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Archive for August, 2010

Two wheels good?

August 22, 2010 1 comment

I write this in my third week of using the new London hire bikes, and must say I’m hugely impressed.

Trying to get rid of the post baby fat hasn’t been easy due to mad timing schedules whilst commuting and working, so this seems like a great way to fit the exercise around a trip I have to do anyway.

For those who haven’t given them a go yet, this is the scoop:

  • At the moment it’s open to “Pioneer” (beta) members – anyone over 18 who has a UK registered credit card and an address to receive the key fobs can register, but it’s worth remembering that it’s still the trial period so a little patience is needed – it’s not perfect yet.
  • Members pay for three things:
  1. £3 deposit for the key fob (like you do for an oyster card)
  2. Access fee. This ranges from £1/day, to £5/week or £45/year. These can be set to automatically refresh, so what I did before I was convinced I’d use it that much was sign up for the £1/day membership on auto renew. The 24 hours starts when you first put your fob in the cycle dock. I’ve now used it so much that I’ve upgraded to annual membership already.
  3. Hire charge: This is free for the first 30 minutes, and you’ll find that this is more than adequate most inner London rides. £1 for 30 mins-an hour, then £4 for up to an hour and a half. They’re clearly setting the charges like this purposely to encourage short hops rather than longer journeys/stops on the way, and I haven’t had to pay a hire charge yet.
  • Once you’ve paid the deposit & access fee, you can use the bike as many times as you like within that period, so if you do three journeys in a day, each 30 mins or less, they’re still all free of hire fees, so all you pay is your access fee of £1 (or equivalent of less if you’ve signed up for a week/year).
  • In a few weeks/once issues have been ironed out it’ll be open to casual members; who will be able to swipe their credit card at the docking station.
  • There are loads of docking stations around central London, although there seems to be a huge gap around Covent Garden. It seems that the locals have dreamt up ridiculous nimby-ish excuses for not wanting the docks nearby, but I’m hoping this will change.
  • There are no locks or helmets provided, so you need to take a helmet with you if you want to wear one, and make sure you dock the bike in a docking station rather than leave it somewhere while you have a coffee.
  • If you’re not a confident London rider then take your time planning your route and stay on back roads. There are tons of them and it’s actually really pleasant to discover lots of lovely leafy Georgian squares and residential streets, 2 mins from a heaving multitude.
  • Free maps of docking stations can be found here.
  • There’s also a free iPhone app, which shows you where the docking stations are, but also how many are full/free in realtime.
  • If you arrive at a docking station and there are no bikes left, or no docking stations free to park your bike, you can find out the closest other docking stations on the info screen on the dock. If you arrive and can’t dock your bike your access period is also extended by 15 mins so that you’re not paying extra because you couldn’t find a dock in time.
  • Until the usage trends and logistics are learned and understood, there will inevitably be docks near train stations emptying with commuters, and those near offices filling up to bursting, meaning bikes won’t always be where they’re wanted at any one time. There are little lorries with trailers going around the docks specifically to redistribute them as necessary, but it’s going to take some time until they have it totally smooth.

I’m chuffed to bits – have done loads more exercise, turned up quicker (if a bit sweaty) to most appointments and enjoyed the process rather than cursing on the tube.

Give it a try!

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Having your first baby – what you really need

August 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Now that Eleanor is two, the question that seems to be on everyone’s lips is when we’re going to “try” for number two. (Between the lines – are you shagging enough? ;))

The simple answer to that is that we’re skint until I find a new job, plus Jules isn’t mad keen. It’ll probably take a superhuman effort at persuasion, and even with that we realistically couldn’t start until I’ve been working for a few months. Bearing in mind our combined age is over 80, and how much harder it gets to conceive as time goes by, on balance it’s not looking very likely.

Many of my friends are having/ have had number two and as a result plenty of conversations have been had recently (often when contemplating the mass of baby stuff brought down from the loft) about what you really need for a newborn (clue: a lot less than you think).

Here’s a quick rundown of what you need:

Nappies – lots (tiny babies often need changing every couple of hours)

Note on re-usables: I love the thought, and have a couple of friends who swear by them, but I found dealing with a newborn hard enough without adding in even one extra step to the process of nappy changing. If you are going to try them, buy them from eBay and/or ask around your friends for trial packs that were bought but unused before you spend large amounts of money on them. As seems very common, I dutifully bought a trial set that never got opened, and this was passed to another far more worthy parent than me 🙂

Car seat – rear facing at first. This is mandatory, and also think about getting one that has a base that you leave permanently in the car. This is a godsend when you can just clip baby in and go, rather than faffing with seatbelts and waking them up unnecessarily.
Ditto pushchair wheels that you can put the car seat on- I’ve spent a productive two hours at the shops or visiting people with a baby Eleanor sleeping the entire time due to her not being disturbed by getting in and out of the car. Otherwise this would have been spent sitting at home waiting for her to finish sleeping before I could get out and about, which is a sure fire recipe for stir craziness.

Muslins – I used loads – what with spit up and reflux and how handy they are for all sorts of everyday issues, you can’t really have too many. Usually they’re around 30cm square, but if you find the larger ones around 50cm square then buy plenty, as these are great for using for a portable sunshade/sleep shade over the pushchair/car seat when out and about, and also help to cover the odd accidental boob appearance when breastfeeding in public.

Sling – I bought one of the classic
Baby Bjorn front carriers second hand on eBay at first, but didn’t get on with it as my boobs got in the way. In the end I found a material wrap style sling much more comfy, and there were times when it was a whole pile easier than getting the pushchair out of the car. If you’ll be walking up & down stairs, on an uneven pavement or going in & out of a few shops with slim aisles; the benefits of a sling are really appreciated.

Monitor – we found this crucial from the minute we put Eleanor in her own room. Of course you can hear crying from next door, but babies are actually quite noisy sleepers, and there are plenty of times that they’ll make what seems like a lot of noise but actually still be asleep. A monitor means you can hear the detail so you know if they’re distressed or not, but don’t get out of bed and disturb that essential sleep if it’s not strictly necessary.

Change mat – it will get messy. Small baby poos are very liquid and you’ll need all the help you can get to stop it getting on the furniture/carpet.

Babygros/all-in-one sleepsuits & bodysuits – lovely though the little designer baby outfits are in the shops, they’re a faff to get in & off, and if you can resist the temptation to spend £30 on an outfit that will get worn twice before they grow out of it, do. They can more or less live in babygros and bodysuits for the first 6 months, with the posh outfit being worn just for when you’re seeing the person who bought it.

A baby bath isn’t essential, as you can just sponge them down easily enough when they’re little. Once they’re more mobile it’s nice to have one of those sit-up bath supports so you can wash them without having to hold them with one arm at the same time, but it’s not essential at all.

If you’re bottle feeding, you’ll need bottles, teats, bottle brushes and some way of sterilising – although a hot dishwasher cycle also does the trick if you forget to take the paraphernalia with you once in a while. A quick hint – once we moved onto bottles I was worrying about how to get the boiling water cool quickly enough while she was busy crying and hungry; until a friend told me that the easiest way too have a bottle on hand at a moments notice was to prepare a few in advance – boil the water & measure enough into 3 or 4 bottles. Pre-measure the formula powder into a dispenser (they have compartments for each feed) and then you can keep the water at room temperature next to your bed as long as it remains sealed for 12 hours. Just tip in the powder and mix when the baby wakes up – a quick shake and the milk is ready. What a relief compared to waiting for it to cool each time.

Baby sleeping bags are brilliant – all you then need is a bottom sheet for your bed, and they’re snug all night without kicking off their covers.

Pushchair – this is the largest purchase you’ll make so think about what you’ll need it for – will you need it to be easily foldable for the car, lightweight for public transport etc. Many people end up buying a big travel system then also buying an umbrella fold pushchair a few months later as it’s such a faff to take anywhere – ask friends/other parents and don’t be afraid to go to a big Mothercare and try them all out – putting them up & down, etc before you decide.

Carrycot/moses basket/cot etc – we had a carrycot for the travel system, a moses basket and a cotbed, and we could have easily managed with just the latter two, or just the cotbed if necessary. People differ on how long you want the baby in your room, but in each case, you often find they sleep in/on practically anything when tiny, and they can’t usually roll over so you don’t need to spend £100s on a new sleeping facility for each stage of their development.

Most parents have varying views about what’s necessary and what’s not, but the thing I would guess most of us will agree on is that there is no shame in using hand-me-d0wns. Babies grow out of most things before they wear out, so always check with friends, Freecycle, on eBay and jumble sales before you lay out too much on something brand new. Lovely as it is to put your brand new baby into brand new stuff, a lot of it is totally superfluous and some of it I promise you will never even open, and end up passing on to other people within the next year.

Race, jog, walk… but do it for Life

August 3, 2010 1 comment

Each summer since 2005 (and once before that) I’ve sent around begging emails, asking for sponsorship for running or walking Cancer Research’s Race for Life. We all get a lot of sponsorship requests and it’s easy to succumb to charity fatigue, so I’m sorry to add to it further – this post is an unashamed reminder that you can still sponsor me for this year’s effort, and to say thanks to those that already did. You can still donate here until the 14th August 2010, and if you miss this year, keep an eye out for next year as I *will* be doing it again..

2010 was my 5th Race for Life.

Clive and David in 2004

Clive and David in 2004

My plan is to walk or run the Race for Life every year to remember Clive, our best man, who died in October 2005. He was 34 years old, and is survived by Marianne, and their son David, who was 2 when he lost his dad. Now that I have a daughter myself there is an added poignancy to this story. It’s hard to lose one of your best friends, but knowing the relationship me & Jules already have with Eleanor, who is now 2, I cannot bear to think of the impact it would have on her to lose either of us at this stage. I’m also deeply sad that she never got to meet her dad’s best friend, or he to meet her.

Since Clive’s death my lovely friend Kay has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after years of chemo and pain has now thankfully been given the all clear.

This is by no means unusual – I am forever hearing stories about other people’s loved ones who are suffering or losing their battle. Individual battles rage on, and the war is far from over.

So far I’ve run around Blackheath twice, and walked Blackheath, Regent’s Park and Cassiobury Park, Watford. (I missed 2008 as I’d just given birth, but I don’t think I’m doing too badly so far..)

Including 2010 so far I’ve raised £2,594 in donations (including Gift Aid), plus my entry fees, and if this post raises just another £20 it’ll still be worth it.

Roll of honour:
2006 http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/melanieclark
2007 http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/melanieclark2007
2009 http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/melaniemack
2010 http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/melaniemack2010

Thank you for reading, and caring.

M
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