All the beautiful, different families (and Picturehouses cinemas)

There are points in my life when I become acutely aware of the fact I’m a single parent. The dread I feel at the idea of going to my daughter’s school’s family ceilidh, when the Parent Teacher Council organise photographers to take family portraits to raise funds, and when a family ticket for anything only ever covers two adults and two children.

It’s pretty standard across the UK that families are seen as two adults and two children for events, attractions and transport.  Yet at the same time the idea of the nuclear family is really an aberration within the history of family.  If you think back before the mass use of antibiotics many people died early deaths.  At the same time women were most likely to die in childbirth (this is still an issue).  Add to this the large amount of men who would die in war, or from poor working conditions etc,  then what you have is a lot of children who lose one or both parents.  The lone parent would remarry, or move in with siblings, or parents, the children were sometimes given to other relatives to bring up.  In some cultures there has been a strong tradition of Levirate marriage.  The idea of the blended family appears very modern, but it is in fact very, very old.  The only difference now is that often the blended family has happened because at some point one parent chose to leave a relationship that could no longer thrive or survive healthily, rather than the catalyst of change being death.

Today I was discussing with a friend booking tickets for the Cameo’s Studio Ghibli Season.  My daughter has got massively into anime this year, and we’re quite excited to see some of the best being shown on Edinburgh big screens.  Attending a season is expensive.  While my friend has chosen to go for a Cameo membership to keep costs down, there is no children’s membership and being a one adult one child family there is no family ticket that suits me.

I’ve spent some of the afternoon emailing Picturehouses who own the Cameo, and several other independent cinemas across the UK.  I have to say their customer service was first class as the staff member I communicated with wanted to genuinely help me find an option that may work out for me.  Unfortunately there isn’t one.

Rather than admit defeat, and give into the feeling I so often get that my family isn’t a “proper” family (and all the guilt and shame that carries with it) I decided to make another suggestion.  The Cameo has a membership option of Adult + 1.  It could be possible to have an adult membership (transferable between two adults) at the normal price of £45, but on which the adults could then add as many children on to that membership at whatever cost the Cameo thought was appropriate.  I’d suggest something like £20 per child, some people have four kids after all.

The staff member I spoke to is now going to take this idea to her managers for them to consider.  They might not make a decision in time for My Neighbour Totoro on Saturday, but I’m really hopeful that we may be able to achieve a better, more flexible deal for families.

If you think that this is a good idea, and you’d like to see Picturehouses introduce it, then you can show your support by emailing  You don’t have to be a parent to believe families could have better access, or have your own children to believe that services, attractions and entertainment can find ways to acknowledge all our families and their different shapes and sizes.


5 best Edinburgh blogs

I fell in love with Edinburgh when I was five.  I was in the boot of the family hatchback crossing over the Dean Bridge into the city.  (We had a big family.)  The sky was a mix of peaches and reds, and the backs of the New Town houses appeared as if they were growing organically right out of the rock.  For a wee girl from the Black Isle it was entrancing and I wanted to live in the city ever since.

There is no point living somewhere you like if you don’t get out and sample it’s delights, try what it has to offer, suck it dry and spend the rest of the next day recovering.

Here are my five top blogs for enjoying the city.

Crumbs and Petals:  Husband and wife team (and also my friends for transparency) Crumbs and Petals explore all that there is to offer in Edinburgh’s food and cultural scene. They’re on a pause just now, but the archive is worth looking through.  If you want a festival beer, find out about gin or how to make a giant after eight – these are your people! Who doesn’t want to make a giant after-eight?

Lost in Edinburgh:  Ok not strictly a blog, more a FaceBook community.  Edinburgh is a city that is not only teaming with life, events, art and culture but also history.  Much of it turbulent and bloody.  The kind of history I like.  Lost In Edinburgh will help you discover some of the hidden gems, little known facts and nooks and crannies that all too often get forgotten about in the madness of pulling in the tourist pounds.

Edinburgh Coffee Lovers:  If wild beer soaked nights of spoken word, street performance and sticky floors are becoming a little bit boring then kick back with the slower paced Edinburgh Coffee Lovers.  It will specifically plug you in to the independent coffee scene in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.  These people know what they’re talking about.

Edinblogger:  They got there first with the name!  This blog has been going for a while, and I really appreciate getting truly honest reviews.  Sometimes it’s ok to say “The experience was meh…just alright…nothing special.”  It doesn’t all have to be whizzes and bangs.  If I’ve thought about reviewing a place, they’ve generally got there first.  *shakes fist*

Edinburgh foody:  despite the title this isn’t a blog about people who are richer than you eating in places you’ll never afford.  It’s about real live actual people, who aren’t cut outs from the Observer Magazine, eating, drinking, reviewing gadgets, trying new recipe books. Go eating!


Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Faces, Features and Creatures Trail

It’s now half term in Edinburgh.  As always there is a need to find something to do with children, that doesn’t cost too much money.  A friend and I decided to take our daughters to The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and try out their Face Features and Creatures Trail designed by award winning artist and illustrator Sara Ogilvie.

Location:  Central Edinburgh so easily accessible by public transport.

Cost:  There is no cost, although you do need to leave a £10 deposit for the trail bag.  The bag includes colouring pencils, costumes to dress up in at certain portraits and objects.

The objective:  The trail takes you round the different floor of the galleries, stopping at eight different places to find specific things, then followed by a drawing task.

Time:  It took both girls two hours to complete.  Importantly though, it didn’t feel like two hours.

Is it fun for the parents:  Well, I have to admit while the girls dashed from gallery to gallery us Mummies trailed behind them having a chat.  If you get some catch-up time will largely depend on where your child is on the independence spectrum.  Our two girls were eight.

Child’s perspective:  When I asked my daughter what she thought she said “Good.  Really fun to dress up.  That was the best part.  Now I want to watch more TV.  I cant believe you’re writing that Mum!”

Downsides:  Fortunately one of the pictures on the trail, of Queen Charlotte, had been moved so we were no longer able to find it in the gallery.

Staff:  I’ve found with the staff of the various National Galleries in Edinburgh are always very kind to children.

Overall:  There are a series of different events for children, free, fun and time consuming.  We’ll definitely be going back

I Am Thomas at the Lyceum Theatre

Tonight I went to see I Am Thomas at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.  Writen by Told by and Idiot with song lyrics by Simon Armitage.  The play is about Thomas Aitkenhead, the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy.  Aitkenhead was indicted in 1696 and hung in 1697.

I was looking forward to this play as the 1600s in Scotland is one of my favourite historical periods.  It was bloody and brutal, both physically and psychologically.  It was characterised by extreams, fanaticism, inflexibility and religion.  One of my direct ancestors was executed without trial as a terrorist during this period.  But I have more than a distant genetic connection to the Killing Times and surrounding troubles. I believe that it is this period that did the most to shape the Scottish psyche and character, it probably really was the worst of Scotland.  Having grown-up with strict fanatical Presbyterian/Calvinist parents it has also in many ways shaped and informed who I am.  It is a period rich with drama, conflict and many intriguing characters – all of which can illuminate and tell us something about the state of Scotland today.

Thomas Aitkenhead, only 19 when he committed his crime, was also judged by the older, more experienced Lord Advocate, James Stewart.  Stewart himself had been a political rebel in his youth, having to flee Scotland for Europe to escape arrest for writing a political pamphlet.  It could be expected that the interplay between these two men, as well as Thomas’s own journey from believer to doubter would prove fertile ground for dramatic tension.

I Am Thomas however failed to live up to the promise of conflict and character this story could so richly mine.  There were confusing time lines, in which it appears Thomas commits his blasphemy at an open mic in 1970s?  Stewart, an interesting figure himself, is given the historically inaccurate background of being husband and son to the Wigtown martyrs.  Instead of gaining knowledge and insight into historical events we watch Stewart’s fake family drown twice, and the most underwhelming courtroom scene that I believe has ever existed.

The play is also littered with lazy cultural references, some of which make no sense or bare little relation to action on stage.  Stage action is explained poorly by the hackneyed technique of football punditry and  scattered through with vague references to Scottish kitsch.  Given the kitsch bares no relation to the historical event one has to wonder if it is a way of signposting “This is happening in Scotland.  It’s very Scottish you know.  It’s Scotland, by the way.”

The point at the end “I am Thomas” i.e. we are all Thomas, was overly laboured and lacked any subtlety.  The audience were bludgeoned over the head with it to the point of boredom.  An act that was then followed by the mildly offensive statement “Je suis Thomas”.  It is a shame when a play does not assume its audience are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions, and instead seeks to control their approach entirely.

While attention had been given to try and present this story in a fresh and innovative way it was undermined by immaturity and lack of development.  The actors themselves delivered fine performances, and special mention has to go to John Pfumojena who has truly one of the most sublime voices I have ever heard.


Munch Together: Eating out, while eating in.

Munch Together is a totally new concept in dining, eating out while also eating in.  Munch works much in the same way as Air BnB, you’ll be eating in a strangers home, but a stranger who has actively wanted to invite you and cook for you.  To start set up a profile on the Munch Together site, and tell people a little about yourself.  You then search through Munch’s in your area, all of which have menu’s, and chose whatever one fits you and your culinary preferences best.

Munch Together fonder Mo Abushaaban set up Munch with the aim of ending the Palestinian Israeli conflict – I enjoy it when people are highly ambitious for good!  Originally from Gaza, Mo see’s sharing food together as a way of breaking down boundaries, of building up understanding and relationships and resolving conflict.  Food is a universal, and the simple act of sharing it is also a way of sharing ourselves, our lives, of caring for others whether stranger of friend.

I chose to go the the inaugural Munch which was a Mexican feast for 12.  I paid £11 and was sent a guide for guests and the details of your host.  The guide answers questions about cancellations and refunds but also sets out some ground rules and boundaries for etiquette.  The day before I also got a reminder email – and the Munch emails are nice, they can’t stop telling you how great you are!

The inaugural event was success, with a brilliant atmosphere, and delicious food – catering for both vegetarians and gluten intolerance.  The first ten or so minutes felt a little awkward, however everyone knew that they were going to meet a bunch of strangers and very quickly the atmosphere warmed up.  I didn’t talk to every guest, but I met a fair few new people, and found out about interesting Phds, swapped falafel and bath bomb recipes, talked about my work,  dinner party disasters, discussed how annoying overly positive people are and everyone’s experience of the Aurora Borealis.  It was delicious, friendly, informal and fun.    Much thanks goes to Ilana for opening up her home to us and being such a warm host.

Munch is an especially good idea for those who may be travelling and would like a real taste of the local area, those who are new to an area and looking to meet people, anyone who just wants someone else to cook but not pay restaurant charges.  Or you could be like me, a extrovert who enjoys meeting new people but is bizarrely surrounded by introvert friends who don’t.

I’m definitely planning to go to another Munch, and a little further down the line I might host one myself.  Talking to Mo about his future plans, he doesn’t just want to solve international conflicts, he’s also said that if in five years there hasn’t been a wedding of two people who’ve meet at Munch he’ll be very disappointed.  That kind of encapsulates what Munch and Mo are all about.  It’s about love.

Frontier food and prejudice

I went for lunch today with two of my American friends, who really wanted to try Frontier, a north American restaurant which has opened up near Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh.

There was quite a few dishes I had heard about, mainly from films but never tried such as cat fish, and Philly cheese steak settled in among the more well known hot dogs and burgers.  We all really wanted to try several dishes, so opted to order one each and share.

Cat fish

I’d often heard about cat fish in films set in the south, but had never tried it.  It was baked in parchment with orange, a preparation my guru’s for all thing America had not seen before.  The result was succulent, fragrant, surprisingly light and well accompanied with fresh salsa.  The fries felt a bit more like chips, but overall a good dish and a fish I’d definitely try again.


The carnitas came with a flour tortilla, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.  The pork itself was incredibly tender, moist and suffused with lime and spice making a flavoursome dish.

Colorado casserole

We all agreed that this was the stand out dish from the three we ordered.  Made with a mix of pork and beef with ancho and pasilla chilli, chipotle and chocolate, topped with cheese and sour cream.  It’s the tender meat and blend of spice which make it so wonderful.  The chocolate far from being overpowering lent a baritone of flavour to the stews tingling warmth that made this the perfect dish for a snowy Edinburgh day.

While we tucked into our dishes, I also realised something about myself.  I had been unconsciously carrying around a prejudice against American food.  In my mind I had consigned it all to the boxes marked “unhealthy” and “fattening”.  I myself get annoyed at people who assume all Scottish food is deep fried and unhealthy, but I had treated American cuisine in exactly the same way.

At the back of my mind I expected Frontier to confirm my prejudice.  It didn’t.  The dishes were fresh, well seasoned and flavoursome.  Yes, because they are kind of meat heavy if you eat a lot of it all the time and don’t have the calorie expenditure of a cowboy you’d put on weight.  But if you eat too much of any national cuisine you’ll put on weight.  It’s the eating too much or with little variation, not the cuisine that is unhealthy.  My sincere apologies to the chefs and cooks of the United States.

We none of us tried the desserts, but the menu does look pretty special and I plan to take my daughter for the Funfair Sundae.  I opted to finish with tea, which unfortunately was not great.  This may be the one are where my newly discovered and slain prejudice against American food may have been right.  I’d be happy to be proven wrong there too.

On top of the really excellent food I also have to put a word in for the staff.  Our waitress Sarah was friendly and efficient.  My friends also made some enquiries about how to source some of the American ingredients that they hadn’t been able to find in Edinburgh and the staff were able to give some tips and pointers about what they could do.  My customer service standards were both met and exceeded.

A delightful and pleasant experience.  We all plan to return.




Lush products, and random acts of kindness

My daughter and I really love Lush.  My daughter likes their playful and imaginative creations, and excellent customer service – she’s been shopping there since she was five.  I like the fact that unlike many beauty companies their ethical and body positive messages are not tacked on in response to a CSR policy or a focus group.  It was built into the fabric of the company from day one.  That’s authenticity.  Authenticity is a terribly attractive thing.

A few weeks ago I was feel physically low.  I’d had a stressful period at work, had to move home, had recently been on a course of antibiotics and unbeknown to me, was just about to come down with a dose of sinusitis.  Things that I can deal with on their own.  Stick them all in a two week period and it gets a bit much.

On my way home from work instead of waiting in the cold and dark for the bus I decided to pop into Lush on Edinburgh’s Princess St.  I spoke to the assistant and told her that I was looking for a product for a bit of pampering and relaxing because I’d been having a bad time.  She guided me through some products.  Cerdiwen’s Cauldron really caught my eye, but for some reason I can’t explain I didn’t get it.  I settled instead for the Floating Island bath melt and A French Kiss bubble bar.

Just as I’d paid for my purchases the assistant I originally spoke to came up to me, and gave me a bag containing a gift of Cerdiwen’s Cauldron – just because I’d said I’d been having a bad day.  It was like that moment in a friendship where you thought your friend was pretty cool and loved hanging out with them, then out of the blue they do or say something which makes you realise what an incredibly awesome person you’re lucky to be friends with.  Waiting at the bus stop to go home I certainly felt a little teary because of this unexpected act of kindness.

A French Kiss bubble bar

This bubble bar comes in a swirl of purple and white and is packed with French lavender and rosemary.  The bubbles were not as profuse as I expected, so if it’s frothiness you’re after another choice might be better for you. Rosemary is one of my favourite essential oils for its head clearing properties.  I’m a big believer in lavender for its relaxing qualities and it certainly did that.  Lavender however can be a little overpowering so I popped the bath melt in as well.

Floating Island

Now vanilla can be a slightly derogatory term in some circles, but in this bath melt it is heavenly.  You pop the melt in the bath and it slowly releases its oils and the warm and reassuring fragrance of fair trade vanilla.  A grown-up, and sophisticated way of relaxing in the bath.

Cerdiwen Cauldron

This was the main event for me and I was really excited to use it.  Cerdiwen is an enchantress of Welsh legend, who possessed the cauldron of poetic inspiration – could this be what I need to get my poetry writing kick started again?  She is also considered a goddess of rebirth and transformation, which is very much what I felt in need of.   It contains coco butter, oats, sandalwood and rose absolute – all products that sooth the skin.  To use it hang the muslin bag under the hot tap as it runs, and it melts into the water.  It was a great bath experience and it left my skin so well moisturised there was no need to use body lotions after.  What’s left in the bag is a kind of mulch that didn’t dissolve.  Instead of throwing it out I’ve been using it in the shower to get another hit of rebirth and renewal.

Cerdiwen’s Cauldron and Floating Island – big points for sophistication and luxury

A French Kiss Bubble Bar – Not all that

Staff and random acts of kindness – absolutely priceless