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Molecular Mixology & Me

Now, generally, I like my cocktails minimal. Gin and the merest suggestion of olive brine, for example. Or the perfect storm of gin, Campari and red vermouth that makes up a negroni. I don’t want any funny business.

But then I got sent a molecular mixology kit. Well. This is what happened. It’s like a photo-love story without the snogging.

Molecular Cocktail Kit | Betty Herbert

We (four of us) arrived home from an all-day beer festival (you can see where this is going), and opened the box.

Molecular Cocktail Kit interior |  Betty Herbert

We then stared at the instructions for quite some time, trying to concentrate. Eventually, we settled on making the margarita with ‘azure bursting pearls’ because we were a bit confused by what a ‘margarita spherification’ might be. Meanwhile, we drank a bottle of prosecco.

photo 2

However, it quickly emerged that we didn’t have any blue curacao, so I helpfully offered to dye some Contrieau blue (total disclosure: it was a dodgy Spanish fake called ‘Orangeau’). Except I didn’t have any blue food colouring, so we had to settle for red. J (names changed to preserve dignity) got to work with a hand-blender and a sachet of powder, and soon my wallpaper was splattered with red jelly blobs. We drank a bottle of wine while we waited.

Making molecular cocktails | Betty Herbert

Once the red Orangeau had set, we set about making the pearls with the pipettes provided. This, initially, we left to J, but soon we felt that we couldn’t resist joining in. This got fairly competitive. We drank another bottle of wine.

Making curacao spheres | Betty Herbert

Finally, we deemed the quantity of red pearls to be acceptable. I got a bit obsessed with the slotted teaspoon that comes with the kit – it is quite the best thing for squeezing teabags I’ve ever seen. J set about making the cocktail. He put the pearls in the bottom of the glass. We debated whether they looked like fish eggs or blood clots.

Red margarita pearls | Betty Herbert

Then, he mixed the margarita. From where I was sitting, this seemed to involve sloshing some tequila into the glass, topping it up with vodka, and then making a minute gesture towards all four glasses with half a lime. J swore blind that he was following the recipe to the letter.

Margarita with red curacao spheres | Betty Herbert

By this point, I was beginning to feel weird about the red balls. ‘I feel weird about the red balls,’ I said, over and over again. I thought this was hilarious.  The resulting cocktail was kind of like rubbing alcohol with little chewy bits in it. I kept mis-handling the spheres and ending up snorting and dribbling quite a lot.

Three of us agreed that a touch more lime would make it all a bit less terrifying. J remained stoically supportive of his original recipe. I began to wonder if I shouldn’t start taking paracetamol now, ready for tomorrow morning.

It was, basically, the most fun EVER. It kept us all occupied for a whole evening, falling somewhere between a high-stakes drinking game and a craft activity.

You can buy the Molecular Mixology kits here – thanks to Cheeky Monkey for sending me one!


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All I Know

All I Know | Betty Herbert

So, anyway, I’ll be starting a PhD in September.

(I’m trying to sound blasé about that, like I always totally expected them to take me in, but, bloody hell).

Providing I get some funding, I’ll be studying the ways that people tell stories about themselves online, and linking it to evolutionary and cognitive theory. I’ll also be creating some software to help people to share those stories in a more playful way. I’m fascinated by the way so many of us are willing to share intimate details of our lives on social media, and how we all become intertwined in each other’s stories.

But it all seems very far off, so I’ve decided to start a little project right here and now.

I’ve been selling a few bits & bobs on Ebay lately, and I began to notice how other sellers often couldn’t resist sharing a little bit of personal information with the things they were selling. One dress was proudly listed as ‘worn once on a fashion shoot’; I couldn’t help but hear the pride oozing out of that statement.

It made me wonder if I could use Ebay to tell stories. Then I started thinking about the bookcase-overflow that’s currently turning my study into a cave. I desperately need to shed some books, but I’m finding it hard to let them go. I wanted to explore what they meant to me – even the ones I hadn’t read – and why we hoard things.

So All I Know was born. Over the next few months, I’ll be selling off my book collection on Ebay. In each book, I’ll be hand-writing a story. Each one is unique. Each one is a fragment of autobiography which (I hope) will be scattered far and wide, and which will be impossible to piece together.

I’d love you to take part – bid on the books (please!), use the social features of Ebay to chat, talk to me about the project on Twitter under #alliknow, and follow me on Pinterest, where I’ll talk about the books I’m keeping.

Who knows, it might all find its way into my thesis. Which is a sentence I never thought I’d write.

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You can keep ‘mum’

You can keep mum | Betty HerbertI am growing increasingly sick of the word ‘mum.’

Not, you understand, when it’s uttered by my son; that is the only appropriate use I can think of (even though he does have a habit of conflating ‘mummy’ with ‘dummy,’ which is less than flattering).

No, I mean the use of ‘mum’ by people that aren’t my offspring. On one level, it’s just plain creepy. I am routinely addressed as ‘mum’ by doctors and nurses whenever I take Bert for an appointment. It’s all I can do to restrain myself from saying, I’m not your mother, dear. You’ve got a bit confused.

But it’s worse than that. Too often in the media, ‘mum’ is a happy idiot, blithely trotting through life in a fug of cooking smoke and vague incompetence. This morning on R4’s Today programme, Sebastain James, the chief executive of Dixons, pointed out that the Currys/PC World stores offer something for everyone, because the dads can go to the computer section and the mums can make a beeline for the fridges. Well, whoopeedoo. What lucky girls we are.

Meanwhile, I recently happened across a discussion board on Elance in which freelancers were lamenting the way that ‘mummy workers’ are bringing down the price of work on the outsourcing site. Clearly, mothers who work are a different flavour of worker to everyone else, content to make silly pin money while our husbands bring in the real wage. The act of giving birth apparently wipes clean the slate of all our qualifications and achievements to date. Look! Funny old mummy is trying to work with the big boys! Bless!

But I think I hate most of all the claim that motherhood somehow invests me with a level of moral superiority. ‘As a mom,’ says Sarah Palin, as if that qualifies the jumble of nonsense she’s about to utter. Believe me, having a child in no way transports you to the high-ground. In fact, I think I’ve become exponentially more unscrupulous since reproducing. Andy Murray’s wonderful mother Judy draws criticism for supporting her sons too savagely; I think she’s positively restrained. Personally, I want Bert to vanquish every child he passes on the street; god only knows how I’d behave if he were slugging it out on the tennis court.

When he was two months old, a car full of teenagers cut me up at a junction, forcing me to come to a jolting emergency stop as their car whisked past me with millimetres to spare. At that moment, I knew that if I could catch them, I would hurt them very, very badly indeed. And Bert wasn’t even in the car at the time; he was safely at home with this dad. But he might have been, and that was enough. This is the morality of my motherhood: I would kill for a mere traffic violation. And I wouldn’t be sorry, either. On that evidence alone, we could probably do without a world full of Mama Grizzlies.

The problem is that ‘mum’ is not a tribe; it is not a phrase that has any meaning outside one child’s relationship with one mother. Mums, like women, and like human beings in general, are all kinds of things. So, in future, call me Betty if you don’t mind.

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Watch With Mother

Watch With Mother

I’ve started a new site – and I’m looking for guest posts.

Watch With Mother is a blogging project devoted to reviewing children’s TV programmes as if they were the real world. It invites you to submit your wry, addled, satirical or adoring review of a kid’s TV programme you’ve watched by default.

Go and take a look, and send me a review.

Here are my first two posts on there:

In The Night Garden Hates Us

The Wise Old Elf: Brody?

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Five inventions I’ve dreamed of patenting since becoming a mother

I’m attending my first Mumsnet Blogfest on Saturday. Lots of people are writing posts to introduce themselves, and so here’s mine. It’s not really an introduction per se, but it probably tells you all your need to know. Which may not be entirely edifying.

Five inventions I’ve dreamed of patenting since becoming a mother:

1. Channel Change Glasses

Your little one is, for unfathomable reasons, thoroughly enjoying Waybuloo. You’re entertaining fantasies of picking them off, one by one, with a crossbow. That’s okay. These special glasses let you see through the TV screen to whatever other channel you want.

That’s how TV works, right? Thought so.


 2. Baby-Freeze

They have a cold. They’re teething. They’re tired and it’s all your fault. Whatever the cause, Baby Freeze lets you put them into stasis, just for long enough to recover your equilibrium.

If you used chloroform it would be a bad thing, but this isn’t chloroform, so it’s completely okay. Honest.


3. ‘Judgy Judy’ Stamp

This could actually happen if I get pushed much further. It’s pre-inked, and whenever some angel-of-perfection points out what you’re doing wrong, you whip out the stamp quick-smart and – whump – leave your mark right in the middle of their forehead. It’s a service to other mothers, you see. A bit like branding, but it washes off.

Either that, or an LED headband that you can switch on at key moments to transmit the phrase, ‘I am crying real tears that you don’t approve of me. Boo hoo hoo.’ This is a modification of my previous invention, which is a neon sign which you place in the back window of your car, that says, ‘Back the fuck off, cock-weasel.’ I am told this might be excessively aggressive.


4. MummyGrindr

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, any form of organised activity brings me out in hives. I am not alone in this, but how do I find those elusive other mothers who prefer gin and character assassination to Bounce & Rhyme?

Simple: you take the gay hookup app Grinder, and hack it to show all the local bad-girl mummies.

If this existed, I guarantee all the local pubs would have toyboxes within months.


 5. Maternal Cloaking Device

Baby is playing happily with daddy, while you get on with some work. You are insanely desperate for a wee, but you know that, should you leave the room, you will be Spotted. And the all hell will break loose. You apply the cloaking device, and all is well.

You may also apply the cloaking device when you don’t need a wee either. I couldn’t possibly comment.




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Dream Corner Podcast

Viv Oyolu

A few weeks ago, the lovely Viv Oyolu interviewed me for her Dream Corner podcast. Do have a listen if you’ve got a mo – she was very good at getting lots of juicy facts out of me! (In a good way).



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What we don’t want to see

Trigger warning: this post discusses stillbirth, miscarriage and neo-natal death. 

I offended someone today, by clicking ‘like’ on a photo on Facebook.

I hate offending people, and in many ways I understand her point of view. The picture, you see, was of a dead baby. But let me explain why I’d press ‘like’ all over again.

I won’t reproduce the photo here; it isn’t mine to share. It showed a tiny baby, wrapped up in blanket. The poor little thing hadn’t survived. I was shocked when I saw it; my first response was to be angry with the person who had put it in my timeline.

But then I read the text that accompanied it. It was, in essence, a plea from the mother for us all to look at her baby, to acknowledge it, because this photo was all she had to share.

I suddenly realised that I was horrified by the image, not because it was disgusting, but because I was afraid. That picture holds every parent’s fear; every dark thought that makes you stumble out of bed in the middle of the night to check on a tiny form in a nearby cot; every anxious trip to the GP during pregnancy.

And then I thought about the friends of mine who had lost babies before they were born.  I thought about how devastating it must be to be the mother of an invisible child, invested with all the same desires and hopes as our living children.  These mothers are ghost-mothers, not allowed to talk about their children (or share the only photos they have of them) because they make us too afraid.

I was reminded of my great-auntie Betty (whose name I stole when I started this blog). She was the mother of two boys, one of whom was born with ‘water on the brain’ as it was termed at the time. Colin had severe learning difficulties and looked ‘different’ too.

When he was born, Betty was told that he wouldn’t survive into his teens, and to put him in a home. She refused, and brought him up with huge affection and tenderness. He lived well into his seventies, and was an adored fixture in our family who loved listening to records, eating ready-salted crisps, and handing out the sloppiest kisses imaginable.

The reason I’m mentioning Colin is that lots of people didn’t want to look at him either; many family members stayed away, saying that he was frightening or potentially violent. He was neither, and through modern eyes those views are shocking to most people.

I want to suggest that there’s a parallel here, and an opportunity for us to catch up. Those lucky ones of us who have healthy children get to post them on Facebook to attract an endless stream of admiration; others have to hide away their children because we deem them too horrible for us to contemplate.

I looked again at the picture of the dead baby, and I saw a beautiful little face, deep asleep. There was nothing ugly there; just a sense of sadness, the boiling fear that anything should befall my own son and the profound gratitude that I hadn’t had to cope with this tragedy.

Today is Halloween; death and disability are all part of the language of horror. I am asking that we also acknowledge that they’re part of normal life. The thought of terrible things happening to our own children are unbearable; but they happen, in real life, to real people. We need to bear witness to their experiences, too.

The charity Sands is a great source of support for anyone who has been affected by these issues.

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