Book Review - The Black Mage Series

In the kingdom of Jerar, the crown funds three different schools of warcraft. Before the age of seventeen, each citizen is given the chance to enrol as a soldier, knight or mage.

No need to guess which is the most prestigious.

The chance of being accepted as a mage is slim and the most fought after faction is that of 'combat'. With only five students chosen in each faction, each year, competition is fierce. There is an intense rivalry between students of different social classes - the 'low-borns' and the nobility, perfectly demonstrated by the two main protagonists - Ryiah and Prince Darren.

The end goal? The coveted robes of the Black Mage.

Ryiah and her twin brother, Alex, start their lessons at the keep, making friends and enemies along the way.

This series, described as 'Hogwarts meets the Hunger Games' had me gripped from start to finish. I love a good YA fantasy book and these definitely ticked all the boxes - fast paced action, romance, magic and a touch of intrigue.

Why would you need free childcare if you don't have a job?

I'm not ignorant, I understand that there are multiple reasons why someone may not be working and yet still require free childcare.

That said, I really don't understand the eligibility criteria.

Your 2-year-old can get free early education and childcare if you get one of the following:
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Universal Credit
- tax credits and you have an annual income of under £16,190 before tax
- the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
- support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
- the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

The bit that bothers me the most is income-based jobseekers allowance. If you don't have a job, a disability, someone to care for, why should you be entitled to free childcare for two year olds when there are people in work, struggling to avoid debt in attempt to keep their job and pay for childcare.

It doesn't make sense.

If you claim contribution-based jobseekers allowance then you're not entitled, and yet, are in the same position in that both are meant to be looking for work.

It doesn't make sense.

You'll both need to find someone to look after your kids whilst you attend interviews or maybe courses to further your career. You'll both attend the same meetings at your local job centre. You'll both have bills to pay.

It doesn't make sense.

I don't buy in to the government propaganda about 'scumbags' milking the benefits system for their own gain. The majority of people forced to claim benefits genuinely have no choice, and capping or cutting benefits only serves to harm those in need and actual poverty.

The fault here is not with those claiming benefits and free childcare. It's the system which appears to favour those who do not work over those desperately trying to keep hold of their jobs.

Let's face it, there is little incentive to keep working if, at the end of the day, you'll be financially better off out of work. But I'd like to think that most people, of sound morals, would look beyond their own gain and the pound signs flashing up before their eyes.

Benefits are not that cut and dried and if you're motivated by cash then you have far more earning potential in work. That is how it should be.

So, instead of paying for childcare for people out of work, only to cut it if/when they find a job, surely the money would be better spent towards keeping others in work? Is that not common sense?

For example. I have given up work.

The cost of childcare was more than my salary and we have been struggling financially for some time.

I wanted to keep my job. I enjoy working and felt it was a good balance for my mental and emotional well being. If additional support had been available for my childcare costs then I would have continued (we already made use of childcare vouchers and were not entitled to tax credits).

If I haven't found a job in the six month period allowed for contribution-based JSA then I could apply for income-based JSA. I have no idea if I would get it as I'm hoping to have worked everything out by then but if I did then I'd apparently be able to get free childcare for Ollie when I don't actually need it.

Instead of setting up eligibility based on a child's age, the Government should be looking into ways of supporting parents in work.

So if you work but your childcare exceeds your salary, the Government will top it up and make it worth your while.

It's not hard, you take what a family earns and takes home each month then you take away the cost of their actual rent (don't even get me started on help for tenants) and a local average for council tax, utility bills and childcare and if it doesn't add up, then do something about it.

They'll stay in work. Contributing to society. To the economy. Less likely to be in debt. Less likely to require additional benefits.

Don't just keep chucking free childcare at the small percentage of lazy buggers who aren't going to work and just want time to have a hot cup of tea whilst their children are at nursery. That's not fair on anybody.

How to enjoy Mum and Toddler groups

One of the hardest things I have found with being a Mum is the loneliness. You wouldn't think that you could feel lonely when you spend every hour of every day attached to a tiny human being (or two) but you certainly can.

It can be the loneliness of a day with no adult conversation. Of saying the same thing repeatedly, with no effect.

It's the loneliness of day time television, different social circles and no one to relieve you when you child is tantruming for the tenth time.

So I've always been a big fan of Mum and Baby/Toddler groups.

Well, I say 'always'. That's exaggerating.

At first, I actually hated them.

They were excruciatingly painful at times.

Endless small talk. Judging glances. Screaming children. Badly made tea.

I can definitely see why some Mums avoid these groups like the plague.

But I am a convert. Approach these strange sub-societies in the right way and they can become a break in your day, even a highlight of your week. Here are my top tips for not just surviving toddler groups, but actually enjoying them.

Lily's Letter to Netflix

After Lily expressed her profound disappointment to her Daddy on Friday that Netflix was no longer showing 'Heidi' he suggested that she send them a message asking for it back.

Since then, Lily has asked a couple of times a day if she could send it.

With this picture.

I didn't expect the 'letter' to consist of much more than a plea for bringing back the cartoon but she had her heart set on it, so, in her own words:

Is this the moment?

I'm sorry for the recent silence.

It was not planned. It was not expected.

I just found that I had no words.

Or that I had the words, but not the ability to string them together coherently.

I have been anxious, excited, stressed and relieved to be giving up work to become a stay at home mum.

It resulted in a migraine that lasted two days and I spent all of last Wednesday in bed.

Today is the day.

On Friday I served my last day in the school office. My role has been handed over. Processes have been set up and presentations passed on. I fought my blushes and my tears when I was presented with my leaving gifts and hugged the friends I have made.

Time for Tantrums

A few weeks ago now both my children decided, uncharacteristically, to completely melt down at a toddler group we've attended for more than two years.

At the same time.

It was horrific.

Ollie started with an epic tantrum about not wanting to put cars down for tidy up time. Then Lily joined in because she didn't want to put her shoes and jumper on. A walk, bus ride and home time later, they were both still at it. Tag teaming the screaming and shrieking at everything.


I have no idea. Perhaps they were under the weather. Maybe they were overwhelmed with the excitement of Christmas. Perhaps they were possessed.

I left the group struggling not to cry, as friends patted me on the back, offered me smiles and even wished me luck. As the screaming continued down the street, flailing arms, protests and angry shouts I headed on to the bus stop. Enduring the stares, the shy smiles and kind words of passers by.

Then, at the bus stop. A lovely lady turned to me and said: "Terrible Twos? I remember those, they don't last forever"

I smiled back.

Through gritted teeth.

I didn't answer her. It would have just sounded rude if I corrected her and told her my daughter is 4.

Like 'morning' sickness. Classifying toddler tantrums as 'terrible twos' is incredibly misleading. 

For one, the tantrums can start way earlier than two. Coming out of the blue and erupting into an inferno of frustration and shock for both parent and child. 

Then, 'terrible' is a bit extreme. True, the tantrums are distressing and they come thick and fast as the children explore more and come across increasing struggles. But as far as two year olds go, they're far from terrible. I actually love this age.

And finally, it gives false hope that once the 'terrible twos' are past, the tantrums will subside and leave you with a little angel.

I thought I'd got through the twos pretty much unscathed. Lily has always been a tad highly strung. She has a wail like an air-raid siren, starting low and building towards a crescendo and she can start it without warning at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction. That said, I'm pretty used to it and she was actually an adorable two year old.

But then. She turned three. And I totally understand why I'd seen other Mum's lamenting about their 'three-nager'.

It wasn't just tantrums. It was tantrums with attitude. With opinions.

I can honestly say, I found three an awful lot harder than two.

Two was a walk in the park compared to three.

And four?

Is pretty good. But that doesn't mean an end to all tantrums. Tantrums are just a thing that happen to all children of all ages when the feelings, frustration and understanding become too much. It's not enjoyable but doesn't make being a parent 'terrible'. Not really.

Let's be fair. I still have tantrums. I'm 31 years old and there are still times when all I want to do is shout and stamp my feet. 99% of the time I can hold it in but then I find I have far more in common with my tantruming toddlers than I often think.

Terrible thirties? Can that still be a thing?