Monday, 30 June 2014

Congratulations to the PARK CLUB

Huge congratulations to my local health club: The Park Club in Acton. They have won the Tatler Award for Best Family Club! Here is what Tatler had to say:

If Shepherd's Bush is the new Notting Hill (which it is), the Park Club is the new Hurlingham. It's extremely family- friendly, with loads of land (27 acres!) - members drive from all over London for a great slice of the outdoors. And kids rule - there are holiday and tennis clubs and all manner of tantrum-avoiding activities. If you can see past all the pyjama-clad smalls (exercised, showered, fed, doing their prep in the café before being shipped home to bed), you will spot a lot of very glamorous people.
Monthly membership, from £213 (joining fee, £150). At East Acton Lane, W3 (; 020 8743 4321).

The Park Club is much less stuffy and conventional than Hurlingham, and the HUGE difference is that there is NOT a fifteen year waiting list, in fact, there is NO waiting list - new members are courted and very much welcome. I would totally agree though, that the Park Club is superb for families, and it's true that young children practically live here after school: doing their prep, eating their kid-friendly suppers, showering, and being whisked home to bed. It is where huge numbers of local school children (both posh-state and private) meet after school to just hang out and play - think private park with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, ping pong, football, cricket, tennis, plus endless tennis and swimming lessons, a playground, sandpit, bouncy trampoling thing, and lots of space to run. My ten year old daughter plays tennis there or just plays football with the boys, or hangs out in the computer room, she likes to swim too and will always find someone to do something with.

I go for pilates, yoga and swimming and sometimes even I work, eat and shower there too.

We love it. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Jude's brilliant Movie for Morrisons

No it's not my family firm and supermarket shopping is not something I usually do unless it's online, from Ocado or Waitrose;  but when BritMums offered me the chance to take £80 worth of vouchers to Morrisons, I took the money and ran to my nearest branch in Acton. As we left, my husband Luke, who was not fit for purpose because he was wearing baggy Bank Holiday shorts - shouted out that Morrisons was one of his favourite shops because he had a good time there once, when he decided the staff were great. My two children accompanied  me for the novel shopping expeditiion and my son, Jude, age 12 (aspiring actor and film-maker) made a funny film about our outing, and you can see it below. We had an hysterical morning, shopping, filming and darting around the aisles piling more and more stuff into our trolley. We liked the display of fruit and vegetables, and found that some products, peppers for example @4 for 79pence, were really reasonable, and 50pence for a bunch of radishes was seductive. The Morrisons own brand multi grain bread is delicious and a bargain at £1.59. 8 Diet cokes were £2.64 for 8, which is amazing for a Diet Coke addict like me, and the own brand oatcakes - 81pence a packet, are cheaper than anywhere I shop, as is fresh ginger. 10 lamb chops for £5 is excellent.  We had 54 items for £97.49 but that included Lavazzi coffee for my husband which cost £6.48 and a bottle of Prosecco for £5.99.


A big thank you though to Morrisons and Britmums. Our Bank Holiday lunch was superb: Roasted peppers cooked in the oven with tiny tomatoes, peas, feta and lentil salad, lamb chops marinated in garlic and herbs and plain rice.  I calculate that the cost per head was approximately, £2.50. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

My Phobia

There is no problem driving around the city in my Audi Estate car, ferrying children, taking myself to the gym, or doing the school run. My consumption of alcohol is nominal, so I am also the allocated driver after any social occasion in the evening, as my husband likes to drink when we are out. I have no fear of traffic and can barge, push and cut in, along with the most seasoned city drivers – I have been driving for 25 years. I am able to navigate the biggest, scariest, roundabouts with no problem at all, park in a hurry, and wheedle through traffic. Occasionally, at night, on the Westway (a dual carriage way that bends from Marylebone to the A40) I can be a little frozen with nerves driving at 40 or 50 mph on what I think of as a conveyor belt and not having the best eyesight in dark conditions, but generally, driving in the city poses no problems for me.

My fear around driving kicks in on a motorway. I am apparently a sufferer of DAD (Driving Anxiety Disorder) and have a phobia of driving in these conditions. There is no Latin word for this kind of phobia but the nearest is hodophobia (fear of travelling).  A hypnotist I went to see said that fear of driving on the motorway and fear of flying are the two most common reasons, people come to see him, so there is some comfort that I am not alone. The sheer speed of the cars hurtling along the motorway terrifies and exhausts me. The combination of fear and concentration needed for me to drive in these conditions, means that if I do drive on the motorway, I can only keep going for about an hour. I feel trapped and fear the fear of anxiety, or having a panic attack and hate the fact that there is no escape.

I haven’t driven on my own on the motorway for many years.  I forced myself to drive in France last year, as we had driven from London and it would have been absurd to allow my husband drive all that way, but I certainly didn’t enjoy the experience and was very tense throughout. I can’t remember now, what it was like to drive in a carefree way, without worrying about crashing and dying. I don’t remember the problem when I was a single woman, but as soon as I was in a long-term relationship and out of the habit of driving on the motorway, the terror suffocated me.  The first time it occurred our young children were in the back of the car and suddenly, the thought that we could crash seemed very real, and imminent. I got palpitations, sweaty hands and was short of breath – the symptoms of a panic attack. I slowed down from about 70mph to 30mph and eventually came to a stop on the layby. My husband had to take over at the wheel. I was conscious that my actions were frightening for the children, but there was nothing I could do about it. I’m not sure what would have happened if I had been on my own.

The speed and pace of the cars on the motorway always feels so relentless and my fear is that either my car will spin out of control and we will crash and die, or that I will tire of driving and won’t be able to stop, which makes me panic. When my husband is driving, I often wonder what would happen if he suddenly had a heart attack, or  if the wheel burst, or another driver spun out of control. The apprehension and terror about driving is partly borne out by evidence: It seems to me that every time we drive somewhere on the motorway, we witness an accident. A hypnotist, who was trying to cure me of my phobia, told me that I was looking for accidents, but I don’t think so. He also told me that driving was relatively safe, and asked me why I’d like to get off the motorway, once I’d started to drive, surely he said, you would want to get off when it was time to get off. However after about half an hour I want to stop. That is why driving in the city works for me, there are frequent reasons to stop or slow, down and catch your breath. I don’t like the sensation of being trapped not only in the car, but on the road, hurtling along in a piece of metal. I feel vulnerable, the sensation of going fast for so long doesn’t seem natural, although it once did. My hypnotist told me to breath in and breathe out calmly saying, I am in Control, and sometimes that works a bit, but the fact that it has been proved both in the UK and the US that travelling on the highway or motorway is safer than travelling on ordinary roads does not inspire me.

I had a car accident when I was sixteen, and no doubt this is the source of my fear. We were not driving on a motorway, but on a small road in Nassau in the Bahamas.  We had left a club, and I had climbed into a car with a teenage boy. He drove through a stop sign and a taxi crashed into the side of the car, where I was sitting in the back. The impact of the crash, broke my femur and I was in hospital for three months, while the bone failed to heal. It was a very long time before I could walk again. The more reasonable part of me knows the boy was obviously an inexperienced driver and had been drinking, but I am also hyper-aware that there may be other drivers out there who are inexperienced or have been drinking, although in the UK, it is prohibitively expensive for a young person to get insured to drive, but maybe that just means that a rich drunk, teenager would maybe crash into me rather than a poor drunk one.

I am envious of my friends who have so much more independence than me, it is not a good feeling to rely on other people to get me from A to B. I also had a three hour course by a company that helps nervous drivers. I was able to drive with the instructor on a stretch of motorway, but still it has not helped me overcome my fear, I still can't bear the idea of going on my own or for driving long distances. I know I need to practice driving on the motorway more often to help overcome my fear. I know this, and yet I don’t. I often wonder what would happen in an emergency, if I really needed to drive down the motorway on my own. I suspect that I would be able to do it, albeit slowly! Or would I?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My son Jude White (age 12) makes his acting Debut today in Law and Order

I am on the set of  Law and Order watching my 12-year-old-son rehearse a scene with a  crowd of crew and actors including Bradley Walsh and Ben Bailey-Smith who star as the two detectives. This is my son’s first paid job and I am his chaperone, earning a fifth of what he is. My flat fee for the morning is £95. The money has gone to his head and he’s offered to buy us a “mansion” when he grows up and gets to Hollywood.  I feel as though I am at his mercy and that he has a strange new power over me. He is the undisputed star, and me and his father are merely the facilitators – the ones who get him to castings, or help him learn lines. He is  an A-lister and we are nobody’s. When he goes to his agent’s Christmas Party, he is the one who is taken around and introduced to all the other performers (he is at the same agency as Eddie Izzard, Rowan Atkinson and Dylan Moran) while me or his Dad linger around on the sidelines hoping someone will talk to us.

We never aspired to have a child actor as a son. When he was nine some proactive parents persuaded Olly Murs, Davina Mccall, and Oritze from JLS to come and judge the school talent contest. Our son won first prize, with a satirical stand up comedy routine he wrote about his family. The laughs were at our expense of course.

The first prize was an acting agent and we were somewhat taken aback, horrified actually. We did not envisage our child being a professional actor. His days were already filled with schoolwork, football and piano. Jude was determined that acting was his new vocation, and harassed us for a year. We eventually gave in and went to visit our first prize and discovered that she wanted us to pay to have his photograph in Spotlight - a mere £95. We went home and did nothing. She did nothing either and so we parted ways. I was relieved. Perhaps that would be the end of it.

He continued to harangue us though. Every few weeks he would ask us if we had found him another agent; and I would answer that it’s hard to  ‘find an agent.’ They have to see you act in something. They need to love you, and want to work with you. I asked advice from a casting agent acquaintance and she tried to put me off by saying having a child actor in the family was problematic – all the auditions you have to take them to, schlepping across town in rush hour.  I relayed the information to my son, but he was more determined than ever.

When he eventually ended up at PBJ Management, his brand new agent sat down one afternoon and explained that there would be many reasons he may not win a part – it could be as minor as having the wrong colour hair, or that he didn't look enough like the “parents” who had already been cast. Luckily he’s small for his age as most casting agents want a boy who looks younger than his years. He’s been put up for parts that occasionally I’ve had to veto because the content of the script seems too alarming or dark (think sexual predators or murder most horrid). He recently auditioned for a lead part in an American action film that if he actually won, would been reallocating to New Zealand for six months filming. Whenever I ask, ‘what if he actually he gets the part? Because that would mean turning our life upside down, his agent always replies, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Law and Order was about his tenth audition. An actress on the set told me that an actor will get about one job in every thirty auditions. The competition is vicious. At the various castings I have met extremely dedicated parents. Fathers who home school their children, especially so that they can get them to the castings and have time to learn their scenes without the constraints of a school day; children who are at full time stage school and do extra dancing and acting at the weekends.

Scenes are sent home one or two days before an audition and children are expected to know about three off by heart. Castings are usually in central London, at the end of a long, busy day. We have twice been called to the BBC in Elstree, (The first time we went, we walked from the station two miles up the road to the wrong BBC studios). There is unlikely to be any feedback on the child’s performance, and if there is a call back the child will have to go again, and do the same scene again, only this time in front of the producer and director. Not every child would be able to deal with the rejection, but my son is fairly sanguine about it, and my feeling is that it is good preparation for the real world.

The day of the shoot for Law and Order he is treated like a Prince. He has a bedroom in the house, with an en-suite bathroom where he can chill out between scenes. There are snacks delivered to the room from the studios (about a mile away) when he is hungry.  He asks for several different snacks, which are driven over by a man whose job it is to drive us around. He collected us at 6.00 a.m  and explained that on TV productions such as this, it’s only the lead and child actors who are chauffeured to the set, everyone else travels on public transport and only the stars and my son (because he is a child) get an en-suite bathroom.  

When it comes to the actual scenes, I watch on a monitor in the kitchen. There is no sound, but he does look like a nervous, guilty boy, trying to defend his mother as he is supposed to while being questioned by the police. I see him mouthing the words on the screen. He appears to be on the verge of tears and he is doing exactly what is says in the script – twitching his hands. For a shy boy like my son who often feels he’s “shrinking away” at school because of is height, learning lines, auditioning in front of strangers and finally acting real scenes has given him an enormous boost of confidence and some welcome extra pocket money.  I am a convert and glad he enjoys is career but still wondering what will happen if we have to relocate to New Zealand.

Law and Order (episode 2) tonight at 9pm on ITV

Friday, 14 March 2014

Review of Labor Day starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin

Labor Day, released in the UK on the 21st of March,  is a movie based on the novel by Joyce Maynard and reduced both me and my girlfriend to tears.  Directed by Jason Reitman, (the director of Juno, which I loved) It's the story of a doomed love affair between a convict (Josh Brolin as Frank Chambers) on the run, and a depressed, sensitive, quivering wreck of a single mother, Adele Wheeler played by Winslet. (We were both impressed that to convey the 'depressed mother,' Winslet appears at the beginning of the movie, with matted hair and scarcely any makeup).  It's set  In 1987, in rural America. Adele has been moping since her husband left her and lives with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who brings her coffee in the mornings and helps her put the car into gear when they leave the house - its what's known as a co-dependent relationship! While they are doing their monthly shopping trip (Adele is agrophobic) a bloody man approaches Henry and persuades or mildly forces him to introduce him to his mother and then he forces her to give him a lift. The man is revealed to be Frank Chambers, a convict who is wanted by the  police after jumping from the second floor of a hospital where he was sent to have his appendix out.

Bronlin first appears with a goatee, (which he apparently persuaded the producers he had to have to make him look more menacing) the point is though, that not once, did I think he was menacing or that he would do the mother and child any harm. He ties up Winslet, to look as though he's kidnapping her, but with pointedly suggestive shots of Winslet's ankle, as he's tying her, you know that he's already lusting after her, and they will inevitably fall in love.  The audience are given more and more signposts incase we don't get what's going on - a repetivtive ominous drum beat whenever we are meant to think that Frank could be re-caught and huge flashing signs about the burgeoning relationship between him and Winslet - close-ups of their sweaty bodies and a cliched scene of them all making a pie together, thrusting their hands together in a bowl of butter and flour.   My friend said it took her, "a very long time to engage with the characters and that she didn't believe they could fall in love so quickly."  I was taken in by their love affair though; Adele  had been alone for years, and needed the huge physical presence of a man like Bronlin who wanted to take care of her, to knock her out of her mood and there was also the fact that he had been wrongly imprisoned for years and without the love of a good woman.

Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Frank is a Vietnam veteran who returned home and married his pregnant girlfriend, Mandy (Maika Monroe), who soon gave birth. A year after the baby's birth, Frank and Mandy had a fight, where she unintentionally revealed that he isn't the baby's father. During the fight, he accidentally pushed her against a radiator, resulting in her death. Simultaneously, the baby drowned and Frank was sent to jail for Mandy's murder.

By the end of the film, I was hooked, really hoping that they would be able to  run away together and start a new life.  When that didn't happen, most of the people in the screening were crying and still crying when in the last few minutes when they are reunited many years later (I don't want to give too much away here, but perhaps I already have).  The performances from the three lead characters are excellent. We both wished their had been more scenes between Henry and his step-brother, very funny indeed, perfectly catching that awkward teen phase, when parents are SO annoying. I award 3 stars out of 5.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Enhancing my Face

When I moved to Shepherds Bush, 14 years ago, the Askew Road consisted of a Coop, a betting shop, a couple of cafes, some lousy pubs and a funeral shop.  A few years later a high street beauty spa opened and I spontaneously booked a Christmas facial. The beautician showed no mercy and squeezed my pores until I began to weep.  Afterwards to my horror, I found burst blood vessels all around my nose, which took an expensive few sessions of  laser therapy to remove, and even after that they never really disappeared. I decided not to let just anyone tamper with my face ever again.

Luckily, soon afterwards, I joined the Park Club in Acton and not only benefitted from getting fit after the birth of my first baby, but discovered Anya at the health spa, who is the woman I go to for facials and pedicures and the occasional massage. Part of my routine at the Park Club also includes regular Pilates with Louise and more recently dynamic yoga with Karen. The sessions are part of my week,  written in stone in my diary, and I couldn't do without them.  The Askew Road is unrecognisable too now, with the opening of  The Eagle (gastro pub) The Ginger Pig Butcher, Lavelli Bakery, two supermarkets a vintage clothes shop and a mid century furniture shop.

The area is improving and then last year with much fanfare and a day of free mini mani/pedi/facials for members, the Medispa at the Park Club opened. The director is Dr Bela Horvath, a true professional, who is adamant that he only uses the best and safest products and takes the job of analysing your face very seriously. It is a real bonus to have all these treatments available only a few minutes away.  If I could afford to, I would probably try every treatment on offer and there are a few to choose from including Botox, dermal fillers, dermal roller, mesotherapy, PRGF twilight therapy skin peels and hair removal.

It was hard to choose what to have for my first treatment, but in the end Dr Bela suggested that I try a bit of cheek contouring, which would hopefully make my face that little bit more youthful. (Believe me I need any help I can get!) The treatment took about forty minutes, and started with Dr Bela gazing at me intently and then chalking some lines on my face that would guide him when he inserted the cannula under my skin. He used Juvederm Voluma, but he explained that different products are used for different parts of the face. The micro-cannula  is a newer and much safer method compared to needles. When he inserted the cannula one side of my face, it was relatively pain free, but on the other there was some pain, despite the tiny bit of anaesthetic. After two weeks of some sensitivity to the area, it settled down and I can see a fresher version of myself.  The only problem is that now I want to go back and have everything possible done!

To make an appointment call 020 8743 1900 or visit the website to see the January offers.
020 8743 1900

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A Very Cornish Holiday

In my mind Cornwall equals summer holidays:  Beaches, sun and sandy picnics, seaweed, rock-pools and Daphne de Maurier. Teenagers partying in Rock and the Port Eliot Festival. So a post-Christmas Cornwall break was not a plan that I had formed or thought about, until I saw an inviting three-bedroomed house for rent in Port Isaac, North Cornwall, right above the harbour. It looked idyllic.
Mount Pleasant
View from the twin Room
Port Isaac is a charming, fishing village where Marin Clunes films Doc Martin and out of season, it is lively, but not crowded. Our house is called Mount Pleasant which we rented through Classic Cottages.  On our first morning, we wake up to the sounds of seagulls and the sea and an incredible view - sunlight on the cliffs, waves laping on the beach, fishermen preparing to take a boat out. My husband is delighted to discover a good coffee shop and a fabulous fishmongers selling fresh oysters, mussels and all kinds of fish, less than five minutes walk from the house, but my tip would be to avoid the cornish pasties.

We are lucky enough to have almost perfect weather. On our first day, we hire bikes in Wadebridge and cycle along the old railway line, The Camel Way, five miles to Padstow, which the children love, as they don't particularly like going for walks. When we arrive we stumble upon the queue  at Rick Stein’s café and join it. The grilled mackerel and chips are delicious, my husband enjoys his cod and chips and it all seems even better after our bike ride. We waddle off to one of several ice cream shops in Padstow and the children tank up on huge sticky icecreams.  Rick Stein has a food empire in Padstow, although apparently he lives mostly in Australia!  When we pop into his deli on the way back to the bikes, I am not amused to find a loaf of bread selling for £7. The second time we went to Padstow to meet some friends, we had to queue at the fish and chips for 45 minutes, but still somehow it was worth it. The man I was queueing next to, told me that in August you can’t even get into the car parks in Padstow! I dread to think how long you would have to wait for a table during the peak summer months. 

The children went flowriding twice at the Retallack Resort  (about a half hour drive from Port Isaac) which they loved – basically you learn to surf on a kind of giant wave machine, an ingenious idea.  They enjoyed it despite freezing their buts off and having to wear over-sized wetsuits that were wet and cold when they put them on (NB Retallack, equip yourself with more wetsuits).  On New Years Eve we gazed at the short but sweet firework display over the harbour  and wished each other a Happy New Year, while swigging champagne that had been left for us in the fridge! 

We walked along cliffs, glanced at rainbows, ate in numerous pubs, played scrabble, read and ate some more. We walked along the beach at Polzeath, where brave surfers were out on their boards despite the cold. We did a challenging walk along the cliffs from Port Isaac to Port Quinn on a beautiful afternoon. I came home, rested, fat and happy to have spent time with my family, as usually we go on holiday with friends. Happy 2014!

To book Mount Pleasant (from £456 for the week) or other coastal and country cottages call 01326 555 555 or visit