Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Fun in the New Forest

Since we've been parents our holidays have mostly been staycations. One reason is that I just can't face travelling through airports with small children. Even allowing for the long drive our trips to Cornwall take less time than the overall journey time to go to a mediterranean destination when you factor in the time you leave for the airport, the waiting, the flying and the transfer time. Another reason was that we couldn't travel with our youngest until his adoption was finalised so we have made the most of holidays closer to home. Finally - and most importantly - we have so many wonderful places to visit in this country and my in-laws live right next to one of them. The New Forest is a beautiful setting and we usually spend at least one week of the year here with Granny and Grandpa's house as a base. This week I've brought the boys to visit their grandparents for a few days before they go back to school next week. We've come without Hubbie so he also gets a bit of a break. 

The weather has been so lovely that we've enjoyed the great outdoors and today we visited the New Forest Wildlife Park - where Hubbie used to work as a teenager when it was the Butterfly farm. The park has grown and now has many animals as well as two adventure playgrounds for different age groups. Baby Boy loves animals so he really enjoyed seeing otters, bison, deer and polecats. He wasn't too taken with the butterflies, but they took a shine to Grandma and one sat on her top. There are specific times for feeding animals and you can meet the keepers and ask questions. At one point we spotted a keeper sitting on a bench holding a hedgehog in a towel and children were taking photos with it - all the while the hedgehog who was being safely held by a keeper. There is a strong conservation element to the park so visitors are encouraged to learn about the animals and their habitats. This is a great way for children (and adults) to appreciate the natural world while also enjoying a day out. 

Taking time to do some colouring 

After we enjoyed a picnic lunch the boys loved sitting down to colour in some animal pictures and the lady who was supervising the activity also shared some interesting facts about owls with us. Did you know it's only Tawny owls that say twit twoo ? I'm not sure the rest of what she told us was true, but it made the boys laugh. Big boy isn't as much of a nature lover so he was persuaded to come when we told him there was an adventure playground. There are actually two with a mini one designated for children under 6 and another larger playground for children over 6 (and adults). Despite running up to get on it Big Boy was a bit put off by the speed of the zip wire - although I saw a little girl in an amazing floofy white dress who looked like a supercharged angel as she zipped past ! Grandma and I decided to take the boys to their respective playgrounds and it was great fun for me to do a bit of daredevil stuff with Big Boy. Baby Boy did some pretty brave climbing too ! 

My climbing boy 

The best thing about staying near the New Forest is that most trips take you through the forest itself and you never know which of the animals that live there you will see roaming around. Before we had kids I was always amazed to spot cattle lying on verges in Beaulieu, horses and ponies crossing the roads wherever they feel like and grouse running past the car. On our drive home we spotted horses with their foals and lots of cows with their youngsters too. Baby Boy even wanted to get out of the car to take a look and said hello to the cows. It was the perfect end to a lovely day in nature. 

Look Mummy, cows 

Plan your visit and find out more about what you can see and do at New Forest Wildlife Park 

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Two go on an adventure to the Edge of the Sea

There are very few child free activities that me and Hubbie get to partake in any more. To be fair the ones we do tend to be out of necessity rather than choice like Hubbie cycling to work and me swimming on my own to clear my head. One of the events we make sure we book every year is the Edge of the Sea in Brighton. It's a mini festival held every August with bands chosen by Dave Gedge and his own two bands opening and closing the event. Cinerama open the two days and the Wedding Present headline both nights. We've been a few times now and have a great time so it is a regular feature in our calendar.

This year it was a little different with the venue unavailable on the August Bank Holiday so it was earlier than usual and was a one day event. We made our childcare plans with Brown Bear staying at my parents' house and Blue Bear staying with the in-laws. I packed the kids stuff and we popped some overnight things into a bag for us. We got in the car and got about 20 metres from the drive before this happened.

flat tyre
Uh-Oh this is not a good start ! 

After some quick thinking from Hubbie (and swift unpacking and repacking of the car to retrieve the air compressor we made it to the in-laws to drop off Blue Bear and the tyre was completely flat again. One new tyre later and we were on the road to Brighton. Woo hoo !!

rain seen through a car window
Ah the great British summer 

The Edge of the Sea is an indoor festival so it isn't weather dependant, which is just as well really as this was what we were greeted with. We had planned to go to our favourite Brighton restaurant - Food with Friends - but they were fully booked so we went to Bill's instead. We last ate there when I was pregnant and celebrating my 40th with a few days in Brighton and it was nice to revisit. The staff kindly let me charge my dead as a dodo phone so that we could receive any emergency call from grandparents - thankfully none came.

wrist stamp of the word magic and a star above and below
My wrist stamp 

Getting to the venue for the gig was the highlight - of course - and this year we had a stamp rather than a wristband. Shame really as I love wearing a wristband for weeks afterwards and looking like I'm a bit cool. The stamp was on the inside of my wrist and each time I caught sight of it I found it really disconcerting. I realised that if I ever had a tattoo it would have to be somewhere I won't spot it out of the corner of my eye. Anyway, I digress. The venue is small, but intimate so you get really up close with the bands. The format this year meant we watched a lot more of them perform than in the past. There are two stages and they are next door to each other so you can hear the sound check in the next room as you are listening to the music. I can't really capture the decor of the Concorde 2 that well, but I was mesmerised by these bulbs that light up and dim and provide a great effect against these windows and discoball.

stained glass windows, disco ball on the ceiling and dangling lightbulbs
Look up and see !

Of course the whole point is the music and I have grown to really love this gig and the crazy bands we get to hear while we're there. Last year we heard Dream Themes - a great party band - and my favourite ever was Art Brut with the fabulous Eddie Argos. This year I was taken by The Collectress whose haunting music and quirky style really appealed to me and Jonny 8 Track, who had some technical issues, but was good natured about it and really great.

Cinerama perform on stage at Concorde 2 Brighton
Cinerama - the opening act

The reason we love going to this event is that it's just us and we are reminded of the music that we've enjoyed that isn't the theme tune to a cartoon or on the soundtrack to a party we took one of the boys to. This year we've spoiled ourselves and have a few more gigs coming up that we're really excited about. I love The Pixies and the Jesus and Mary Chain and I can't wait until the boys are old enough to come with us. I hope they enjoy live music as much as we do.

The Wedding Present perform on stage at Concorde 2 Brighton
The Wedding Present - the main event !

Sunday, 21 August 2016

I'm a walking, and a swimming and a cycling...

I've decided to do the full moonwalk in May next year - the last time I did the full walk was the year before I was pregnant with Brown Bear. The following year I had a place, but couldn't take part because I was way to big to walk 26 miles comfortably. Then I did the half moon with my lovely pal Soraya two years ago to mark her recovery from breast cancer. It's taken me a while to figure out that I need to do this because in my head I have a few things I want to do before I'm 50 (and that's closer than I want to admit !)

I'd like to be able to complete a marathon - I have no idea if I'll be able to do it as a run, but walking is a pretty good start. I've not had the best health in the last year - nothing serious, but just a series of annoying things seem to be going wrong. So I've decided to take a long term approach to getting myself fit. In the spirit of this I went on a training walk this afternoon and I'm happy to say I made it and enjoyed it too. Bonus !

My other ambition is to take part in a triathalon. Even if it's a really small one I want to at least give it a go. I swim a lot, I mean 4-5 times a week and pretty much always smell of chlorine. I know, sexy right ? I'm working on my stamina to get to a stage where I can swim and still be fit to do another event. At the moment I go full pelt then clamber out of the pool ravenous and wanting to wash my hair. It is definitely within my sights though.

Get back into cycling. I used to cycle a lot. At uni I used to have to balance my shopping bags on the handlebars and tuck my long goth skirts into boots to cycle home. If I was lucky my friend Neil would cycle home with me and I'd peddle behind him to help with the steep climb back to our shared student house. I'm forever grateful he'd wait for me going at old lady pace as he would have got home so much earlier if he'd gone on ahead on his sporty bike. I used to cycle to work when I was lived on my own and loved my sit up bike with a basket on the front. Nothing too fancy.

Before Christmas Hubbie said he was going to start cycling to work and I laughed so hard I actually had to cross my legs so I wouldn't pee. Oh stoppit we all know even a cough will make you wet yourself once you've had kids. Well, he's shown me as he's still going strong and even got me a bike to encourage me to get back to pedal power. Typically I've gone shopping to get some pretty things before I will actually get on it. It's the bike mother-in-law used to ride to work and is pretty sturdy, but not pretty. Well, once I've pimped it out with all these lovely Orla Kiely accessories I'll be the belle of the bike fraternity. Or something.

My gorgeous Orla Kiely cycle accessories from Halfords

So, I'm putting this here as a statement of intent. The walking is underway. Hopefully the cycling will be soon as well. I have visions of me and Brown Bear cycling to school in the mornings and me putting Blue Bear into a child seat to travel to nursery. I'm not promising that will happen but it's good to visualise isn't it ? I mean I always wanted to have a go at trapeze and never really believed I'd get to do it. Well here is the proof that I did. I have to look at it to remind myself it actually happened.

Adventures don't always have to involve being far away from home. Some of them are simple and achievable. I hope these are for me. Keep coming back to see how I get on.

This is me - I was terrified ! 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

My favourite family friendly things to do in Cornwall

Since we discovered Coombe Mill a few years go we've been on all our family holidays to Cornwall with one then two boys. It was my dream to holiday in Cornwall for years having spent the odd day there when I was touring the country for work. I stayed in St Austell, Wadebridge and Padstow - all for a day at a time - and I really wanted to visit again and stay longer.

The main reason I like visiting Cornwall is because it's so beautiful and there is so much to see and do. Yes it's a long drive, but we've done it so many times now that the kids are used to it and Hubbie is well practised on the route by now. We pack the car, plug Brown Bear into his tablet and Blue Bear watches DVDs of Paw Patrol and we're off. There is one stop just outside Exeter for lunch and loo breaks and we usually arrive late morning or around lunchtime.

A younger brown bear feeding the animals

Coombe Mill is the perfect holiday destination for our family. Fiona and her lovely family are so welcoming and they really know how to make families with young children happy. The boys have plenty of room to roam, there's outdoor play, indoor soft play, trampolines, den building, a fairy garden, the evening mini train ride and the famous morning feed run with children taking turns to drive the tractor with Farmer Nick. My boys take part in everything and we have stayed in a riverside lodge, a Scandinavian lodge and a cottage on our numerous visits. One visit we stayed in Eden and would take it in turns to see whose windows the llamas were outside each morning - the boys loved it when it was their windows.
Our llama neighbour

We spent Christmas at Coombe Mill a few years ago and it was wonderful and so special with a festive themed train and a house party hosted by Fiona and Nick on Christmas Eve. I can highly recommend it and we even take turns to go to the gym to get away from the kids for a while. This summer we even took advantage of the offer of babysitting and went out for the evening which was a great treat for us as it was the first time we've done gone out by ourselves on holiday. On the basis of that I'm sure we will be willing to do it again in future.

This time we travelled on Ruby 

When we are staying there we have a few favourite activities that we like to do with the kids. The all time big hit is Lappa Valley where you arrive via steam engine (usually Muffin or Zebedee, but this time it was Ruby) and can ride an Intercity 125 and take a ride through the countryside on another steam train. There is a boating lake which is great fun with the kids, crazy golf, a massive playground and this summer a new cafe as well as the cream teas and ice cream we have grown to love having while we're there. The cakes are homemade and the staff are so friendly and helpful. When we visited once and a childrens' entertainer made a balloon sword for Brown Bear and it burst he ran over with a replacement one just before we boarded the train to leave. Lappa is a firm fixture in our holiday itinerary and I am dreading when the boys will be too old to want to go any more.

The boys play golf and practise driving - it's all go.

My personal heaven in Cornwall is the Eden Project which I first visited over a decade ago when it had not long opened. It has been wonderful to visit in recent years and see how much it has developed and we even went to the Eden Sessions in July to watch the Manic Street Preachers perform there. When we stayed at Christmas we also went ice skating at Eden and met Father Christmas - who I swear was the real deal. Look at the photo of him and tell me you don't agree - I dare you !

It's Father Christmas ! 
Ice skating with Pingu

I've taken the boys to hear stories, to take part in activities and showed them round the biomes, but however much I try I cannot get my boys to enthuse about it as much as I do. I could happily spend all day there and when we visited this summer I did as I went on my own and enjoyed taking my time. I even fulfilled my ambition to climb to the top of the rainforest biome and conquered a fear of heights while doing it. The best way to keep the boys on side is to keep them well fed and it's easy to do at Eden as the food is made fresh and the kids' meals include a packed lunch with extensive choices of contents. I usually share my meal with the kids as portion sizes are so generous and the cakes are amazing. It was a real treat this year to visit on my own and savour a cup of tea and a cake without having to wipe anyone's face or take anyone to the toilet.

I'm at the top of the rainforest ! 

Many years ago I booked a surfing course on Fistral Beach which I then bottled out of doing. I have made so many excuses in the intervening years including, "I'm unfit," "too fat," "we are nowhere near the coast." Finally this summer Brown Bear was old enough to take lessons so we went to Polzeath Beach and booked him in with Surf's Up school. He only agreed to do it if I did too, so I finally got to learn, despite having a wobble about parading on the beach in a wetsuit. Fiona's children have all learned to surf with them and if you are staying at Coombe Mill they offer a discount. We had a lesson with Shaf and Harry who were great teachers. Harry was with Brown Bear the whole time helping carry the surf board and assisting him with trying to stand up. I was so proud of how well he did and we both had such a blast. I certainly intend to go again and hopefully Blue Bear will want to try when he is older too.

Me and my surfer dude !

When I tell people that we are going on holiday to Cornwall I'm not sure they really know how special it is to us. There is so much to do and I haven't even mentioned the beaches !

Beach babies 

I want my sons to have great memories of family holidays and having fun with us - I hope that they remember Cornwall with as much fondness as I do when they are grown up.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Hey Hey we're the Monkees... visiting London on a budget

I took Brown Bear into London today to watch a movie called Blinky Bill - it's out in on 19th August and features a young koala (Blinky) who leaves home in search of his father and has a few hair raising adventures on the way. We loved it and for the first time in my life I'm actually interested in visiting Australia. The screening room at Soho House is very posh and we did feel quite spoiled with the luxury seating and side tables as well as a foot stool with storage for bags and coats. As we were so close to it I decided to take him to the London Transport Museum as well. We are 'friends of the museum' so we have an annual membership that we really do make the most of. I can recommend getting the family membership as you can visit as often as you like and you don't have to queue to get in. It also includes a discount on food in the cafe and gifts in the shop. I try to steer clear of the shop, but it's pretty much inevitable with kids isn't it ?

I used to avoid going into London during the summer holidays as it can be so busy. When I worked near Covent Garden I would notice the crowds of tourists and those irritating 'living statues' all over the place too. I understand that it can be difficult to find your way around and with children in tow keeping an eye on them becomes a full time occupation. Why do families insist on walking on the pavements side by side though ? Are they in a boy band ? I think the least you can do if you're going to incovenience every other pedestrian is to make it interesting. Do the can-can, walk like the Monkees did in the opening credits to their show, vary your speeds to make it look like a wave. Anything, just don't take up the entire pavement please.

I would recommend if you're going into London during the holidays plan ahead to make the most of your time there. It is possible to do plenty without spending a fortune so I can suggest a few things to make the most of your trip that are free or cheap.


For a start use the buses as much as possible. Once you've got an Oyster or a travelcard your travel is capped for the day so you may as well make the most of it. You will see so much more of London from a bus and if you see something you like you can hop off. Travelling on the tube doesn't really give you any feel for how close places are so unless you are going a long distance I'd say buses are the way to go. If you have a couple of days you can buy a 48 hour ticket for the Big Bus Tour which includes a trip on a Thames River Cruise, night tour and a free child ticket, so you get plenty for your money. We love taking the open top sightseeing bus as you can get on and off at many points on the way and last time me and Hubbie took the night bus tour which was great - not least because we left the kids at home for that one ! If you fancy a bit of a nostalgia trip you can also ride the heritage bus route 15 which takes you from Trafalger Square to Tower Hill on weekdays and the fare is included in your travelcard / oyster payment.

2 for 1 days out: 

There are leaflets in stations offering 2 for 1 on a lot of attractions so long as you used a train ticket to get into London. Having a travelcard will often suffice to get the offer and it also includes restaurants so you can get discounts on meals too. The participants vary from year to year so do check here for details: 2 for 1 days out guide  We have used this offer on the Duck Bus which is an amphibious vehicle that takes a tour by road then drives into the Thames and continues with a boat ride along to Westminster. It is great fun ! We've also had a 2 for 1 discount at Vinopolis (strictly for adults only that one) before it closed at the end of last year and the Tower Bridge Exhibition. It does really help make your money go further having the discount.

Free Museums: 

If you fancy some culture then head to South Kensington where you have the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum all in close proximity. They are all free to enter and can get very busy in the holidays, but I guarantee your kids will be worn out by the time you leave ! I always allow for a longer visit to one museum and a short hop to another. That way you have a reason to leave and a change of scene before going home. There are cloakrooms where you can stash pushchairs and bags - some are free others charge a small fee. It's a good idea to put your stuff in there so you can enjoy your visit unencumbered, but I do still carry water and a snack or two for my boys. The Imperial War Museum is a little further afield in South London, but also free and well worth a visit.

Parks and the great outdoors: 

We love being outdoors and if you are lucky enough to have great weather being in London can be amazing. Hyde Park is massive with so many different areas to explore and the Serpentine lake in the middle. I love walking through Green Park with it's bridges and ducks which Blue Bear is a big fan of. Kensington Gardens is close to the museums and Regent's Park has an outdoor theatre (not free). If you fancy venturing a bit further out Battersea Park also has a boating lake, a sports centre and a small zoo (fees vary). You can hire bikes to ride around the park, enjoy a large play area and there is an impressive Buddha statue on the riverside. The fountains are great fun on a hot day, but you will need to bring a towel and maybe a change of clothes if you get carried away. Clapham Common is the site of many outdoor events including free cinema screenings and one day music festivals. We used to go to the Ben & Jerry's Big Sundae here, which sadly is no more. If you are prepared and bring a picnic you can spend a whole day in one of the parks without spending much at all. I'd budget for ice creams, but you won't need much else.

The holidays can be so expensive, but a day out in London doesn't have to break the bank. I hope you try some of the ideas above. I'd love to hear how you get on.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Adventures in music

One of the things that me and Hubbie most enjoyed before we became parents was watching live music. We also took Brown Bear to a few gigs when he was still cooking, he enjoyed the Primitives and Billy Bragg amongst others. I like that our boys love music as much as we do and hope to cultivate that interest as they grow.

In the past few years we've been establishing our own traditions and have a few regular gigs that we go to without the kids. The one that we always go to is the Edge of the Sea in Brighton - a two day festival created by Dave Gedge of the Wedding Present. By far the greatest band we've seen playing this event was a close run thing between Dream Themes in 2015 and Art Brut in 2014. I think Eddie Argos definitely wins it for Art Brut though.

I thought we'd missed out on the Pixies earlier this year when their gig sold out in minutes. We've seen them before at Field Day festival and (pre-children) at Alexandra Palace supported by the Futureheads. They were amazing at Field Day and I can't wait to see them later this year in a smaller venue as Hubbie managed to get tickets for us - yay !! 

We took a break from Field Day last year and were tempted back this summer by the headliner PJ Harvey. It was the first time that either of us had seen her live and it was a vibrant - if odd - performance. Still, she's pretty spectacular to witness in real life. 

I've always wondered what a gig at the Eden Project would be like and earlier this summer we found out when we saw Manic Street Preachers there. I've seen them a few times before, but it was Hubbie's first timea nd they were amazing. Despite it pouring down with rain the whole night we had a fab time - and burittos so not all bad eh ? 

So, in this year of rediscovering our love of live music we also have the band I discovered aged 16 and that we finally saw live for the first time a couple of years ago. Jesus and Mary Chain have a cult like following, but at my school I was the only one who even noticed them and I played psychocandy obsessively to anyone who would listen. Most tolerated this with a kindly smile, but no one shared my appreciation. I was chuffed to get tickets to see them in a teeny tiny venue in a few weeks time. 

The final band on this odyssey of musical memories is Killing Joke. I first saw them at Digbeth Institute - probably around 1991 - and was blown away by their live show. I had tickets to see them in 2010 and they had to reschedule the gig for Oct. As I was due to deliver a baby in September I took the decision not to commit to a gig immediately after giving birth. As a result I'm very tempted to go and see them in November, but I'm not entirely sure they are Hubbie's cup of tea. Still, you never know I might be able to persuade him to give them a go. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

On being brave, not boring

Until I had my boys I had no idea how brave I could be. How having children would awaken the daredevil side of me. Now I realise that there is so much I am willing to do in order to give my sons the experiences that I didn't get to have as a child. A year ago me and my older boy were invited to try out one of the largest cruise ships in the world, Anthem of the Seas. On board we skydived and I fulfilled one of my lifetime ambitions to try a trapeze. It was terrifying and what you can't see in the photos is how much I was shaking the whole time. I did it though, and that is the main thing. I tried.

Trapeze swing on board a cruise ship
Yep that's me - terrified on the trapeze
On holiday in Cornwall last month I booked a surfing lesson with my 5 year old - having bottled out of a surfing course I booked many years ago. He wasn't too sure about doing it on his own and I thought, "Ok why not ?" He was, of course, so much better than me, but that didn't matter. We had fun. Isn't that what it's all about after all ? Creating happy memories for our children so that they can look back and recal how much fun it was being a kid ?
two boys playing in the sand and stream on the beach
My boys on the beach

So that's why this blog exists. It's to share the adventures we have and to give you some ideas of fun, brave and plain crazy things to do with your kids, or on your own. I'm not judging.

Who said that being a Mum meant being boring ? It wasn't me that's for sure.