Posts in "Living" Category

Depart in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

I am a Friend of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park as we live close to it – it’s a very beautiful old cemetery which is now a woodland park in East London. This year, as part of the Lift Festival, Depart, a circus and dance show was put on in the graveyard, a performance based around the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus.

In the myth, Orpheus travels to the Underworld to rescue his love Eurydice and bring her back to life, he was granted his wish on condition that he did not look back. Sadly, he looks back just before she reached freedom, and lost her forever.

Classical hell doesn’t share all the tropes of Christian hell – there are fewer torments of the damned and demons, it’s more about a sadness and a yearning to return to the world. In response to this idea the performers were often still or moving slowly, particularly the trapeze artists who hung in the trees making quite leisurely, graceful movements or the mime artist who stood welcoming us to the Underworld at the start of the performance. Eurydice (I believe it was her) also made some appearances, standing as still as a statue in a blue dress as we filed past her.

The music  complemented the performances: I particularly  loved the choir who wore dark veils and black clothes (extremely simple and very effective) and sang beautifully in a mixture of English and (I think) Latin at one point. One standout performance was two men who performed an act which is called Chinese Pole: they sometimes appeared to be flying on or around it as they plunged down and climbed up.

Another was a performance by a man and a woman who lifted each other and climbed around on a tree stump: they conveyed weightiness and sorrow in their very skilful performance, managing to move gracefully and slowly despite the mud and the rain (it was a very wet day and some of the performances had to be modified because of this).

And finally, simple projections which created flowers blooming on graves were extremely moving and beautiful – one of the standout moments visually from my point of view.

What the whole evening brought home to me was how much more natural and compelling performance art (in particular) is if you are outside. There were clearly huge technical challenges for the performers, not least because of the terrible weather, but the show was heightened and made more profound by being set free and allowing the audience to move around in order to experience it more fully. I hope very much Lift will be back next year with something else to inspire and move everyone watching.

The Monster Supplies shop in Hoxton

I wanted to tell you about a great little place I discovered recently, one of those hidden gems which make you glad to live in the neighbourhood. There is so much to see and do in East London but a lot of it is more grown-up than kiddie fun and it’s always exciting to come across something new for children in the area. I was browsing some websites when I came across a mention of a shop in Hoxton which was part of a social enterprise encouraging kids and young people to write, the Ministry of Stories. The Ministry is partly funded by sales from the Hoxton Monster Supplies shop. Intrigued, I set off with the kids and Other Half. We had lunch at Viet Hoa, a great local Vietnamese restaurant (this was a triumph as we finally discovered a menu item that Felix will eat apart from plain noodles – thank you, spare ribs!). And then went to look for the shop. It’s tucked away on Hoxton Road behind Hackney community college and has an old fashioned wood and glass front. ‘Angry mobs please douse your torches’ said one sign. ‘Nocturnal visits by appointment for vampire customers only’ says another.

Inside the shop has lots of beautifully designed products including tins labelled ‘A vague sense of unease’ or ‘Utter terror’. After a while trying to work out what was inside we found out that they contained short stories – a brilliant idea. We also checked out the invisible cat in the basket in the corner (don’t pet it too hard) and bought a book of children’s stories for the boys. It’s such a great concept and I will certainly be back. The Ministry is currently looking for volunteers and there is also a Book Club.

New online Daily News Service for Schools Links the Classroom with the Wider World – Guest Post from The Day

Visit the Day

An online daily news service linked to different parts of the curriculum that helps teachers bring the daily news alive, has been launched by national newspaper journalists.

The Day aims to highlight the debates behind current affairs and issues discussed in the media and connect them to different parts of the curriculum. It turns current news stories into lively issues, helping teachers engage pupils during form time and in their subjects through the medium of current events, as well as saving time for the teachers themselves.

It is already being used in more than 250 secondary schools across the country as part of a trial.

Editors at The Day choose three stories for every edition, providing a balance of UK news, international, sport, the environment and the dilemmas and issues of the day. It also includes talking points, less obvious stories and a very popular weekly news quiz. The mix is designed to cater for the whole 11 – 18 age range and to include material for a range of abilities.

Schools receive links to the three stories on an e-mail every evening, taking them to The Day’s website where a pdf of each story can be downloaded. A longer online version ideal for use on classroom whiteboards is also available. Subscribers have access to the archive of stories, sorted by curriculum subjects and key words.

The chosen stories are connected to curriculum subjects and The Day’s own graphics department provides drawings, information-rich graphics and cartoons to accompany the stories. There are suggested related activities, debating options, a Q and A, and video links to further information for each one.

Stephen Adcock, who teaches Politics and History at Burlington Danes Academy, says of The Day: “It’s proving a great way to enable students to access relevant stories about current affairs, which also saves teachers from having to sift through thousands of articles themselves to find interesting ones, appropriately written.

“We want our students, many from a tough inner city environment, to have confidence about the wider world, which they often don’t have. The Day meets that need and is going down very well. It is accessible no matter what the age group or background of students.”

Professor Richard Andrews from the Department of Learning, Curriculum and Communication in the Faculty of Children and Learning at the Institute of Education, has also welcomed The Day.

“Debating is vital, and news is a catalyst for discussion that people can relate to,” he says. “It is important to recognise that at the heart of each school subject is a series of debates. History, for example, is in many ways about the process of digging down to the point of dispute. That is how you open up being critical and thoughtful”

Recent editions have covered the floods in Queensland, the turmoil in Egypt and a campaign by poets to recover St George as an emblem away from the political far right. Each story is distilled and given context to aid discussion and debate. Exceptional unfolding stories, like the protests in Egypt, will be given special live coverage: an Egypt special, free to non-subscribers, is running at the moment.

“Teachers know they can click on an email and reliably get interesting and accessible stories, and that the language will be appropriate for young inquiring minds,” says Philippa Nunn, Headteacher of Waldegrave School for girls.

Waldegrave, which has 1,000 pupils, was last year named top state secondary school without a sixth form in the UK in The Sunday Times Parent Power list of best schools.

“The immediacy of The Day saves busy teachers a lot of research time. It gives kids instant access to news stories to promote discussion about current events, which is very helpful for tutor time. We work hard to broaden the school experience and for that The Day is really appreciated.”

The Day is valuable for promoting the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) development of pupils required in all curriculum subjects. It also directly informs the PSHCE (Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education) curriculum which runs though all years of the secondary curriculum.

The Day founder Richard Addis, who has five children, said: “I believe that news makes learning exciting. If you can use your History, Science, Maths and English in conversation it acquires a whole new glamour. You are interesting, informed, opinionated. People listen. And it will help you get into university or get a job”.

The Day also helps schools to encourage pupil interest in English, Maths, Science, History and Geography, as well as offering a topical source for discussion and translation in Modern Foreign Languages, which education Secretary Michael Gove wants to put at the heart of the curriculum. It gives the subjects relevance.

Note to Editors.

The Day costs between £500 to £1,000 a year for a school. Each online edition is sent out in the evening of every school day, ready for teachers and pupils the following morning before classes. There is no advertising.
Partner organisations include Teach First, the English Speaking Union and SSAT
It is edited by Miranda Green, former education correspondent for the Financial Times. Richard Addis is a former newspaper editor (Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Globe and Mail).

For further information, please contact: Richard Addis –, (07899 968427 or Miranda Green –

Tower Hamlets Mums Business Club Meetup a great success! More coming soon

I just wanted to report back on the Mumpreneurs Meetup which I organised for the Tower Hamlets Mums Business Club. It was hosted by the excellent Ping Pong Dim Sum in Appold Street, who as usual gave us their lovely Private Dining Room ( I can’t sing their praises enough, they provided lovely flower teas for the mumpreneurs and they really do their best to help groups like ours).

Our first speaker was Leanne dal Santo from Smartbags. Leanne gave up a safe corporate career as an accountant to start her business after being inspired by a visit to Australia where she found out about eco friendly non woven polypropylene bags. These are made using much less toxic processes than normal plastic bags and are reusable and fully recyclable. Leanne approached the company who were importing them in Australia and set up a handshake deal to start up her own site in the UK and import the bags from the manufacturers in China (who work from an independently audited factory and ship rather than using air freight). As she had manufacturers and designs all ready to go, Leanne’s start up costs were low. Leanne works with her husband, who focuses on sales, giving her time to concentrate on PR, strategy and design. She also has two children, and has to juggle a lot! She has lots of tips for mumpreneurs wanting to follow in her footsteps:

  • Know your competitors
  • Focus on sales and target your audience
  • Being green is not always enough, you need to look at cost as well
  • Packaging is really important for your products: make sure it’s sustainable
  • Communicate with your customers: don’t forget to stay in touch!
  • At some point you are going to have to pick up your phone and ring potential customers! Don’t be shy!
  • Outsource the things you can’t do well to give you time on the things you do do well
  • It makes life easier if you don’t hold stock!
  • Our second speaker was Hannah McHalick from Oh Baby London. Hannah was a graphic designer for 15 years but was on maternity leave without pay when she had the idea for Oh Baby London. She designed her babygrows (including the fabulous “Inside for 9 Months”) and came up with the company name – and designed the catalogue – while pregnant. Hannah didn’t get start up funding and just went for her idea, getting samples made up and taking them around baby shops to get whole sale orders. Her brother-in-law designed her website and she started taking orders – and getting press – right away. She was offered her shop premises two years later through the workshop where Hannah was based. However, her shop and website weren’t initially Hannah’s main priority, she was focused on wholesale orders. After a near-disaster where an order wasn’t produced in time for a big wholesale customer, Hannah realised it was time to grow the retail side of her business and switched to retailing. Her turnover was the same, but her profit was much larger. It also meant she has more than one route to market.

    Hannah’s tips for mumpreneurs:

  • Have some money before you start, so you don’t run out in a crisis!
  • Constantly monitor everything you are doing
  • If something goes wrong, try to see the positive side
  • It’s really important to believe in what you are doing, and keep your eye on the prize
  • Know where you are going and how to get there
  • Wear blinkers: be aware of your own route and don’t spend too much time looking sideways at your competitors
  • Don’t ignore scary stuff; learn to love spreadsheets and profit and loss forecasts and be aware of your cashflow
  • Remember to relax and look after your health and your mind: yoga and running are both recommended by Hannah
  • Switch off when it’s time to pick up the kids

We had some great mumpreneurs attending the talks, including Jennifer Robertson from Scamp Baby Gifts, who makes gorgeous embroidered and personalised pictures for babies (you can follow her on Twitter too ), and Samantha McCulloch from Virtually Optimized, who offers virtual PA services for stressed mumpreneurs like me! We also had several lovely ladies who are thinking over ideas for their new businesses (including one with a nine month old baby, and one with an eight week old baby, our youngest networker yet!) and hope to add their links when they launch. All agreed that it was an inspirational event, and we hope to meet again during Business Mum Week with advice about PR, SEO and social media.

Tower Hamlets Business Mums

Pickled Sardines Spanish Style



I decided to try this excellent recipe for sardines escabeche. I adore Spanish food which is much maligned and misunderstood. It’s simple to make and took me about ten minutes. The paprika turns the oil a lovely red colour. I am hoping this is a good way to rescue frozen oily fish like sardines!

We also cooked up a lot of our organic home grown tomatoes in a fresh pasta sauce with a lot of garlic. So am feeling quite virtuous at the end of Zero Waste Week! I still have not sorted out the food composting, but it is on my list.

Day 3 zero Waste Week



We had fish pie last night using my mums recipe (she is the author of the Paupers Cookbook and taught me all I know about food!). This used up our home grown tomatoes and some frozen prawns which had been lurking for a while). I fried the beetroot leaves in butter with peas, they are delicious cooked this way).

Tonight we are having a frittata, essentially a fat omelette you cook in the oven. I substituted the grated courgette in Abel and Cole’s recipe for rocket which I had in the fridge and was getting close to its use by date. I also left out raisins, as I don’t think they would work.

I have discovered some frozen sardines lurking in the freezer so am going to try pickling them and have bought some pickling vinegar. I am also going to try and make chutney from some unripe green tomatoes from our home growing efforts so I will be using vinegar for that as well. Recipes coming soon!

Day 2 of Zero Waste Week

I forgot to take a photograph of the beef goulash I made last night with the leftover beef from Sunday, as I was too hungry and wanted to eat it… But it was very good! I added some mushrooms, chili powder, lots of paprika and served it with mashed potato, parsley and sour cream. I made a beetroot leaf salad as well, another tip from Abel and Cole. I still find the leaves a bit chewy but they are tasty, although we did have some left over. I will probably wilt them with butter as a side dish today with our fish pie.

The children are having some left over macaroni cheese that I made for them yesterday, with hot dogs. I tend to cook for them separately as the eldest is so horribly fussy, although it does make extra work for me! I’ll try and post a picture of that as well, although it didn’t come out quite right (I never get the amount of cheese right as I’m too impatient to do all that measuring).

Zero Waste Week Day One Planning the week’s menu

The weekly meal plan for this week is meant to be Monday fish pie (using sustainably sourced pollack which I get with my veg box delivery), second day frittata (using an excellent Abel and Cole recipe), third day quiche, fourth day chicken wings which is a new recipe I tried out recently and final weeknight couscous and lamb tagine.

I haven’t done my weekly online shop yet (I’m already behind!) so with the view of using up leftovers first I am going to turn leftover Sunday roast beef into goulash and shuffle the fish pie to Tuesday. This also involves using up some store cupboard rice, although to be honest this never sits around in my cupboard for too long as we love rice and eat it at least once a week. I’ve also got plums in this week’s veg delivery, so I will make plum crumble, and some beetroots and cauliflower which I will need to cook soon. As a result I think I will skip making the chicken wings this week and do a beetroot and orange salad or borscht instead, and do a cauliflower cheese dish or curried cauliflower. I’ll keep you posted on how I’m getting on trying to avoid wasting food!

I did a great store cupboard meal last night though and used up some vegetables that were hanging around: I found some miso paste packets in the cupboard and added a few mushrooms, broad beans sliced diagonally, frozen peas, noodles and tofu pieces I’d bought for a stir fry. It took about 10 minutes to make and was a delicious change from stir fry.

Zero Waste Week starts on Monday 6th September!

National Zero Waste Week

It’s Zero Waste Week and although in my case that clashes a bit with “Back To School” week, I’m going to be making an effort to cut down on family food wasting this week. Firstly, I’m going to use my Google Calendar meal planning system to keep a beady eye on the family food shop. This is a great tip I got from Simple Mom. I don’t want to restate everything on the Simple Mom website, but essentially you set up a separate Google Calendar from your usual one and set each meal as an “Event” to recur every 2 weeks. I put the URL for the recipe (if I’m using one, there are a few dishes I could probably cook blind fold by now) in the Where/Location field and the text of the recipe in the Notes section. You can then email yourself reminders of what you’re cooking each day.

Why do this? The basic reason is that having a menu plan eliminates waste. If you know what you are going to cook for the week, it is a huge help when doing your weekly shop, stops you ordering too much food (and having to put it in the bin or panic eat it before it hits the use-by date) and helps you keep an eye on whether you are cooking nutritious food for your kids. You can plan things sensibly, for example if you are cooking chicken every second Sunday, you know you will have chicken stock and so make sure you have the ingredients for risotto, soup or whatever you usually make with it. I have now saved my shopping list for each scheduled week in my Ocado account, so all I have to do is bring up “Week 1 Shopping List” in my account and add all the items straight away when doing my shopping online. If you use Epicurious and some other recipe websites, you can also email yourself a shopping list.

Secondly, I’m going to try and use up everything in my store cupboards for non-planned lunches etc. I don’t menu plan for lunches so I am often tempted to go out to a cafe (very easy if you work from home and get fed up of the same walls) but this week I am going to concentrate on using up old ingredients and taking out packed lunches if I go out using leftovers.

Thirdly, I’m going to either see if I can persuade the council to pick up my food waste recycling (they used to at my old address) or get a bokashi bin or wormery that will fit into our small back garden.

I’ll let you know how I get on!