Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Bittersweet Birthdays - from my Recipe Blog

This post is shared with my Recipe Blog , it marks the tentative first steps back to writing and I thought I would share it here. More soon!

Unbelievably, my twins turned twelve yesterday. TWELVE!!! Scarcely seems possible. And yet, in so many ways they are proving extremely mature and sensible beyond their years. 

Well, sometimes

Their birthdays are always a little bittersweet. Usually when the children reach a milestone, or celebrate a birthday we think back on their early years, and I invariably fish out an older photo (or two) to post on social media. How cute they were! Except with the twins. They were so, so unwell for weeks - months - that their early photos bring pain and sadness, and not a little anger. 

Despite a strong family history of reflux, despite suffering myself, my father also, despite knowing EXACTLY WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT when I took them to the GP at 3 weeks old, *nothing* was done for SIX MONTHS. Nothing. Just weekly weights, the odd blood test, the usual fobbing off - and the ward social worker visiting me to see "how she could help me" and "what I could change" to help feed them more/help them gain weight. Because of course, it had to be my fault - how could I be so naive to try and continue breastfeeding twins?!

But it stands to reason if you regurgitate every feed until it's time for the next one, you are not going to gain much weight. And if you are in awful discomfort from burning acid reflux which is so bad you develop a hoarse cry and torticolis, go rigid and display symptoms of Sandifer's that you may very well not want to feed. Because it HURTS. 

Eventually, we had to go private, and the twins were given medication. We had tried an elemental feed but it was so thin that until the inflammation had been reduced, and their reflux slightly improved it wasn't going to stay down. So I embarked on a strict maternal exclusion diet and breastfed them, on new medications until such time as they were well enough to take the formula as a top up - and guess what. They started gaining weight. 

It's really not rocket science.

And yet this is what happens all over the NHS. Twenty years after I dealt with this with my eldest son the NHS STILL blames parents - mothers - first, and thinks outside the box second. And using private healthcare brands you a diagnosis-seeking,  desperate-for-intervention type of parent. Not a good image at a time when 20% of ALL under 5s are referred to Social Services and MBP or FII referrals are sky high. But I would do it again in a heartbeat, and no baby should be left to suffer months on end like they did.

Anyway... this birthday was all about CAKE! Both twins wanted a unique cake, to fit with their current favourite flavours. K loves apples and apple muffins. My Mum has always made a Cranks Apple Cake, from her recipe book dating back almost 40 years. Wheat and Gluten free is easy, as is dairy free, but egg free - and she had no egg replacer - is more of a challenge. The result was so successful that I thought I must share - particularly since some of my readers have children who cannot tolerate egg replacer!

It's best setting this out in stages, so there are two sections each for Ingredients and Method - make sure you have all you need, not just the first section!


  • Line an 8" tin with non stick paper (a springform tin or one with a release base works best)
  • 8oz SR white gluten free flour (we use Dove's Farm, don't use a heavy flour for this cake)
  • 4oz safe margarine (not all are good for baking, we use the Stork foil wrapped block)
  • 4oz Demerara sugar (and a couple of tablespoons for the topping)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons each of cinnamon and mixed spice
  • 2oz ground almonds
  • 2oz finely chopped dates (which have been previously softened in boiling water)
  • Soak the dates for half an hour in boiling water, then chop
  • Combine the dry ingredients  
  • Rub the marge into the flour
  • Add dates

Ingredients 2

  • 2 1/1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1tbsp safe baking powder
  • 1/2 pint almond milk, or alternative
  • 3-4 cooking apples (Bramleys) peeled, cored and roughly chopped)
  • a little more gluten free flour
Method part 2
  • As soon as you have chopped the apples toss them in flour - this prevents them going brown and helps stop them sinking whilst the cake is cooking.
  • Put a couple of tablespoons of apple to one side, for the top of the cake, add the rest to the mixture with flour, dates and spices.
  • Mix together the cornflour, baking powder and almond milk, first making a paste then whisking the rest of the milk in.
  • Slowly add the milk/cornflour/baking powder to the rest of the ingredients and transfer to the cake tin.
  • Sprinkle the remaining chopped apple on the top, followed by the Demerara Sugar.
  • Bake for one hour at 190C, 175C fan
Allow to cool, do not attempt to take out of the tin beforehand!

Can be further decorated should you wish to do so!! My daughter is panda mad and made some fondant pandas to decorate her cake!

It will keep a couple of days in the fridge (if it lasts that long!) Or you can freeze in wedges.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

We ALL want our country back.

What a week. I've found myself agreeing with Laurie Penny's perspective on events, the winners of the Referendum seem to have scored an own goal and backtracked on their campaign commitments and both main political parties seem to be spontaneously combusting.

The Telegraph is reporting on the economic chaos with portents of Doom - all initiated by it's protege Boris Johnson who founded his coup on annihilating the cartoon caricature of the EU that he painstakingly thrust down our throats via his weekly column. Yet Boris is now advocating a Free Trade deal with free movement - otherwise known as what he campaigned against, but without the benefits of membership. The world has gone mad.

Of course, some Leavers still genuinely think we are going to "push" the EU for a good deal. The reality however is very different:-

Of course, Cameron should have known better than to offer a Referendum, but he needed to retain as much support from the Eurosceptics as possible to win a majority last year. Some believe he assumed the LibDems would still have sufficient power to vote down a Referendum Bill - but it was a massive gamble and one he has paid for with his job - and perhaps his legacy. If we break with Europe, it looks likely that Scotland will demand another Independence Referendum and he will have not one, but two schisms on his epitaph.

It was said the other day that usually working class revolts are not led by people like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. I would argue that the leaders of the Leave campaign did nothing of the sort - they used the anti-immigration vote to topple Cameron, their motive was totally self-motivated, purely power seeking. Boris certainly didn't want to Leave, it was a useful banner to motivate those who have felt disenfranchised, ignored and abandoned, people he cares little for and his flippant column yesterday was evidence of this. It's not many months since he was publicly advocating remaining in the EU either.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Less Free Speech than EU think.

I'm losing the will to live with the EU referendum campaign. Watching politicians,  experts and even celebrities sharing the latest soundbites and half-baked statistics whilst shedding their previously valued veneer of respect is often entertaining but it's currently worse than watching a car crash in slow-motion.

What really bothers me is the complete avoidance of the key topics most people I converse with wish to discuss. All campaigners are so keen to steer our thinking towards their next half baked statistic that in their arrogance they remove the opportunity for free speech which might avoid the unthinkable - which is playing out like some sinister horror movie across the Atlantic right now.

The single biggest reason for Donald Trump's appeal is not his success, his offer of something different or his manifesto. It's something much simpler. Trump offers a forum for American voters to voice their concerns, speak their fears and discuss their opinions. And we should find that rather scary.

You see people are actually capable of independent thought, despite the prevailing view of campaigners in the EU Referendum here in Britain. We do have concerns, views, opinions and - shock horror - some of them might be informed and educated. Ignoring them doesn't make them go away - it just polarises opinion and pushes such concerns into extreme territory - which is actively encouraged at present in the way the question of immigration is viewed by the Remain campaign. But unless such concerns are aired, discussed and evaluated in a moderate forum, people are either pushed or pulled to the extremes, which invariably offer the opportunity to do so - at great cost to the Centre ground which is daily losing moderate voters. The irony is, political correctness, and political arrogance are costing this debate it's moderate centre ground.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Enough is enough.

If I hear one more comment about "raising standards" in schools I might scream. As a (previously) staunch advocate of improving teaching in our schools, of promoting excellence and raising aspirations, I'm vaulting over the fence now and saying STOP.

Enough is enough.  

The UK (and England in particular) has an unprecedented teenage mental health crisis. At least one teenager you know will be suffering from mental health issues, which will be a product of the environment in which they live. I know many - far too many. Children suffering so acutely some threaten to take their own lives. Why? Because at a desperately young age they believe they are failures - and that every door to a possible bright future is closing.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

There's no "I" in "Team"

Finally I have found a spare moment to jot down the endless sea of words in my head- it's been a busy few months and writing has had to take a back seat. However despite little slowing down of the rollercoaster of life, sanity preservation has now kicked in and claimed "shotgun" position, asserting itself to gain my attention as only a teenager on a mission to get "one up" over his older brother can do.

It will hardly have eluded any parent of a school age child today that group work has been elevated to an alarmingly superior place in the curriculum. Initially a buzzword(s) in the business world to encourage team work amongst disparate members focussed on a single goal,  "working together" has infiltrated education and our schools. The need to achieve a joint outcome, share experiences and "work together" may seem entirely admirable, but it is letting down large groups of individuals in the process. 

I believe the intentions of educators are good, the natural Darwinian tendency of young humans to self-focus does indeed need taming and children must learn to share, take turns and collaborate. But when "working together" means relying on the loudest/most confident/most able group member to complete the work then few are benefitting. I have lost count of the number of times my eldest has taken the lion's share of a "group project", whilst lazier individuals contribute little. Unwilling to forfeit the high mark he could obtain as an individual he shoulders the burden of the entire project. Similarly, my daughter often comes home to tell me she's not sure what the work they covered in Maths today was all about, "but it's all right as our group finished, I didn't have to do anything."

Then there are the other two boys, one possibly on the spectrum and one very definitely there. Both hugely able and utterly mystified why they cannot complete work alone- after all, they would make a significantly better job of it. A was distraught that in Art, a hugely individual subject he is passionate about he was forced to collaborate. In H's high school this is misinterpreted as arrogance, when in actual fact it's the truth. He could do a significantly better job on his own. Why on *earth* should he sit there bored rigid discussing maths three levels below his own? Unless it's so he can teach the others this is absurd and he gains nothing. Apart from the blindingly obvious point that those with Autism work better alone (since the diagnosis involves developmental delays in communication and social interaction) unless all members of a group stand to benefit from collaboration it is pointless exercise.

I never enjoyed group work, although I benefitted from limited collaborative efforts. Group work has its place, but currently it has been artificially elevated out of it. Working together can be derived from multiple sources, such as sports teams, drama or choir groups. Of course, its natural place on the sports field has been largely beaten out of existence with the artificial suppression of competition. (Perhaps that's the understated intention of heralding group interaction in the classroom as the ideal modus operandi?) But there is little need to ram group work into every subject on the curriculum.

There is indeed no "I" in team. Team work invariably stifles the individual and for many it is an exercise in descrimination- however well intentioned. It reduces linear progress and permits some to overly rely on others. The most able almost never stand to gain and it is yet another example of our education system focussing on the less able at the expense of others. It should never be used as a blunt instrument- a check box for every subject that needs ticking to gain OFSTED credit, and recognition should be given that it has limited use.

So to the (several) teachers who wrote on H's report that he finds group work challenging, can be obstructive and reluctant- I'm not surprised. Working together is of occasional benefit and should always take the individual needs of all members of the group into consideration. Judging a child with ASD by a "one size fits all" theory of collaboration is inappropriate and discriminatory. 

There is no "I" in any team, and there's no "you" either. But there are three in "Individual". And he's definitely that. Unique, entertaining, exhausting, inspiring, and a real individual... 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Facing Facts - Name your Nemesis

The events in Paris on Friday 13th have precipitated a great deal of thought, comment and consideration across the internet.

The excusers are out in force, confusing the obvious truth that no one wants war, or death or killing, with the need to excuse terrorists, blame ourselves or just quite simply rearrange the facts to suit an ostrich mentality which prefers to live in a happy bubble - or a self-deprecating one at least.

Image courtesy of Melbourne Streets Avant-garde via Flickr
Why do we DO that? Why are a subset of British people (in particular) some of the world's best at self-effacement? Why do we deny every ounce of national pride, and drown our self respect in shame? Shame for what? For a history that is not purely glorious? Can any nation boast such a past? Surely recognition of past wrongs, past less-than-ideal choices is precisely what can make a country great?

A country with a conscience has two choices. Sit and watch on the sidelines, opting out of the present, or capitalise on that conscience to improve the future for all.

Right now, too many people are choosing the former option. The group calling themselves Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the horrific attacks in Paris. These are religious extremists for whom dying for their cause is the ultimate goal. These are not moderate Muslims, whom are as disgusted, appalled and distanced from this extreme version of Islam as the rest of us. An excellent article in The Atlantic magazine today pointed out that this group is religious, extremely so, with a warped version of Islam that has no place in modern society. It is vital we recognise and address this, or we have no hope of ending the terror. With Armageddon as their end game, diplomatic talks are just not going to cut it...

Monday, 14 September 2015

Action not Sympathy

Syria has been in the news for so long that many people have stopped listening. The unfolding media story about the current refugee crisis has appeared almost as if by magic - the underlying causes distant and poorly understood because they don't make headlines. But understanding the causes is always important because that is the key to improving the future. Increased objectivity requires subjectivity - not snapshots of current events divorced from their past.

The civil war in Syrian appeared to many to be part of the so called "Arab Spring", a wave of cries for independence from those subject to authoritarian rule in the Middle East. However, as this cartoon succinctly explains, the biggest underlying cause of the Syrian War was in fact, Climate Change. The exodus from the rural areas of Syria when crops failed during the worst drought in the region on record destabilised urban areas - and what might have been a simmering dissatisfaction exploded.

Syria should be a lesson for us all.

The current, tragic refugee situation is also in no small part due to our intervention in Iraq under Labour which destabilised the Middle East and precipitated the "Arab Spring". The West then misguidedly, largely under public pressure, supported and funded the opposition to Assad in Syria. That initial opposition was in no small part what we today know as ISIS.

For all these reasons international responsibility should be accepted and consensus sought to respond to the situation. All agree crisis management is not enough, a coherent long-term policy is needed to deal with the problem at source. That would need renewed international efforts to sort out the civil war in Syria and destroy IS, yet neither is likely to happen any time soon. We can't even get past the initial emotional response, let alone begin to tease apart the facts. The public got it wrong before - and should bear a large chunk of responsibility for the current strength of ISIS and Russian support for Assad, people should think carefully about an over-reaction to a heart-wrenching situation. The power of social media and our thirst for a "quick fix" of news perpetuates knee-jerk responses to events. We must not lose sight of the bigger picture though and engage our brains as well as our hearts before responding. Even worse, viewing events elsewhere through the spectacles of our own lives distorts reality further.

"Most Syrians want to stay in their country or close by. Instead of the siren calls luring them across the sea to an uncertain fate, they need our practical help on the ground to give them food, shelter and the strength, one day, to take their homeland back." 

True. We should never forget the appalling reality that is life for many, in a war-torn country struggling to survive and leave fellow human beings to "get on with it". The video below has a powerful message. 

This isn't new, and I've seen it before, which is perhaps even sadder since the war in Syria is now so old. But the...

Images like this video and the photo below matter, because we live in a global environment, where ignoring events on the other side of the planet no longer buys you peaceful and ignorant isolationism. We can't pick and choose which parts of the world take our interest, we have a responsibility to consider the whole which in turn impacts on every one of us. But images that focus on individuals are only part of the story. No conflict is ever won by identifying with the individual  - and the same is true of international crises.

Courtesy of Bengin Ahmad

The media's current obsession with a "refugee crisis" - which is very real and affecting many people in different areas of the Middle East and Africa - neglects the migrant crisis and the longer term impact of the "Arab Spring". In fact most of those people you see on TV are not asylum seekers, but migrants who are opportunistically seeking to enter a more affluent country at a time when national borders are struggling to cope. Many have even held jobs for several years in countries they have already claimed asylum. Today the BBC began to acknowledge this. Confusing refugees with migrants has also precipitated an hysterical response from many including celebrities engaged in an unpleasant "caring one-upmanship" because a boy died tragically crossing from Turkey. But that's just a tiny part of the real situation.

The real people suffering are those in the refugee camps, who have yet to claim asylum, whom the World Food Programme and UNICEF are trying to support. Those people whose funding has been cut by all governments except the UK as they struggle to finance the mass migration of those who have already successfully claimed asylum, but who seek to move further to better themselves.

Whilst that's highly understandable no one mentions that according to the Dublin Agreement refugees must claim asylum in the first country they reach and cannot make multiple claims. That some fellow muslim nations nearby are doing nothing and Saudi Arabia has tens of thousands of air conditioned tents on their border close to Syria. That many people on the boats are seizing the opportunity when they have been several years in Turkey, with jobs and homes there. That those taking vast sums to smuggle these migrants are bankrolling ISIS who are also using the current crisis to get fighters across into Europe. And that the boy who tragically died was not even a refugee. He had a home in Turkey for 3 years and his mother wanted to stay. His father wanted to join family in Canada but lacked legal means to do so.

Last week I said that Europe wouldn't maintain its open borders and already many countries are closing theirs. There is little support for free migration in any country in the world, and most leaders recognise that their first duty is to the people whom they represent. Increasing a population by even 1% overnight has an enormous long term impact on resources and prosperity, can threaten national security, national health and well being. We should be helping the refugees, those rendered stateless due to conflict in Syria, but evacuating vast numbers in an uncontrolled way is sure to precipitate dangerous tensions across Europe and leaves a vacuum in the Middle East which will destabilise the situation further.

Short-termism has become endemic in world (as well as domestic) politics, but we must take our heads out of the proverbial sand and look beyond the here and now or the future will take us by surprise once again.

Brilliant blog posts on
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