on a footstool. Wipe it up and say ‘Don’t tell Daddy!’ Then both laugh until someone throws up again. Usually the baby.

Changing table cereal bar Put the baby on her changing table with a stuffed monkey. Eat a cereal bar and make monkey noises.


Naptime chore:
Lie down and surf the internet. You’re crushing this, soldier! Make next bottle VERY QUIETLY.

Nap cycle 3
Baby wakes! Say hello then run and stick a pan of soup on to heat before she notices you’ve disappeared. Return to bedroom and act casual. Now feed, burp and change.

Activity: Floor blanket! Plop baby on a blanket on the floor. Surround her with soft toys then go and put your soup in a mug. Now you can sit at arms reach and drink your soup with one hand while playing some fun games with the other like…

Soft toy Sophie’s Choice Present two toys and see which one baby likes best. Kill the other toy (not really).

Reality bites Make toy animals behave like real animals eg. bear tries to eat baby’s face, chicken pecks everything and gets attacked by fox toy. Etc.

When you’ve finished your soup you can play…

Mummy is big Stand over baby and, to her amazement, demonstrate that you have legs and a body and are not, in fact, a disembodied head.

Dance! Whistle a tune badly. Dance badly. Baby will either laugh and try to copy you or stare at you blankly. It’s 50/50 for me.

Mummy’s lie down Lie next to baby and let her punch you in the face. Surprisingly relaxing. Close your eyes or she will scratch your corneas.


Naptime chore: 
Take a laptop into the bedroom and check email or do an online grocery order. Ada’s naps are so short that I can now do a weekly shop in under three minutes. When it arrives, it looks like that bit in Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor buys all the soup and buckets.

Nap cycles 4-6
Baby wakes! If your baby is anything like mine she’ll have been asleep for about 8 minutes, entering you into a world of ever-decreasing wake/sleep periods in which baby gets more and more enraged at her continued existence.

Mix and match these activities as needed…

Pram around the block Our baby doesn’t sleep well in the pram any more but I pop her in anyway and show her the trees that are least likely to drop leaves or conkers in her eyes. Look! Trees! Pretty! Tip – this is a good opportunity to drink another travel flask coffee uninterrupted.

Through the keyhole Carry baby around the house and look at things like windows, pictures, bookshelves and the debris of your former life. Narrate like Loyd Grossman. If you’re lucky, she might fall asleep again (SPOILER, she won’t).

Baby beauty salon Put baby on the changing mat and wash her hands, face and neck. Ada loves to ‘dry’ her hands by waving paper towels in the air. You can also trim nails, brush hair and give her shoulders and tummy a relaxing massage, if you’re feeling enthusiastic.

Rattle! Baby rests on your knees and bats at a rattle. Optional: Baby kicks you in spleen.

Naptime chores:
Prepare for bedtime battle. Are bottles clean? Is crib bedding ready? Are pyjamas prepared? Good. In the minutes and seconds of unconsciousness your baby achieves, down a small alcoholic drink or large piece of chocolate.

Yawn? BEDTIME. Good luck, soldier. Good luck.


  • Never drink hot beverages within flailing distance of a baby. Obviously.
  • Front-load the day with exciting activities and wind-down as the day goes on, otherwise your baby will get hugely overstimulated and want to stay up all night crying and laughing like a 90s acid casualty.
  • If your baby won’t sleep through a wee or shower, put a little chair in the bathroom and let her watch you. If you’re thinking ‘My bladder is too shy to wee while someone stares at me and smiles weirdly’, I can assure you this is less of a problem once you’ve given birth.
  • The Baby Whisperer has some good stuff on sleep that’s got Ada napping a little bit better. The EASY (eat, activity, sleep, your time) routine for us is more like EASASAEAAARGGGHWTF though.

Being Ada

A few people have asked if our baby is named after Ada Lovelace, so here’s a thing I wrote about her name. Wow, I am fascinating, I know…

Ada was meant to be called Edith, for years and years. We love lots of Ediths, from Piaf to Crawley, and I liked the look of it written down. But as my due date got closer, Chris started floating the name Ada and, slowly, it grew on me.

At first I thought it was too short, and I was weirded out by the two ‘A’ sounds in quick succession. I made the mistake of checking the threads on Mumsnet where mean commenters thought it looked like ‘Asda’ or said it was frumpy.

But when she was born, it was obvious that she was Ada. Chic and to the point. Unusual but not weird. Retro but modern. Little and big. A prime minister or a gardener or anything she likes. Ada Margaret Gray, like a time-travelling swashbuckling lady.

She’s not named after Lovelace, but we really like her as a namesake. She’s not named after anyone, really, she’s just herself. Of course she is.

autumn ada



One of the worst things about summer is adverts for barbecue food. This M&S ad is this year’s least offensive example, and it still fills me with dread. One of the other worst things about summer is actually going to barbecues.
We never owned a barbecue grill when I was a kid, so when I reached adulthood I spent way too long trying to enjoy what everyone else seems to agree is Really Good Fun before realising that everything about barbecues is utter pants. Here’s how almost every barbecue I’ve ever been to* goes down:

1900: Turn up and hand over specially-chilled-and-ice-packed fancy wine. Will never see nice chilled wine ever again. Accept it and move on.

1905: Note with sadness that barbecue grill not lit yet. Politely eat two Kettle Chips and sit in the sun, basking next to sweaty packages of raw meat.

2025: Other people turn up, but not as many as advertised. Now too awkward to go home and order pizza. Attempt to make small talk while somehow both drunk and hypoglycaemic; warm Pimms only source of sustenance now Kettle Chips all gone.

2030: Barbecue lit. Hooray! Move into carcinogenic smoke plume for warmth. Experience extreme flip-flop regret.

2105: Someone from country with climate and urban terrain more conducive to barbecues smugly mansplains how terrible barbecues are in this country. Not helpful, guy.

2130: Bats.

2200: Receive a single sausage, encased in carbonite like a porcine Han Solo, plus bap and ‘mixed leaves’. Look sadly at paper plate and think about how life might have turned out. Too dispirited to add ketchup.

2230: Receive second sausage; share with wan-looking spouse.

0000: Go home starving, cold and drunk. Scent of scorched carcass clings to hair. Vow never to attend another barbecue.

Next day: Tagged in 392 unflattering Facebook photos.

My suggested alternative to this hell-on-Earth is just to just take your dinner outside. Cook inside, sit outside. It’s fun! And less messy! You can have pasta! You know it makes sense.

*Except your barbecue. It was obviously excellent.

Heavens, know your Misérables now

Comprehensive spoilers for Les Misérables. Obviously.

I bloody love a bit of Les Misérables. Here’s a quick character review for those reluctant cinema-goers complaining that the film was hard to follow.*

*I’ve got nothing for those of you complaining that it was too long and melodramatic – LOL, welcome to musicals, n00bs!

Continue reading “Heavens, know your Misérables now”

Super Japan phone cam fun: Yamazaki distillery

It’s exactly a year since Chris and I were in Osaka visiting my brother, which seems like a good time to assail you with the last of our Japanese photos. Lucky you.

We stayed only five days in Japan (thanks, gainful employment!), so we spent the whole trip in a slightly hysterical jet-lagged state, plus we both picked up terrible colds on the aeroplane. When we got home, it was like we’d had a mutual Lemsip-induced fever dream*.

Chris’ big bucket-list item was to visit Yamazaki distillery, so on our final day we took a train to the town of Yamazaki. What a green and lovely place – those are rice fields in the foreground.


We had to cross railway lines to get to the distillery. The group of mums-with-buggies in front of us just sauntered across, but I ran over that thing like my arse was on fire.


Inside, it was whisky heaven for Chris and Graham. First, the tour group were gathered in the ‘whisky library’, where whiskies of all origins and ages are held for reference and comparison. Here’s Gra demonstrating the whisky library:

Whisky graham

Here’s Chris, inside the corridors of his own mind:

Chris yamazaki

After a tour of the (spotless!) factory floor, we were taken to the tasting room, where we realised we’d made a terrible mistake with our timing.

At 10.30am, I drank three single malt highballs (a popular way to drink whisky in Japan’s hot and humid climate. It’s atrocious.), while the boys and a couple of other Europeans in the group insisted on getting their whiskies neat. With only complimentary crackers and a piece of chocolate to steady us, we were then released back into the whisky library, where we could buy tiny drams of dozens of different whiskies to taste. Our most terrible purchase was a 100 yen dram of raw spirit; whisky before it’s been aged. It tasted like it could either kill you or make you immortal.

At barely noon, we staggered back to the station, sat on the train trying to stay awake, then somehow got back to Gra’s flat. All three of us slept on the floor for a few hours, then we had to get up and go to our airport hotel, the impossible Star Gate Kansai**.

So on our final night in Osaka, we sat whey-faced and snotty, hungover and delicate, at a fantastic table overlooking the sparkling city and the black Pacific. We ate fries with chopsticks and retired for the night before 9pm. Gra told me that he’d asked to book the table for a special going-away party – the staff must’ve thought we were the most lacklustre bunch of sadsacks they’d ever seen.

Gra gave us each a fantastic pair of wooden chopsticks from the distillery, carved from Yamazaki barrels, then he disappeared into the night. In the morning we woke up in our dizzyingly high room, then made our way to the airport using a mix of intuition, luck and nodding.

Star gate hotel osaka

It still feels like a fever dream, but luckily there’s hard evidence – check out Chris’ podcast from the Yamazaki distillery, in which you can hear my distant disgust with the raw spirit. And if you like these photos, you can also see more of his much-better-than-mine photos over on Flickr.


* One of Lemsip’s ingredients is illegal in Japan. A hard-won piece of knowledge. Also, Japanese tissues were too delicate for our boorish western noses. We sneezed them to pieces.

** Don’t miss the deeply charming message at the top-left of the Star Gate homepage.