Author Archives: admin

Pyjamas and super tankers

I’ve barely been out of my pyjamas this week, not because I’m one of those much commented upon mothers who dares to do the school run in nightwear and slippers, but because I’ve been knocked over by a cold virus. It’s been dreamy daytime television all the way. I learnt that Dion Dublin now presents Homes Under the Hammer (yes, really) and that Adelaide seems a way nicer place to live than Prestatyn, that is unless you’re a thirteen year old girl whose dad is staying in Prestatyn. Doing right by family members is a messy and imperfect business.

Me before a lemsip

Me before a lemsip

We’ve had a run of dramas, which I won’t trouble you with; one a week, for what feels like forever. This week looked like it was going to break the run, but didn’t. There was a sting in it’s tail. It wasn’t as stingy as other stings, but a reminder (as if any more were needed) that the vulnerabilities of children who have experienced poor early care can be extensive (and sometimes expensive). It shouldn’t need repeating but they don’t just get over it, no matter how politically, economically and socially inconvenient that may be.

Episode 2 of The Brain with David Eagleman on BBC4 last night showed how crucial the first two years of brain development are and the enduring consequences for three young people who spent their early months in the appalling conditions of a Romanian orphanage. It filled me with a mixture of hope and anger; hope that this critical information has made it on to primetime television and anger that there are still too many services based on the ‘they’ll get over it’ model.

Next week sees the publication of the Adoption UK magazine, guest edited by me and themed around the mental health needs of adopted children and their families. It’s a subject I’m particularly interested in, or a stick with which I like to beat myself depending on how the week’s going. In parallel I’ll be publishing an article by Jonathan Green, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Manchester University. I’ve heard him say things in meetings, presentations and in private that I’ve itched for more to hear. He’s given me some hope that the super-tanker is indeed starting to turn.

In other news, we had the sad task of burying Treacle the much-loved guinea pig. He now lies under the apple tree in a tax-free Amazon box coffin. During my delirium Mr D stepped in and took over the hospital run, which was good because he’s much better at facing off the ‘how did this happen?’ questions than I am. Meanwhile, I’m tentatively researching the lives of some largely forgotten about Victorian campaigners for what may become my next book. It’s a bit of a brain holiday and something one can quite comfortably do in one’s pyjamas.

 

TAS Awards 2016 – Acceptance Speech

It is half past five AM. That’s half past five in the morning. I’ve been awake for an hour and a half.

I lay awake for a bit willing sleep but the enormous crapness of everything poked at my stress system (which surely must give up soon) and that was it, no sleep ’til Brooklyn. So I got up, brewed tea, wondered whether to edit a tearful, ranty podcast I recorded yesterday, decided against it (too raw for broadcast), then checked twitter just in case anyone else was about at this stupid hour of the morning.

What I found was a stream of wonderful, touching, caring messages about the TAS Awards 2016 and two awards; one for ‘twitter titter’ and another for what roughly translates as ‘yeah you nailed that crap’.

I am really sorry that I wasn’t about on twitter last night, to thank everyone for voting, to thank Sarah and Vicky for their relentless facilitation of our small but vibrant community and to thank everyone for their jubilation and cake emoticons and good humour. You know the score – life is tough right now, things have slipped, I’m slipping, blahblahblah  (I’m pretty fucking bored of myself and this relentless pressure cooker of family life), so basically I wasn’t around.

Our slice of twitter has helped me cling on to sanity and hope through the darkest, shittiest times. Using black humour is one of my main coping mechanisms and I feel lucky to have connected with so many others who do the same. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve laughed out loud at what might be considered the most inappropriate of times. It’s true what they say, you either laugh or you cry.

I’m currently trying to laugh not cry over some spectacularly poor choices, which come with a vile side salad of intimidation and a fuck you sauce. It’s hard to maintain the comedy because I feel increasingly lost in it all and scared about the future. The truth becomes clearer every day, with every fresh crisis: I’ve done the best I can and now it’s over to you. Sounds easy. Hardest fucker I’ve ever experienced.

My friends, thank you thank you thank you, for all your support over these years. I’m touched that I make you laugh from time to time and that you think I nail the crap. I shall continue to try to do both. Now more tea I think before the sun comes up and another day is done battle with.

The No Excuses! Diet Plan – an inspiring interview with Jacantha Greenflank-Fox

I’m lucky I get to meet some truly inspirational and inspiring people. Jacantha Greenflank-Fox is one one those. I was grateful to have the opportunity to ask her some questions about her brand new health and fitness programme No Excuses!

So Jacantha, you are always so full of energy and glowingness, what’s your secret?

Well Sally, my secret is No Excuses! Yes, it’s that easy! Whether you are holding down two jobs, or caring for a disabled child, if you follow my No Excuses! plan then you really can look and feel as amazing as I do.

You really do look amazing Jacantha. Tell me more about the No Excuses! plan.

The No Excuses! plan is all about eating in a clean, Jurassic,sugar-free, fun-free way all year round. The beauty of it is, it takes minimal equipment* and no time at all other than the preparation and fermentation cycles. It’s super super easy and has no burden of fun whatsoever!

avocado drink

That sounds interesting and amazing. I would love to know your top five tips for No Excuses! fun-free living.

Of course Sally, you look like you need my top five tips for achieving No Excuses! fun-free eating and fitness.

  • Firstly it’s important to remember that everything you thought you knew about healthy eating is in fact wrong. For starters, dairy products are bad for you and make you smell like vomit to people like me who eat clean, and to Japanese people. I like to substitute diary products with a little raw almond husk or some hermetically sealed coconut dew. You may ask ‘but Jacantha, what do you put in your coffee?’ and I’d say, ‘don’t be silly, I drink samphire tea, which is just as, if not more satisfying than coffee, tea or any other hot dirty beverage’.
  • You will be pleased to know that the No Excuses! plan is free from all carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are off-limits because even one slice of wholemeal (yes even wholemeal) bread is the same as sucking on an entire sugar cube. Porridge is also old hat and eaten only by manual workers and overweight Scottish people.
  • People ask me, but what do you eat Jacantha, and I am here to tell you that a whole new wealth of ingredients awaits to tempt you into No Excuses! eating, such as seeds, nuts, spinach, nuts, avocado and seeds. It really is as exciting as it sounds!
  • Some people tell me they have what they call manual jobs and require more energy than is available on the standard No Excuses! plan. I don’t know any of these so called manual workers personally, but I recently had a new kitchen extension built by some. I of course would not allow them to bring any foods not allowed in the No Excuses! plan within the boundaries of my property which at first caused them to be a little alarmed but they soon cheered up when I gave them some powdered kale with ground chia sprinkles – great for manual energy!
  • You may be surprised to learn this, but on the No Excuses! plan, the occasional treat is allowed! I recommend breaking a bar of 100% purely organic extract of cocoa kernel into small pieces and popping them into the freezer. Whenever I fancy treating myself, say after a two hour session of high impact yogic abdominal crunches, I like to suck on one. When I really want to reward myself I might even suck on two! It’s wild!

That really has been very enlightening Jacantha. One final question, it seems like there could be a lot of preparation involved? How can the No Excuses! plan fit around a busy lifestyle?

We are all so busy these days aren’t we Sally. I know I am as my profitable online health and fitness business doesn’t run itself! It’s all about preparation. I like to spend an hour and half before dawn chopping ten portions of vegetables, juicing cashew nuts and preparing the breakfast fridge bars. And really, who doesn’t have a spare hour and a half in the day?

chopping

You are a huge inspiration to so many of us Jacatha and I know my readers will be keen to know how they can become part of the No Excuses! plan.

I thought you’d never ask Sally! All you need to do is sign up to my twelve month plan, which starts at only £15.99 a month and for that you will get regular tips and encouragement from me, plus recipes like my No-Fuss Spinach and Pumpkinseed Relish. And as a special new year offer, I’m going to be giving away free sachets of my specially formulated essence of Goji powder. The new you is just a credit card payment away. There really is no need to be an enormously tired loser any longer.

That’s amazingly good value. I’m certainly going to be giving No Excuses! a try. Thank you Jacantha Greenflank-Fox, you really are unbelievable .

*all available, including my patent-pending beetroot spiralilasitor, from my online store
photo credit: Vegetables on a Cutting Board via photopin (license)

Review of 2015

It’s become a tradition of mine, at this dark end of the year, to look back over the previous twelve months and try to make some sense of it all. This year, my overwhelming feeling is ‘so that’s why I’m so tired’.

The last twelve months have been tough. Tough like wading through a stinky swamp. Tough like being trapped in a stormy sea, unable to make it to shore, waves breaking over your head one after another. At times my optimism has been tested. Very tested. There were moments when I wondered if I might be on some weird unreality show (The Hunger Games?). Moments when I wanted to croak ‘I’m just an ordinary person, I give up, now get me the f**k out of here’.

It’s enough I think to say that I am still here. We’re still here. I’m still learning as I go along and we are still going along. Which is good.

There have been many career highlights from which I take comfort that I must be doing something right.

Many thanks to the South and North London Adoption Consortia as well as We Are Family, to the University of Sunderland who is doing great work with it’s Children Effected by Loss and Trauma project, to Jenny Molloy and the University of Huddersfield whose students and lecturers it was so encouraging to meet, to the East Midlands Adoption Consortium and Professor Julie Selwyn for a great day (and a memorable pre-conference night out), to The Royal College of Child Psychiatrists and in particular to the real Professor Green and to John Simmonds, to Michael Roach of John Ball Primary School and finally to Dr Vivien Norris of The Family Place who hosted me for a great day in Hay-on Wye.

The Adoption Support Fund launched in England in May and was an important milestone in my year. Having witnessed and played a small part in it’s design and testing and seen the thought and care that went into what looks like a deceptively straightforward scheme I stand back and see something valuable, with more potential. This year Al Coates and Jenny Jones joined the Department for Education group which addresses Adoption Support. It has been a real pleasure to work with them both (and much less onerous than being ‘the adopter’).

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Much of the ‘sat in front of a desk’ parts of 2015 have been taken up with the completion of the manuscript for my third book: a novel for children called Billy Bramble and the Great Big Cook Off. Billy is eleven years old. Others may see him as a bit of an odd bod with a temper, who is naughty and disruptive at school but he has a unique voice and an interesting story to tell. It’s been a joy to write and to see being brought to life by the illustrator Kara McHale. It will be published in March 2016.

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In other 2015 highlights, I appeared on BBC Breakfast, which was terrifying and a good lesson in boiling down a complex message for mass media, we got Superfast Broadband and I ventured into podcasting.

Cultural high points were strangely few this year (for reasons of being chest deep in swamp perhaps) but included the televised version of Wolf Hall (deliciously good), a live War Horse and getting the Star Wars experience in a small, art deco cinema. The best book I read by a country mile was Heretics by Will Storr. It inadvertently taught me a lot about trauma and brains and all that and explained why twitter (and real life) can be an uncomfortably extreme place. Don’t read it if you prefer not to be challenged about what you think and believe to be true. I also enjoyed binge reading the Clive James memoirs and Lila by Marilynne Robinson.

As I’ve said often, and it’s well worth saying again, the support and encouragement from friends and readers on social media has been second to none. Thank you for your company, comfort and general big-heartedness. I like that it’s delivered with such sharp wit – laughing through the dark moments is an important way to preserve one’s psychological health.

And so for now, in these closing moments of 2015 I wish you all, families of whichever design, professionals and readers, the very best for 2016. May it be peaceful and fruitful.

Podcast: The Unofficial Guide to Christmas

What more do you need at this time of year than a ten minute, poor quality, unplanned podcast from me about trying to achieve a ‘good enough’ Christmas for children who struggle with high expectations and fuss and food mountains? Includes tips you will never read about in books.

I wish you and yours a happy, peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. Failing that, let’s just try and get through it unscathed x

Podcast: Hugh Thornbery, Adoption UK

I was in London last week for an Adoption Support meeting at the Department for Education. The Adoption Support Fund launched in England in May and has reached 2,600 families so far. There is, of course, still much to do and many imperfections to grapple with, not least lack of resource within Local Authorities to undertake assessments and a shortage of providers. Nevertheless the fund is paying for therapeutic help for children and families who would not otherwise have received it.

Our own application has been approved. We start new and direct work soon. I’ve done as much research as I can, but it still feels like a leap of faith. There is no neat evidence base for interventions effective for children and young people with complex trauma. I hope that one day there will be. I hope for lots and I think that the Adoption Support Fund is, for many reasons, a step in the right direction.

While I was in London I took the opportunity to chat with Hugh Thornbery, Chief Executive of Adoption UK about the Adoption Support Fund and engaging with government to bring about broader and deeper change. This is the fourth podcast in my experimental mini-series: another ten minute slot.

Podcast: stormy seas and hope for the future, with Jenny Molloy

In this episode of the No Matter What Podcast I chat with Jenny Molloy, author of best selling book Hackney Child, about how her experiences in care helped her to become a successful parent and grandparent. And I ramble on about weathering the repeated crises that can come with parenting a young person who has experienced a fractured childhood.  Let’s just say the waves are big and I’m working hard at surfing, rather than drowning. Hearing Jenny speak gave me hope.

 

Podcast: in conversation with Hackney Child author Jenny Molloy

NMW Podart1

 

Jenny Molloy and I worked together at Huddersfield University this week and she kindly offered to speak to me about her life, her books and her work. It was a fascinating conversation.

I’m not fussed about the F-bomb, but for those who are, or who might be listening in the vicinity of little ears, the F-bomb count is 1.

Appropriate Adult

We have a massive bramley apple tree in our garden. This year it is loaded with hundreds and hundreds of apples. We’ve eaten about twenty. The rest fall to the ground where I pick them up, throw them into a wheelbarrow and shovel them into the compost binsTile.

The compost bins are full now. This afternoon I started filling a metric tonne dumpy bag.  It’s tedious, stinky work. I was at it for an hour at least. As I picked up, more apples were falling from the tree. One fell on my head. Another fell on my back.

Today did not turn out quite as I had planned, and at the risk of sounding maudlin, being hit by bramley apples was almost the highpoint. The low point was an unexpected journey to our local centre of law enforcement, uncertain what I was about to walk into.

My personal dumpy bag is full right now and still the relentless shovelling continues. Working outdoors and breathing the thick autumn air is the best way I know of coping, especially as the season changes and I find myself less parent and more appropriate adult.