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Is there anything bleaker than waking up in the morning and realising that you literally have nothing planned with your three-year-old other than a trip to the local park? OK, I do realise lots of things are bleaker – war, drug addiction and child poverty being just three – but some days I actually think I’d rather go to a warzone than my local playground (there are those who might say on particularly grim low-lit February mornings it resembles one, with its expanse of pockmarked concrete, and drifts of flyblown litter).

I haven’t quite plumbed the exact depths of exactly why it affects me this way (I need a few more years of therapy for that), but going to my local playpark makes me feel like a total misfit. My child is generally the only one having a full-blown, blue-in-the-face tantrum on the swings (‘I SAID, push me FASTER mummy!). The other mothers always seem to be in tight little gaggles of twos and threes. Their children are always perfectly dressed. They are generally in the bland suburban uniform of jeans, some kind of padded jacket and Ugg boots. Unlike me, they look perfectly, happily at home there, amidst the three-wheel Bugaboos and Micro scooters, the Jojo Maman Bebe playsuits and Baby Bjorn carriers. I look at them, and think ‘they’ll never want to talk to me.’

I’m aware this makes me sound like I am the one who has the problem (and in a way it’s true), and it’s my fault for living somewhere where wearing a pair of Converse trainers or reading The Guardian marks you out as a wacky leftfield individualist who dares to have their own thoughts occasionally, not just ones they saw in the Daily Mail (OK, I exaggerate, but not that much). But it’s true that there are few places where I feel more like an outsider than the park. Just the thought of going there instantly makes me feel inferior, stressed, weird and very, very bored indeed.

That isn’t the only reason I dread the park, however. There are the constant tantrums, as described before. There is generally the threat of one of the much older, rather aggressive school children who permanently seem to inhabit the under-7s play areas viciously kicking my son in the head on the climbing frame. There is the vague threat that my own child might accidentally hit or punch a younger child, leading to a minor law suit. There is the fact that an evil ice-cream vendor permanently parks his van outside the gates, which means I will inevitably have to fork out £2 for an ice-cream for my son on the way home.

There is the general fear that, while I look away for a split second, my son will tumble off one of the climbing frames, and smash his head in. And there is the slightly tense air of competitiveness amongst parents to get on the damned equipment to begin with, whether it’s claiming a turn on the swing or getting in line for the slides. I just can’t bear the middle-class elbows-out-ness of it all.

Ok, I grudgingly admit it – it’s nice to see my son’s enjoyment on the slide and roundabout. I want him to learn how to climb, and get a few adrenalin-based thrills on the slide. But, generally, when I take him, it is one of those selfless moments that as a mother I must practice every day, as I do something I would rather not, as I eavesdrop on blood-pressure raising conversations about catchment areas (my son got our 6th choice of primary school, so please just shut up!) and feel the hours of my life slipping away, every rotation of the roundabout another second not spent doing something more edifying. But I love my son, so I take him to the park anyway.

There are those who bemoan the inexorable rise of the mummy blogger. They are invariably the same people who make snide, snarky comments about the rise of the mummy internet forum, who complain that noone is much interested if you wish to share the tedious details of your baby’s potty training, weaning or first words, which may be enchanting for you, but dull-asMidsomer-Murders for everybody else.

And it has to be said, there are lots and lots of us (and, yes, very occasionally some of the details are way-out-there tedious). Possibly too many? Personally I think not. Did the world think there were too many Victorian ladies writing in their journals sitting at their bureaus in the 19th century? Of course they didn’t.  These day we may clutch iPads, sit hunched over netbooks or perched at Apple Macs, waiting for inspiration to strike, but we are simply using the technology of our day, to do what men and women have always felt compelled to do: express ourselves, make contact and feel connected with other human beings, and share our experiences. We may not all be modern day Samuel Pepys, but noone is forcing anyone to read anything they don’t want to.

I will never be one of those women who wants to sit all day talking about childcare and nappies and reward charts, while another part of my brain silently rots away. I will probably always feel a little bit like an outsider mum, wondering how the other local mums manage to juggle organising perfect parties, a full calendar of extra-curricular activities and still have time to get their highlights done  and nails wrapped.

Happily, I’ve discovered that the vast majority of mummy bloggers aren’t like that either. The whole point of mummy blogging isn’t to be competitive or sneering, it’s to be supportive and positive.  And whatever your particular bugbear or take on parenting styles (from attachment parenting to let-it-all-hang-out, Seventies-style, permissive parenting), there’s room for everyone in the ever-expanding online universe.

The blogosphere is full of as many types of mother as there are of non-mothers: charismatic, interesting, intelligent women who have something to say about one of the most important experiences of their lives. That’s why I am off to BritMums Live! to hopefully meet some of them.


An unidentifiable piece of plastic crap. A squashed piece of birthday cake, wrapped in a soiled serviette that will remain uneaten for a week before you throw it in the bin. A tiny bag of Haribo sweets to rot your child’s teeth. A cheap yoyo to add to the 50 other cheap yoyos already sadly languishing in your kitchen drawer. A lollipop (more teeth rotting), and a fake tattoo so your child can experience the joys of channelling David Beckham/Jordan at the tender age of three. All lovingly encased in a shiny plastic bag. These represent (though not always) the average contents of the children’s birthday party bag. I have heard tell of middle-class oneupmanship, where competitive mothers slip in iPods, Diptyque candles, Jojo Maman Bebe cashmere blankets, but I have to say that down my way it’s all multipacks of bubbles (we now have 14 of these in our kitchen drawer next to the yo-yos) and glittery sticker sheets. Thank God.

Like cracker gifts at Christmas, noone really wants or needs a party bag. Yet I’m absolutely not knocking them. They are an essential part of the birthday party experience. They hold such promise. The little bag of fun, those shining little faces grabbing them after the party, peeking inside, all expectant and hopeful. Will there be a Playstation? A Ben 10 figurine set? Or will there be a cheap glider that will manage one inaugural flight across the living room before nosediving and irreparably snapping, and some truly horrible chewy sweets? Even my son, who isn’t yet 4, and still thinks he’s got one over on me because I give him the occasional chocolate coin as a reward, knows the drill now. Eat the sweets fast before mummy confiscates, stick the plastic crap in the relevant toy tray with all the other plastic crap, leave the cake to ossify on the countertop and spill the bubbles. Truly a bag of fun.

If cupcakes purely had an aesthetic function and were not designed for eating, I’d perhaps have less of a problem with them. After all, they do look so pretty. All those lovely pinks and powdery blues, and twinkly sprinkles and pure indulgent frothiness. As the girl whose ex-colleague one day turned round out of the blue, after I’d come in wearing yet another floral frock, and said to me, ‘If you were a shop, you’d be Cath Kidston’ (I was mortified and kinda pleased in equal measure), it would be churlish not to confess to a certain affinity for all things comforting and nostalgic and lovely and girlie and escapist. After years in jeans, these days I only do dresses. I do spend an unhealthy amount of time fantasising about tea cups and teapots. Afternoon tea is my favourite meal of the day. And, yes, I count it as a meal. A day without tea and cake at some point in the day is a sad one indeed. I have watched the Great British Bake-Off unironically.

But tastewise I’m just not keen. For cupcakes patently taste awful. . They reek of awful cloying overwhelming sweetness, the kind that sets teeth on edge, with the icing-to-sponge ratio far too generous in the former and lacking in the latter. Give me a good old-fashioned fairy cake with a blob of icing and a decent buttery base any day of the week.

But more than the mere taste, it’s what cupcakes have come to represent that I can’t bear. Their  representation of a certain kind of awful Sex and the City-spawned female indulgence. They are sickly in every sense of the word. I know I’m clearly not alone in this, as the anti-cupcake movement/cupcake backlash has been going for quite some time now.

It’s also as if there’s a truth universally acknowledged that every women’s latent cupcake gene springs into action once she becomes a mother. That while you might have previously been the kind of woman who subsisted on KFC buckets and Gregg’s sandwiches, or liked to read The Economist, and only had the vaguest acquaintance with lighting the oven, the minute you have a baby you’ll find yourself flouncing into the kitchen in a floral pinnie to rustle up some some butter icing, clearing the cake decoration aisle in Waitrose and spending £300 on a KitchenAid (a contraption that basically does what people have been doing for centuries with a whisk, wooden spoon and a basin bowl, only without the ensuing tendonitis afterwards).

How many new mothers start doomed cupcake-making businesses? How many flyers for cake stalls, and children’s birthday cake makers are there in your local coffee shop? How many times have you bought a cupcake (and some them cost £3.50-plus each), then felt distinctly queasy before you’re halfway done?

I have a confession, however: though I hate cooking, I do like to make cakes. I like to make them, even though I’m totally rubbish at it. I like the fact that you have to follow a recipe to the letter, as I find going off piste from any recipe at all unnecessarily stressful and unsettling.

Even so, despite the following-to-a letter, my cakes still generally burn, collapse, crumble, are raw in the middle and singed at the edges, or have a distinct teeth-cracking, rock-like consistency. I never EVER remember what time I put them in the oven. If they’re initially undercooked I inevitably put them back in and then end up leaving them too long so they burn anyway. They taste of disappointment. They are the embodiment of failed ambition, of slovenly domesic ungoddessness,

They never look remotely like the picture and often they’re not taste sweet enough, because I’ll get to the cupboard and realise that I don’t have one of the ingredients and as I’m too lazy to go the supermarket, I’ll substitute with the wrong kind of sugar (which might work with a curry, but not with a cake, which is all about the science of proportions or so I am led to believe).

I have woefully inaccurate scales and basically just none of the right equipment or Nigella-friendly accoutrements – Bundt tins, icing bags, spatulas, proper vanilla essence, those funny little gold and silver balls. I don’t even have a cooling rack. And I can’t decorate to save my life – I just find myself getting insanely bored and impatient while I’m doing it, making even basic icing sugar, which as we all know any 3-year-old can manage (my icing is always without fail way too runny and thin, like a very cheap paper glue, or mortar-like like an unpleasant yeast infection). I even manage to fuck up those supermarket fairy cake kits where all you need to do is chuck in an egg and stir, while you give your child the fleeting illusion that yes, mummy can cook actually. (A Halloween kit for bat-shaped biscuits by Dr Oetker last year moved both me and my son to tears as the pastry refused time and time again to stick together and roll out. God, I felt like a failure.)

Recently, I had a crazy thought. I saw an ad for a cupcaking decorating class. For a split second, I seriously considered going along, overcoming my phobia of using palette knives, and getting creative with some lovely pastel combinations of sprinkles and buttercream.

Then fortunately my sanity returned. I thought about the cupcakes stands you now get in corporate environments like Westfield Stratford. And I realised I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a silver-plated pastry fork. I’m afraid to say I still can’t endorse cupcakes in any shape or form

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This blog is currently dedicated to stuff new mummies like. As opposed to stuff mummies of teenagers like. That's because we don't have teenagers yet. Give us a few years though. We're told it goes pretty quickly...

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