Slummy Single Mummy

Jo Middleton is a freelance writer and mother of two girls, aged 17 and 10, who enjoy relentlessly winding each other up in high-pitched voices. Jo writes the award-winning blog Slummy Single Mummy and likes to escape from real life with wine, biscuits and TV reruns of Miss Marple mysteries.

Simple pleasures

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on Tuesday, 23 April 2013
Stop the press.

This week I have been outside without my coat.

It’s a small thing, but a blue sky and a warm breeze makes all the difference to how I feel on any particular day.

If you don’t take time out to focus on what makes you happy, it is all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tedium of parenting alone. Washing, cleaning, cooking – admittedly I don’t do a huge amount of any of those things, but the responsibility is still mine, should I choose to accept it.

Sometimes I worry that the things I enjoy are rather dull. I don’t do any kind of extreme sports, or have a secret part-time job as a lion tamer. I don’t drive fast cars or jet off every weekend on exotic city mini-breaks – my life is much more acoustic folk than rock and roll. I did once jump out of a plane, but to be honest I found the whole free-falling thing quite boring – you just hang there after all, and not much else happens.

But do we really need all this high-tech, extreme-impact entertainment to make us happy? Exactly when is it that we become such discerning thrill seekers? As children, we could entertain ourselves for hours in the garden with a few sticks (I don’t actually remember how this works, but I’ve heard it’s true), so how come we forget this and become so demanding, desperately looking for more and more extravagant ways to escape the boredom and reach that elusive state of flow?

As a single parent, with time and money in short supply, being able to enjoy simple stick-based pleasures is crucial. Especially if you can play them outside without a coat.

40 things to do before you’re 40

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on Tuesday, 16 April 2013
Have you ever wondered just exactly where you are heading in life? I am 35 next week, but still often thing about what I want to be when I grow up and when I will stop ricocheting madly from one project to the next and just settle down.

The trouble is I think that I have gone about my life in a bit of a muddle. The normal course of events is surely supposed to run something like this - be a child, build things out of lego, go to university, waste twenties in blur of drink and affairs, have a moment of dawning realisation at 32 and move out of London to start a family in a small Devon village with a handsome doctor.

I’m sure that’s how it works in books at least.

So what about if you have your first child at 17? What then for the traditional order of things? You can hardly do the drunken affairs thing with a toddler in tow can you? Believe me, I’ve tried, and it really cramps your style.

Lately then, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals for the future, given that I’ve got my life events a bit skewwhiff already, and have decided to come up with a list of 40 things to do before I’m 40. I’ve bought a new notebook and everything, and every good project addict knows that is the main attraction of any new enterprise.

I have also made a rather spur of the moment booking for a trip to Iceland, just to get into the swing of things.

Perhaps the first item though just needs to be something simple. Finish list might be a good place to start…

Getting up from the sofa

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on Tuesday, 09 April 2013
I had a moment last night, getting up from the sofa, where I realised I am not 19 any more. I know, shocking right? Who’d have thought it? I have a daughter off to university in a few months and yet still I’m scared of using the telephone and feel like a bit of an imposter in a grown-up job.

Anyway, the sofa.*

I tried to get up and sort of fell backwards. I tried again, but couldn’t quite do it without levering myself with one hand. As I got up, one of my hips cracked, and I made this involuntary grunting noise. It was not attractive. Suddenly it was like I was floating above my own body, watching my mum getting up from the sofa.

I didn’t like it one bit.

More and more lately I’ve been having these flashes of age, especially when it comes to technology. I quite often find myself handing over the TV remote control to one of the children because the idea of having to find a programme through the on demand service feels too complicated for me to even start thinking about.

It is my birthday in a couple of weeks, but I am only going to be 35. What has become of me?

Perhaps I need a little sit down.

Just don’t ask me to get up again.

*Another one of those getting old things is that you get distracted, and…oooh! A shiny stone!

The curse of the school holidays

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on Monday, 25 March 2013
Imagine if you will a small piece of string. Imagine that you cut the piece of string into two pieces and keep the shortest piece. Then cut this in half and in half again. Fray the ends.

This piece of string represents my patience, one day in to the Easter holidays.

It is quite pathetic really. It’s not even that Belle has done anything particularly annoying, or that work is terribly busy or anything – it is more of a gut reaction than that. The second the holidays start, I inexplicably want to punch somebody in the face.

It is a bit like going on a diet. Even if I’m not at all hungry, the minute I use the word ‘diet’ I immediately feel the urge to eat a pound of uncooked cake mixture and a tube of Pringles, and I don’t even really like Pringles. I really don’t like being told what do to, even by myself. It’s why I never diet. All it ever leads to is weight gain.

Unfortunately I can’t decide just to give up school holidays in the same way that I’ve given up dieting. Apparently it is frowned upon to just leave your children at school outside term time. One day into the Easter holidays then and I am already ranting and raging at the slightest thing. Belle is scampering around looking scared, and appears almost to flinch when I talk. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the holidays.

Perhaps it’s time to whip up a batch of cake mixture…

Ethiopia and body image

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on Monday, 18 March 2013
I got back on Sunday from a week in Ethiopia, finding out more about development work and food initiatives as part of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. The whole visit was amazing – the progress the country has made over the last 30 years is staggering. There was one thing though, unconnected to food or the environment that, as a parent of two daughters, really struck me.


It was nearly the end of the week, we’d visited so many inspiring women already, and it struck me how relaxed and at ease with themselves everyone seemed, despite whatever difficult situations they might be living in.

I asked our Ethiopian guide if in Ethiopia there was the same kind of beauty culture as in the UK, a pressure for women to look a certain way or be a particular size or shape. He looked at me blankly. He literally didn’t understand the question.

“In the UK,” I said, “there is a lot of pressure on women and young girls to be very thin, to look like models.”

He looked vaguely horrified.


“Is there a similar thing in Ethiopia where women try to look a certain way?” He shook his head, as though I was clearly bonkers. “No,” he said. “Nothing like that.”

Can you imagine bringing up girls in a culture where body image simply wasn’t an issue?

Ethiopia may still have a way to go development wise but I’m sincerely hoping there are some things that won’t change.

Read more about Jo's visit to Ethiopia here

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