Bath salts and surreptitious sweets: let the festivities commence!

I imagine that, if you are a celebrity, Christmas is a perfectly curated thing.  It is a Winter Wonderland of glitter and fabulousness in which everyone looks elegant, the children are charming and the presents are impressive (because no-one can truly be happy unless they have a soft-top sports car, right?)

But I am not a celebrity, so in my house things are a little more shambolic.  Christmas at Boudicca HQ goes something like this:

  • Get woken by the children at 4.30am, because Santa has been and there is every danger they will burst if they wait even a second longer for Christmas to start.
  • Admire all the thoughtful and well-informed gifts Santa has left in their stockings.
  • Discover that my dress no longer zips up and regret spending the whole of December gorging on mince pies, pigs in blankets, Christmas cake and anything coated in icing or dusted with sugar.
  • Decide to stand side-on for photos.
  • Watch my children spend three joyous minutes ripping the paper off the presents that I spent hours lovingly wrapping.
  • Pretend to be delighted when my partner gives me bath salts.  Again.
  • Spend the rest of the morning with one hand up the turkey’s bottom whilst shelling brussel sprouts with the other.  Yup.  It’s all glamour in my house.
  • Eat enough food to sustain a village in Africa for a month, whilst wearing a paper crown and listening to terrible jokes.
  • Convince myself that having a large helping of Christmas pudding with cream and brandy butter does not rule out bingeing on mince pies and ice-cream later.
  • No matter how bleak the weather, no matter how much the children protest, insist that we all go for a walk to ‘get some fresh air’.
  • Put some sweets in my pocket to sustain me whilst we’re out and eat them surreptitiously when everyone’s attention is elsewhere.
  • Slump on the sofa and munch my way through a box of Quality Street, a half-eaten mince pie that one of my children has abandoned and anything left-over from lunch.
  • Feel bloated.
  • Declare that this was definitely the best Christmas ever.

I wish you the best Christmas ever and a happy New Year!

Bethlehem or bust: why you should never try to persuade a pregnant woman to travel by donkey

If you think shipping Mary across the Middle East on a donkey was easy, then you have never lived with a woman who is heavily pregnant.  The Bible may gloss over it, but you can be sure that Joseph had his work cut out persuading Mary to go…

Joseph:  My darling, darling wife, I know that you’re exhausted from carrying our wonderful baby, so I’ve arranged for us to go away for a relaxing little mini-break.

Mary:  Are you kidding me? I’m eight months flipping pregnant.  It took me half an hour just to get my knickers and socks on this morning.  The last thing I want to do is go on a mini-break.

Joseph:  I’m sorry to hear that, my angel, but unfortunately we’re going to have to go, because Caesar has decreed that everyone has to go back to the town of their birth to take part in a very important census.

Mary:  Who does Caesar think he is?  Come here, go there, decree this, census that.  Well, we’d better be going somewhere good, because I’m not trekking about in the heat and the dust to go somewhere rubbish.

Joseph:  We’re going to Bethlehem, my angel.

Mary: Bethlehem??!!!  Bethlehem is the fungal toe on the arse-end of nowhere. Why can’t we go to Jerusalem?  At least I could go shopping in Jerusalem.

Joseph:  I would love to take you to Jerusalem, my sweetheart, and I definitely will one day, but this time we have to go to Bethlehem.

Mary:  Ok, but I haven’t been able to see my feet for the last two months, so there’s no way I’m walking anywhere.  You need to arrange door-to-door transport, and it had better be luxury.

Joseph:  Um, bit of a problem there, my most beloved.  Everyone who’s got a horse is already using it.  I’m going to have to walk, but I’ve managed to arrange a lovely little donkey for you.

Mary:  A mangy old donkey?  Every time I sit down to go to the loo, I wonder if I’m going to be able to get up again.  There’s no way I can get on and off some filthy donkey.

Joseph:  I think you might actually enjoy it, my darling.  Think of it as our last adventure before the baby comes.

Mary:  Well we’d better be staying somewhere classy.  I’m not staying with your Aunt Aphra again, she smells of goat excrement and I’m pretty sure she cooks with it too.

Joseph:  Um.  Well it was quite hard to get a room – I mean this census thing has made it a very busy time of year in Bethlehem.  Luckily my cousin Hezekiah knows someone, who knows someone, whose inn is so fancy that they’ve got a stable block, and he reckons that if we show up looking stressed enough, he might let us stay there.

Mary:  A stable block?  We’re staying in a stable block?  What if I have the baby whilst we’re there?   If I have the baby in Bethlehem, my mum will miss the whole thing.  And I’m telling you now, if my mother misses even one second of the birth, she will never let you forget it.

Joseph:  Don’t worry, my darling.  We’ll totally be home before then.

The picture above is a photo of Bethlehem taken in 1898.

Lost in translation (or what my children actually hear when I’m speaking)

All these years I thought my children were wilfully ignoring me.  Now I realise that they are listening to what I say, it’s just that they’re hearing something completely different…

What I say:  I just need to make a work call.

What they hear:  You’ve got a five minute window to take revenge on your sister for something she may or may not have done earlier.

 

What I say:  I don’t care who started it.

What they hear:  The most important thing is who started it.  We will establish this based on who can shout the loudest.  And possibly by some name-calling.

 

What I say:  Please just try the cauliflower cheese; Mummy spent ages making it and it’s delicious.

What they hear:  Under no circumstances let even the tiniest morsel of cauliflower cheese pass your lips.  Mummy has only made it because she hates you.

 

What I say:  You need to start taking responsibility for packing your own stuff.

What they hear:  Mummy’s an idiot and forgot to pack the water bottle again.

 

What I say:  Put your coats on and let’s go.  If we’re not out of the front door in 30 seconds, we’ll be late.

What they hear:  Of course you can watch the end of the TV show before we leave.  Mummy will just drive faster and swear more.

 

What I say:  NO!

What they hear: Maybe.  Try asking me again, but in a moany voice.  Mummy loves the moany voice.

 

What I say:  Please can you tidy up your room.

What they hear: Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Having the same problem?  I’m liking the phrases they suggest on KidFocused – starting with ‘Try that again because…’ as in ‘Try that again because we are always kind to mummy when she hasn’t had a cup of tea since 10 o’clock this morning and looks like she might drink your blood instead’.  Obviously that’s not the example they give on the website, but I think you know what I mean…

 

Room for improvement: my children try to turn me into wonder-mum

I really thought my children would be older before they realised that I am not the cool, fix-it-all, wonder-mum they believed me to be.  But now that they have noticed I’m not perfect, they are working tirelessly to improve me.  Obviously, this is a life’s work and something my own mother gave up on long ago, but my children are made of sturdy stuff, and they truly believe that, with sufficient effort on their part, I can do better.  Some areas for improvement they have been focusing on recently include:

My language   My children (and I can only assume this comes from their excellent schooling and not my awful parenting) are implacably opposed to all forms of swearing.  swearing2Their antennae are finely tuned to when I might be about to utter some sort of profanity, and they immediately start imploring me to stop.  To make the challenge more demanding, their definition of what counts as a swear word is much more extensive than mine. There are a number of words they object to that I didn’t even know were swear words (I mean, ‘crikey’ – that’s not a swear word, is it?)  Now that they are occupying the linguistic and moral high ground, losing my temper has become a verbal mine field.

My performance under pressure  Whilst I thought my rubbish parenting was teaching my children resilience, it turns out it is they who are teaching me.  To improve my flexibility and resourcefulness, they create a series of practical and creative challenges for me to solve on a daily basis.

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Thinking flexibly whilst remaining calm

They do it by announcing over breakfast that they are supposed to wear an Egyptian headdress, amulet and neck collar to school that day.  (Oh, how I love to scavenge round the house looking for suitable items to cannibalise into a costume whilst exhorting them to clean their teeth).  They create a sense of urgency to car journeys by accepting invitations to over-lapping parties, then shouting ‘Are we late?’ from the back seat as I desperately try to break the land-speed record getting from one part of south-east London to another.   Flexible, resourceful, able to break the laws of physics?  I fear I am falling short on every front.

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Now that’s what I call ironing

My humility.  No matter how hard I work, or what I do, my children continue to believe I am an idiot.  It is true that I don’t understand grid multiplication.  And it is also true that I have an alarming tendency to get lost when going anywhere in the car. (So in answer to the question above ‘Yes, we are probably late.’)  But I still feel that some sort of credit is due for all the swimming bags that are packed, sandwiches that are made and washing that is done (so, so much washing).  But my children shrug those things off like there’s an invisible fairy that makes it all happen.  And did you know that the fairy puts toys away, washes up after dinner and does ironing too?  What an asset to our home she is!

On the up-side, because they are of an essentially kind and generous nature, the children have started to make allowances.  Last week I took them swimming.  ‘Let’s have a race,’ said my youngest. ‘I’m better than you, so I’ll give you a head start.’  So thoughtful of her.  Now I am wondering whether I should be proud that my eight-year-old is so fair-minded, or worried that she can already swim faster than me.  Better add ‘improve my swimming’ to the list…

Thanks to Paint the ceiling page and Yoga am for the images in this post.

How to be a great friend

Behind every great woman is… a great best friend, helping her negotiate life’s ups and downs.  Best friends are the people who make the good times sparkle and the bad times bearable.  They’re an Ant to your Dec, a Mel to your Sue, they might even be a Thelma to your Louise if you’re old enough.  Because there’s something incredibly wonderful about what great friends can achieve together.

img_3875Last week something happened that made me feel really stressed and upset.  I even had a bit of a cry (unfortunately I am big on crying and small on being stoic).  And then I texted my friend Sarah, and somehow she made everything seem maybe not perfect, but not so bad.  So this is a bit of a love song to Sarah, but it’s also about everything great friends do for each other…

  • She makes everything an adventure – We can be lost, late, and have no lunch, but it’s all part of the joy, because whatever we do she brings an attitude that says ‘we’re going to have FUN!’.
  • She makes my world bigger – Not by travelling vast distances, but by stretching my thinking, by showing me different perspectives, by doing things together it would never occur to me to do on my own, and by sharing her knowledge and her life.
  • She makes me a better person – Not by criticising or denigrating me, but by inspiring me with her values, how she behaves, and the things she does.
  • She is always on my team – I’m not always right, sometimes I’m not even close to right, but she never judges me or makes me feel bad, she just helps me find a better way.
  • She is always there for me – I know that if I needed her, my best friend would turn the world upside down to support me, and just knowing she would do that means all it takes is a text from her to make me feel better.

eybn-julie-sarahEveryone needs a Sarah on their team, and, even if you don’t know it, you are probably someone else’s Sarah.

In fact, reading down the list, I realise that it isn’t just Sarah, these are qualities that all my friends have.  So now I need to stop typing, and start emailing, texting and telling them all how fabulous they are…

Glitz, glamour and good work

I work with the NHS and the voluntary sector, so whilst my job is big on satisfaction and full of lovely people, it is very low on perks.  Unless, of course, you like to gorge on hospital food in the deluxe surroundings of the staff canteen in between meetings (I don’t).  So you can imagine how excited I was when my very lovely client the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust invited me to a ball.

Keen readers will recall from my blog about dinner with the ambassador, that I will happily sell my children into slavery to spend the night wearing a fancy frock and scoffing canapes.  In fact, I love canapes so much, I sometimes think I should eat them at home, and perhaps start a ‘Canape Thursday’ tradition, the same way some couples have ‘date night’.  But I digress…

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Arnold Oceng and Colin Jackson

On Friday night, I glammed up to the eyeballs and set out for the swanky Waldorf Hilton hotel in central London to attend the EYBN Black Tie Ball.  The ball is hosted by EY’s (previously known as Ernst & Young) Black Network as part of their celebration of Black History Month, but it’s theme was very much future-focused: aspire and inspire.

It’s always a thrill to eat something I haven’t cooked myself (because my cooking is rubbish), but the real highlight was the guest speakers, who each gave a personal insight into how to build success.

Olympic silver medallist Colin Jackson, who hasn’t aged a day since about 1990, talked about learning from the people you admire to become the best you can be, and of building a team of people around you who share your dream.

Scientist and the BBC’s ‘face of space’ Maggie Aderin-Pocock described how, despite her dyslexia, she changed from being ‘the dumb kid at the back of the class’ to sitting at the front when she discovered her passion for science.

Actor Arnold Oceng, who escaped from Uganda with his mother after his father and most of his family were killed in the civil war, reminded people that you don’t go from being a refugee to a film star, you have to start small and work hard.

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Richard Blackwood & June Sarpong

Finally, broadcaster June Sarpong, who is now full-on and active in a range of charities, told the audience that you only need two things to succeed: equal access to opportunity and self-belief.

So how can I summarise the messages?  Have a dream, believe in your own ability to achieve that dream, and then work hard to make it a reality.

All that wisdom AND dancing afterwards?  You just can’t top it.  Suddenly my job seems awesome, not just because I went on a great night out, but because I get to work with organisations like the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust who are helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to realise their dreams and build their own success, like Colin, Maggie, Arnold and June before them.  How lucky am I?

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Neil & Chelsea from the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

And as if all that glitz, glamour and good work weren’t enough, over £4,000 was raised for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and when the dancefloor was heaving with a mix of glamour and cool, I was dancing ’80s-style and wondering if the DJ would play anything by Take That.  I think that’s how every great evening should end, don’t you?

The bad mummy’s guide to surviving half term

How can it possibly be, when I have barely recovered from the unfeasibly long summer break, that my children are on holiday again?  I mean, I’ve been in meetings that have lasted longer than the half term just gone.  And now parents everywhere are drafting in friends, grandparents, and people they once met on the bus to look after their offspring so they can make it in to work.  Even with help of benevolent strangers, almost everyone at some point has to spend part of half term at home with their children.  Fear not!  I have come up with three easy life hacks to help you survive…

 

william-and-katePlan like you’re managing William and Kate’s trip to Canada – you need your little royals to have a diary packed with interesting activities.  If you leave any days unplanned one of three things will happen:

 

  1. Your children will maraud around your house trashing every room, whilst alternately pulling each other’s hair, rubbing toothpaste into the carpet and ganging up on you.
  2. You will be panicked into taking them on an outing to somewhere that is extortionately expensive. To add insult to injury, not only will the journey there be horrendous, but the journey home will be worse.
  3. You will be required to entertain your own children. This is, of course, water off a duck’s back if you’re a wonder mum who loves nothing better than doing a spot of arts and crafts or baking cupcakes, but for the rest of us it’s a living nightmare.

If you’re reading this, you’ve already left it too late – better check your bank balance and brace yourself for some serious expenditure…

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Quality Street – yes please!

Arrange play dates with friends at their house not yours – this is the smart way to entertain your kids.  Some other mummy will be run ragged preparing a delicious lunch, chopping up fruit for healthy snacks, and searching fruitlessly for Harry Potter’s wand.  And when your child leaves, she’ll be the one stepping on discarded lego (surprisingly painful) and vacuuming crushed cornflakes out of the carpet (don’t ask).  If you take this option, please observe the protocol: you can drop your children off for lunch OR you can leave them there until after supper, but you really can’t expect someone else to give your children both main meals of the day.  Also, I always try to take chocolates or some other sort of mummy-treat by way of acknowledging that her pain is my gain.

Milk it!  We all know that people with kids go to work for a break from their children.  So whilst you have been putting the hours into rearing the children you created together, your partner has been lazing around in meetings, chatting over the water cooler, and leisurely choosing their sandwiches for lunch.  When he or she arrives home, you should adopt a pained and exhausted expression, slump on the sofa, report every misdemeanor no matter how minor, and demand that you be brought tea / cake  / human sacrifice.  Never admit that the children behaved really well, or that you’ve actually had a lot of fun, because not only will your partner feel aggrieved that they missed out, but you will ruin this ruse for the rest of us.

So if you’re wading into half-term unprepared, I hope these tips have given you a headstart.  If you have more, please let me know!  And if you are now thrown into a panic that you have done all of the above and you are, in fact, a terrible parent, reassure yourself by reading my previous blog in which I pose important questions about my own parenting – such as why my children can’t remember to brush their teeth, and whether I’m too old to like Justin Bieber…

Thanks for the photos BusinessInsider.com (William & Kate) and my talented friend Kulbinder (Quality Street).

Three questions every parent asks themselves (probably)

People think the big questions are things like Is there a god? or Why are we here?  But on a day-to-day basis I spend literally no time wondering about the existence or otherwise of an omnipotent deity.  The big questions in my life are things like ‘are my children supposed to wear wellies for their school trip?’ and ‘why didn’t you tell me last week that you need an elephant costume this week?’

So the questions that are perplexing me at the moment are:

kids-toothbrush-holderQUESTION 1:  Why, when they have to do it every day, are my children constantly bewildered by the requirement to clean their teeth and get dressed before school?  They can remember the planets in order of their distance from the sun.  They can recall every promise I have ever made that is still unfulfilled.  They can even do grid multiplication (something I was never taught and, frankly, don’t understand).  But they cannot remember from leaving the breakfast table to arriving upstairs that they are supposed to clean their teeth.  By the time they reach the landing, they have literally no idea why they are there.  So instead of attending to their dental hygiene, they set about pulling faces in front of the mirror and competing for who can do the silliest walk.  And when I reprimand them, they look genuinely bewildered and hurt, as if the requirement to clean their teeth is entirely new information, and not something I say to them every morning after breakfast.  Seriously, why can’t they remember this?

QUESTION 2:  Am I rearing resilient children, or just excusing my lax parenting?  I only ask because my children’s diary is filled with so many activities that sometimes things fall between the cracks.  Well, I say ‘fall between the cracks’, but what I mean is disappear into a gaping hole.  On top of regular activities like swimming (pack knickers and a towel) and after school club (pack snacks – different sandwiches for each child), I am also required to be alert for school trips (pack £5 and a waterproof), class assemblies (wear costume to school, collect granny on the way) and opticians’ appointments (return to school to collect forgotten glasses).  On any given week at least one child will arrive at school without the requisite swimming costume/snack/signed consent form.  My children have become so accustomed to my parental under-performance that they aren’t in the least bit flustered when we get lost on the way to a party, show up late, or forget to take the present.  They’re used to it.  So am I teaching resilience (as I like to think), or just setting the bar really low for what constitutes competent parenting?

And lastly, and not really on the subject of my children:

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I want you to know that I spent a long time searching for pics of the Bieber and they ALL look like soft porn

QUESTION 3:  Am I too old to like Justin Bieber?  I don’t mean Justin himself you understand.  Apart from anything else, I am old enough to be his mother, so that would be, well, eeeuuuwww.  But I do like his music.  My children find it grotesque and unacceptable that I should like any music that has been released since they were born (my eldest child is nine).  But they also moan and whine about listening to all my ‘Best of the 80s’ compilations (of which there are many – what with the 80s being such a good decade for music and all).  Actually, now I think about it, I realise that the real question is not whether I am too old to like Justin Bieber (answer: probably), but whether my children should be allowed to determine the music I listen to?  And just like that, it’s all about my children again…

If you too are grappling with important and fundamental questions like these, I’d love to hear them – please put them in the comments box at the botto0m of the page!

Thanks to Uncommon Goods and HD Wallpapers for the pictures featured in this blog.

Taking my cousin for a ride: cycling adventures on Regents Canal

Every other year my cousin Sheryl – a full-on born and raised American – comes to the UK to enjoy the delights of London’s Open House week.  Contrary to its name, the week is not limited to houses. In fact, Sheryl (who is an architect) hasn’t come for the houses anyway.  What she’s really into is infrastructure – train stations, aqueducts, and underground rivers are her favourites.  Sheryl so loves everything to do with water that she even persuaded my elderly mother to go on a tour of some sewage works with her.

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Victorian Gothic fabulousness

I lucked out by missing the sewage extravaganza, and instead we visited the architecturally fabulous St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which is everything you want a Victorian Gothic building to be, and more.  Unfortunately, the hotel hadn’t got into the spirit of Open House week at all, so there were no legitimate ways to tour around it.  Instead, Sheryl and I had to masquerade as guests, sauntering casually through the lobby before sneaking up the stairs.  Imagine two 40-something women running up and down corridors, taking snaps of doorways and arches whilst giggling like naughty school girls hiding from the teacher.  We even managed to crash a corporate reception, not so we could gorge on the wine and canapés (both of which I love) but to admire the architecture of the room it was being held in.

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Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, from the north bank of the Thames

Given our track record, I was confident Sheryl would jump at the chance to cycle along Regent’s Canal from Greenwich to Islington with me, looking at all the shiny new buildings and the regenerated old ones. Knowing that I would most likely spend a lot of the journey enthusing about my passion for cemeteries, would surely only add to the charm.

 

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I’m keen, but clueless

This is not an activity for the feint-hearted – not only because it’s a 20-mile round trip, but also because you are only feet, and at some points inches, away from the canal, and an ill-judged turn of the handle-bars could easily pitch you into the water.  And bicycles don’t float.  It’s not the full-on Bradley Wiggins experience, but it’s as close as I’m ever likely to get.

Unlike my husband, who likes to cycle so fast that generally all I see of him is a Lycra-clad bottom in the middle-distance, Sheryl was happy to take her time admiring the view.

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Mind the gap! Bridge over Regent’s Canal

We stopped to ogle Victorian brick chimneys, take arty snaps of gas holders, and question the wisdom of building a school where part of the roof seemed to be wrapped in cling film.  We passed people running, walking and even two committed citizens collecting litter.

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Who doesn’t love gas holders in the sunshine?

Closer to Islington, we toyed with stopping at one of the trendy bars or cafes that front onto the canal, but decided to push on to the end of the tow path.

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Modern steel and glass next to Victorian brick – feel my joy!

Our dedication was rewarded with a light lunch sitting outside in the sunshine at trendy eatery Elk in the Woods, where the menu was both poncy and delicious in equal measure (hot smoked elk sausage with fig and rosemary cream, anyone?)  The staff were also lovely, and politely didn’t mention how sweaty we were, or that our bikes were causing a major hazard.  So after a bit of self-indulgence and a pleasant chat about waterways we were on our way home again.

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Sweaty but smiling

Back at Boudicca HQ, we had a quick cup of tea before I waved Sheryl off to see more cousins, who no doubt have their own special interests.  I’ve now got two years before her next visit, in which I need to plan an outing that tops sewage, Victorian Gothic and white-knuckle cycling.  Suggestions on a postcard please!

Victorian cemeteries rock: you read it here first

I love graveyards.  I probably wouldn’t mention it on a first date, but I definitely love them.  I find their combination of popular culture, social history and raw emotion utterly compelling.  They’re like a social commentary echoing down the centuries: rich people have big headstones and live long lives, poor people have humble headstones and die young – often in their 20s and 30s.  The contrast between rich and poor is shockingly stark.

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Highgate Cemetery

Then there’s the way people’s deepest emotions are written in stone for any passing stranger to see.  My heart always aches for anguished parents who have lost an infant child, their grief and pain forever etched in granite.

And finally pop culture.  I love the way graves reflect the popular culture of their day, such as tombs in the shape of obelisks reflecting a time when everyone was fascinated by ancient Egypt.  I know exactly how they felt – I actually got distracted by a website on Egyptian columns before writing this blog, and nearly didn’t get around to writing it at all…

cemetery13So imagine my joy when I discovered that my dear friend Devon shares my slightly strange passion. We started with a trip to Nunhead Cemetery in south east London, which is described by Wikipedia as one of the Magnificent Seven (a brilliant name for the ring of Victorian cemeteries built around what were then the outskirts of London).  Dev added spice to our adventure by printing out details of some of the fancier graves and we competed for who could find them first.  It became a bit of an undignified cemetery-dash towards the end as we were running out of time, but kudos to Dev for coming up with such a great idea.

And that’s not the only fun we had.  It turns out the rich of the 19th century were not at all worried about privacy and anonymity, and loved nothing better than to inscribe their address on their tomb.  So the next time we had a free afternoon, Dev and I planned a tour driving past their houses.  Looking for the streets dead people used to live on is literally the most fun you can have with a map of south east London and a spare two hours.

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Entrance to the Egyptian Avenue, Highgate Cemetery

Exhilarated by our Nunhead excursions, we arranged a visit to the jewel in the crown of London cemeteries: Highgate Cemetery in north London.  It’s actually divided into two, and super-organised Dev booked us on a tour of the West Cemetery.  Not only is this the half with the most impressive architectural features, from the Egyptian Avenue to the Circle of Lebanon, but – cemetery geeks rejoice – the tour takes you all the most interesting places and tells you loads of London graveyard facts.  Unfortunately, in all the excitement we forgot to leave time to visit the East Cemetery – the half that contains all the famous people.  Is there anything more disappointing than schlepping all the way to north London only to run out of time and miss the tomb of Karl Marx?

If I’m honest, touring cemeteries is probably not an opportunity my children would leap at, and Mr B isn’t keen either.  But ask around, I’m sure you must have a Dev amongst your friends.  Alternatively, I’ve recently heard that Brompton Cemetery in south west London is jam packed with interesting stuff – anyone fancy a trip?

Tours around the West Cemetery at Highgate cost £12 and must be booked in advance if you go on a weekday.  For up-to-date prices, times and tour schedules for the East and West Cemeteries please see the Highgate Cemetery website.

Nunhead Cemetery is free to visit – check Southwark Council website for opening times – and there is also a free tour once a month – details are on the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery website.

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I love this simple monument to Thomas Wing in Nunhead Cemetery.  It reads: Beloved and regretted by the friends of his youth and old age.  He left a name to blessed by generations of poor blind persons for whose benefit he bequeathed in trust to the Clothworkers Company of London the sum of £70,000, government, 2 1/2% annuities for annual pensions of £20 each, without conditions as to sex, age or place of birth.