What to watch in lockdown 3.0

Wasn’t it exciting in the first lockdown to scroll through Netflix and pick new things to watch? Fast-forward the best part of a year and watching TV almost feels like a chore. There have been some Tiger King worthy gems lately though. Here’s my top 5.

Bridgerton (Netflix)

It would be quite impossible to have completely escaped the hype surrounding this oh-so-steamy period drama narrated by Julie Andrews. Think Pride and Prejudice meets Fifty Shades of Grey in an entertainingly, whimsical way. When you find out Shonda Rhimes (writer of Grey’s Anatomy) produced it, that feeling of familiarity becomes clear. A period version of Meredith and Derek’s romantic love story only without the scrubs, well or death. As soon as the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) makes his entrance, you won’t actually care about the storyline. Trust me.

Netflix Original: Bridgerton

Grace and Frankie (Netflix)

Honest, hilarious and an unlikely friendship you are constantly rooting for. Whilst the storylines are painfully predictable at times, the chemistry between Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) is so beautiful you can’t help but envy their crazy life, despite their husbands leaving them to marry each other. Things to note: Firstly, Jane Fonda defies all aging and you will spend the first episode googling her skincare regime and or plastic surgeon. Secondly, beach-front houses in San Diego are mentally expensive so don’t bother giving it a Rightmove search. Thirdly, yes! Frankie’s son was in Empire Records the film.

Netflix Original: Grace and Frankie

The Sopranos (Sky)

An oldie but a goodie. David Chase wrote and produced this gritty, mafia drama that is set in New Jersey and based around the Soprano family. Amazingly it first aired in 1999 meaning that not only are the people born when it came out now fully-fledged adults, they can even legally drink in America. It holds up surprisingly well though and still makes me stay up too late to watch the next episode. It is violent and gory at times but balances this well with family-based plotlines and is written and acted so well, you are totally on the mafia’s side. If you have never seen it and enjoyed Peaky Blinders, I would definitely give it a try. Man was James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) a good actor.

HBO: The Sopranos

Sex Education (Netflix)

This was probably on your viewing list during the first lockdown but with rumours circling that the Season 3 drop might be imminent, maybe a re-watch is in order. Set in a fictitious town with an American High School vibe, it is actually mainly filmed in Wales against the stunning backdrops of the Wye Valley. The storylines delve into the lives of a group of teenagers, their sexual antics and, well, their parent’s sexual antics too. Toe curlingly cringe at times, the characters are all loveable, relatable and leave you wanting to know more. The stunningly beautiful Gillian Anderson plays the mother of the main character, Otis, (Asa Butterfield) and is quite possibly the coolest mother on TV.

Netflix Original: Sex Education

Virgin River (Netflix)

Created by Sue Tenney who wrote the 90s TV show Blossom, this really is easy watching at its best. The first episode makes you question if you can manage the puke-in-your-mouth lines, predictable plots and over the top small-town charm but I promise if you stick with it, it really does get better. The full will-they-won’t-they love twists of the two main characters Mel (Alexandra Breckenridge) and Jack (Martin Henderson) have you screaming at the TV but there are enough shocking moments to keep you hooked. The scenery is insanely stunning too. Sadly I googled that also and it isn’t really in California but mainly filmed in Canada.

Netflix Original: Virgin River

What have you been watching this lockdown? Let me know what to add to my list next. The longer the pandemic goes on though, the weirder it is to watch people actually touch, meet in a pub or even meet up at all.

What to expect when taking your toddler to a Covid testing station

This piece was written for my MA portfolio for the University of Lincoln. It was written in August 2020 but published in January 2021 to allow time for it to be graded. The testing stations may have altered in this time.

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

Wilfred, who is three, started displaying all the symptoms of croup, a viral infection that causes a bark like cough, often accompanied by cold like symptoms in the middle of the night. The powerful sound woke me instantly as I rushed to make sure he was breathing ok in a blind panic.  My eldest has had it so much, we were croup veterans and regular patients at the doctors so I knew the score, but my mind instantly panicked it could be coronavirus.

I spoke to our doctor first thing the next morning who advised we had him tested for coronavirus, as they couldn’t see him to confirm a diagnosis either way. If symptoms worsened, I was to phone back later in the week. Frustrated, I put the phone down and tested his temperature militantly every hour to put my mind at ease it most likely would result in a negative test.

After booking the test online at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/testing-and-tracing/get-a-test-to-check-if-you-have-coronavirus/ for the same day, we read through the instructions and decided it was best to all go, as you can’t exit the car, instead the adult has to climb into the back of the car to do the test. At six months pregnant, I feared this would have all the grace of an elephant, potentially resulting in me getting stuck half way with visions of Wilfred trying to kick me back through, so my husband graciously offered to sit in the back.

We all stayed in the car and had the instructions explained through the closed window in a mask. Be prepared to ask them to repeat themselves a lot, I opted to mix it up between “pardon”, “I can’t hear you” and a general gesture to my ears. They tried their best to add hand actions and more exaggerated eye movements. After a few moments they said they could go through how to perform the test with us, or we could read the instructions ourselves. Naturally, we picked the latter as a full-blown explanation might have been more akin to a sad game of charades.

The dull grey, flat and smaller than expected test pack, was then dropped to me through a small crack in the window. If someone with bigger hands is performing the test, I would advise taking your own disposable gloves as the ones provided were very small and ripped instantly, leading to a lot of hand gel being used to overcompensate the gigantic tear in them.

The enormous swab had to go right in the back of Wilfred’s throat and also right up his nose but only took a few seconds. Wilfred struggled and gagged with the throat swab going so far in, so a bucket in case it causes a coughing fit and sickness is advisable.  They recommend taking some water for afterwards, but I also recommend taking their favourite cuddly toy for moral support if they get distressed.

We then had to snap the long swab stick, which was quite tough as it’s made of plastic so a few bends in either direction and brute force did the trick. It then went in the test tube and into the sealed bag. Once we had finished, we drove back to the exit where the QR code was scanned on the form and sample bag. Once it was all sorted, a lady with a big box came to the window and I dropped it in to the box through a tiny crack in the window. The children were disappointed they only had NHS coats on as opposed to white hazmat suits, but personally I was relieved as it felt less apocalyptic.

As per the instruction booklet, we then had to return home and remain there until the results came through. The negative test results were texted to my mobile phone the following morning at 6am with a turnaround of roughly 19 hours, so thankfully we didn’t have to wait long to resume our normal routine with great joy.

The test caused momentary discomfort for Wilfred, but he was quickly over it. Taking a few home comforts might help soften the blow of the scary big swab going so far down their throat.

Screen Time

This article was written in June 2020 as part of a portfolio of work for my MA course at the University of Lincoln. It has been published on acajournalist.com in January 2021 to allow time for it to be graded first.

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced some parents, like myself, to engage in more screen time with their children. This can be to communicate with family, do schoolwork or even attend virtual baby and child groups. I asked some experts what damage this can cause to childhood development and how parents can help.


The old saying “Don’t stand so close to the TV or you will get square eyes,” thankfully isn’t true, though it didn’t stop our mothers saying it in the eighties and nineties. Now screens come in the form of televisions, laptops, desktop computers, tablets and mobile devices and children can become a little obsessed.

Last week Jeremy Hunt MP even tweeted a letter his four year old daughter had typed, with the help of her brother, assuring him she had been good, loved him very much and asked if she could have some screen time as a reward. A scene familiar in my own house where my two children would happily sit all day on screens if they were allowed to.

Optometrist Annica Clark, from Clark Family Eyecare in Donington, Lincolnshire, put my mind at ease a little for my own children’s increase in screen time since lockdown began in March: “There is no direct link between increased screen time and damage to children’s eyes, however it is worth considering the effect of blue light and decreased focal lengths.”

What is blue light and what can it mean for my child?

Blue light is present in everyday life and comes from sunlight and electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, laptops and televisions. It has been linked to problems with sleeping.

“Whilst it’s not ‘damaging’ to anyone’s eyes, per say, some opticians will argue that blue light for prolonged periods can cause eye strain and affect our circadian rhythm  which is our bodies natural rhythm to fall asleep and wake up,” Annica adds.

Can screens lead to my child needing glasses?

“There is no direct link between screens and myopia (short-sightedness) in children though any increase in close work can potentially cause strain and lead to myopia. This is not just screens though it can be knitting or even reading a book as examples,” says Annica.

What can we as parents do to protect our children’s eyes?

If screen time for schoolwork and the occasional treat is necessary during lockdown, it might be worth investing in some blue lensed glasses to help reduce the levels of blue light the eyes are taking in.

It also is recommended you break the screen time up regularly throughout the day and encourage outdoor play. Annica expands on this further: “There is a suggestion that children who spend more time outdoors are at lower risk of developing myopia.”

Can screens alter development?

In a word, yes.

Early Years Teacher, Sue Strickson from Ayscoughfee Hall School in Spalding, explains: “The difference in the last fifteen years has been quite remarkable. Some children come to us and try and swipe up to turn book pages now, perhaps never really handling real books at home.

“We also have noticed that pencil grips are generally much weaker as children are spending more time on screens and less time putting pencil to paper.”

Nursery owner, Sheona Smith has also noticed a change in nursery aged children.

“Over the last 15 to 20 years, the advance in technology has been completely astounding but the decline in children’s communication and language development has been frightening. I believe the two are closely linked with many intertwining factors,” says Sheona.

The factors include screens replacing reading but also at times, screens replacing conversations with parents. Also, the change in pram fashion over the last few decades where most toddler push chairs face out rather than towards the parent. Many conversations are therefore lost or at least the face to face aspect is, so the child cannot watch you speak and move your lips.

“The decline in parents speaking to their children has meant that now some children are not speaking until they are nearly three or even later, their behaviours are also very affected by the lack of communication as they do not have the correct tools to deal with everyday situations, how can you sort a problem if you don’t have the language to communicate,” explains Sheona.

It is feared the issue may get worse after children have spent more time at home and on screens during the pandemic.

What can parents do to help?

Variety is key so break up screen time with reading books, letting the children handle the books and turn the pages. Make sure you always have pencils and paper readily available and encourage toddlers to start mark making on the page.

Pencils are preferable over felt-tip pens as they are harder to mark the page meaning the grip will get better. Use playdough or Lego building to add dexterity to fingers to help strengthen their fingers. A bonus is they also help their concentration!

Teacher, Sue Strickson, expands on this further: “Try not to worry about getting children writing their name before they start school, instead concentrate on mark making, drawing pictures and pencil grip. We sometimes find those that write their name have to start from scratch if the letter formation is different to how we teach it.”

What about brain development?

There are lots of studies currently looking into the impact screens have on brain development as the full picture is only just starting to be known with the technology improving so much in the last decade.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health in America recently conducted a study on nine and ten-year-olds across 21 sites with eleven-thousand children. Preliminary results showed that children that spent two or more hours on screens a day, performed worse in tests on thinking and language against their peers who spent less time on screens. MRI scans were used to scan the brains which also showed differences.

As this is only one study, it cannot be concluded that screens definitely have a negative impact, but it is worth considering limiting time where possible, though this is hard during the pandemic with educational resources often online.

Why is screen time linked to obesity in children?

Dietitian Nicki Weaver explains: “Screen time increases sedentary behaviour which in turn can be an issue with the increasing levels of obesity in adults and children. One of the key things a parent can do is only do the bare minimum using technology.”

If you are continuing a level of home schooling across the summer holidays, it might be worth considering printing worksheets out to avoid using screens too much. To avoid the sedentary behaviour, having a timer go off at set intervals for some physical activity breaks might be fun and help children concentrate better for shorter periods of time.

Nicki also explains the problems with eating whilst watching screens: “Eating whilst watching television or using a computer, increases the chance of higher volumes of high fat and sugary snacks being eaten, which in turn leads to weight gain.

“Portion control is very difficult to manage when we eat like this. We call it mindless eating. To be mindful in our eating we need to be sitting still with no other distractions then we are able to process and feel satisfied as we remember eating and tasting the food.”

Coronavirus has been proven to impact obese people more severely so it is important to limit mindless eating in children to help prevent obesity.

What snacks should I feed my child?

Nicki suggests going for foods that are high in fibre and protein as they are filling.

“Go for a small handful of nuts, whole-wheat cereals, rice cakes, vegetables with hummus, natural yogurt with fruit or popcorn to help to fill children up. Just remember that portion sizes are key and make sure the child is sitting at the table with no screens or distractions,” says Nicki.

Parent tips

I have spoken to some of our readers to find out the best ways to manage screen time with children during lockdown.

Kim Nicholls, a mother to a six-year old boy and three-year old girl, has been home-schooling her children but managed to send both back to their educational settings in the last few weeks.

“It is really hard to juggle but generally we did worksheets that were printed out rather than schoolwork on the computer. I try to keep the computer for fun things they want to watch and play at short intervals across the day,” says Kim.

Will Telford, a father to a nine-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl said: “Neither child could return to school so I have been working full time and trying to teach them alongside my partner. We found to begin with they were constantly on screens for schoolwork and leisure. It got out of hand so we set up a system where they can have thirty minutes a day on non-educational videos and games but up to an hour or more if it is a school day, on educational games and videos.

“It has worked really well and balanced out the screen time across the day much better. With them being a little older too video games on consoles are also an issue. James would play Fortnite all day if we let him.”

The most important thing to remember though is we are in the middle of a pandemic. If screen time has increased but everyone in your household has remained well both mentally and physically, don’t give yourself a hard time, perhaps just add in more breaks and a better structure to the day if you are concerned.

Sending your child back to school (June 2020)

This piece was written in June 2020 and formed part of my portfolio of work for the University of Lincoln. It remained unpublished until January 2021 on acajournalist.com, after my final grade had been awarded.

Sending your child back to school

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

With coronavirus still disrupting our lives in countless ways, there is a possibility you are now able to send your children back to school and their Early Years setting. We have spoken to some experts to try and gain an insight into the reasons why some year groups are back, what has changed, if it is safe to send your children and what teachers and parents are thinking.

Who is back in school?

Some children from Early Years, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 are heading back to school for their third week, though it is estimated by the National Foundation for Educational Research only 54-per-cent of eligible children are in school and as little as 52-per-cent of schools are re-open for pupils. To bombard you with further statistics, according to the Department for Education as of June 4 the number of children in school only represented 6.9-per-cent of the total number of children normally in education across all years. It is clear therefore that only a tiny proportion of children are back in education.

What changes are in place?

Classes have to be in bubbles of no more than 15 pupils who are taught by the same teaching staff and do not come into contact with other children or staff outside of their bubble. With young children it has been taken into account that social distancing will not always be possible so instead the focus is on hand washing very frequently and sneezing and coughing into a tissue and binning it to avoid spreading germs.

Soft furnishings have been removed from classrooms and children are sitting at their own desks spaced out across the classroom with their own stationary.

“At my child’s school the teacher has done the Reception children little packs of stationary, bricks and Lego which is disinfected regularly and stays on their desk all week.

“We also have to send them in clean clothes every day and only their lunch boxes and drinks can come from home,” says Isabella Hicks, mother to Rupert, aged five.

Children eat in their bubbles in their classrooms and have a specific toilet only their bubble can use. Outdoor learning is encouraged as much as possible as scientists believe the transmission rate outdoors is much lower, especially at a distance of two metres and there are staggered drop-offs and pickups to minimise adult contact.

Testing is available to all staff and children, and if a child becomes unwell, they are to be tested as soon as possible. The rest of the bubble are likely to be asked to self-isolate for 7 days or more or until the result of the test comes back.

Why those year groups?

The focus from the government is getting children back in the classroom from transition year groups as it is feared the longer they are out of the classroom, the further they will fall behind. The government produced a 50-page document and explained the reasoning behind the year groups.

“Children in Reception and Year 1 are at the very beginning of their school career and are mastering the essential basics, including counting and the fundamentals of reading and writing, and learning to socialise with their peers.

“Year 6 children are finishing Key Stage 2 and are preparing for the transition to secondary school and will benefit immensely from time with their friends and teachers to ensure they are ready,” says the report.

Helen Childerhouse, an educational expert from the University of Lincoln, isn’t convinced by the year groups chosen to return.

“It seems strange to send Year 6 pupils back into their primary schools.  I would have suggested that they attend transition sessions at the secondary school they will be attending in September.

“Early years children are unable to follow social distancing expectations due to their age and lack of understanding and they require much greater management. I would have expected Key Stage 2 and secondary pupils to return first,” she remarks.

When will other years return?

Plans for the rest of primary aged children to return before the summer break have been scrapped by the government in favour of schools having more flexibility to open if they feel they can safely do so. This has caused a lot of controversy since its announcement on June 10 as it will mean some children are out of education for six months assuming they can safely return by September. However, this isn’t a certainty.

Private schools with smaller class sizes have the room to open for more children but without clear guidance on how to do this from the government, insurance companies will not sanction more children attending.

Headteacher Claire Ogden of Ayscoughfee Hall School, a fee paying prep school in Spalding, said: “I would love to get more children back in school, we have worked out numerous scenarios to facilitate this from a rota of classes attending bi-weekly, to full attendance for all if the numbers are low enough. The issue we have though is our insurance company will only act on clear advice from the government on how to operate this safely and at the moment, this is not forthcoming. Having the flexibility to open if we have room isn’t enough and we need more information,” explains Claire.

Under current guidelines from the government, children in each bubble have their own toilet separate from other bubbles with a one in, one out system.  Most schools do not have the capacity to adhere to this rule with more children in school.

Is it safe to send my child back to nursery or school?

Ask two scientists and you will get two different answers as unfortunately so much is still unknown about the virus. Covid-19 has created a huge amount of debate on transmission amongst children, and it still isn’t clear if children infect adults at the same rate as adults transmit the disease. What is clear, though, is that the virus isn’t as deadly for children with just three children under the age of 15 sadly passing away since the start of the outbreak according to official government statistics, which demonstrates the risk to life for children under 15-years-old is extremely minimal.

Dr Walter Lucchesi, a lecturer in Biomedical Science at Royal Holloway, University of London, has a special interest in virology and explains this further. “In this particular case of SARS-cov 2 children might spread the virus at different rate, similar to being less prone to develop COVID19; a protection that so far is not fully explained but clearly observed. This is a question mark that will need to be resolved.

“We should always remember the original guidelines of physical distancing, minimising interactions and simple hygiene such as washing hands, not touching your face and not sharing glasses or food. Children have already missed out on education and essential social activities with social and psychological impact, so it is important to try and get them back safely.”

Without a vaccine, living with coronavirus will become a necessity, potentially for years to come. The choice to keep children at home for their safety might have to be a long-term decision which is hard for working parents.

“If SARScov2 has got a seasonal pattern, which personally I predict it will have, then it is likely that it could come back in late autumn or early winter. Therefore, scenarios and models that will help us to tackle this perspective are essential and the word is preparedness,” says Dr Lucchesi.

Many schools have decided to remain closed to all children other than those of keyworkers beyond June 1 as they did not feel they could safely re-open yet. Some of those schools did re-open this week for more children, suggesting that, by the summer holidays, more children from the transition year groups may return to school as parent’s views soften.

“I would always suggest that health and safety have priority over curricular delivery. Schools provide so much more than just education and this is not always acknowledged.  Schools have the privilege of supporting, teaching and caring for parents most precious treasure and it is their duty to ensure that children and their families are safe in the first instance,” says Helen Childerhouse.

What are teachers saying?

A Year 1 teacher who regularly posts on Netmums under the name WoWsers16 spoke to us about her experience so far: “I have loved my first few weeks back. I have a class of 28 and 16 have returned so we have put them into two bubbles of 8 as we believe more will be back in the coming weeks.

“Our headteacher has done an amazing risk assessment which focusses on the wellbeing of staff and children. Whilst we are doing the core lessons to catch children back up, we have shifted our focus to wellbeing and mindfulness.”

Emily Patman, a Reception teacher, also confirmed the focus has been on mental health. “It is important to make the children feel comfortable in their surroundings as it is quite different. We regularly do a feelings circle and we have done lots of songs and activities about coronavirus and why we are socially distancing. The children have taken to it so well and I am comfortable to teach under the current guidelines from our headteacher,” she says.

What are parents saying?

The debate on school social WhatsApp groups has been extensive and at times personal and negative. Laura Andrew, a mother to two boys, decided to send her four-year-old back to school.

“It felt heated in the group chat for our year. Those that had chosen to return our children were being judged by certain people who were not. Especially when you are being sent article links and information informing you that your children are being used as guinea pigs,” remarks Laura.

Kate Reed, a mother to two from Boston, decided to keep both her children at home. “Knowing my son, I don’t know how he would get on with social distancing and I felt it might have been a bit stressful for the teachers to have to patrol them all the time. Having said that he would love to go back to school, he loves learning at school, but not so much at home.”

Roxanne Wallis, a mother of two boys from Yaxley, has also decided to keep her children at home. “I do not wish to send either back to their settings. I think my primary concern at the moment is the ability for teachers to keep high enough levels of hygiene up with many students in an age group not particularly known for their exceptional hygiene. Added to that concern is the fact that I am pregnant and it’s making me more risk averse to the situation. My fear is that we are being lifted out of a severe lockdown too early and this is raising the probability of a second wave.

“If the government had decided to charge parents, I would have made the decision to home-school long-term as I am not sending them back in September if the situation remains the same as it is now,” adds Roxanne.

Sandie Hutchinson decided to keep her six-year-old boy at home. “He was a very poorly baby so looking at the reports in the media, I felt I couldn’t bring myself to send him, fearing the worst.

“The first week only five children returned to his Year 1 class but he was so upset to be missing out, I decided to send him the second week and he is so much happier back at school. A further five parents also decided to send. I guess we just wanted to wait and see how the first week went for other parents,” explains Sandie.

What if I keep my children off, will they be disadvantaged?

A huge catch-up plan is currently being devised by Educational Secretary Gavin Williamson in an attempt to bring children back to an even level when they can return. The initial part of the plan is to make internet free and accessible for all children to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to learning.

Teacher Sharon Clarke, a supply teacher with a teaching career spanning more than 30 years, explains what she thinks will need to happen when children return. “Children having more than six months out of education and varying levels of parental input from lots of home-learning to none will need to have a focused entry back into education. The government will have to drop the levels of expected learning to make this effective, and instead I think teaching will have to return to much more traditional, grassroot methods for core subjects. There is so much pressure on teachers to meet targets but in order to ensure children do not fall behind there will have to be time to focus on reading, writing, maths and English initially, going over and over until they are back to the level of understanding expected,” she says.

Helen, the educational expert, expands on this further. “Circumstances will play a huge part in the level of support and pastoral and academic input children need.  Teachers are incredibly skilled at shaping their provision to meet the needs of individual children.  I feel that the focus should be on pastoral and social support in the first instance.  Children are not able to learn academically if they are unhappy, insecure, frightened or unsettled.”

With so much uncertainty around coronavirus and a clear message of “stay home” from the government for so long, it is unsurprising parents are divided and nervous about their children returning to education. The government have a long way to go to get schools ready for more children by September and it is likely that education will be disrupted for a long time to come as rates of infection rise and fall in certain areas across the winter months. It is important to make the right decision for your own family and take advantage of the educational resources available if you are home-schooling to keep your children learning, though their mental health is equally as important at such a troubling time. Tag us on Facebook or Instagram to let us know your own story about school and if you have sent your children back or are continuing to home-school.


Dance teacher Katie Blacksmith Adams knows what it is like to be on the stage as a professional and an amateur. She tells Ailsa Adams about life in America and giving it all up to move thousands of miles across the pond for love.

Halfway through our first meeting, Katie gets up to do a quick tap-dancing routine to the song on the radio. It feels like a regular occurrence for her own gratification rather than a showing off exercise. Her dream dinner table would include Gene Kelly and Gregory Hines, though I’m sensing there would be more dancing than eating.

A dance teacher and performer to crudely simplify her artistic talents, her latest project is choreographing, directing and producing Ghost the Musical at Wildcats Theatre School in Stamford, Lincolnshire.

Her beauty is breath-taking in an effortless, good bone structure, aging beyond her current 33 won’t be an issue type of way.  Long, thick brown hair falls perfectly below her shoulders, mimicking Kate Middleton after an expensive blow dry. She is rarely seen out of Ugg boots and at least one thick cardigan as Ryhall feels like the Arctic when you are used to LA temperatures.

As her mouth opens to speak you can tell she is American before the dulcet tones from Los Angeles come out, as her teeth are remarkably white and perfectly aligned. Top and bottom. “We all get braces and go to dentist every six months for cleans. It’s all privatised so people spend lots and lots of money on it, especially in LA.”

Katie is a triple threat, someone who can sing, act and dance, referenced heavily in the TV series Glee. She would not describe herself that way but her back catalogue disagrees.

At New York University she majored in drama and minored in production, a prestigious university that has churned out superstars such as Kristin Bell, most known for voicing Anna in Disney’s blockbuster film Frozen.

Yet Katie is uncomfortable name dropping the endless famous people she has worked with. Perhaps she has spent too long in Rutland and adopted the British nature of not blowing your own trumpet, but she shifts in her chair when probed.

The list includes icons like Bradley Cooper and strangely Lady Gaga, a fellow alumni from NYU she describes as eccentric, long before A Star Is Born brought them together.

“Bradley was so sweet to work with and he made a point of learning all our names, bringing back a fruit basket at the end of the summer to thank us and yes, he is that stunning in real life,” she laughs.

Before the #metoo movement erupted, Katie was familiar with the concept, though thankfully not to the horrifying extent of some. The director of a Toyota commercial was enough to make her question her life choices and change direction to work out of the spotlight, choosing to produce and teach over acting.

“What put me off acting was I was finally doing what I wanted to do professionally but it wasn’t fun. It was so bad I had to call my agent as I felt unsafe, I am not a complainer and can defend myself, but he told the casting director and she came to set and basically chaperoned me. I thought ‘I don’t want to be a part of this world’.”

At the age of 17 Katie got an opportunity most can only dream of when her college, Hamilton Academy of Music in LA, set a project of making a film in partnership with 20th Century Fox. Cast as the producer, she got paired with Fred Baron, the producer of Moulin Rouge and learnt first-hand what a producer’s role was.

“I had no idea what a producer was but went with it as my friend Ashleigh wanted to be the director. It was an awesome experience and was the reason I minored in production at NYU. It was really hands on in Fox’s production suites, learning to use equipment and techniques used in films with an absolute producing giant.”

Despite all her experiences in New York, LA and Texas to name a few and endless opportunities working with theatre production greats like Daryl Roth, a ten time Tony-Award winning producer of over 120 productions, and Alex Timbers, who is currently producing Beetlejuice on Broadway, Katie gave it all up and moved to England for love and is currently fitting teaching work around her baby.

“I met Ben, my husband, when I was three. Though we didn’t get together for over twenty years. I wouldn’t leave the States officially without a ring, he wouldn’t ask me to marry him without living with me first, so we ended up in Northampton, England to test the water,” says Katie.

The future is wide open which is both exciting and horrifying for her. Her teaching qualification, a diploma in dance education will be completed in a few months and she is enjoying the slower pace of life in Ryhall. Her only current front-and-centre gig is her role in the Bomber Belles, a trio who sing wartime songs based at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln.

“What I miss most about America is my friends and though this will get me in trouble, Broadway over the West End any day. The biggest difference is training. In the UK I am expected to teach the children one 30-minute lesson a week. In the States that would be at least 60 minutes and three times a week.”

Her biggest regret artistically is letting her anxiety hold her back. “I have always suffered with anxiety and it’s made me not take risks I should have taken. A lot of people have complimented me as a performer, but I have chosen not to believe them. I am not kind to myself.”

I haven’t interviewed Meghan Markle under a pseudonym, though if Katie told me she was moving to Canada and had landed a Disney voiceover deal, I might question the parallels further. 

The Dreaded PT

I can’t put it off any longer. The dreaded PT is upon us and actually I think I would rather be shouted at in the gym for an hour than face the real reality of…

Potty training.

As a mum of two boys I am outnumbered in the toilet department, and have to just accept that for the foreseeable future, I will have to sprint to the toilet ahead of any guests to make sure they don’t get soggy socks, or worse. If only that was a joke.

I have shamefully made a swift exit from a local café that has a small area of soft-play after my first born decided the artificial grass looked too realistic. The fact he is comfortable, as actor Jack Black would put it, to ‘drop-trou’ in nature comes with its own horrifying tales but this might have been the worst of his toilet antics. I can only assume I have the ‘flight over fight’ instinct to account for the dash. A moment impressed on my memory as a parenting low point, normally popping into my head just as I am falling asleep.

I have read hundreds of advice articles online, even delving into the lengthy opinionated threads on Mumsnet to no avail. Nappy-free time always leads to accidents and Wilf is the child who will happily sit in wet pants, I am guessing until they dry out again?

The only time he is willing to sit on the potty is after he has filled his nappy. His odd thought process in which he thinks if he sits on the potty after the event, he will skip the cleaning process, like the potty has some magical cleaning process of its own.

Perhaps he has seen a self-cleaning toilet during one of his Youtube sessions.  It would surprisingly be a lot more interesting than watching an American child unpackage and play with a toy Wilf actually owns and could be playing with in real life himself. That would be far too sensible.

So alas I am in limbo, trying to remind myself that no grown man crawls into a board room meeting in a nappy as he never learnt to walk or use a toilet.

Although now I have written it, perhaps it doesn’t seem completely inconceivable in a morning after a drug-fueled bender, Wolf of Wall Street, lads in the city-esque way.

The Terrible Twos

The clock strikes midnight turning your gorgeous bundle of joy into a two-year-old. Like magic dust has been sprinkled over their pillow as they sleep, the ‘terrible twos’ alter their attitude and you are left wondering what on earth happened to your baby over night?

The sweet alliteration lulls you into a false sense of security that it can’t actually be that bad, don’t be fooled. Friends assure you their child made three drama free then whisper something inaudible about threenagers.

To offer a little advice, commiseration or encouragement, I have compiled my top moments of the phase so far. You will live with a mini volcano that will erupt spontaneously and inconsiderately though. Enjoy that.

They will ask for a blue plate, they want a blue plate, you serve dinner on the blue plate. They will scream for half an hour on the floor as they wanted a red plate and you are such a mean mummy for not sensing this telepathically.

For public meltdowns lift them up by the back of their coat and march out as if they are some sort of wriggly suitcase. Just always remember to zip up first to avoid face-plants.

They will sense any ounce of mum guilt and fully throw it back in your face. My Lincoln stopovers to get last minute projects done in December resulted in a meltdown at Disneyland as neither child wanted to sit with me on a ride, only Daddy. If you take it personally you will cry into your £20 cheeseburger and feel like a tit.

Their sweet nature and willingness to please will disappear, not all the time but enough to make you question if it is worth a Google to see at what age personality traits are set. I am reliably informed Adolf Hitler was a lovely child, maybe it’s not time to panic just yet.

 I smiled at Wilf playing the other day and he turned to me, pointed and shouted: “Do not smile at me mummy,” with the most furrowed brow a tiny face can muster.

Most of all try and keep a straight face. It is so hard at times, especially when they are in trouble for answering their dad back in a hilarious mimic involving a puppet parrot.

If all else fails, hide in the pantry and eat their Christmas chocolate whilst chanting: “You are not the boss of me.”

School Mum

At the tender age of 30 I became a school mum, no longer smug booking term time holidays at bargain prices. I’d heard so many horror stories about the dreaded school gate. A year in, what would I tell myself?

BBC’s Motherland, a comedy based around a group of school mums is actually quite depressing as it’s remarkably accurate, apart from the abundance of wine at children’s birthday parties.

So far that hasn’t materialised. The cliché characters really exist. It’s worse than being 15 years old in an all-girls school, with hormones almost visible as they float down the corridor. Bored school mums can be meaner than the Year 11 captain of the netball team. The worst part is, they will be nice to your face. Just blanket smile at everyone, it’s the safest option.

The school day is ridiculously short. It’s not really worth your while leaving. Why lose your parking spot, a mere 25-minute stroll from the gate after-all? Any trips you do result in a stressed and rushed commute back.

The image of your lonely child, last to be collected, assuming you’d forgotten them impressed on your mind. You’ll shout profanities at slow and leisurely drivers, praying they aren’t repeated at teatime by your two-year-old. Me: “Well they didn’t hear that from me?” Two-year old: “Mummy you said the old man was a sh*t driver.”

You can buy 30 pairs of navy socks and you still won’t be able to find a pair when you are running late. Note, it’s always these mornings that your child tells you they need their PE kit, blazer and library book but can’t possibly find it all themselves as they have to pick a ‘pocket-toy’ that will inevitably be lost in the playground, or launched over the fence. It was always a dare, never original thought, apparently.

Skive work for assembly. Watching your child spot you at the back of the hall and grin from ear to ear will make you want to sob uncontrollably. The guilt at missing one will be huge. “I looked for you mummy, but I couldn’t see you.”

The best part though is you will click with a few school mums and feel like you are 15 again, discussing boys in a hot tub. Only the boys aren’t boyfriends this time, just mini people who stole our hearts the day we brought them into the world.

Screen Tourism

As the latest series of the BBC’s Peaky Blinders reached its disappointing conclusion, like many others across the world, I felt deflated at the prospect of waiting two more long years for the penultimate, and hopefully more action-packed, series.

As the mania and hype builds further, the Peaky Blinders effect has tourism at an all time high in and around Birmingham as we satisfy our obsession.

Birmingham is home to the Peaky Blinders gang and, though predominantly shot in Manchester and Liverpool, the West Midlands city has seen tourism spike since the first series aired in 2013.

For the launch of series 5 in August 2019, the BBC put a fan painted mural on the side of the Custard Factory, a creative hub in Birmingham and the former site of Bird’s Custard. Gang leader Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) looks down over Digbeth, drawing fans directly into the heart of the city.

Some scenes are shot at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, which has just had its fifth year of growth. Visitors are up a third since 2013. The museum made a loss of £599,745 in 2012/13 and in its annual report for 2018 shows profits of £910,095.

I, like many, want to recognise something from the show, or to have a photo taken or stand in the spot the actors did. It’s silly when you think about it, but it’s a phenomenon that is making the area a lot of money and shows no sign of slowing down.

Shops, a festival, escape rooms, themed evenings, series screenings, it all sells out almost instantly. The impact it’s had is incredible with Joe Godwin, the director of BBC Midlands, telling the Guardian: “Peaky Blinders has been a game changer for Birmingham.”

Sticking to the UK, the BBC series Poldark draws tourists to Cornwall with Visit Cornwall claiming it accounts for 13 per cent of all holidaymakers. Though the fashions, drinks and theme of the show have not made it to the mainstream like Peaky Blinders (thankfully, not sure I am feeling a corset) not everyone in the south is happy, complaining tourists ruin the area.

I would argue the opposite and a programme that encourages any sort of UK staycation is positive for the economy, the arts and history of the local area. I highly doubt the Poldark crowd is particularly larger lout-ish either and is probably more inclined to buy branded tea towels than other fans!

Virgin jumped on the bandwagon last week and re-launched Gavin and Stacey tours of Barry Island in Wales. For £60 you and a friend can go on a bus trip around all the filming locations on a Dave’s Coaches branded bus. Those who booked to go in July 2019 were treated to selfies with the show’s star James Corden as it coincided with the filming of the Christmas special.  And Marco is a real person selling his ice-cream, so he must be thrilled!

I am excited to be inspired to visit somewhere else in the UK as the next big thing launches on the BBC and hope the Peaky Blinders bubble doesn’t burst. Perhaps a getaway to Dudley is on the cards, who would have thought it?

And yes, Tommy Shelby is in my dining room