Creative ways to deal with your Christmas rubbish

Love Christmas, but hate the waste it produces? If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I’m a big fan and advocate of creativity in whatever form it takes and not just writing. The aftermath of Christmas with its greetings cards, wrapping paper, packaging and leftover turkey is a perfect opportunity to flex your creative muscles. So, before you crack out the black bags and take it all to the landfill, have a look at these creative suggestions for dealing with your Christmas rubbish.

Turn your greetings cards into something you’ll want to keep

Christmas cards are perhaps the worst of all the Christmas waste. You somehow feel you can't simply chuck them as someone has taken the time to send them to you, but if you keep them they'll just sit in a box or drawer taking up space for years to come. However, Christmas cards are a fantastic source of card for some fantastic creative projects.

Image source: Hubpages
Image source: Hubpages

Turn your cards into attractive storage

Make some fun cat toys for your feline friend 

Turn your festive tipple into an ornament

You may have seen these funky ideas in a previous post of mine. Old bottle corks and beer bottle caps are a brilliant raw material to make lovely decorations for next Christmas. My favourites are the cork reindeers and bottle cap snowmen below.

Image credit: One Artsy Mama
Image credit: One Artsy Mama

Bottle Top Snowman Tree decorations

Cork reindeers

Turn old wrapping paper into an attractive feature

Wrapping paper seems like such a waste to me (sorry!). But at the same time, it is a source of some beautiful patterns. Before you get out the black bin bag, why not consider turning your wrapping paper into something useful or beautiful.

Image source:
Image source:

Make the most of your leftovers

Forget the turkey curry (which is revolting by the way). Try this tasty recipe for a pie using all the best bits from Christmas lunch:

I hope you find these ideas useful. Will you be doing anything creative with your Christmas rubbish? Let me know in the comment below.

Legendary Ladies: The women history forgot, No. 1 Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, mathematician and the first computer programmer (1815-1852)

Writing about determined and independently-minded girls in my first book has given me a greater appreciation of female role models. I am amazed at how many fantastic female role-models (living and dead) there are and even more amazed at how little we talk about them. Every fortnight, I will be trying to do my best to improve the situation by sharing with you the life and works of great women from the past who deserve to be much better known. My first ‘legendary lady’ is Ada Lovelace, a Victorian pioneer of computing.


Ada Byron, aged four
Image source: Public domain, Creative Commons

Interesting facts to share with little legendary ladies (and little legendary gentlemen too):

  • Ada was the daughter of a famous, 19th-century celebrity, the poet Lord Byron. He died when she was eight and she never really knew him.
  • Although airplanes hadn’t been invented at this time, she was fascinated by flying and wrote a book about it called ‘Flyology’ when she was only twelve. In the book she drew a plan for a steam-driven, flying horse!
  • When Ada grew up, she became a mathematician at a time when only men did this.
  • She wrote the first ever computer programme, the instructions which tell a computer what to do, 100 years before modern computers were invented.
  • Ada wrote about her belief that one day computers could be used to create things like music and art. Everyone else told her she was mad and that all that computers could do was calculate numbers!
  • Ada Lovelace is the inspiration for the heroine of the 'Goth Girl’ series of books, Ada Goth.

A bit more about Ada Lovelace

We all know Lord Byron. Most of our modern lives now depend on computers. Yet few of us know the poet’s only legitimate daughter and the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. Poor Ada's life would make a cracking period drama. The daughter of an unhinged A-list celebrity absentee father, starved of a bitter mother's attention, crippled by illness as a child and dogged by scandal throughout her life, Ada still made significant, though little recognised, contributions to the scientific world and then died young.

Ada, the girl scientist 

Ada never knew her father, who left England four months after her birth, having been granted a ‘Deed of Separation’ by his wife. It is said that Byron was bitterly disappointed that Ada was not the “glorious boy” for which he had hoped. As it turned out, though, Ada went on to excel far beyond most boys in the exclusively male world of mathematics. Her mother, Anne, encouraged her to study mathematics and scientific subjects as a way to avoid Ada falling into the ‘insanity’ of her father. Anne also tried to teach young Ada ’self-control’ by making her stay in her bedroom alone. Perhaps it was this enforced solitude that ignited Ada's creative spark and her dreams of flight. At the age of twelve she wrote a book on the subject called ‘Flyology’, which she illustrated with a plan for a steam-driven flying horse. Her research into the potential for flight and plans to build herself a pair of wings were cut short at the age of fourteen when she was temporarily paralysed following a bout of measles. It was during her slow recovery that she became absorbed in mathematics.

Ada becomes fascinated with computers

In her late-teens her tutor, the now celebrated Scottish scientist Mary Somerville (another exceptional woman of the time), introduced Ada to Charles Babbage, nowadays known as the ‘father of computers’. He had built a prototype for a mechanical calculator called the ‘Difference Engine’. Ada was intrigued by the ‘Engine’ and over the years she became a zealous advocate and follower of Babbage’s work. Later, when Babbage began work on a more advanced machine, an early computer called the ‘Analytical Engine’, Ada became completely fascinated and visited Babbage regularly. She also undertook much of her own research around the subject and received instruction from Babbage. When a young engineer and future Italian Prime Minister, Luigi Menabrea, wrote about the ‘Analytical Engine’ for the Italian scientific community, Ada undertook to translate it to help popularise Babbage’s ideas in England.


Model of the 'Analytical Engine', Science Museum, London
Image credit: Bruno Barral (ByB), CC BY-SA 2.5

Ada, the world's first computer programmer

Ada’s translation was not the most important part of this work. It is her own notes which she then added to the translation of the treatise from which her renown in computing circles stems. Amongst the notes she included an example of mathematical instructions, or an algorithm, which the ‘Analytical Engine’, once completed, could use to calculate complex numbers called ‘Bernoulli numbers’. The ‘Analytical Engine’ was never completed and so Ada’s algorithm could not be put to the test. However, her algorithm is now recognised as the first ever computer programme. She also proposed in the notes that such a machine could, in future, even be used to create art and music. This suggestion was scorned by many at the time, including her friend Babbage. The import of Ada’s visionary words was not realised for another hundred years when fellow computing pioneer Alan Turing saw them and quoted them in his seminal paper, ”Computing Machinery and Intelligence”.


Portrait of Ada Lovelace, by Margaret Sarah Carpenter
Image source: Public domain, Creative Commons

Ada's struggles with scandal

Sadly, as was often the case for independently-minded women of education in the nineteenth-century, Ada’s life was mostly an unhappy one. Her mother’s bitterness against her father coloured their relationship and she continued to treat Ada poorly throughout her short life. Ada married a fellow aristocrat, William, the 8th Baron King and later Earl of Lovelace, and had three children. However, her friendships with other men, mostly fellow mathematicians and science enthusiasts, were a regular source of scandal. This was made worse by her fame as the daughter of Lord Byron, who had known much scandal himself while alive. In fact, rumours continued to abound about his odd and shocking behaviour even after his death. Ada also got herself into substantial debts from gambling, something women simply didn’t do in those days. She had joined a syndicate and built a mathematical model to help with placing large bets, but the model had eventually failed her. Her relationship with her husband was strained as a result and he is said to have abandoned her deathbed when she told him some secret that remains a mystery to this day. Ada died of cancer, still in debt and deprived by her mother of contact with friends. She was the same age as her famous father had been at his death - thirty-six.

Though very sad, Ada’s story has still found its way into children’s literature in the form of Christopher Riddell's ‘Goth Girl’ series. The heroine, Ada Goth, and her friend, William Cabbage, are modelled on Lovelace and Babbage.

Pete’s History Picks, December 12th – December 18th

Guildford’s finest teenage historical scholar, Master Pete Tollywash of time-travelling underpants fame, returns again with his pick of the most interesting events from this week in history. Over to you, Pete.

Hello, everyone. That Barford guy’s let me loose on his blog again. Awesome. It was a bit tricky finding time to write this though. I mean life’s pretty busy anyway when you’re a time-traveller (we’re still not telling Mum about that, by the way. It’s OK. She won’t read this. She can’t even send an email), but when it’s Christmas time and Kev’s just got Dragon Dancer 17 Turbo edition on the Xbox for his birthday, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Yeah, anyway, I’m here again to tell you about the stuff that happened this week in history. Unsurprisingly, as it’s almost Christmas, loads of stuff happened (although Auntie Cheryl claims that’s got nothing to do with it). So, here we go.

December 12th, 1991 - Maastricht Treaty signed to create a European Union


This is Maastricht - Actually looks quite nice.

Everything's about this Brexit thing here at the moment. They’re saying things like, “Food prices are going to go up 'cause of Brexit”, “People might lose their jobs 'cause of Brexit”, “You might have to get a visa to go to Benidorm 'cause of Brexit”. What’s really unfair is that Ms. Cummerbund at school gave me a detention when I told her I’d forgotten my English homework ‘cause of Brexit. Anyway, apparently this Maastricht (some place in Holland) Treaty is kind of where the story started as it created the European Union, which is the thing the UK is leaving. Auntie Cheryl says it was quite a big deal at the time and quite a few people in Britain were against it. So this sort of led to the EU referendum thingy we had in June (although Auntie Cheryl says it’s also a bit more complicated than that).

December 13th, 2003 - Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is captured near his home town of Tikrit

I was a tiny baby when this happened. This Saddam guy was president of Iraq and used to be friends with the United States of America, because he didn’t like Iran, who the Americans didn’t like either. So these Americans supported Saddam in a war against Iran. People say that at the same time he started doing some nasty things to people he didn’t like in Iraq. Later on, in 1990, he invaded his other neighbour, a country called Kuwait. At this point, the USA decided he’d gone too far and went to war with him (with help from some other countries, including the UK). Saddam lost and was kicked out of Kuwait in 1991. He wasn’t happy about this, of course, and he and the US were no longer friends. They didn’t go to war again, but there was trouble every so often between them for the next twelve years. Eventually, in 2003, the US decided it wanted to get rid of Saddam once and for all, and invaded Iraq (again with help from other countries like the UK). This time, they didn’t just beat Saddam, but they captured him and put in place a new government. In the end, Saddam was executed. You probably know all this, ‘cause you probably weren’t a little baby then like me.

December 15th, 533 - Byzantine general Belisarius defeats the Vandals, under King Gelimer, at the Battle of Tricamarum


The guy on the right in the crown is Emperor Justinian. They reckon the other dude is Belisarius.

Well this Belisarius guy obviously didn’t do a very good job of it, ‘cause the vandals were back again last night graffiti-ing the cricket club changing rooms. Anyway, Auntie Cheryl says these were different vandals. In fact, she says they were a tribe who came from what’s now Poland. Because they attacked and looted Rome in the year 455, people started using the word ‘vandalism’ to describe any act of damaging stuff on purpose. These Vandal guys didn’t hang around it seems and in the year 533 they’d left Poland far behind and they were rulers of North Africa (land they’d conquered from the Romans). The Romans, by this time referred to as the Byzantines (I’ll get Barford to explain another time), wanted North Africa back, so the Emperor Justinian sent this Belisarius dude to get it. The Battle of Tricamarum was the last in Belisarius’s war against the Vandals and he beat them so badly that they gave the land back to the Romans. The Romans (or Byzantines) then sailed from there to reconquer Italy which some goths had taken off them (the goths at my school couldn’t conquer a plate of fish and chips, so that’s pretty impressive). Again, Auntie Cheryl says they weren’t those kind of goths but another tribe called 'the Goths' from somewhere around modern Poland or Germany. The Romans only held North Africa for another hundred years or so when these new guys called the Muslims arrived from the Middle East and took it off them again. But that’s a whole other story.

December 16th, 1653 - Oliver Cromwell appointed as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland

I’ve just come back from my latest time-travelling adventure in Tudor times, where I met a guy called Thomas Cromwell. I thought he was this guy, Oliver Cromwell, but apparently not. Thomas Cromwell was friends with the king, Henry the Eighth in this instance, while Oliver Cromwell definitely was not best mates with King Charles the First, whose head he had chopped off in 1649. Four years later he was made ‘Lord Protector’ of the Republic of England, Scotland and Ireland (poor Wales didn’t get a mention). He was very clear to everyone that he definitely wasn’t a king, even though he got referred to as ‘Your Highness’, his head appeared on coins and he passed the title on to his son, Richard. Richard bottled it, or so they say, and in 1660, King Charles’s son, also helpfully called Charles, became king.

One other event I’d also like to mention that happened on this day in 1773 is something called the 'Boston tea party’. This wasn’t one of those annoying things Mum has on Saturday afternoons where she gets Maureen, Barbara and Auntie Cheryl round to talk about people they knew, but whose names they’ve forgotten. It was actually this big protest in Boston, in the US, where some people who called themselves the 'Sons of Liberty’ jumped on a boat that was full of boxes of tea and threw it all into the water. It was something to do with them being unhappy about tax on tea. This was a big deal and Auntie Cheryl says it was an important step along the way to America’s independence from Great Britain (I didn’t know we ever ruled America. How awesome would that be? Being King of America? Actually I guess that’s kind of what the President is).

December 17th, 1398 - Timur (or Tamerlane) captures and sacks Delhi, beating the Sultan’s army of elephants


Apparently Timur built this mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. It is pretty awesome.

This Timur dude (or Tamerlane as he’s also called) sounds pretty cool (well not if you were fighting him). He was a ‘Turco-Mongol’ emperor from what’s now Uzbekistan and he conquered loads of places. In 1398, he invaded India and marched on Delhi. The ruler of Delhi, the Sultan Nasir-u Din Mehmud, fought him with an army that had elephants in it (that dude was crazy). Timur’s men were scared of the elephants (fair enough), so Timur got them to load hay onto the back of their camels and set it on fire (poor camels). The flaming camels went running towards the elephants sending the elephants running back at the Sultan’s army. Suffice to say, the Sultan’s army got spooked and Timur won easily.

So there you have it. Quite a week, hey? I hope you found it useful. Oh and if you want to find out more about me and my adventures, just look at Barford’s ‘My Books’ page on this website. Have a great Christmas and I’ll see you in a fortnight.

5 fantastic Christmas book gifts for kids 7-plus

Following my earlier post on great picture books for Christmas, I now turn my attention to older readers. I have purposely avoided the obvious bestsellers, like David Walliams, Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates as, although they are good, you don’t need me to tell you about them. Instead, I’ve picked out a range of books from the very silly to the thought-provoking. You should be able to find something for every kind of reader aged 7-12 here.

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown


Image Copyright: Little, Brown Books

This book is the first chapter book from picture book creator, Peter Brown. It tells the story of robot Roz who finds herself stranded on an island and learns to adapt to its surroundings. A heart-warming adventure that also raises questions about the role of technology in our society.

Murder Most Unladylike: Mistletoe and Murder, by Robin Stevens


Image Copyright: Puffin Books

The latest adventure in this series sees heroines Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong spending Christmas in Cambridge. Their cosy holiday is interrupted when there is a fatal accident at Maudlin College…or is it an accident? The Murder Most Unladylike series is great for those who love old-fashioned boarding school books with a bloodthirsty edge.

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs!, by Mike Lowery


Image Copyright: Little, Brown Books

In this rather novel adventure you get to fill in the blanks helpfully left by author Mike Lowery, including drawing your very own hero. It is your job to help Jim the Duck recover an important artefact that has been stolen from the headquarters of a secret society of explorers. Fantastic for reluctant readers who can’t sit still long enough to read a traditional book.

The War that Saved my Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


Image Copyright: Text Publishing Company

From the silly fun of Doodle Adventures to a heart-wrenching wartime adventure. The War that Saved my Life tells the story of disabled nine-year-old Ada who has never left her tiny flat in the East End of London. When Ada’s brother Jamie is evacuated, her cruel mother decides it isn’t worth sending Ada, with her twisted foot, to join him. But Ada has other ideas and sneaks out to join her brother. Arrived in the country and taken in by Susan, Ada enjoys a freedom she never knew at home, but will it last?

Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants, by Barford Fitzgerald

Rule- Britannia-1600-Barnes-and-Noble

Image Copyright: Cocoa Bean Press

Of course, no list of great books for those aged 7-plus would be complete without one of my own books. In fact, here’s two of them. Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants is an historical comedy series which is great for lovers of Horrible Histories. In book 1 (‘Rule Britannia’), schoolboy Pete Tollywash receives a very strange birthday present and soon finds himself transported back to Roman East Anglia. Falling foul of the local Roman prefect, Pete is sold into slavery and meets fellow slave-boy Julius, who has a big family secret. But can Pete save the two of them from slavery? And what is Julius’ secret? The follow-up, Tudor Trouble, has also just been released, and sees Pete taking on a bloodthirsty King Henry the Eighth.

So there you have it. My book picks for Christmas. What books would you include on a list of great book gifts for Christmas? Let me know in the comments below.

5 fantastic, fun and inspirational picture books for Christmas

Christmas is coming, in case you weren’t aware, and there’s no better gift than a book, especially for the very little ones. Here’s my pick of the best picture books from the last twelve months to amuse and inspire younger readers and keep the adults entertained too!

Barford's pick of 2016 - Picture books

Ada Twist, Scientist - by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Image copyright: Abrams Books
Image copyright: Abrams Books

The third in a series of picture books about ambitious kids (Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect being the other two), 'Ada Twist, Scientist’ is a well-written and fun adventure. It follows the insatiably curious Ada, who is always seeking the causes of things, as she conducts experiments to find the source of the strange smell that has invaded her home.

Pass it on - by Sophy Henn

Image copyright: Penguin Books
Image copyright: Penguin Books

A beautifully illustrated story about finding happiness in the smallest things and least likely places. And, as the title suggests, it’s also about sharing that joy with others. Great for pre-schoolers. Uplifting for the 'bigger kids' who may be reading it to them.

Dave’s Cave - by Frann Preston Gannon

Image copyright: Nosy Crow
Image copyright: Nosy Crow

Caveman Dave has a pretty comfy cave, but he has that nagging feeling that there may be better out there. Dave’s simplistic caveman speak and the illustrations are very amusing in itself, but the book has soul and a message too. Under-fours will particularly love listening to the caveman speak!

Christmas for Greta and Gracie - by Yasmeen Ismail

Image copyright: Nosy Crow
Image copyright: Nosy Crow

Not strictly a book of 2016 (it came out in October 2015) but perfect for this time of year and great for younger siblings too. In this story, younger sister Gracie finally silences her bigger, bossier sister, Greta, when she discovers a Christmas surprise all on her own. As I say, younger siblings with rather over-confident bigger siblings will relate to this one very well.

Du iz tak - by Carson Ellis

Image copyright: Walker Books
Image copyright: Walker Books

This is one of the more unconventional picture books you will see this year. ‘Du Iz Tak’ is not written in a foreign language, but rather a made-up language, and half the fun is in deciphering it. ‘Du Iz Tak’ (which seems to mean ‘What is that?’) takes us into the inner life of a back garden where we meet the plants and bugs that live just outside our windows and follow them over the course of a year. The story itself may be better for children 4-plus, but the beautiful artwork will mesmerise younger children too.

Have you read any of the books above? What did you think? Or do you think I’ve missed off a truly fantastic book that came out this year? Let me know in the comments below.

Top 5 fantastic and easy ideas for a creative, less consumerist Christmas

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know I think creativity is important for our health and happiness. It's something we should nurture in ourselves as well as our children. In this post I discuss some ways to make this Christmas the most creative yet.

Don’t you just love Christmas? Unfortunately it’s all too easy to get bogged down in the hectic activity and general ‘busyness’ that often comes with it. So how do you maintain that Christmas spirit in amongst the present buying, the family politics and getting everything done in time? With a bit of creativity. Here I share some great ideas for how you can stay creative amongst the chaos and have a less consumerist Christmas into the bargain.

Recycled Christmas tree decorations

Image credit: One Artsy Mama
Image credit: One Artsy Mama

This is a brilliant way to add some character to your tree and get crafty with the kids. There are loads of imaginative things you can do to turn stuff that would otherwise go in the bin into funky and attractive Christmas decorations. My favourites are below (where you see a highlighted link, just click on it to be taken to the relevant website for more info):

Cute DIY Penguin Light Bulb Bauble - These little guys look awesome and make a brilliant decoration out of a common item of rubbish.

Bottle Top Snowman Tree decorations - As you start to entertain, you may have one or two (or maybe a few more!) beer bottle caps to hand. These snowmen are a fantastic and cheap way to stop them going in the landfill. Cork reindeer are another brilliant way of recycling used drinks tops.

Toilet roll Santa Claus - This one’s great and so easy. On this site you’ll find a very simple method to turn toilet rolls into fantastic-looking Santa Claus baubles. The site is in Spanish, but the pictures explain all you need to know! 

Charity Shop Secret Santa

Secret Santa is always a bit of a headache. The pressure is on to look imaginative and interesting with your gift idea, all within a tight budget. What if you changed the focus back to the act of giving itself? Adding the rule that all presents have to be bought from a charity shop can do this. It provides income to that charity (a gift in itself) and it also takes the pressure off finding a perfect gift, as you are limited by what’s in the charity shop. It’s also fun to see what you end up with. You could take this one step further if you wish and make the rule that everyone donates to a charity that they think somehow links to the person they are buying for (a sport for disabled children charity for that football-mad bloke in IT or a charity to build schools in Africa for your stern, teacher-like boss!).

DIY Advent Calendar

Image credit: Stephanie Lynn
Image credit: Stephanie Lynn

This is another brilliant one to do with the kids. Making the calendar itself is pretty straightforward - just paint a piece of card in the colours you choose and stick 24 paper fasteners (the pins that split) through it (you can find a picture here to guide you). The fun is then creating the items that will hang from each of these pins. It could be a joke, an IOU for a hug, a short poem, a random act of kindness you need to perform that day, anything. It could even be a piece of chocolate. Just write the day of the month on one side of a piece of paper, the item of the day on the other and hang the paper from a pin.

Make your own Christmas tree!

Image credit: Tutti guardano le nuvole
Image credit: Tutti guardano le nuvole

I’ve seen some amazing suggestions for making your own Christmas tree from various household items, some more complicated than others. Here’s a couple of the less complex ones which would make a great table-top Christmas tree.

Bottle brush trees - This one’s very simple. You may not have bottle brushes lying around at home (I think they’re quite old-fashioned), but you can pick up a multipack for a couple of quid. 

Paper cake case Christmas tree - Another easy but great-looking one and another one in a foreign language (Italian this time). The pictures are really easy to follow though, so don’t panic if your Italian only stretches to ‘spaghetti bolognese’.

Gift someone your time

It sounds a bit hippyish, but our time is perhaps the most valuable thing we can give people. Why not give some of it to a loved one instead of a physical gift? Do you have a particular skill that that person wants to learn? Why not give them three hours (or however many you want) of your time to teach them? Does your partner love the Star Wars films, but you’ve had no interest in watching them? Why not gift them a film night hosted by you where you watch all three of the originals (don’t bother with the modern ones)?

Alternatively, does someone in your family love going to museums, but no one will go with them? Why not offer them two museum visits in the next six months? The possibilities are endless, so this is another chance to get creative.

So there you have it - 5 fantastic ways to get creative this Christmas. Which will you choose? Let me know in the comments below.