Blood, sweat and tears – and grass stains

Children seem to attract muck – well, certainly my children do. The youngest has only to look at a muddy puddle before he might as well have rolled in it.

They play football too, and lots of it, so at least three times a week I have very muddy kit to deal with.

Some of it is white, including the shorts. WHITE. I ask you. No person who thinks white is a sensible colour for the kind of sports kit which is guaranteed to get grass-stained or muddy could possibly be the person in his/her household responsible for laundry.

Many years ago I used to be responsible for the laundry of Other People’s Children, including a whole team’s worth of cricket whites. It was in that job that I learned about Swarfega.

What you’re looking for is the Swarfega in a red tub with a green lid.

I found this image on Wilko’s website and you can often find it there and in other “cheap shops” such as Quality Save, B&M Bargains, Poundland and so on. I really begrudge paying full price for it in Halfords or the supermarket but you can usually find it there too.

It’s designed for de-greasing hands – mechanics love it. It shifts engine oil as though you were rinsing off icing sugar. Grass stains in particular are oily stains. Treating before you wash means you won’t cook the stain in.

So, to work. Here is a typical pair of shorts after a football session, then liberally plastered in Swarfega.

muddy shorts

swarfega shorts

It smells unpleasant and has a texture somewhere between shower gel and jam. Persevere! Once the stain is thoroughly covered, and you don’t need to scrub particularly, throw in its normal wash. In this instance I forgot and put it in a quick wash, but it still came out like this:

clean shorts

There’s a slight shadow of filth, yes, but by golly it’s better than when it went in. The remaining stain completely disappeared on the washing line.

Swarfega and sunshine remove just about every stain I have come across in my parenting career, including blood, grass, gravy, blackcurrant: the lot. Sunshine also zaps any bacteria lingering in your wash. I try to wash at 30 where possible, but when there are bugs whizzing round school it’s vaguely reassuring that at least they can’t cling to the clothes.

A last word before I go, relating to blood stains. I’m afraid they are pretty much inevitable with active children! Blood cooks – maybe you’ve tried black pudding! – which means that you cannot wash it out in a hot wash. Anything bloody needs to be thoroughly soaked in cold (not warm) water before treating, then washed at no more than 30 degrees. If the garment needs it you can then do a warmer wash later, but if you wash it above body temperature you risk cooking the bloodstain into the fabric and it will then never come out.


White Sauce Makes Friendship Better

Do you remember how you made all your friends? Most of them drift into your life and gradually become friends … but Nicola and I bonded over white sauce.

Now, obviously there’s a proper way to make white sauce, starting with a roux, getting a pan and a whisk dirty, and requiring precision timing and one’s full attention.

However, nothing I cook can have precision timing or my full attention nowadays because of the small children: for example, the toddler has recently learned how to climb on to the window ledge, but not how to climb down. I have neither the patience nor the resources to spoil batch after batch of white sauce.

About two or three years ago I learned the Mumsnet Microwave Method, and it changed everything. Suddenly I could make white sauce again, so fish pie (of which more in a later post), macaroni cheese and lasagne were all back on the menu.

One afternoon, in a queue to pick up from pre-school, idly discussing what we were making for the children’s tea, I referred to macaroni cheese as a no-stress quick and easy dish. Nicola, whom I knew vaguely but not well, was unconvinced. So I taught her the Mumsnet Microwave Method, and we’ve been friends ever since.


You will need a 2pt/1L microwave-safe jug, a microwave, a fork, 10floz/300ml milk, 1oz/25g cornflour and an optional 1oz/25g butter.

Measure the milk into the jug, then add the cornflour and butter. Mix vaguely with the fork.

Microwave on full power for one minute, then mix with the fork.

Microwave on full power for one minute, then mix with the fork.

Microwave on full power for one minute, then mix with the fork.

At this point you will start to think nothing will ever happen. Have faith.

Microwave for a fourth minute on full power. Behold! Smooth, lump-free white sauce. Add parsley, cheese, brandy, etc as required.

The method also works for custard (10floz/300ml milk, 1tbsp custard powder, 1tbsp sugar).

Scaling up to a pint yields variable results. You need a big jug to avoid catastrophic overflow, and you need to start with a two-minute blast. But when you’re making a cauliflower cheese, half a pint won’t cut it.

We’re all winging it, aren’t we?

Anty is always telling me I should write a book with all my parenting hints, tips and hacks. I’m never quite sure if she’s joking. In any case, a sporadic blog has got to be less painful than a manuscript and inevitable rejection!

Parenting is hard: harder than I thought possible. I mean, you can provide food and clothing and housing and stuff, but psychologically … it’s like an assignment you can never pass.

But here’s the secret: everyone is just winging it. We’re all doing the best we can with the resources we have. And any information sharing we can possibly achieve that gets us one step closer to feeling like we’re getting it right has got to be worth it.

So my intention is to populate this blog with the hints, tips, hacks and secrets that drag my life over from “WHO ARE ALL THESE SMALL PEOPLE AND WHY DO THEY KEEP ASKING ME FOR THINGS?” to “Hey boys, your tea’s ready”.

In the meantime, if you don’t already know how to make handles from a drinks carton, learn now. It will save a lot of spills.

(image from