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Wednesday 10th April 2024

These days I approach a lot of my parenting activities with the vague mantra:

"This might be fun.. It will probably be stressful, and I will overuse the phrase ‘stop fighting!'  But therefore any fun we have is a bonus."

It's a pretty sloppy mantra. But I'm a pretty sloppy parent. (Depending on who you compare me to). But as we all know, comparison is the theft of joy. So let's just say I'm fine at this.

Anyway. I was excited to take my children (now aged six and nine) to Disneyland Paris. Apart from the odd teacups ride etc at a fairground, we had only ever been to one theme park before (Legoland) several years ago, and the little one wasn't even tall enough for most of the rides.

And I say excited, but given my slightly jaded mantra, what I really mean is cautiously optimistic with just the tiniest hint of foreboding. But you know, excited. For a parent.

So I was not expecting to have such an emotional reaction to walking into Disneyland.

Why was I unable to stop grinning and slightly tearing up? I'm not this guy. It's just the land where dreams come true. What's the big deal? It's just THE LAND WHERE DREAMS COME TRUE.

At Disneyland so many little children are having the absolute best day of their lives. It's incredibly infectious.

Suddenly we were at the bottom of a grand staircase, where a bunch of three year olds - dressed impeccably as their favourite princesses, complete with tiaras - were taking it in turns to walk down said stair case, so their parents could film and photograph them being REAL PRINCESSES.

There is something quite overwhelming about being surrounded by so much earnest joy.

And it wasn't just the children. Maybe because Disneyland is so expensive, but no one really seemed to be there ironically. No one was snarking, rolling their eyes or just there for the lols.

So all the adults were also free to wear mouse ears and various costumes and merch without any fear of reprisal. This is the place you go to escape that, and unashamedly live your truth (if your truth is wearing mouse ears) in a slightly camp wonderland with a 1920's meets 1960's vibe.

You can't walk around the park without seeing beloved characters from your own childhood. They are everywhere: waving, hugging, posing for photos and represented on the various rides.

It's disarmingly fun and charming. Who among us would not shout, ‘Look! There's Tigger!' under the same circumstances.

It was quite confronting how much fun it was to interact with people pretending to be Disney characters. You know they are acting. And yet. You can't be the one to break the spell. So you sort of end up as some unwarranted improv extra trying to make your kids' experience even more magical.

We ate at this one restaurant where every twenty minutes or so, a different Prince and Princess would come round the tables, greeting their subjects, asking the children about their favourite rides and posing for photos. My nine year old seemed politely above this, but my six year old was the perfect age to enjoy extra attention from Disney royalty.

If you have a creative job, and you make stuff, especially if you make comedy, sometimes people will send you messages or come up to you after a gig to tell you they like your work. Or that you cheered them up, or got them through a hard time. It's always lovely to hear. And one of the ways I justify not doing something more worthy: I may not be an NHS nurse, but I have helped cheer up some of the people who are. (So yay for me).

I said to my husband it must be so weird doing this Princess gig because you are getting that kind of praise that comedians sometimes get after a gig, but it's not really you. No one can say to Belle, "I love your work. You were absolutely right about Gaston. I love how you backed yourself and it paid off because now you have that massive library and you love books."

When Ariel and Prince Eric started making the rounds, I told my husband that The Little Mermaid had been my favourite Disney film growing up. I joked to him, ‘imagine if I said to her, "you are my favourite Princess. You got me through some hard times when I was ten. I used to draw you all the time. It's so great to meet you." And she'd be like, "um great, I'm an actress." '

But THEN, when I was half way through posing for a photo with them and my children, my husband told her that she was my favourite princess. And I already looked like a mad fan, because I was happily posing and joining in. (Eric took my arm actually, total gentleman).

But actress Ariel seemed unexpectedly and genuinely thrilled that she was my favourite princess. Her eyes lit up, it was like she'd been vindicated. So then I got to pose with just her, and have my photo taken by my laughing husband.

So, there is definite nostalgia for the adults, but I think that's only part of the power of Disneyland.

My other theory is this: Nature abhors a vacuum and I think Disney has taken up a lot of the space for STORIES left by our fragmented modern society.

Humans need stories. Stories are how we learn, bond, understand the world, work out who we are, where we came from, what we're a part of, community, order, love, loss, redemption, what we could or should do. Stories are everything.

They used to be told around a fire after the hunt and work of the day was done, signalling it was time to relax and reflect. Then passed down through oral storytelling traditions, then books and now films. (Yes, this is my brief overview of 40,000 years. What).

But now we live in a more transient, individualistic, isolating world, and where so many people travel so much, a shared sense of community, or any community-based identity can be harder to find.

None of my grandparents were born in the country I live in. I am from here really. But a tiny part of me is a bit from the other places. I am one quarter Norwegian, but I've only been there once. I don't know the authentic Norwegian stories. I am not really from there. I am a tourist there.

But I am from Disney. I am from seeing Bambi at the cinema when I was four, and crying when his mother got shot. I am from running inside because Mary Poppins was on TV, and I needed to learn how to be redeemed by flying a kite.

I am from over-watching the Dumbo we taped off the TV in the 1980's and crying at the cruelty with which he is mocked and separated from his mother, and rejoicing as he miraculously turns the thing that is supposedly wrong with him into a superpower.

I am from watching The Lion King on DVD in the 1990's and being shocked they let his dad die, even though I had already seen Bambi and Dumbo and really should have known by now, that a lot of Disney films are death and pain.

And because Disney is so massive and so successful, everyone else knows these stories too.

So even though I may not have very much in common with what at one time might have been considered ‘my people' I am instead bonded to the global community that has shared these same storytelling experiences. We have all cried and rejoiced together over Scar's greed and comeuppance. In this way Disney fills a profound human need.

(Yeah sure Catie, it's a profound human need. Not just that you cried a bit at Disneyland and now you're trying to justify it).

Sure, on the one hand, it may sound like I'm trying to justify why I nearly cried at Disneyland. But I think we can actually all agree that it's also because of a profound human need.

I don't buy into the idea that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. AT ALL. BUT. I do think it has been successfully and convincingly designed to try to make people (especially children) as happy as possible. And none of the rest of the world is designed that way.

So much of childhood (and life) feels like constantly being told to shut up. Especially when you're a kid, it's just a series of things happening, that you don't control, and that will mainly result in you somehow being in trouble for not reacting to whatever the thing is better.

But this little oasis is for you. And I think that's empowering for children, to have that feeling, this is for me.

So anyway, I think that's why I felt unexpectedly emotional upon entering Disneyland.

But I did still overuse the phrase, ‘stop fighting!'

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Safe Zone Parenting Fail

Friday 13th January 2023

I wanted to try out something I heard on a parenting podcast. So I said to my kids (aged 5 and 7) “If you guys say ‘safe zone’ you can tell me anything and I’m not allowed to shout or be cross. And if ever you think I’m being too cross, say ‘safe zone’ and I will stop and listen to you.” 

They looked at me thoughtfully, taking this in. Then the 5yo immediately started pelting me with objects, yelling “safe zone!” after each attack, like it was a magical loophole granting him amnesty from all wrong-doing. And now I wasn’t even allowed to yell stop. In trying to install a safe zone, I have made myself much less safe.

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My Kid Sees Dead People (Or Does He?)

Tuesday 24th May 2022

Stay tuned to find out.


Look, I get it. You’re a busy, important person â€"  I don’t want to waste your time. I shall present the evidence and you can decide for yourself.


It’s all going to be rigorous and scientific. 


(Sidenote: My son was born under a full moon).


OK it’s going to be scientific from now on. 


(I’m just setting the scene â€" second son of a second son, born on a full moon, very cinematic/spooky). Anyway.


Firstly, my 4yo son SAYS he has seen ghosts. 


OK. Scientific, starting now:


We live in the kind of place you might expect to see a ghost. This is where they’d be if they were going to be anywhere. Parts of this house date back to 1702. There’s a fetching ye olde fireplace; beams in the ceilings; and one original Queen Anne window.


The bedroom my son sleeps in has a normal, working doorway. But it also has an additional, fake one, that got filled in at some point in the last 320 years. There is a door shape complete with a door frame, that used to be a door, but is no longer a door.


My son says he sees people using this door as if it is still a door. He says sometimes they talk to him. And sometimes they scare him and he comes running into our room. He doesn’t like being left alone in his room to play, and will often follow me out and back again, even if I’m just getting something and am gone two seconds. (Coincidence?)


Also, sometimes at night we can hear a child crying, but when we get up to check our children, they are both asleep and not crying. (Tired parents on high alert for children’s needs, or something more?)


Exhibit B: My son claims to remember his past lives. Once we were at (another) old house and my son claimed he had once lived there with his ‘blue father’ and two brothers. For a laugh we googled it and the house was built by a man with three sons â€" one of which had the SAME name as my son. (The other two sons names were not ‘Sweetcorn’ and ‘chicken’ as my son had claimed however â€" but could they be legitimate nicknames?)


So â€" tall tales from an imaginative pre-schooler, or factual remembrance of reincarnation?


The most recent (possibly supernatural) event happened in Pizza Express. (Wait, let me finish).


We were in there having a family meal, trying to be the kind of classy family that doesn’t let their kids climb under the table, with limited to moderate success.


My son has been known to shout at strangers. Sometimes, on a walk through the countryside, he might spot a fellow traveller and yell, ‘hello old lady!’ (Because he talks how casting directors think). But he doesn’t normally shout at people in restaurants. 


A young couple got seated at the table next to ours. The woman looked about 8 months pregnant. My son suddenly yelled at her, ‘Why aren’t you two married?!’


After we apologised and told him to stop yelling at strangers in restaurants, I noticed that the woman wasn’t wearing a wedding or engagement ring, or any rings. I don’t think my 4yo knows to look for wedding rings to check for who is married.


The way I see it, the only possible explanations include:

1)    My son is telepathic, and the woman was thinking she’d like to be married.

2)    An angry ghost who believes very strongly in marriage, was standing there, invisible to us, but present and audible to my son. Perhaps this ghost was ranting, on and on, and in the end my son couldn’t handle it, he just wanted the anger to stop, so in an attempt to make that happen and acquire an explanation, he blurted out crossly, ‘Why aren’t you two married?!’

3)    My son shouted a random thing for no reason. But still. Come on. Really?


Look. I know everyone’s mental health has suffered in the pandemic. I’m not saying my 4yo can definitely commune with spirits. I’m just saying we can’t rule it out.


Now you have the facts, you can decide for yourself. A bunch of coincidences… Or something more? (der der der, etc).





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Problems With Parenting - Putting On Shoes And Socks

Monday 1st June 2020

I need my children aged 5 and 2 and a half to put on their shoes and socks so that we can walk the dog.


I am very tired. But I also desperately want to be reasonable.  And for the dog walk to be fun (or at least as un-stressful as possible). 


I have done a two minute and a one minute warning that I am turning off the television now. I have put their shoes and socks on the bottom step of the stairs, ready for them to sit down and do it.


“OK kids, that’s two minutes. Time to put shoes and socks on.” I turn off the television. 


They both howl ‘Noooo!’ and lie on the floor.


‘Come on please. It will be fun. And the sooner we go, the sooner we can come back and do something you do want to do. Come on. Now. Please.’


The 5yo sighs but gets up and sits on the step and starts putting shoes and socks on. She has become good at bargaining and is probably working out what she can ask for next.


The 2yo adamantly refuses to come and put shoes and socks on. He gets tearful when I say it’s what we have to do next.


I don’t know what my next move should be…


·      I don’t want to keep saying please and explaining patiently why it would be helpful, like the nice parenting book says to do.

·      I don’t want to yell ‘I’m in charge!’ count to 3 and then drag him out on 3 to show I mean business like the less nice parenting book says to do.

·      I don’t want to keep honouring his feelings while somehow maintaining my own boundaries but before I reach my limits, like that good psychology parenting book says to do. (Because I still don’t know how) and it seems like it might take ages, but we have to go now.

·      And I definitely don’t want to just smack him like my own upbringing would tell me to do.


I have no energy, but for some reason I pretend to be a horse. 


These kids love it when I’m a horse. This way the 2yo can ride all the way to the bottom step and putting his shoes and socks on will seem like the exciting first step of an adventure. He jumps aboard, laughing.


I’m a genius, right? Wrong.


The 5yo, who has been happily (if reluctantly) putting her shoes on, now feels outraged that her obedience has resulted in her missing out on a horsey ride. 


She immediately takes her shoes back off, yells ‘do that to me!’ rushes back over to us and climbs on too.


OK, cool. I mean, I didn’t have time to make sure they’re both on properly because this is now an adhoc plan, but we’re moving in the right direction back towards the shoes… take the win, right?


‘OK, careful,’ I say, as they giggle at the bottom step. The 5yo gets down a bit fast and before I can stop it the 2yo has slid the opposite direction, banging his head smack down on the wooden floor.


He scream cries while I clutch him and feel his head for cracks, apologising profusely. He stops crying and we decide he isn’t concussed or seriously injured afterall. 


I pulled a horsey ride out of my exhausted wazoo to make my kid happy, and it nearly smashed his head in. The irony.


Homer Simpson is right. The lesson is never try.

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How They Get You

Friday 13th December 2019

I was reading Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments at around the same time there was a gas leak. Wait, let me finish.


I was reading all about how terrifyingly easy it was for a military coup to just confiscate all women’s rights, property, jobs, money etc; round them up, and send them off in vans to stadiums where they would be subjected to brutal conditions and then be shot/forced to shoot each other in order to join the new misogynist regime.


The most chilling line for me in the whole book happens near the beginning when the women at a successful law firm are the only ones to show up for work and know something is wrong: “Is your car here? We need to leave.”

The urgency.



That’s what it would look like.

That’s exactly what it would look like if those things happened, I thought.


So anyway. A drunk driver crashed into the house next door to ours and ripped into their garage, severing a gas pipe. There was a gas leak.


We were woken from our beds at eleven o clock at night by men in hi vis jackets, telling us we had to vacate the area and get behind some cones to where it was safe until the gas men could come and turn off the mains and check if it was safe.


We had to get our small children out of bed, get our dog, abandon our cat, grab some blankets and go and sit on the road by the cones with some of our other neighbours.


It was so easy  to make us leave our house. We just did whatever the men in hi vis jackets told  us to  do.


Yes, I know, in this story that was sensible because they were the good guys. 


But all I could think was, this  is  how they would  do it. This is  how it would happen. The dead of night, that’s no longer your house, you have  five minutes to grab some stuff. Then get out, the government owns that now.


The things you think about when you can’t sleep after a terrible election result.

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Baby Gender Norms

Friday 24th July 2015

We took our baby on a four day mini break to Amsterdam. I know, I know. Some people think that Amsterdam is a more 'grown up' holiday destination. But I think you're never too young to get interested in clogs. So it was fine.

Plus we have a very smiley, social baby who is bored of us already and wants new adventures. Arguably with clogs. Or the Van Gogh Museum.

On the flight, baby Phoebe looked around anxiously trying find people to dazzle with her smile, and struck up a smiling and giggling dialogue with one of the air hostesses.

I should probably mention that Phoebe was dressed in a dinosaur outfit, becasue (a) why not (b) girls can like dinosaurs (c) boys don't own dinosaurs (d) putting gender ideals onto a baby seems insane (e) surely everything for children should be unisex anyway (f) we don't want to feel like we've contributed to an oppressive system that has negative consequences for boys and girls respectively (g) can't we just all get along (h) it's all marketing bullshit anyway (i) yes we are those hippy sounding parents but I don't care, (j) we do put her in pink sometimes; and (k) we just want Phoebe to feel free to be anything she wants.

But I do totally appreciate we had made her look like a boy.

The air hotestess said, 'ooh, he's really flirting with me!'

And I had to say, 'Actually, this is a girl. Um, we just dress in her unisex clothes because we don't want her to feel restricted by gender norms as she grows up.'

To her credit the air hostess tried to style it out and said, 'Oh. Well such a lovely smile!'

I kind of wanted to say, 'It's OK, my baby could be gay for you. I mean even if this was a boy, I don't think he was trying to get lucky. I mean god, what kind of ego do you have? Oooh. Even babies fancy me.' 

But I didn't. The air hostess was lovely. And she was occupying my baby for 30 seconds so I didn't have to.

But it did make me realise how early our responses to babies conform to social expectiations. Boys are active flirters, while girls are passive smilers. And thus the treadmill of repression begins.

It kind of makes me want to dress Phoebe 'as a boy' forever to see what else people will do differently.

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Why Shepherds Bush is Great

Saturday 25th April 2015

I love Shepherds Bush. It's a great place to live. It's done many brilliant things with itself. First, as seen previously, it named a newsagents especially to entertain Game Of Thrones fans. This Newsagents knows NOTHIN.

Secondly, it named a pawnbroker with a jaunty pun, to entertain the people who need money quick. Just because Shepherds Bush is getting gentrified doesn't mean the people who are slowly being priced out like the rest of London, can't enjoy a laugh.

Thirdly and this might be my favourite of all of them, it has a twinned toilet. Yes, you read that right. 

But what the hell is toilet twinning you might well ask. Well it's this. A cunning way to give to charity. I saw this particular twinned toilet in a church hall toilet, where I had taken my 10 week old baby to a music class which she mainly ate through.

This charity exists because 1 in 3 people across the world don't have somewhere safe or hygienic to go to the toilet, and bad sanitation is one of the world's biggest killers. You make a donation, your toilet gets twinned, the money helps build a proper toilet somewhere that needs it and you get a certificate. It's pretty great, and it's funny because... toilets.

This is how the people of Shepherds Bush choose to help charity. And this is why Shepherds Bush is great.

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This Newsagents Knows NOTHIN

Monday 20th October 2014

This is my favourite thing I've seen for ages. 

It won't mean much to anyone who doesn't watch Game Of Thrones. So you know, start watching it. That's on you.

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Sunday 19th October 2014

I may have been sitting at my desk too long, but I think there's a ghost or a murderer standing in the window of the house opposite. Or the sun is reflecting weirdly. Or I have gone insane.

You all see the creepy ghost, right? I haven't just been cooped up writing for too long..

Honestely, some writers will go to any lengths to procrastinate. Not me. I am being genuinely haunted. (Or it was a mistake to barely leave the house for the last few days). But I think it's far more likely there's a ghost next door.

This haunting isn't a procrastinating tactic. It's real I tell you. If I wanted to procastinate I'd tidy my house.

The murdering ghost was there yesterday and it is back today. But who am I going to call? Aha ha.

I'm going to monitor the situation. And then confront them like in Rear Window. I'm pretty sure that ended well.

Or do more work. Or get some fresh air. Or call a preist. Definitely one of those things.

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Bring Back She-Ra! (Wait, hear me out)

Tuesday 2nd September 2014

Reading The Guardian I came across this article:

10 Lessons from being Guardian's Women's Editor

Loads of it is interesting/depressing/hopeful (delete depending on how optimistic you feel about the world) but one of the things that jumped out at me was the bit about parenting and toys.

"When my son was five, and my daughter two years younger, he said he wanted to be prime minister when he grew up; the height of her ambition was to be a princess. It didn't take this job to tell me how wrong that was, but it has revealed how strong the pressure is to put them both in a gender straitjacket."

I completely agree that on the surface that sounds like as a society we/toy companies are failing young girls, encouraging them to pick vacuous things instead of proper ambitions.

But I would still say this:

Both 'Princess' and 'Prime Minister' are high status positions of power. You get to rule over a nation, make important decisions and people have to listen to you.

Maybe young girls have to turn to fiction for their more commanding or impressive 'role models' because there are so few real ones for them to emulate.

It comes back to the idea that 'you can't be what you can't see.' (The thrust of feminist film Miss Representation). 

As a child of the 80's I grew up under a Queen, a female Prime Minister and headmistresses (as apposed to headmasters). So it didn't seem to me that women couldn't become positions of authority.

Admittedly, I was aware that Margaret Thatcher was probably the most hated person in the country (certainly by my left-leaning family) but that wasn't the point. The male politicians were also hated and lambasted in my house. Women were equal to be just as disappointing as men.

Also as a child I loved She-Ra, the kick-ass female alternative to He-Man, who was sort of Royal, on an important mission against bad guys, and constantly fighting and winning.

As far as I can tell the modern day closest to this is the Princess in Disney's 'Brave.' But as far as I can remember (and my memory may be flawed) She-Ra never said things like, 'I'm just a woman but I can still do stuff,' or 'but I don't wanna get married to secure the Kingdom, please don't make me.'

She-Ra never begged. She never had to justify herself or her status at all. The creators made up their own universe, with it's own rules, and she was just She-Ra. She didn't have to worry about it. She wasn't tough 'for a girl' she was just tough. 

(again, that's my recollection. Maybe the show was littered with sexism that I didn't pick up on at the time). But the impression it gave me was one of equality.

And the thing is, I grew up feeling like I had unisex rights on all toys. If I wanted to play with girly pink stuff I could; if I wanted to run around and get covered in mud pretending to be She-Ra rescuing people, I could do that too. Maybe that's what's missing now.

I don't think there's any point taking Princesses away from girls. Or ridiculing their choices if that's what they like. (Why be another voice limiting their ability to accrue self-esteem by reinforcing the idea that girly stuff is rubbish and to be derided?) But maybe we could add a few more options and alternatives so that they can make more informed decisions? We've got the lego scientists, now come on, let's bring back She-Ra!

PS - and/or get more women into prominent positions of power not based on their looks.

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